I haven’t had the time to update this blog since I started my first placement on this PGCE course.
It has been a mixed bag of emotions until this point and with four weeks left I hope it’s still going to go ok. There were times where I felt like giving it all in. I am an emotionally led person and it’s hard to remain logically minded when the lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem and anxiety rears its head. At times I had to get back into nature, outside of the brick walls, noise and constant challenges and just remind myself what I enjoy and what all of this is in aid of. I’ve set myself a goal, broken it down into smaller goals and just trying to achieve it bit by bit!
I have learnt so much in such a short space of time, namely, what is right for me and what I want for me; so hopefully, I can make it all happen at some point in the future!
I wish I could tell you about all the fantastic things I’ve been up to but, honestly, its mostly been working in a school, writing lesson plans, creating lessons, assignment writing, visiting the cinema to relax and just generally working…
I’ve some positives recently which I would like to share…
I’m confident my first assignment will pass, I thoroughly enjoyed researching the outdoor/adventure activity theories and have considered a Masters in the subject. Mortlock and Priest have resonated with me and I would like to explore the Adventure paradigm a lot more.
My Forest School Level 3 Leader/Practitioner training has been ratified, I just now need to wait a little while longer to be officially registered and receive my certificate then I will be a qualified leader.
I’ve taken some beautiful photos of North Wales recently, so am looking at photography training after this course to take better pictures.
With only four weeks on this placement to go, I’m hoping the remaining weeks are going to be ok. The staff are sympathetic as P.E is not my knowledge base and they have been a wonderful help to me; I’m just looking forward to being in a centre next, being outside every day come rain or shine (or heavy North Wales snow!) climbing, walking, canoeing etc….
So, just finished my second week at my first placement. I’m used to the hustle and bustle of school life but throwing in the added mix of class lists, assignment and lesson content and it suddenly becomes more complex.
I did have a serious moment of wanting to quit and just travel in the van… But that was because of witnessing glorious sunrises and sunsets…
So glad I’m not a vampire…
So aside from school, I’ve tried to get out. Where I am currently staying the Clwydian Range is nearby, in fact I can see them every morning from my van as I drive from Ruthin to Mold. At the highest point is Moel Famau, which in Welsh means ‘bare‘ (moel) and ‘mother‘ (Famau has different variations of the spelling- Fama, in old texts. ), so is sometimes referred to as “Mother’s hill“. On top of this hill is the Jubilee Tower, or what’s left of it. At three stories high it could be seen for miles, but due to being unfinished and a storm, it now only has the base left. It was built to commemorate the golden jubilee of George III in 1810. Some great views from this point.
On a clear day you can see Snowdon to the west (35miles away!), the Irish Sea to the North and Blackpool Tower to the East! Signs at the top point the landmarks out for you.
So, I took a walk up the popular southern route within Bwlch Penbarras, only 1.25miles to the top, which didn’t take long. The route is part of the Offa’s Dyke way and is well maintained- plus there’s a couple of Geocaches on route..
I didn’t want to camp up here, it was the weekend and I imagine it gets very busy with racers so decided to find somewhere else. What I did find was the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen within the United Kingdom.
The last time I saw a sky this red was in Nepal at about 3,000m high. So beautiful.
In the morning, I decided to take a wander around the trail of Alwen Reservoir. It’s a blue mountain bike route, only 7 miles long, but nice to walk as it passes through coniferous and dedicious forests and over moorland.
After the walk I ventured over to Llyn Brenig to enjoy the free WiFi and all day breakfast (yummy!) whilst looking out over the lake at the fishermen.
When I originally found out I’d be in this area, about an hour away from Snowdonia National Park, let’s just say I was annoyed and disheartened. There didn’t seem to be as many interesting ventures to be had around here than what I’ve experienced in the five weeks in and around Bangor but, not being one to sit and grumble, I’ve been looking around at what I can do/hike/look at/enjoy.
I’ve spent a couple of nights in Llangollen, explored a quarry and walked along the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and decided to walk the hills around the area.
On a suggestion given to me by a friend, I was told to check out the Berwyn Range, to the South West of Llangollen… So, I picked the highest points (may never come back this way…) and walked up Cadair Berwyn and Cadair Bronwen.
There’s an interesting thing about these mountains. In 1974, there was an alleged UFO landing on these mountains but scientific evidence indicated that the event was generated by an earthquake combined with sightings of a bright meteor widely observed over Wales and northern England at the time. The didn’t stol UFOlogists claiming that a UFO crashed and the British Government covered up the military’s recovery of a crashed spaceship…
Lastly, I decided to run in the Run Wales Flintshire 5k event. Starting in Mold, this round route was really enjoyable. I haven’t run for a while but didn’t do too badly I thought, least not for me! A t-shirt and a nice medal later, I was celebrating in Subway with a 6inch meatball marinara sandwich (cheese melted, lettuce and bbq sauce. Hmm).
A fitting end to my second week here. Only one more to go then a couple of days back at uni, then to Swindon, then eight weeks till end of placement. It’s scary how quickly it goes. In the meantime, I hope I win the lottery and can make travel my full time occupation… So much to see and do out there!
