Cae Non is a secluded five acre field in north west Wales where people and nature are working in tandem to develop a completely natural organic area for the mutual benefit and enjoyment of all.

Enjoy the wide open spaces; the clear dome of the sky and the vistas of mountains around you. Bask in the sunshine,the water, the banks of wild flowers. Explore the pathways, the labyrinth and the island. Discover the groves, pools and bowers. A walk around Cae Non can be merely a nice amble through nature, or a deeply meaningful spiritual adventure of self-discovery and connection.

This is an on-going project which is still in its infancy. Come and be part of it. Volunteers are greatly appreciated.... and well fed! Visitors warmly welcomed and well looked after.

Regular retreats and workshops are held, see the events page for details.

Tree planting – winter 2012, Day 1

Posted on: July 27th, 2012 by
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Phwew what a great afternoon… Inclement weather this morning, but after lunch we started planting some of the trees we took delivery of before christmas. So: today I have planted 77 trees: a mix of native broad leaf trees and fleshing out some hedgerow with dog rose bushes. Not bad work considering I’m working in sodden clay with my limited elbow. Call it physiotherapy.

Anyway, it’s full moon tonight – thought I’d share this beautiful photo taken from the Hafod door!

Yule full moon

Yule full moon

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Give the gift of light this Christmas

Posted on: July 26th, 2012 by
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A few days ago, I was made aware of a truly ingenious idea to help provide reliable off-grid lighting to developing countries where power, batteries, paraffin, etc., may not be available. This idea is for a small electric lamp, but the power source is really ingenious. The idea started when a London based design concern was asked to design a low-cost solar lamp for developing countries. There is only one problem with that idea. Rechargeable batteries are expensive, so are solar panels, what’s more they’re fragile. Not the best thing to make for people who have budgets of a dollar a day and where the nearest shop is days away.

The idea the designers came up with is based on a similar mechanism to a cuckoo-clock. A small sack is filled with rocks or earth and hoisted up. The bag pulls a rope through a clockwork mechanism generating a small amount of power which powers the lamp, and can also charge torches, phones, or run a radio.

As a technologist, I can really see the merit of this. I think it’s a great idea, and certainly good for the environment. It is free of expensive components and worse, chemicals such as those found in a battery (the components will probably be quite inert) so if it’s thrown away in the jungle, it won’t do much harm.

However, this isn’t in production yet: the designers need funding to produce trial units and supply them to villagers for trial. You can donate a little money here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/282006 the link also holds a fascinating little video of the prototype in use with further explanation as to why this is a good idea.

As soon as we can get our hands on one, we will have on of these for Cae Non… It would be ideal in our loo tent!

Prototype for raised beds

Posted on: July 25th, 2012 by
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So, today, I have been busy working out how to build raised beds from lengths of irregular “rustic” willow wood.

Willow tub planter

Willow tub planter

I decided that rather than building an 8' 4″ raised bed, I needed to work out how exactly to make the wood fit together on a smaller scale. So I built a ~2 foot (Probably more than that – it was a rough measurement!)  planter to take some of the plants I had ready to go in that wouldn't be happy going straight into the wet clay.

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I have now realised that the only way to do this is not to make tiers of poles at 90 degree anges, but to have pairs of lengths of willow with a length at each end nailed on top, after several layers, this forms a box shape. Thus the only requirement for straightness of the willow pieces is that each length must be able to meet up with the length on top of it (at right-angles) at some point. This is then nailed to secure the structure. The whole lot is then lined with a membrane and filled with soil.

Now I have this idea licked and can scale it up and build my bigger raised beds using the same principle.

Planting herbs

Planting herbs

I have also used this visit to Cae Non to get some of the plants I had ready planted out. This time they are:

  • Barberry Mahonia aquifolium
  • Goji berry Lyceum barbarium
  • Cramp bark Viburnum opulus
  • FeverfewTanacetum parthenium
  • Red CloverTrifolium pratense
  • St.Jonh's WortHypricum perforatum.

The shrubs planted directly into the clay, the others planted into the willow tub.

Finished planter

Finished planter

Seeds of a Herb Garden

Posted on: July 23rd, 2012 by
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So, I like herbs. I should do, I’m a trainee herbalist. I also like making things with herbs – and prescribing them too. Pity with that is, you actually need a source of your materia medica… good job I also like gardening!

