Tuesday, 31 January 2012

So now the adventure really begins.....

What have I signed up for?! At the beginning of this process I was told that some rather extreme challenges were in store, however after my soft introduction I had pushed this notion into the back of my mind.

I was then told that I would embark on a ‘Go Below’ adventure, from the company name I guessed I would be on my way underground which was frightening enough, however having watched a video of the experience on their website, unlike many of my peers who were filled with excitement, I was extremely apprehensive, take a look at http://www.go-below.co.uk/video.asp ! Despite attempted reassurance by the Go Below team via Twitter I’m afraid I still had butterflies!

When I met Jennifer and Miles, the couple who run the company, their friendliness and laid back attitude did put me at ease. The couple founded Go Below three years ago and they have explored the mines of the area with over 5000 people! When we arrived at the company base under The Conwy Falls Cafe each member of the group was kitted up with a helmet and harness, the worrying question did run through my mind as to why they were needed and a safety talk and equipment demonstration by Miles soon explained all....the day ahead seemed to be packed full of extreme activities! Gulp.....

Kitting Up with Miles
Me with the Land Rover you ride up to to the mine in.
The walk up to the mine.

We enjoyed a 15 minute Land Rover ride with Miles and Jennifer to the base of Rhiwbach where the mine is buried. The journey there was an experience within itself and the bumpy roads and open sided vehicle did make the drive quite thrilling! My adrenaline began to increase along with a feeling of almost excitement! As we walked up the mountain towards the mine I got a chance to speak to Jennifer and Miles and I learnt what a passion they both have for the area and their incredible business.  I felt completely safe with them and fully reassured, my heavy backpack almost made me regret bringing a week’s supply of food and water along...well I had only just watched 127 hours that week, I was bound to be a little paranoid!

Due to illness however, the trip was called off and we headed back to the jeep. That morning I would have felt relieved but now I was disappointed. Was it me? Was I a bad omen? After all, the Nordic walked had been called off too! Jennifer and Miles kindly offered a return trip and I just couldn’t refuse.....

So three days later I was back again, along with a friend who I had appointed official blog photographer to prove that I had actually entered the mine! This time it was for real and I was eager to take part and get stuck in. We walked up the side of the hill to the mine entrance over slate and through forestry, it was so beautiful I almost wanted to stay outside, but I was told it was warmer inside the cave at around 9 C and out and out of the way of the wind. I squeezed through a small gate to enter the mine and into a half a mile stretch of tunnel. Apart from that ‘initial squeeze’ there was no point during the entire day where I had to fit into a really small space, the mine is suitable for those who are claustrophobic, and although it sounds bizarre, I often forgot that I was hundreds of feet underground!

 Squeezing through the mine enterance.

The inital tunnel in the mine.

We soon arrived at a 90ft deep underground lake which we crossed by rowing an inflatable dinghy, a challenge in itself.  We were now further into the mine and it truly felt like there was no going back, luckily I didn’t want to! After continuing into the darkness we came to another body of water, this time the only way to cross it was by zip line- our first testing activity! This was the task that I had feared the most, although it actually turned out to be one of the easiest and incredibly fun.

The next ‘mission’ was a highlight for me- I scrambled up fairly steep rock onto a narrow ledge where I then abseiled down into the next cavern.  The abseil was fantastic and Miles informed us that it is possible to complete the abseil from a higher point depending on the ability of the individual, I wasn’t surprised that I was appointed to do the lower one!
 Climb up to the narrow ledge.

The Absail

The Rhiwbach mine is arranged into tiers, and in order to reach higher floors of the mine we walked up an underground stream, easier said than done and I did slip a fair few times on the wet slate! Miles advised that walking in the water was the best way to grip, a tip I shan’t forget. We then found a cavern where some candles were lit and we sat down for a well deserved, extremely civilized lunch! We then had some free time to explore for ourselves, the mine has 10 miles of tunnels, however I decided not to venture too far.

Walking up the underground stream.

More activities lay ahead and we were soon thrown back into things! Our next task was to climb up a cascading waterfall, and although I was harnessed onto a rope, this was one of the most intimidating challenges of the trip. I, of course was the only member of the group to slip and fall which was made slightly more embarrassing as I was posing for a photograph at the time!
Scrambling up the waterfall.

