There couldn’t be a better place from which to write about restorative places than my chalet at Mellowcroft.
I sit in my comfortable double bed with a view of a rather splendid Welsh dragon on a perch outside one window, carved by an Eisteddffodd winning artist and woodland filled with singing birds on the other. Beyond the little wood the inevitable sheep baa.
Mellowcroft is an oasis in the centre of endless sheep farms. I have been frightened away from one such farm on my walk here by angry dog barking made even more terrifying by an angry farmer shouting, to walk the verge of the main road for the last three miles of my walk too scared to continue my amble through quiet country lanes if it means walking through the farm that straddles the lane and has spilt out across it. Such a blatant overstepping of public space meets no objection in these lands, nor apparently does keeping a territorial dog that can get out to chase passers by, but if you create a sustainable natural holistic retreat centre where any in need of respite can come and be members for just £10 a year, then in Powys at least that is sufficient to be served an enforcement order to bull doze down your wooden bridges over ditches, and perfectly beautifully formed wooden structures where people, as I , can spend a night.
There is nothing wrong with the environment of Mellowcroft which has been going for nine years, from its restored drainage ditches to its track everything here has been done to restore the small holding that once stood here. It has the support of the local community and the farmers, and has given one field of its 12 acres up to community allotments. One local farmer who helped Eddie, the dynamic, charismatic, sincere custodian of this land to raise the roof of the classroom space, has a real connection to this place. When it was still a farm it belonged to his grandparents.
The classroom space would be better called temple, shrine or church. It has tiny stain glass windows from the Yemen, a delightful carved wooden stairway leading to its round space and a false back wall that when Eddie was creating this chapel to life, singlehandedly building an act of worship for the beauty and symmetry of all that is right, he thought of wheelchair access but the divine was at work and the wonderful drawbridge of a wall weighted by two great boulders wrapped in rope swings down to provide an open air stage for performance or a woodland wall for what is happening within the classroom, be it local tai chi lessons or workshops of all kinds, even weddings have taken place here.
When an event such as this occurs guests take advantage of all the local infrastructure staying in local hotels and guest houses and eating in the nearby village, reviving the local economy.
Beside the classroom is a perfectly aligned teaching tool; a 13 stone calendar of the 13 times a full moon appears in our night skies each year.
Behind Mellowcroft stand what Eddie describes as Joe Botton’s rocks. Here are some of the ancient formations he and Lucy have been telling me about, the ones where all the fossils of the international importance are being found and identified. Joe and Lucy left academia though they are PhD doctors for they realised that they will never be able to do the research that they know is of international import in a university setting because there the professors are required to teach and do so much beaurocracy their own work has no hours left in the day. I know this work of academia, my ex partner was such a person, having already spent years researching his book whilst attempting and succeeding in making the course he ran financially viable, only to be made redundant, has still not published.
It is wonderful to meet the likes of Joe and Lucy, who are doing the work they believe in and have let go of the prevalent belief system that keeps so many of our most brilliant minds locked into a system that prevents them from exploring the areas they are passionate about.
On the rocks above Mellowcroft once stood a settlement; these are ancient lands indeed. In more recent times this region of Wales was dotted with smallholdings and farms. People began to abandon them when they couldn’t make money, heading east, seduced Dick Whittington like, to the streets of cities.
Now that the move back to the land is a clearly marked trend it is heartbreaking that pioneers like Eddie, who still lives in his motorhome with wife Kim and little daughter Ellie, paying council tax for it, whilst he develops his land to be viable, are threatened with the destruction of all they worked for, put all of their money into, and all that of beauty that has come into being through their stewardship of the land.
I am inspired by the parenting skills I am witnessing on this my journey, both Eddie and Kim, and visiting volunteers James and Nicky take care of their pre school age children in exemplary fashion. Healthy boundaries, kind and loving teaching lots of love and cuddles, real communication the like of which was rarely if ever seen when I was growing up. Here are the people of the future, transition folk, the ones who live their integrity knowing the system we live within is out dated and unhealthy they are prepared to strike out and live life the way they know to be intrinsically right.
Eddie grew up in a care home, travelled the world over from St Tropez to the States in search of himself, learning his skills doing every type of work, including being the butler of a wealthy man, to finally renovate an old house sell it and make the money that was to be put into renovating another derelict building, making it habitable and beautiful once more when he drive past a for sale sign on a Welsh road through the middle of nowhere and fell in love with the abandoned smallholding that has become Mellowcroft. For the first time in his life he has found home. His family came to him by Kim attending a Shamans circle held here, and staying. Then along came Ellie and Eddie now had a family too.
The story is one of those feel good tales of timeless quality we all know to be right. This is how life should unfold as we face the challenges life presents us with as a child and find our way through it to our full selves and then with our hard work following our bliss we can watch the magic of life flow along side us.
