-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [PermacultureUK] - Low impact / Permaculture + related coverage...
Date: Mon, 03 Jan 2005 15:33:38 +0000
From: jms_foresight <jms_foresight@...
Getting down and dirty in the land of my fathers
Lucy Siegle abandons the gas guzzler in favour of a course in low-impact
living, complete with naked ecologist, on a west Wales farm
Sunday January 2, 2005
The Observer <http://www.observer.co.uk
Persuading your paramour to travel 250 miles to west Wales to attend a
course on sustainable living, missing a 'vintage' weekend of televised
sport, is no mean feat. You can only hope that he will be more grateful
for such an opportunity in the future when, in the face of global
meltdown, he is able to fashion an eco house from waste wood and glass
bottles, harness the sun's energy through solar panels and grow his own
But, enthused by the lively curriculum offered by this short course, at
Clynfyw Countryside Centre in Pembrokeshire, in how to live more
sustainably and thus be a better person, the lady's not for turning. So,
with only a little sense of irony, we set off in our
fossil-fuel-guzzling car to attend a weekend of talks and workshops with
titles such as 'The Curse of the Car'.
Located in the Preseli hills, Clynfyw is not an easy place to get to by
public transport, but it can be reached via train and bus - although
this might be more comfortable in the warmer months so you won't freeze
to death standing at bus stops. However, the good news is that if you do
drive, once you've arrived you can forget about your car.
After the day's lessons in the converted stable block between the main
house and the farm, you can amble down a bridleway to the Camra
award-winning Nag's Head for supper. And you could combine a visit with
a trip to other local eco-attractions, including the Centre for
Alternative Technology's farm exhibits in nearby Machynlleth, or the
newer Eco Centre at St David's, which has walking trails and exhibitions
of farming and food technology.
When you're learning how to be good to the planet, where you stay is as
important as what you learn. It would be counterproductive to spend all
day learning how to minimise your ecological footprint and then retire
to a luxury pad with manicured lawns (grown using herbicides and mown
with petrol mowers) where you might be encouraged to commit eco sins
such as wallowing in a deep bath (showers use half the water).
Clynfyw is the real deal. Waste water is purified through reed beds, the
holiday cottages are heated by biomass burners, which use waste wood,
solar panels power the electric fence around a field of Welsh Black
cattle and there's even a home-grown charcoal project to fuel barbecues
in the summer (95 per cent of charcoal is needlessly imported, wiping
out mangrove swamps all over the world).
But worthiness doesn't have to equal discomfort. Accommodation at
Clynfyw is very comfortable; former stables and outbuildings have been
cleverly converted to make four self-catering holiday cottages, with
full disabled access. There's bed and breakfast in the main house, which
easily sleeps 16 and can be hired in its entirety.
Clynfyw is a family farm. Jim Bowen, who manages it with the help of his
cousin, Piers Heneker, traces his roots in the area to 1041, and the
family has farmed here since 1750. In the world of biodynamics this kind
of heritage is important.
The theory is that the longer you've farmed a piece of land, the more of
a link you have with it. Having worked for Voluntary Service Overseas in
Kenya for a few years, Bowen realised he wanted to re-establish this
link. He was also increasingly worried by society's lack of connection
to the natural world. The final straw came when he took a school trip to
France and one of his charges asked if a goat was a type of dog. Bowen
returned to Clynfyw, started organic conversion in 1998 and worked on
creating a holistic education centre.
Although I managed to avoid similar faux pas during a farm tour, I was
thrown by spotting three giant horses. They were, it transpired, Shires,
working horses, still pulling their weight on the land. Clynfyw also
runs a working horses in woodland course. Keen to seize the opportunity
to play farmer, I also signed up for some extracurricular pig farming.
At 8am on a drizzly Sunday morning, I was out feeding the Duroc and
Saddleback pigs feeling partly virtuous, partly relieved that I was only
a pretend farmer.
Our course is one of the newest additions to the farm. In a converted
stable block local experts took us through a ideas and solutions on how
we might leave less of an ecological footprint.
These people practise what they preach, a point driven home when
apologies arrive from a speaker trapped at home by the sprout harvest.
