This time of the year can make getting outdoors a bit difficult. It’s cold, it feels like it’s continually and constantly raining, and the evenings get dark so quickly that it’s no wonder that most people simply want to stay at home and hibernate.
However, hibernation is not an option, especially when I believe in promoting the enjoyment of the outdoors in all weathers.
I decided to try a new experience with my daughter this week. After school we headed down to a local nature reserve, called Cosmeston Lakes, in Penarth. Cosmeston Lakes was opened in 1978, and was designated as a local Nature Reserve in 2013. Visitors can explore over 100 hectares of lakes, reed beds, woodlands and meadows. It really is a fantastic place for a family exploring adventure.
We parked the car as it was just getting dark. I know the environment there very well, so I wasn’t worried about walking and exploring in the dark, and I always carry hand torches and head-torches in our kit. Cosmestion is well-known for the swans that live on the lake, and I can remember my mum and dad taking me there, as a child, on Sunday afternoons to feed the swans. It’s a great place to introduce young children to wildlife and the wild environment.
We trampled through the smaller parts of the forest that surround the lakes, looking for animal homes and tracks, but mainly just getting our wellies covered in mud by jumping in the puddles.
We then headed over to the bird watching hut. It’s located away from the normal public path, so that it the noise doesn’t disturb the experience of looking and listening for a huge variety of wildlife that you’re able to encounter.
Then, after a quick bite to eat we sat cuddled together on the benches and just listened. We could hear the geese flying around and making their calling noises, we heard splashes in the water from other nocturnal birds and animals swimming around. There were little tweets from the dozens of birds that live in the area, rustlings in the surrounding trees, and the best sounds were from distant owls, hooting messages to each other.
It was so relaxing just to sit and take time out to listen. Every time my daughter heard a new sound, her face would light up with excitement and she would point and twist her body around to try to get a better position to hear the noises. It was a great experience.
As it started to get colder, we headed back through the forest, squelching in the mud and making ghost noises to try to scare the whits out of each other.
It really was a fantastic experience for my daughter. It would have been so easy to say we couldn’t go out because of the weather and the darkness, but we made the effort and we had a fantastic time.
It really doesn’t matter when you try to venture outdoors, as long as you do it within safe guidelines and within your own capabilities and experience. I really would recommend trying to get outdoors at twighlight. It doesn’t even have to be at a nature reserve, because simply going out in your garden and exploring with torches would be just as exciting……. especially for little ones.
To begin, I was a bit unsure whether or not to write this post.
I thought that it might come across as being a bit over the top and just a bit of a rant from my soap box but, after talking to a friend about this, I decided to give it a go and share one of my absolute pet hates when it comes to buying outdoor clothing.
I view the outdoor clothing that I need for work as an investment. Yes, some of these items tend to be a bit pricey but, with some research, I try to buy kit that will stand the tests of time and is fit for it’s purpose. Based upon the amount of use I get out of my kit, I don’t mind investing a bit more to get hard-wearing, durable clothing.
However, my problem is the sizing and styling of women’s clothes.
I am a curvy size 16. That’s my shape and size, and I’m fine with it. What I’m not fine with is how some companies seem to produce clothes without understanding that women come in ALL shapes and sizes.
My reason for this post is largely (pun intended) the result of my recent experience endured when I went to buy a new waterproof coat. Living and working in Wales, a good, solid, functional waterproof coat is an essential piece of kit.
I went to my local specialist outdoor shop, keeping the afternoon free so that I could spend time choosing carefully and ensuring that I had the best possible purchase. In the shop, there were lots of different waterproof coats in a variety of prices and styles. I started to choose a few in my price range, enlisting some considerable help and advice from the shop assistant.
The first one in my size would not even zip up. I was able to put the zip together, but that was as far as it went. (OK, deep breath, this only the first choice). The second one zipped up, but only up just under my chest area. (Not a good idea, or a good look, for a waterproof coat). Off came this one and, knowing that this was fast becoming the usual routine, I started to get slightly dismayed.
