The Roundhouse (1991 - 1994)
The Roundhouse is based on the homes people lived in around here for 3000 years before the coming of the Romans. In the nearby hills you can still see hundreds of ruined hut circles – rings of fallen stone usually overgrown by bracken and brambles.
Our Roundhouse has a circular stonewall (which took three years to build), a conical roof structure (made of straight pine rafters with horizontal hazel ring beams) and a roof thatched with fragmites water reed. Luckily we had the help of ex-thatcher Nick MacSmith who led us in the thatching.
The first Roundhouse was completed in September 1994. It was a wonderful venue for gatherings and celebrations, music and story, ceremony and conversation for more than seven years. Then, on the spring equinox 2002, a candle was left unattended in a candlestick on a wooden box. The wax dripped, the candle guttered out and the interior furnishings slowly caught fire. Seven hours later the thatch was ablaze and the whole thing was gone in minutes.
We had no choice but to rebuild. Many people came to help. Others sent money. Within two months it was back up, in many ways better than before. We lime rendered the walls and painted them white, we installed a slate floor, we built a grand cruck oak porch and made the thatch thicker and tighter using steel rods and screw ties. Turned out these modern methods made the thatch less permeable to smoke so we had to make a smoke hole as well.
Now the Roundhouse is still used for storytelling, music and community celebrations. Candlelit people gathered around the flickering fire is a heart warming sight. Indeed the Roundhouse fire is the very heart of Cae Mabon. We’ve had weddings and other ceremonies there, and still occasionally people sleep in it.
To minimise smoke it’s important to use dry, well-split wood (which we provide though you may have to do some chopping) and to attend to the fire, ensuring it has plenty of air to burn and is not left smouldering. Usually it’s fine now unless the weather is especially wet and windy.
The Barn and Kitchen (1995 - 96)
Originally this building was a small, two-stall cow byre for milking and a single pitch hay barn. Next to it was an open space used for storing tools and machinery. After completing the Roundhouse we needed somewhere to cook and a meeting space. So the byre/barn was rebuilt and enlarged with a double pitch roof, maintaining some of the old drystone walls but adding to them with breezeblock. Outside we made the walls slope out at the bottom like a tree grown on the spot. We were lucky to get the help of Dafydd Hughes (see ) who designed and made the barn windows and doors. The curved double doors you go through from the porch are made from an ash tree that grew twenty yards away by the river and fell down in a storm.
The Barn is a multi-purpose room. It is used for eating – sometimes as a feasting hall –and for meeting. Consequently tables and chairs are often being moved around. We can sit 20 to 25 at tables, so if there are more people they usually sit with plates on their laps. As a meeting space we can similarly get 20 to 25 sitting in a circle but it’s a bit of a squash. Fewer are better. Occasionally we have dance or yoga groups. Then we clear out most of the tables and chairs. In those circumstances there is space for 14 people dancing or doing yoga.
The Kitchen is, shall we say, compact. But it does contain a good stove, a spacious fridge-freezer, worktops and storage space for utensils, crockery and food. The sink and washing up area is outside under a lean-to roof. The tap over the Belfast sink is the main source of drinking water. There is also an electric instant hot water heater for washing up water.
There are four recycling bins by the Kitchen door – for glass, metal, paper and plastic. We also separate out tetrapak cartons for recycling and divide the organic waste into duck food and compost. It’s a lot of work this compost-recycling lark! But hopefully the black bin bag going to the landfill site is kept relatively small.
Keeping kitchens clean is a constant task, difficult to do when there’s so much fun to be had elsewhere. But it’s really important and we hugely appreciate people taking care with washing and drying dishes, putting things away, cleaning the stove and oven after use, disposing of leftovers properly and so on…
Composting Loo (1997)
The Composting Loo was designed and built by Andy Warren, a low carbon footprint practitioner and visionary. His company, Natural Solutions (see ) was in its infancy when he built our state-of-the-art, twin vault, urine-separating, dry composting loo. We added the view. The design was pioneered in Vietnam. It was positioned in a corner on a wall to assist in the long drop. The two cubicles each have two chambers beneath, one active and with a toilet seat, the other resting (composting) and covered by a blank. Each year the chambers are swapped. After a year of ‘resting’ the compost is shovelled out and put around the fruit trees, adding natural fertility to the soil. The urine is channelled separately, diluted and also directed to fruit trees. So the system saves on waste, saves on water and recycles nutrients into the soil. Outside there’s a verandah overlooking the mountains and lake. Each cubicle has split stable doors in case you fancy leaving the top open to look at the view (and risk being part of the view yourself!) The floor and boxing was made out of teak floorboards from a bank in the city of London. We liked to think that if you make your deposits now you will be able to draw interest in apples in the years to come.
We ask users to add a scoop of sawdust after each use, to close lid after use and shut door when leaving. The loo is designed to separate pee from poo (and thus reduce smells) but only works if you sit down. So if you’re a bloke and just want a pee we ask you to find a discreet spot behind the bushes or use the strawbale in the gents’ urinal. There’s a stainless steel bin for sanitary products.
The Shower Hut (1998)
This is a simple post and beam structure with a thatched roof. It was partly inspired by the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion where, in one scene, Lleu stands naked half under a thatched hut with one foot on the side of a bath, the other on the back of a goat. Maybe you had to be there! Initially we heated the water with a wood stove but eventually opted for an instant gas water heater, which is more effective. One day we intend to use renewable energy.
Standing beneath this shower is a very pleasurable experience. Though you are hidden from view you can see out to the vital, health-giving stream rushing by. You are being showered by the stream and streamed by the shower as you shower by the stream. From the sublime to the ridiculous, we do ask that you use biodegradable products as, after going through a soakaway, the grey water eventually filters back into the river.
The Washroom is part of the same building as the Chalet. Split-level structures work well on this slope. There are two washbasins, each with hot and cold running water. As with the shower the water is heated by a gas powered instant water heater. The basins are set in the slate top of an old billiard table. Some of it was also used on the floor. Look carefully and you’ll see the billiard pocket holes in the slate.
Please don’t re-adjust the settings on the heater system. And please don’t forget to take your towel and toiletries with you.
Hot Tub (2003)
The cedar Hot Tub was found and brought here by Jack Everett, who helped us assemble it too. He also did the bamboo railings. It’s an enjoyable place to relax with friends, especially in the evening. After being heated to the bone the best thing is to sink into the river pool. You’ll think you can never do it but once you’re really hot it’s just what you need. You won’t regret it and it’s very good for your health. The Tub can comfortably take five adults. You can squeeze in more but you end up spilling out half the water – Archimedes and all that! For some groups the norm is to go in naked. For others it’s swimwear. Sometimes it’s a mixture. No rules, it’s up to you.
The water takes four to five hours to heat up from scratch. It can be a subtle process to get the temperature right (36 to 38 degrees is optimal). Someone needs to keep an eye on it throughout that time. And if a group is here for more than a weekend it will need cleaning. Please follow posted instructions carefully. For some reason it get dirty more quickly when children use it. Maybe it’s all the splashing about, getting in and out etc. Not sure what can be done about that but please keep an eye on them. It helps to wash your feet in a bowl before getting in. In Japan – where they have business meetings in hot tubs – they shower before using. We recommend that too.