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


PGCE… still going…

As I sat listening to the stories from the other PGCE ODA trainees last night whilst out enjoying a meal together, I felt reassured that it hadn’t just been me that found my first placement to be challenging at times. Funny stories were shared, the stresses and frustrations, the hopes and wants for the next placements as well as cautionary tales were told around the table. It was very evident to see that each person had matured and grown and there was a passion and drive from each one to do well and educate young people in outdoor adventurous activities… but, a break is needed! Our bodies are telling us we need to rest and relax, and we will do after the 21st, we just need to push on for these final two weeks!

We ate a Hangin’ Pizzeria in Betws-y-coed. Highly recommend this place and their efforts with supporting primate conservation.

Our experiences have varied, as does every schools approach to outdoor activities; some embrace it and devote good quality time to it whilst others, with outdoor-minded teachers like in my placement, use every opportunity, either during a one hour lesson or outside of lesson time, to provide opportunities as best they can with limited resources (ever climbed in worn rock boots from the early ’90s?) just so kids get outside. Beames et al., talked about this Victorian model of indoor education setting which is still utilised today and it resonated so much with me that it actually continues to bother me. I don’t think this ‘indoor model‘ fits society anymore and I don’t think the current ODA model that is emerging is also fully appropriate… the ‘adventure trio‘ as I dub it, appears in every centre – kayaking/canoeing (BCU level 2 coach), mountain walking (ML) and climbing (SPA). It’s adventurous and it is fun, there’s no doubt it is, but it does it encourage enough young people to have a natural curiosity about their world to explore more and realise how vital it is to us and how to conserve and protect it? Should schools do more to incorporate conservation into their timetable? I’m sure the students would be happy to lose a language or maths lesson!

I would prefer to be here than in a Maths lesson!

I only say this because my biggest ‘bug-bear’ on this placement has been the amount of paper wasted/printed on. I watch the trainees at my placement (10 of us altogether) go through a ream of paper (500 sheets) A DAY through printing… and that is not including the colour copies the reprographics print for us as well! So, on average 6% of a tree is lost in a day with just our printing... 30% during the working week, 1 tree lost every three and half weeks… just, wow.

My mentor tells me he likes the resources I produce, I tell him that I want to be at his experience level where he doesn’t need printed resources to be able to teach a class. I only produce the printed resources as I need to show evidence for my portfolio and I need them to rely on, but I just don’t like the thought of how quickly they are discarded…

What would happen if people/schools became more aware of how much they use? Would we develop a stronger mental capacity if we relied more on memory recall and not resources? Would we be more creative without printed materials? I dunno, I’m still thinking about that 6%…

Imagine a world without trees?

My subject mentor asked me what I intended to do once I’ve gained QTS status… and I honestly didn’t have a solid answer, all I could truthfully say was that I just wanted a job outdoors. Where that would be would be anyone’s guess, but as long as I’m not stuck at a desk I think I will be ok. The expedition side appeals strongly but I would be equally happy for a residential centre. Somewhere, where I’m not printing on lots of paper, will do me just fine!

Looking forward to Christmas Day dinner!

– Just Joanne

First week at uni.

And what a week!

Well, it’s just the usual introductory week so the ‘lectures’ have mostly been information about the course, the campus, it’s facilities, general wellbeing and financial support information and a library visit! So nothing terribly exciting at all.

Bangor is a seemingly nice city (it used the title of ‘city’ by ancient prescriptive right until the Queen made it official in 1974). I’m not sure what to make of it. Apparently, there are 18,000 people here but it doesn’t feel like it because 10,500 of those are university students who don’t arrive until the end of September…

The university site the PGCE students are based on is small (compared to having attended the University of West England) but the University has a couple of other sites located around the town. The town has a couple of large brand name shops (Home Bargains, Next, Argos etc) but several of the smaller shops have shut down in the town centre so it looks rather run down in places. Out lecturer mentioned that independent businesses, unless already established, rarely trade for very long (approx 3-4 years) before either closing for good or relocating to large towns and cities.

The views are lovely though…










Bangor has a pier called, Garth Pier, which is the second longest pier in Wales at 1,500 feet (460 m) in length. It opened in 1893 and was a promenade pier, for the amusement of holiday-makers who could stroll among the pinnacle-roofed kiosks.


Garth Pier entranceway.



Grath Pier, quaint, small and peaceful. No large amusement arcades here.


I quite like this little pier. As you walk along there are a lot of memorial plaques on the seating or barriers, a lot of people also quite liked this pier!

Having a car has been quite useful so far, it’s allowed me to explore the countryside around the area and I took a walk up the hills near Conwy Mountain one evening.


Sheep galore on the hillsides!
The sunsets are beautiful here.


So as part of our next five weeks of training, the ODA group have various outdoor activities to partake in – mountain biking, SUPing, outdoor climbing, bouldering etc. so we’re introduced to what the content of an ODA course might look like in a school or outdoor education centre.

There are nine of us on the ODA PGCE course, two of the group are doing a joint course (R.E and Physics respectively) and the rest just the ODA. There are varying experiences the group members have – from school-based, outdoor education based, university-based – and knowledge and interests, so the next couple of weeks should be interesting as we get to know each other and share information.

On Friday, we took part in paddle boarding on Llyn Padarn, learning how to stand, balance, turn and put another person back on their board. I didn’t fall in often this time like I have done before and my balancing has gotten better (but it’s not great yet), just need to work on getting back on to the board.


Llyn Padarn from Union Rock


Afterwards, we went to Union and Lion rock so the members of the group, who have completed the Single Pitch Award training, can teach those that haven’t/the instructor abseil, top-roping and I forget the name of the other one right now.

I found it all really interesting. I’m not sure how the school utilise outdoor climbing, but I’m sure I will learn in time.