For my next attempt, I decided to go up a size, just for a try. I just wanted a flippin’ coat to keep me warm and dry. Guess what…….. the next coat, (a size 18), wouldn’t zip up either. I enjoyed my Christmas, but I can’t possibly have put on that much weight? My old cosy (if worn out) coat, which I had on in the shop at the time, is a size 16 along with all of my other usual clothes. After trying on 6 different coats, each with similar problems, the friendly female shop assistant coyly suggested that I try on some men’s jackets! I HAD to be polite, (my team use the shop a lot), but inside my head an angry voice was growling, “Are you having a laugh”! I don’t know what I was hoping for, as it’s not her fault. She doesn’t make the jackets but, come on, is that the only solution!
The problem with having to buy men’s jackets, if you’re a woman, is that they’re simply not designed for women. The length in the arm is longer. The shape of the hip area is generally bigger in mens jackets, which leads to a baggy and puffy look. While functionality is the acheived, feminity is obviously clearly not present. Overall, many women find themselves compromising in so many requirements, just to buy an essential piece of kit that, let’s be honest, is going to cost a fair bit of money.
I really wasn’t happy, standing in front of a full length mirror wearing a man’s XL coat, and looking like I was wearing a very expensive coal-sack! I really wasn’t going to spend over £100 on something that didn’t fit correctly and made me feel unhappy about my shape. I think the shop assistant could see it in my face and told me that new stock was arriving the following week. Would I like to wait and try on some new stock? Uh, yeah!
I thanked her for her help and left the shop, feeling so deflated. A wasted afternoon, no coat for me but, more than that, I was generally fed up with the same old routine and couldn’t be bothered thinking about it any more!
You see, this experience isn’t a new thing. I, like many other female colleagues, tend to struggle with a variety of outdoor clothes because we’re not the average, “normal” size. I am an outdoor pursuit worker who happens to be a size 16. I’m happy in my skin. It’s not a problem for me, but why is a problem when I have to buy outdoor clothing?
This story does have a happy ending as, the following week, I went back to the shop ever hopeful that the new stock of jackets would offer a bit more choice. As I entered the shop, I saw a lovely new-style Rab jacket hanging from the shelf. It was slightly over my budget but, if that was my only choice then I had to give way a little.
I sceptically slipped the size 16 off the hanger and tried it on. Hello, it felt fine! It was snug enough over my vest, thermal and jumper. It was still a great fit when I tried it on with just my thermal. Then I tried it on with a rucksack on my back. I found lots of room in the arm, and the length at the back was enough so that it didn’t ride up, which would give me a cold back! It really was very comfortable. The hood was a great fit, as I pulled the elastic bits and moved toggles, ensuring a tight fit when I would have to battle against the rain and the winds. Also, I have to be honest, I loved the almost-pastel colour, which was an added bonus.
I didn’t try anything else on, as I knew instantly that this was the coat for me and I didn’t feel like wasting any more time. Now, Rab has become a favourite of mine. I’ve since bought another outdoor coat by Rab and have found it a consistently great fit. A size 16 is a size 16, curved in all the right places and increasing in a realistic ratio with an increase in size. They are superbly built for purpose, being warm, waterproof and very robust.
I’ve worn them on a few outings for hill walking and orienteering, and I’m very glad of my choice. I recently had a very wet hill walk in Brecon, when it felt like buckets of water were being thrown at us from the above. But my new coat did its’ job and I came off the mountain still having warm, dry layers beneath. I didn’t even get cold when traversing the misty, boggy marshland in Brecon.
I know that everyone has a preference, or a favourite kit supplier. I know that I do. But it’s nice to be able to be offered a choice in, what should be, a very specialised and competitive market. I would urge outdoor clothing manufacturers to cater for the growing percentage of wild women who are built in all manner of shapes and sizes.
Intense work in an outdoor environment helps to tone muscle, strip away excess fat, and promote a healthy body-shape. Unfortunately, we don’t all conform to the much-publicised image of a “perfect 10”. Here the comes the rant, as promised…….I’m an outdoor worker with hips and curves, so please, when you’re designing functional, rugged outdoor wear, spare a thought for me and those other wild women like me.
