Raspberry picking in glorious afternoon sunshine, a massive – and beautiful – cob-built greenhouse and willow all around, growing, cut, soaking, and woven! Just a few of the ingredients of a magical few hours at Plas Heyg, the smallholding where Cassie and Nigel Lishman live in Pembrokeshire.
Cassie and Nigel are part of the eco-community of Tir-y-Gafel as visited in my previous post. (Click here for that post and background on the community and the wider project of Lammas). They moved here in 2009 as one of the founding members of the project. Planning permission for the site requires that residents provide 75% of their basic needs from the land. For their part the residents try to do this whilst living as sustainably and gently on the land as they are able.
In order to meet the planning requirements, Cassie and Nigel grow both food and willow on their 7 acre plot and offer courses in willow basketry and sculpture, along with cob building and eco-planning. Cassie also sells her fabulous willow baskets, as well as handmade felt crafts. The willow is chemical free and all coppiced by hand on site.
Plas Helyg means ‘willow palace’ in Welsh. Taking up the tradition of Welsh place names being descriptive, when they moved in they looked for a name which reflects how they would like to see the smallholding develop. Willow and the things you can do with it are central to their lives – baskets, sculptures, firewood, windbreaks, fences, animal feed, and so on. To name the small holding after such a ‘giving’ tree seemed obvious! Cassie gradually envisages planting and weaving a new ‘temple of willow’ into being.
The cob building courses are borne out of direct experience having constructed much of the infrastructure on the site using this method of mud and straw and other similar techniques. They started out on the site in 2009 with a yurt and a small live-in vehicle. In 2010 they completed 9 metre diameter, reciprocal frame, straw bale roundhouse. The building is painted with lime wash pigmented with iron oxide to make it pink! Not one easy to miss!! Then they built their bathroom – complete with cob bath. They got another rush of building fever in 2012 with completion (with the help of many hands) of both the 7 metre cob greenhouse and a cruck frame barn.
Growing-wise, their permaculture approach is intended to be practical and beautiful. With a south-facing slope, they can also terrace and, protected by a large ancient hedge, a walled garden is emerging. This is the heart of their land space. The cob built greenhouse is fabulous construction within the space. Cob is obviously non-transparent to light so it has need for multiple windows, but the cob provides a passive solar heat gain and then releases it at night.
About half an acre of the land is a mainly spruce conifer plantation, and Cassie and Nigel have planted around a further 2500 trees since putting our roots down here. They have also accumulated many animals including sheep and ponies!
As a resident of Tir-y-Gafel, like Tao and Hoppi Wimbush of my previous past, Cassie and Nigel are also part of the village of Glandwr and beyond that the extensive community of people living on the land in Pembrokeshire.
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC]