Saved by the neighbours

Annette Potter - (c)
Annette Potter - (c)

An off-grid equestrian and her family had their Christmas dinner delivered by a Welsh police mountain rescue helicopter today.

The family was stranded for two weeks by snow at their hilltop home  in the UK, as the country ground to a halt because of a freak snow flurry. BBC News carried a story about the mercy mission near Knighton, Mid-Wales after worried neighbours called local cops.

The BBC PM show interviewed Annette Potter, 39, who appears in the book  HOW TO LIVE OFF-GRID,  and runs a stud farm and horse training grounds on her isolated mountainside. She shares their tiny cottage with her mother and her 14-year-old daughter.  Her father Dennis also lives there and sleeps in a caravan in the garden. The helicopter brought medicine for Dennis’ high blood pressure, and a full Christmas dinner for the family, plus fuel for the generator which is Annette’s only source of power. The Potter family run the generator whenever they need so much as a light on.
Her daughter was born in Ireland where Annette worked for one of the leading stud farms. She is up early each morning to feed her 14 horses.

Annette was waiting at the gate to the farm when I visited, wearing tight jodhpurs and with her jet-black hair swept back over her head. As we walked down to the house she told me about the small thoroughbred breeding stable she runs, and the drawbacks of siting it on this sparse piece of moorland. ‘. ‘Not that we are unsociable,” she said.  “We just like to get away from everything.’ She was twenty-five when she moved there. ‘It was a great place to bring up a  kid, the serenity of it. Away from the hustle and bustle. But winter can be harsh. It’s a long winter up here. All the necessary feeding to do, we pick up logs, make sure the animals are OK, and that we have enough stores left if we are snowed in. We are lacking in various trace elements up here, which the horses get out of a bucket rather than the land.’

They were going through hard times. At one point they had owned the farmhouse next door as well, a very large building. They had always lived in strange, out-of-the-way places. Prior to that it had been a seventeenth-century mansion near Bath which Dennis had found the same way he found this place, by driving for miles down winding, back lanes, looking for tumbledown dwellings, then asking around until he found someone to sell it to him.

That was how he had found Upper Heath, and now the whole family’s future was staked on the horses Annette was breeding and the possibility that one of them in a few years might become a champion. A horse breeder is on a percentage from their winning horses for life. Annette had a string of horses descended from Irish champions that she sold for quite large sums, but only enough to keep the business going. Now they were waiting until her one-year-olds became three-year-olds, and ran in major races. Meanwhile, they had been forced to sell the bigger property, Annette told me without any hint of regret. Over coffee in their tiny kitchen, Dennis described how he had originally found the place, and bought it for a song.

Spring water comes into the house by pump up to a header tank located higher than the house, and is then gravity-fed back down, travelling about 250 yards in all. But unlike almost everyone else I met, the Potters have no wind or solar power. Annette and her family survive entirely on one petrol generator. No batteries, just one generator, which they turn on when they want light, or to run machinery, or to watch TV, or when Annette’s daughter needs the computer for schoolwork. Annette admitted ‘a storage battery would be preferable’.

The generator is kept in an outhouse across from the property; it runs the stable and yard light as well. Dennis took me in to see it. I found it sitting next to three or four broken-down generators amid shelves full of spare parts from long-dead equipment. The old boys who used to travel around fixing these vintage pieces of equipment have all retired or died. There is only one person left in the area who can do the job, and he is rushed off his sixty-seven-year-old feet. ‘It’s noisy, I’m afraid,’

Dennis said, ‘so that’s a good reason for getting wind or alternative power, especially on a summer’s evening.’ But the family can barely afford the cost, and even if they could, the palaver of filling in forms for the grants, and even choosing the right system, is too much for them.

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