Couple spend just £1,200 a year living in off-grid hilltop coastal fort

A free-spirited couple have told how they live totally off-grid in a hilltop coastal fort – spending just £1,200 a YEAR.

Trained teacher Sarah Simpson, 27, and estate manager Nigel Mepham, 44, decided to leave behind conventional life two years ago in a bid to live a more simple and sustainable existence.

They get to live rent-free in their 18th Century Cornish coastal fort in exchange for tending the land, and second-hand solar panels give them all their electricity.

Mini allotments provide them with a constant source of potatoes and root vegetables and to extend their shelf life the couple make jams and preserves.

They smoke fish, meat and vegetables on a hand-built contraption and forage for mushrooms, berries and herbs on the stunning Kingsand peninsula where homes sell for up to £750,000.

Nothing goes to waste in their eco-friendly household, and when their terriers come back with rabbits, the pelts are skinned and saved to be turned into blankets.

But they admit they do like their ‘luxuries’ of chocolate, coffee and tobacco – and work a few days a year in security and stewarding to afford their only shop-bought purchases.

The chilled-out couple are due to finish their stint at the fort at the end of the summer so are in the process of building their new home – a floating set of huts.

The Noah’s Ark-style boat has cost £2,250 to make – paid for with cash Sarah inherited from her grandma – and will feature a chicken pen and vegetable garden.

Sarah said: “We’ve lived in cities, I’m from Manchester and had a job in a bookshop there, but we don’t want to work all week.

“It is hard. We’ve not got running water and we dig compost toilets.

“But when you give up luxuries but you gain freedom and time.

“It is a pretty cheap existence without the stuff you tell yourself you need.”

Nigel added: “We are pretty much living like they did in the 1930s.

“A lot of my friends have made references to us being like The Good Life, the 1970s TV show.

“What we don’t eat feeds the dogs, and we use animal carcasses to make compost.

“It’s not the lifestyle for everyone but it’s better than the rat race.

“I’ve lived in a few houses but I don’t really like those sorts of dwellings.

“I come from quite a rural community, my family were all farmers, my life’s been that way orientated.

“I’ve wanted to build a raft to live on ever since I read Tom Sawyer.

“The only things we things we have to buy are chicken feed, and things we want.

“I’ve got a couple of boats and we go out with lobster pots, sometimes we go out to the beach at 3am depending on the tide.

“We both forage mushrooms, berries, herbs, they all grow on the peninsular.

“A lot of our time is spent just existing – gathering food, gathering wood, gathering water.”

Nigel left home aged 15 and inspired by Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, taught himself to hunt, fish and build shelters.

For the best part of 30 years he has made a living doing gamekeeper work and land stewarding, allowing him to live self-sufficiently and away from the urban rush.

The loved-up pair met two years ago at a campsite, where Nigel had built a cabin and was doing odd bits of work for the landowners.

Sarah decided to live in a tent so she could save cash while she worked as a TEFL teacher in nearby Plymouth, Devon, and was quickly won over by her surroundings.

She gave up her job and cut ties with the city, working part-time in a village pub.

Sarah said: “I moved to the campsite only as a temporary thing, partly for financial reasons, and then I realised I was in a beautiful setting.

“There are deer, kestrels, buzzards – I didn’t want to leave.

“I didn’t need that much any more.”

The Rame Conservation Trust, which manages the site, invited her older boyfriend to live rent-free in exchange for working on the land two years earlier.

Homes in the area cost an average of £400,000 thanks to the stunning coastal views.

All their cooking is done on a wood burner which was also a gift, and old Army canteen kit was handed down by ex-servicemen pals.

Even the solar panels which provide their electricity were picked up after being scrapped, and repaired.

Last year resourceful Nigel experimented with growing strawberries in a huge container filled with water and populated with live fish.

The skilled jack-of-all-trades trawls through skips to find bits and pieces which can be given a new lease of life.

Nigel said: “Every day people are burning usable stuff, burning wood that’s still got 20 years of life in it.

“The first cabin I built, all I had was a saw, a hammer and some reused nails.

“I’ve built five now, and lived in tree-houses and tee pees.”

A second-hand iPhone given to Nigel by a friend and Sarah’s old laptop are their only mod cons.

Sometimes they watch films on Sarah’s laptop, the only other piece of modern technology they own.

But most evenings are spent playing chess, reading books or playing guitar.

He said: “I couldn’t ever justify spending that on a phone.

“I’ve always been a bit of a magpie, spotting something someone is chucking out and seeing its potential.

“It’s like the saying ‘one man’s rubbish is another man’s gold.'”

Funds are tight but Sarah and Nigel allow themselves a few treats,including chocolate, coffee and tobacco.

“Neither of us drink, it’s not like we go to the pub or go out for meals,” Sarah said.

A change of management means the pair have to leave the fort at the end of the summer – but they saw it as a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of living on the river.

They bought a steel barge which will be decked and assembled with the flat-pack cabin.

Sarah paid £2,000 for the boat – made from two pontoons stuck together – which cost another £1,000 to deliver, and spent £250 paying a welder to work on it.

All the wood used to build the body of the boat has been salvaged from building projects and the campsite, and would have otherwise been burnt.

The 22ft steel base is waiting at a boatyard to become a floating dream home, but the logistics of moving the wooden cabins there have yet to be dealt with.

It will be kitted out with floating chicken huts and vegetable boxes, similar to the ‘floating farms’ used in flood-prone Bangladesh.

The ambitious project has been done at bare minimum expense, mostly using scrap wood which like The Wombles, the couple have found a new use for.

They hope to move their five dogs and four chickens onto the hand-built boat before the end of the summer.

Sarah said: “We decided a while ago that we wanted to move onto the river, to make a boat we could live on.

“It has been quite tricky – we are relying on wood we find, and relying on friends to give us lifts to collect it.

“We are living in it as we are building it. We’re rebuilding the top floor because the other night it blew off.

“It’s got an A-frame roof, a bit like Noah’s Ark.

“It’s ours. We won’t be answerable to anybody.”

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