Monthly Archives: December 2012

Walking after the Christmas festivities

Wellie it up for some extra fun

Wellie it up for some extra fun

So you’ve eaten enough turkey, potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and chocolate, that you’re quite happy to give it up until next Christmas. You’re a little woozy from all the wine and sitting around watching Christmas movies and playing games. If that’s how you feel, I’ve got just the cure for you (if it’s not raining too much)!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to go walking up Ben Nevis or swim across the channel. It’s a little less taxing than that and a little closer to home. It involves grabbing some willing family members, a canine friend, a pair of wellies and taking advantage of the beautiful scenery around you.

As you do at this time of year, I’m visiting the family for Christmas. In fact we had family visiting from Hamburg and Paris this year, so it’s a pretty full house. Waiting for your turn in the shower may be a chore, but the banter at the breakfast and dinner table is so worth it.

The perfect walking companion

The perfect walking companion

My family lives in rural Carmarthenshire, and is surrounded by lovely countryside and some stunning walking routes. So after all the food and wine, we wanted a bit of fresh air and so did our Welsh border collie, but none of us really fancied trekking up some mountain for six hours.

So we chose a route closer to home, the Teifi Loop Walk. It’s a short drive from our house and starts in the Coed y Foel Woodland Trust car park. The walk is mainly along country lanes, but can be extended to include a section along the banks of the River Teifi (or in Welsh: Afon Teifi). We did spot a little route slightly off the beaten track on the last leg of our walk, so think we’ll have to try that one out next time…

“…that would have spoiled the fun of jumping through all the puddles!”

Venture off the country lane a little

Venture off the country lane a little

We were on the road for about an hour and a half – the perfect post-Christmas distance if you ask me. Wales has suffered from serious rain over the last few weeks, and although we were lucky enough to have chosen a non-rainy day, wellies were still a must. You could just about get away with a good pair of walking boots, but that would have spoiled the fun of jumping through all the puddles!

But Carmarthenshire is not only good for walking. There are a number of other activities and places worth visiting while you’re here.

The amount of rain the county gets is good for at least one thing – the rivers. The Teifi river is great for kayaking and canoeing, and if that’s your thing, there’s a great paddling club in Llandysul. You might also want to keep an eye on this blog over the next couple of weeks, as I’ll be speaking to Fiona Beale, an instructor at Llandysul Paddlers and a former world champion motorcycle stunt rider.

You might also want to stop by the Rock Mill, where you can still purchase traditional tapestry bedspreads, blankets, shawls, scarves, and more. And if you’re keen on staying in the area, the Rock Mill has a lovely self-catering cottage that sleeps up to four people. Or if you’re a bigger group, the Long Barn in Capel Dewi, a fully converted 18th Century stone barn, offers some cosy accommodation for groups and individuals.

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Yorkshire’s perfect getaway this winter

Bivouac's woodland shack is crafted using round wood timber framing

Bivouac’s woodland shack is crafted using roundwood timber framing

This is a secret between you and me, OK? I was speaking to a friend recently about a nice place to stay over New Year with some friends. We all like walking and wanted somewhere near the mountains that offered us something unique, natural and cosy – somewhere we could curl up next to the fire and drink hot chocolate or mulled wine after a refreshing day in the great outdoors.

And where should he suggest we stay? The Bivouac near Masham, North Yorkshire. If you want to stay in something a little nicer than a tent or a bothy after a nice long walk, but want something a little different than your average B&B, the Bivouac will suit you down to a tee. Luxury accommodation, glamping, whatever you want to call it; the Bivouac offers its guests a variety of choices from a woodland shack, to a meadow yurt or a bunk barn.

The amount of thought the founders Beth and Sam Hardwick have put into this place is so enticing it makes me want to visit all the more. They’ve put a great deal of effort into creating accommodation distinctly different from your average hostel, hotel or B&B. Much of the wood used to craft the shacks and barns is locally sourced and they’ve purposely used a roundwood timber framing technique, because they wanted to give their guests a refreshing break from the ‘harsh angular structures we’re surrounded by in everyday life’.

