An empty nester who went off-grid after her youngest child left home has told how she now lives in a yurt she built herself out of wooden poles and canvases.
Mother-of-three Briar Miller, 51, worked nine-to-five and lived in a rented two-bedroom flat – until all her kids moved out and she was finally able reject the “claustrophobia” of conventional living.
Now she lives in her tent-like home on a remote piece of land in a field near Brecon in Wales, leased to her by a friend, and uses no public utilities at all – collecting rainwater to drink and burning wood to keep warm.
And Briar argues that if more people lived like her, we might all be much happier.
She said: “I felt really uncomfortable with the idea that you have to work for someone else for eight hours every day just so you can pay the rent for the home you go back to each night.
“So when my kids left home I thought, ‘What’s holding me back?’”
She added: “I really think that the reason for the upsurge in depression and mental health problems in this country is down to that lifestyle, and so I’m really grateful that I’ve found a way out of it.”
In the four years since she uprooted her life, Briar has not looked back, even during the most difficult times, including when her roof fell apart in the freezing depths of winter in December 2015 and she spent several days having to rebuild it in the snow.
“Things like that I am really proud of because, though it was tough, I was able to overcome it on my own, and that gives me an incredible sense of power and joy,” said Briar, who learned how to build yurts while working at music festivals when she was younger.
She continued: “I feel really lucky living the way I do and being able to look after myself completely self-reliantly, a skill I think most people in the modern western world have lost.
“I’m only 5’2″ and weigh seven-and-a-half stone [105 lbs] and I can manage this stuff perfectly well. I think people just don’t realize what they’re capable of when they put their mind to it.”
Always attracted to alternative ways of living, Briar once inhabited an abandoned cottage near Banbury, Oxfordshire, staying there for free with the permission of the landowner.
She and her then partner lived there when their children, now aged 31, 26 and 24 and whom she does not wish to name, were little – but living unconventionally wasn’t so easy with a family.
She remembered: “We were pretty much self-sufficient then too, but it was hard doing it with three young kids, even though if you ask them now they only have fond memories of that time.”
Growing their own crops and generating their own power, the family survived from their own toil from 1990 to 2005.
But money was often tight and Briar said they were sometimes the objects of scorn and contempt for their lifestyle.
“The kids had a lot of problems with bullying,” recalled Briar, whose relationship with her children’s father broke down after seven years together.
“It was in an area where there were lots of posh kids who called them ‘gypsies’ and basically just looked down their noses at us.”
She added: “They didn’t understand that we were doing it as a choice, as a way to live more freely.”
Eventually, however, the dream ended as Briar and her children were forced to move out of the cottage when the owner wanted to redevelop the land on which their dwelling sat.
Unable to find a similar place to live, the family moved into a flat in Brecon, Wales with Briar having to take on full-time work for the first time in her life, doing jobs like cleaning and caring for horses.
Selling all of her old tools – saws, axes and gardening implements – that she had relied on in Oxfordshire, Briar thought she would never return to off-grid living.
But when her youngest child left home in 2014, the old itch flared up again and soon she was looking into derelict properties that she might be able to inhabit.
Nothing quite fit the bill though and so she turned to the idea of living in a yurt, a circular collapsible tent traditionally used by nomadic communities due to the speed by which they can be erected and dismantled.
She explained: “It was just perfect because I knew how to make them, having worked at festivals, and I would be able to put it up in no time at all and take it down whenever I needed to.”
Finally setting to work on her new home in November 2015, Briar built her yurt within two days, using 90 wooden poles tied together with string, three layers of canvas and 15 duvets, and then a dozen rugs for flooring.
Happily installed in her single-roomed house, she then set about arranging basic amenities for her yurt, which is 15ft in diameter, so she had everything she needed to survive.
“I have two solar panels,” she explained, “which I use to power my lamp and my mobile phone.
“And then for water, I either use a local spring or I collect the rain by placing water containers in the forest.
“I have an aluminum tub which I put on the wood-burner for when I want a wash, and a gas stove for cooking.”
Briar’s children come to visit her every weekend during the summer but she said that, in winter, it is more difficult to accommodate them because she has less floor space since more of her canvas and poles are used to build a steeper roof so any snow slides off.
In addition, she still isn’t completely free as she needs to work a couple of days a week, helping at a local stables, in order to pay for food and to run her old Vauxhall Astra car and Ford Transit van.
So Briar’s next goal is to find some land where she will be able to grow vegetables, hence ridding herself of the need to work and buy food.
She said: “That’s really the way I want to live my life, not hemmed in by this constant cycle of work to pay rent that 21st century society demands.
“And though there are certain hardships and worries, the feeling of utter freedom more than makes up for that.”