28 June 2016

More referendum talk

I know, it's a bit uncharacteristic to blog so much about politics and so little about going underground, but this is what occupies my mind these days. I am looking on in bewilderment. That the majority of the electorate voted "leave" is shocking enough, but what followed made things worse. Many "leave" voters seem to have voted as if the question was "do you like foreigners?" and seem to think that the vox populi now has proclaimed all foreigners must go. The prime minister who got the country into this mess has resigned, and both th Tories and Labour are too busy fighting among themselves to provide any leadership in this time of rapid change. The "leave" campaigners are now exhausting themselves saying there really is no need to invoke article 50 anytime soon. It is such a shambles!

I do hope the UK electorate will now have realised it is a bad idea to be used as pawns by a bunch of over-entitled, privately educated, millionaire straight white middle-aged men. Cameron did not want to leave the EU; he was just trying to take the wind out of Farage's sails. Johnson doesn't seem keen do do any actual leaving of the EU; he probably just wants to become PM. Has the electorate won anything? No. Will it make a more informed choice next time? I do hope so. Do I expect it? Well, I'm not sure. So far it seems to work fine to just blame foreigners if you are a senior Tory and you screw the country over. Aren't these lovely times to be alive...

26 June 2016

Laugharne for a third time

Practice makes perfect! Going to the fieldwork in Laugharne for the third time would sure lead to the easiest ride yet. It would never get properly easy, though; the day the students spend doing “my” assignment is by far the longest. Nine hour days are pretty much a minimum, and we have had fourteen hour days. The tide decides when we go out in the field; 8 AM is an ideal time but sometimes the tide demands we go earlier (record so far: 4:45 AM) or later, although late isn’t good as that means the day also ends later.  And as we eat communally I don’t have as much control over my bedtime as I would like; sometimes dinner isn’t over until after 10PM, and that rules out an early bedtime. But at least I would be able to run the science bit smoother than ever.

This year I would come on the third day; I did not want to do the entire field trip, as it is quite a long time to take out of my day job. I did not want to let James do too much of it on his own, and this was a nice compromise. I hitched a ride with Connor, a sedimentologist, who happened to go at the same day. When we arrived, James’ students were still at it in the lab. It was a new lab; circumstances had prevented us from using the same chalet as the previous years. The new one was a bit small too! James was fine on his own so I had a nice evening for doing a review I had agreed to do, and for socialising with the other staff.

The next day it properly started. I took the students into the field. It was a nice group and the weather was nice, so all was well. In the lab all was well too; this was only a group of four so the lab wasn’t too overcrowded. One student was very confident and ploughed on rapidly, but first it turned out he had accidentally been picking quite some shells and snails, and later he also dropped his sample. His mood didn’t improve from that, but it didn’t drop dramatically low either, so in the end all was well; we were done at a reasonable time. All good! 

 The new chalet

 The lab seen from the table for two more students

The next day James took the students out again so I had the morning off. I decided to go for a run; the previous year Suzie had come up with a nice loop and I thought I’d run it again. I hadn’t bothered to check the map, though, and I took a wrong turn. With the help of some road workers I happened across I got back to where I came from anyway; at an unintended seven miles it had been a good run. After lunch James had to go, so I sorted out the students on my own. This time there were five, and one of the students knocked his sample so he had to re-arrange all his forams; he wasn’t done before 8:30 PM. By that time, both he and me were tired and ravenous. There was a barbecue for all that night; I got there and loaded up a plate without hesitation. Time for food and a beer!

The next day I had to take the students out again, as James wasn’t back yet. I was a bit sleepy, as an evening with dinner starting after 8:30 PM tends to end after 10 PM; the students had had a much wilder night though. This time I had a group of six, and they were rather rowdy; they got distracted by pretty much everything in the field. In the lab space was scarce, but the group was good. One woman struggled initially; she had some eye condition which made it very hard for her to do microscope work. She couldn’t really see the light bouncing off the forams, but she found out that if she put the sample in a glass petri dish, and she lit it from below, she could recognise the forams by their outline. She did really well! Things got even better when James arrived, and we could share the burden. I actually had a thirty minutes lie-down as I was tired. And the group was fast; the rowdiest of the men was good to go before 5 PM. A great score! By 7 PM all were gone. That evening as well saw the arrival of our reinforcement Maxine, who had done this fieldwork two years ago as a student, and had since finished her education by writing an excellent thesis about forams, so who seemed an excellent choice to help us out. 

