23 May 2014

Practice run of field day

Coming February I have to take the 1st year students into the field, to a Cwm Idwal; a small valley in Snowdonia. Why in February, you may ask? Well, timetabling works in mysterious ways. The trip seems to get cancelled rather often, due to horizontal sleet or the likes. But then there was the ARAMACC summerschool, organised by my office mate Paul. He is quite into long-living shells, and the climate signal in their annual growth bands. So much actually, he organised a whole summer school to teach a whole bunch of European PhD students how to extract these climate records from the creatures. And he would look after their general education too; the Snowdonia field day was seamlessly incorporated in the programme. And they had space in the minibus for me too! And if you can have something you have to teach to others first taught to yourself, especially if it is by the best, then you shouldn't let that opportunity slip! So on a Sunday afternoon I joined the clammy throng.

It was a beautiful day. James drove us to the Ogwen Warden Centre, and walked us up the hill, pointing out sharpening-stone quarries, a mountain Edmund Hillary had trained on, and the beautiful U-shaped glacial valley that lay below us. He then spoke of the history of Earth Science; of Darwin doing fieldwork in this very valley, of the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian all having names that originated in this area, and of how easy it is to miss things if you don't expect them. He also spoke of the road we had come on, its history and engineering challenges. We walked further.

James leading the way through a gap where rock good for sharpening tools has been quarried away

The entire group in the hills

Cwm Idwal

He talked of the special plants that grow here and pretty much nowhere else, and of botanic experiments to reconstruct the vegetation that prevailed here before deforestation and grazing, and he pointed out the structural and geomorphologic features of the valley.

After we passed some very handsome cattle he spoke of moraines, and of the Younger Dryas. And of the various soils found in this one small valley. And we admired some climbers on the Idwal slabs.

 Handsome grazer

At the end, he pointed out some glacial erratics that had first been described by Charles Darwin, and that were still known as Darwin's rocks. There he suggested a group picture; as I was the cuckoo in the nest I volunteered for taking that. He gave me his phone to take it with. But everybody wanted a picture, so I kept having phones and cameras shoved into my trouser pockets until I was a veritable electronics shop. And then we went back! I had learned a lot. I don't think I can equal James with his calm, endlessly knowledgeable authority when it's my turn in February, but I sure will do my best!

The Idwal slabs, with climbers on them

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