A friend recently asked me if it was possible for anyone to walk the path to the top of Pen-Y-Fan.
She thought it was mainly for committed outdoor walkers, or people with lots of hill-walking experience. I explained that anyone can access the walk and, in fact, I see many people of differing abilities walking Pen-Y-Fan. However, there are some quite simple, yet essential things to consider, that will help to make your walk safer and more enjoyable.
Leading from our conversation, I thought I’d post some things that I hope will help to make a day-walking experience easier, and a bit kinder to any children on the walk.
Check the weather report.
The Met office website is really simple to access and understand, yet a comprehensive source of information. I always check the night before any trip, as well as on the morning of my walk. The weather can change quite suddenly, and you may need to adapt in order to be properly prepared. If you want a good view at the top, wait for the weather to be clear. There’s nothing worse than getting all the way to the top, and find that everything is shrouded in thick mist or fog! It also helps when deciding upon the correct clothes to wear for the day and, if the children are coming on the walk with you, good weather helps to make the whole experience more fun and engaging.
Always have breakfast!
It sounds like such a silly, common sense thing to advise but, on any normal day, you might usually be able to get away with just grabbing a quick breakfast bar, or missing breakfast altogether. Not if you want to have the energy to fulfil a happy days’ walking! By having breakfast, you’re giving your body the best possible start to get you up that mountain. Without that start-up boost, it won’t be long before your energy levels start to drop and pretty soon after, you’ll feel like giving up before you’ve even properly started.
Have a good pair of walking boots, or really sturdy footwear.
You don’t have to buy a very expensive pair of boots, as many outdoor shops have a wide selection, and at a range of reasonable prices. They can also give advice if you ask before buying. However, if you do buy a new pair, make sure you wear them before your walk to help them become supple, as I’ve seen many people get blisters because they’ve walked in stiff, brand new boots. Another good tip is to wear a thicker pair of socks. I wear a thin liner sock, and then a thicker walking sock over this. It helps to reduce blisters and makes for a more comfortable walk, but it really is down to personal choice. I’ve also seen many walkers trudging up the path of Pen-Y-Fan with completely inappropriate shoes and I really feel their pain. But if you take care of your feet, they’ll take care of you.
Take a rucksack and wear the straps on each shoulder.
I often see lots of people struggling up hills and mountains with handbags, carrier bags etc, and it looks as if it’s such an awkward pain. Again, you don’t have to spend a lot. Most children have a good school rucksack these days, and that’s all you need. You then have something decent to adequately carry your lunch, a spare jumper, bottle of water and maybe a hat and gloves depending on the time of year. I do tend to carry a small first aid kit, but that’s completely up to you. However, things like wet wipes and some hidden sweets or chocolates can make the day more comfortable, especially if you have children with you. Wearing one strap slung over a single shoulder promotes a lop-sided, slouching walk, which can become irritating and tiring. On a prolonged walk, you should wear both straps over your shoulders, as it helps with a more comfortable “even walk”.
Plan your route.
Proper planning prevents poor performance. You really ought to know where you’re going, how long the walk should take, and if it is suitable for the ability of your group. You want to enjoy yourself, so if this is a new experience for you, or if you want an easy, relaxing walk, don’t choose somewhere that takes all day or, for example, is continually up steep hills, as descending can be just as taxing as going up! A little light research can reap real rewards, as a good walk will make you want to go again, and each time possibly try something harder. It really is meant to be enjoyable and fun.
Go with friends!
This will make the day much more enjoyable, and you’ll have massive motivation to get to the top. You’ll help each other, share lunch, chat on the way and find it a lot happier and easier having friendly, familiar faces by your side.
Take it a pace that everyone is happy with.
If you’ve planned the whole day for the walk, take the whole day. I love taking the time to enjoy the environment, pacing myself to incorporate a few necessary rest breaks, and chat to any fellow walkers. I can then complete any walk without looking like a red tomato, and completely out of energy. Also, it may take a few reserves of determination and energy leftover, just to return from a good walk.
