Wild Family Fun

Tales of living, working and enjoying life in the outdoors


My Sunday Photo

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OneDad3Girls

These are a few of my favourite Christmas things

A competition being run by Center Parcs, celebrating the things that get your family into the Christmas spirit. The question asked was, “What 12 things truly get you into the Christmas spirit”.

It really did get me to thinking about the traditions and things that, as a family, we love to do together, to capture the feeling that Christmas is coming. It has been a lovely family exercise, pondering our favourite Christmas traditions.

My 12 favourite Christmas activities are:

1. The day of baking. We have a Sunday where we don’t venture out of the house until all the cooking of cakes and other delicacies are done. Five traditional Christmas cakes for presents for neighbours and aunties, a whole range of Christmas cookies put into sparkly boxes ready for teachers as a thank you and the start of the puddings for after Christmas dinner.

2. Going outdoor ice skating gets us into the Christmas spirit. We all wrap up warm with hats, scarves and glove. We enjoy Christmas music playing and having the first cup of mulled wine.

3. That family time of Christmas. As the festive season builds, we deliver cards and presents. We make the time to sit, chat and catch up with family members. I find that we really make an effort to see everyone, and I believe it’s a very special part of Christmas.

4. Our Christmas decorating ritual is wonderful and when we start decorating the tree, I get to look at the ones we made when my daughter was a baby. Paper Christmas puddings with her face in the middle, and special ornaments with past family Christmases on them are a lovely way of remembering Christmases past.

5. The time of stopping is quite momentous. The first taste of time off work, the children finish school and having the first real time to enjoy the little things are such a joy. We may go for walks, we enjoy old movies that are always shown on television, we take the time to sit and play games together, we enjoy festive foods and soak up that lovely, relaxing feeling of not having to rush around any more. “It’s all done!”.

6. On Christmas Eve, we love a hot chocolate in our Santa mugs. We open a box of Christmas chocolates and watch a Santa Claus movie, all snuggled together on the sofa under the duvet.

7. Christmas pyjamas are a bit of a tradition in our family. We all have new Christmas pyjamas that we wear on Christmas Eve, snuggled up warm and cosy, but ready for that busy, early start in the morning.

8. The Christmas game is an institution, too. As a family, we each take in turns to bring a family game to play, to break up the afternoon and to stop people nodding off due to Christmas food over-load. It starts off with fun and laughter, but can then descend into the various teams really getting into it! You’ll soon see the competitive streak coming through!!

 9. Our Boxing Day afternoon welly-walk is a “must”! We pull on our new “outdoor clothes”, and all go to our nearest forest trail for a good crisp winter walk. After that, we’ll all go back to my mum and dad’s house for an afternoon buffet of cold-cut meats and home-made soup from the leftover vegetables from Christmas dinner. The fire is always on and it’s a lovely, cosy feeling coming in to warm, friendly surroundings from the crisp cold.

10. At this point, we have to talk turkey. It’s great thinking up new and inventive ways of using up the Christmas left-overs. Not just turkey sandwiches, turkey curry, turkey pasta bake, but spicy turkey filo parcels and turkey tagine are winners!!

11. My day of mountain biking. During the holiday period, I have a day where a group of my friends and I all take off to ride along the Taff Trail, in South Wales. We ride past lovely scenery and listed buildings, call into one of the coffee shops en route, and and also enjoy packed lunches……. with the obligatory sandwiches of turkey, cranberry and stuffing!!

12. For the last 5 years, we’ve had the tradition of a big New Years Day walk, in an effort to burn off the wondrous excesses of Christmas. This year, we’re going to try Pen-y-Fan in Brecon, with the family, (weather conditions permitting). This is somewhere I’ve gone many times with work, and I can’t wait to get my 7 year-old daughter to the top, for her to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

This post has been amazing to think about what Christmas means to our family and I hope, by reading this, you to have the chance to think about those 12 festive things that make Christmas great for you.

All of these things can be enjoyed anywhere……. be-it a Center Parcs holiday, or with extended family, or with close family at home, because it’s all about that cosy, warm, friendly feeling of spending special, quality time in the company of the ones that you love.

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 December challenge. If I am chosen, I would like to visit Longleat Forest Center Parcs, Wiltshire.

My favourite tip from Center Parcs winter wonderland expert Nick Oot, was about getting out and about. We love being wrapped up warm, going for walks in the cold, crisp air, enjoying what nature shows us and being together in the environment.

We also love it when our little family comes in from the cold, snuggles together in a warm, safe home and we’re lucky enough to enjoy a hot chocolate and other Christmas treats, together.

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Have a Merry Christmas everyone

It’s finally here, all the running around, the last minute dash to the shops, forgetting a present for at least one family member, getting those endless Xmas cards out, going through rolls and rolls of wrapping paper, not having enough tags, counting down the hours till you finish work, and it’s all for today.

We have been up for hours, (we have
an alarm clock call that sounds like an excited 7 year old). The dinner is being prepared and it smells delicious. New toys are being tested out and happily played with.

So, I would just like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope you all have a lovely day. Enjoy this festive time.

