Mark Boyle hasn’t switched on a light for three years. Nor has he boiled a kettle, bunged on a wash, turned on the oven, or the radio, vacuumed, cheered on his favourite football team on the TV, listened to any recorded music, sent an email, made a phone call or updated his social media.
Not because he’s lazy, but because, in December 2016, he pledged to live technology-free. On his banned list was anything that requires power or ‘an ongoing energy input’.
‘That was my starting point, but I take things to a more extreme level than that,’ he says.
So he shut down his computer, closed all his online accounts, cancelled his credit cards and got rid of every piece of electronic equipment — he won’t even allow himself a wind-up radio.
Mark Boyle, 39, in his cabin with a ladder leading to the mezzanine bedroom
An exterior view of his rustic cabin with no electricity in the small holding in the west of Ireland
Now he grows, catches and forages for his food, makes his own toothpaste (from wild fennel seeds and cuttlefish bone) and uses the plant soapwort, which he grows, to wash his clothes.
Home is a log cabin he built himself where he likes to while away the dark winter evenings making love on the sheepskin rug in front of his cosy log burner.
Did I mention he’s 38, darkly bearded, with a soft Irish lilt and is really rather handsome?
Frankly, it all sounds wonderful. Just imagine being able to opt out of work, whining children and endless drivel about Brexit and, instead, sit quietly in your sun-dappled log cabin reading.
Or, come to think of it, making love.
Mark, who still allows himself pen and paper, has now written a book about his experiences — The Way Home: Tales From A Life Without Technology.
He grows, catches and forages for his food, makes his own toothpaste (from wild fennel seeds and cuttlefish bone) and uses the plant soapwort, which he grows, to wash his clothes
Other than chopping wood, making a fire (he prefers the friction method to matches) and ensuring he has enough to eat, there is nothing he needs to be doing
And so, after a fortnight of snail mail correspondence to set it up, I visited him on his three-acre small-holding near Galway.
There was no fixed time because, naturally, Mark has no clocks or watch. ‘I sleep according to the light, in tune with the seasonal rhythm,’ he explains.
We bump into each other at two-ish between a pheasant with a floppy neck that someone found dead on the road and thought he might fancy, and his truly spectacular log pile that stretches for yards and yards.
‘Once I’ve started chopping, I just can’t stop,’ he says, hands moving automatically to his axe. ‘It’s just one of my favourite things to do. I spend hours chopping.’
Before you jump to conclusions, Mark isn’t deranged. He has a first class honours degree in marketing. He used to be manager of an organic food firm in Bristol. He went on exotic holidays. He had Facebook and Twitter accounts that he updated regularly.
He’d just simply had enough of the way the world was going. ‘The impact our way of life was having — industrialism wiping out life on earth, oceans filled with plastic, forests felled,’ he says. ‘We’ve lost 60 per cent of wildlife in the past 50 years. I wanted to go back to how life had been.’
Light and airy with soaring ceilings, an inviting-looking candlelit mezzanine bedroom, it is also immaculately clean and not remotely musty-smelling
Jane Fryer, Daily Mail features writer walking along the pathway to Mark Boyle’s rural home
Mark, who still allows himself pen and paper, has now written a book about his experiences — The Way Home: Tales From A Life Without Technology
‘Of course, I hear bits and bobs. I know Brexit exists. But I feel glad to be out of it. What could I do to help?’ Mark says
Easier said than done. Because pretty much everything has to go. Every convenience, every gadget.
At first, he just missed coffee and following Manchester United. Then his girlfriend realised that a life without technology in a log cabin (or children — he was not keen) was not what she wanted.
He says that all our ‘conveniences’ bring their own stresses. Emails have to be answered. Everything is so pressured. We never stop to smell the roses.
After years of following current affairs, he stepped away from news, radio and TV. ‘Of course, I hear bits and bobs. I know Brexit exists. But I feel glad to be out of it. What could I do to help?’
He also realised, he says, that his new life was not about giving things up, but gaining — peace, calm and being in the moment.
‘I’ve gained self-knowledge,’ he says. ‘I know my limits and I’ve a real connection to the landscape and people around me.’
