Off-grid living at St Dogs

Two storey strawbale houseIt turned out to be a brilliant weekend. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The thing was, the invitation had all happened on Craig’s facebook page and I hadn’t really been involved, I didn’t know what the weekend was all about or of anyone that was likely to be there (or so I thought). Craig did his masters in Environmental Architecture at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) and knows so much more than me about solar energy, passive houses, hydro and wind power. I didn’t feel that I had anything to contribute to the discussions and that everything would be just too technical. Plus the idea of being “off-grid” reminds me of the impending possible crises; nightmare scenarios of what might happen when peak oil really kicks in slamming straight into global warming extreme weather events, so I’d avoided making a decision until the morning of the first day.

I am so glad that I went. The two days were filled with fantastic people, optimism and stories of empowerment.

I’d half forgotten that the event was going to be held at a two storey load-bearing straw bale house (which basically means the straw walls are taking all of the weight of the roof , floors and everyone in it – no timber-framed supports here!). As we walked further along the steep muddy public footpath above the abbey ruins I began to wonder if we were on the right track. As the path narrowed, signs of footfall disappeared all together. Then just as we were wondering if we’d gone the right way and whether we should turn back we saw it, a deeply pink round house cradled against the wooded valley. Rachel, our fantastic host, was tying balloons to the garden archway. She said something to the effect of “these should help people find it”, which made me smile, and warmly welcomed us in.

The house is amazing, so big inside. So much creativity has gone into every detail, it was really no wonder that it had won Grand Design’s Best Eco-House in 2008 (I was later to find out).

Brigit Strawbrige, Rachel and Tony Wrench

Brigit Strawbrige, Rachel and Tony Wrench

The kettle was on, time for a cup of tea while everyone arrived. I was thrilled to see that Brigit Strawbridge was there. I quickly introduced myself – after all we are facebook friends even though we hadn’t met (curious how that happens) – and thanked her for replying to my request for links to the best bee identification websites. She is wonderfully passionate about the plight of our bees (and rightly so). Turns out we have a rare Carder Bee in this part of Wales, so you can bet I’ll be going through all the photos I took of bees this summer to see if I’ve captured one digitally.

There have been a number of blog posts about the weekend by others. Salena sums up each of the talks perfectly. So rather than drone on here, I’ll let you read her blog to find out more.

For me the best part of the two days was meeting inspiring people who have followed their hearts and achieved, or are set on a course to achieve, some truly amazing things (I also learnt that I know more than I thought and that here is a lot more to be understood!). I can’t wait to find out more about everyone’s projects – good luck everyone. The stage is set for more events like this, the next one at Rachel’s in May 2012 – and Tony Wrench did say that he’d forgotten to bring his home made wine to this one – next time …

Thank you Rachel and team for a lovely weekend.

Oh I can’t believe I got to the end and didn’t mention the food. It was AMAZING. Thank you lovechefs for the lunchtime savouries and Rachel’s mum for the mid-afternoon sweets.