Never underestimate the importance of a hat, gloves, a waterproof coat and spare jumper.
Sometimes, I’ve left Cardiff when the sun is shining and the weather’s quite hot. By the time I’ve driven to Brecon, the sky is overcast and the cold has set in. Again, this is where checking the weather is essential, but Mother Nature seems to just love throwing a “curve-ball” now and then! Mountain summits can have completely different weather ststems from that at the bottom. Often, when you reach the top, the wind is quite invigoratingly strong, and you’ll be so happy that you packed a warm hat, gloves and a spare jumper. Equally, don’t forget that in warmer weather, you’ll need a sun hat, sun tan lotion and plenty of bottled water for hydration.
These are just a few tips that might help if you’re new to walking, especially if you’re keen to venture out into mountainous or even forestry areas. Over the years, I’ve followed and developed these simple tips when I prepare for a walk, and it’s always made my day safer and more enjoyable.
My last tip is to just have fun and enjoy yourself! Walking is a wonderful activity and can be tailored to suit everyone’s abilities. The health benefits are encouraging, too.
Regular walking strengthens your heart. It reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. The Stroke Association estimates that a brisk, 30-minute walk every day helps to lower and control the high blood pressure that causes strokes, potentially reducing the risk by up to 27 percent.
So, what’s stopping you!
I find that I spend a lot of time researching performance stats, when to comes to buying new outdoor kit and clothing. I talk to my colleagues and research online to find the right piece of equipment, and also relay on to others the knowledge and review results, as getting a good item of clothing is very important.
When I was asked to review a baselayer by Calm Leisure, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to try a product directly from a company, and to expand my knowledge of outdoor clothing providers.
I was sent a baselayer to review. This is an item of outdoor clothing that is an important part of the layering system that most people wear when doing something outdoors. A baselayer starts next to the skin, and is designed to trap a thin layer of warm air against the body. It also works to pull sweat away from the skin, which is known as ‘wicking’. A good baselayer will keep you warm, and acts as the first step to correct clothing while in the outdoors.
The Calm Leisure company ethos is to deliver a range of products that are incredibly comfortable, innovative in design and also purposeful. Designed and manufactured in Great Britain, the baselayer is ideal for activewear in a multitude of outdoor activity environments.
I thought it would be a good idea to try the baselayer in a few different outdoor activities that I had going on. First, I used it while I was on a Duke of Edinburgh camping expedition in Brecon, Wales. The weather was due to be cold, so it was a good way to test out how warm the baselayer would keep me. While walking between checkpoints, I normally wear a baselayer, a thermal and my windproof coat. It seems like a lot, but this was March and we were in Brecon.
Initially, what I noticed was how the baselayer fitted. It was really lovely. Snug enough to have beneath clothing, but not too tight to the point of feeling uncomfortable, and an additional plus-value was how long the baselayer was. Sometimes, I find outdoor tops designed for ladies can be a bit small in length, and don’t fit at the back of your body. By the time you’ve moved about, sat down, fitted your rucksack, etc, the top has ridden up and you spend the day tugging it down to cover yourself. However, for me, the longer length of the baselayer was a real positive point. It was long and stayed well-fitted for the duration of my walk.
It was great for walking. It kept me warm and it wasn’t until I stopped, waiting for a group, that I got a bit cold and had to put another layer on, which is very normal when you’ve stopped moving. I was very happy how comfortably it felt, and very happy how warm it kept me through the day.
Starting the day with a Calm Leisure baselayer, under a long sleeved thermal top.
Next, I used it on a river paddling afternoon. I wore it under my cag, (which is like a waterproof paddling jacket that keeps the prevailing wind off the body), then on top of all this was my buoyancy aid. Again, I felt very warm throughout my paddling session, even though the baselayer was short-sleeved. It’s so off-putting in any outdoor activity to feel cold early on, but I was very comfortable. I was not too hot, but found that I felt the right level of comfort with the minimal amount of layers on. I really don’t like having lots of layers on while paddling, as I find that it doesn’t help with the physical mobility aspect of paddling, so to have a base layer that kept me warm enough throughout the day was really great.