That there would be a herb garden at Cae Non was never in doubt – it was simply a matter of when there would be a herb garden at Cae Non.

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In light of this, Gillian has found what she reckons to be a good area for growing herbs and asked if I’d like to put it under the spade – well, you can imagine my reaction!

This area of land for the herb garden/beds is pretty much as good as it gets; it is near water (although I don’t suspect this will be an issue at Cae Non knowing how wet it can be), and is near enough to the Hafod to make brews, wash hands, etc. More importantly it also has a small depth of soil; we’re looking at 2-3 inches, so not much mind, but it’s a start. A tell tale sign of this is that there are briars growing where I intend to put the garden – normally a curse to gardeners, these are an indication to me that the land is of better quality as other areas (most areas) are too wet and clay ridden to support them. If they’ll take one Rosaceae, they’ll take many others of value.

So what do we have? About 30’ x 30’ of briars at the moment!Opening Up Stream 007

These are reasonably easily dealt with; an hour with the brush-cutter and they’ll be gone: The roots represent more of a challenge though!

First step will be to peel back the growth and letting some air get at the soil; turning it and preparing suitable portions for planting.

Due to the varying nature of the herbs/medicinal plants I intend to cultivate, some will go straight in: those with more sturdy tap-root systems that love going deep into clay to get at the trapped mineral-bearing layers will do fabulously here; they will also break up the alluvial clay and let bacteria in, starting to get some life into the soil and set off aerobic processes. Some of the herbs I have in mind are:

  • Symphytum spp.  Comfrey. – Medicinally useful large herb; also a source of ‘green fertiliser.
  • Arctium lappa & Rumex crispus – Burdock and Yellow Dock. – These are grand herbs that are a little too large for the average garden – they also love field-like conditions and poor soil.
  • Taraxacum officinale Dandelion – Do I really need to plant this weed? It seems like I do as it’s not present at Cae Non at the moment and would do well in the clay. Roots for medicine, Leaves for healthy salad, flowers for wine! Need I say more?

But while large plants are grand for the clay and direct planting, many of the smaller herbs I would like to plant would simply disappear or wouldn’t be able to deal with the soil. Aromatic herbs in particular like well-drained and sandy or loamy soil. What to do…?

Raised beds are an option here; many companies selling kits and pre-assembled beds. Problem is they tend to be expensive and on the small side. I also like making things myself. Having considered railway sleepers (nasty creosote and transport issues), new pine planks (expense, transport issues, short life), and other solid barriers, I’ve found myself drawn to using a woven willow structure to contain the soil and provide drainage. Willow is something we do have/have access to, and it doesn’t need to be especially thin – weaving 1/4 inch willow into walls like this would take a month of Sundays, use a lot of willow, rot quickly and generally be irritating.

So my plan is to use 2’’ diameter willow lengths (split or un-split depending on flexibility) with a semipermeable  backing such as roofing-felt or hessian sacks. This would allow me to leave ~2 inch gaps, and attaining a height of 18 inches becomes much easier.

Searching on Google gives good ideas, but many are either built using thin willow, cost a lot of money, or are too small. I like these raised beds and these willow beds as ideas.

So, a tangible goal for this summer is to clear the area of briars, plant some larger herbs directly into the soil, and erect 2 raised beds and plant with some of my herbs from home and other annuals I’d like.

Opening Up Stream 005

I might grin… it’s the manic grin of someone about to do hard work against the futility of briars!

Anyway, it’s gonna be great – I always love building gardens. The herbs may heal the body, but gardens heal the soul.

Welcome to the Herb Garden!

Welcome to my world!

Posted on: July 21st, 2012 by
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First version of my weather station

Having been a weatherman for over twenty years has clearly left it marks with me and the state of the atmosphere and its short term fluctuations and long term changes are still a keen interest of mine. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that at the beginning of April 2012 I have set up this very basic weather station near the top end of the field. Restricted by the absence of electricity to run a computer and me not being present there on a daily basis it doesn’t actually report live weather data to any of the on-line weather websites but at least captures the basic values of rainfall, maximum and minimum air temperature and is therefore more of a climatological station. What I hope to achieve under these limiting circumstances is to at least collect these three values on a monthly basis and create a set of data that might over time indicate changes in current weather patterns.

