Women’s Trad Festival

As I write this I am filled with mixed emotions because I didn’t stay for the full festival sadly, so as you read this review please keep this in mind – I left in the evening of the first full day to head back home for several reasons – I hadn’t been in my own bed for over two weeks due to NCS residentials, I was utterly exhausted, my other half was aboard (I was missing him terribly) and I had two family members in hospital – so I was a mixed bag and had so wished this was on another weekend but hey ho…

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The Women’s Trad Festival has been around for 4 years now, this year all the tickets sold out within 3 minutes of their availability online! I had been toying with the idea with a friend and was disappointed to find out they’d all gone when they had, so I put my name down on the reserve listing (fun fact: women were still putting their names on the lists the night before the festival began!). This is one popular event!

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sold out in 3 minutes!!

There are four types of tickets – Learners (no experience or very little), Climbers (competent in all aspects of single pitch trad climbing), mother and child and a Rescue Course. Naturally, having no experience on grit, I opted for the Learner ticket; with this ticket, you can borrow equipment and are matched up with an experienced mentor/teacher and another learner of similar experience to you.

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The artwork of Gilly’s is wonderful.

So, I was on the waiting list and one day an email said a space had opened up and I have 48 hours to accept – not being one to think about things for long, I accepted and paid (I thought it was a reasonable amount at around £100. I wanted to learn in a comfortable environment!)

The prior information was good – you fill in the standard health and permission forms etc. and they sent information about the event. The only thing you don’t learn is who your mentor/teacher is and the other person climbing with you – this is given on the day at check-in (they might need to change groups around it). I found out I had the same teacher as I had for my Climbing Wall Instructor training – Ali Taylor, which shows how small a world it can be! I also have a lovely woman with our group, named Catherine – we did make an interesting combo, what I was lacking in physical ability I complimented her technical knowledge – so we both were learning from each other as well as Ali.

Anyway, I’ve skipped ahead. The venue for this event was at Chalk Farm, near the town of Ringinglow in the Peak District – just a short drive from Burbage. The event was easy to find and easy to get to – as I was driving straight from the NCS residential in Bristol I was on the motorways all the way (4+ hours there, only 2 1/2 on the way back!!).

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beautiful view

The layout of the site was simple enough. The organisers had signed posted it well, there was plenty of space and it had great views from the tent! I set my tent up and straight away got chatting to others – many from North Wales or around the Peak District area; some who were coming for the first time, some who had been before – the women were very open and chatty and it didn’t feel judgmental at all. I was nervous, as was the new friend I’d made, as we both thought they’d be a lot of friendship groups already but a lot seem to have turned up on their own!

Check-in was quick and easy, I had a look at the DMM stall at their kit, the items on offer for the raffle, the shoes for hire from Tenaya and information about the Pinnacle Club (several members were there). This isn’t a festival with a lot of stalls, it’s small, it’s intimate, it’s really nice.

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Nice goodies in the goodie bag

Upon check-in, the volunteers find your goodie bag. A tote badge with Gilly’s wonderful design on, a toilet roll from Who Gives a Crap (you’ll need it for the portaloos when the rolls run out!), a Rab kitted logo headband, a DMM non-locking carabiner (with WTF 2019 engraved), ClimbOn mini bar and your event T-shirt*. All useful and well thought of goodie bag items!

*The t-shirts were all hand-printed and ironed – over 300! Red is for learners, yellow for climbers, green for mentors/teachers and blue for volunteers. An excellent system! I hope they don’t change the colours as I’d love a yellow top one year!

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Love this enamel mug

You could also purchase one of their enamel or china mugs with its super super cute design on, drawn by Gilly.

So, the first night was just setting up, checking out the site and relaxing, the next day was all the action!

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(I didn’t go for the 7am run – lol!)

The day started with a lot of anticipation from everyone! I think if the organisers had said “let’s go climbing at 6am” a lot of us would have said “YES!” Many were ready, in their T-shirts, and raring to go – we had a talk from the organisers about how the festival started off with just 60 women and over 300(!!) were attending in 2019; how the festival nearly didn’t happen this year (due to venue change/insurance but BMC supported them) and how they want it to continue and expand – its just becoming so sooo popular and time-consuming for them!

