The Centre for Alternative Technology is now a hugely well-known attraction heralded as Europe's leading eco-centre. It's not just a tourist attraction, but an educational centre that provides ideas and advice on sustainable living. CAT is set in a seven acre site on a former slate quarry. It was set up in 1974 by a group of individuals who were keen to show how it was possible to live out life by sustainable principles.
At that time the CAT community were making their devices for generating heat with old radiators, making wind powered machines with bits of fabric tethered to apparatus to catch the wind. Today it is much more modern and business-like than you might imagine - although it is still run as a co-operative and charity.
You access the main site by the water balanced cliff railway that climbs 180 feet up a 35 degree slope. It operates by the two carriages being linked by a cable, water is run into a tank beneath the upper carriage until it's heavier from the lower carriage and its passengers. When the brakes are released it uses gravity to lower the top carriage which in turn pulls the bottom carriage to the top.
This doesn't run in the winter so be prepared for a steep, stepped climb up to the centre (there is parking round by the restaurant for disabled access). There is a shop, information centre and restaurant on site. The Green Shop stocks a huge range of publications on every subject associated with sustainable living, both produced by CAT and others. There are also useful gadgets on sale like solar powered battery rechargers, wind-up radios and solar powered torches. The restaurant serves homemade, vegetarian, organic food and light refreshments. The Information Centre provides a free audio tour, additional information on particular questions you might have and further information on courses the Centre runs.
You can either take the organised self-tour, "The CAT Visitor Circuit", which helpfully identifies the different exhibits marked on the map you receive when you've paid your entrance fee; or you can take the free audio tour available from the Information Centre on site. You can see this as a virtual tour on their website. Either way, starting off there's an introductory video narrated by Michael Palin that introduces you to the reasoning that led to the establishment of CAT in the 1970s.
From there you can walk around the site which they recommend you take at least two hours although you can stay all day if you like. On the way are cross-sections of "green" buildings that use innovative insulation systems including straw, see and use the wind and solar powered telephone box or gardens that show how you can cultivate an organic garden in a suburban setting or introduce plants into a tiny space in Myfanwy's sunken garden where there is no natural soil. There's a striking and thought-provoking transport display with archways made out of old cars that highlights the serious issues around all modes of transport and their impact on the environment.
There are lots of displays associated with alternative methods of energy generation including a variety of solar panels including the solar tile roof. The most fun area is the children's play area that is actually good fun for adults too, the crowning glory being the mole-hole in the garden area. Here you can enter the touchy-feely subterranean world of the mole and see what life is like from their point of view with microscopic bugs and fungus on display in the size a mole would see them. CAT is open 7 days a week all year round. Opening hours vary depending on the time of year.