In the Forest of the Night ~ Ray Lovegrove

Sweden has always seemed an important part of the world for me for many reasons; the sanctuary it offered to those Americans who wanted to avoid being conscripted to Vietnam, the hospitality it has offered to refugees over the last hundred years, its neutrality throughout the cold war and before, the progressive ideas in government, society and human rights, and the working belief in a mixed economy rather than the unbridled capitalism of much of the western world. On a more personal level though, my childhood was full of romantic notions about the forest, the people, the weather, the wildlife and the breathtaking beauty of the country.

With a country as big as California and a population just a little greater than that of London, why has Sweden such a distinctive, world profile? And why have we made it our home? Certainly we felt the need to go from the UK, many others have done the same (or at least considered doing the same), but why Sweden? It may take a few posts like this one to explain.

About two years ago I had a dream (I dream an awful lot possibly due to drinking too much Rooibos “tea” at bedtime), I woke up in my bedroom, in our house on the Welsh borders, and went downstairs. Opening the back door, to let in the normal crowd of hungry cats, I found myself not in the garden, but in a forest. This forest was the very one that had lived in my imagination since first hearing about that Goldilocks girl, it was the forest that Snow White lived in with the seven dwarves, the forest that Robin Hood dwelled in with his Merry Men, the forest that, covered in snow, Lucy first met Mr Tumnus in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Of course it was an idealized forest of childhood imagination and not the forest of reality to a man in his late middle age, but that dream was important for some reason. I felt a longing to be a forest dweller. Do we all have within us some longing to return to the place from which we feel we come? Certainly my DNA, which I had tested in a fit of vanity and curiosity, some years ago showed a fifty percent of my genes originated in Scandanavia, the land where forests are still part of everyones life.

(C) Pauline Baynes

Today, just two years later, I opened my door, not to some imaginary childhood forest, but to part of the great northern forest of Europe. That forest that stretches across from Norway through Sweden, Finland, into Russia and then sweeps across half the planet before reaching the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the World! And this is no dream! A real forest is much more of a challenge than the childhood forest of my imagination, it has dangers, you can trip over and break your neck, you can get scratched and cut by the branches, bitten by the snakes, stung by the hornets, you can get lost in its depths, you can wander until all your energy is gone and can only wonder at the wildlife that lives within it. No Goldilocks, no Snow White, no Mr Tumnus, but you will find us, our family in the forest that once covered much of Europe, and from which came my ancestors and, if you are of Northern European stock, probably yours too! True, we have roads and houses and the occasional vehicle goes by, but behind us the great truth of trees and lakes, rivers and rocks, plants and animals, that are Småland.

Back to earth. How do you move to another country not to escape the life that you were leading, but to continue, develop and enhance that life? Can a simple lifestyle and a self-sufficient ethos be moved that easily? I will tell you the answers to these questions over the coming months and years as we discover them ourselves.

Småland is very beautiful indeed. The small village in which we live would hardly be called a village in the UK as it has no church, no pub, and no shops. It does have a number of houses and farms, but most of the houses are used in the summer only, mainly by Swedish families, but also by folks from Germany and Denmark. We are among a very small handful of occupants who live here all the year round. We live here in the summer when the area is a popular tourist destination, and in the autumn, winter and spring when the whole village is deserted apart from us few intrepid hibernating remainers. In our first winter we were amazed by the lack of wild birds, they came in spring in large numbers, but for the winter they left, some migrate to Africa of southern Europe, while others spend the winter preying on the bird tables of town and city gardens. The animals stay though, deer, hare and deep in the forest wild boar, moose and those many shy animals that sometimes make fleeting guest appearances.

As for the people of Sweden, and more particularly the people of Småland, they have been kind and hospitable, tolerant of my slow progress in learning Swedish and ready to help yet another migrant to their wonderful country. We have relied on them for help and guidance and never been disappointed by their response. To them, thank you so very much!