After the initial, find your mentor and climbing buddy, it was time to set off for the grit. We headed to Burbage to try out some routes and learn some new things. For me, I learnt just how grippy grit is! I’m used to the coloured plastic holds of an indoor wall where the thinking isn’t as complex as being outdoors. Ali kept telling me “trust your feet” and “placement is not where you expect” [referencing, tiny tiny holds]- she was encouraging and I did enjoy it whilst doing it – I just wished I could have been in a better mind and physical shape to fully enjoy it. We did a few routes, I learnt a few things and enjoyed the time but knew, when we were due to head back to the campsite, that mentally and physically I needed my bed and to relax in time for the last NCS week of work… (at least this week wasn’t a 7am-10pm daily job!).

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Ali taught us how to properly coil rope and tie it around ourselves to carry it back down.

Would I go again? Absolutely! I would love to go with a friend though to share the experience long after the event but feel comfortable enough to travel up alone.

I highly recommend this event to women interested in trad or just getting outdoors for the first time. It’s not a straight forward “learn trad” as you might expect on a paid course, it is much more than that and the experience from the mentors/teachers shape your experience. Ali knew we wanted the experience over the technical side of things (for now) so made that happen and I’m grateful to have felt listened to and “in control” of the experience.

I’m really pleased I went, as mentioned, it probably would have been better on another week for me at least, but it’s sparked an interest and I hope to attend the event again. I wish all the organisers the best, as it continues to be so popular I hope the BMC and/or other sponsors help them with additional support and, if possible, put on more dates throughout the year to meet with demand (hint, hint!).

You can find out more information about the festival from their website, their facebook page and Instagram. Also, check out the UKC news article about this years event.

– Just Joanne 

​NCS Work – Phase 1 as Wave Leader

I’ve worked on a lot of youth-orientated programmes, such as John Muir Award, DofE, Adventure Service Challenge, Scouts and Girl Guiding, so when I was looking at freelance work to cover the month of July I thought I’d give NCS a go.

Now, I’ve been on the National Citizenship Service (NCS) programmes for the past couple of weeks as an instructor but not a leader. It is a scheme that is a four phase programme designed to end with a social action project involving the participants’ local community. The first phase is the ‘Adventure phase’ where young people camp away from home and partake in adventurous, outdoor activities. The second is a residential at a university so they can experience what this will involve; the third is planning the social action and the forth is running the social action then the students will ‘graduate’ from the scheme.

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Campsite set up

So I have just completed the first phase with a Swindon, Weston and Bristol group as Wave Leader in the Brecon Beacons and it was eventful.

The views were lovely as we were camped by Llangorse lake and the site was at the multiactivity centre near the town. On-site they have a riding centre (which we didn’t use), high ropes and an indoor climbing/abseiling and caving area.

So, I mentioned it was an eventful week; during the midweek we had an overnight thunderstorm and heavy rain which kept a lot of the young people out of their tents at 2am trying to hide in the toilets – how did I know this? I was sat in the toilet block reception area bit with one participant waiting whilst their parent came to pick them up (the thunder etc was too much for them)!

The tents themselves weren’t the best, so rainwater did get in. This involved the mentors staying off activities the next day to put the sleeping bags and roll mats out to dry in the sun, whilst leaders keep things as normal and took the kids on activities – I was spending the day driving to the A&E and Minor Injuries Units to transport young people for various issues (of which, some of the trips weren’t even required!).

At this point, I had been awake for over 24 hours! I think I lasted a good 36 hours before things calmed down enough for me to sleep…

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View of the lake

It was interesting to work with team leaders and mentors of varying experiences – from the ones who had done this before, to the overly cautious ones who thought a lot of ‘bumps and scrapes’ meant a trip to A&E (unfortunately, it meant the mentors saw their share of the inside of a hospital!)… from the leaders who just managed things on their own to others who had to ask your permission for every little thing… and from the leaders who had to tell you everything they were doing to those that did things without consulting and causing more issues to deal with.

