30 October 2019

Swamphike 2019

We have been doing swamphikes since 2011, two years after I moved to Britain! We have had one every year. But this year it was touch and go. One after the other of the regulars pulled out, for various reasons! Oh dear. Would we break the chain? But in the end, Henco and Maaike were still standing. And walking! And they would come to Wales. They would arrive on Wednesday afternoon. And I had managed to keep the Thursday and Friday free of commitments.

As they wanted to go off pretty much immediately, I suggested we just walk from the front door. If we would have to first drive somewhere, it would be dark by the time we would start walking! And I figured we could walk around in the NE corner of Snowdonia. We had been on the Carneddau in 2015 but that was as close as we'd been. So I had figured we could walk past Bryn Hafod y Wern and find somewhere to sleep around there. And then go south the next day, at a location of our ad hoc choosing.

I picked Henco and Maaike up from the station at half past four, and took them home. There we filled some thermal flasks, put on our walking kit (insofar as not already in place), had a cup of tea, and looked at the map again. Henco was keen on heading in the general direction of Carnedd Gwenllian as the Thursday would be the best day, weather-wise, so that would be the day we would want to be high up. So we changed the plan to just walking into the valley of Afon Ffryddlas. And then off we were! David would use my house when we were away, and I had expected to see him before we would leave, but there was no sign of him so we just went and hoped for the best.

When we were walking we sort of realised we forgot to check for water. And once you get a bit higher in the valley you don't find any! But we had only just started walking; we weren't overly thirsty, and we had some stock. So we figured we could make do with what we had. And then the next priority was shelter. My little tent isn't very wind-proof! And there isn't an awful lot of shelter in that valley. We decided to check a small mine on the slope of y Gyrn (Gyrn Slate Mine). And we found some flat bits behind little stone walls. So we decided to just pitch the tents there! It was dark by the time they stood. And then we cooked pasta. It was lovely! And then not much later it was bedtime. I had a new sleeping bag and I was very snug!

The next morning, the ponies that had bothered me a bit last time appeared, but in the morning that's OK! I had had more issues with the wind, which had made my tent flap, in spite of the sheltered position. It's hard to sleep through that. And it was foggy too. But that could still clear! We had breakfast (I had made a loaf for the occasion) and then we set off, going off-piste as we now needed the river to replenish depleted water stocks. And then we just scampered up the slope. We were glad when we reached the ridge of Gyrn Wigau! That meant both that we wouldn't have to go so steeply up, and that there was a path. And sometimes the clouds lifted a bit and we could see some view. We sat down at Bera Bach for a cup of tea. We also had to decide what to do! We knew the next day would be very wet and I had had two potential refuges in mind: the bunkhouse where I had slept with my dad and his wife and the bothy just below Llyn Dulyn. I tried to phone the bunkhouse but they didn't answer. We weren't keen on the bothy, as if we would spend the night from Friday to Saturday there, we had only the Saturday and part of the Sunday to walk back; with the forecast now also being bad for the first half of Saturday, that didn't leave much time. It's quite a hike! We'd try to phone the bunkhouse a bit later again.


Ponies in the mist

With no way of seeing far ahead we were a bit confused about where we were after a while. But while we were looking on the map, suddenly the clouds lifted and we saw all hilltops around! That helped. We were close to Carnedd Gwenllian. And when we walked underneath the top the cloud lifted altogether and we had lovely views. It was quite windy but that was OK! We had lunch in the shelter of a wall. The bunkhouse still didn't answer. We decided to just walk towards the Roman Road. If we couldn't sleep in the bunkhouse we could just walk home from there!


Clear skies above us!

The Roman Road it was. When we came down from Drum we were a bit more sheltered and it was a civilised stroll down. Then we needed to find a spot to camp! We wanted to be close to a stream this time. And Henco found a nice spot. It was still a bit windy, but I saw the stream had a little island; my tent would just fit there! And the stream had cut quite deep into the landscape; I would be quite sheltered there! So the others pitched on the bank and I did on the islet. And when the tent stood I had a bath in the stream. Henco then did too. And then it was time to cook dinner! We made my noodles. But while we were cooking the weather turned. We cooked outside but had dinner in the big tent! It was hammering down. But I started to get worried about the level of the stream. I didn't want to end up in a flash flood! I checked the levels between showers and saw it had come up. Hm! Not good. I took the pegs out and lugged the tent, with bed and all, up the hill. I re-pitched it in the shelter of the bigger tent. And then it was time to go and get ready for bed! My tent wasn't ideally pitched but I could sort of curl around the bump I had plonked it on top of. And this time I wore earplugs. I slept well!

