Contour Masterclass

I am in the ideal location to improve on my navigational and mountain walking skills although today I’m inside TRYING to continue with my action research project… or actively avoiding it by writing blog posts… anyhoo, I’m preparing and trying to improve on my knowledge and skills for the summer Mountain Leader assessment. One of the areas of improvement is interpreting contours on the hillside, so when a post within an Outdoor Course Facebook group announced an upcoming Contour Masterclass run by Paul Poole Mountaineering came up I had a decision to purchase new shoes or attend this (thanks to Terry for his financial and encouraging support with this). I made the best decision.

What s a contour line? On an Ordnance Survey map, they are the brown lines that cover the majority of the ground and they join points of equal height above or below sea level and indicate the shape and gradient of the ground. The navigator has to interpret their 2D shape into 3D to understand the ground they are standing on. Example:


There is a lot you can learn from contours lines for safe travel across hills, moorlands and mountains and I find it all very fascinating; so I booked on to this course.

It started at Moel Siabod cafe where we met with Paul and discussed the day’s objectives. Paul has been involved with the outdoors for over 25 years and lived within North Wales for over 20 years – so he is very knowledgable about the area and mountain leading and when you meet him you’ll find his relaxed, easy manner reassuring. Terry, my other half, went on his Mountain Leader Training last year and returned home enthused and rated him, his staff and the course very highly, so I knew I’d learn a lot from this masterclass.

We walked up to the Clogwyn Mawr area behind the cafe and begun our training. Paul had an easy to remember the way of describing the basic contour shapes (which I will pass on to DofE students in the future as it’s that easy to remember!) and throughout the day would explain things very clearly and concisely. He has unique maps, which I’ve never seen before, where all the linear, area and spot features were removed and just the contours remaining.

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At first, this was difficult to interpret; I am someone who does rely on linear features a lot to navigate with (sometimes arriving at a destination and discovering that expected field boundary to no longer be there! That’s happened more than once…). To give you some context, below are two different map supplies and the typical information you will find on a map:


Firstly, Paul took us to a couple of ring contours and explained a few great tips to help us when trying to locate our area. I am not going to give much information, as this course is part of his business, but what I will say is that I wrote down so much throughout the day. He pointed at parts of contours which I would have not thought to consider when navigating – by adding in these points throughout the day it just made it all so much easier. You can see from my scribblings on his map I was keen to capture as much of this useful information as possible. I certainly learnt far more in this day’s session than I did on my ML training!

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At certain points, he gave us areas/spots to navigate towards as a group or individuals – he increased the level of challenge throughout the day, opportunities to practise techniques and apply the information we learnt and ask any questions we might have had.

At the end of the day we were all pleased with ourselves, what we’ve learnt and our progress. Paul was open and honest about the expectations on ML assessments and how contour interpretation in used within it, so we all felt reassured that it is not as scary as we’ve first thought.

To top this all off, we had a wonderful day outside in a fantastic area in the lovely sun shine.


I thoroughly felt the day was worth it one hundred percent. I never felt rushed, afraid to ask questions, misunderstood nor felt I couldn’t manage any of the tasks set. I’ve come away with more confidence in my navigational skills and great techniques that will help.

I would highly recommend this course if you are struggling with contour interpretation and applying map to the ground but also Paul. There are some big names in mountaineering and training in North Wales but I’ve been with some of those big names and didn’t feel as involved nor that the training was individualised and in-depth as this. A huge thanks to Paul, I will be considering his other courses in the future.

Now to get out and practice it all!

-Just Joanne

Busy, busy

“But don’t you get lonely?”

That’s often the first question people ask when they find I’m dwelling in my van, 160+miles away from family and friends, and to be honest, the answer is always “sometimes”. Everyone gets lonely at some point, but I don’t feel as if I any get lonelier than others? I keep myself busy. I’ve just been hearing this question a lot more recently as visiting members of school staff are informed that there is someone staying in a van on site. Many are fascinated by the thought of it but are then confused when they expect to see some Instagram worthy beaut and see my little monster instead. Haha.

Speaking of monsters, my van has been a pain recently with the heating cable. It has decided that the cable must be in the most awkward and delicate position before it will spew out any heat via the fan. A challenge I was willing to undertake at first but no matter how I try to fix the cabling it slowly decides to shift itself and I’m left with having to pull up along the roadside to ‘fix’ it again. When my patience gets better I will take a serious look at it.