So I think I had fun. Working with such a variety of people required a lot of different leadership and management styles and my previous experience certainly helped in certain situations – the girl who suddenly got “worse” with her aliments when friends were nearby, organising the site after the storm, time management and dealing with incidents and the head office when it seemed like no one knew what was going on.

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The mountains from the lake.

Next week is phase 2, which will be in Bristol at student accommodation there. This is a three-week programme so phase 2 and 3 are combined in one week and I think they’ll enjoy it although, activities will be more classroom-based and they will have to cook their own meals and keep their rooms clean – for some, that might be a challenge!

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Rush hour in Wales

I have a lot more stories I could tell, but in this public social media platform, it wouldn’t be acceptable. Let’s just say, I hope next week goes as well as this one did (despite the rain…)

-Just Joanne 

Freelancing experience

I’ve finally found some time to catch up with myself and write for a little bit.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself back freelancing in Devon as walk leader for an NCS wave along the South West Coastal Path – I wrote a blog post about the previous time here. Given the nature of freelance work, you meet a lot of new people and outdoor leaders/educators etc to whom you will spend a short amount of time working, eating and conversing with. It’s a smaller world than one would imagine, as I discovered when I found out I share a mutual friend from North Wales with a freelancer down south, however, it is also a small community where reputation plays a big part.

It also a community where a vast range of people, either with little or lots of experience, with differing ideas and opinions, like to be in the outdoors as their common interest and this, for me is fascinating and I just love to meet new people and hear their stories.

So this week, the usual freelancers were moved to the on-site activities and three new freelancers were on the walking activity. (The site manager does this so regular freelancers won’t be bored with running the same activity for weeks at a time.)

 

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The campsite

 

What was intriguing about these new freelancers, as yes, I will be judgmental (it’s a normal human trait, get over it) but I only do so as I found their attitudes to outdoor learning somewhat disliking?

Now, the attraction to outdoor freelance is one of romantic Instagram-able beauty – working in wonderful coastal, mountainous, forested areas delivering developmental programmes for the uninitiated whilst also utilising a unique skill set that, if you’re not strong in, can result in a very unpleasant time for all. It’s desirable for many. It seems easy. It seems fun. It seems like it’s well paid (it depends) and most importantly, you’re outside and who wouldn’t want that?!

The three to join us, two were young – one living in a converted transit van and going around the country freelancing and the other had taken a Level 3 Outdoor Education course wanted this to be their source of income – and the other was an older person who had semi-retired and thought freelancing was an attractable source of income after years spent indoors. So you can see that freelancing does introduce you to people of varied backgrounds.

 

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Views from the coast in Combe Martin

 

What I hoped though, after spending a week with other freelancers passionate about outdoor education, was the same attitudes towards the walk they were placed on… it soon became apparent they did not.

First, was the issue around the required kit they were due to carry as part of the risk assessment. They all objected to the 20 man bothy bag (group sizes were 18 including adults) because of its size… and throughout the week wouldn’t shut up about it. Other freelancers and I asked them to consider, should anything bad happen and they didn’t have the required documented supplied kit, what would happen in court? Now this was an extreme consideration but it does happen, but apparently, them being able to carry a small bag was more important than group safety. Red flag one.

Second, each freelancer has a group and the walk is classed as a ‘local explore’. The young people with you are inner-city kids who, for many, have never been to the coast or walked further than an hour a day on anything other than concrete. Maybe it’s me, but ‘local explore’ means just that… going to points on the map to look at what’s there and educate the young people so they have a robust, enjoyable experience. For these guys it seemed walking into the coastal town as fast as possible was their aim so they could sit for longer there… they missed a lot of opportunities, which was either a) because they didn’t have any information about it (research people, come on!) or b) just weren’t interested in their groups. Red flag two.

Thirdly, attitudes towards the young people. Yes, some are unfit. Yes, some aren’t interested. Yes, some want to play their music to keep them going. Yes, some have issues around their social skills… I could go on, but what they all are, are technically “clients” looking for a memorable experience. As an outdoor leader/educator you have to be able to “read your group”, find out what they want to get out of it, adapt it to suit them and use a lot of your knowledge and experience throughout the day. To see a mass of 45 young people walking past a trig point, coastal views, a unique church etc because the leaders wanted to walk together (not leading mind you but rather at the back chatting together) is awful. Where is the safety and control going on? One leader even lost half her group on the walk in the woods because she wasn’t managing them, luckily they had followed others to the correct location – she hadn’t even known she’d lost them UNTIL they all turned up at the same location. Red flag three.