Creatures on the mudflat

The next day the students would go coring; I would not be involved in that, so I had the whole day off. Or off microscope work, anyway; I had volunteered to cook, so I had enough to do. I went for a nice run (this time doing the actual loop) and caught up with data entry. I then did some PGCertHE work until the first vehicle came out of the field; it was the technician’s Isuzu. Maxine and I took it to Tesco’s; I decided to go make my famous (?) sauerkraut bake. I think many people were apprehensive but it was appreciated by all. All we couldn’t eat (it is rather filling) was eaten the next day as lunch!
The Monday was a proper day off; no foram work as the students were taken on a walk through the environment, and no kitchen duties. More PGCertHE work! And another run. And some recharging for the next two days, which would involve two days of six-person groups, no James, and unfortunately timed tides. 

On Tuesday we were back to normal. I took the students into the field at 9 AM; the tide was still quite high then, but I just took my time doing the improvised lecture in the high marsh; by the time I was done with that the tide had sufficiently receded. The group was fast; even though we were in the field rather late, all students were done well before dinner time. 

Summery activity in front of the main chalet

The last day would be a bit harder; we really couldn’t reasonably go after high tide; we had to go before it. We gathered at 5:30 AM. The marsh, then, was still foggy, atmospheric and cold. The students looked a bit miserable. We made sure to sample the low marsh first; by the time we got to the high marsh our earlier sample spots were flooded. 

After getting back to the chalets and sieving the samples I went back for second breakfast. The students came back at 9:30 AM to process their dried samples and start picking forams. With such an early start they were likely to end early too. Good! And they were all a bit tired; the whole field trip is tiring, and starting at 5:30 AM does not help, so they weren’t especially fast but the last one was done in the afternoon. 

With the last student gone we could pack up the chalet/lab, clean it, and get all the packed stuff ready for the technicians to pick it up. We were done in good time, so I seized the opportunity to go for a run. So far I had pretty much only run on the roads, as all public footpaths around seemed to have been heavily overgrown. Nobody down there seems to use them! Weird. But there was one public footpath on the map that looked like it doubled as a country road so I gave it a try. I think it hadn't been used as a road for a hundred years! It was a good run anyway.

A path I optimistically chose for my last run

That nigth dinner was later, which was unfortunate for two reasons. The first was that it had been an early day for me so I was tired. The second was cuter; the students appeared at our door with flowers and chocolate. So sweet! A lovely bunch. But we were still having our dinner so the situation became a bit awkward. It's appreciated though! But after the main course I went to bed. The next day would be another early start; there was a frame that had had instruments attached to it still on the sandflat. We needed to go get it, and it needed to be low tide, and low tide was at silly o'clock. Oh dear!

When we went to get the frame the weather was very atmospheric. Carrying the cold wet heavy scaff bars over the sand wasn't very comfortable but it was a good Thursday activity. When we got back it wasn't even 6AM so I went back to bed. 

 Walking into nothing to retrieve the rack

 Pulling out the scaff bars

At 8 AM I got up again to pack the last lab things (some had been drying overnight); just in time, as the technicians appeared to load it all up. That allowed us to try to restore the chalet to its original state (which we hadn't seen, as only James had been there when it did its transformation) and then go and have breakfast. I also made some sandwiches, and I took some of th eleft-over food. I would come back to an empty house very tired, so having some veg so I wouldn't have to go shopping came right in handy! And then basically it was a big wait until the students had cleaned up their quarters. It was 11AM by the time that was done! Then we could start the drive home. I was home at 5PM. By 6:30 PM I was struggling to keep my eyes open. The fieldwork was over. The next thing up: work the data, finalise the assignment, and run it! And let's hope all goes well...

