The initial appeal is obvious for anyone struggling to save enough for the deposit on a house.

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In fact it sounds almost too good to be true: dig your foundations and then use the free clay and sandy gravel you have extracted to build your walls.

But as a four-day course on cob building was coming to its conclusion yesterday, there was a growing conviction among the diverse mix of students that the ancient construction skill could also represent a bright future for them.

Army engineer Kenny George, 32, who attended the course in Fleggburgh, near Great Yarmouth, with his wife Cat, 29, summed up the optimism of the novice builders.

“Anyone could have a go. If you built sandcastles when you were a child you can build a cob house,” he said.

The couple, who are currently based in north Germany with their four children, are preparing for life after the army and are negotiating the purchase of a building plot near Barnstaple, in north Devon, for £60,000.

Mrs George said: “When we tell people what we are planning to do they generally smirk. But if people saw what sort of house they could have, a lot more would do it.”

“We will end up with a four-bedroom home instead of our present small flat in Peterborough and, what’s more, it will be built far more solidly than most modern-day houses,” added her husband.

Identical twins Alice and Hebe Wilcock, 29, of Hastings, East Sussex, also see cob building as the solution to their housing problem.

Alice, a stained glass artist, said: “We both currently live with our mother and step-father and we would love to build our own place.

“It is a very, natural, intuitive way of building and you save money for the future as well as the present because the insulation is so good you don’t need central heating.”

Kate Edwards and Charlotte Eve became cob enthusiasts eight years ago and their picture postcard cottage on the edge of Filby Broad stands as a testament to its potential.

An extension built out of the sandy subsoil dug from their garden has doubled the size and value of their 17th century home.

And the garden itself, a haven for wildlife from swallowtail butterflies to bitterns, has become the unlikely setting for an international, internet-driven business teaching cob building.

Ms Eve, 33, said: “This year has just gone mad. More than 450 people have come here on courses and Kate also goes out into schools to teach cob building.”

She said students had come from as far afield as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Canada and at least 50pc were intent on going on to build a cob house.

She said: “In addition to the Georges and the Wilcock sisters our latest course has a complete cross-section of people on it, from a postman to a professional musician. Demand was so great we had to put on another course in September and only have six places left on that.”

On a four-day course, costing £400, Ms Edwards, 43, takes students through everything they need to know from what to look for in buying a plot to the range of construction techniques, from basic cob building to lime rendering and mud plastering.

An energy-saving method used in their own home involves using lime rendered and clay plastered straw bales on the north facing wall to retain heat.

She said: “It really is easy to do and people can end up with an impressive home for the same price as a very small terrace in Norwich.”

For more information, visit www.edwardscobbuilding.com

3 comments

  • If you rest you rust, same for relics, if they're not lived in or earn their keep they will be museums pieces. There is not much noise involved in cob building and however quaint, the need to teach such simple and easy practises to build a warm house without burning bricks emitting pollution, or having need for concrete, when houses can be build on chalk and flint foundations, must surely be as important as one's overblown need to turn the countryside into a museum, not to speak of the deliberate use of words like traffic, intrusion and disturbing, they are wholly misplaced, bordering on slur, these students are not just customers, they go away enabled. These sustainable businesses should be promoted and cherished, not scalded.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

  • Hi Daisy, I can understand your concern but please rest assured that non of the course participants drive to the cob site. Everyone parks by the road and they then walk on the public footpath to the house. And most participants stay at the local campsite and walk on the footpath from there. We are passionate about the rare and unique wildlife here and help preserve it. We are teaching sustainable building with natural materials and our whole ethos is about caring for and promoting the natural environment. Our workshops are allowing more people to learn how to build sustainably and sensitively and therefore help preserve the natural beauty of the Broadland area and further afield. I hope this puts your mind at rest. You can find out more about our educational work at www.edwardscobbuilding.com

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    Charlotte Eve

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

  • As nice as it is to see the art of clay lump or cob building being preserved, I am rather surprised that planning permission has been given to these new residents to operate a business attracting so many people in this uniquely quiet spot which is known to locals for being undisturbed,for the historical aspects of the location and for the value of its habitats. Unless of course customers are parking elsewhere and walking to the site, the amount of traffic generated must be rather intrusive and disturbing to what is a rare relic of former Broadland life.

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    Daisy Roots

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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