'If you've ever been on the Hill with me, you'll know full well that I have a love-hate relationship with dear old Pen Y Fan. I had been been meaning to spew forward my vitriol for some time, but had always held back due to the massive affection that people have for PYF. That was until I saw this image of National Trust and its wonderful volunteers, repairing the heavily eroded path to the top, with 'casual' walkers plodding down in their trainers, hoodies and yoga pants after another 'successful summit'. Now I mean no harm to any of these walkers, and anyone who makes the effort to turn off Saturday Kitchen and instead explore the beautiful environment of the Beacons gets a big thumbs up. For many people, particularly in South Wales, Pen Y Fan is their first mountain experience and it has no doubt kickstarted many to engage in the Great Outdoors and the love of mountains. However (and here it comes) the obsession for many to relentlessly park their car on the verge of the A470 at Storey Arms and trudge up this hill every weekend does very little to promote safe, educated hill walking, and very few who gleefully yomp to the top in their Crocs and Tshirts in Winter have very any idea of the sad state of the mountain beneath their feet. The main path is now so heavily eroded by feet that it is almost possible to drive a car to the top of PYF. You'll certainly see prams being regularly pushed up it! Sub-soil erosion continues, mountain flora and fauna washed away as a result. In addition its accessibility means that there is often even less interest in mountain knowledge and conservation or the skills so essential to enjoy and protect this wild environment. For the PYF and Horseshoe obsessives, many will never know the joys of wider exploration in the Beacons. How many know that just across the A470 there is a glacial Cwm, shaded from the sun where native alpine plant species still thrive harmoniously amongst the Peregrines? (Cwm Cerrig Gleisiad) Maybe however I've got it wrong. There is an argument, that by walkers concentrating themselves around one honey pot area, that the rest of the Brecon Beacons National Park has greater protection from the thousands of feet walking its paths each Saturday. No doubt there is some truth in this; but reverting to my old school thinking and traditional mindset, I would much prefer Joe Plodder to take an active interest in the conservation and protection of this spectacular environment, learn lasting mountain skills and pass this knowledge onto fellow walkers. Rant done. Stay safe.
Compasses are relatively simple tools. They're job is essentially is to point you in the right direction and help you measure accurate distances. As such you'd think they're a pretty standardized tool and all fairly similar. Sadly you couldn't be further from the truth. When Tread Gower sends you a kit list for a course we always stress the need for a Silva 4 Expedition Compass. They are the standard in compasses and for £25 will see you through many years of happy adventures. It's not long on a course outing where we're often a handed a compass by a client usually with the words 'here take this piece of ****, I should have bought a Silva!' Here's a couple donated recently by our good humoured bunch. So what's wrong with the cheaper ones available in various outlets? How about .... inaccurate roamers (measuring scales) super loose dials that do not hold a bearing securely, needles that are not magnetically accurate and will not 'settle' because of poor quality oils and fluids, The list is endless. Picture this. You're on a misty ridge. The path you think you've taken doesn't seem right. You decide to take a back bearing to your last known point. You'll pull your 99p compass out and the dial has shifted completely and your original bearing has been lost. A cost saving may now cost you far more dearly. It's just not worth it gang. Get a Silva. And no, sadly, I'm not receiving any commission form Silva!!
A muddy hole in the ground. Best avoided. Yuk. Actually no. One of Gowers oldest wells at Walterston. Most likely this well has been in existence for at least 500 years and more likely much longer than that. Gower has many springs and wells, many of them considered Holy. Celtic tradition and folklore tells us that many people believed these wells to have curative qualities. Long life , a child, relief from sickness, baptism. These old wells were an intrinsic element of life in older days. Even today this well is siphoned and water collected for agricultural use.
And once again, without your trusty OS 1:25 Explorer map, you probably would never have found it and just walked by this messy hole in the ground.
Maps are brilliant aren't they.
Out on North Gower tonight and as always some beautiful wild flowers adorning the coastal paths. Here's the fabulously named Bloody Cranesbill, a member of the Geranium family I believe. Please correct me if I'm wrong however, wildflower knowledge is a lifetimes endeavour!
Walking has become more popular than ever, and no-one could be happier than us lot at Tread Gower about that. In light of such popularity it is surprising to learn that there is no legal requirement to have any sort of qualification to call yourself a 'Guide'. One need only demonstrate a level of 'competence' Eeek, I hear you cry. Its an interesting area. Qualifications are not the be all and end all. however i would know where i would want to put my hard-earned in learning a specialist skill . All guides at Tread Gower hold National Governing Body (NGB) Awards from the Mountain Training Association UK, and we think its important you know that. The NGB Award scheme facilitated by MTA requires a significant level of commitment, significant training, an individual commitment to consolidating skill level and rigorous assessment. This obviously doesn't guarantee that the instructors are any good or can communicate their knowledge; it does however show that there has been a commitment to acquire a leadership qualification over a long period of time, and to put in the level of hard work required to achieve an award. It is also worth noting that many people have attended training courses, but have not completed the assessment necessary to complete and pass a NGB award. Whoever you work with, enjoy, but remember that little Latin phrase- Caveat Emptor!!
Tread Gower was born out of both passion and frustration. As a 16 year old my interests aside from Heavy Metal, were Welsh History and getting a job outdoors. Like most good sons do though, they listen to their mothers., and so off I went to Cardiff University, coming away 3 years later with a Degree in Welsh History. Next was the push into the workforce, and after an enjoyable spell as a gardener with Swansea Council (as it then was) I got a 'proper' job and ended up working for the Welsh Office - yes I'm that old; no Welsh Assembly in those days.
Move forward 20 years, and i had developed a relatively successful Career in Housing, Social Care and Charity Management. In 2011 after redundancy, my passion for being outside had the better of me. I got a PT job in Blacks, and started Tread Gower. Then my bottle went.....and i rather stupidly fell back into the workforce, and into management, again spending my life writing reports from a dull office while outside the sun shone on lake, mountain and leafy cycle path.
But..in 2015, at the ripe old age of 42 I resigned from my Directors job, making the (crazy in some people's opinion) decision that I would rather be happy and broke, than financially secure and miserable. And in a nutshell thats how TG came about; a result of years being 'successful' in the minds of others and giving into pressure to be the career person, rather than the content person. Why is this of interest to you? Its probably not; but hopefully when you attend one of our courses you will quickly feel that Tread Gower is built on passion, and a desire to share that love with like minded people. That is the foremost motivation, and hopefully any skills and knowledge we pass on will only serve to consolidate and increase that passion for being outside.
I will leave you with a picture of me and fellow TG stalwart Roy looking very happy. All you really need are friendship, Hills, a good stone wall, an OS Map and tea. Lots of Tea.
Speak to you next week. Walk safe