This Flashback Friday post is a slightly different story from the outdoor adventures that I normally share. The New Year tends to bring the notion of holidays and places to visit, but I felt like looking back to one of the favourite, but slightly different, holidays spent with my family.
Our adventure to Paris.
Paris is a place that I’d wanted to visit for such a long time, but we’d always tended not to choose a ‘touristy’ experience for a holiday. However, as a birthday treat, we decided to give it a go. My husband arranged everything for us to have a true experience of Paris. The travel details, the accommodation, visiting the sights – he arranged it all and also invited my parents, so that we could have a big family adventure, and the experience was amazing.
We stayed in a beautiful converted farm-house on a working farm. This gave us a holiday combined with a bit of the outdoors experience. We also had a swimming pool, and our back garden looked onto a little river which was home to 3 geese. My daughter would be up and out of bed early every morning, just to feed the birds with her Grandad. We were also able to roam the grounds of the farm, exploring the countryside and spotting the variety of animals that lived there.
It was idyllic.
To get to Paris, we took the train from the local station in the village and an hour later we were in the centre of Paris. It really was that easy.
We went to the Eiffel Tower, saw the Notre Dame cathedral and mastered the art of the Metro to get us across the city. We bought some beautiful street art and my absolute favourite was being able to do 3 of the things that were on my bucket list.
1: Going to the Paris catacombs.
2: Having coffee and cake in an outside Paris cafe.
3: Visiting the Louvre.
I manged to do all 3 things in one holiday. It was fantastic, a real once in a lifetime opportunity for me and we managed to take our daughter to Disneyland Paris, which was also a dream come true for her.
We all agreed that it was one of the most amazing holidays we’d ever had, and we treasure every memory of our experience. It was a great family holiday and we were happily surprised that we loved our ‘tourist’ adventure.
Sometimes, it’s good to take a step into the dark, and try something new.
You never know how great it may turn out.
Finally, after many days of rain, we had a dry and sunny afternoon last weekend. We decided to make the most of the gorgeous weather and visit one of our local beaches at Barry Island. Made famous by ‘Gavin and Stacey’, Barry Island is a traditional, old-fashioned sea-side beach with amusement arcades, shops selling chips in cones, candy floss on sticks and sweet rock with words through the middle. My favourite are the tuppenny slot machines, where you roll your copper coins down a slide and try desperately to win more. What else could you want at the sea-side.
After parking the car, we headed straight to a shop that sells fresh doughnuts. They came all warm in a paper bag and sprinkled with sugar. They were delicious. As we licked the last of the sugar from our lips and fingers, we headed down to the beach which was full of other families all making the most of the lovely weather.
After the recent storms, the beach was awash with driftwood which we used as our obstacle course, climbing over bits of wood and balancing on tree trunks that had been washed up on the sand.
Next came the building of an alien, who had crash-landed flat in the sand from outer space. We used sea weed for hair, sticks for ears and made waves and patterns in the body with shells and other random objects we found on the beach. I forgot how lovely it is to just sit on the sand sculpting shapes with your hands. We all got lost in the design of our little friend and spent nearly an hour creating our own piece of sand-art. Andy Goldsworthy would have been proud!
After that, we made our way down the sea to enjoy the last few moments of the sun before it set behind the cliffs. We played tag and made snake lines in the sand with our sticks. We headed up the shops, carried on the scent of golden crispy fried chips. We treated ourselves to a tray of chips with a splash of gravy, and it was all washed down with a mug of steaming sweet tea. Delicious!
We had such a lovely afternoon at the beach, recharging our batteries and feeling the sun on our faces. For me, this is why I enjoy living in Wales – I feel so lucky to have such beautiful environments close by. The lovely beaches, the mountains and forests, and Brecon only a 40 minute drive away. We have it all.
Let’s all just hope these sunny, crisp days come again soon, so that everyone can take some time out, and make the best of whatever the great outdoors has to offer.
In this post, I’d like to share a fond memory with you.