24 June 2016

Referendum - again

I hoped to wake up to a "remain" result. I didn't! And I was baffled to read that Wales had massively voted "leave"! What's happening around here? Anyway, this will plunge the UK into very uncertain times, and it's not unthinkable the rest of the EU will follow. Oh dear. I'm bracing myself for hard times! In a way it's good my future is very uncertain by default; there will be people for whom a lot more will change...

23 June 2016


Fish eat plastic like teens eat fast food; it was a catching headline. Aside from fish and plastic pollution, it refers to what seems to be a received wisdom: young people eat less healthily than older people. True for me, but it gets truer and truer. I never saw myself as an unhealthy eater (maybe nobody does), but I have become notably pickier in the past few years.

A few things have changed: I am more aware of what I want, I am decreasingly willing to eat socially, and I drink less. I don't remember being particularly aware of wanting specific things when I was in my twenties; now I know at all times if I want anything to eat and if so, what. If I don't feel like eating something I won't. I remember seizing opportunities in the past; no more. There is much that supermarkets sell as food that I don't recognise as such. I also don't trust the food industry! They'll try to sell you anything. And I want to keep the reins tight. I decide what I eat. As far as I can...

My food tends to be vegetables (including potatoes), pasta, and dairy. And of course, most of these are heavily engineered. Cows aren't what they were before they were domesticated, and the same holds for vegetables. But just buying veg and turning it into a meal allows you to have a much clearer view on what it is you eat than if you buy ready-made pasta sauces or things like that. These might just be grease, sugar and colourants. Not something I want to build my body with!

After an underground trip there is cake, if we have Mick. If he bring home-baked goods (not home-baked by him; he has connections) I tend to have some, but if it's store-bought I pretty much never do. I don't have a sweet tooth, but home-baked cake tends to appeal anyway. (This helps in the cake competition!) Factory stuff just doesn't float my boat anymore. Mick is used to my quirks, but even if he weren't; I maintain the right to not eat whatever it is I don't want to eat. Sue me!

All this has also made me less keen on going out for dinner. Drinking less does too! Eating out is fun once in a while, but if I do it too often I start craving my own simple veg dishes. And these days, I rarely drink more than two pints per week. Maybe it's the turning forty, maybe it's just the health thing. I decided a long time ago life is too short for hangovers, but it's a recent thing I really only drink small amounts. I noticed I'm now below what is societally desirable but I don't care.

Combining this healthy eating and moderate drinking with my increased exercise regime turns me into a bit of a health freak. And part of that is pragmatic; I climb and explore mines so I need upper body strength, and being fit is needed for e.g. exploring the beautiful mountains around here. Part of it is self-expression; I realised I'd like to be strong so let's put some effort in. Part of it is hedonistic; it's just nice to feel healthy and fit and strong. But there is a darker side to it, I have to admit; I am also very aware of the fact I'm a solitary living creature, and not getting any younger. What will I do if I get ill or injured? All my family is far away (not that I could take them for granted anyway), and I only have two-year friendships here. Not enough to really know who, if anyone, would come to my aid if I would be temporarily incapacitated. Better keep the likelihood of my health failing to a minimum! Hand me another carrot...

22 June 2016

Last Welsh class of the season

The summer has started; there are no more Welsh classes until the second half of September. The good thing is that that frees up my Tuesday nights. The not so good thing is that I learn less. I will try to practice with the willing and able climbers and mine explorers, and colleagues, though, and I will read books. I am about halfway with a book on the Frongoch concentration camp, where a lot of fighters from the Easter Uprising were incarcerated. And in the new year I start on the last course there is; I've done the beginner's course, the intermediate course and the badly named "highest" course; now awaits "Meistroli". And were I to finish that one I'm on my own from there! And ready for my A-levels...