Cooking in the gorge cut by the stream 

When I woke up it wasn't raining. That was a surprise! But I knew it wouldn't last so I got up. Let's see if we could have breakfast and pack our bags in dry weather. And we did! But as soon as we were packed it started raining. And we knew it wouldn't stop the whole day. So homeward it was! And we would walk past Aber Falls because that's beautiful.

Early next morning, with my tent in its new position

Towards Aber falls in the rain

We set off in good spirits. And when we got to the road, we saw it was sheep rallying day; we had to wait a bit for the farmers to sort things out. But the farmers were nice and their dogs interested in some fuss. We were not in a hurry!


We got to the path towards the waterfall. And we walked up. It was, unsurprisingly, rather quiet. And there was a building along the way where you could get out of the rain. We took the opportunity! We wouldn't get many. It was nice. And we were all starting to get wet. Our waterproofs weren't waterproof enough for a day like this!

After coffee we went on. We admired the waterfalls. And then we walked on. No shelter now! And I was starting to feel it. Luckily I got hungry at some point. A good moment to sit down (be it still in the rain), drink something warm, and get some calories into my system. I made sure to get some sugar! I had not been energetic enough to carry that backpack of over a third of my body weight over these hills in that weather. But some sugar can make things better. And when we were done we were all cold (we were now wet to our skin) so we set off at quite a pace. Luckily it wasn't awfully far anymore!

Aber Falls in autumn colours

Decorative tree

Pathetic attempt at shelter for lunch

Bethesda looked good in wisps of fog. And we were glad to see it! We walked back to the house and got in. We were somewhere dry! We immediately started to pull off wet coats and shoes and whatnot. And filling the house with the stench of wet hikers. It was so good to put on something dry! And we put on the kettle. And the woodburner. And I put some drying racks in the spare room for drippy kit. It wasn't big enough! There was stuff drying everywhere.

Foggy view on Bethesda

Inside, at the fire, in dry clothes! 

We drank some mulled wine at the fire. It was great! And then Henco cooked Butter Quorn. It was lovely! We were so glad we had just gone home. Hiking in rain is generally doable but this had just been miserable. And I was in my small tent: no vestibule in which you can take off your wet kit! So you have to do that inside. And then everything gets wet. Of course, you can keep the tent largely empty, so you can drip on the floor, then wipe up the damp, and only then make your bed, but it all gets rather cumbersome. And once you're in you can't really go out again without getting more things wet. And my luggage had already partially got wet due to having had to open the bag over lunch. It only just fits inside the tent if I'm also in it! So everything would have been at risk of getting soggy. Not an attractive thought. I was happy to be home. And so were the others.

After dinner we managed a bit more tea and then we pretty much fell over with fatigue. We all got ready for bed! And by 20:30, all lights were out...

The next morning we took it easy. The forecast was rain until noon or so. Only after that would we venture out! So we went to the shop to get some supplies (now we were in a house we might get fried eggs for breakfast), and I later went to the whole foods shop too (three times in a row, due to circumstances). And we agreed to go do Dinorwic! That's always cool. And by eleven ish we went. It wasn't quite dry yet but not wet enough to merit waterproof trousers! And from the little parking lot on the flank we went all the way down to the public path, and from there we went back up over the southeastern inclines. Some were in a slightly worrying shape! And slowly and hesitatingly, the sun came out. It was still cold; it was quite windy! But it was nice.

The first structures

The big incline

Big incline further SE

How long will this stay passable? 


Snowdon shows its snowy top above the quarry

After our Dinorwic trip we would go for dinner in the Vaynol Arms, but we had some time to spare; we went to Dolbadarn Castle. That's not a venue that keeps one busy for very long but it was nice! And the we went to the pub. We had to wait for some ten minutes before it opened but then we could go and have a drink. We made plans for the next day, and just relaxed by the fire; then it was time for dinner. Fish pie went in well!

