How we are doing our bit

Exmoor National Park Partner

When you stay at Exmoor House you'll spot evidence of our green activities around the place. Here is some more information, Rosi’s ramblings… and some tips we hope you may find helpful.

Paper logs/briquettes for the fire

We make these out of newspaper, used office paper, paper towels, cardboard tubes, etc. We tear the paper into strips, soak it in water (from the waterbutts in our back yard) for about 24 hours then squeeze the water out with a specially-designed press (made by Eko-Mania among others). After that, the logs need to dry out thoroughly before we can use them. This can take several weeks. On our open fire, we’ve found that the paper briquettes work best when used in conjunction with wooden logs, since they tend to smoulder rather than burn and they produce a very fine ash which could stifle the fire if they are used on their own.

‘Air fresheners’ made with essential oils
A way to use fewer nasty artificial chemicals. If you want to try this at home: put a small amount of bland-smelling alcohol (e.g. cheap vodka) in a spray bottle, add a few drops of essential oils of your choice and top up the bottle with spring water or distilled water. Shake the bottle before use, and keep it out of young children’s reach. The alcohol helps distribute the oils throughout the mix and also acts as a preservative. If you don’t want to use alcohol, a bit of glycerine, or a tiny drop of washing up liquid, helps the mix.
I also make disinfectant and ‘mothballs’ using essential oils; talk to me if you’d like further details.
As an aside, something that makes me wonder: you know in ads for air fresheners they’re always going on about getting rid of cooking smells? Well, if the food smells so bad, why are people eating it?

Monitoring energy and water use
We have an ‘Owl’ electricity monitor, to tell us how much electricity is being used at any given moment. It’s useful for checking any anomalies (and pretty scary when we have the large oven going and the kettle on). We have 2 electricity meters, and did at one point have a monitor for each meter – unfortunately, we discovered that this didn’t work too well; the signals got confused!
We read the electricity and water meters each week, logging how much we’ve used and comparing it year on year (so far, we’ve managed to reduce usage each year).

The Bug Hotel (and other animals)
… because insects need somewhere to stay too! Our Bug Hotel is in one corner of the guest patio. It looks like a small pile of old bricks, branches and tree bark, but is in fact luxury, eco-friendly self-catering apartments.
For other small guests, we have bee-friendly plants in the garden, and we leave seedheads and some dead leaves around over winter to provide food & shelter. The birds get any leftover toast, etc…

Food ingredients
You will have gathered that we make just about everything ourselves – which means that our food does not contain artificial flavourings, colourings or dodgy e-numbers. For example, our home-made bread contains 4 things: flour, water, yeast and a bit of salt; plus sometimes a fifth ingredient, olive oil. Now read the ingredients list on a pack of shop-bought bread…
We use butter rather than margarine, because it’s more natural (though if you can’t tolerate milk products or prefer to avoid butter, we can give you dairy-free sunflower spread instead, and can use the spread, or vegetable oil, in cooking, as appropriate). And we purposely don’t stock ‘diet’ drinks: if you want to be put off them for life, just try Googling aspartame.

Dinner orders
On the day you arrive, we take their orders for dinner shortly after you check in (or in advance, if you’re going to be arriving after 5pm). For subsequent days, dinner orders are taken after breakfast. This means that we can cook exactly what is needed, minimising waste, and also that we can plan the cooking to use energy most efficiently.

We are gradually changing over to low-energy lightbulbs, as the older ones ‘go’. Interestingly, some of the older (not so low energy) bulbs have been in place since before we moved here in 2006, whereas we have had to change other (low-energy, and supposedly longlife) bulbs several times. However, there is one low-energy bulb we have had since 1988 - it has moved house with us several times. It cost a small fortune at the time, but has been well worth it.

Microfibre cloths
A wonderful invention – they clean absolutely brilliantly, using less cleaning product to achieve the same (or better) results. You just need to use a bit more elbow grease… thereby getting some healthy exercise while you clean. We find that many stains can be removed with just a microfibre cloth and a little bit of water. See below for what we do about more stubborn marks.

