So – it’s been established that I am a bit of a nutcase – and my adventuring off to Swellendam to embark on a Natural Building course certainly did nothing to dispel that belief. Even if there were any people that remotely believed in my sanity, that hope they were clinging onto has probably resulted in a sudden death – of said hope. On a grey Saturday, I arrived at Jackals Kloof farm and pitched my tent among 7 others. I was anxious, far from home and I felt very alone.

After a great nights sleep – one of those that you wake up in the same position you last remembered yourself being in – I popped back into town for my last packet of 10s. We had been ordered to the training room for 830 – an early Sunday morning start. I was full of the joys – bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to learn how to build with cob (whatever that meant!)

I don’t really know what I expected, but it really probably wasn’t that I would learn any technicalities. Peter McIntosh started by teaching us all about soil, and how to conduct compressive and tensile strength tests on mud bricks. BAM! That came as a huge surprise. You mean this was actually a real course, with proper outcomes and I was maybe going to have to stretch the grey matter somewhat; to absorb something new? Wow – not too shabby Nige! I was impressed.

That first day we learnt how to make an earth mix to form bricks for testing purposes. Day two found us mixing cob – clay, sand and water with some straw added for tensile strength – with our feet. We rolled it on black plastic sheets then stomped and stomped it to mix, adding the straw when it was all thoroughly mixed. It was heavy going. At the end of the day I was exhausted, all my moving parts (and even some of my none moving parts) were sore or stiff – or both. I was dead to the world by 9.

And just like that we were rolling. Each day we did a bit of theory, a LOT of practical and Peter made us journal in the evenings. The ever present mud takes over – pervasive, insidious – and the fusty smell of the dam water seeped into my pores. By Wednesday I was completely and utterly depressed. What the hell? Here I was, doing something I had been excited about for 6 months – and I was miserable? Choosing not to over analyse the situation I put it down to homesickness, being totally out of my comfort zone, exhaustion and my dirty hair!

But Thursday dawned- bright and sunny and old Dilly was back! For more of the same. Probably one of the loveliest things for me were the people I met. I’m usually the odd one out – the hippy, vegetarian chick, worried about the environment, talking about all things natural – and here I was surrounded by a whole bunch of clever people who had similar concerns.

My week building with cob at Jakkalskloof in Swellendam was the beginning of a journey for me. I am still organising my life and deciding which route to take, but I’m excited about the future adventures I will be embarking on. To keep up to date, connect with me on Social Media. If you are in Port Elizabeth, I will be talking about my experience at the Port Elizabeth Permaculture Group’s monthly meeting on the 7th December.




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