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 

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

Exploring North East Wales

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!

Just Joanne

Rhiwbach Slate Quarry Mine

I knew that when I came to North Wales I was going to do some pretty cool stuff and nothing was as cool as going down Rhiwbach Slate Quarry Mine.

The quarry is located to the east of Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales in Cwm Penmancho. Opening to commercial operations around 1812, it closed (read: “abandoned”) in 1952 and was the last Welsh slate quarry where workers lived in barracks on the site, of which you can see some of the building walls around the site that are still standing. Due to its remote location, the Rhiwbach Tramway was build which connected it to the Ffestiniog Railway so the slate could be taken to Porthmadog and shipped overseas.

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Walking to the quarry mine.
(Btw, I do not own a GoPro, so the pictures underground are not the best quality at all!)

To get to the mine there’s a short ascent through the quarry grounds and woodland.

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Mine entrance into the woods.

The entrance is hidden away within the woodland and is gated. It requires any users to contact the Cave Access Limited directors to obtain the code to enter as they manage certain mine and cave sites across this area, and this particular cave is popular with outdoor groups so it is highly monitored. You enter at level 2 as level 1 is flooded.

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Quarry map.

This mine consists of eight floors and this map is fascinating to read as I’ve never seen them detailed this way. At points, when we were down there, the map was hard to read but, as with any map, it’ll take time to get used to navigating it.

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Cart tracks leading into the mine.

Straight away we were in pitch blackness only a few metres from the mine (small entrance way) and followed along the tracks with our heads almost touching the ceiling. As there is no light, no algae can grow so the water is very clear (unless you churn up some mud) and you can see where you’re stepping.

Then came paddling the inflatable raft boats in the mine… yes, inflatable raft boats in the mine. I kid you not.

This cavern is located directly above another cavern on floor one, which contains over 90 feet of ice cold water, running all the way to the very base of the mine.

As we explored our lecturer, Graham, explained the history of the mine – one particular scary thought-provoking tale was about the young boys having to wait in total darkness at doorways beneath the ground to open and close the doors for the carts to pass through… being in pitch darkness for about 8-9 hours a day must have been frightening for them and for some of the boys, they were tied/chained to the walls so they couldn’t run away!

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The door where young boys used to sit in total darkness.

This traverse was over a pool (maybe collapsed cavern?) of ice cold water, which looked tempting enough to jump in, was exciting! I’ve traversed before, used cow tails etc but never underground! But then, I’ve never been on a boat underground before as well so this was turning out to be a fun trip.

I struggled a bit holding up my weight with my upper body and clipping into the next section but I did it and would happily do it again, it was so much fun!

We explored a lot of the mine caverns and Graham told us a lot about this history of the mine and the people who worked there. I’m glad I had visited the National Slate Museum the day prior, it added more of a realistic perspective of the harshness of the work conditions, why many went on strike at other quarries, the comradery of the miners so they kept going and the emotions they must have felt whilst working in the dark. Even visiting Penryth Castle, with its decorative walls been built using money earned from slaves and the miners, enlightened me to this traditional Welsh trade and why the Welsh are so proud of it.

The quarry is slowly collapsing in on itself, so some steel girders help keep parts up, and ‘dead walls’ – stones piled on top of each other to seal off a cavern entrance were established by the miners as structural support. As this cave attracts a lot of commercial groups, the leaders would probably unofficially report any major structural changes, but annually Cave Leaders do check the mine over. We were told an interesting fact about abandoned mines – I’m not sure if I recall it correctly but if a mine is shut down, then it’ll require the insurance company/owner to hire people at considerable cost to map the mine – however, if a mine is abandoned, then the maps created by the miners are used to form a cave map and updated/amendment if necessary by enthusiasts. Saves the quarry owner spending those pennies… This mine was abandoned so has it’s own abandonment plan.

We came to a second, more complicated traverse. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any pictures or videos of it (except one of an abseil)!! For this one you had to climb up into a ‘window’, with only a small enough gap to fit three people on, then you traverse maybe 8 feet across, over a drop of about 12feet (and at points you weren’t able to see your feet for placement) before abseiling off the edge of a cliff to the ground below. I enjoyed this one more so than the previous traverse (which I did enjoy!) because not being able to see my feet made it more challenging and abseiling is always a fun thing to do.

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Group member abseiling down the cliff part.

After lunch, it was more exploration and looking at the equipment the miners have left behind before a climb up a waterfall (which wasn’t in full flow due to the dry weather) and out via the ladder system that had been installed.

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Climbing out of the mine via the ladder pitch.

Exiting the mine:

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Looking back to the quarry.

I thoroughly enjoyed doing this. One of our group members is from Yorkshire and has been down many caves so I’m hoping there’ll be future opportunities to go out and explore more whilst I’m up here.