I also tested the baselayer on a family walk up to the summit of Pen Y Fan, in Brecon. The weather was scheduled to be windy, with a slight chill in the air. So, I started the day with the baselayer and a long-sleeved thermal over the top. I was very warm and comfortable, and it wasn’t until I reached the bottom of Corn Ddu that I had to put another layer on. It was a really good test and proved that this particular base layer was a success in this environment.
In short, this base layer performed exceptionally well, and really did its’ job on a number of different outdoor activities.
Another good endurance test was how it retained integrity after washing. I always stick to the recommended washing instructions to ensure the quality of the product lasts well. After washing, the baselayer kept its shape, and there wasn’t any discolouring in the fabric. The best aspect was that there wasn’t any shrinkage of the material. This is where the old addage ” buy cheap – pay twice” came into its’ own. The total quality of this product is consolidated in performance, value and durability and, when you’ve invested a little bit more money in equipment, you really don’t want it to fail in any of these aspects. This Calm Leisure base layer doesn’t, and will not let you down.
Showing the length of baselayer, the rounded neck and the length of sleeve.
I would recommend this product and I’ve talked with, and shown, my colleagues this baselayer. I think that finding good outdoor clothing for women is such a positive thing, and it’s one of the biggest topics of any conversation when we get to discussing the various brands and styles.
To find a top-quality item of clothing that does its job, fits well, and also lasts after washing is fantastic. The Calm Leisure baselayer shows that if you pay a little extra, you will be rewarded in so many ways.
I was lucky to be offered a Calm Leisure base layer for the purposes of this review. My opinions are my own, and are un-biased.
For further information and to see the range of clothing offered by Calm Leisure please visit : www.calmleisure.co.uk/
Calm Leisure can also be found on Twitter :@
Recently, BritMums ran a photography project, (via Twitter and Instagram), to get families outdoors and enjoying themselves even though it’s Winter time.
The challenge was to take a photo a day, adding the hashtag Hibernot. This is a great word, as the weather currently really can put even the hardened outdoor lovers off from venturing outside.
I loved sharing my photographs on Instagram, and it was really worth the effort and meeting the challenge to push ourselves to make the effort, and get outside every day. It also showed me that you really can enjoy the outdoors in all and any weather, to a greater or lesser extent.
It really isn’t hard work. We made sure that we were wrapped up warm, we had a good set of waterproofs and (of course) a flask full of hot soup to keep the cold at bay!
So, just because the Winter’s here, we shouldn’t hide away. Let’s try to embrace the challenge of Hibernot!
We’ve just returned from an amazing walk up Pen Y Fan! The best part was that we had snow at the top of the mountain!
My daughter has been watching the news reports, praying that we might get some snow in Wales. As we drove around bend in the road to Storey Arms in Brecon, she let out a huge squeal as she could see snow on the top of Pen Y Fan!!
We met some friends who’d never walked up Pen Y Fan, so it was very special to be able to take them up, in these beautiful conditions.
The start of our walk was slow and steady, but everyone was so in awe of the clear blue skies and beautiful walking conditions of the day.
As we got to Corn Ddu, (the first peak), the layers and extra jumpers went on as the wind picked up. The girls were still determined to reach the top.
After taking it slowly and steadily on the uphill path, (due to the ice), the girls had smiles when they saw the top of the mountain, and the crowds of people milling around waiting for their picture to be taken.
After a brief stop for a lunch of the “ever popular” chicken noodle soup, we posed for our ” summit picture”.
Over to Corn Ddu and down the rocky path, we started our descent with lots of happy chatter. We were all full of the Christmas feeling due to the weather, and the fact that we were, at last, out in the snow!!
It was a lovely day out, and it’s made the Christmas holidays a little bit more special for us.
