Gower Peninsula

My wife and I were visiting friends in South Wales this weekend, and on Saturday we enjoyed a glorious day in the sun on Oxwich Bay beach below Penmaen.

The Gower reminded me of childhood holidays to Wales – secluded walks to beaches between high hedgerows of brambles, the smell of bracken in the air and sand in between the toes. It was a great day to be outside and my soul was well rested as a result.

What a day, then, for a spot of climbing! Nick, a friend from Red Rock International, helped me with the basics of belay setup, and then there was nothing for it, but to get on the rock. I completed my first lead climb ever, placing my own protection, and then setting up a belay to second Nick’s son, Matthew.

Although the climb (Twin Crack Left – to be verified) was only a ‘Very Difficult’ (or VDiff) in climbing terms, it felt more tricky because I placed my own protection as I climbed, rather than being secured from above, as in the past. Indeed, my attraction to climbing is peculiar – shear rock both intimidates and intrigues me – and the prominent prow of Great Tor that overlooks the bay to the East captured my gaze.

The day was not complete without a barbeque and fire, after which we returned home – although rather reluctantly in my case.

However, plans are already coming together for the next trip in November when Jon and I are venturing to Snowdonia for further adventures and camaraderie. I’m looking forward to consolidating my skills from the ML Training course that I will have completed by then.

Brecon Beacons

It was a relief to be able to get away to the Brecon Beacons for Jon and my first ML training weekend. The Lake District in August seemed a long time ago, the Mountain Area Forecast promised gale force winds, it was the first weekend of this sort for me, so I felt ever so slightly anxious at starting my ML campaign in earnest.
Friday night, we stayed at the friendly Absolute Adventure bunkhouse in Pen-y-Cae, at the entrance of which was the fuselage of an old RAF jet! Over Saturday and Sunday we essentially traversed the eastern portion of the Brecons, dropping down to Talybont Forest to wild camp on Saturday night and then returning on Sunday to the car at the head of the Taf Fawr valley.
The weekend was memorable, particularly because of the remarkably amiable people we met. The Welsh Guards were out in force on Saturday, raising money in support of their troops involved in the current campaign in Afghanistan. We enjoyed the ubiquitous greeting of ‘Alright, boys’, as well as marvelling at the lack of protective clothing that some of their followers had donned on a day of bitter wind and rain. Also of mention was a section of University Officer Training Corps students out for a gentle stroll and the three young men training for their upcoming attempt at the Scottish 4000.
Despite the ferocious winds that blasted the crest of the Brecons from Corn Du over to Carn Pica, where the trail drops down to Glyn Collyn, I felt a sense of disatisfaction. Certainly, our weekend away was a tougher undertaking than hillwalking during a summer holiday, given that we had finished a busy and tiring week at work. However, the gently rolling, grass and heather covered hills of South Wales lacked the challenge and intrigue that the more dark and serrated rock of, for example, Snowdonia or Lake District have.
I longed for the siren call of vertical rock, dangerous yet enticing. Flesh on bare rock. The intoxicationg cocktail of fear and exhiliration.
Nevertheless, it was a good weekend: we revived our slightly rusty navigational skills, dealt with a day of difficult weather, enjoyed a quiet and restful wild camp and returned home safely, our souls satisfied by another wild and beautiful part of the British Isles.
In terms of the ML, our experience was probably more helpful personally than relevant to group work. However, we agreed that such a traverse of the Eastern Brecons would be beyond a typical mixed ability group that we might congregate from home. We felt that the adverse conditions would have severely diminished a novice hillwalker’s enjoyment and stamina. As such, we left, pondering how to enhance fully the experience of a mixed group in the outdoors.

A final note: I have booked my official ML Training course for 2 to 6 November with Carol Emmons of Carolclimb in the Lake District. I have heard good feedback about Ms Emmons and am looking forward to legitimatising and building on the skills I have learned to date.
P.S. The last photo above was actually taken in the early morning last week ‘dahn sahf’, not in Wales, as might first be assumed.
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