Lastly, I mentioned about the fitness of young people. Yes, fitness does turn an easy couple of hours walk into something a lot lot longer… six miles shouldn’t take five-six hours but it does with unfit people; that shouldn’t mean you should loudly and openly moan about it to your group and especially walking off and telling the ones at the back “you’re going too slow, hurry up” then proceeding not to stop and wait for them so they can catch up. I wanted to scream at them WE SHOULD BE ENCOURAGING THEM TO ENJOY THE OUTDOORS SO THEY WANT TO COME BACK LATER, NOT HATE IT. Red flag four.

I kept my group separate from the others. I wanted them to have an experience, learning about history, laugh on the route, bond as a team and find out about them. I stopped frequently, I let them set the pace, I reassured them that the route was manageable and encouraged along the way…

 

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We went Geocaching and found this guy!

 

When I got into the town and sent them for lunch, the Wave Leader who had been walking with me, after conversing with the other team leaders, told me that there had been a lot of tears, threats of quitting and hurting legs and feet from the other groups because the other freelancers hadn’t been stopping the groups on route, showing them anything local and being rude to the slower members. She was livid. She asked me about their experience and refused to talk directly to them. She wondered why they weren’t doing what we were doing. She wondered why they’d even bothered to do the work if they didn’t care for people. She wondered why they’d been employed in the first place.

After a chat, she asked me to lead all of the groups to ensure they would have a relaxing time.  She wondered if I could “teach” the other freelancers about group management etc…

Now, I’m not comfortable leading large groups in small, local areas; just because of the size really than anything else as it impacts on the public and environment, but I agreed to anyway as the team leaders threatening to leave calmed down when it was suggested and I took over.

So, placing one freelancer with me and two at the back we walked through the forest to the next stop, stopping frequently on the way (yes, the freelancers moaned that we were going too slow and about the “unnecessary” stops…) and generally allowing them time to take in their surroundings.

 

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Exmoor ponies again!

 

Learning to manage a group on a walk comes a lot from experience. You learn quickly about keeping control, the group together and the varying leadership styles to manage all this. When we reached the last major stop, a National Trust building, I knew the route would be switchbacking steeply uphill and for some, this would be a very big physical and mental challenge. At this point I didn’t have trust in the freelancers at the back – mainly because of their attitude and opinions on slow walkers – so I decided to swap the front leaders with the back… can you guess what happened next?

Yes, the front freelancers “ran off” as to be expected, with a struggling group trying to catch up as best they could panting and puffing – even our calls at the back to the front leader were ignored as the group ask him to slow down. Though it was infuriating, I didn’t mind too much as the route was simplistic enough to get back to the campsite and the group hadn’t exerted too much energy from the slowed-down walk they did before the stop, (plus they had topped up with water and food at the stop); I knew that issues usually occur at the back of the group, so felt it better that I was placed at the back to handle any incidences. Can you imagine any of these three dealing with issues? I dread to think about it.

Predicably slow at the back, we did have a big issue. A young girl, not from my group, who a year into her knee operation recovery, was clearly exhausted. I’d never seen iris’ go pale before in a lightheaded person! It was nerving, but, after a lot of rest, water, energy and reassurance we slowly paced up the hill (at this point the freelancer with me left quickly – I don’t think they wanted to help deal with any issues as the frightened look on her face suggested!). The wave leader, who had joined me at this point, and I stopped frequently to keep her rested and safe and when at the nearest road a call was made to pick her up to take back to the site. This must have taken about 30-45 minutes overall… I joined in with the ride home having realised the other freelancers hadn’t bothered to send one of them to return to check up on us… when we got back to the site, the group was already there!

 

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Sunset in Illfracombe.