21 June 2016


This week the referendum takes place. I am a bit apprehensive! And with me many people. The media suggest the fear-mongering of the Leave camp is effective, and a lot of people might end up voting against their own interests. That, however, is a British tradition: who benefits from Tory rule other than ex-Eton millionaires? They get a lot more votes, though, than there are ex-Eton millionaires. So maybe the shit will hit the fan, new negotiations on trade agreements will start, in which countries might be tempted to not be too forgiving to the UK in order not to encourage more countries to follow the same path. And Wales is rather powerless; it contains such a small part of the population but it needs Europe disproportionally, so I think many Welshmen will sit with bated breath, like me. Soon we will see. It's a momentous occasion, but for what? I think political leaders in the future will think twice before they let their pandering to political enemies get so far out of hand...

 Some of the propaganda I received through the letterbox

Some of the propaganda one sees on the street

20 June 2016

Last (?) batch of radiocarbon samples

We should have had all our radiocarbon samples ready in April. That didn't quite work; we pushed the deadline back a few months. And now I'm sending in the last batch that will make it before the deadline. We may well send in more, later; samples that result from student work, for instance. But this is a bit of an occasion! Some of my samples are lighter than the radiocarbon lab would like; maybe they have to be sent overseas to a lab that can cope with such small amounts of calcite. We'll see! These are still samples taken from material we subsampled in Daventry. And some samples from earlier batches came back too old; I must have accidentally picked reworked forams. It can be hard to avoid. Very old forams can look quite youthful.

Now that the bulk of the sampling is done, I hope to be able to focus on thinking about what it all means. But not immediately; first there's the fieldwork in South Wales to be done. And after that, of course, preparations for the student assignment. I have to give an introductory talk about what they are supposed to do; last year, the students must have paid a rather modest amount of attention, as their reports showed no sign of heeding the advidce I had given in it. This year asked for a different approach; I'll have to grab them by the collar and get them engaged. Whether they like it or not! What they certainly won't like is not doing well and getting a low grade. So I'll have to rigorously change that lecture. But in between all that teaching-related stuff I should make sure I write some spiffing articles about the work I have done the past two years...

19 June 2016

Finish the Thursday on Sunday

We left several holes in the ground unexplored on the Thursday. Then on Friday we got an email from Phil, who was venting his disappointment with barely ever managing to come to a Thursday night mine exploration mission or a Monday night climb, with a mention that only Sundays seemed to work for him, leisure-wise. That prompted an email correspondence suggesting finishing the Thursday mine that Sunday. The good news is: we did it. The bad news is: after that one email we heard nothing of Phil. He didn't show up.

David and I were a bit early. Soon Don appeared too. Where was Edwyn, who had started this all off? We got into our kit. Then we started walking. We figured he'd know where we'd gone. But then we heard a car stop; it was Edwyn! We told him where we went and left him to change.

We headed to the house we had admired the previous time. This time we went the other way around. Soon David had found a hole. Not one we had seen on Thursday! But it was very wet; not much air space. And none of us had brought a wetsuit. We moved on.

The next hole up was another new one. To us, that is. This was dryer, but it ended with a small stope which led further down. I followed it; it ended in an adit in which the water got rapidly deeper. I think I know where that one gets to the surface!

Up the hill we went. We found yet another hole. This went too, but not too far. When we came out Edwyn reappeared. He had found our three holes higher up the hill! Time to go there. We went up; the first hole (which I had missed on Thursday) went into a small stope. The next hole came into the same stope. The third hole came into that same stope but a bit further on; this went a few meters. The fourth hole went a few meters. Not much of interest going on!

We went back to the "main entrance"; last time a rope hadn't been long enough and we hadn't been able to get all the way down. Now we went back, with more rope. This was a bit of an anticlimax again; it turned out David had already been there some other time and it didn't go very far. But well, now I've been there too. Time to get up and out! I thought I'd be effective and went up while Edwyn was doing some scampering and David and Don were coming up from below. I sat at the top of the pitch eating an apple when suddenly I heard heavy footsteps behind me. Then some heavy breathing. What? But then I recognised the breathing (don't ask me how). It was Edwyn! And then I remembered a hanging level behind me. He must have found then connection to the level below...