What do we do now that we are here, how do we live, what do we eat, what do we grow? I can answer all those questions one by one, but next time.

(C) K and R F Lovegrove


Welsh Borders to Småland

A word or two of apology are required to explain why I haven't posted here for some time. We have moved the whole of our setup from the Welsh borders to the area of Sweden called Småland. Watch this space for an update on self-sufficiency and the simple life in Scandanavia very soon!


What's the Difference? ~ Ray Lovegrove

Freedom is a word that is banded about in lots of ways, and often its exact meaning is only vaguely implied. Of course we have freedom of speech, political freedom and various other freedoms usually, though not always supported by any constitutional foundation (that is for those of you lucky enough to live in a country with a written constitution). One freedom that is rarely supported by law or constitution is a very basic and simple one, the freedom to be different.

A glance at the history books is enough to show that ‘being different’ has always come at a cost, sometimes from penalties imposed by the state, but more often by the attitude of others to individuals or groups that are ‘different’. Often these differences have been that an individual or group is not of the same race as the majority of the population are not of the same religion, or the same sexual orientation; in other cases, it may be that the individual is breaking the rules of dress, lifestyle or behaviour in a harmless way, but still a way that upsets others.

When we are young, past the age that our parents have undue influence; being different can be very important, but as youth turns to middle age the pressures of conformity become greater and we are ‘forced’ by social and economic factors to ‘toe the line’ and behave, dress and do the same things as other folks. Some of us, however, are made of nonconformist stuff and cut our own furrows through the fields of ‘sameness’.

Some years ago the Ohio Yearly Meeting (Quakers) published a rare and brief comment on their Facebook page ;
“As Christians we are called to nonconformity to the world. What does nonconforming mean to you and how do you go about it?”
It’s a question that we should all ask ourselves on a regular basis. Are we nonconforming? If we are, why are we doing it? To be different from the rest, to make a statement, or because we have looked at what the majority of people are doing and decided that it’s just not right for us to do that?

Mennonite farmer, and peace campaigner Arthur Gish once wrote;
"To be a Christian is to be subversive, or at least that is how he will be viewed by society. Since his loyalty is to one who is beyond history, he cannot give his ultimate allegiance to any government, business, class, or any other institution. His views cannot be expected to coincide with the majority view around him. He can be expected to be in continual conflict with the structures of society, for to be at peace with God means to be in conflict with the world."
Mennonites understand what being different can mean better than most of us. We can all learn much from them. How we are viewed by society depends very much on the honesty and integrity that we present to the world, even though they may see it as ‘weirdness’.

We also need to take care that 'being different' does not become 'being awkward' nor to assume that others, by their nonconforming, are displaying awkwardness themselves.  In my small, overwhelmingly Anglican, rural community, I am the only plain dressing, homesteading, vegan, Quaker ~ that doesn't always make for ready acceptance. In Britain we have a strange attitude to being different, we do not tolerate it well when it is the ‘man up the street’ or the woman in the supermarket queue, however, if that person is ‘so different’ and so unlike the majority of us, then we elevate them to the status of ‘national hero’ (Grayson Parry, David Bowie, Keith Moon, Quentin Crisp, William Blake etc.). Perhaps then the answer is for us all to be unconsciously nonconformist and wait for the world to accept us that way!

(C) Ray Lovegrove 2016

For help with ideas for living a more simple life, try these links;


Of The Season ~ Ray Lovegrove

Most of you think that, because I live in Britain and this post is being written at the end of Summer, that I'm going into a long moan about how bad the weather has been. Well, I'm going to surprise you all by not doing that……… except to say the weather here has been truly awful, the wettest August ever… that’s it… all done with!
I've written before about how the Celtic idea of time being some kind of spiral appeals to me more than the more conventional linear ‘times arrow’ set of ideas. My mind seems to be in the same set as it was this time last year, and the year before for that matter. To quote the book of Jerimiah (8;20);


“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”


I don’t read this in any ‘born again’ context, nor do I believe it was written in that way, but I do understand that it speaks of disappointment and of a feeling of loss and missed opportunities. I don’t write selfishly about my own failure to produce all the crops that I might have done, but of all our failures to come to terms with the tasks that we should have undertaken, in particular the problems that all us Europeans face with the growing problems of refugees from the Middle East.

