​Snow time!

I’ve relocated to Betws-y-Coed for my second PGCE placement. The first few weeks of this year have gone so quickly and again, we’ve done a lot as a group. I’ve covered a lot of it in my Back to Uni… post but I didn’t mention Blwch y Plwm mine, Borth-y-Gest nor the snow…

Living in the van is still proving interesting. It now makes a ‘chugging’ noise like a train when it starts up from the cold and I’ve had to remove important papers from the vehicle due to them getting damp… still, it’s cosy at night time. My placement has said I can park up on site when the centre is in use and use the showers and toilets there. So that’s two fewer worries. They even feed me lunch!

I didn’t see much of the snow during uni whilst still in Bangor. I was in Swindon (now dubbed Swindonia) when it hit, then when I returned it had gone… so, a trip back to Swindonia was needed to actually have the opportunity to play in it!

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Terry and I decided to visit one of our favourite places in England just for a couple of hours walking and admiration of our favourite views. The Worcestershire Beacon, the highest point in the Malvern Hills at 425m (1,394ft), you can see three counties from its point. Once used as a signalling beacon, in 1588, it formed part of a chain of warning fires which were lit when the Spanish Armada attempted to invade England as well as being lit for commemorative events, such as coronations of various kings and queens.

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It was a glorious day albeit a tad windy! As you can see, Bailey enjoyed the chill on his face!

Then I blinked and I was back in Bangor! I’ve joined a popular canoe/kayak club as I want to improve my skills in this area and their first yearly trip out was great fun!

The group paddled over Pontcysyllte and Chirk aqueducts in Llangollen and through the Whitehouses and Chirk tunnels before ending at the Poachers Pub for refreshment!

Anybody who has ever been to Llangollen would have seen the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, it is the longest aqueduct in the UK and the highest in the world at 38m (126ft) high (336 yd (307 m) long, 12 ft (3.7 m) wide and 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m) deep). It was fun to paddle across with the drop on the right-hand side!

The group is really fun and involving. I recognised a face when I turned up… turned out it was the woman who interviewed me for my PGCE place! Small world indeed!

In our last week at uni, we got to spend the morning at Borth-y-Gest looking at beach activities for younger students. Terry and I have visited this place several times and each time it gets more beautiful than the last! I just wanted to post some photos here of this wonderful place.

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My first week in placement is over. Centre work is much different from working within a school – it’s not as fast paced but is longer throughout the day. It will take me some time to get used to it. The centre itself is lovely and very well organised. The council supports what they do so they have good equipment, happy staff and regular schools attending (the 2020 calendar is 90% full already!). It’s an amazing place to be a part of and I hope my time spent here is enjoyable; it will be interesting to work with much younger students than I’m used too, I just don’t think I’ll hear much, if anything, disgusting about gross bodily parts, unusual bodily functions and who is ‘doing’ whom from this age range…!

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


Parkrun and Penrhyn Castle

I had to decide what to do on my first weekend in Bangor as I couldn’t go back to Swindon (I’d never leave if I did), so I decided on checking out the local park run at the National Trust owned Penrhyn Castle, then take a wander around the castle itself… after all, I have a National Trust membership card and I’m going to use it whilst I’m here!

What is so unique about this parkrun is that it begins in the courtyard of the castle and you run around the grounds in two large loops, passing the walled garden and the gorgeous views of the mountains, before circling again but this time in two smaller loops. Just starting and finishing in the castle makes it memorable.

I haven’t been to many park runs (but I am determined to get my 10 runs shirt whilst I’m up here) and this one was the tiniest one I’ve attended – only 166 runners, of which about 20-30 were first-time tourists on holiday to the place (I chatted with a guy from Cambridge and a woman from Norwich). I’m not even going to tell you where I placed, it’s embarrassing (but I wasn’t last) but I did it. I’m building back up to 5K, just because I do enjoy running and have missed it so much.


The starting point of the parkrun.


I really did enjoy this run. You begin by running down a hill but what goes down must come up… then you do it again… and again… and again! When I have a Saturday free next I’ll come here again (I also want to run Conwy, Newborough Forest and Nant y Pandy park runs)


Map of the castle. It’s huge!


Penrhyn Castle is a 19th-century neo-Norman castle that sits within 24.3 hectares (60 acres) of grounds (which include parkland, an exotic tree and shrub collection as well as a Victorian walled garden) between Snowdonia and the Menai Strait in Bangor.

The grounds are open from 10:30am yet the castle is open from 12pm, which is unusual. After my park run, which started at 9am, I decided to find the geocaches on site and look at the collection of trains in the stables to pass the time whilst I was waiting for the castle to open.


The railway museum


The trains on display were ones that ran on narrow gauge railways that ran close to Penrhyn Castle to and from the Penrhyn slate quarry at Bethesda. The locomotive, Charles, was one of the three remaining steam locomotives working on the quarry railway.  I enjoyed reading about the history of the trains and getting to look inside the carriages and locomotives.

Penrhyn Castle was the home of the Pennant family (from 1840, the Douglas-Pennants), owners of the Penrhyn slate quarry at Bethesda and is beautiful inside. You can see why it took 20 years to build! Each piece of stone and wood is hand-carved.

So the interior designs were by architect, Thomas Hopper, who expanded and transformed the building but left the original spiral staircase from the original property (pic above left).

As mentioned, the owner who commissioned the work was George Hay Dawkins-Pennant, and it isn’t until you read the information signs that you realise all of this was built on the money of his cousin Richard Pennant (who owned it before George), who had made his fortune from slavery in Jamaica and local slate quarries. So, essentially the castle was built on the money he made from buying and selling slaves. Doesn’t seem such an appealing place anymore…

Many of the rooms were very grand in size and decoration – with wallpaper that was hand painted in China and shipped across and specially designed Norman-style furniture, including a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria when she visited in 1859.


The grand bedroom with hand paint wallpaper. Just for show, no one actually slept in here. The castle has several ‘just for show’ rooms.


To the side of the castle, but still within its grounds, are the Victorian kitchens and dining area. I’ve loved how they’ve recreated the layout so you get a sense of how they once originally looked.


Dining area.


I’ve always been drawn to Victorian houses and their contents, especially the kitchen area as they’re so grand in scale in these country houses/castles.

So my Saturday was interesting. After the parkrun and the visit around the castle, I sought out the local laundrette and washed some clothes (how grown up!), then planned for the next day’s activities…

Just Joanne