Dwellings

The Hogan (1999)

The Hogan was inspired by the Navaho dwellings of Utah and Arizona. They are octagonal structures with log walls and a corbelled roof with smoke hole. In the end it turned out differently from its original model. It has strawbale walls clad in a lime/sand render and a reciprocal frame roof. The Reciprocal Frame Roof was discovered/invented by Graham Brown and, independently, Jack Everett. I discovered that Tony Wrench had built one down in Brithdir Mawr so Martin Start (who did most of the woodwork on the Hogan) and I went down to visit. Graham Brown, over a long chat on the phone, assured me that the structure we had in mind would be sturdy enough to hold a turf roof. After all, it’s essentially a series of interlocking triangles, giving extra loading strength. So we pegged eight principle rafters on the lintel and rested them on each other leaving a hole in the middle for the window. Kevin Beale helped us to construct the strawbale walls. They were later rendered with lime and the following year we added a woodblock floor.

The Hogan is the furthest into the woods of all the structures and has a special stillness about it. Some groups use it as a meditation room. As a dwelling it can accommodate four people.

The Cedar Cabin (2002)
The split-level Cedar Cabin stands slightly apart from all the other dwellings up the hill near Eric’s house. It was built initially with group leaders in mind, as they sometimes like to have their space. It was designed specifically for the site (with help from Mike Chown and Dafydd Hughes) and largely built by Bo McGowan, who also milled the cedar logs into planks for the construction. There is a double room (where the beds can be arranged as a double or two singles) and a single room. The single is the only single room we have and, though comfortable and cosy, does have the air of a monastic cell! There’s a small porch, access to the nearby rockery and garden and a lovely walk down the river to join the rest of the camp.

Due to its relative remoteness the Cabin also has its very own private Dunny, which is Aussie-speak for outside loo. This was designed and mostly built by Andy Warren of www.natsol.co.uk who specialises in composting loos. It’s just for use by Cabin-dwellers. The main composting loos are for everyone else.

The Lodge (2003)
The Lodge is much more like the original Navaho hogan than the Hogan. Before starting work we googled ‘building a hogan’ and got a set of instructions from the Navaho people. The cedar logs came from Cwm Penmachno, the pine poles for the corbelled roof from Bo McGowan’s wood. It was Bo who led the building on this project. Originally from New Zealand he’d learned the art of constructing log cabins from a Canadian, though he’d not made one for twelve years before coming to us. Keith Matthews and Henry Ostle also worked on the Lodge, though many others helped us debark the logs and poles. There was a lot of chainsaw work involved in notching and grooving the logs so they fitted together perfectly to keep the wind and rain out. Putting together the corbelled roof – continuously crossing the angles to gradually bring the roof towards the centre and cover the space – was a fascinating process. Later we covered the roof with ‘biscuits’ of straw to take out the steps and to add insulation. Then we added a rubber pond liner and a special felt to protect the pondliner. And finally we put up the turf, taken from the meadows of Cae Mabon.

The Lodge is still my favourite place to stay in. It’s snug and feels as though the forest has its arms around you. It’s also very near the Hot Tub, which is great if you’re using it, not so good if others are and you want to sleep! It can sleep four people.

The Cob Cottage (2004)
We were lucky to have Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley, co-authors of ‘The Hand-Sculpted House’, guide us in building the Cob Cottage. They live in Oregon but Ianto is originally from Wales and we met on one of his return visits. We all got very excited about the possibility of building a cob structure here and so set up a cob workshop for April 2004. About 25 people joined us and we spent nearly two weeks mixing cob early in the morning, building with it later in the day. Cob is made from one part clay, three parts sand, some straw and a little water. It’s a great material to work with because you can literally shape it into curves, nooks and alcoves. People say the building reminds them of the architecture of Gaudi, though on a tiny, tiny scale. Cob is also very labour intensive so it took longer than most other buildings to complete. The principle roof beam came from an oak tree that had fallen down by the river. Its natural curves imparted a shape to the roof we could never have planned. The Cob Cottage has a Rocket Stove in it. This was co-designed by Ianto in Mexico to provide maximum heat for minimum fuel. As it happens we don’t use it much because it’s tricky to light and the Cob Cottage is very well insulated so naturally warm during much of the season.