We continued through to the next cavern where we could catch a glimpse of daylight through a small shaft 100 feet above. I couldn’t believe that we had managed to make it so far, the day had been so exhilarating time seems to have gone. Looking up to the small spot of light I didn’t know how we would get there, I had an idea but didn’t think it possible....however my fears were confirmed....we needed to somehow climb up the 100ft rock face! One by one each member of the group clambered up the steep shaft aided by small rock ledges that had been bolted into the wall, I was last to go and as I stood alone at the bottom of the mine I felt doubtful that I could complete this last vital obstacle. Miles threw down a rope to secure myself to but I had to mentally prepare myself for this one. If  I had faced such a challenge that same morning I’m afraid I would have failed but after such a challenging day where I had managed to overcome  so many difficulties I had been left with a new found confidence. Slowly, step by step along with Miles’ encouragement I managed to climb the steep wall to be greeted by dazzling sunlight; I climbed onto the hillside which was covered by a blanket of snow. The stark contrast of the white snow with the blackness of the mine was quite incredible.

Relieved to get out in one piece!

This adventure is really worth considering for those who are of a slightly nervous nature (like myself) and for others who have a passion for extreme activities as the Go Below team can take you to a mine where you complete challenges to suit your needs. As I walked down the hill back toward the Land Rover I felt relieved, pleased and even proud of what I had managed to achieve that day. An underground adventure with Go Below is well worth a try, like me you might even be converted as I can’t wait to go along again. My time with Go Below certainly isn’t experience that I will ever forget.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Mynydd Mawr!

I have decided that I should embark on the experience of exploring North Wales as gently as possible and not only take part on the rather overwhelming activities that lie ahead, but try and enjoy some calmer aspects of the area too. Mynydd Mawr, nr Aberdaron or ‘The Land’s End of Wales’ as it is often called, is not somewhere that I had ever thought to visit, however I was told that I must go! This spot is part of the Llyn Coastal Path and I knew to expect an impressive view.......but gosh what a spectacular view it was! The vantage point at Mynydd Mawr boasts a sensational outlook toward Bardsey Island (or Ynys Enlli in Welsh) which is also known as ‘the legendary island of 20,000 saints’; the island is not only beautiful but has important archaeological, spiritual, cultural and wildlife significance. I even managed to make out the (very vague) outline of the Irish Coast from the viewpoint, after it was pointed out to me of course!

But the view is not the only attraction at Mynydd Mawr. The amazing wildlife including the gorse and heather which flower together and the chance of catching sight of a rare chough make this spot a treat for wildlife lovers and bird watchers.  Honestly, I am not strongly interested in either plant life or birds, however I couldn’t help but be amazed by my surroundings and the impressively distinct call of this unusual creature (after a long search I found an audio clip of the chough bird call, so please humour me and take a listen: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/c/chough/index.aspx!)  The coast guard outlook station that can be visited there even has examples of local fauna and flora, it is clear this part of Llyn Peninsula really does cater to those who love nature.

Despite being offered such a wealth of wildlife to enjoy, my real interest focuses on the historical and spiritual aspects of this part of North Wales. I of course knew that the Llyn Peninsula has an ancient Pilgrim trail but I had never studied it any further, let alone thought about visiting a part of it. I have recently been given a comparison of ‘pilgrimage’ to that of a credit card, something which I can relate to! You build up points on your card or in this analogy ‘sins’, and these debts/sins can be gradually paid off, in the case of the sins you do so by visiting sites of pilgrimage. If one was to visit Bardsey Island however, where the Medieval Monastery of St. Mary’s Abby used to be, then all of your credit card history/ previous sins were cleared from your debt...not bad, if only it was so easy to pay off the real credit card bill! If you were unfortunate enough to die on the way to Bardsey, fear not as this was a short cut to wiping your ‘sin slate’ clean and you were to be sent straight to heaven!

The last church visited by the pilgrims on the way to Bardsey Island was St Mary’s Church, the raised foundations of which I got to see on my visit. It really is quite incredible as one can witness exactly where the Church stood, the surroundings also indicate a strong agricultural past as the remains and marks of shallow ridge and furrow crops are clear around the site. 

          In case you can't see them, I'm pointing out where the foundations of the church are!