Our view from Corn Ddu, looking along the ridge towards Pen Y Fan.
Our first snowy day!
A few weeks ago, I posted all about our Summer Holiday to-do list.
I was worried because, this summer, we weren’t going abroad for a holiday, but I still wanted my daughter to have weeks of fun-filled activities, especially during our 2 weeks off work. This was the reason for creating the list, so that we would have a plan of activities, and adventures that we wanted to do. After a very busy two weeks, we were able to tick most of the activities off the list and, when I think back, we only took one of those days to stay at home and recover from all our outdoor adventures.
Celebrating National Play Day
Wednesday 6th August was National Play Day, which is a wonderful day for families and children to celebrate, and be a part of, lots of different play events running throughout the country. We spend the day celebrating with Friends of Pentre Gardens.
We had an amazing day, providing a huge range of play activities and opportunities for children and young people within the community. There were a variety of arts and craft activities, sporting games, bug hotels, jewellery making, homemade swings and hammocks from trees, team games (with the most popular activity being the homemade car made from a recycled wheely bin) and the graffiti artist Lloyd made the most amazing creations for the children to take home.
It was a huge success, with the staff being able to take a step back and observe the children playing together, making their own play experiences happen and also seeing so many parents staying to play with their children. This was a truly wonderful play experience for everyone who took part in the day, and we were so happy to be included in it.
Go foraging for wild food
One warm evening, we made our way up to the apple trees that grow near to our house. For weeks, we’ve been checking the apples to see if they are ready, and finally the time was right. My daughter made her way safely up the tree (with some help from her Dad) and, with trusty stick in hand, was able to reach up to the apples high at the top. We quickly filled a tray full of delicious, juicy apples ready for cooking. Apple crumbles, tart Normande and Tarte Tatin for tea!
Walking up Pen Y Fan
Attempting the walk to the top of Pen Y Fan was a huge challenge, and something we’ve wanted to do for such a long time. Pen Y Fan is the largest mountain in South Wales. My Dad kept checking the weather reports for a week, and we decided that the last Saturday before I returned to work was the day for us! We donned our walking boots and wind-proof coats, packed a picnic and set off. I was so glad that we were prepared with jumpers, hats and coats, because the top of the mountain was pretty windy, and we had to shout to each other to be heard. Steaming cups of hot chicken noodle soup was passed around by my Dad, and we really had a magnificent day. I was so proud of my daughter, who didn’t moan at all going up-hill, and I had such a lovely experience being out with my Dad. It was a brilliant day, giving us a wonderful family memory.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make a specific coasteering trip but there are still two weekends left to squeeze in a trip to the Gower.
However, my daughter did achieve a huge leap in improving her kayaking abilities over the Summer. She took part in her first moving-river and open-water journey with her paddling group GlamBoaters. She’s had about two months of indoor pool sessions, and so going onto the open water is a big step. I must admit that my heart was in my mouth as I watched her paddle out on her own. The first was a paddle on the River Taff and, when she jumped into her kayak, I had a moment of nerves but, after some calming words from my Mum and Dad, we were off! I paddled a Canadian canoe and stayed very close to her. Paddling on a river can suddenly present many different problems, such as the sudden change in water current, changes in wind strength and so on. I think I was more nervous than she was, as she dug the paddle in and got further away from the land. But she loved it and I couldn’t believe how far out she went, growing in confidence with every stroke. For the journey back, she jumped into my canoe and had a rest as we paddled back to her Dad, Nanny and Bampy, who were proudly watching from the bank, (drenched right through, as it was pouring down with rain, bless them).
Her next adventure was paddling at Cardiff White Water Centre. This is a brilliant place, where paddlers of all ages and abilities have the opportunity of paddling different types of waters; flat water for novices and fast-moving water for the more exprienced paddler. My daughter had some time on the flat water improving her technique, paddling on the flow from the smallest of waves. When she toppled over, she popped up quickly, giggled and then quickly gave me the “thumbs-up” just to calm my nerves. Of course, she wanted to go on the fast-moving water. She went with one of the instructors in an inflatable, two-man raft and they bounced their way down the course. It was a great evening and, being out of the pool into moving water, was so good for her confidence and kayaking experience.
