Week 1 at Cob Camp – Eco Building and Community Living

I just arrived at La Creuse, a region in the middle of France, in order to participate to the building of a cob house organised by AM Rustic with other volunteers. Jean on his side, went to Central America for few weeks, in order to do a consultancy with a British humanitarian organisation.

I understood from the first day on the cob building course that this wasn’t really a structured course but a gathering of people with a shared interest in natural building coming together to live, work, learn and share their diverse experiences and skills.  Anita and Martin had ditched the ‘Day 1 – Designing your Cob House’ for driving the newcomers (myself, Vicky and Wayne) around the local area to see a previously built cob house, some sites and buy supplies.

The second day a family from the Netherlands arrived (Ester, Dirk, Emile and Liam) so while they got a tour of the area I continued settling in to my new environment and lifestyle with routines that continued throughout the week.  I started meditating again, continued reading my book ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle, collected nettle, mint or clover from the field to make tea, cooked, ate, collected fire wood, learnt from Vicky how to make a rug, watched the horses in our camping field, listened to the insects, birds, owls and various farm animals, played Anita and Martin’s gas bottle drums… and more…

In the afternoon of the second day we started! We discussed soil tests, made test bricks and built Mr Oo… a wine barrel cob oven.

Mr Oo was created by building cob around an old wine barrel we rested on an old oil drum. We then lit a fire inside him which burnt the wine barrel, leaving an earth oven behind. The wine barrel had metal rings which provide support for the structure from inside.

Then D and Samantha arrived in time for starting the cob house.  We all got involved for around 2 hours a day of cob stomping and wall building.  We mixed clay, sand, straw and water… listened to the sounds different mixes made… understood through tactile learning what a good cob mix was… I felt my connection to the earth and sun… the abundance and health it provides! I can barely express it in words as I felt I needed to be present, aware, conscious of my senses and less in my own thoughts and head.  Then I felt truly peaceful, happy, appreciative and connected to the earth, the task, people, nature and even myself.

Around cobbing we continued our routines: Sam started making amazing leather cuffs, Martin set up the solar shower and rocket stove, the compost toilet was emptied, we browsed a book on building cob (The Hand-Sculpted House, A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage by Ianto Evans, Michael G Smith, and Linda Smiley) and generally time was filled quite easily.

By Friday Mr Oo was sufficiently dry for us to make pizzas!  So we ate, drank, played music, listened to Sam’s beautiful voice and sat around a fire for a last evening with the family. I was sad to see them leave – especially since the boys had brought such a wonderful dimension to the week.

There’s nothing like having children’s energy, enthusiasm and openness around!

The weekend was relaxed – a visit to a nearby lake and a horse market (a biannual event in a a nearby town) where I bought some seedlings to start a small kitchen garden.

Sunday night we went to the dechetterie to salvage some things for our camp – new plates, pots, vice, bricks, tiles, glass and more,  Some of it will be perfect for our little cob house. Then Martin took Vicky, Wayne and D skip diving at the local supermarket to rescue some food.  We ended up with apples, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, fennel, leeks, rhubarb, lemons, pineapples, yoghurt, biscuits, tomato sauce, eggs, chicory, ginger, pasta, cottage cheese, courgettes, crème brulee, sweet potato, celery, mandarins, bread mix, brownie mix and more. Much of this was still within date. This waste is just another symptom of our sick society – while people starve in the world we use their resources to produce too much cheap food that then goes to landfill and gives off methane as it turns anaerobic instead of being composted and returned to the earth. Is this progress? Growth? Choice?

So, you can see that this course so far is not very structured or typical but its lessons are numerous and varied.

It’s not just about cob.  It’s about life, sharing skills, working together, creativity and resourcefulness. For me, it’s also about ‘A New Earth’ – becoming aware of ego, addiction (in all its forms), presence, ‘being’ instead of emphasising ‘doing’ and when ‘doing’ have awareness, enjoyment or enthusiasm.  If I can’t ‘do’ in this way I should stop or I will hurt myself and others.  As Jean always says… You get what you give… even if it is only in your private thoughts and intentions.

…I’m still making sense of things and I’m loving it!!



  • Alban from PU

    hello Carly,

    I took a look at your ongoing activities…
    You don’t know me… But I was given the adress of you site via my good friend Hakim our former head of Mission with PU in Iraq where I “shared office” with little John…
    before he beacame JSR the famous a phd applicant.

    If in france for a bit longer, I think you should pass by my place one of these days and pay a visit the hill…
    More to learn about donkeys, eco building, good things and good food,
    and may be a few clues and hints about the senses you are looking for.

    to take a look you can visit http://www.gite-soleole.fr

    Good luck for the “construction” I hope you will enjoy it.

    and a virtual hug to Jean when you catch him online.



    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Thank you so much for your invitation!! I would love to come but am unsure at present of my future movements… however, Jean and I will see if we can squeeze in a visit in the next couple of months 🙂


  • Kate

    Hi – this is a very interesting blog; thanks for sharing.
    I am wondering if you would be able to give share some instructions for building the cob oven – I love the idea of using the wine barrel for form and then the metal bands for strength, how very innovative.
    K xx


    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Hi Kate. Thanks for visiting our blog. Here are the instructions for building the cob oven with the wine barrel: https://makingsenseofthings.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/DSCN2283.jpg

    As for mixing the cob for your oven, you can see some hints on this post: https://makingsenseofthings.info/2011/06/week-5-%E2%80%93-cob-camp-hits-the-road-to-learn-eco-building-in-the-pyrenees/ but if you haven’t already, I would really recommend learning to mix cob with someone who knows so you can get to learn how it should feel for yourself.

    Good luck!


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