I’m still getting out and about it in and stopping at some wonderful places. The weather is getting warmer so I’ve been able to sleep within additional clothing and front window condensation has been dramatically reduced. Summer is coming!

I’ve been very humbled these past few weeks by the generosity of others in providing me with shelter, food, conversation and warmth – the lower level of my hierarchy of needs are being supported by their good will and I am grateful for this. My higher needs are being steadily fulfilled within the placement. I’ve done so much and at the end of the week, I am tired but happy tired. It has been interesting so far, especially experiencing the longer activities during the day and the energy young children seem to possess (more so after they’ve eaten their body weight in food!).

So I’ve been mining, gorge walking, a mini via-ferrata, hill walking, on low/high ropes, orienteering and beach exploration!

Just a few photos below of the activities:

Fisherman’s Walk and low ropes:


Cwm Idwal and Conwy Mountain:

Both were equally fun. We looked at a lot of the geology, rock formations, history and flora and fauna of both areas. The only difference being with Conwy Mountain was the hill fort at the top and being able to discuss slingshots and use the rocks to create routes for the teams to navigate with!

I’ve also been taking one too many pictures of the curious sheep within this area:

These are Lleyn (pronounced ‘Kleen‘) sheep (named about the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales) and are identified by the lack of wool on the legs and face, their white faces with black noses and lack of horns. These sheep almost became extinct in the ’70s! Their use today is their fine wool and meat. They are curious and will approach you until you make any sudden unexpected movements. Still not as lovely as the Herdwick.

One day I will own a sheep. Or maybe several. I might just Sheep Trek instead…!!

I just wanted to add in these photos from Anglesey. I’ve never seen such iridescent waters as we did on this day. The sea was in a swathe of blue hues and it just looked so unnatural but equally mesmerizing. The camera did not capture its beauty and I doubt I’ll ever see anything like this again.

These few weeks have been busy and have passed quickly. I only have seven teaching weeks left within this placement, an action research project to complete, a couple of outdoor course assessments, a couple of weeks at university then it’s all over! In the meantime, I shall be heading back home, the Isle of Wight, Peak District and some caving and I still have no idea what I’m doing this summer or beyond! Fun times.

-Just Joanne

Back to uni…

I’m slowly working my way back into university life as a leisurely few weeks back at home over the Christmas period, however, all I need to do really is blink and I’ll be out of uni life, on placement and finding all about outdoor centres in North Wales. Time has gone quickly already!

I have been doing a few interesting things on my uni course which I thought I would update this blog with (and avoiding doing assignment work)…

Dinorwig Quarry
A 700 acres (2.8 km2) quarry, Dinorwic Slate Quarry is a former slate quarry located between the villages of Llanberis and Dinorwig in North Wales. It was the second largest slate quarry in Wales, indeed in the world, after the neighbouring Penrhyn Quarry. 

It closed in 1969, after 170 years, due to the result of an industry decline in slate and is now used as a visitor attraction at the nearby National Slate Museum and also as an adventure rock climbing and scuba diving venue. It was a fun day out exploring and looking at the different teaching contexts that could be used here.

Poacher’s Cave

Ogof Hen Ffynhonnau (almost universally known as Poacher’s Cave) lies in the Alyn Gorge in Flintshire, close to Ogof Hesp Alyn.

I really enjoyed this cave (NOT the cave ladder exit, but then I hate the things). A short cave, that can flood from the river it runs over, it was good fun and very mucky in the mud. We even saw a bat down there.

The group visited Tremadog to look at setups again on the crags. When I wasn’t distracted by the views I was watching what they were doing. An interesting ‘double abseil’ was done at the end.

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Llyn Padarn paddling
Another trainee and I went paddling on Llyn Padarn. I’m improving! I’ve joined a canoe club to get out more and learn more – especially feeling a lot more comfortable in a kayak. This is one of my aims this year, to improve and hopefully go for awards.

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Cwm Bychan

We went out as a group to walk Cwm Bychan and look at storytelling in the outdoors. A novel idea involving collecting of items along the way to create a story of the journey/experience. Alongside this, we looked at the ruins of an old mine and Gelert’s Grave in Beddgelert.


