The concept of the new Maes Gwyrdd (www.maesg.org.uk) – the Green Field – at the National Eisteddfod came from Jill Bach, a dynamic radical mum from the Valleys, and Nathan Lewis Williams, folk singer and musician. Nathan’s full time determination brought it to fruition fully backed up by the Rural Artspace at the Coed Hills community near St Hilary in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Nathan was driven by the peace, beauty and integrity of a hand-built green future for Wales, growing from Welsh cultural roots, and from people and nature flourishing in harmony. This has nothing to do with high tech green solutions, political policies for green growth or the like.
Initially I opposed this vision with passion – we can’t give conventional people the impression that the green future is a marginal peasant fringe, strictly for the pixies. Nathan dutifully tried to lure in the powerhouses of renewable energy and the like, but they would not engage. Only one small orange electric car, made in Wales by Dragon EV, lurked between the Yurts.
The field, three acres of ecological celebration, was truly green. The entrance was stepping stones of round tree logs leading under an arch of flag and willow away from the hectic main thoroughfare. An expanse of grass beckoned, with a spiral maze, painted hand-operated swing boats for children, arrangements of growing flowers and vegetables, leafy trelliss and copper coloured statues of naked gentle girls. Around the perimeter yurts, straw bale structures, tents and teepees contained projects illustrating the diverse facets of a future in a low key, gentle, and natural Wales.
My favourite was the old pattern of farming in upland Powys with nutrient cycling between the wild ffridd (where the lowlands and uplands meet) and arable river fields, an indigenous blend of crop rotation with permaculture. Outside crafts were plied amid growing piles of off-cuts and shavings. Teenagers built a coracle-like boat -a currach, wood-turners worked without power tools. A Tŷ Unnos house illustrated how fast affordable building can use native small diameter trees, including the insulated functionality of today’s sustainable building codes. The strawbale house was a recording studio – in the evening its builder watered the roof foliage. Altogether it was a field of interesting adaptations of old skills to today’s needs.
The centrepiece was a giant yurt housing the e-Coleg with a daily programme of free lectures and discussions. Nathan had rigged up a translation apparatus using radio signal that could be received on mobile phones. He managed to do everything on his magic shoestring, so determined was he to achieve the quality required on a limited budget. Interviewed afterwards, he said of the talks:
“We had some dedicated speakers of real insight and passion. I loved the talk on Iolo Morganwg, pioneer of the Eisteddfod’s Bardic Order, the Gorsedd, by Emeritus Professor Geraint H Jenkins. Iolo came across as a spirited radical and proto-ecologist who might have enjoyed the atmosphere of our Green Field had he been there to see it. Bob Evans’ history of early Welsh harp music, with musical performances from his Crwth and vocals duo, Bragod, took things right back to fundamental, Pythagorean harmonic principles and was very accessible and well received.
The full interview is on www.ecocymru.org. It vividly recreates the ethos and detail of the event and looks to next year and beyond.
As the intermittent sun shone through the woven slat roof of the tapestry lined marquee, speakers shared their expertise on a spectrum of subjects, from wildlife to renewable energy. Powerful polemics issued from political figures who have shaped recent Welsh history. Between and after lectures folk singers, bands and sole instrumentalists played with little amplification but with a poignance that permeated the stillness.
There were some interesting lessons to take home for me from this first ever dedicated Green Area at the Eisteddfod, the national event which seeks to epitomise and celebrate the culture of Welsh Wales.I found that you don’t need to woo Eisteddfod goers to a green vision with snazzy technology. There is an appetite for the beauty of traditional lifestyles and the hand-crafted heritage – a baseline which is already rapidly evolving to better meet today’s needs.
Beauty using song and music, semi-wild plants and vegetables, sculpture, willow weaving, painted, round or green wood, straw bale building blocks and timber pathways – all these permaculture type of technologies have an allure to the normal Eisteddfod going public of Wales. There is a hunger in the land for this kind of future, this kind of Wales.
I also found that the thinking and knowledge, expressed in Welsh, felt qualitatively different from its English equivalent. The diverse topics historic, technical, cultural, polemical, and political – felt more joined up and mutually reinforcing. There was a wealth of qualification and nuanced questioning which opened more doors than it shut. I sensed a connectivity through the language between, for example, ancient landscapes, a nutrient cycling system of husbandry, and emerging Welsh Government policy.
It is a pity this doesn’t translate exactly, but that is why the Eisteddfod is important, and especially important to have a Welsh ‘Green Futures’ space on the Maes. As the organisers put it:
“Maes Gwyrdd: past, present and possible futures. A place where ancient culture and traditional skills may inform new perspectives and technologies. A place on the boundary of our familiar world and emerging realities. Somewhere that invites us to contemplate and consider what hopes and questions, qualities and visions we may have for a viable future together on this, our priceless Earth.”
I failed to be any practical use in putting on this event. All I can do is extend my enormous gratitude and appreciation to everyone who made this happen: the Welsh Arts council, Environment Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan Council for their support, to Catrin, Carys, and Jill Bach and the many helpers and above all to Rawls Clay and Coed Hills Rural Artspace and to Nathan Lewis Williams, the man with the vision that, despite all and everything, lived.