Molly and our house

A Year in England’s Last Wilderness

It’s been a year since I posted my last update, and we’ve been in our new home for 16 months, so I thought it time to let you know what we’ve been up to in our off-grid life.

By the way that’s Molly in the photo (and our house in the background). When I posted last year, our Lakeland terrier Toto had just died. Molly, an eight-year old Old English Sheepdog, came to us in May via The Dog’s Trust. She is wonderful, perhaps the best-behaved dog I’ve ever met, and she loves living here in the wilds. Needs a hell of a lot of grooming though!

Village Life

If I could sum up 2022 in a single word it would be: community. When we first went to the Weardale show, just after moving here, it was like every other agricultural show I’d been to: we’d take a quick peek at the prize veg and Victoria sponges, ogle the sheep, browse the stalls, perhaps buying a jar of home-made jam, then head home. When 2022’s show rolled around, I understood why events like this are the highlight of the rural calendar. We spent a wonderful day meeting friends, getting involved in the activities, feeling like we belong. I even entered one of my drawings into the show, and got third prize (out of the two people who entered; my rival had stacked the odds by submitting three drawings).

All four entries in the drawing category
All four entries in the drawing category

Most of our new connections are down to Gill, who is now hardwired into the local gossip network via her work as a homecarer for old folks in the valley, and via her membership of matting club (proggy matting, or rag-rugging, is a big deal in this part of the word. Every woman worth their salt belongs to either matting club, or the Women’s Institute [never both!])

Gill's latest mat
Gill’s latest mat

The biggest delight of becoming locals has been Wednesday night dominoes. Most Wednesdays we head to a nearby pub, where I play dominoes with the old folks while Gill has a natter with the non-players. Afterwards, for £1, we get a supper of endless roast potatoes, cooked in goose fat and served with perhaps a stew, sometimes chicken wings, occasionally sandwiches. There aren’t many places where you can get a meal for £1 in this day and age, but we live about two miles from one of them. Sadly our landlady Tiffy, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, has been unwell, and the pub is closed. No dominoes until further notice ☹️

Opposite the pub, the Village Hall serves up coffee, bacon rolls and conversation every Saturday morning. There’s a pay-as-you-feel charity shop downstair (with a huge book section) and frequent gigs, discos, quizzes and other events throughout the year. It’s hard to explain just how friendly & welcoming it is here. So visit us!

We also found a wonderful builder, who put a roof on our roofless outhouse and shored up our barn so that it didn’t blow down in the winter gales. He now wants to live in there. reminds me of that Linda Smith sitcom starring my childhood friend Chris Neill as Linda’s live-in builder.

Living in the Wilds

Last year’s post opened with a picture of our snow-bound house. Winter was tough-ish, but not as bad as we’d been braced for: we only got snowed in twice, for about 3-4 days each time, and had plenty in the store cupboard to keep us going. 

No big snowfalls (yet) this Winter, although our pipes froze up for several days, so we had to break into the 50 gallons of emergency water stored under the stairs. The freezing weather also turns most of the single-track roads around here into ice pans. We’re becoming adept at driving on verges. Also our Rayburn and our wood stove only heat half of the house, and the bathroom is in the other half; I’m not planning on washing until mid-March. Apologies for the smell.

Last winter we had just got solar power, but no Internet, and BT had quoted us £24,000 to install a phone line. This year, thanks to Elon Musk’s satellites, we have Internet. The only problem is we don’t have enough solar power to run it during the darkest 4 months of the year. And so we fire the generator up once or twice a day for short, expensive bursts of petrol-powered Internet.

Spring and Summer more than made up for the hardships of Winter. Throughout May and June, and into July, the sides of our road were a riot of colour. Glorious. Each week it seemed as though a dozen new species of wildflower came into bloom. Wild pansies were absolutely everywhere, along with wild mountain thyme. There are even pignuts growing all along the road and in our garden, a forager’s feast! 

Wild pansies
Wild pansies – growing everywhere around here

The landscape around us is a little bleak – all abandoned lead mines, and very few trees – but is truly wild, in a way unlike any other place in England. Free of insecticide and pesticide, with very little traffic even during high tourist season, the air is pure and the land does what it wants. We see hares and rabbits every day, roe deer often, there’s a fair few weasels and ferrets around, and last summer Lola & I found a fat adder sunning itself on the tarmac outside the house. Flying ant day was insane: not since the 1970s have I seen such thick moving carpets of shagpile ants covering every millimetre of ground.

Peakrill Press

My big news last year was the launch of my small publishing company, Peakrill Press. I had wild hopes that this might bring in £500 a month. It turned out that, after expenses, I earned £1 per month. Still, profit! (And, to be honest, a lot of my “expenses” were books and games… research material! My profit would have increased by several thousand percent if I’d reined in my book addiction).

So, this year, I need to “grow my market”.  I’m hoping that my next book might do that…

The Lair of the Devil Kitten

In March 2023 I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a book, King Arthur vs Devil Kitty, which I am extremely excited about. This is an illustrated retelling of a medieval story in which King Arthur slays a giant cat (no, really. I’m almost certain that this story inspired Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You can also visit the actual site where the cat was slain).

