Tipi Valley, Wales

There aren't many Tipis left in Tipi Valley. In the early days, when the council in this part of Wales was keen to evict the hippies that came to settle on a 200 acre site in a valley near the hamlet of Cywmdu, the Tipis were essential. Served with an eviction notice, the occupant would simply relocate the tent and continue to live off the grid. Nowadays, the bureaucrats seem to have far less appetite for interfering with a community that has its origins in the Stonehenge free festivals of the 60s and 70s. Tipis have been replaced by yurts and mud huts. There are solar panels and some residents own cars. Just as well, because the nearest town - Llandeilo - is several hours walk.

There was a time when the Tipi Valley hippies had a fractious relationship with the locals. Stray dogs worried cattle and there was a 'no dogs, no hippies' ban at the pub in Cywmdu. The community is far more integrated nowadays - children attend the local schools and hitch hikers are ferried to and from Llandeilo. There are about 100 people living in the valley, but not everyone is full time. It's also hard to do a head count as some of the dwellings are hidden in the thick vegetation that erupts with the summer rain.

Visitors are free to stay in the valley, sleeping in Big Lodge, a large Tipi erected on a green slope on the edge of the valley. Some people are incredibly friendly, others are more suspicious of outsiders. Announcing oneself as a journalist is never a good idea. Lola, the woman in the red dress photographed inside her hut, says anthropology students often appear in the valley and announce they are 'studying' the residents, a declaration that provokes some amusement.

This isn't an easy life. The valley was abandoned in about 1940 because life was so hard. Sunlight is in short supply in the deep valley and it is often water-logged. The winters can be bitter. Still, there's a magic to the place. The girl with the bow and arrow is Jessica. She's obsessed with Lord of the Rings - Leglolas in particular - and told me she killed squirrels and rabbits with her bow. Don't go too far into the trees she warned me. Visitors sometimes get lost for days.

She was joking - I think. Another Tipi dweller I met was Madeleine, one of the few who still lives in one of the Indian tents. She made me black tea sweetened with honey and talked about her plan to relocate her tent to a new site in the coming months.

Further up the valley I met Shamla and her Dutch partner. They have been living here for 13 years. Children love growing up here Shamla said, but when they become teens, peer pressure and a sense of the wider world makes them restless. They yearn for 'normality'.


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