A sneak peek into the woodland shack

A sneak peek into the woodland shack

A lot of the furniture is handmade or up-cycled. They’ve even been thoughtful enough to put a skylight into the ceiling of every shack to allow top bunkers the pleasure of enjoying the stars on a clear night. And after a long day out in the open, you might want to take some time to admire the stunning views into the surrounding valley from the comfort of your very own verandah.

Sound like the perfect getaway? I spoke to Beth to get a better feel for the place…

How would you describe your accommodation?
“Unique, creative, sustainable and cosy.”

What inspired you to set up Bivouac?
“Bivouac was born from a desire to offer something inspiring, sustainable but very comfortable. Something which offers people a chance to slow down, reconnect with nature, family and friends whilst being really well looked after.”

The friendly founders Beth and Sam Hardwick with their daughters

The friendly founders Beth and Sam Hardwick with their daughters

When did you set it up?
“We’ve been planning and preparing for 5 years and we opened in April this year.”

Where did the name come from and how do you pronounce it?
“Biv – o – ack… I was in the bath one night thinking of what to call our vision. The name came to me as I loved the idea of creating a home from where you are and where you had need for home to be.”

What are some activities visitors can get involved in while staying with you?
“Gosh, next year’s calendar is looking amazing. It’s published mid January on the website and main flyer. We’ll be doing bush crafts for all stages and ages, outdoor cooking, family music courses where you make your own instruments. You take inspiration from the sounds of nature and compose your own piece! We have busking gigs, secret gigs, bonfire nights, foraging, an amazing Christmas experience through the woodland… And so much more!”

Can people eat there or is it self catering? What kind of food can they expect?
“We have a gorgeous cafe open all day serving local home cooked food. We also offer self catering accommodation and have a licensed bar.”

Mmmm... A gorgeous cafe with delicious home cooked food

Mmmm… A gorgeous cafe with delicious home cooked food

What’s most special about Bivouac?
“The team matched with location.”

What’s the most popular thing people love to do when they stay at Bivouac?
“Hmm… Good question… A whole mix of things really. The most commented thing is how folks have loved to be in accommodation which forces them to relax.”

So there you have it. A beautiful place complimented by beautiful people. Something to think about for the new year. But… If you just can’t wait, they have a number of activities in the run up to Christmas and New Year, including a family walk on Boxing Day and one on New Year’s Day, an afternoon of board games on 27 and 28 December, as well as a royal knee’s up on 31 December to welcome in the new year.

Women’s Climbing Symposium 2012

Spotted this video on UKClimbing.com and was so inspired, I wanted to share it with you. The Women’s Climbing Symposium has been running for a couple of years and was held at the Climbing Hanger in Liverpool last month. The event was a sell out and, there are plans to host one in London next year. They’re even hoping to start touring with the symposium in the near future.

I’m sure looking forward to my climb later!

Exploring the Brecon Beacons this winter

A frosty day in the Brecon Beacons

A frosty day in the Brecon Beacons

You’re into walking. You’re not into walking. You think you should walk, but can’t be bothered. No-one can stop you from getting those hiking boots on. Whichever statement best describes you, there’s no denying the benefits of a bit of fresh air, some beautiful scenery and putting some space between you and that desk, television or computer.

Instead of using the tele for your weekend dose of escapism, walking in the mountains is a much more fulfilling and rewarding method of clearing your mind, forgetting about the strains of the week, as well as having the added benefit of clocking up some exercise hours.

Only last week, the Telegraph reported that Britons were walking 80 miles less per year. There’s no need to go into the detrimental effects of less exercise. We all know we could be increasing our chances of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. So the question is why don’t we exercise more?