An array of pickled vegetables, blackberry and blackcurrant wines and nettle beers
Mark preparing his lunch of home-baked bread and jam in his rustic kitchen
For lunch he eats home-baked bread and jam – and potatoes and greens the rest of the time
He swapped his usual daily worries for a more visceral need to survive — to find food (he planted nut trees, fruit trees, a vegetable garden and kept chickens and bees); warmth (he learned through trial and a lot of error how to make fire with friction); and shelter.
His log cabin — built with the help of neighbours and ‘an entire shelf of build-your-own cabin’ survival books — is a revelation.
Light and airy with soaring ceilings, an inviting-looking candlelit mezzanine bedroom, a perky stuffed pine marten on the windowsill and an array of pickled vegetables, blackberry and blackcurrant wines and nettle beers. It is also immaculately clean and not remotely musty-smelling.
Light comes from candles and paraffin lamps, and heat from the wood burner. There is no indoor loo — he uses either a tree or a compost loo nearby and washes with water boiled on the stove. Everything takes ages — washing, clothes, cooking on the fire.
But it couldn’t matter less.
It’s hard for most of us to imagine living with no time constraints, but Mark does. Other than chopping wood, making a fire (he prefers the friction method to matches) and ensuring he has enough to eat, there is nothing he needs to be doing.
The vegetable patch is scraggy and overgrown — just a few celeriac, some sprout tops and the dog end of kale
His beautifully written book is full of references to gorgeous and effervescent Kirsty, the love of his life, but last summer she went on a musical tour and wrote to say she wasn’t coming back, that log cabin life wasn’t for her
Tending to his plants in the garden – he emits such an extraordinary calm that I immediately find myself speaking more slowly and softly
Some days he feels like fishing. The lake is 15 miles away and he either cycles (which takes an hour or so) or walks (four hours each way). Or he can spend five hours whittling wood, if he fancies. Or sit and read. Or stare at the sky. Or walk through the forest communing with nature.
‘When I’m walking, I’m not distracted by anything. I’m listening to the birds, I’m looking to see which plants are out. I’m at peace,’ he says.
He emits such an extraordinary calm that I immediately find myself speaking more slowly and softly. He can’t remember the last time he lost his temper.
‘I can’t even think what would get me down,’ he says.
But some things must pall. His diet, for starters. Oatmeal for breakfast and fresh spring water to drink, home-baked bread for lunch with jam, and potatoes and greens the rest of the time.
‘I’ve eaten potatoes and greens every day.’ Often just that, though once or twice a week supplemented with perch, mackerel, trout, or road-kill.
Other than chopping wood and preparing his food Mark Boyle has very little else to do
His simple cabin with a wood burning stove, foosball table and books set on the coffee table
Tending to the decorations in his simple and clean cabin in the west of Ireland
Sometimes he feels the need for protein so keenly that he’ll knock back a glass of fish blood, or swallow a couple of raw eggs, but mostly it’s just potatoes and greens. He looks pretty good on it and hasn’t visited a doctor for nearly 20 years.
‘We forget that often our way of life is causing a lot of the problems,’ he says. ‘The food we eat. The water, the air we breath. The pace of life — stress is a huge killer.’
But what about when he’s 75? Will he be able to provide for himself then? ‘I think you become fit from this lifestyle, so I’ll just keep building up the physical strength,’ he says. ‘I already feel less tired.’
Despite his home-made toothpaste, he can’t remember the last time he went to the dentist and thinks if he had terrible toothache he’d probably whip the offending tooth out himself.
Perhaps inevitably, his romantic life has suffered. His beautifully written book is full of references to gorgeous and effervescent Kirsty, the love of his life, with whom he did all that fireside love-making. They sounded made for one another, but last summer she went on a musical tour and wrote to say she wasn’t coming back, that log cabin life wasn’t for her.
‘I was very sad,’ he says. ‘Heartbroken. Because it just kind of came out of nowhere.’