We all came out, had a sandwich and then went back to the cars. Mine exploration isn't always exciting. But at least it was a sociable outing!

Everything conspiring against students

James and I have two project students. One would work on one of our cores from the Irish Sea; the other one wanted to work on as many cores as possible from the Minch. These cores are kept in Edinburgh; I managed to get them shipped to Bangor. When the cores arrived the students were keen to get started. A good thing! They would subsample, sieve, and pick for forams. But then one of the technicians came in and took all the sieves. And the palette knives we use for subsampling. And one of the low power microscopes. And the picking brushes. All of that would go to Laugharne, for the field trip. And we realised we had a problem.

A large part of the kit they would need would not be available for two weeks. That's long! They only have a few months. And some of the kit was nowhere to be found, or had run out. Normally we have a lab technician who sorts that sort of stuff out, but the last one had found a better job and left, and we have no replacement yet. And James was at a conference and couldn't help with anything. Panic ensued!
The decidedly nondescript door of the lab technician's office

I had the students sub-sample and sieve as much as they could that first day. Later that day, though, I found the man who heads the sediment lab, and he has sieves too. These don't go to Laugharne, and he was happy to accommodate our students. That took the pressure off; the panic was over. Things were still awkward, though, with not enough keys being available, and the lab not being kept stocked as we have no lab manager. Stuff runs out, stuff is nowhere to be found, and we have to make things up as we go along. Not ideal!

In the meantime, it was also a bit awkward the students had only submitted their project plans to James, so I didn't even know what exactly they intended to do. And I had tried to wing a few things without bothering James, so he wasn't fully informed either. Altogether I don't think these students have a very good impression of our research group.

We don't let this get in the way too much, though. We just had more keys made so the students can let themselves into the labs, we bought more picking brushes, and I found a low power microscope in a cupboard. We had a meeting so we now all sing (more or less) from the same hymn sheet. James is sorting out that one of the lab techs of another lab sometimes comes and helps out with these labs. We'll get there somehow! And the students learn to cope with working under strained circumstances; a very good skill to have...

 If you need picking brushes, who you gonna call? Amazon!

15 June 2016

No connection

When I had been away somewhere, the men had explored some mine they didn't know much about. David had found a shaft going up with a ladder in it; he had climbed the ladder, installed two bolts, hung himself from one and hoisted up the ladder to anchor it on the other (I think; there were two bolts so I hope that's what he did) but by then he had got cold and left things as they were, and gone back down again. They had also seen holes in the ground higher up, of which one may connect to that shaft. We would go back to finish the job! I was keen; it sounded like my kind of mine, with water and rope work and daftness.

It was a warm night so I dressed up in zip-off trousers and a T-shirt; the rest of the kit (caving suit, wetsuit, SRT kit, etc) went into the bag and onto my back. It was a beautiful place! We first dropped the bags at the bottom and had a look at the holes we thought might connect to David's shaft. They looked promising! But we all went in the hole the others had been in before. I first explored to the right; it went a fair way. Upon coming back I bumped into the others. I continued to find David; he was indeed pendant in mid-air with his ladder. He wanted to know if anyone would go out and shout down into the holes, hoping to establish a voice connection. I went back to find the others; they all volunteered to go out and do some shouting. I went back to David.

It was a sultry evening

Simon and David at the entrance

One of the levels

The shaft seen from below; the red thing (barely visible) is David on his high perch

David was a bit uncomfortable. I got a bit worried when he struggled with the ladder, and decided to forget about it and just free-climb up. Oh dear! Not without risk. But he did it. He found out the shaft was blocked, so he just lowered first the ladder and then himself. Mission aborted! Oh well.

He left a rope in place so I had a small look. Indeed, blocked! We went out.

