For the past few months my friends and family, especially Clare, have had to endure my constant rambling banter about how I’m going to build a Treehouse and live in it for six months, without seeing any tangible evidence of me holding true to my word. I suspect there have been plenty of raised eyebrows and a lot of “yeah right!” flying about. But now, it all seems so real…so real, I am a little nervous, D-day has arrived and the dream is about to become reality.
The forecast was a tad sketchy as the weekend approached, even my I-phone changed its mind every day as to whether it would be sunny or pissing it down. Saturday morning arrived, in my excitement I woke at about 6am and drew back the curtain to reveal grey skies and endless drizzle…F$%k! When I eventually emerged an hour later there was a hint of improvement and by the time Tim and Chris turned up in the van (the workforce for the weekend), the day looked to be a good’un.
Once we had loaded a mountain of equipment, food, Bertha and beer (v.important), we drove the half hour over to the Kent/ Sussex Border and past the River Medway that was to provide so many future meals. Once we arrived at the wood we had to drag down all the gear and wood I had ordered, which had been delivered and thankfully not pilfered. After a refreshing cuppa work began at 11am.
The wood for the foundations had been cut to my desired length, actually they had been cut to the timber yards desired length, which was as close to mine as they could get, therefore to avoid having to shave a little of here and there we just went with the size that we had been given. The result would be, well…bigger.
I had drawn up a plan which roughly translated cm into feet, it wasn’t going to get me into architectural college, but it was simple enough for me to envisage the finished product and how it would go together. The first stage was to get the 17 foot 8X2 beams attached to the tree with the coach bolts. It is worth noting that putting a galvanised screw into a tree causes virtually no damage whatsoever as long as they are fitted correctly: It is very important that this project has no negative impact on the wood, please see the really rather wonderful Treehouse guide for further information.
Using dodgy stepladders, a drill, 17mm ratchet and a spirit level the first two beams went up. This was worrying, as I only had till 2pm the following day to get the foundations up and things were moving slowly. Gradually, the next two beams went up and the three of us developed a good rhythm to our work. Once the frame was put together we paused for a light lunch of pork pies, scotch eggs and a bottle of beer.
The frame, although level was in desperate need of some serious support, the foundations were huge, had it been a garage space: 2 cars and the rest could easily have fitted in. It was about this time that the onsite problem solving and cunning ideas sprang into action. The surrounding woodland had plenty of hazel, ash and sycamore around about the 5 inch diameter mark, the plan was to carefully select a few long, straight ones that were part of a group (ie: a little bit of coppice action), and rig them up in the 4 corners.
We soon realised that these uprights, provided they were long enough, could extend above the platform and be used as roof supports at a later date…clever! To the bottom of the corner posts we fitted a 2 foot long section of railway sleeper, which we buried in the ground to act as an “earth anchor”. Gradually, over the afternoon, the platform became sturdier and we got more worn out, come 7pm we had reached our goal for the day and clambered up onto the platform to survey our handiwork.
“It’s huge, much bigger than I thought it would be!” I exclaimed, daunted at the prospect of having to build a structure to fill this enormous space.
“And more rigid than a priest’s cock at choir practice…” said Chris, ever the master of the understatement and crude, politically incorrect metaphors.
Tim, meanwhile, was already cracking the tops of bottles; “A bit different to the treehouses we built as kids.” He said. I couldn’t agree more, having the use of power drills and screws compared to the rudimentary hammer and nails of our youth made all the difference.
That evening we filled our bellies with chicken, beans and potatoes (garnished with some of the local mint), and fired up Bertha for the first time. Once stripped of her virginity, Bertha performed beautifully: the heat that radiated from her and the kettle singing on the top gave me hope for the coming months.
The next morning I woke up next to the smouldering fire to the sun shining through the trees and a muntjac having a sniff around the treehouse, my slight movement to get the camera out startled the little deer and it bolted into the emerging green of spring. The morning was brisk, it was only 7am, but it clearly wasn’t summer yet: being able to see my breath wasn’t a good sign considering I had to move down here in a week!
Breakfast was Bertha’s time to shine: could she cope with a full English? Out came the cast iron pans and on went the beans, sausages and eggs, the bacon was just crying out to be done over the smouldering Oak logs of the fire. Again, Bertha didn’t let me down. 3 full stomachs fortified with strong coffee, set to work on the final stages of the foundations.
Today was all about putting up the two central roof supports, the posts for the front of the treehouse and fitting the flooring beams. The front 5 feet of the treehouse where destined to become a hazel floored, covered balcony and somewhere to store my logs. Unfortunately, I have yet to install any facilities in the woods: come 11am after 2 hours of graft, the coffee and greasy breakfast had done their worst. I was forced to retreat to a distant corner of the wood to perform my morning constitution! It was a stark reminder of those funny porcelain holes for squatting over that were once so common in French service stations…I needed to put in a loo sharpish!
By 2pm, the treehouse platform was complete: my target had been met! We had even used a few of the hazel, which skirted the frame for extra support and I was pleased to have a few of them actually inside the frame. The enormous platform sat comfortably around its host: the giant oak tree and nestled perfectly into the surrounding hazel too, the plan had been to make this treehouse fit around the trees, not the other way round.
I was deeply thankful for the extra two pairs of hands donated by Chris and Tim: I certainly couldn’t have done it without them! We packed up our camp, checked for any rogue litter and dragged all the gear back to the van. The weekend had been a better start to this alternative living experiment than I could ever have hoped for.
As I left the wood and gargantuan foundations of my new home for the next six months, I realised that the next time I came down here I wouldn’t be leaving. I would have my life on my back and I wouldn’t be going home to running water, electricity and central heating. I became filled with a deep sense of trepidation and yet I couldn’t wait to begin.
My mind drifted back to sitting at the bar under the palms on Little Cayman at New Years. My brother had said to me: “ This year is going to be an exciting and different one for you….”, I’m not sure whether he knew it, but I think he may have hit the nail right on the head.