Our Summer Holiday scrapbook is coming along nicely, with tickets, photos and drawings being added to the book. It’s a lovely way of remembering our trips, and will be a great “show-and-tell” experience for when my daughter returns to school.
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Yes….. we got to the top !!
Climbing up to the top of Pen-y-Fan was on our summer holiday to-do list. My daughter has been jumping at the chance to do the walk and, after we got her first pair of walking boots and thick walking socks, there was no stopping her. We waited for a dry and clear day and my Dad, my daughter and I set off with a well packed picnic and a flask of chicken noodle soup !!
The weather at our house was warm and sunny but, when we got to Brecon the clouds were set with rain and we quickly threw our jumpers on to help against the cold. We started on the family-friendly path, which is great for young children. This is a gradual path and not too steep, which makes it a good way for children to get to the top. We took regular breaks and, when we started to feel the cold, my Dad got out his trusty flask filled with chicken noodle soup and extra pasta, which my daughter loves.
After a cup of steaming soup, we headed back up the path, exchanging “hellos and how’s the top” to the passing people who had woken very early and were now on their way back down.
As we got higher, the wind started getting stronger and it was quite a surprise that we had to put on our hats and coats to stay warm.
We reached the corner of Corn Ddu and, with Pen-y-Fan in the distance, we knew we had about twenty minutes from the top, and this gave us our second wind. With a few “are we there yets ?” from my daughter, I pointed to the rocky mount that was the top, where many people were now in a small line waiting for their photo to be taken.
Of course, we wanted to have our photo taken too and, what was nice, was that everyone helped each other and offered to take photos on each others’ cameras, so that we could all get a shot with everyone in. We took in the amazing sights from all angles, but decided not to say too long as the wind was making it so bad that we had to shout to each other to be heard.
After a little while on the way back down, we were able to stop out of the wind for our lovely picnic, snacking on sandwiches and having little bits of fudge, to give us renewed strength for the journey down.
The walk down was a lot easier than going up, and we found ourselves back at the car in record time, treating ourselves to a warming cup of tea from the little stand in the car park. We sat for a while watching people coming down, and chatting about our day, all agreeing that we were so glad and quite proud that we made the effort.
So, three generations of my family went up the largest mountain in South Wales, and we were able to tick off one of the biggest outdoor to-do adventures from our summer holiday list !!
We went up a mountain, and came down victorious !! What a wonderful memory !!
Today is the start of my main holiday, and I have the next two weeks off work.
I shouted a huge “yayyy” last night, when I got home !
We’re not able to go abroad, this year, but I don’t want to waste a moment of the time that we have together as a family. So, we’ve collectively compiled a Summer Holiday “to-do” list.
Activity 1: Have a coasteering trip.
Coasteering is one of the most adventurous activities that we offer, in work. Although this would be the first time that my daughter has taken part in a properly organised coasteering activity, we feel that she’s ready for it. It involves wearing a full kit of wet-suit, buoyancy aids and helmets. It reqires jumping into and swimming in the sea, and exploring the coastline of Caswell Bay, in the Gower. This is a stunning beach with beautiful clear-blue sea, little caves to swim into and is an absolute favourite of mine. Also, the cafe serves the best chips, followed by caramel ice cream and clotted cream. A perfect end to a wild day at the beach.
Activity 2: Celebrate National Play Day.
Wednesday 6th August is National Play Day. This is a day when organisations, parents and families can come together to celebrate play, and the importance it has in children’s development. I’m lucky that I will be a part of the “Friends of Pentre Gardens” celebrations. We’ll be providing a fun packed afternoon full of outdoor playing, arts and crafts, games, messy play, sporting games, face painting and costume creations. The play opportunities will be endless ! National Play Day is celebrated nationwide, with many communities holding events through various playschemes and childrens organisations. It’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone to come together and celebrate play, and adults are actively encouraged to take part in a bit of “child’s play”. It’s going to be a great day.
