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  • EcoVillager: A land 'built on stories'

    Welsh 'eco-retreat' Cae Mabon strives for sustainability
  • Cae Mabon strives to build a more sustainable world by reconnecting people with nature and with themselves, by demonstrating natural building methods and by hosting youth camps and other events.
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  • An open fire crackles brightly in the middle of the round room, sending curls of smoke drifting up through the thatch, and lighting the ring of expectant faces. Eric Maddern, the storyteller, leans forward. "Not far from here, up among the mountain peaks, is a place called Dinas Emrys. Now long ago, there came a king to this place "¦"
    I am in Wales, a small country just to the west of England. Although it was conquered by the English 700 years ago, Wales retains a strong, independent culture and its ancient Celtic language. We sit in a replica of an ancient Celtic roundhouse, the kind whose ruins dot the surrounding hills. As the night wears on, other people will contribute stories, songs, poems. It feels ancient, and yet what we are doing has a profound relevance to the modern world. We are creating a culture of connection.
    The place is called Cae Mabon, one of the many sites in Europe and around the world where people are working for a sustainable future. It was founded in 1989 by Eric Maddern, and today he calls it an eco-retreat center.
    Maddern has recently returned from a storytelling tour of Wales he made entirely by bicycle, foot and horseback. He picked me up from the train station in a beat-up Land Rover, combining the trip with grocery shopping. As we jostled down the dirt road, we seemed to enter a world of magic. Over our heads, oak, ash, birch, and rowan joined to form a green canopy, lichens and ivy hanging from the branches. Moss coated the forest floor, with occasional carpets of tiny bluebells almost glittering among the trees.
    We parked the car and entered the property through a wooden archway beautifully carved with the face of the Green Man, an ancient British nature symbol. Cae Mabon slopes down the hill from this point, bordered by Afon Fachwen, a white leaping stream that cascades through a series of pools and waterfalls to join wide, glistening lake Paddarn. On the other side of the stream, the forest stretches on into Paddarn Park. Towering above all are the ragged peaks of the sacred mountain Snowdon and its sisters.
    Cae Mabon strives to build a more sustainable world by reconnecting people with nature and with themselves, by demonstrating natural building methods and by hosting youth camps and other events. Over the years many people have brought their creativity to the place, and it has become a model of green building techniques.
    "It's been important for me to create works of beauty, not the ostentatious beauty of the wealthy but the humble beauty of the simple and natural," Maddern said. "The structures are what's known these days as 'low-impact.'"
    Cae Mabon was recently named the No. 1 Natural Building Project in the United Kingdom by Sustain Magazine.
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