We saw the others frantically trying to fight off the midges. It was that kind of night! We legged it back to the car and changed. It was fairly early so we went to the pub. Maybe we should stay properly underground on evenings like this. No scampering around trying to find connections back to the surface! A pity these sultry evenings come with such big disadvantages...

14 June 2016

Students vs staff: case sort of closed

Last year I had a dispute with the students. I wrote all about it here. Back in December, it was concluded that the students had no case; they had just performed badly and it wasn't due to bad teaching. That was, relatively speaking, a good thing. But they had claimed I had been rude and unhelpful in my e-mail correspondence with them; something I had denied. Both sides of the dispute had asked the current Head of School to arbitrate. Heads of Schools are busy people; nothing then happened for a while.

In April my reminders had effect; he read the emails and we had a meeting. He told me my emails were fine. Not necessarily perfect, but nobody expects that. So that was it then, case fully closed! He thought. But I reminded him of the fact that the minutes of the meetings with the students we had had were on the website of, I think, the students' reps, including the open case of the emails. In order to close the paper trail an addendum would have to be added to the site. This would be the job of the staff-student liaison officer. He's got more on his plate. I asked about it a few times but I have not yet got confirmation he has actually uploaded the document. I'll have to ask again.

If he uploads it, does that mean the case is really closed? Yes. The last resort of the students was the external examiner; this is a person who comes in and reviews all the teaching once a year, for those who aren't familiar with the concept. I think the Dutch call it a visitation committee or something. External examiners have the power to change grades if they think they are unfair. Anyway; the external examiners have come and gone now. They saw no issue with the assignment so the grades stay the same. As soon as it is officially documented on the university website I have been judged not to be rude and unhelpful, the last word about this dispute has been said. And none too soon; the next cohort of students is waiting to do this year's fieldwork, which leads up to the assignment. Let's hope this time, all will go harmoniously...

13 June 2016

Rig when you can't climb

What does the Met Office know. The weather forecast for Monday night, climbing night, were a bit on the edge. Eifion ruled that where we wanted to go would stay dry. I drove up to the meeting point, which was the church of Rhoscolyn; it was very beautiful there! But I had driven through heavy rain and I was a bit worried. When we got to the rock face it indeed started raining. That turned the otherwise very grippy rock slippery! Not very good. Going to the base of the intended pitches became rather dangerous so we aborted that mission. The men figured rigging a scrambling pitch (from the top) would be a good idea, as we can do with the practice. I first went on a little scamper as the place was beautiful, and I hadn't been before! I didn't mind the rain; after days and days of blazing sunshine it was nice to get a bit of a cooling down.

The sea cliffs we had hoped to climb

Eifion and Simon looking executive

Placing the bags out of the rain

The lovely view, with Holy Mountain on the horizon

Rigging practice

When the pitch was rigged some of us practices locking off a belay, and unlocking it again. A bit tricky! But I was getting a bit restless. I wanted to send off my last radiocarbon samples that week, and I had already spent the entire weekend having fun, and I was still a bit sleepy. Should I really be there? I decided to go home. I hadn't climbed a meter, but that's the way things go sometimes. At least I got home early and got ready for the rest of the busy week!

12 June 2016

Sunday climb

When I had a cup of tea with Phil after my already rather full day with our morning in the mine and the early afternoon walking around, he suggested we go climbing the next day. That sounded good! One has to seize opportunities when they present themselves. So the next day I biked to his place, re-packed my kit into a backpack, had a cup a tea with him (to great appreciation of the dog) and then we were off.

We went to Bwlch Sychnant, where I had been twice before; once just on a walk and a next time for climbing purposes. This time, the mountain was on fire. An impressive sight! But the fire was not where we were heading, and the wind blew the other way, so it didn't affect us. We got to the wall and kitted up. Phil was quite happy for me to do the first climb. I started easy and was up in no time! I left the rope in and Phil climbed it on top rope. I thought he'd be bored but he hadn't climbed for almost six months; he was a bit rusty in his moves!

