We found Brithdir Mawr with the help of some neighbors and by following the sound of the whistling wind turbine. It is located on an old farm estate, where the buildings are placed around in a circle along a central path giving it a village feeling. There are 12 adults, 4 teenagers, and 3 children living there. Our room, with large windows overlooking the gardens and hills, was in the central building that contains the communal dining room with a huge, homegrown table in the center, bedrooms and space for the teenagers and volunteers, and an office in the attic with a nice ISDN connection..
Our first night there we joined the solstice festivities at the week long midsummer camp being held in a huge open field. We danced circle folk dances to live music until the swarms of midges (biting gnats that especially love faces and scalps) drove us back to our room.
The next day we started work in the gardens. There was plenty to be done. Erika took on the task of weeding the two large beds of strawberries, which yielded large bowls on a daily basis. There were also bean poles to set up and string, carrots to thin, and all those usual summer garden tasks. Permaculture principles were implemented in the gardens, and the slug population was controlled with the help of some ducks.
There were spontaneous communal meals, usually on communal work days, and the rest of the meals were taken on our own consisting of what we collected from the gardens. The community is, for the most part, vegetarian and they produce the majority of their food. There was a natural food store in town and a organic produce van (coming from a different community we later visited) that came around once a week.
In the ten years of their existence, plenty of renovation work took place, and the before and after pictures we saw were impressive. The 165 acres and its neglected buildings (built in the mid 1850's) were bought by one of the founding families and there was enough money left over to restore some of the buildings with outside help and some they are still working on today.
Life here seemed comfortable, simple and self-reliant. All the electricity came from a wind turbine, solar panels, and a hydro-turbine in the creek. They heat with wood, have no refrigerators or freezers, no washing machines (but a wonderful hand-cranked drier), and all compost toilets.
The community is not income-sharing but they do have some communal incoming generating projects. They receive a small monthly Environmentally Sensitive Area grant. Another communal source of income is the solar powered hostel they run. This is the most inexpensive (and nicest) hostel we ever found in Britain ($10/person). Guests have access to beautiful views, walking trails, a small lake to swim in, and a sandbox full of toys.
With the right choices, one can live here on a few hundred pounds a year, so the residents only have to do minimal paid-work outside the community. Work on the farm takes up much of the rest of their time. There are animals to take care of, gardens to weed, buildings to restore, and compost toilets to look after. They were all very serious and dedicated to their sustainable living ideals and seemed to have years of experience behind them.
One of the core themes of the community is what they call eco-building, especially traditional roundhouses. They built the animal shelters and different communal spaces this way. One couple living there, Jane and Tony, built themselves a roundhouse to live in. The house is beautiful and almost completely hidden into the landscape under its turf roof. Tony wrote a great book called Building a Low Impact Roundhouse and there have been many articles written about it. Because of this publicity there has been much interest expressed and so they do weekly tours of their place. At the time we were visiting in June we were told that even with all the support, they have not managed to legalize it and were trying to get permission to use it as an education center. More information and pictures about the roundhouse can be found at thatroundhouse.info.
The highlight of the visit for Momo was the trampoline, which she often shared with the other children of the community. All the children at Brithdir Mawr are unschooled until they are teenagers and then they have the choice to go to the local open university to take courses. One of the residents is a retired mathematics teacher and is available to help the children obtain the proficiency needed to enter some courses.
Make sure to check the community's website (full of great photos) at brithdirmawr.com
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