Dolbadarn castle

The pub

The last day we would do a walk on the way to the airport. We decided on parking at Sychnant pass, and then walking a loop. Maybe visit the Great Orme too. And the weather looked great! The others packed, and we all made sandwiches, and then we were on our way.

It was a nice day! Sunny but somewhat cold. We walked a nice loop, going past Llyn y Wrach which had some interesting hydrological features the ground feeling like a water bed), and then onwards to Tal-y-Fan quarry where we had tea. Then we looped around Foel Lus, had lunch on its flank, and went back to the car. That was it! Time to go to the airport.

the stream coming out of Llyn y Wraig

Tal y Fan quarry

Nice landscape

It was a bit of a faff getting through Conwy, but we got there. And on the motorway there were some queues too. But we got there in good time! I dropped Henco and Maaike off and then the hike was over. Time to drive home, and let life take its normal course again!

It had been a strange hike with only three of us. And only two nights outside! It worked though; we had fun. But I do hope that next year we'll have more people and better weather. Generally we are quite lucky!

29 October 2019

Rounding off the awful night underground

I had felt really unhappy one Thursday Nighter trip due to some unchallenged misogyny. And the week after there were only four of us. The topic didn't come up. I tried a few times to talk about it; I had felt bad about everyone pretending nothing had happened the week before, and I wanted to break that silence. But it never really worked. So I was still left with this unpleasant feeling. And I wanted rid of it! I wasn't sure though how. I pondered.

On Friday my sister phoned. She had read my blog! And was worried. That was sweet of her. And she wondered if I wasn't taking it to a much higher level than I should. As far as the men were concerned, it was probably just a remark and a reaction. And well yes, I was bringing the whole world into it. For me it was just one symptom of worldwide rape culture! And I didn't want the men to just take my feelings into consideration; I wanted them to understand how awful rape culture is and fight it everywhere they go. But maybe that was just setting myself up to fail. She suggested I may be trying to convert them. Well, I was! And she asked me how it would go if they would try to convert me. I suppose, to the standpoint that it was 'just a joke'. It wasn't going to happen! So what does that tell you?

I thought about it a bit more. And then I decided to write an open letter. And I wouldn't bring the whole world into it; just me. I wanted to make it clear how alone and outcast I had been feeling and how much of that was still lingering. And how difficult I found it to speak out again and again and always be dismissed. And that I wouldn't cope with another night like the awful one.

When I had Phil and Chris visiting anyway I asked them if I could run my draft past them. And they said that was OK! And so I did. They pointed out a few things I could improve on and then I sent it out. It felt better! Now I would never have to explain myself again. Not from zero, anyway.

Soon I got a positive response. And then late in the evening I got another one. And Phil and Chris kept in touch; how was it going? David knew about it and didn't have to reply; he sees me often enough to say whatever he has to say in person. And then I also got a message of support from the wife of one of the blokes. That was sweet!

That was all response I had by the time I wrote this. So a fair few ThursdayNighters have not responded at all. But I'm sure they've read it. And maybe they'll be a bit more alert to the situation the next time I call out a misogynist remark! I'm glad about how it panned out. I think I'll feel better during my next trip...

28 October 2019

Checking out a few levels

Some time ago (in March!) there had been a plan to go and check out some minor mine workings on the banks of the river Ogwen. That day the river was a bit high, so we went elsewhere instead. But that meant we still had these initial workings to look at! And in mid October we finally came around to it.

It was again Phil and Chris; they appeared on a fairly sunny morning. We first had coffee. Then we got ready. The men got into their hiking boots and I into my wellies. And off we were!

Chris took us to the river. He pointed out where some trials were that he wanted to do on the way back, near the road bridge to Hen Durnpike. Now we turned to the old rail bridge that is part of my standard commute (but I come over the other bridge if I take the alternative route). We scrambled along the somewhat slippery riverbank until we got to a stope. It wasn't big! But it was nice to see. Chris said it was called Coetmor mine, but on AditNow calls it Coed y Dinas. Confusing! Generally Chris is right.

The rail bridge

The river in its autumnal glory

We then clambered back onto the road, and from there walked back to where we had started. Then we checked the last two entrances we had left to the end. They were modest too! But it was nice.

Going into one of the trials

Phil and Chris in the trial

We then went back to my place to change back and have more coffee. So the mining was modest but it was a nice little outing!