The raingauge used is a Climemet CM1016 that holds up to 225 mm (about 9 inches) of rain, which is more than enough for most months, and a fairly basic and easy to handle and reset minimum/maximum thermometer, designed for use in greenhouses and grow rooms but also outdoors, which I housed underneath two up-side-down plant pots to avoid direct exposure to sunlight.

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After almost six months of running both the rain gauge and minimum thermometer seem to deliver fairly accurate readings which compare well to surrounding weather stations in Penllyn, Ynys Mon and Eryri. The maximum temperature though tends to be several degrees too high as the improvised plant pot solution is obviously not up to standard and will need rectifying.

To this end I have already part-assembled a makeshift ‘Stevenson screen’, using louvre panels normally used for airing of bathrooms. When complete it should have a solar panel on the roof to run a small fan inside in the hope that the airflow will markedly reduce the over-reading in strong sunlight. I shall endeavour to complete and set up this improved device by the end of this year and also add on another sensor to capture the grass minimum temperature, which is taken at 5cm (2 inches) above ground.

A summary of the readings taken so far will be following shortly!

…A Bright Golden Haze…

Posted on: July 21st, 2012 by
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When I was a very small child, my mother often used to sing as she did her housework and I particularly remember one fine dry summer when she frequently sang “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from the musical “Oklahoma”. Looking from the back of our cottage, out across the river and the field on the other side, there was indeed a bright golden haze spread over it.

Today began with just such another perfect morning. Soft grey shadows lay long across the mountain sides as the newly risen sun peeped over a distant ridge; golden sunlight dappled the heavily dewed grass beneath the willow trees. The air was cool but held the promise of warmth to come. The whole world lay utterly still. A bumble bee buzzed haphazardly past me and a cuckoo called from across the other side of the valley. Swathes and splashes of every shade of green imaginable lay banked around me. All this, just for me? What total perfection! How immeasurably rich I am!

How rich were you today?

Time to take time:

Posted on: July 21st, 2012 by
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As this is the first post that I have put on here, I suppose that the first thing I should do is to say “hello”!

The calendar might tell us that we have only just entered into spring, but the land definitely has other ideas! Spring has been thrusting ahead for many weeks now.. green shoots are sprouting everywhere, buds are swelling, birds have been chorusing gloriously since January.

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It is marvellous to see the turning of the season and life returning with full thrust but it can become a little worrying too.

Suddenly I can see that some of the tasks I had hoped to complete before spring really got under way are simply not going to get done and that I will probably have to wait until next winter to do them… the planting of the labyrinth and the planting/building of a willow loo structure among them!

But in the end, does it really matter? Our presence at Cae Non has always been based on working sensitively with the land, the weather and the seasons, and it is the living presences now that must take precedence. It is looking around you and smelling the air, really feeling that sunshine, really appreciating that hot mug of coffee, really seeing and hearing the people in front of you that is most important. To live fully and happily in this moment.

Everyone says that time seems to be going faster… everyone seems so terribly busy with so much to fit in and do. Suppose the world ended tomorrow. Would it really have mattered whether that last document was typed, the last washer-load of clothes done, the cushions straightened, the front porch swept? But the few minutes you gave to your neighbour next door, or your mum on the phone, or your partner or child would. Perhaps we should all aim to have a few free minutes each day, to lovingly and unhurriedly bestow on someone we care about… even ourselves.

Time to take our time occasionally, and really stop and appreciate what is going on around us… have a nice day!


Posted on: July 18th, 2012 by
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We ceremoniously planted the first two trees at the beginning of August; not the right time of year to do so, but they were already growing in pots, and we couldn’t wait! These were an oak and a holly and went into the main ritual area. (The oak is thriving and looked very pretty in the autumn with it’s coloured leaves, but the holly has died…. I think that the very wet winter was too much for it.)