Alternative cleaning materials
Currently we use Bio-D loo cleaner, general-purpose hard surface cleaner, eucalyptus disinfectant, glass cleaner and polish. They’re pretty good, and free of noxious ingredients. We’ve tried several washing-up liquids, e.g. Ecover, Bio-D, Northern Environmental – they all work fine but you need to use a bit more, especially on greasy items. Dishwasher tablets: Ecover and Green Force are both good, but we do also use conventional tablets once in a while, which helps keep the inside of the dishwasher clean too.
For cleaning the inside of fridges and freezers, bicarbonate of soda is still the best. Bicarb + white vinegar is good for keeping drains clean and sweet. And if you have any out-of-date soft drinks, such as a certain one beginning with C-C, they’re handy as a loo soak (it’s the acid).

The laundry
Ecover liquid cleans well (personally I’m not so keen on their powder – I’ve found that it does not dissolve well at low temperatures and clogs up the machine). However Ecover doesn’t get your whites whiter than white, and greyish towels are not very fetching, so we do also use non-biological Persil or Fairy every so often. The other thing with Ecover is that it doesn’t give that ‘just washed’ scent to the laundry. Drying it outdoors helps a bit, as does putting a couple of drops of lavender essential oil in the rinse (but I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you’re washing delicate items).
Generally we wash everything at 40°C - except teatowels and cleaning cloths, which get a boil wash. Our repair man tells us that an occasional very hot wash is good for the washing machine, giving its insides a good clean, cutting down on maintenance and possibly extending its life.

Stain removal
White vinegar is helpful for some stains, as is borax. We also use White Wizard paste, which works well (the manufacturers don’t divulge their ingredients, beyond saying they’re natural and harmless). The original Vanish bars are good, if you can get hold of them (and more environmentally friendly than the liquid or tablets).
Especially tough stains, like rust marks and some makeup*, respond well to lemon juice + salt + sunlight, but this method is rather labour intensive (and weather dependent). Sometimes we have to resort to more chemically-based stain removers.
* There is a particular kind of foundation which is really, really difficult to remove from our lovely white towels. If you use the long-lasting kind of makeup, please (please) would you ask us for a dark coloured face towel? (But one has to wonder, what is it doing to your skin? There may be a lot of permanently orange people around in a few years’ time)

Recyclables from the bedrooms
If you take any bottles or cans from the bar up to your room, you can leave the empties in the blue bin on the landing, to be recycled. Any used batteries from shavers, torches etc can also go in there. Teabags, coffee bags and any other compostable waste, such as fruit skins, can be left on your room tray (there’s a little ‘teabags’ holder on there) and we’ll sort it out. We’ll use any newspapers, etc, in our paper briquettes.

These are just some examples of how we are working to make Exmoor House as environmentally friendly as we can. If you have any queries at all, just ask.

A few recommended books (in no particular order – they’re just some I like)

Hope L Bourne:
Wild Harvest
Living on Exmoor

Wise words from an amazing woman

Janey Lee Grace:
Imperfectly Natural Woman
Imperfectly Natural Home

Living more naturally without adopting a hair shirt

Leslie Kenton:
Healing Herbs
Includes an excellent detox and recipes for shampoo, etc

Pat Thomas:
Cleaning Yourself to Death
The chemicals in household cleaners, and alternatives to try

James Ferguson:
The Vitamin Murders
One man investigates a conspiracy theory and makes some unexpected discoveries

Louise Riotte:
Carrots Love Tomatoes
Companion planting and natural pest control

William Cobbett:
Cottage Economy
Classic treatise on self-sufficiency

Chas Griffin:
Scenes from a Smallholding
More Scenes from a Smallholding

Hilarious, moving and thought-provoking

(ed) The Ecologist:
Go M.A.D.
Large and small ways to make a difference

Clarissa Dickson-Wright & Johnny Scott:
A Greener Life
Down-to-earth advice on every aspect of going green

Jekka McVicar:
Jekka’s Complete Herb Book
My ‘bible’ for growing and looking after herbs

Valerie Ann Worwood:
The Fragrant Pharmacy
Using essential oils around the home and to enhance wellbeing

Richard Mabey:
Flora Britannica
A wonderful book to dip into

Autumn on Exmoor

The changing Exmoor seasons are always a delight. October and November are a time for colourful trees, red deer rutting - and Somerset carnivals.
More ideas: Exmoor events
And here are a few reasons why we love this time of year.
Stay at Exmoor House and you can enjoy some fab food and total relaxation...

Exmoor House has won several green awards
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Exmoor House
Wheddon Cross
Exmoor National Park
Somerset TA24 7DU

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