26 October 2019

Prettifying the doorway

When I bought the house, the doorway to the living room was really really narrow. That was a pain in the bum! And why was it? I don't think that doorway was original; it would have been too close to the front door, which is now in the extension. And there are two relict doorways on the other side of the house. But a doorway had been put in once, with a door frame which took up some space so make it narrower, but then the door had been moved to the landing side of the door opening instead of the centre. But the frame had been kept in place! And then some heating pipes had been put in, on the  inside of the frame. That took up even more space, And then a thin sheet of plywood was put over the pipes to protect them. Even more space lost! And my friend Jitske had taken off the plywood and the bits of wood that kept it in place (on the side, that is; there was some left at the top), and I had the pipes moved, and had then removed the redundant door frame. That had made some space! And the plasterer had covered up the damage of the moved pipes, and the painter had painted over that. All good!

But the top of the doorway was still ugly! It was a sheet of plywood, with some moulding to make it look tidy. But that only reached as far as the old vertical plywood sheet. And it had also only been varnished there! So I needed to act. And I decided to rip off the moulding, make the edge smooth with filler, and paint over the entire thing. And I did! It wasn't too much work. So that eyesore is gone now too! Success!

The plywood and the moulding (held in place; I forgot to take a picture before I ripped it off)

You can see where the vertical plywood reached

Filler hides everything

Now it blends in with the walls!

25 October 2019

Collaboration with the commercial world: a year later

Just over a year ago I had ended up in a collaboration with a commercial company nearby. And even though we were a bit late, we had offered a MSc project that involved foraminifera. And it was taken up! We had a student on it. Soon I was off to take recce samples. And later we tried to get proper ones! That didn't go so well but then the student went on another cruise without me.

Did it all work out? We don't quite know yet; the student was given a rather long extension and he hasn't submitted his thesis yet at the time I write this. But at least we have some samples and some idea what is in them and what the pros and cons of the various vessels and sampling methods are. So we have learned something!

Was the company disheartened that it all took a bit longer than hoped? Clearly not! We met up again, and they are not only happy to give it another go, but they are happy to give it several! And not only at MSc level! We agreed my colleague Katrien would lead on a PhD project (we could only get something together that was based on her field of expertise rather than mine) and that both Katrien and I would try to get a collaborative project for an MSc going. There seem to be five students in need of projects so we might get one each! Let's hope so...

24 October 2019

Another entry into the cake competition

It had been a while since I had competed in the School of Ocean Sciences cake competition! But the time had come again. So what to make? I decided I wanted to make a vegan cake. Everybody eats vegan stuff but vegans only eat vegan stuff, so in order to make sure everyone could eat my cake (like my vegan colleague Sarah) I wanted to go vegan. And I know very well it's better for the planet. So I googled a recipe! I just looked for 'vegan cake recipe' to see what would come out. And the first recipe was too difficult. It started with milled chia seeds! Next. Then I came across something called' easy blueberry cake'. Now we were talking! I like blueberries and I like easy baking. So I went with it! And it looked so easy I could make it the very morning.

I had got the ingredients ready beforehand. So I made the batter! And indeed, it wasn't hard. I plonked the cakes in the oven and then did the other things I normally do in the morning like my morning routine, having a shower and having breakfast. And then they were ready! And they looked good. Success, so far!

I brought them to work and delivered them to the lady who had organised things. The competition is anonymous so you're not supposed to carry your own cake in! And when cake time came up so did I. I could try my own creation! I thought it was quite good; it was moist and fruity (does that sound questionable?). What I didn't like so much was that you could taste the sunflower oil that was used as a replacement for butter, but hey ho, cant; have it all. And I was glad to see Sarah show up! Would have been a bit sad if she would have been teaching in Bangor just on one of the few cake days she was actually OK with trying some. 

I was up against a chocolate cake. These tend to lose! I had experienced that myself. We would see! But when the results came in I saw I had lost. Well I had tried! And to be honest. I tend to be relieved when I lose as I don't have to bake again for the rest of the year. So congratulations and commiserations to the winner! Next time I'll be judging only...

23 October 2019

Complete the through-trip

It had seemed so recently we had had a bit of a bungled trip in Pant-y-Wrach! But it had been almost two months. Doesn't time fly! But we came back to finish the job. We knew what we needed.

