Archaeologists Claire Coulter and Chris Fenton-Thomas bought an old bus on eBay and headed for the Continent in a search of the good life.
Three years on, their quest ‘to learn about gardening and animals’ has turned into a whole new beginning – and now they are ready to share it with others too.
The couple fell in love with a traditional Bulgarian house, set within its own organic farm.
They have not only learned the skills of small-scale farming – producing fruit, herbs, vegetables and wine, as well as keeping goats, pigs and chickens – but also launched an eco holiday centre.
Wild Thyme Farm is already up and running for self-catering and B&B holidays. Now it is also offering artist retreats, archaeological excursions and courses in everything from butchery and wine making to reiki.
Chris and Claire, of Walkley, originally set out to volunteer on organic farms in France. But after six months they heard about the Bulgarian lifestyle and found themselves in the village of Palamartsa, where a self-sufficient community still practises traditional farming methods.
“The sound of the village herd going out to pasture and horses and carts passing outside your window start the day,” says Claire.
Working with local craftsmen, they restored their farmhouse using traditional mud and straw plaster, clay paints, limewash and beeswax.
Then they bought the derelict place next door and set about renovating that too. The idea came from a dream to provide a truly authentic eco holiday experience, says Claire.
The guest house, which sleeps up to eight, features solar power for water and electricity. Greywater is recycled into flowerbeds and rainwater is collected for use on organic vegetables. Guests use an odourless compost toilet, which is eventually recycled as fertiliser for the fruit trees. Food scraps go to the animals.
“Our biggest challenges have been the cold winters and the language barrier,” says Chris. “The winters will always be cold, but we are slowly learning the language and can now talk freely with our neighbours.”
They have become adept at growing a whole range of vegetables, with companion planting to manage pests organically: “Rivelin allotment was never like this!”
Chris has even butchered his own pig, using skin and fat for lard, medicine and soap and freezing the meat for future use.
The slow pace of life has also given them a chance to develop other interests. Chris has begun to write poetry after an Open University creative writing course, while Claire has trained as a reiki master and now carries out treatments for guests.
For details of courses and accommodation visit www.wildthymefarm.org.