Sunday 22nd December 2013

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OneDad3Girls

The path up to Pen Y Fan

One of the most common and feared phrases I hear throughout December is…..

“……You’ve still gotta go out in this weather!!”

My philosophy is, as an outdoor worker, you have to adapt and just get used to working in the outdoors in the worst types of weather.

When it’s summer-time and I’m at the beach, applying the sun tan lotion and jumping into the cool blue seas……. well, let’s face, it my job is pretty amazing.

But, within the change of a season, I have had to go canoeing and kick lumps of ice off the front of my boat or, (and this is a favourite), after a particularly cold gorge walk, I’ve had to pour hot squash from my flask gently over my feet to get the feeling back into them.

After six years in this job, I’m used to the highs and the lows, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Most days, I love my job and feel very blessed to be in this amazing role.

The motivation for this post is that, during this month, we took a group of young people for a walk up to Pen-y-Fan in Brecon. A photograph that was taken en route proves that I still have to go outdoors in all weathers.

Pen-y-Fan is the highest peak in South Wales, and is 886 metres above sea level. What I find great about this walk, is that it’s accessible for so many different people. On so many different routes to the top, you get to meet people of different ages and abilities. This is a lovely way of meeting and chatting to other outdoor people.

It’s also wonderful, as getting to the top is so achievable for our young people. We take it slowly, with plenty of rest stops, but we also get such an amazing response when we get to the top. Lots of tired but smiling faces. It’s such a great confidence-building activity.

So, if I could, I’d like to paint a picture of how my day started. On went my walking boots, which, after many outings, fitted my feet like a glove. Also went on the thermal under-garments, jumper, coat, hat and gloves…. that was the ferocious weather that I was going into.

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With hot flasks of sweet tea and my favourite banana loaf, we made our way onto the route that starts off at the Pont ar Daf car park. By walking through the woods, you pass through the kissing gate and walk over the wooden footbridge over a small river.

You’re on your way to the top if you stick on this path. It’s a good solid path that can be taken at steady pace. It does take a bit of effort, but I think that’s probably the reason why most people are there.

This path will take you first to Corn Du.  Don’t be mistaken, as this isn’t Pen-y-Fan proper, and you’re not at the top yet.

The weather en route often gets colder, windier and much foggier. On this occasion, the weather changed in a heartbeat. By the time we got to Corn Du, we made the sensible and proper decision not to continue, because the weather was getting so bad.

The fact that we had to shout to each other to be heard kind-of influenced our thought process!! Before we started our descent, however, both I and my partner in “work-crime” wanted to take a photo just to say what we had endured. I think this image speaks for itself in describing the coldness and general winter-weather conditions that we found ourselves in.

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I forget how many layers I have on in this picture, and I think my eyes are slightly closed because of the wind slapping me in the face. It really was a cold one, that day.

So, yes, lot’s of people say “I would love to have your job”………. But mostly only in the summer time!!! I still have to go out in rather nasty weather, but I do enjoy it.

That first cup of sweet tea after being out in a storm, really tastes so good. Getting home and putting on fluffy socks and curling up on sofa feels heavenly.

I guess you have to reap the benefits and rewards wherever you can. For me, the sense of achievement in overcoming adverse odds, and also seeing the triumph in other peoples eyes in these circumstances, is a real motivator.

When all the cold-slog is done and dusted, I always think how lucky I am to be able to do what I do. I guess that my message is that you can, too.

I’m not super-fit. I just set myself little challenges and goals, and I do a “Yay” if I crack them. Little steps, and gentle stages, that’s the way to go.

My job often seems like I’m living the dream but, trust me, if I can hack it, you can, too !!

My Sunday Photo

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  OneDad3Girls

It’s not about the label, it’s about the quality.

 The onset of winter brings colder, rougher weather and, for every wildwoman, the first thought is toward warmth and comfort while working outdoors.

I trawled around my usual outdoor-wear suppliers, looking for something new, innovative, hi-spech and cost-effective. But I’d seen this, done that, and the other was way out of my budget.

It was while I was on a shopping trip to Aldi, that I found myself browsing over their current seasonal Specialbuys offers.

Now, I like Aldi (though other continental-style stores are available!) because we spend a lot of adventure/activity holidays in France & Italy. While abroad, we like to take advantage of the spacious layout of the stores, and the diverse range of products available at very competitive prices.

The current UK Specialbuys range is geared towards ski-wear. You may have noticed the rave reviews in the national press. I must say that I was slightly wary of spending any money on an untried and untested product, especially one that was expected to keep me warm and well in the wild outdoors.

However, I was recently contacted directly by Aldi and asked if I would like to comment on certain items of their ski-wear. I replied, and I was subsequently sent a 2-piece thermal undergarment set for my daughter to try out.

I was immediately drawn to the colour, which was a lovely soft pink. This is very appealing to our femininity, as most female’s outdoor gear is usually on the dark side, with just a “slash” of pink or “streak” of yellow. This attention to softer colouring really is a good choice for us girls.