When I began writing this blog I wanted so find the ‘hidden gems’ of North Wales and I believe that what I saw next truly is one....St Mary’s Well was the last sight to be visited on the way to Bardsey and was seen as a miraculous pool by the Pilgrims , it’s easy to see why. The ‘well’ is concealed in a cove on the very edge of the coast and believe me, is quite awkward to get as I had to scramble across the craggy rock to reach the pool of water. For me, as a person of a slightly clumsy nature I found this quite complicated, and even knowing that if I fell and died I would go straight to heaven was not particularly reassuring!  The well is usually covered by the tide, so it is imperative to check tide times if you wish to take a visit  otherwise the only experience you will have is that of disappointment! The fact that the tide usually covers the well (which is essentially a pool of water in the rock) is the exact reason as to why it is so incredible.  Despite being covered by salt water for the majority of the time, the well is filled with fresh water (I tasted it just to check!). This is due either to a natural spring in the rock or that the well was blessed by St. Mary herself, it does not matter which explanation you choose to believe, either way it’s quite impressive!

Can you spot me by the well?!

The crashing tide against the rock on which I was balancing really did create a spectacular scene and I couldn’t help but be utterly astounded by the effort the Pilgrims made to visit sights such as these. Although Bardsey Island looks fairly near to St Mary’s well, the boat ride which the Pilgrims would take from there must have been treacherous unless the right tides were caught, and even then, I doubt a swift journey in the rowing boat was guaranteed. I really found my visit to Mynydd Mawr worthwhile, but I think I’ll wait for the summer and take an organized ferry trip to Bardsey!

For further details on the area discussed in this blog please find 'Edge of Wales Walk' and 'Walking North Wales' on Twitter and Facebook or follow these links:

Friday, 20 January 2012

NO-rdric Walk!

I was booked onto my first activity- a Nordic Walk taking place on the stunning beach from Aberech. A walk.... that sounded quite nice and gentle to me, however I thought I should do a little research first. During this intense 'googling' session I discovered Nordic Walks require 'equipment'?! Hmmmm, that seemed slightly disconcerting, upon closer inspection the 'equipment' turns out to be slightly less intimidating, I would actually be walking with sticks or 'poles' to put it correctly....skiing on flat, snow-less land and ski free, if you will.

This new pastime was created in Finland, where the people were possibly slightly dissatisfied with the traditional method of walking! However, again my ignorance shines through as Nordic Walking seems to have many health benefits as it uses 80% of our muscles, strengthens our breathing capacity and heart function, helps us lose weight, is good for our joints etc etc.... basically it seems pretty beneficial and not an activity to be missed out on!

So, this morning I woke up bright and early, I dressed in the appropriate gear excited to start what I hoped to become a new hobby. But alas, a quick email check revealed that due to the glorious Welsh weather the walk had been cancelled! I will now have to wait a week to embark on a Nordic walk.......however in the meantime I will share a few pictures of some stunning walks I have managed to do in the area over the past few days. These did not involve any exciting activities (or poles), but sometimes you can't beat an incredible Welsh view!

Eager to set off this morning.

A view of Cricieth Castle from Morfa Bychan, nr Porthmadog where you can drive right onto the beach!

The Cove at Borth y Gest nr Porthmadog.

Porthmadog Harbour

A view of Portmeirion from across the estuary at Ynys, Harlech Nature Reserve.

The incredible Swallow falls, Betws y Coed. Due to the rough weather you could really feel the power of these falls yesterday, quite incredible!

The  beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Betws y Coed!

For more pictures of walks I have been on in the area please find Walking North Wales on facebook or follow us on Twitter! The Edge of Wales facebook group also has some incredible shots of the Llyn Peninsula!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Well, this sure beats working!

Welcome to my brand new blog!

The Walking North Wales group have appointed me the task of exploring North Wales'  hidden gems. From the weird to the wonderful I will be trying and testing activities you might not have known North Wales has to offer as well as some traditional favourites.

My initial excitement to investigate this beautiful area has turned into slight apprehension as I have been told what lies ahead. From caving to kayaking I will be taking part in activities that are extremely out of my comfort zone as I am someone who knows more about shopping than outdoor pursuits.

I will rate each activity and give you an honest and impartial account of my experiences. So please follow me as I embark on this exciting journey, let's hope they ease me in gently.........