My first attempt

My first attempt

It was to be January before the next trees went into the ground. Several hundred willows, some of which I planted as a willow coppice, and others which I planted as “fedging” along the back of the hard standing and leading off it onto the paths. Fedging is a composite word made from up “fence” and “hedge”. Willow whips are pushed into the ground every 12” at a 45 degree angle, and then a second row are similarly pushed into the ground leaning the other way. After that it is a case of weaving the whips together so that they form a wall of diamond shapes, which come the spring should sprout and thickly bush. I find forming the fedging tremendously satisfying, even the last lot that I put in while the rain lashed at my back, the wind buffeted me about and my mittened hands gradually froze!

On New Year’s Eve, the four of us spent the afternoon on the land. Jenn and Dafydd wanted to plant the first two trees of Jenn’s Cauldron Grove before she had to return to the States for the start of the new semester. The trees represent themselves: the masculine energies of the alder and the femine qualities of the birch. It was a damp grey day, but later we relaxed around the stove where a blazing log fire toasted us all, and as the short afternoon daylight quickly faded into dusk, we lit the candles and enjoyed large mugs of hot steaming tea and delicious chocolaty fragrant spice cakes as big as saucers (a Christmas present sent to Holger from Germany).

Of course there are thousands of trees yet to plant, and so many places to clear and things to build, but I am in no hurry. I want to make the most of the huge charm and pleasure of the initial creation; time for watching how it will develop later. I mean to make the very most of every day and every job; it is the journey that is the important thing, not the eventual destination reached.

The Stream

Posted on: July 18th, 2012 by
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At the end of October I decided that I needed to go on retreat myself and take spiritually take stock. However, I am not the kind of person who can sit and meditate or journey all day, and derive much benefit from physical work which I find helps to sharpen my focus and clarify my mind.

Steps cut into clay

Steps cut into clay

One beautiful warm sunny afternoon I decided to do something about access to the stream where I collect the drinking water from. The water has cut deeply into the clay banks and it is a good 2′ down making it difficult to get down to it. I found some rare flat stones from around the site of the island excavation and dragged them in the wheelbarrow all the way up to the top of the field, cutting step shapes out of the clay and lining them with the stone.

Stream and bench under gorse

Stream and bench under gorse

I am sure that eventually we will have to do something a little larger and more permanent but it works well for now. Besides which, they gave me great pleasure and satisfaction to build.

I also cleared beneath a large old gorse bush on the opposite side of the stream from the steps and placed a makeshift bench there.

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It is often warm and sheltered there and a wonderful place to sit besides the running chuckling water… and looking out across the field from there one can see in the hazy blue distance all the mountain ridges of north Meirionnydd. Perfect!

The Island

Posted on: July 18th, 2012 by
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View of part of the island... Dogs enjoying the water

View of part of the island... Dogs enjoying the water - not yet to full capacity

Driving down to the field one morning we went past a cottage with a large garden, in which I fleetingly espied a pond with a tiny island in the middle of it. Now I have always had a dream to own my very own island one day, and by now we knew that if we dug a hole at Cae Non it would soon fill up with water. Perhaps neil would dig me a big broad hole before he removed the digger?

Neil was as enthusiastic as I with the idea and shortly afterwards he asked me to mark out where I would like my island to be, and not to restrict myself too severely to size; after all, I have got five acres to play with!

Beginning the channel round the island... Water already gathering

Beginning the channel round the island... Water already gathering

I paced about the field for a while with an armful of 6′ garden canes; made my decision and began marking out where I would like the edges of the island to be. Then Neil brought in the digger and began to scrape off the top flora. Once we were satisfied with the shape, he dug deeper. Over several afternoons of work he made a channel 6′ – 8′ wide and 2′ – 4′ deep. Because of the way the land ever so gently slopes, he had to put in two clay barriers to prevent the water from the top end running over the banks at the lower end and flooding everything.

Part of channel around island; now filled with water, clay dam holding higher water in distance

Part of channel around island; now filled with water, clay dam holding higher water in distance

We now have access by stepping stones, one large boulder that Neil found while digging and didn’t want to try and remove, and a couple of others dislodged in the process and repositioned as required.

The Island… Ynys Non… is roughly tear-shaped and large enough for a group to gather there, or for a couple of small tents to be put up and someone camp there. There are four low bushy willow trees growing on it but I would also like to plant at least one apple tree there, which would become a very magical apple, and the whole island will be my own little Isle of Avalon! (At Cae Non, dreams really can, and do, come true!)

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