I sympathise fully, and agree, with those who say that this is our problem and we must do all we can to help people find new homes among us, and offer our help, and friendship to all of those in need. I also have some understanding, but little sympathy, for those who feel we would like to help, but are unable to accommodate these displaced people. However, I cannot understand at all those who claim that the problem is not of our making and that we need do nothing, for these people – this is nothing but blindness and ignorance.

So as Summer gently turns to Autumn, I hope that we can be ‘saved’ by offering help and shelter to those who need it before the weather gets cold and the problems become compounded. I also hope that, very soon, we have in Britain the kind of imaginative and charitable approach to this problem as our neighbours in Germany and Scandinavia have shown to the World.

More about Simple Living;

© Ray Lovegrove (aka ‘Hay Quaker)  Ninth Month 2015


Shelter from the Storm ~ Ray Lovegrove

(C) K and R Lovegrove

In the same year that Alexander Graham Bell made his first telephone transmission, and Jesse James robed train in Otterville Missouri, our house was being built. It might not have been that exact year, but about 140 years ago. All that time the roof of our house has held back the forces of nature and withstood rain, hail, snow, wind and two World Wars. It, like all of us is getting a little older each day and the time has come to replace it.

C) K and R Lovegrove

Many of the old Welsh slates have been damaged and the lack of under-slate insulation is causing us some grief. We also have to carefully position the odd bucket when the rain comes from the south. We are lucky enough to be able to replace all the missing slates with recycled ones that have all come from a building of about the same age in Hay-on-Wye and will also be fitting a solar water heating system.
C) K and R Lovegrove

In our roof, like all aspects of our life, we aim to preserve what we can, use recycled material where possible, and use technology to lessen our impact on the environment.

Looking forward to a warmer and drier winter this year!

C) K and R Lovegrove


                   "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."

 John F. Kennedy


If you are interested in any aspects of Simple Living, please take a look at the contents at the top of the page.
(C) Ray Lovegrove (aka Hay Quaker)


Uncertain Harvest ~ Ray Lovegrove

(C) K and R Lovrgrove

In the dictionary of any gardener, grower or farmer the words 'Spring' and 'hope' are almost synonymous. I'm one of the old school who don't think of Spring as starting at the equinox, nor at any date on the calender, but simply when the soil is warm enough to sow. That time is soon upon us, and for some folks who live further south and at lower altitudes than me, it may have come already. Some of you may think that we in the British Isles spend too much of our time talking about the weather, that may be true, but then we do have good reason, our weather is hard to predict! We don't have the deepest snow, or the hottest weeks, we miss out on hurricanes and tornadoes and most other examples of extreme weather; but we do sit with the vast Atlantic ocean to our west, the Arctic circles not too far to the north and our vast Eurasian land mass to the east; all of these possible influences make our weather fickle. Although most of our weather comes from the south-west, that can change overnight to the north-east. It might be springlike today, but tomorrow it could be back to winter, and the next day...who knows? The spouting seedlings can be taken by the frost or washed away by rain. Some years our plum trees give us such a harvest that we are working late preserving fruit for weeks, but one night of late frost, in early Spring, when the blossoms are out results in no plums, no greengages and (worst of all) no damsons that summer.

The poet Robert Frost had a wide experience of weather, born in sunny San Fransico he later moved to the chillier climes of New Hampshire, but it was in this land, where England and Wales meet, where he would have come upon the unpredictable 'stopping-and-starting' kinds of spring that I am used to. This poem tells all;


Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.