 

***

I know this experience is not representative of the world of freelancers, that each person views outdoor activities from different perspectives etc but what resonated with me was the seemingly lack of care to make the experience memorable for the young people involved. Maybe it is because I’ve been working with young people for longer, enjoy exploring new areas deeply or I set a standard where I want to feel as if I’ve done a good job? Whatever it is/was/will be, this experience did surprise and frustrated me. These were inner-city kids who, for many, was their first introduction to a longer, coastal, hilly walk on the South Coast and for many, this experience sadly involved walk leaders who paid little attention to their welfare, didn’t want to involve them in the local area and felt that being rude and mean was the appropriate way to manage a group.

-Just Joanne

Walking Work

Since leaving uni I’ve gone on to do some freelance work and I’ve had the most fascinating time so far.

First up, a DofE Bronze Qualifier in the Surrey Hills – can you run a DofE exped so close to London? It appears you can! It was good fun but hard work (at times). The Approved Activity Provider (AAP) I work for use trains to access local areas for their expeditions, thusly reducing the carbon footprint and teaching independent travel to the young people, however, you end up walking pretty much the same route as the young people as there is only one care between eight teams… so my feet were pretty sore after this one!

 

Then this week I have been in a very sunny Devon in Exmoor National Park for NCS. This was my first as a walk leader for young people outside of a DofE/Cadets/Scouting/Guiding scheme and it was by far the most varied of experiences I’ve ever had.

As part of their activity week, the young people all had to participate in a hike exploring the local area. As Lynmouth was within a reasonable walking distance along the South West Coastal Path from the campsite, this seemed like the obvious choice for city kids to visit a coastal town and see some pretty views along the way, simple right? Hmm…

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Exmoor Ponies

To begin with, with camps of this size, rumours get around quickly. The biggest of the week was ticks and lyme disease

During the previous week several ticks were taken off young people, which was understandable as they had been camping in an old sheep field and walking in areas where wild ponies roam, but as with things of this nature rumours get wildly exaggerated and suddenly they became the focus of the walks… “Will we get any?” “Are we walking through areas where we can get them?” “Will I die from Lyme Disease?” And with things of this nature, people only tend to hear what they want to hear… so, overall, the general concensus was a) everyone was going to get a tick and b) everyone was going to get Lyme Disease!

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Beautiful Lynmouth.

Another rumour went like this…

Team Leader: “I’ve been told that this walk is 9 miles long.”

Me: “Nah, more like 6-7 miles depending on where we walk.”

TL: “Wow… 9 miles. “

Me: 🤔⁉

Yes, there was a route that was extended for the more fit and able however, the groups I had had a lot of medical and physical issues so I went on shortened 6-7 mile routes and even doing this caused a few grumbles… for you see, some young people don’t get outside often… but still, they kept thinking I was taking them on a 9 miler so, in the end, I didn’t disagree – some thought it was great, some thought I was as mean as an army officer making them “do all that work for no reason” (true quote.) and that was just the team leaders!  🤔

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A rough outline of the route

I have found, from young people actually interested in the outdoors, that medical issues are never usually the focus nor excuse for doing something yet for those unfamiliar with walking often their information was quickly described to me before I even asked! I had one group who almost seemed to be in competition with each other to list their ailments and who was struggling the most… funnily enough, none of these discussions happened on the gradial descent into the town, just on the hilly uphill bits on the walk home! 🤔 

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Sadly there was no bus or car to pick them up from here!

AND, the amount of “I’ve got a long term bone/joint/medical issue but I haven’t declared it on my medical form…” conversations as well were usually responded with something like: “If I had known, I could have adjusted the route or made alternatives for you so you wouldn’t be suffering right now, unfortunately you chose to tell me in the middle of a woodland walk, not before it, where we can’t easily leave and we’ve still got to go uphill to the nearest road…” 🤔

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The route took us from the top of these hills to this beach.

I also found, no matter how much I described the route and provided choices, none seemed to be able to ‘picture’ the route. Their lack of experience meant they focused on words like “short” and “slog” rather than “sharp”, “steep” and “gradual” which, combined with the inexperience of pacing, made managing the groups complex. The majority decided short (with steepness) was better that long (with gradial ascent) to be their choice… it was also very sweet when they found out the trig point was 302m above sea level, they were pleased to have walked up to that height and many thought it was really high (would loved to have taken them on Snowdon)…

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A well signposted coastal path.