The reason for this, is that I’m currently sitting on my sofa cwtched up under a blanket and, as I write this, I’m listening to the wind howling and the rain hitting my window outside. Safe and warm inside my home, I love these sounds. I feel relaxed, calm and it makes me think of one of my best memories of being in the outdoors.
It was our first big camping adventure as a family. We’d decided to be brave and travel to France for a camping holiday. We’d bought a big family tent and lots of extra things like stoves, etc, to make life a little bit more comfortable, and we thought we’d done really well.
The weather started (out sort) of OK. It wasn’t too bad, and we managed to enjoy some sunny days. We walked on the beach, swam in the sea, went hunting for cockles and did the typical holiday activities. Sadly, the weather didn’t stay that nice throughout the whole of our week, but it was the worst night with the most horrible and wet weather that gave me the greatest memory.
When I say “it rained”…… I mean it REALLY rained. It felt like a power hose was being jetted at our flimsy little covering all night long and, when you’re sitting in a tent of thin material, it felt 1000 times worse. What could we do?…. It was only 6.00pm and camping involves dealing with whatever the elements throw at you.
Thinking about it with hindsight, I don’t know why we didn’t just go to a restaurant and hang out but, if we’d done that, then I wouldn’t have this great memory.
The evening started with me having to make my husband some homemade waterproofs 9all our other kit was saturated!!) out of the ever present and handy black bags. With a few well placed holes, he looked amazing. He did, however, look even more amazing running around the tent making sure that pegs were well in, ropes were tied down and then began trying to cook us our dinner.
We managed to construct a little porch for him to cook under, as cooking in the main tent is a total no-no from a safety perspective. He chopped garlic, stirred sauce and kept an eye on the spaghetti while I kept my eyes on the porch roof, carefully poking it so that big puddles of water didn’t form.
My daughter, being quite young at the time, loved all the excitement, and sat snuggled in her sleeping bag laughing at mum and dad running around frantically trying to keep things dry and not letting the rain seep in!!
Throughout the campsite, all of the other families were doing the same thing. Children were sitting in cars, washing lines and clothes were being bagged up in a hurry, and everyone was just going 50 miles-an-hour to ensure that their kit, family and everything else could stay as dry as possible.
As darkness set in, we’d set up all our lights inside our little porch area and it looked pretty warm and welcoming. We had done our best to keep the ‘dining area’ dry, so we were able to set up our camp chairs and a little camp table to allow us to dine in style. Putting on some dry clothes instantly made us feel better and, with a couple of extra warm layers, we were able to sit in what soon became warm and cosy surroundings. Also, a couple of medicinal glasses of the local plonko vinyardo could only add to the “ambience” of the evening.
Our dinner was a steaming bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, which is my daughters’ absolute favourite. On the side, we enjoyed a fresh and beautiful French green bean salad, cheese from the local market and traditional French crusty baguette.
It was amazing, perhaps because we were so hungry, or maybe because the weather was so treacherous, but we tucked in and hardly came up for air. It really was the most delicious spaghetti Bolognese I have ever tasted, and after two helpings each, we mopped up the sauce with the left over bread.
For pudding, we’d bought some mini pastries from the market earlier that morning, and they were polished off just as quick as we’d eaten our main course.
As a family, we sat through the storm, we ate together enjoying our food, and were in awe of my husband cooking such an amazing dinner in those difficult circumstances. We didn’t have a television, computers or phones to distract us, and we sat and talked. We played games, told stories, and my daughters’ favourite turned out to be about the day we got married. “Tell me, tell me”, over and over again. It was such a perfect family experience.
I’m not sure that, (at the time), my husband or I fully understood how important and enjoyable that night was. Looking inwards on this post from the outside, people must think that the circumstances were a flippin’ nightmare, but I always think back to that night and smile. I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat as I write this post.
When people ask me why I’m so passionate about spending time outdoors, this memory helps me to explain a little about it.
Being in the outdoors, whatever activity or experience you engage in, gives you time to stop, relax and enjoy precious time without the material distractions that normally accompany everyday life. We couldn’t control the bad weather, so we had to adapt and overcome, and make the most of it. This led to a pretty amazing evening.
