Enabler Publications

Books to feed the Mind and Spirit

Another kind of space

Another kind of space

creating ecological dwellings and environments

Samples from the 'personal stories' section of the book:

Brithdir Mawr - the secret village

Alan Dearling (with Tony Wrench)

It was in 1998 that a pilot surveying the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales spotted the reflection of a solar panel near the farmhouse at Brithdir Mawr. His find led to the belated ‘discovery’ of a secret eco-village located in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It had already existed for over four years. It is home to 22 residents, who had quietly developed a sustainable intentional community with its own wind generator, water turbine, solar panels, water and fuel sources, organic gardens, horses for work-duties and goats for milk and cheese. The National Park had originally given permission for the renovation of the dilapidated farmhouse, but had been unaware of the development of the other ecobuildings, including a geodesic dome meeting house, a roundhouse with a turf roof, and a straw-bale barn.

Tony Wrench is one of the key figures in the construction of Brithdir Mawr. He says:

I’m struggling with the permanent feeling of being gutted by the planning inspector’s decision that this roundhouse must be demolished before July 2002. I put so much of what I believe into this place, and I can increasingly see what a threat such a harmless abode is to the established wisdom. No mortgage, no bills, no car, no cement - what if everybody tried to live like this?Roundhouse at Brithdir Mawr

Olwyn, a neighbour, wrote about roundhouse,

"It is an experimental structure built into a south-facing bank at the head of a small valley. The bracken covered slope was dug out using a JCB, and the building was set into the semi-circular excavation. Visually it blends in well - it’s nearly invisible from a distance."

It even incorporates its own miniature fruit farm, with strawberries growing on the roof, four grapevines, fruit bushes and tayberries around the base of the building. Power comes from a Siemens 50 watt photovoltaic cell, which charges two old 6 volt British Telecom batteries for lighting and radio. Behind the roundhouse are yellow flag and bullrush reed beds which clean grey water outfall and nearby is a composting toilet. Cold water is piped from a spring into a recycled cistern, which acts as a header tank. This in turn feeds water to a wooden whiskey barrel, where it can be heated by either a solar panel or a wood stove. Tony has written up a detailed account of how the roundhouse was constructed by himself, his partner, Jane Faith and their friends in Building a low impact roundhouse (Permanent Publications, 2001).

Roundhouse roofA supporter of the roundhouse and the community is the Very Reverend Canon James Cunnane of Cardigan. He eloquently sums up the situation:

It was hard to believe my eyes when reading the inspector’s reasons for refusing consent: ‘...a harmful effect on the natural beauty of the national park if it was allowed to remain.’

I went to see it and was almost upon it before spotting it. Has the inspector forgotten it was only discovered from the air, and then only because the spotter plane ‘caught the reflection from a solar panel’?

The fact that neither I nor, I suspect, most of us would want to live like Tony Wrench is irrelevant. His house is ingenious, unique and the product of deep thought. I admire it. Contrasted with those that the rest of us live in, its impact on the environment is tiny. Let it be!"

Inside roundhouseLife at Brithdir Mawr

Tony Wrench told me that among the most important aspects of Brithdir Mawr is, "...the synergy possible in living on a community like this with others of a like mind." Each family or single person has their own living space, and the four teenagers have a personal ‘quarter’ - a bedroom and a loft area to themselves. The members all arrived at the community in an organic way. The community handout reflects this, saying, "Paul and Erica arrived from Devon in a horse-drawn Gypsy wagon whilst Tony and Jane arrived on a milk float from their permaculture holding 20 miles away."

The primary purpose of the community is the care of the land. The land is managed through an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme which requires the care of woodland and wetland and the restoration of features such as hedges, green lanes, earth-banks etc. Over 6,000 trees have been planted, hay meadows enhanced and ponds restored. The land has also provided the community with a source of income through the selling of hay, baskets, furniture and wood crafts, and the use of coppice wood for wood turning and charcoal burning. This supplements the income received from guests in their low-cost hostel accommodation in a converted barn. In 1997 this won a prestigious Prince of Wales Award for being an outstanding example of renewable energy in practice. The electricity for the hostel is all generated from the sun, wind and water. Heating depends upon keeping wood in the stove.The community also welcomes camping. Bring your own sleeping bags and other bedding. (Telephone: 01239 820164 or e-mail: brithdir@brithdirmawr.freeserve.co.uk)

Brithdir Mawr means Great Speckled Land in the Welsh language, a striking and apt image for this 165 acres of mixed farmland. The community which was formed in 1993, includes in its aims: "...to demonstrate experimental building techniques using locally-sourced and natural materials." Inviting visitors to share in this experiment is central to this mission. The residents say, "We have a constant flux of visitors and volunteers who are encouraged to be as involved as possible. Preparing food around the table is one great opportunity for conversation and exchange of ideas. Although a constant stream of new faces can be challenging at times, each new perspective that they bring serves to prevent our own view becoming jaded."

More can be read about the roundhouse at: www.thatroundhouse.info

Other samples from Another kind of space:

Another kind of spaceAnother kind of space

Alan Dearling with Graham Meltzer

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