I left behind my idyllic life in a Spanish eco-village to return to London. This is why | Andrew Wilson

I take one last look at the lush valley below me. A tall palm tree sways in the soft warm breeze. A group of young people are working on one of the many vegetable and fruit terraces, their laughter mixing with the sound of water in the riverbed below. I tell myself that one day I will be back. But for now, it is goodbye. I’m leaving the eco-village in southern Spain, this cluster of old, whitewashed houses set in a green valley where I’ve spent the past six years.

My partner and I first arrived in Los Molinos – in Almería province, the driest part of Spain – in 2006, after a long spell in north London. Our experience of eco-living was limited to regular recycling and buying biodegradable laundry and bathroom products. In Spain, we had to learn how to live completely off-grid. All our electricity came from the array of solar panels in the garden, which meant we couldn’t have energy-hungry devices such as toasters and electric kettles. We even had to forgo the internet because there was no connection.

The solar panels in the garden
The solar panels in the garden

The water that supplied our house was drawn from a stream by means of a solar-powered electric pump. We had to navigate the outside compost loo, making sure that we directed our urine into a trough, away from the chamber for solid waste; the combination of the two would produce an almighty stink. We learned Spanish, harvested olives, grapes and pomegranates, and grew a whole variety of vegetables. And in many ways it was paradise. The sun shone most of the year. The other villagers had fascinating life experiences and there was a great sense of community. I made friends with a wide range of people from around the world, the kind of people I would never have met in my north London bubble.

And yet after six years, we knew it was time to leave. Our parents, back in the UK, were getting older and would need support. As a writer I could work anywhere – indeed, while in the eco-village I finished a crime novel and wrote two biographies – but my partner, Marcus, felt he needed to return to Britain to continue his work as a journalist.

When we came back the contrast between the clear, bright blue skies of Andalucía and the seemingly ubiquitous blanket of grey cloud that covered England was a shock. Almost immediately, we missed the easy charms of Spanish living: the cheap wine and the delicious tapas that would accompany each glass; the wild landscape with its vast empty spaces that seemed to stretch for ever.

The experience of eco-living was not wasted, however. I drew on those six years living in Spain for my new psychological thriller, Murder Grove, written under the pseudonym EV Adamson. It’s about a young couple, Mia and Rich, who leave London to live in an eco-village where their green dream turns into a nightmare.

The experience proved inspirational in other ways, too. While living in Los Molinos, we learned how to make cheap, nutritious vegetarian dishes. We coped without central heating, and survived the harsh winter nights – when temperatures can drop below zero – by stuffing the bed with multiple hot-water bottles and wearing bobble hats. When the sun didn’t shine we had so little electricity that sometimes we’d have to read by candlelight. IAs the cost of living continues to rise, I’ll be able to draw on these experiences.

I like to think we brought a little bit of Spain back with us. We paid for the passage of our four rescue cats, one of whom we still have. Each time I look at this ginger tom – occasionally addressing him in Spanish – I’m reminded of my time in that eco-paradise and the lessons it taught me.

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