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Life in Tipi Valley

Sid sees his first Tipi and resolves to own one

(An extract from Chapter 8)

It was in 1974 at the last Free Festival in Windsor Great Park that I first clapped eyes on a tipi. My friend, Chris Waite, arrived from Ireland in his VW and on the roof he had a load of very long poles and inside was a mass of white canvas, all of which with our help he put together to make a tipi which we erected amid the sea of what we call 'nylon wonders' and it stood there really magnificent.

He was sat inside and he'd got his furnishings and his wooden bowls and he'd got a wonderful woman, Jill. And there was Jill's baby, Alice. Bill had the fire going in the middle of this tipi and she was there boiling up the kettle.

These were superior beings without any doubt. Could we all have tipis, please? Suddenly all sorts of problems were solved and a wonderful new resource became available.

Jill later became very much my teacher, she taught me how to make my first tipi, showed me in detail how a woman looks after a lodge. Lodge is another name for a tipi.

It's interesting that the tipi had arrived on the scene before the bender tent, although the bender is the traditional tent of the Gypsies of this country, and is cheaper to make and in some ways a lot more comfortable. But the tipi is a very spiritual space. Of course, all tents, whether they be benders, tipis, or plastic wonders, or army bivouaks, are really just a roof over a bed. The tipi is not only that. It is like living in a chimney as well.

Meanwhile Chris at the Festival had met up with Andrew Cripps, who had a farm in Wales. This farm had a Buddha painted on one gable wall, which had been there, looking out over the Welsh countryside, for many years. Andrew said there was a barn there which we could have for the building of tipis, and invited us to join him.

I had been editing an edition of the International Times, and also was running a transport business called 'It Moves It'. Our logo on our cards was dinosaurs, moving furniture about. One day we had to move a load of wholefoods down to Lampeter, near to Andrew's place. That was a good excuse to go and see him, and Chris who had moved down there. I arrived to find quite a little tipi community there, seven or eight tipis standing in a meadow.

I spent a week there, and at the end of the week I said, 'Look, Chris, I really don't feel like going back to London.' And he smiled as if he'd known this would happen and said, 'Why not stay here and make a tipi?'

'Well, to start with, I couldn't afford it.'

And Chris said, 'Your canvas is already sitting in the barn. Show him, Jill.'

So Jill took me up to the barn and there was an industrial treadle sewing machine and lots of canvas. And I went back to London, sold all my possessions, and returned.

Most people who have heard of tipis have also heard of Tipi Valley in West Wales, the place where there are now more tipis than anywhere else in Britain. The original bit of land had been bought by Jill, who had some money of her own. Soon after I’d finished making my first tipi at Andrew’s farm, she invited me over.

I felt like a new explorer, standing on top of the hill looking down into ‘tipi valley’. It's quite a steep sided valley and it's wooded all over, sparsely wooded because the old trees and the hedgerows have got tall now and the fields are small and it looks a lot more wooded perhaps than it is. The little farms around there are going to ruin, they never came into the modern age, it was too steep sided, too small. Modern machinery couldn't do it. Sheep farmers and cow farmers were already feeling the pinch of the Common Market agricultural policy. Young people didn't want to work on the land and the average age of the population was getting a lot older. Just like on Exmoor, the children had gone away to find employment and they weren't going to work the farms any more.

In those days Tipi Valley was very wild. Too many sheep had grazed it so that some things were missing, such as the variety of wild flowers that later came to grow again there. But it was still lush with growth, very green, very beautiful.

Stan and Cherry's old red London double-decker bus was the first living place I came to, with its window-boxes full of flowers and bits and pieces lying everywhere, there it was on the side of the hill, a mile from the road. They had dug a track across the common in order to get this bus in, and the weather in Wales is such that the track had eroded. The bus would never be able to get out again. It’s still there.

Further down into the valley, there was bracken everywhere, little paths, little old rights of way, old farm tracks, and there suddenly I saw them, the tipis amongst the trees. A circle of tipis is a sight so beautiful that it can still take my breath away. It certainly did then. Chris was there with Jill, and Scott and Mandy were there. Clare Moston was there, and many others. Chris showed me around the valley, we wandered along the little streams that run through it, visited the waterfall and the wells, and he took me over the land, and he said, 'Here one day, Sid, there'll be a tipi village all around these fields.' And it was a great dream, that vision of gardens, fruit trees, and the reality of that dream has now come true.

A couple of the local farmers, Billy Bus and Nab Blunt, were selling land to people in portions small enough for them to be able to afford. And this was the thing that got the place started I think. It resulted in lots of little landowners holding the freehold of their plots of land. And they're not on the land register so it's difficult to find out who owns what. This makes them difficult to deal with legally. Later, when powerful forces were mounted against our little community, that was a great help.

I finally moved into Tipi Valley myself on January 1st 1977.


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