That’s what being in the outdoors does. It makes you stop, it makes you HAVE to give in. You have to lose a bit of mundane control in order to establish positive control in other areas.
You HAVE take time to focus on each other. With so many distractions in our normal day, isn’t this a nice thing to do for yourself and your family?
With that post-Christmas, heavy-body feeling, we decided to make the most of one of the few dry days and go for a bike ride along the paths of the Afan forest. Tentatively testing out my Dad’s new bike rack; (we managed to get him a useful, proper present this year), we loaded up our 3 bikes and set off for a fun-filled day of mountain biking.
Afan Forest Park has a number of different bike trails, ranging from a good family ‘Rookie’ route, up to more difficult levels such as W2 and The Wall.
I made the mistake of trying The Wall once, with my team in work. I couldn’t walk for 2 days afterwards.
However, have used the ‘Rookie’ route for groups in work and felt that it would be an excellent track for my daughter to start her first proper mountain bike adventure. We have been on many flat tracks throughout Cardiff, but I wanted her to improve and build her skills, her confidence and her ability to negotiate a variety of paths.
October to March: Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4.00pm(5.00pm on weekends and Bank Holidays)
Today marks the start of a New Year, a time for people to make plans, fresh resolutions for change and, hopefully, are able to look forward to the coming year with a fresh, positive outlook. It also makes me think about the outgoing year and what, (both as a person and a family), we’ve all been through.
For me, 2013 has been a bit up and down…… mainly up’s, which I’m very grateful for. It’s the year that I’ve seen my blog really take off in a great way. Through some hard work and a lot of help and guidance from my family; (you know who you are), I’ve been able to overcome my fear of computers and technology to be able to incorporate my blog as an addition to my outdoor life. In turn, I’ve been able to pass on my experiences to a wider audience, out there in the “www.e-wilderness”. I’m truly amazed at how welcoming people in the blogging world are, and I really appreciate the comments, feedback and stories that I get to share each week.
However, this was also the year that our family suffered a great loss. My grandmother (Nan) sadly passed away in July. She was a truly amazing woman and I treasure my last week with her. We were able to come together as a very close family. We talked, cried, shared stories of family holidays, and laughed together. We passed around lots of happy memories of a remarkable woman who will not be forgotten.
With my daughter getting older, we really got into our outdoor pursuits during the past year. We camped at St Davids in Pembroke, which is a stunning area of natural beauty. We swam in crisp, clear blue seas, went on long coastal walks and had ice-cream everyday. It was the year that my husband proudly caught a huge spider-crab, which we cooked on a camp-fire for our dinner, and we ate with a simple tossed salad, crusty bread and a homemade seafood-style dressing!!
We went for our first family gorge walk at Dinas Rock. The whole family took part in jumping into very cold pools, scrambling across the rocks and crawling through the waterfalls. It was a great day with lots of smiles and giggles, mainly at the expense of my husband and my dad not realising how cold the water would be, and watching them jump straight in….. and right back out again!
It was the year of the mountain bike, too. My daughter mastered her biking balance, and we were off. We rode in the sunshine and the rain. We rode all along the Taff Trail and had some brilliant adventures on some great Welsh tracks.
Another adventure saw us become a family of food foragers. We’ve spent many Sundays at Oxwich Bay, in the Gower, in all types of weather. We hunted for cockles and mussels, then hurried back home for my husband to prepare a delicious meal, which was very fresh, tasty and, (let’s be honest), FREE!
We’ve gone on lots of long walks, enjoyed cooking on open fires, gone through 3 pairs of wellies EACH and discovered a passion for rock-pooling and driftwood collecting. Great family times that I really treasure.
So, I would like to say a GREAT BIG THANK YOU from myself and my family, to new blogging friends, for all the lovely comments and the feedback. Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories, and thank you for the continual help and support that I’ve received from different people, not just from my family.
Here’s wishing you all a New Year filled with fun and exciting outdoor adventures.
Happy New Year!!