Organic, seasonal produce waits for no man, or woman in this case, but
Dot the sprout farmer sent her husband Bob to deliver the lecture on the
shortcomings of supermarkets and the merits of organic production. Then
there was the guy who brought traditional Zambian beehives, hollowed out
of tree trunks, used to produce Fair Trade honey. We tested the honey
enthusiastically. There was a couple advocating compost lavatories, who
sometimes pee on their vegetables. Fortunately, we did not have to test
We listened to Kaye, a traveller, who has her own portable wind turbine
and uses biodiesel (derived from renewable sources such as vegetable oil
rather than fossil fuels). A permaculture expert told us how to grow our
own food with an inspiring line in eco-philosophy. We got the lowdown on
alternative and renewable technologies from Pete, an expert from the Eco
Centre, and advice from an engineer who can convert your car engine to
run on vegetable oil.
There was an interesting mix of people hungry for instruction on how to
live more sustainably, some with strong views, which made for lively
question-and-answer sessions. There was a youth worker from Cardiff, an
environmental scientist and an artisan breadmaker who was trying to
become a politician. Pleasingly, a few of the people on the course are
from the original vanguard of Seventies 'downshifters' who moved to
Wales to live the good life. Their guru, John Seymour, writer of The
Complete Book of Self Sufficiency, lived down the road until his death
at 90 last September.
Thanks to this heritage and its alternative infrastructure, Clynfyw can
call on local celebrities such as Tony Welsh to give us a talk on
'extreme eco-building'. Welsh has pioneered the building of natural
roundhouse homes, which avoid ecologically damaging materials such as
cement (preferring cob wood, lime, sand and clay mortar, and straw for
insulation) and biodegrade in about 30 years. His own roundhouse, which
merges into the landscape of Pembrokeshire National Park, is the
antithesis to a blot on the landscape. Nevertheless, the county council
seems intent on pulling it down, much to the chagrin of viewers of the
BBC's Countryfile, who recently voted for it to stay. He is a true
believer in the alternative lifestyle and is apparently often to be
found as nature intended - according to the lady sitting next to me, who
remarked: 'The last time I saw him he was completely naked!'
But to understand how well a roundhouse can work, you need to see one up
close. Clynfyw has its own, built by Tony and team at the end of a
sculpture trail which weaves through the fields. It's a winner; totally
sustainable, impressively put together and beautiful. It could bring out
the alternative in the most conservative citizen.
The same could be said for Clynfyw in general. In place of
finger-wagging, and apocalyptic climate-change scenarios, there was
boundless enthusiasm, expertise and interesting solutions. Belching back
up the motorway, heads spinning with thoughts on sustainability, my
husband was talking about running the car on vegetable oil, the missed
TV sport a distant memory.
The two-day sustainability course on Low Impact Living, at the Clynfyw
Countryside Centre <http://www.clynfyw.co.uk
> (01239 841236), costs
from £40 per person. B&B in the main house costs £25 per person,
including an organic breakfast. Self-catering cottages, which sleep up
to six, cost £150 per cottage for a three-night weekend.
If you liked the sound of that... try these
More low-impact living holidays
Sunday January 2, 2005
The Observer <http://www.observer.co.uk
Lay a hedgerow
Hedgerows have all but disappeared in many parts of the country. From
its picturesque centre at Flatford Mill in Constable's Suffolk, the
Field Studies Council <http://www.field-studies-council.org
> (0845 345
4071) teaches a course in hedgerow laying every autumn. This year's runs
from4-6 November and costs £143 for two nights full-board.
Build with straw
The three little pigs weren't so stupid after all: building houses from
wood and straw is a very ecologically sound method, and perfectly
strong. The Centre for Alternative Technology <http://www.cat.org.uk
(CAT) in Machynlleth, Powys (01654 705981) runs a 'Ecological building
from new' course from 11-13 March. It costs £295 for high-wage earners
(low-waged, £210 and unwaged, £150), including tuition fees and B&B.
Contruct a dyke
For centuries, drystane dykes (drystone walls) criss-crossed Scotland
and Ireland. The British Trust <http://www.bctv.org.uk
Conservation Volunteers (BCTV; 01302 572244) runs a course in building
drystane dykes on the Dougarie Estate on the Isle of Arran in the Firth
of Clyde, running from 5-15 October and costing £100, including tuition
fees and full-board accommodation in cottages overlooking the Mull of
Dig up the past
Brush up on trowel techniques and learn about your ancestors at an
archeological dig in search of the lost Kingdom of Craven in the
Yorkshire Dales run by <http://www.earthwatch.org.uk
> Earthwatch (01865
318838) and the University of Leeds. There are two courses this year -
17 June-1 July or 8-22 July - for £1,185, including full-board and