So that’s it for the first week, I will write about the weekend activities in another blog, but right now I’m not sure how I feel at this point about it all. I am homesick, still more so than I imagined I would be and to combat this I have been keeping myself busy. It is more, missing various people and a dog named Bailey, than anything else but I feel that this PGCE will be very demanding and I’ve got to get into the mindset for that over these next couple of days.

Just Joanne 

PGCE Journey

So, anybody who really knows me should know by now that I can be somewhat if an impulsive person and I like to do things on a whim when the fancy takes me… usually I end up either doing something fun or committing to something big… guess which one this blog post will be about?! Sit comfortable and let me tell you this little story…

So, I have been toying with the idea of doing something new with my life for a while now. I very much enjoy my job; colleagues are great, the students are comical and every day is different and I like that, however, I knew I wasn’t being challenged in the way I’d like- sure, challenges were being thrown at me (supporting a VI child with 0 previous experience!) but, Nah, I wanted something different.

But, I wasn’t intentionally looking for anything. I’m a believer in the universe giving you what you need at that time… and I needed something but I was comfortable in my ‘bubble’ doing the same routines day in, day out…

Browsing Facebook one lazy evening I came across a link someone had posted in a wild camping/outdoors group about their mate running an Outdoor Activities PGCE at Bangor University in North Wales… well, straight away there are three things I liked the sound of in that:

  • Wales
  • Outdoor Activities
  • Bangor University.

So, I had a gander at the link.

That gander turned into more looking, that looking turned into more looking and even more looking till eventually, I thought I’d ask for help on applying…

I’m not going to go too much into this, I think I’ve told all that I want to know, but let’s just say I didn’t get the help and support one might expect from their employer if they want to progress… which left me very disheartened.

Still, being of the impulsive and stubborn nature that I have I applied the moment the PGCE applications opened. I thought “What have I got to lose?” (I literally apply that to about 80% of the things I do). I had a small chance- only 4 spaces. Still a chance right?

Getting one of the references took forever- the first came quickly yet the second took a while – I was bugging her PA on an almost daily basis until the PA made my reference a priority (web window open ready for form filling) … With all parts filled in, I paid and I went on my merry way. “What have I got to lose?” (£24 at this point)

The very next day the email stated: “We’ve received your application and wish to invite you to interviewWHAT THE MONKEYS?! I didn’t even have time to console myself that I’ll be rejected at the first hurdle… reply sent “YES OF COURSE I’LL GO!” “What have I got to lose?

Fast forward two weeks of feeling fabulous [darling!] at being offered an interview that quickly I found myself making the journey up to North Wales, sleeping in the car in a lay-by (did I mention at this point how I can sleep anywhere?) and interview the next day…

I should have been more nervous than I was but then I didn’t go into this with expectations. “What have I got to lose?” I just had to be me. I knew my experience will give me lots of talk about and I also knew I would have to explain why I’m not in an Animal Management career as my degree suggests I should be (working with students kinda relates to it right?)…

I was definitely the oldest one there- all the other applicants for Teacher Training in PE, Maths and Outdoor Activities looked very very young… I’m sure have fillings older than them… (I think).

Anyway, the literacy and maths tests- easy. I wasn’t concerned about them (the cocky little bleeder I am at times), then came the interview.

I don’t think the lad before me did well, he didn’t seem joyous when he left and quickly disappeared… “Was it really that bad?” [Edited to say: he did get on the course in the end!!]

My interview was with the course director, Graham and a mentor from a placement school. I liked Graham instantly – I think he’ll be fantastic to learn from and honest in his feedback and also supportive. I had to describe how I would teach a child how to belay- I used the “pinch, slide, repeat” method over the “1,2,3” method and was questioned on this- I suitably impressed and I think it showed that I was conscious about the ability of a learner and the safety aspects!

Yes, the question about my degree not being related to my chosen TT subject came up… I was honest and said that, at the time, the subject matter interested me but what I took away was something far better- independence, self-reliance, etc which had landed me jobs in different fields (eg retail, management). Being honest and learning from your mistakes and recognising that you can grow as a person through varied experiences counts for a lot in my opinion- there’s a big world out there, why not grow with it?

I walked out of them feeling elated. I’m generally a ‘silver lining kinda girl’ and thought that, even if they didn’t want me, I did well in that interview and had good answers to the questions asked and asked good questions to the director. Plus, “What have I got to lose?” (At the point, £24 fee, diesel money & food but I had a good mini adventure to Wales and saw Tryfan again)

Well… the next day this came in an email:


You could have knocked me out with a gentle breeze at this point. I enquire when I would find out the outcome of the interview before my Nepal trip, I just hadn’t expected it in the afternoon the next day.

Naturally, I told my favourite people at work first (although I forgot the tell the one person who told me years ago to “Go For It” when I had various ideas at work and his words have always stuck with me since whenever I question if I should do something. He also wrote my reference and I felt proud to tell him!), then I told others and now I’m writing it on here.

Funding has just opened and I’ve just applied- the declaration has been accepted and now I await, with baited breath, crossed fingers and a rabbit’s foot, that I will be granted the full tuition fee amount and full maintenance loan- without this I may have to defer, which is something I don’t want to happen! I’ve just bought my camper van (another post on this) which will be my accommodation and begun making sure I turn my experience into National Governing Body award certificates for the course.

This journey has only just begun for me. I’ve kept it secret for fear of failure but now I want to be more open and write about it because I want family to be able to follow what I’m up to. It’s not going to be easy. I’ll be out of comfort zone, hours away from family and friends (my dog!!), by myself and having to sort myself out but I’m looking forward to the harsh times and the great times plus I’ll be in Wales and close to the coast…

What have I got to lose?

Just Joanne