This is it. I have departed Swindon and now I am in North Wales.
And I’m anxious.
I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about the kit I will need to pack into the van and the last two days doing so. I’m surprised at how much space I still have and how much I have actually packed. My books and clothing have taken up the most space, followed closely by kitchen items, toiletries and bedding. Sadly, after all my careful planning I have left my mouse back at home! So the plan is to buy a cheap USB one if I can find one. D’oh.
Last night was very emotional and I am still full of mixed emotions. I very much want to be doing this but there are certain people (and a certain dog) that I do not want to be four hours drive away. So, I have been on and off crying since last night and there’s a terrible pain in my chest from missing them.
On the other side, I NEEDED to get out of Swindon and find somewhere else to explore. Just tonight I have been walking along a promenade, alongside a train track gazing out into a bay and feeling calm at the sight. It has been bliss.
And now, as the sun goes down and I am parked up, I am nervous at the thought of spending overnight in an unknown location. Sure, I have slept in my van alone before, but in areas I know. I suspect over time this feeling will lessen but as a precaution, I am sending my location each night to family and will be logging where I stay so I don’t have to think/search very late at night.
(For safety, and reducing environmental impact, I won’t be posting my locations on this blog.)
Tomorrow, I register and start the various introductions to the different aspects of the PGCE course and I get to meet the other trainees (there’s ten of us altogether), some I’ve contacted already via social media to say “hello”, but haven’t spoken to the late additions. So it’ll be fun to meet them- I’ll probably be the oldest one there!
For tonight I do have company! I won a Rastafarian pug toy from one of those hand-grab arcade machines on my first go – £1! So he rode shotgun on the journey up.
For the evening I’m going to watch a film I’ve downloaded on Netflix and try to relax and take my mind off things and get ready for bed. I’m looking forward to tomorrow but right now I am already missing the luxury of having access to a shower!
Not long to go now before I set off. This time next week I’ll (hopefully) be returning from the sea side and starting to pack ready to leave next Tuesday for North Wales.
I have been considering what I will need to take. Having spent a lot of time on various camps/in various locations away from home for long periods of time I think I’m fairly clued up on items I will definitely need.
So I’m making a list, checking it twice… a work in progress!
Small frying pan
Spare gas stove plus gas
Laptop plus cable and mouse
iPad plus cable
Books plus pencil case
Sat nav plus cable
Clothing inc work clothes
Wet suits plus goggles and shoes
Running kit inc trail shoes
GPS unit plus compass
Tent plus bivvy bag
Thermos plus water bladder
First aid kit
Waste basket (plastic bags?)
Financial paperwork (might scan it all)
Things I really want to take but can’t
I’m hoping the list is robust enough that won’t require me to spend out on any extras from student loan money. I’m pretty sure I have forgotten something!
It’s the two-week countdown to when I leave this place for mountains, the sea and hopefully a more fulfilling career life so thought I’d give an update of what’s been happening so far with the van.
The van passed it’s MOT, it only had the side light (which I forgot to change) and a tyre replaced, so that was a plus. I’ve gone around the vehicle and identified points to be aware of in the future (beginnings of rust etc), but it all looks pretty sound for now. Just need to get a second set of keys cut. I still haven’t figured out how to store an additional key on the vehicle in case I lock myself outside (this would only happen if I exit via the side door and both front doors are locked, as the side door does not open from the outside once shut due to a broken lock). Will ponder on that.
Deciding and organising what is needed, especially with limited space, has been challenging but I think I’m getting there. I know I will need all my outdoor gear and have been given a rough idea of what Outdoor Activities teachers wear (skirts and blouses just won’t do in a kayak) so more clothes have been purchased… (boo!) I just hope no more surprises are sent my way.
I have been pondering food provision within the van. Obviously, anything with a short shelf life/perishables can’t stay in there for long due to the van’s warmth (it’s so toasty!). I don’t intend to use the hob much, except for boiling water for noodles and tea (going completely with that student lifestyle here…), and I will have a spare stove as back up. I am pondering keeping some carb tinned food, like rice pudding, just in case there are times I need a snack and am parked away from shops or they’re closed. What I want to do is reduce any spills/crumbs within the vehicle to avoid attracting rats/mice/ants so will keep unpackaged food to a minimum. When the weather begins to turn cold and start snowing then I will stockpile tins in case I am snowed in and shops are closed (which, assuming North Wales, will happen at some point). This area will be a lot of trial and error moments, especially to begin with. Still undecided on how much cutlery etc to take but I can always buy more if needed.
I have opted to remove the water containers for the sink and use this space as extra storage and make more room for the outdoor gear! I think a couple of 2-litre bottles will suffice and take up less room- they can always be refilled. I don’t see me using the sink much anyway because of access to sinks at university/residentials/schools for washing cups etc. For rubbish, it’ll just be getting it to the nearest rubbish bin as soon as possible to keep the van clean and free from smells. Still, need to purchase that small wastebasket…
Clothing wise, I am thinking two weeks worth of clothing will suffice as I can go to the laundrette on a fortnightly basis. I have yet to organise my clothing but think the van will accommodate this proposed amount comfortably. I can easily switch from a winter set to a spring to a summer set when the seasons change, so that will reduce the amount I need to take. I now have shelving in which to store the clothes as well! Yippee!