And the last thing that I noticed was interesting… was the fact the majority just weren’t interested in the countryside. The majority just showed no inclination to ask questions really. We visited a trig point, talked about coastal geology and marine life, visited a church and talked about religion, saw exmoor ponies, saw dolphins, old second world war defense atilary, flora and fauna, geocaching, land use, the National Trust and what they do for the environment and other various bits and pieces… the last group I had just wanted to walk the route as fast as possible so they could go back to their tents and play on their phones! The second group of the week was my fav, the team leader was really engaging with them and allowed me to talk a lot about the countryside, chipping in with additional facts and the kids responded well!

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Exmoor ponies are curious creatures.

So it has been an interesting week in regards to taking out young people out on the South West Coast. I do it all again in a week or so!

Anyway, here’s some pretty pictures…

 

 

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– Just Joanne

Brynteg Glamping

For my graduation from Bangor University, my partner and I decided to make it a long weekend affair. We searched through a lot of bed and breakfast places, Airbnb accommodation, camping spots and settled on giving ‘glamping’ a try.

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We found a fantastic little site on the Isle of Anglesey called Brynteg Glamping at Lon Bryn Mair which was within a good travel distance from Bangor and attractions on Anglesey.

Booking the glamping pod was simple via PitchUp.com. The site allows you to pay a deposit with the remainder being requestioned 4 weeks before your arrival.

Getting to the site was easy, the directions were easy to follow (although you go down a small lane, so be careful at this point!) and the postcode was spot on for a Sat Nav. The owners have ensured you can tell where the site is via signs.

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Newly built and opened in 2019. Our pod was far back on the right.

We booked for a pod that had 1 double bed, a single sofa/futon, ensuite (shower, sink and toilet), a small kitchen area (fridge, sink and kitchen equipment inc kettle) and a medium sized flat screen tv.

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Our pod was called ‘owl’

And the best bit… a fire-powered hot tub and gas-powered bbq!

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Hot tub, bbq and seating area with privacy screens.

The pods, of which there are several, face away from each other and the outdoor area has privacy screens. There is plenty of parking (one spot next to the pod and more at the end near the public toilets) for a car.

The owner, Sally, was there to greet us and gave us a very warm welcome. She took the time to speak to us about our journey and we met her lovely two dogs who follow her about. She explained all that we needed to know, especially about the hot tub and the tips/tricks to getting the best out of it before disappearing to collect some firewood for us.

We quickly set about admiring the glamping pod…

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View from the bathroom
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view from doorway

It was very spacious inside for two people; my other half is over 6ft in height and had no issue walking around the place and it’s rounded ceiling.

We found the pod let in a lot of natural light and the door windows had blinds which blocked out the sun really well. Overall, the place was warm (it does have underfloor heating but it wasn’t switched on), airy, open, very clean and aesthetically pleasing.

Noise wise? Well, there was none! It was so quiet! The owners don’t allow stag groups and, whilst children are welcome, it’s not too big a site to have a lot of them in the pods; plus we stayed during school time so that helped…

Nearby, after a short drive, you arrive at Benllech beach, a blue flagged beach with a cafe nearby. A Co-op and a Tesco Express, alongside a couple of chip shops, are within a short drive of the campsite.

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Benllech beach

We were really pleased with this accommodation. The attention to detail, cleanliness, location and facilities were exactly what we wanted. My OH can be a bit of a moaner/camping ‘snob’ but I didn’t hear a peep from him (except to moan about my clothing on the floor!) so this was a winner in my eyes!

Details of the site:

Brynteg Glamping

Address: Ysgubor Fadog, Lon Bryn Mair, Brynteg, Isle of Anglesey, Wales, LL78 8QA
Phone: +44 7769 667854
Email: sallybowyer@icloud.com

The PitchUp Listings for Brynteg Glamping. I’m not getting paid to write this, I just think, because we had the best time there, that I’d like to share it with others! Highly recommended – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

– Just Joanne