As well as visiting Terry for his birthday and finding a train service where I only have to take two trains from North Wales to Swindon rather than five previously (Sadly, the trains only run once every couple of hours but still, saved me nearly 1 and 1/2 in journey time!) I’ve had a good time.

There’s still more to come, environmental education, ICT in the outdoors, reflective practice in outdoor activities, coasteering/sea kayaking, mine exploration and the John Muir Award… alongside an assignment due in soon!


Busy, busy, blink and I’ll miss it!

Just Joanne


Quick update!

My first PGCE assignment has been taking up a lot of my free time so I haven’t been keeping up with this blog recently… but no worries, am in London/Swindon for a bit so a lot of travel time to update recent adventures (a while 4 hours from Bangor to London!)…

Just for a now a quick snapshot of what I have been up to…

  • Sleeping in the van on the coast of Anglesey, lots of places to park up! The views are GORGEOUSE!
  • Assignment writing…
  • Visit Dulyn Bothy in the Carneddau for a look. Amazing little bothy, well maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association and a nice lake nearby for a wild swim…
  • Assignment writing…
  • Assignment writing…
  • Stayed at South Stack on Holyhead and witnessed the most beautiful and peaceful sunset whilst working on my assignment…
  • Assignment writing…

  • Assignment writing…
  • Again, witnessed a beautiful sunrise in Llanberis. I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity…
  • Assignment writing…


There’s been more… way more… more blog posts coming soon about castles, mountain walking, scrambling and climbing…!

Just Joanne

Residential, Expedition, Gorge Walking, Kayaking and a Castle…

It’s 6 am and I’ve been up since 3am due to tummy ache; so I’m now sat in the university’s 24 hour computer room. It’s not been all bad, I’ve managed to organise the academics I need to write about in my first assignment and describe their theories relating to children’s learning and/or outdoor education. I’m also eating a free cooking from the Fresher’s ‘Serendipity’ event yesterday, so my morning is productive so far!

(The event was huge! Over 3 halls of clubs and societies to join. My haul was impressive, so many pens, keyrings and a razor! Sadly I won’t be based in Bangor until January, but I still signed up to BUGS, Storytelling and BUMs clubs)

It’s been a busy week. I am frustrated at the moment as I should have been in Swindon Monday night after lectures had finished. I planned to skip yesterday’s Welsh language lesson to spend longer with family, however, that was not meant to be as we were told last week we had to run teambuilding activities for some Primary Ed Fresher’s this morning for about two hours… hmm.

But anyway, as mentioned it’s been a busy week.

Last weekend all the PGCE secondary were at Glan Llyn Outdoor Activity Centre, with the PE and ODA guys going up on the Saturday and Sunday and the rest joining Monday.

I don’t want to rewrite everything that happened as I’ve already done so for a task on Adobe Spark(our tutor loves his technology; he’s writing a PhD on the use of technology in Outdoor Education); you can view my thoughts and what we did on the residential here: HERE

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After not having much recovery time, it was straight into lesson stuff then our overnight hike/bivvy camp.

Now before I get into that I don’t think I’ve mentioned about the mountain biking session we did at Coed-y-Brenin?

I think I surprised our tutor with my confidence on a bike. Certainly standing up and balancing was far easier than on a SUP board for me. Learning some technical skills came fast and quickly but some that required body position certainly did highlight my inflexibility (least I thought so); still, I had SO MUCH FUN. The blue routes are fun to whizz down but we didn’t get much time on the red ones – so I’ve vowed to head back and improve once I’ve picked up my bike from Swindon…

Skills practise. Learning to balance whilst stationary.


… but with the sweet can sometimes come the sour… I certainly learnt to consider myself a lot more than those that deliberately refuse to ‘give it a go‘ as the result can be painful… this is my bruise from falling off a red route. I do think my skills development has been somewhat lacking as I’m concentrating on others than myself and this session highlighted that for me.

The HOUR after I fell off.


So back to this week and the night hike. BUT, not before I mention about visiting Plas Newydd on the north bank of the Menai Strait, in Llanddaniel Fab, near Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (it’s lengthened name is Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch) Anglesey.

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Built in 1470, and was owned by the same family that owns Penrhyn Castle (which btw just had some of the cast of Game of Thrones shoot some scenes there last week!) and is now owned by the National Trust. I highly recommend a visit, it’s just so beautiful inside and the gardens are well maintained.