We tried a size 9 – 10 years-old, and it was great for my daughter. The top fitted really nicely, which I think is great. Ideally, the under garment should be quite snug, as you can then put top layers on without getting that baggy, bloated feeling. The way thermals work is that they need to offer many thin layers, close to the skin.

The stitching is very robust, but not scratchy. The material is supersoft, almost like a second skin.

The trousers were the best of fits. They were very slightly longer than usual, which is a massive “plus” for mums whose children tend to grow almost overnight, but it also means that the trousers can be tucked into socks to improve warmth, without producing a tight, constricted feeling around the ankles.

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We tested out the thermals twice; once on a cold evening walk and then on an evening of skating at a local outdoor ice rink. The t-shirt fitted well beneath my daughter’s jumper, while still allowing freedom of movement. While wearing the thermal set, our daughter didn’t feel overloaded with too many layers. She was able to move around very comfortably, especially on the ice, and was even able to take off her coat. She was warm enough, having the added benefit of the thermals. To sum it up, she even came home with rosy cheeks.

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 My biggest problem with buying outdoor kit is mainly the expense. You really should buy kit that’s going to work and going to last, or you’ll end up buying twice. But this often means paying over the odds for a”named” brand.

It can be doubly difficult to buy outdoor kit for children. It sometimes feels that my young-un grows overnight, so to have outdoor clothing that is really well-made and affordable is a great benefit to me. In my opinion, I think that the Aldi range is a fantastic, cost-effective and highly functional addition to the outdoor clothes market.

I feel that this range and choice of clothes cost-effective and fit for purpose. It also helps to make a whole range of outdoor experiences open for everyone to enjoy, as cost of proper kit is less prohibitive.

So, while this post is an impartial and unbiased review of the product based upon my own experience, it’s also a testimony to the fact that really good quality, functional products needn’t cost the earth. If you’re thinking of pursuing any outdoor adventures during the coming cold spell, I really hope that this post will help to make it happen.

Maps, compasses and micro navigation

So, this is going to be a slightly different post. I hope it doesn’t get too technical, but I would love to share an aspect of my job that I love learning about.

My job involves a great deal of continual learning and development in all aspects of outdoor pursuits.  Throughout the past 18 months, I have found myself steering towards improving my map working skills.

This is quite a refined work-role, and I have learned that if a female in this field is able to acquire more diverse skills, then she becomes a much more sought-after team member. This, in turn, opens more doors to more work and, hence, more experiences.

Having completed my Basic Expedition Leader course, I now find myself  working as a sessional Duke of Edinburgh Award leader. In this role, investing time on improving map skills and orienteering knowledge is a continuous process.

So here comes the techie bit…

One of my favourite activities is micro-navigation. This is the interpretation, recognition and location of small details on a map. These are found using map and compass techniques such as pacing, timing, contour interpretation and feature interpretation.

Quite simply put, the skill of navigation is knowing where you are, knowing where you’d like to go and knowing how to get there. Using micro-navigation is intended to help you to stay on the right track to your destination. Most people will feel confident in walking on a sunny and clear day, but having the ability to micro-navigate will help to guide a person when visibility is poor, tracks and paths disappear or you have to change your route.

Micro-navigation improves a persons compass work. Working on, and taking, compass bearings is an important skill, as it enables a person to stay on course even if the features are not visible.  It teaches a person to use their pacing steps to measure distance which, in turn, can help when trying to determine how far you have traveled.

It really is an important tool to have a well grounded, confident approach to map work. The more knowledge you can acquire helps to overcome that slight feeling of panic that can creep in when you’re out in the wilds, and that little voice of doubt starts telling you that you ARE actually a bit unsure…….????

The following pictures show a fantastic area for micro-navigation – Penderyn Moor in Brecon.

Not too far from the road, but far enough away so that, after only half an hours’ walk, you get the feeling of…….. freedom !!

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When I’m out learning about map work, I do smile to myself, as it makes me remember the one of the most romantic presents my husband ever gave me.

My Silva Militare compass.

I know, it’s a bit strange, (certainly different to flowers or jewellry), but he got it for me before a three-day assessment in the windy wilds of the Gower. I passed, and I’d like to believe that my new compass helped in some way.

The Silva compass is really the daddy of all compasses and, for me, the great thing about it is the magnifying glass. It means that I can tell the difference between what could be a blue water feature on the map, or a dot made by a blue pen. This is the difference between getting wet, or planning a needless traverse taking you miles out of your way, avoiding an obstacle that isn’t really there.

 It’s practical in every respect, because it’s robust, compact and yet easy to read and operate with cold fingers !! This little gadget helped me to calculate distance very easily with a simple glance, and it really gave me a lot of confidence just by having it by my side.

 I’m lucky in my career to have the chance to learn new skills and even luckier that my school is often the most stunning outdoor areas to be found in Wales and England.

Leonardo da Vinci is attributed to have once said “Learning never exhausts the mind”. With a classroom and playground like this, learning can also be fun !!

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The opinions expressed herein are unbiased and based upon my own personal experiences  

Silent Sunday

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OneDad3Girls

   Silent Sunday