There is a reason I am here, visiting this visionary who admits the challenge of having all of this that he has created through his own belief in what is integrally right threatened with destruction and being branded criminal has brought out the warrior energy in him, three people asked me to come, off route, to hear his story, to help publicise his cause, share his story and support the projects continuation. Partly because this is exactly the kind of place I sincerely hoped existed along this pilgrims way I am creating as I walk, partly because my skill as a storyteller must be put to use in service of all that I believe is good and right in the world, to provide those places where those in need of respite can begin to access their purpose in life, is for me quite possibly one the most important functions anyone who has land can be offering, more than food do we need to be able to reconnect with our reason for being here.then we shan’t need the patriarchal system of large scale farming and supermarkets to feed us, we will grow our own food and feed ourselves just as people always did before our land was taken from us.
Our evening of storytelling continues when the children are tucked up in bed and the adults can unwind and take a little space for themselves. As well as the tale of Mellowcroft and its challenge, which you can help support by signing their petition and or writing letters of support, I also hear from transition Bristol as volunteer James has been very involved; helping set up community assisted agriculture. He talks about their very inspirational local currency that was modelled on the totnes pound but then wen t so much further, so that council tax can be paid with it, and payments be made by mobile phone, so much so that it inspired Totnes to go digital too.
It is interesting that in these times of innovative change bureaucratic systems can be so out of step that they can actually work against land based projects. Mellowcroft though have a sound strategy; they have asked for a public inquiry that will be streamed live on the internet. Look out for it in October.
In Llanrindod there are some folkloric characters called the Llandogos. They are apparently a modern tale, developed by a local sculptor and dotted about the town to be followed on a numbered trail. The one that catches my attention is down by the Victorian boating pool. He is a creature that could have come straight from the pages of Lord of the Rings, holding a large book in his hands. Lucy and Joe tell me a series of storybooks exist too. I ask if the figures are eco conscious and Lucy replies that their values and the exploits are in harmony with nature.
The same could be said for my wonderful hosts, both in Llanrindod and in nearby Mellowcroft. Joe makes tea from fresh birch leaves that really is most refreshing and when its time for me to walk on he goes to the garden to pick a handful of assorted leaves and herbs for my sandwich. I recognise dandelion thyme and rosemary but the others are all the sorts of things only an excellent forager like Joe would know. The bap is delicious.
We set off across the town to pay Nick the sharpening expert from the previous days repair cafe a visit. He has built a passiv haus based on Permaculture principles. The other Nick, who runs a Shakespearean theatre built out of willow and based on the Globe theatre is there too. He is about to go and perform there and I wish I had several lives to be able to go and visit several things a day. If you are curious you can check out the Willow Globe at www.Shakespeare link.co.uk.
We go and explore the passive house. It feels different from other houses. It is completely insulated and so though it is a large house it needs only one wood burner in the lounge to heat the whole building to 23 degrees in winter. Properly insulated and aerated homes have no draughts, are practically sound proof, or so it seems, and are comfortable to be in in a way that us hard to define.
This house has a sheilas maid at the top of the stairs where all the clothes drying can happen and indoors if need be and dries perfectly without the need for heat because of the even distribution of air. Clothes can also be dried on the tropical south facing balcony beside the indoor greenhouse area where banana plants can thrive.
In the kitchen is a pantry where Nick says he made a mistake so that although the room is cooler than the rest of the house it isn’t as cool as a fridge but he learnt afterwards it could have been had he used fridge parts to generate cold air. In the attic of the bungalow that has been completely retro fitted is the brain of the passive has; a mass of tubes leading from the central air controlling box which regulates temperature by recycling the warm air that comes back through it from warmer parts of the house to heat cooler air coming in from other parts of the house. Sufficient roof space and under floor room is required to make a passiv haus work as the several inches wide tubing has to snake around from room to room.
Outside the house, where Nicks wife gives shiatsu treatnent and tgey hold meditation sessions, is a Permaculture garden that was designed alongside the house so that all of the unused building rubble was reused to landscape the garden turning an unproductive north facing slope into a flat forest garden. The land which is quite wet has a pond on it into which a newt moved on the first day.
The elegance of Permaculture is that it is a design process that works with nature to produce the best possible return for all areas of a garden and this case a house too. Land is observed for a period of twelve months so that such things as knowing where the sun is at all times of the year can be utilised in where certain plants are put to where to situate a particular part of a garden, to where to put glass in a house to capture most heat.
All in all it is plain to see that when we begin to use our creativity alongside our skills and knowledge we can construct buildings that are elegant and efficient and with a sacred quality, as with the classroom at Mellowcroft. Good management of land comes too from applying these same principles and questions some of the practices that we call traditional, such as having sheep on land to the extent that it becomes overgrazed. Thistles growing on a field are a good indicator that it has been over used.
Time and time again my experiences teach me that when a system becomes entrenched, when a good idea becomes the norm then things will start to go awry. The quality of observation and responding to present time changes and challenges are surely the principles on which we should be basing our actions if we are to remain sustainable and resilient and preserve some quality of life for the future.