U.K. couple Sarah Simpson and Nigel Mepham first met on a campsite in Cornwall, southern England, in 2015. The amenities there were basic, but it wouldn’t be long before they moved to a place with no running water and no toilet facilities. But more importantly for them, there was no rent and no trace of the rat race. For these green crusaders, their makeshift wooden dwelling nestled in a coastal hilltop fort was just perfect.
Sarah is a 27-year-old former teacher, while Nigel is a 44-year-old ex-estate manager. The couple has veered away from their chosen career paths and now survive on an annual sum which is a fraction of what some people would spend on a holiday. But Sarah and Nigel don’t live like the majority of us – in fact, for the past two years they haven’t even lived in a house.
The green-tinged soul mates first encountered each other at a campsite a few years ago. Sarah had chosen to live under canvas to save rent money while she worked in a relatively low-paid teaching position. Meanwhile, Nigel was doing odd jobs around the site and was not earning a huge amount of money either.
So with the two of them getting used to getting by with not very much, they decided to pool resources and become an item. And it was during this early stage in their relationship that Sarah came to a realization. It dawned on her that she appreciated the beautiful surroundings so much, that she had no wish to move on to a more conventional lifestyle. Sarah spoke to U.K. tabloid The Mirror about her new awareness in September 2017. She said, “I realized I was in a beautiful setting. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t need that much any more.”
But it wasn’t long before the couple got an offer to move that was too good for them to refuse. And the last thing it could have been described as was conventional. The Rame Conservation Trust is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving buildings of interest in the Rame Peninsula of south-east Cornwall. The charity approached Sarah and Nigel with a proposition concerning one such property – an 18th-century hilltop fort.
The deal was that the couple could live rent-free at Grenville Fort, if they agreed to look after the property and its environs on behalf of the trust. Sarah and Nigel gladly accepted and began a new self-sustained existence, seemingly inspired by the British 1970s TV sitcom The Good Life.
The green duo set up home against one wall of the fort in a makeshift cabin constructed from timber that Nigel scavenged himself. They have totally gone back to basics, although the improvised structure does have electricity thanks to some pre-owned solar panels on the roof.
Not only that, but the way they live their day-to-day life is similarly very simple. Sarah and Nigel don’t visit a supermarket when they want to source some fruit and vegetables to eat. Instead, they dig some up from the natural larder they have created in the grounds of the fort.
But it is not just the grow-your-own fruit and veg that the couple provides for themselves. The thrifty pair also make and utilize contraptions to harvest mushrooms and wild herbs. And, when it comes to alcohol, Sarah knows a trick or two. She forages for berries and nettles to ferment in order to make her own wine.
However, all that time spent tending the land and foraging does not mean that the couple miss out on meat and fish. They often catch lobsters down at the shore and employ the assistance of their pet dogs to hunt rabbits. In the spirit of waste not, want not, once they have been stripped of their meat, they use the animals’ fur to make cosy blankets.
It sounds like a pretty basic way of life, and that is exactly the point for Sarah and Nigel. “A lot of our time is spent just existing – gathering food, gathering wood, gathering water,” Nigel explained to The Mirror. “We are pretty much living like they did in the 1930s.”
He continued, “It’s not the lifestyle for everyone, but it’s better than the rat race.” Even though the cabin’s roof came off during a storm once, Sarah and Nigel still chose to soldier on. The couple has even foregone running water and bathroom facilities. Instead, when nature calls, they utilize holes in the ground that they have dug themselves.
Although Sarah and Nigel live rent-free, they do sometimes work in hospitality and security for local events companies to earn some pocket money for those little luxuries. But even then, they don’t go mad. The couple scrapes together the equivalent of about $1,700 throughout the year so that they can afford some treats. They have a particular penchant for tobacco and chocolate.
But they only do this work a few days per year to sustain themselves. Otherwise, Sarah and Nigel spend their time enjoying each other’s company, whether it be playing chess or making music. Although the austere nature of their back-to-basics existence would drive some people to despair, to Sarah and Nigel it is perfect. They both claim to want for very little.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the couple choose to eschew modern luxuries, they make a few exceptions. For example, they do own an iPhone which was given to them by a friend. In addition, Sarah has a laptop which the couple use to access the internet and the modern world.
Their $14-per-month internet rental bill is laughably modest, considering that homes on Rame Peninsula typically hit the market at prices in excess of $1 million. As well as living in a very desirable part of the world for a tiny fraction of what other’s pay, the couple’s environmental footprint is also very small. This is due to not relying on mass-produced consumer items, their recycling tendencies and use of solar panels
In addition, Nigel can often be found rummaging through items that other people have discarded in order to salvage still useful materials. “I’ve always been a bit of a magpie,” he admitted to The Mirror. “Every day people are burning usable stuff, burning wood that’s still got 20 years of life in it.”
Sadly, all good things have to come to an end. Sarah and Nigel have been very happy in their simple cabin, but their time there is limited. The agreement with Rame Conservation Trust will soon run out, but the couple have grand plans for what comes next. Now they have mastered living off the land, they want to give life on the ocean waves a try.
Along with their four chickens and five dogs, Sarah and Nigel plan to move onto their barge, which they have nicknamed, “Noah’s Ark.” With the boat moored on the nearby River Tamar, they hope their chickens will be able to make use of dry land, while the couple will make home on board.
There is no doubt that Sarah and Nigel’s story is pretty out there, but to some their lifestyle sounds idyllic. “When you give up luxuries, you gain freedom and time,” Sarah maintained to The Mirror. “It is a pretty cheap existence without the stuff you tell yourself you need.” Perhaps we could all take a leaf out of their book and turn a greener page for ourselves.