How we found the pass

We kept going that way. I had started on the left-most climb of a series of four, which got progressively harder to the right. I lead the next one, and Phil followed. Then I lead the third. After that I wanted a break! I felt like a cup of tea and I wanted to get out of my climbing shoes for a bit; it was a very hot day and then your feet are bigger.

We then went back for the third route. Phil gave it a go but gave up. We then still had a karabiner in the top, as the first route had only anchors in the top, and no rings or maillons or anything to lower yourself off without damaging the rope. I now had to get it back! I climbed the easiest route, got the karabiner back, traversed to the second pitch, and had Phil lower me from there. Done! Time to get out of these shoes, now for the rest of the day.

View from the top

We packed up, admired some other climbers on more difficult routes, and walked back. The fire was still raging! A fire engine was even coming up the path. That was quite a feat; some nutcase had parked his car slap bang in front of the path but they had managed to squeeze past. It looked even more spectacular! And not too bad; heather landscapes just burn from time to time. It's all part of the game. We proceeded to get an ice cream to cool down and then we went back. It had been a very busy weekend, and it wasn't over yet! It had been good; if you are with just two there is a lovely climbing over faffing ratio. Since I have my own kit I can do things like this. And this time it worked well with one keen to lead and one keen to avoid just that!

The fire engine that had managed to get onto the path

11 June 2016

More southern recce-ing

I hope to have the Dutch hikers over in autumn. I want to take them through Snowdonia again, but this time a bit further south; around Blaenae Ffestiniog to be precise. But it helps scouting out the terrain before coming up with a route. Some paths on the map don't really exist; some pathless bits on the map actually do have paths; such things matter a lot for how much distance you cover in a given time. So when I would be in Blaenau anyway, in the morning, I would be silly to not seize the opportunity.

In spite of it perhaps not being a logical place to start from, I had decided to park in Blaenau and walk up Maenofferen quarry. I had been there before, of course, but never like this. I thought I'd walk out along the west side and then return east, but my plan wasn't very solid. Navigating a quarry is tricky as on the map they tend to be blobs; the very nature of the enterprise is that roads and contour lines change all the time, and the Ordnance Survey can't keep up. I just walked the obvious route, and figured it actually was rather western. I also realised I had not brought sunscreen, which would mean I would have to make this walk rather short. Oh dear!

I walked over the broad roads of the active quarry, until I got to a nice old incline and just climbed it; I like inclines. From there a beautiful tramline ran into the distance. Forget the plan, where did this lead to? I thought of doing a triangulation to find out where I was, but Blaenau is on the edge of the map; I was on one side and what I would aim my compass at was on the other. Not impossible, but too much to ask for someone who had got up at 5:15. I just went on. After a while I saw a lake; that gave it away. I was clearly heading straight east (it was around noon in summer so the sun wasn't giving much away on that front). No probs! I walked on to the nearest mine, as I couldn't resist, and then looped back to the quarry. I had never walked in that area before, it was stunningly beautiful, and I didn't meet another soul. Splendid! I look forward to walking this with autumnal friends!

First thing: a tea break. 

Into the quarry

View into the quarry from above

View from even higher up in the quarry

A lovely old railway bridge and incline

The railway bridge up close

One of the lakes

The lake seen from a different angle

I didn't go further in than this! Honest!

Selfie with ruins

Arty rhodondendron pic

The drum house at the top of another old incline

More rhodondendrons!

The old quarry foreman's cottage (I think)

10 June 2016

Drain the mine

On Thursday we had tried to explore a recently drained level, but it wasn't quite drained. Someone had suggested coming back the next night, but I thought that was a bit soon. I didn't initiate anything myself, and neither did anybody else, so that evening was spent in the lab. When I got home, though, I got a message; Edwyn was mailing around, trying to get people interested in a 7AM trip the next morning. That is 7AM in Tanygrisiau; it's a hour's drive. I went for it! And so did Phil. I gathered my kit and went to bed.

I got up at 5:15, had breakfast, and drove off. I was a few minutes early. I had had a message while driving; now I saw it was from Edwyn. He would share a car with Phil, but he hadn't materialised, and now Edwyn would be late! I had coffee and a newspaper with me, so I was happy to wait.