Of course we could walk or cycle to work, uni, or the shops, but it’s a little uninspiring, don’t you find? So where can you go walking without driving half a day to get there? Did you know that if you’re local to Cardiff, you’re only 42 miles from Pen y Fan, the highest peak in southern Britain, and 25 miles from Trefechan, where you can join the Taff Trail?

Another beautiful spot in the Brecon Beacons: Llyn y Fan Fach

Another beautiful spot in the Brecon Beacons: Llyn y Fan Fach

If you’re stuck for where to go, local mountain leader, Tom Doey recommends the Brecon Beacons’ website. “It has a fantastic interactive map,” he says, “which allows you to explore a variety of routes for walking, mountain biking, horse riding and cycling in the National Park. Each route explains how to get there, the level of difficulty, estimated time to complete, and even lists local amenities like pubs, public loos, cafés, and such.”

An advanced route

The Beacons Way is a 95 mile east to west walk across the National Park. This route starts in Skirrid near Abergavenny and takes you across the National Park to the village of Bethlehem; a very fitting place to end up at this time of year. As you can imagine, people travel from far and wide to get their Christmas cards marked with the village’s postmark.

The route is split across eight days, but you can join at any point. Day five is the longest distance at 14.73 miles, but you’ll be pleased to hear that day eight is the shortest at just 6.77 miles, while day four sees you tackling Pen y Fan (886m).

Easier routes

If shorter walks are your thing, then you may be interested in the Brecon Beacons’ audio trails. The National Park has a number of beautiful, shorter trails for which it has created MP3 tracks to accompany you en route.

Taster audio tracks:

The 1.86 mile Powder Trail is an enjoyable audio trail according to Ms Patricia Doree, Information Officer at the Brecon Beacons National Park. “It begins in Pontneddfechan and runs along a former tram road in the wooded, Afon Mellte river gorge. It’s a beautiful walk and passes the ruins of the former gunpowder works and the watermills that once powered the site,” she says.

Stay safe

As with any activity, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, so Ms Doree offers some guidance on how to stay safe.

“The Brecon Beacons has some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the country,” she says, “but the weather can change very suddenly, and in winter conditions can be particularly severe. It’s important to check the weather, mountain and severe weather forecasts on the MET Office before you go.

“And with it getting dark so early in December, it’s always handy to carry a torch. Take a flask of something warm and make sure you’ve got a good stock of high energy food, like chocolates or sweets.”

Gear up

The right gear always makes a world of difference, so I spoke to Jon Clarkson, Head of Product Development at Gelert, a UK-based ethical outdoor company, for some expert advice.

“With exposed conditions on the tops, it’s really important to dress for warmth. Wear waterproof clothing and carry extra layers, even if it feels like overkill when you begin,” he says.

In winter a warm base layer will keep you comfortable when exercising in the cold, so he recommends their Women’s Flex Short Sleeve Technical T-shirt, which is carefully designed to wick moisture away from your skin, keeping you warm and dry.

Gelert Women's SS Flex T-Shirt

Gelert Women’s SS Flex T-Shirt

“Getting wet can really put a dampener on a walk and could let in a winter sniffle. Our women’s Timor jacket has a double storm flap, adjustable hood and cuffs and taped seams to keep you thoroughly dry in adverse conditions and was awarded ‘Best Value Waterproof Jacket’ by Trail magazine.”

Gelert Timor Jacket

Gelert Timor Jacket

So instead of adding to this ever increasing statistic of people under exercising, grab those boots, pull on that jacket and get out there. I’ll be waiting for my Christmas card from Bethlehem!

Keep an eye on the blog over the next few weeks when I’ll be talking about more great mountain gear.

  • Interested in walking more? The Brecon Beacons Park Society runs guided walks throughout December
  • If you’re still not convinced you should go walking, Geocaching (a global treasure hunting game) is a brilliant excuse to get you out the house
  • If you love the Brecon Beacons, but want to try something other than walking, there are also a number of interesting events and activities going on during December