When Bob Todd came to help us with our solar lighting he discovered that the roof of the Cob Cottage had the maximum sunshine in the whole place. So the solar panels are on top and beneath occupants have a commanding view over the whole site. The Cob Cottage has a small double bedroom in the back, a pair of bunk beds and a single bed so it can theoretically sleep five people.

The Chalet (2005)
Once again Bo McGowan came to our aid helping us to build this slightly more conventional timber-framed structure. Because of its semi-alpine look it became known as the Chalet. The timbers are made from Welsh redwood and the frame is constructed from sturdy six by six inch posts. We used ex-railway sleepers to provide the foundations and moved some big stones to make the base of the walls in the downhill lean-to Washroom. We used redwood shingles on the roof and redwood cladding on the walls. Thermafleece (made from sheep’s wool) was used to insulate the walls and ceiling and the ceiling itself is ‘thatched’ with reed panels. There is also a small crog loft with a ladder to provide the extra sleeping space. On the front wall of the Chalet we tried something different. We cut short six-inch logs, stacked them up, stuck them together with cob, limed over the cob and made what’s called a ‘log stack wall’. Some kids say it looks like the pattern of a giraffe’s skin so they call it ‘the giraffe house’!

The Chalet has a single bed, a pair of bunk beds and space for two people (preferably small ones) in the crog loft: so, potentially five in all but more often three. It’s one of the only two dwelling structures that have mains electricity. The Cedar Cabin is the other.

The Hobbit Hut (2006) 
People often say Cae Mabon reminds them of the Shires in Lord of the Rings so finally one day we decided to deliberately make a building more hobbit like. The Hobbit Hut is hexagonal with strawbale walls and again a reciprocal frame roof. Instead of using straight pine poles as in the Hogan we used slightly twisted young oaks from the nearby woods. this gives the roofline a more upthrusting centre than any of our other turf roofed buildings. After fixing the rafters we tied down many rings of concentric hazel rods then covered them with layers of hessian cloth, followed by straw insulation, followed by rubber pondliner, followed by felt, followed by turf. The strawbale walls were fixed on their sides and limed on the outside, covered with a fine earth plaster on the inside. To make the structure a bit more hobbit like Keith Matthews made a beautiful round door, just like Bilbo Baggins has in the Lord of the Rings movie. As a finishing touch he carved ‘Hobbits Welcome’ over the entrance. And hobbits have been flocking there ever since!

You do have to crouch down a bit to get into the Hobbit Hut and be careful of your head if you are of Gandalf-like proportions. There is a double bed and a single so three people can sleep there, though it’s often the favourite of couples or couples and with a little one. Gazing at the roof from bed is endlessly fascinating. And the special solar lighting makes it quite magical.

The Longhouse (2000/2008)
The Longhouse was originally built in 2000 as a shed. We tried to make it a pagoda-esque, with the ends of the slate roof sweeping up into little spires. The back wall was made from recycled teak front doors (from Butlin’s holiday camp near Pwllheli); the other walls were unplaned oak planks fixed vertically. It was a bit rough and ready, but it was only a shed, not accommodation. Unfortunately it became damp in heavy rains due to its low position and nearby springs. It also suffered the fate of many storage spaces: chaos and disorganisation! In 2007 we built a spanking new workshop so by 2008 we were ready to reinvent the shed as the Longhouse. It was a complex process as we had to replace rotten lower edges of the front doors and generally waterproof the whole thing. We were lucky to have the help of Matthew Slack (at the time information officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology, CAT) who guided us through it. The original shed was long and narrow with a porch at either end. We extended the space into the far porch and made a platform for a double bed. Whereas most other structures have either a timber or lime-like finish on the inside, we felt the Longhouse needed to be brightened up with colour. So the inside was transformed with natural soft toned purple and yellow and the floor was painted green.

The Longhouse has a double bed and a pair of bunk beds (made by Keith) so it can comfortably sleep four. Sometimes we put another mattress on the floor to fit extra kids.

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