When we were WWOOFing on Eigg we asked our host Neil what the worst thing about his life was. We expected the usual perceived island life challenges – no Tesco, no cinema, lack of access to fast food and takeaways. Or maybe the usual farmers lament of no money, a hard life hard luck story told in a Scottish crofters heavy accent bemoaning the low price of beef, the high price of cattle feed. The answer we got was a flat, single word.
It was a common theme throughout our year traveling. We heard tales of community members who had finally left their romantic woodland dwellings due to the mud. To an organic veg box supplier who spent the entire winter walking on pallets, sometimes three deep where they kept sinking into the mud. We wore mud, got stuck in the mud, slipped over in the mud.
Now it is a characteristic of our lives. We leave the front door in clean clothes and within a matter of four or five steps you have splashes of mud up to waist height no matter how softly you tread. I do not own a single pair of jeans which does not have ingrained mud stains on knee and bum from at least one slipping over incident while wearing them. I have lost a boot in the mud on more than one occasion and it proves a daily challenge to get up and down the hill, almost always carrying something heavy while wading through the mud.
Permaculture principles – and our own philosophy – tell us to view every problem as a potential solution, every waste as a potential resource and to be ever alert for those silver linings. This week we have been learning more about the possibility of turning that mud into a building material and using the mud, along with the sandy areas around the ditches and burns, and the reeds and rushes into cob. And then using that cob to build with.
We’ve been out digging holes, working out the top soil and the subsoil and where each one starts and finishes. We have been taking samples, playing with the mud, putting it in jars and shaking them to time the sediment settling rates, we’ve been making bricks and balls and sausages and dropping them, leaving them to dry and harden.
So far it all looks quite promising. We have some test bricks drying down in the polytunnel and some plans afoot to build a little chicken house to test it more.
Turns out that mud could be an asset after all…