I do still have the issue of drying wet clothing within the van. Now the fan is ‘fixed’ I can have hot flowing air and do have an oil heater for warmth as well as dehumidifiers – I just don’t want to run the risk of the van becoming mouldy or developing that lingering wet smell within the material. I’m not so much worried about wetsuits etc, just waterproof jackets and shoes drying for the next day. I think have to think on this one – if the school/residential has a drying room/tumble dryer then it won’t be much of an issue.
Toiletting – everyone is curious about this. I don’t have and can’t fit a portable toilet. I’m no stranger to peeing in bushes and as for emergencies number twos – I’ve watched a few interesting tips videos online and have decided to a) learn to hold it in as much as possible until a toilet is found and b) have a map of all public toilets and pubs in the area including opening times. I will just have to avoid eating any curries or spicy food for the next year and keep a supply of toilet paper with me (plus the emergency shovel for emergency hole digging).
Showering – schools and residential setting will have staff showers and public gyms have them. I have budgeted for paying for showers weekly and numerous wet wipes and dry shampoo sprays. I like to think I’m not a smelly person but this is probably because I’m paranoid about leaving the house without using deodorants and perfume so lavish them on daily. Again, this will be a trial and error area but, hopefully, by making other uni/teacher friends they might be generous enough to let me use their showers once in a while!
My van is able to charge several electronics and run the lights from the solar panel and cigarette charger comfortably after a bit of issue with inverters. I’ve managed to upgrade my mobile tariff so now I have 8GB of data each month for cheap, which combined with free wifi, I believe will be sufficient. I do have a smartphone, however, it does not have Google maps app but I can share the internet to my iPad so can source locations when needed (I have insured the van to cover these personal belongings although I imagine I will have access to a locker in my placements to store). When connected to free wifi I can download films and shows via Netflix and music via Spotify – I also have an app that lets me stream Virgin Media channels – I feel that I might be spending quite a bit of time sitting outside MacDonalds borrowing their free wifi…
I do have a lot of resource books with me. I suppose I could download them but I can’t read off a screen, it gives me eye strain and I lose concentration, so the books will have to stay. Hopefully, I can offload these somewhere when not needed.
I’m not sure if I’ve covered all the bases that I need to cover. The vital parts are keeping warm, dry, comfortable, fed and watered. Working to a budget that includes sensible eating and diesel will be very interesting – gone will be the takeouts I so often enjoy (as I won’t be able to afford them) but on the plus side as well, I’ll be buying fewer crap items via the internet as I’ll have nowhere to post them to! I might even erase some bad lazy habits I’ve picked up.
I have readjusted my bills etc and cancelled subscriptions I no longer need – the only thing I can’t bring myself to cancel right now is my magazine subscription app, Readly (referral link), as it’s £7.99 a month for lots of big named magazines (I subscribe to nearly 30, both UK and US magazines). I love reading and magazines are my guilty pleasure – at one point I was spending approx £40ish a month of them so this app is a saving grace for me… so, someone might have to pry this app from my dead hands before I give it up.
This whole endeavour has really been scarily eye-opening for me but it’s been really interesting and exciting; I’m glad I purchased it last year as it’s given me a lot of time to make any adjustments, try it out, get used to the van’s quirks and seek help and advice. I’ve watched a lot of videos on youtube and blog sites about van lifers and how they manage. It’s astounding how little one actually needs to live and the tricks they can do to manage without, though I don’t think I’m going to go to the extreme of the ‘all-natural-let-your-body-clean-itself‘ attitude of some van-lifers I saw…
The cost so far:
Car – donated (£800)
Solar panel kit- donated (£150)
Oil heater – gift card (£20)
Led lights – £40
Fire extinguisher – £8
Invertor – donated (£130)
Carbon monoxide alarm – donated (£25)
Leisure battery – donated (£105)
Dehumidifier – £13
Shelving – £30
Mot – £40
New tyre – £50
Road Tax – £140
Total spent (of own money): £321 Donated: £1,230
I recently received documentation from the university offering me student accommodation for the first five weeks whilst studying there – £20 per night… £700 in total for 5 weeks! The van costs just a little bit more than that and hopefully will last the 10 months I’m away (and more!)… I am forgoing a lot of comfort for cost saving but, due to repaying a loan (really, I wanted to give this a go), I can’t afford a lot.
Park anywhere for free?!
None of this would have been possible without donations (thanks to Rob M for the leisure battery and parents for the van and solar panel donation) and the support of others to help fix parts of the van (Shawnee and Chris for the shelving and Terry for the solar panel installation and discovering the trick to getting my fan to work; Stewart for telling me how to sort out my seat belt when it sticks). For all this, I am enterally grateful and hope I will adapt to the changes of a semi-freeloading life for nearly a year.