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Daily Post article 14 Feb 2013

Green green class of eco home in Blaenau Ffestiniog

by Andrew Forgrave, DPW West
Feb 14 2013

MANY firms claim to be green, few are. In North Wales, just five accommodation providers have achieved gold standard in the Green Tourism Business Scheme.

Among them is Bryn Elltyd Eco Guesthouse, 200 metres from Blaenau Ffestiniog railway. For owners John and Celia Whitehead, the decision to go green was a “life philosophy” that, they admit, was not rooted in any business reality.

“There’s an awful lot of green- wash out there,” said John, 58.

“The Green Tourism Business Scheme sorts out the men from the boys and shows those who are really committed to eco principles.

“When they inspect you, they will get into the roof space to check insulation and will snag you if water is coming out of taps too quickly.

“But, as a business opportunity, it doesn’t really work – we would have been better off having a big dog kennel.”

So why do it? “At some time in the future the economy will pick up again,” said John. “And oil prices aren’t going to get any cheaper. Our day will come.”

In the 2012 Gwynedd Taste & Talent awards the guesthouse won the Renewable Energy Project of the Year title, so clearly the couple are doing something right.

Both are teachers who are passionate about outdoor pursuits – so much so that John proposed to Celia at Everest’s 18,000ft base camp during the 25th anniversary Everest climb in 1978.

And they are both early adopters of green technology. Following a visit to Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology in 1983, they installed solar heating panels on their home in Coventry.

“Not too many people had solar panels in Coventry in those days,” said John.

It probably helped that he is a former aircraft engineer and technology teacher. Much of Bryn Elltyd’s greening has been done by John himself, and the results mean the couple can now comfortably sit in their 1883 granite-walled home in short-sleeves even in the depths of winter.

They arrived in Tanygrisiau six years ago, drawn by a love of the outdoors and an enticing website photo of Bryn Elltyd.

Some “greening” had already been done: two outbuilding, erected by their predecessors, had turf roofs, and these now provide self-catering accommodation, complete with sheep wool insulation, wet rooms and grey water recycling for toilets.

Solar PV panels are dotted here and there. Larger arrays were considered, then rejected. “We’re about 3ft inside the national park,” sighed John.

Walls are dry-lined and insulated, either in cavities or externally. Sewage is collected in a three-chamber biological tank before being filtered in a reed bed and ejected in the B&B’s duck pond. “And the ducks eat the slugs, reducing the need for pesticides,” said John.

Bryn Elltyd’s showcase is a new boiler room, with a 37-degree pitched roof, built on a south-facing gable in 2011.

It houses a £20,000 computer-run biomass boiler fed by a six-tonne bag of wood pellets – from local forestry, naturally.

It’s completed by a 10m solar evacuated tube thermal array on the slate roof.

Latest development is a 15 sq metre timber store with an alpine plant sedum roof.

It houses a concrete-bolted bike rack – ready for the new bike trail around Tanygrisiau reservoir – and two electric car charging points: one is a 32amp fast charger, despite the absence of vehicles yet adapted for this technology.

With Bryn Elltyd so close to a railway station, and bordered by a free public car park with cafe, the idea is to encourage sustainable public transport. At a pinch, John or Celia will even collect visitors from the station.

Despite the impressive eco technology, guests are often impressed by more prosaic matters.

“Forget the £20,000 boiler, they want to know how we can cope with up to 15 visitors and use just one wheelie bin for our rubbish,” said John.

Little goes to waste. New vegetable plots are springing up, each with their own composters and rainwater harvesting systems. The couple’s own trees provide timber for two hi-tech log burners, as well as the lumber to build Bryn Elltyd’s huge dining table.

Eggs and meat come from the local farmer, while Celia bakes fresh bread every day. Keen to integrate, the couple are also learning Welsh.

After six years of renovations, the work is not yet complete. A 100% green electric sauna has been installed but John still has one, slightly unsual, ambition.

“I’d like to have a garden hot tub,” he said.

“Then I could sit in it and wave at the passing trains knowing that it uses recyled water that is solar heated.

“The only problem is, the ducks might want to get in too!


Renewable Energy Award for Welsh Guest House

You may have already heard about and stayed at Bryn Elltyd Eco Guest House in Gwynedd, which has in the past been described by the Guardian as ‘one of Europe’s greenest boltholes’. It’s a small guest house that operates with the ethos of making holidays enjoyable without damaging the environment.

The Eco Guest House has recently been awarded Renewable Project of the Year as part of the Welsh Assembly supported Gwynedd Taste and Tourism Scheme, which goes along with a Gold Award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme.