Robert Frost 1915

That 'uncertain harvest' is a difficult thing, we don't think, as we sow our seed, of drought, of storms and pests and summers that don't quite work out as they should. As with so many things in life; starting a career, finding a partner, having children, buying a house ~ we live in the hope of what might be and don't give too much thought to that harvest which seems so very far away.

  • To find out more about simply enjoying the seasons click here.
  • To find out more about simple growing click here.
  • If you have no land to grow crops, but still want to produce your own food click here.
  • For some ideas on cooking what you grow click here.
  • And to provide some ideas for simple eating click here.

(C) Ray Lovegrove (aka 'Hay Quaker') 2015


The Things I Need ~ Ray Lovegrove

With me, it’s often hard to say where loving simplicity starts and being an ‘old skinflint’ ends. Voluntary simplicity certainly has an impact, however small, on the environment, but much of the everyday simplicity we adopt also saves money. Gardening, for instance, has undergone many changes in the last two decades and I for one resist the idea of the ‘instant garden’ where one visits the garden centre with a credit card, fills a trolley with potted up plants, then returns home and plants them for immediate effect. For me gardening is a slow process of continued planning and development, after thirty years you might just be getting close to the garden of your dreams. Your ‘relationship’ with your garden is made much stronger if the plants have been raised from seed, or from cuttings or been given to you by family and friends.

At this time of year you can get plants for free just by keeping your eyes open and never going for a walk without a trowel and a plastic bag. You might even find useful plants in your own garden. The place to look is near fruit and nut trees. Fruit and nuts fall from trees in the late summer and autumn and young trees, or saplings, are usually spotted about in the winter of the following year. These small trees can be uprooted while dormant and potted up to grow on. Don’t worry about depleting supplies, young saplings that grow too close to the parent tree are doomed if you don’t rescue them. Hazelnut, walnut, chestnut, oak, beech, birch, hawthorn, willow, maple, holly, apple, pear, plum, cherry, black currant and gooseberry can all be found this time of year.

(C) K and R Lovegrove

Your biggest problem may be identifying your young trees, but it's not as difficult as you might think if you use a good identification guide. It's worth pointing out that birds and squirrels are good at planting seeds a little distance away from the parent tree (you may have noticed birds carrying cherries away to a nearby tree to devour them), so just keep your eyes open.

I find it easy to lift young saplings late on a sunny afternoon following a heavy overnight frost, apart from wrapping the roots up quickly to avoid them getting a touch of frost or drying out, the replanting can take place within a week or so. It's probably best to plant them in pots for the first year and plant them in a permanent home the next autumn.

A few words of warning! Don’t get yourself into trouble by trespassing to collect your saplings, if you are on private ground ask first. If you grow apples, pears and plums from saplings be warned that you might have a very long wait for fruit from your trees and it is unlikely to be the same variety, or the same size as the parent. Most modern apples are grown on ‘dwarfing rootstock’ whereas saplings from dropped fruit will grow into very large full size trees.

(C) K and R Lovegrove

Some things you might like to do with your saplings eventually;

·         Use young hazel and hawthorn top repair gaps in hedges, or if you have enough aim to replace fences in your garden with free natural hedging!

·         Make unused corners of your garden into wildlife friendly areas. A hazelnut, cherry or crab-apple tree will bring more insects, birds and small mammals into your garden than you could ever imagine.

·         Keep the plants in pots and donate them to local charity events for sale. Label them well!

·         You might like to try some guerilla gardening by planting your saplings where you expect them to thrive on unused public land.

Increase the amount of food you produce by planting some productive trees in your lawn.


The Johnny Appleseed Blessing

“Oh, the Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need
The sun, and the rain, and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.”


(C) K and R Lovegrove

The cotoneaster above grown from a sapling rescued from a car park.

To find out more about simple growing click here.

If you have no land to grow crops, but still want to produce your own food click here.

For some ideas on cooking what you grow click here.

And to provide some ideas for simple eating click here.

(C) Ray Lovegrove (aka 'Hay Quaker') 2015

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