If you fancy giving it a go yourself, you can go down this particular mine with Go Below caving company. They charge about £50. They do things slightly different than we did (we didn’t have a zip line) but there’s so much to explore.

Just Joanne

Snowdonia Slate Trail: Part 1 – Bangor to Llanberis

I heard about this Trail late 2017 on social media and thought I’d love to walk it. Starting in Bangor and walking a ‘leaf-shaped’ route (including stem) the route passes through several well-known areas within Snowdonia – Llanberis, Bethesda, Nantelle, Llan Ffestiniog etc.

I decided, as I only had one day, that I’d walk the first two sections Bangor to Bethesda and on to Llanberis before getting the bus back to Bangor.

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I’d love to have walked the complete 83-mile route but time will not allow this year and I just wanted to get out and walk.

The trail starts at Porth Penrhyn, near the castle, along the quiet tree-lined cycleway along Lon Las Ogwen river.

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There’s no official starting monument, but one is planned. Waymarkers show the way.

Along the first part of the route, there are several signs to explain about the slate trade and how horses were used on the viaducts to move large quantities to the port for shipment elsewhere.

The first part of this route is low level, flat and absolutely beautiful. I met a couple of dog walkers and runners but it was peaceful overall. There were a couple of geocaches along this route, in fact along all of the routes, but none connected to the route. Hopefully, someone will decide to plan a series along this part connected to the trail as I passed a lot of opportunities for them to do so.
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So I happily strolled along, following the guide book’s instructions until I reached the A55. Now in the book, it states that you keep the A55 to your left… which I did, and ended up at the A5/A55 junction! Only then did I look at the map within the guidebook and saw that it should have said ‘Right’, not ‘left’. Luckily, I’m a good navigator so it didn’t take long to cross and field and rejoin the route where I was meant to be. Later on, looking at the website and just about the email the error, I found that they already knew about it:

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I learnt two lessons that day. One, check the map as well as the description and two, check the website before travelling out! Rookie mistakes.

Continuing on, I found a good geocache and crossed Afon Ogwen, where I took a moment to admire the bridge’s structure and the river views.

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Moving on, I followed various signs that took me through a small village then into Bethesda high street where everything was closed as it was Sunday! So, no cup of tea for me at Caffi Coed y Brenin (king’s wood cafe), which the guide recommended.

This section didn’t seem like it was the 6.3miles the book suggested it was. I suppose because I was enjoying the countryside so much and making detours to find road junctions and geocaches my mind wasn’t aware of the distance.

I pushed on the Llanberis. As I had left Bangor at 8am I knew I would have time to walk both these sections in a day and get the bus back without hassle.

At the High Street, I continued on to walk along the river and up the road towards Mynydd Llandegai. Here I passed one very noisy dog who was awoken from his guard duties at my presence outside his area.

Passing through the small hamlet of Gefnan, I was now on the access ground and into open moorland. It was at this point that the clouds decided to open and rain (gently) upon me. The cows I encountered took one look and wandered off, probably in search of dryer ground elsewhere.

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So, plodding along and crossing many bogs and streams (that seemed to find my feet easily), I pondered about the slate trade around this area. It is evident to see the impact it has had on the countryside due to the heavy quarrying, with large chunks missing, but also its usefulness in terms of building houses, fences etc.

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My GPS decided to die on me so it didn’t record all of the route sadly. I’m surprised it even managed 5 hours. I have yet to find where I have packed the charger in my van so it may stay dead for a little while longer…

Near the end of the route, it takes you through parts of the 800 acres, Padarn Country Park with some stunning views over Llyn Padarn, a 3 mile long, 30m deep glacial formed lake that we visited a few days before on the course.

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Totally found a geocache at this point.
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The country park is dotted with ruins of old buildings belonging to the workers that once used the railways there.

On the boundary of the county park, I found the Quarry Hospital – a museum housing the restored ward, operating theatre and various gruesome 19th Century hospital equipment that once served the slate miners who were injured in the nearby quarry.

I didn’t have time to properly look inside the Slate Museum. I arrived at a leisurely pace at about half-past three, taking in the various geocaches, museum and old buildings whilst on route, and the Slate Museum was only open for another half an hour, so decided that I’ll come back another day to look inside and ride the Llanberis Lake Railway (though I did have a sausage roll at the station).

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The bus ride back was simple enough. The buses don’t run late in Snowdonia I found out, so made sure I was there on time. A bargain price of £3 one-way 50-minute journey from Llanberis to Bangor with bus wifi! It took a very scenic route through some very tiny villages (never have I been on a bus that needs to reverse to turn around).

So, that’s my first weekend in Bangor done! This upcoming weekend the entire PGCE trainee group is off to a residential centre, so I’m sure that will be fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this route and will look to complete the next section Llanberis to Beddgelert (20miles) another free day.

Just Joanne