Activity 3: Go foraging for wild-food.
We are so lucky to have a fantastic range of wild-foods available to us, growing very near to where we live. Our local hedgerows are thick with blackberries and wild raspberries. Last year, we spent a couple of sunny evenings filling up plastic tubs with these easily rich pickings, later making homemade tarts and preserved jams. On one evening, late last summer, my husband and daughter announced that they were going “for a walk”, just about dusk. They returned a short time later with a bag full of succulent, sweet apples, and both with stupid grins…… I didn’t press the subject !
Sometimes, we venture further afield to visit a beach in the Gower, called Oxwich Bay. This is a food foragers dream. When the tide is right, you can wander up and down the shore and simply pick cockles off the surface of the beach. It’s so exciting when you find your first one, and then seek out more and ever more. To make it even more rewarding, it’s possible to walk along the edge of the beach to pick mussels clinging to the rocks. In recent months, we’ve watched how the locals use special tricks and techniques to harvest up to 20 or so razor clams at a time. This involves shuffling backwards until a black spot in the sand is located. This spot is then squirted with a very salty water solution and, a few seconds later, a long razor clam pops up out of the sand ! We come home with such a feast. We never take more than we need, but it creates a rewarding and educational day out. Nothing finishes the day off better than a bowl of steaming mussels with crusty bread. I guess it helps that my husband is a chef and has a vast knowledge of wonderful recipes ready to wow us with !
Activity 4: Have a full day out on our bicycles.
We’re so lucky to have an amazing cycle track through Cardiff. The Taff Trail follows along the River Taff, passing beautiful communal gardens, muddy trails and paths cut through wild woodland. Another bonus are myriad farm shops and traditional deli’s that are to be discovered en route. These little hidden-away treasures often serve great coffee and (of course) delicious home-made cakes that help to refresh a weary biker.
Activity 5: Record our Summer Holiday adventures.
We find that we’re lucky to have such amazing family adventures, but we rarely record our time together. Yes, we take photographs, but collating all of the pictures, tickets, recipe ideas and drawings into a summer scrapbook is such a lovely way to remember the fun times we have as a family. It also helps when my daughter goes back to school, and is able to do a show-and-tell about her holidays for her class-mates.
Activity 6: Visit a traditional beach.
Porthcawl beach is only a short drive from our house, and has everything one could want from a tradtional seaside beach. Candy floss is sold in the shops, fairground rides and the old-style tuppeny slot machines are all to be found in the arcades lining the beachfront. We always seem to be tempted, (at the end of a busy day), by fresh chips served in cones with a splash of salt and vinegar, or fresh doughnuts cooked in freshly and, of course, an ever-expanding array of flavoured ice-creams. All very traditional, but an easy and fun day out, evoking reminisces of my childhood.
Activity 7: Walk to the top of Pen-y-Fan.
Our biggest challenge, however, will be to tackle a trek to the top of Pen-y-Fan. This is the highest mountain in South Wales, and will be a big adventure for us. I’m very lucky to have taken lots of young people to the top in all weathers, and now my daughter is bursting to give it a go. So, a trip to the local outdoor store beckons. We’ll invest in some good, stout walking boots and attempt the big challenge. I really can’t wait to take our picture at the top of the mountain.
I guess I hoped to show that, with a little planning, it’s possible to fill out a holiday with all those things that are important to us….. outdoor adventures, simple but good foody treats, and quality time with loved ones.
I’ll do my best to keep you posted as we tick off our achievements but, after compiling this list, my husband has already said that he’ll need to go back to work for a rest !
