Laya Point Permaculture works and plays at the Old School, Ulpha, situated in the breath-taking Duddon Valley. The Duddon Valley is part of the Lake District National Park in Cumbria. At the bottom of our track is Ulpha Bridge, spanning the Duddon River which runs along the length of the valley floor. There are forests on both sides of the river, bracken-covered fells and rocky outcrops. Our valley and local area resonates with life and supports a diverse range of micro-climates.
The Old School at Ulpha is a one acre field reclaimed from local sheep farming and gifted to the community to become a school during the mid 1800’s until 1999, when the number of students in attendance was not deemed economically viable.
Tom and Nicole arrived in 2012 and re-invented the land once more, turning the old school playground into 33 raised vegetable beds, a forest garden, pond and wild flower meadow. At the same time, the old school building was undergoing a complete renovation to provide a stunning venue with two large, open, light-filled rooms with awe-inspiring views of the surrounding landscape.
The aim was to transform the Old School field into a Permaculture demonstration site, whilst also running courses in sustainability and harmonious living in the hope of being able to re-establish the Old School as a place of inspiration and learning. We also offer the use of the space for bespoke retreats.
The Old School building is a fantastic, light space, with large windows on all sides offering views up and down the valley and surrounding fells. The two large rooms are connected in an L-shape, providing a flexible space for a variety of activities. The building runs with a very low environmental impact, with LED lighting, ground-source heating which keeps the place at a pleasant temperature all year round and a large rainwater catchment tank, which provides for some of the utilities in the school as well as all the water for the gardens.
The Raised Beds
The school’s tarmac playground has been transformed into our main annual growing area, with 32 raised vegetable beds set out in a symmetrical pattern that pays homage to its football pitch origins. At either end, two curved beds built with dry stone walls create a semi circle, whilst in the middle, four curved beds make up the centre circle. The four pathways leading out from the centre sit on the axis of a compass, while the rest of the beds fan out from the centre, somewhat like the rays of the sun. The 33rd and largest of the raised beds, encompasses the area around the old school climbing frames. By leaving the tarmac pathways around the beds, they have acted as a heat sink and allowed for an abundance of vegetables to be grown each year.
The Forest Garden
The forest garden is still in its infancy, but it is such an exciting ongoing project. In the first year, some carefully selected fruit and nut trees, were planted, which will eventually make up the canopy layer. Large sections of the garden have also been sheet mulched so as to suppress the grass to allow for planting a wide variety of berries and currants, most of which were gifted to the project as cuttings. These include redcurrant, whitecurrant, blackcurrant, gooseberry, jostaberry, raspberry, blueberry and goji. A number of bog-loving plants have also been planted in the wettest area, including teasel, birds foot trefoil and valerianto to attract pollinators, fix nitrogen and create competition with the grass. Bilberry, ramsons and bog myrtle have been transplanted from the local area as well. Pathways have been created around the garden and a willow windbreak has been planted between the forest garden and the veg beds. This also acts as a shimmering veil between the two distinct zones.
The Recreation Area
On the edge of the forest garden, the pond vibrates with life. Despite not holding water as well as we would like, it more than fulfils its role as a way to increase bio-diversity. Beside the pond stand the brittle willow trees that help support the wonderfully wonky hazel bench. The rock-built fire circle completes the area, adding a primal edge to proceedings.