Edwyn phoned to say he was nearby, alone. Oh dear! What about Phil? But we kitted up and walked up, this time both with a wetsuit in our bags. It was a warm day! We scampered quickly to the siphon. I fell over along the way; I had forgot my orthopaedic soles, so I was uncomfortable in my too big and too shapeless shoes. But we got there. The water was indeed very low! We waded in, but it got deeper and deeper and I decided to put my wetsuit on. Edwyn decided the same.

In Neoprene we tried again, taking pictures along the way. It got deep and cold! But it was nice to walk where nobody had walked for a very long time. At some point the water got so deep our cameras, tripods and all, did not reach above the water anymore. We left them behind. But we got to the bottom of the incline where I had been swimming with David a long time before; we could get out there, so we fetched our stuff. We left it at the incline and explored ahead. There were some more chambers; one was the smallest I'd seen in this mine. We reached the end and went back. Edwyn decided to risk taking his non-waterpoof camera to the second last chamber, as it was photogenic and at the edge, the water wasn't to deep. By the time we were done photographing we were quite cold and keen to get out. We went back to the incline, got out, walked around to the siphon, collected the clothes we had left there, and walked out. It was only 10AM, but we already had a trip in our bags!

Nobody had seen this in probably over a hundred years!

Edwyn takes a picture in a room we normally see from above

The picture he tookin the picture above. Pic by Edwyn

Uncomfortable (cold!) posin. Pic by Edwyn
 Much more comfortable posing. Pic by Edwyn

At the parking lot we found a Go Below group; its leader was interested in what we had seen. Maybe he'd have a look too! But we changed into dry clothes, and relocated to the Lakeside Cafe for a cup of tea and something to eat. Neither of us had a message from Phil by now. Disconcerting!

After the tea we each went our way. I wanted to have a walk in the surroundings; I had driven all this way anyway, and it only was 11AM. But after my walk I still had no message from Phil. He lives in Bangor, so I decided to just pop by to see what was going on. He wasn't home, but his wife was. She said all was well! And minutes later Phil came back. He explained he had accidentally sent his message explaining he wasn't coming to some old number of Edwyn's. I suppose he hadn't paid attention to his phone since! But I was reassured, and we just had a cup of tea. The dog was very happy with an attention-providing guest. And while I was there anyway Phil suggested climbing the next day. How could I decline? So the weekend was starting to look like the one two weeks ago; filled to the brim with good stuff! My chores won't get done but I'll have a spiffing time!

09 June 2016

Buildings looking sharp

I already blogged last year our new building was in use. It was not quite finished, but surely finished-ish. And it's even more finished-ish now. So much so it is scheduled to be officially opened next month. It seems to be a big secret who will perform the ceremony, but well, that it is secret indicates it's an important person. And there are more signs of that: suddenly all sorts of old structures around the new one are made to look spic and span. A crumbly wall has been tidied up again, a fence is being painted, and, which is a much bigger job: they painted the old, adjacent, and even connected building! It has a new wing but a lot of this building is from 1965. A lot of dirt has had time to settle on its inelegant, pebble-dashed exterior. Clearly, it was so dirty the imminent VIP could not be confronted with it!

Big, noisy cherry-pickers appeared, and men in them turned the grey building bright again. It involved not only the noise of the machines, but also the covering the windows with plastic, which flapped in the wind, and did not allow us to open the windows on hot days. We also couldn't look out. The worst was the smell, though. After a few hours in the paint smell I started to get a bit of a headache! I'm not sure if that was due to the paint fumes or to what I expect to get from paint fumes, but either way, I'm glad last Friday the men were done on that side of the building, and removed the plastic. Freedom! And it looks quite nice now! These ribbon-cutters come with nice side effects sometimes...

Stage 1: the wing on the right has received one coat of paint, and the wing straight ahead now has white bits around the windows

Progress: part of the wing straight ahead now has paint on all of the walls