The renewable energy award recognises a number of initiatives which include a wood pellet boiler, turf roofs, sheep wool insulation, solar thermal panelling, rainwater harvesting, electric vehicle charging points, and two advanced log burners.

In fact everything about this guest house is green, from the locally sourced produce for breakfast, to the use of fair trade products, recycling, and even the double glazing of the conservatory with locally crafted plastic from just a mile away.

The inspiration and innovation at the heart of this guest house comes from John and Ceilia Whitehead, the husband and wife team which have owned the converted 1883 property since 2006. With teaching backgrounds and John’s engineering experience, the eco-credentials of the 6 bed guesthouse is constantly growing, with green innovation being followed by green innovation.

Owner John Whitehead said “We were really pleased to win the renewable energy award and are always looking to introduce new technology into the way we operate. We are passionate about all things eco-friendly and thank all the guests and local community for their continued support of what we are trying to do.”


Considerate hotellier 2012 article

Hospitality: small can be very beautiful indeed

How can big chains compete with lashings of love, understanding and commitment?

Just down the track from the Blaenau Ffestiiniog railway in North Wales there is a small B&B. Bryn Elltyd may be small on the outside (it has just 6 bedrooms) but there are two totally committed owners delivering world-class service and hospitality within the building’s Victorian walls.

Ceilia and John are both teachers by profession and inclination. Now they’ve set themselves the task of helping visitors enjoy their adopted home to the fullest and learning just how world-beatingly good sustainable hospitality can be.

Passionate about the outdoor world, John and Ceilia have spent years involved in outdoor exploits including canoeing, mountaineering and flying parachutes. So passionate that John’s marriage proposal to Ceilia was delivered at an Everest base camp 18,000 feet high when they were both invited to take part in the 25th anniversary Everest trek with Lord Hunt.

And now they are down to Earth in Wales – they are still aiming for the heights of great, sustainable hospitality.

And of course, as befits such community-conscious people (both John and Ceilia have spent much of their time teaching disabled pupils mountain pursuits) the pair, and the B&B are totally integrated in the local community. So eggs and veg come from the local farmer, fresh bread is baked every day, there is always fair trade tea and coffee. That way everything is fresh and wholesome – at every level.

Moreover their website isn’t called for nothing they are chock-full of high tech and low tech eco installations.
There is £20,000 of computer integrated biomass boiler with a 6ton bag of pellets from sustainable local forestry. And 10m solar evacuated tube thermal array on the roof.  John and Ceilia have had solar panels since a visit to CAT in 1983.  The boiler house was built last year to improve the house insulation. Now there is a new insulated cavity wall plus 21 layer of mylar roof insulation, dry lined wall, and recycled door. Plus a new 9m long wood seasoning and dry store with recycled railway sleeper uprights, pallets for slatting and recycled slate with 2000w of solar electric PV on it.
The cunning house design now links old and new. There is massive insulation, even the new build insulated cavity walls are internal dry lined. There are  detached turf roofed rooms, lined with cosy sheep’s wool, and their own solar thermal panels, rainwater harvesting. Plus there is 3 chamber biological sewerage ending up in small reed bed and the B&B’s duck pond. Native brown trout and their own ducks live here, no doubt happily.
Celia and John’s own trees provide some of the timber for two advanced log burners and also the lumber to build the main dining table. There is, of course, an avenue of native species trees for wildlife.

And, naturally there are many vegetable plots with a range of 5 composters and rainwater harvesting for irrigation.
Within the last 5 weeks the pair have double glazed the conservatory (with locally crafted local plastic from 1 mile away), and worked on extracting excess heat with an air management system.

There are 2 electric vehicle charging points a rare but emerging new technology in North Wales. One is a 32amp rapid charger.
All of the establishment’s electric is made on site or from 100% renewable energy. And now this energetic pair are working on 15m square mountain bike / electric bike / electric buggy store. Built with timber and slate and a massive alpine plant sedum roof.

All of this adds up to true sustainability and what John and Ceilia deliver is true natural hospitality too, great fresh food, sensational warmth and comfort and amazing hospitality – so much so that they have recently been rewarded with a Gold award from Green Tourism Business Scheme (one of only 5 in North Wales) and the Welsh assembly gov / Gwynedd Renewable project of the year award in 1012 Taste and Talent competition
And they may be in the depths of the beautiful countryside but guests won’t lack for communication or luxury either. There is 7mg free wifi, satellite TV’s and even a 100% green electric sauna.

It shows what you can do if you are small, determined and passionate – and very energetic indeed! Bryn Elltyd   is naturally a member of the

Considerate Hoteliers Association
Valere Tjolle