The photos do not do this place justice.

Back to the night hike… I was on a team of five with four other girls and one guy. Our planning was swift and easy – we all knew what we were doing and were quick to implement it and get our equipment and paperwork sorted and get on our way (lots of years of experience within the group).


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The mountains are so beauitful here.


We decided on a low-level route around a reservoir and camping in some woodland as the next day we were gorge walking, plus as we were starting late in the afternoon at 6pm, we didn’t want to be navigating over the Carneddau’s in the dark.



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The Dream Girls and Liam.

The sheep and cows kept watch on us as we walked the route then suddenly, in the darkness, a white ghostly figure emerged, then another, then a group of them crept out of the shadows. I love wild ponies and the Carneddau ponies are a dying breed as a study of their DNA in 2012 revealed that they have been isolated as a breed for at least several hundred years and numbers are dwindling due to the harsh winters the area has been having. There’s a talk happening at Moel Siabod Cafe in November about them which I am hoping to attend.

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Carneddau pony!

So we had an enjoyable walk in the dark having to use our navigational skills to get across a certain area when the route disappeared, then sent up a tarp shelter in a small patch of woodland on some rocky ground. I can’t say it was my most comfortable night but it was great to get outside and into a bivvy bag. Usually, I sleep next to a fire but my Alpkit sleeping bag kept me warm all night so I was pleased with that.

The following morning was an early walk out to the Afon Ddu at Dollegau. Had I been more refreshed I would have enjoyed this a lot more as scrambling/going in the water as favourite things of mine to do. I struggled with climbing some of the boulders (even though they were small ones, not even taller than me!) but I kept at it to complete the route and got some interesting video shots!

Went behind a waterfall:

Up the ‘Elephant’s bumhole’:

Getting pushed in by tutor:

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Crossing the waterfall.

So that was a fun, albeit very tiring day… but it wasn’t really due to stop… we still had kayaking to go the next day!

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I don’t know where the video has disappeared to showing a technique I was learning but it’s on my twitter page HERE. Our tutor realised that there was a huge range of abilities (some coaches, some low level and some, i.e. me, with no qualifications at all) so I was paired up with a colleague with coaching skills and I think I certainly put his skills to the test! In the end, he just let me turn my boat with a tired smile on his face as I just too tired to paddle properly – amusing for me, probably not for him!

We paddled around the lake at Plas-y-Brenin, before looking at skills then paddling down Afon Llugwy, which was shallow but fast flowing and fun. This is one area I certainly need to develop – my paddling technique was corrected a lot – and learn more about; I’m more familiar with canoes than kayaks.

I think that night I had the deepest sleep for a long while. My van gets incredible hot at about 3-4am so I’ve not been sleeping all the way through each night but that night… perfect!

The following day I said to myself that I would rest and recoup… but I couldn’t sit still for long, so decided to go to for a castle visit! I have a list of castles I want to visit before the end of my PGCE and Caernarfon was on that list!

Caernarfon castle was transformed from a motte and bailey to stonework in 1283 (until 1330) although some parts inside were never completed. This castle has seen a lot of sieges and change of hands and was allowed to fall into disrepair until the 19th Century. It was used for the investiture of the Prince of Wales, and again in 1969 when Charles took that title.

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The castle is grand in size.

The castle is grand in size as the design was partly influenced by a desire to make the structure impressive as a symbol of the new English rule in Wales. Caernarfon town itself was made the centre of government in the northern part of the country.

Having several polygon towers (which is unusually for an Edwardian Castle as the towers are usually round), it has strong defences and kept enemies at bay. I, being the curious creature I am, decided that I would explorer ALL the areas of this castle… that included going up and down ALL the towers, of which each had three floors plus an additional lookout tower… so you can imagine how my tired legs felt after all of that ascending and descending!

Still, I’d do it again. I spent three hours here just exploring. It was great fun and I would highly recommend a visit here to view a very impressive building! I even have a video to show it’s grand scale, again, I’ve lost the original but if you want to view it you can on my twitter feed HERE.

I’m going to end the blog here. I still want to write about our bothy exploration but I have a task to do this morning so will write it when I am back in Swindon later on today. At somepoint, I will slow down.

Just Joanne