When I mentioned that I was adapting this story, illustrator Maximillian Perkins got in touch to say that he wanted to do the pictures. My brief was “70s kids picture books, with their evocative, folk-artish illustrations”. Max’s pictures far exceeded my hopes, just look at them:

You can read more about this Arthurian tale here, and it would help me an awful lot if you would sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter begins. If you don’t mind spoilers, you can even hear me reading the initial draft (I’ve completely rewritten it since then. And I don’t know why I have a thumbprint of ash on my forehead):

My other current project is to produce new editions of the books of Gill’s dad, Terry Howard. Terry is an avid rambler and campaigner for the right to ramble on the moorland around Sheffield. He was instrumental in securing 2000’s Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act, and the Ramblers Association declared him a “Walking Class Hero”. This year Terry was the subject of a beautiful documentary, Ramble On.

In the 1990s I collaborated with Terry to publish two books: An Inner City Round Walk of Sheffield, and A Moorland Notebook. We’re bringing these up to date and publishing new editions in 2023. I’m also currently selling a book which Terry worked on a few years ago, a history of Sheffield’s legendary Clarion Ramblers.

On to Peakrill Press’s achievements in 2022…

Mostly Harmless Meetings

In January I published Mostly Harmless Meetings, a set of whimsical vignettes inspired by English folklore, flora and fauna, and intended for use in games such as Dungeons and Dragons. A friend told me that it reminded him of the writing of José Luis Borges, who I then had to google. I’m flattered by the comparison. You can buy a copy here.

Learning to Draw Trees

In 2021 I learned to draw trees in a very public way, with a monthly page in Bodge magazine devoted to my progress. I surprised myself, going from scrappy scribbles to accomplished images within a few months.

In 2022 I published Learning to Draw Trees, a collection of all the drawings from Bodge, plus previously unpublished sketches, and thoughts, reflections and suggestions for anyone wanting to follow my journey.

Quite a few people have said that the book has inspired them to start drawing, which delights me: that was the reason why I did this in such a public manner. You can buy Learning to Draw Trees here.


In March I joined a game jam which resulted in me writing and publishing a short adventure, Gespenwald, for the game Cairn. This was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment thing, but a lot of fun to do, and has been picked up by several games retailers in the UK and the US. As a result you can buy Gespewald here and here and here and here.

Mycelium Parish News

Towards the end of the year I designed and co-published The Mycelium Parish News with James Burt. This is a roundup of events and artefacts which have emerged from our corner of the UK counterculture over 2022. You can buy The Mycelium Parish News here.

The Mycoleum

While designing this zine I became slightly obsessed with making AI art, and this birthed an entity I’ve called The Mycoleum, my imprint for a growing collection of T-shirts, tea towels, socks etc, decorated with ersatz wood-engraved prints of a strange land of fungi. Find The Mycoleum’s wares here.


My one planned project from last year which hasn’t progressed much yet is Nanodeities. This is still on the backburner, though changing shape slightly – it will now be an experiment in writing collaboratively with an AI (something I have written about here and here). I’m hoping that it will manifest itself in the second half of 2023.

New Directions

Lime tree, Richmond Park

I attended a couple of wood engraving course taught by Chris Daunt, and so now I don’t just draw trees, I can also print them. I’ve also started making pottery again.

In October I completed foundation training as a death doula. I’m now a trainee member of End of Life Doula UK, with an ID badge and everything, and have already started working with the dying and their families as part of an NHS trial scheme. This is exciting, humbling, important work.

I confronted death in another form, as my friend Kinetori “Yoshi” Imamura died in April. I only met Yoshi a handful of times, and conversed with him over email, but he had a big effect on my life, and he told me that I had a similar effect on his. So I was honoured to be able to be the bearer of a brick containing his ashes, cemented into The People’s Pyramid at Toxteth Day of the Dead. I wrote about this process, MuMufication, here.

Some books
Some books I read

For the last few years I have been trying to wean myself off social media, and instead read book. Here are the ones which left the biggest impression on me in 2022. In particular, Iain McGilchrist’s book The Matter With Things has changed my mental model of the universe. At the same time I have been engaging with the works of my grandparents’ spiritual guide Eugene Halliday, whose panentheistic views are echoed in McGilchrist’s book. As a former hardcore atheist materialist logical positivist, I am undergoing quite a change in the way I look at things.

Finally, I now publish a weekly email called Dan Sumption’s Mycoleum Mind. Each post is a (very short) idea-blast: an interesting idea, short contemplation, or lifehack, something which has helped me, and which I hope will help you. Take a look at the posts so far, and I would be delighted if you’d sign up for future emails. It’s free (although the Substack website will probably try to push you into buying a paid subscription; ignore that). 

See you again in 2024.



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5 responses to “A Year in England’s Last Wilderness”

  1. Max Avatar

    I really appreciate how you can be both this rural/”off-the-grid” person, and also experimenting with AI art and writing; someone with myriad interests and able to collate many perspectives into one of your own.

    1. dan Avatar

      Ha, thank you for saying that! Yeah, it is a bit tough keeping the laptop batteries charged, and squeezing all of our internet-related tasks into short windows. We’re slowly getting better at it!

  2. jen Avatar

    I love your wood engraving Dan.

    The Mycellium Parish Newsletter is beautiful and was consumed in one sitting. I’ve ordered a copy of Learning to Draw Trees to donate to Liver Sketching Club’s library.

    1. dan Avatar

      Thanks Jen! The newsletter was a lot of fun to make, I’m really glad that James suggested it, feels like it’s very needed right now.

      I’d only just noticed your Learning to Draw Trees order, just before this comment came in. Not sure how it slipped under the radar, I will get it packaged up and posted to you either tomorrow or Monday.

  3. Jim Buck Avatar
    Jim Buck

    Arise, Sir Daniel, the Arthurian way is thine, thou hath donned the cloak it cast upon thee.

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