It can be messy, muddy, wet, hot, uncomfortable, funny and enjoyable, in equal measure. It can make you happy and take certain risks that you would never have otherwise imagined. It’s educational, and a greatly diverse learning tool for all ages. You can end up with splinters and cuts, being bitten and stung and, if you’re anything like my family, you will always end the day with dirty clothes.
…and it’s a wonderful thing.
Throughout my time presenting my experiences via this blog, I have seen how superbly rewarding it is to spend time outdoors together, as a family. I believe that outdoor activities, (from a simple walk through a woodland, up to an exciting wild-water gorge walk), gets everyone involved by interacting with the surroundings and each other, and benefits children and adults alike.
The benefits even include the recalling of fond memories while sorting through some old photographs…….. I immediately remembered us all foraging for mussels and spider crabs in St Davids, Pembrokshire, or taking part in the early morning animal-feeding run at Coombe Mill family farm in Cornwall, and watching my husband, (from the realtive shelter of our tent), while he cooked spaghetti Bolognese in the rain, with only a black bag as his rain coat !
However, in current life and times, there are always going to be barriers creating difficulties in spending time outdoors. Most folks work or have child-care responsilbilites and, after a day filled with commutes or rushing around dropping children to school, making sure household chores are done, (and so much more besides), it’s no wonder that a collapse into bed, or the sofa, remote control in hand, is sometimes all the exercise one can muster.
I’ll tell you……. as much as I love the outdoors, come Friday night, after a busy week, there’s nothing better than a sofa-night, with a movie and a bowl of treats !
But, as the days get longer, and with the threat of warmer weather, we’ve started to plan family camping holidays and activities. Another goal for this year is to walk to the top of Pen-y-Fan, Brecon.
As my daughter gets older, our outdoor adventures are getting more and more challenging. It’s great for our little family to plan ever more adventures and create more memories.
Daily life will always get in the way, and the British weather will always happen, (good and bad), but it won’t stop us from getting out and having our adventures.
I guess that’s just our nature !
It’s officially Duke of Edinburgh season for me, which means that my weekends are now very busy teaching young people various skills needed for being in the outdoor’s.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is a fantastic scheme, which gives young people a chance to develop a variety of important life-skills and gives them an opportunity to take part in exciting outdoor adventures. I’m very passionate about young people having the chance to take part in the scheme. It’s such an amazing experience and shows true commitment from any young person taking part and completing the project. I have met such dedicated and confident young people throughout my work within the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.
Now, back to my most recent weekend as a Duke of Edinburgh trainer. I always think visual aids help to paint a better picture, so…..
I spend a lot of time driving around check-points and then spend even longer waiting for the groups to pass through, check that they’re doing ok, and then send them on their way again. My mini-bus becomes a little home for me on these weekends…
After waiting in the mini-bus, I frequently find myself having to kit-up, (definitely waterproofs at the moment), and go looking for groups that seem to be taking a little bit too long… (the sheep certainly had the right idea)
I also get to spend my time in beautiful surroundings, and it makes me feel grateful for being able to work in such a variety of stunning environments.
Ocassionally, we find ourselves having to ‘make do’ in a crisis situation. Due a power cut, very late one evening, we had a “delicious” dinner of pasta twists and cheese, eaten by the light of a head torch. A little bit of greenery on the side made the meal slightly more “gourmet”.
Keeping track of maps, compasses and the other equipment that we bring is another “must”, because young people always forget something. (On this trip, we lost 2 compasses and had a map returned with a tear in it… that’s quite usual)
And finally, after a long couple of days spent in the wind and the rain, I get to slam the mini-bus door shut and kick off my boots. This really is the best feeling of satisfaction.
So there it is.
An average D of E weekend is long, cold and not very glamorous at all. We have to adapt and make do, in so many different situations. We have to be replacement parents to about 25 young people for the whole weekend. We have lengthy conversations about how there’ll be no “real” toilets while camping. We have to keep asking them to zip up their coats, and put on a damn hat to stay warm.
If I’m honest, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way !!!
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.
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.
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 !!