Some days he feels like fishing. The lake is 15 miles away and he either cycles (which takes an hour or so) or walks (four hours each way)
There appears to be no shortage of wood at the cabin which is puled high to the rafters
The Happy Pig, a free hostel that Mark Boyle runs for people who want to visit and live the simple life for a while
Old friends have had to take a bit of a back seat, too. Paper-only correspondence sorts out the wheat from the chaff in our tech-driven world. But Mark and his parents write every week, they visit regularly and have been unfailingly supportive.
Bizarrely, as a boy growing up in a terraced house in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Mark was technology mad — the first of all his friends to have a mobile phone and a Sega mega drive.
‘I was mad into computers!’
This isn’t the first time he’s used himself as a guinea pig. He spent several years living without money (an experience he also wrote a book about and, ironically, used the proceeds to buy this land).
Before that, and inspired by his boyhood hero Gandhi, he attempted to walk to Delhi, relying solely on the kindness of strangers. (It was all going well until, about 600 miles and a lot of blisters in, he reached Calais and realised that his lack of French made the venture impossible.)
‘I don’t mind trying and failing,’ he says. ‘I’d just hate not to try.’
In some ways, Mark’s life seems selfless, but in others, a teeny bit selfish — stepping away from problems that the rest of us have to carrying on wrestling with. I ask if there was some emotional jolt that propelled him into these lifestyle changes, but he insists not.
He also says he is never lonely. He is no hermit. Instead of choosing to live in splendid isolation, there are other houses nearby — all ablaze with electricity.
The stunning simplicity of his home – Mark says he can’t remember the last time he lost his temper
He walks the hour or so to a pub for a traditional music night each week, or a pint with friends. Everyone in the local community drops round to give him road-kill, old deer skins (he wants to try his hand at making his own deerskin shoes) and DIY advice.
There is also a steady stream of visitors to his log cabin. Because, rather surprisingly, he has also built the Happy Pig, a cosy hostel (with power), on his land, which is free to all but not advertised anywhere.
‘If you can find it, you can stay,’ he says, though he insists he never pops in for a cuppa or have a hot shower, but does use the compost loo.
Of course, the success of the book means that, occasionally, he has to breach the calm of the Galway countryside.
He says: ‘I could never live in a city again — the pace, the air quality, the chlorinated water,’ he says. ‘But I can manage for a short time. The calm here protects me. I get in a very peaceful state — it protects me like a cloak when I go out into the rest of the world.’
It was on one of these forays, when teaching a class on perma-culture (self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems), he met his current girlfriend, who lives in Dublin and visits every few weeks.
‘It’s very difficult for me to visit her, so we write love-letters in between,’ he says. ‘It’s much nicer than sending texts.’
And he welcomes her with a slap-up meal of, well, potatoes and greens, obviously. ‘I’ll go fishing the day before and maybe open a bottle of gorse wine.’
Pen and paper are perhaps the most advanced technologies he permits himself in his simple life
Mark cutting a loaf of his lunch time bread which he makes himself and eats every day
Of course, it isn’t all easy. He’s often hungry and cold and uncomfortable, but he enjoys embracing those discomforts, feeling them.
When he embarked on his project, his reasons were wholly ecological. Over time, they’ve shifted. ‘What sustains me is the sense of feeling alive that comes with this way of life. I’d like to go deeper, try to make everything for myself — my clothes, my shoes.
‘I am very content, I accept life as it is. It was never meant to be comfortable all the time.’
While his log cabin is an unmitigated joy on an April day, before spring has really sprung, the rest of his set-up looks a teeny bit dismal. The vegetable patch is scraggy and overgrown — just a few celeriac, some sprout tops and the dog end of kale. The chickens have fallen victim to wild mink, the bees have been wiped out by disease and the ghost of ex-girlfriend Kirsty still hangs in the air.
But he wouldn’t change a thing.
‘This is the worst time of year remember,’ he says. ‘And I’m still here!’ Even better, he says, he’s discovered his life’s purpose.
‘To be alive! To experience life in all its magic. Because life is precious, full of wonders — the stars, the extent of the universe, nature, and we’re often too busy to appreciate it,’ he says.
‘There’s all this talk of saving the world, but we need to stop and savour it, too.’