I was a bit apprehensive about the trip after the week before, but I also figured I needed to get back in the saddle. So whether I could have gone to the dig or not: I was going to be there if at all possible. I was timetabled until 5pm, but I was done a bit early with my lecture, so I made it on time. I was even a bit early! I was the first to get there. Soon David appeared too. And then Jason and Edwyn. We kitted up. We found a slightly different route up but it was still steep and a bit trying. But we got there!

Edwyn had left the ladder last time. I didn't see it! But he had hidden it quite well. Soon he had retrieved it and we started to descend. Things were going so much faster than last time! We did the traverse. Then we rigged the stope with the false floor a bit better. And then went onwards! Soon we were down the next pitch too. I had not got that far the previous time! The level below was very small. And there we had to re-rig a pitch. David did the honneurs. And soon went down! And we followed. I explored below a bit and then we were on our way out. It got a bit wet but I was wearing wellies and two pairs of neoprene socks this time! So it was OK. Soon we stood outside. I don't mind short trips! And this time we didn't go to the pub afterwards. Not sure if that had anything to do with the week before!

Jason admires the bottom adit

The dead-end other side of the bottom adit

Jason and yellow drippies
Winze into the murky unknown

22 October 2019

New gadgets for the bike

It's amazing how fast your bike wears out if you commute all the way from Bethesda to Menai Bridge. The service I needed after a year was quite thorough! But it had only involved moving parts. But the rear tyre was getting quite thin. I should sort that! And then, my array of punctures suggested the tube had seen better days too. Time to do something about it! I bought new specimens of both. And then one Tuesday evening I made time and sorted it out.

The tyre had gone a bit slick

That wasn't all. The bike came with cleat-compatible pedals. So I tend to bike with bike shoes. You can use normal shoes on them too but it's not very comfortable; you're resting your foot on too small a surface. And if I come with bike shoes into the office I just change into my office shoes. But sometimes I lecture in the morning and the afternoon! So then I lecture before I have had a chance of putting my office shoes on, and after I've already have taken them off. And I don't like the feeling of walking around on cleats. You hear and feel the metal scratch on the street. The worst is if I have to go to the shops too! Or if I walk on a wooden floor. So even though I appreciate cleats; it allows you to both push and pull. But I knew there were pedals that were cleat-compatible on one side and civilian shoes compatible on the other side. So I bought a pair! When I did, the bike shop people said I might find I would not be able to get the old ones off, and if that were the case, I should just bring the bike back in and they would help me. And lo and behold: I couldn't get the old ones off. So I brought the bike back in. And they sorted it!

New pedals!

New pedals in place! 

So now I can bike around with or without cleats, in comfort! I like it! My commute has just got better.

21 October 2019

Not getting a PhD student

I don't know why I didn't think of blogging about this when it happened! But there was a call for funding proposals out. And one of my colleagues said she had a proposal for that very funding that she had submitted for an earlier round. And it had been successful, in a way, except that the whole funding fell through. But it that hadn't happened they would have been the recipients! So she figured we should resubmit, but this time with our industrial partner as a nice gem of added value.

Then I was contacted by another colleague. She was submitting one too! Would I want to join? She is a modeller and figured the proposal needed a mud person too. Well, yes, bring it on! So then I was the co-author on two proposals.

How did it go? Well I suppose the title of this post gives it away a bit. We weren't successful! The process is as follows: all proposals get advertised, then people apply for them, you then choose the best candidate per project, and then project plus candidate together compete for the money.

The best candidate for the second proposal had also applied for the first one, but for that one, she hadn't won. She wasn't quite a good fit with the project! So we knew the first proposal had a better chance. We dropped the second one. And we picked a rather good candidate for the other. And then we could only hope!

It turned out that when the interviews were, our candidate was on the other side of the globe, in an impractical timezone, and that there was no way she could logistically sort out a Skype interview. So she withdrew! And the money went to a proposal by our physical oceanographers. Good for them! Not so much for us. But we might get another chance...

20 October 2019

New phone

I had been looking forward to this! I had been making do with my old iPhone 5 since early spring, because I really couldn't get along with my Samsung. But a phone that actually did what I wanted to would be nicer! And finally that day came. I was up for an upgrade on a Friday; I had a tutorial until 5pm. And the phone shop is open until 5:30! So I scampered up. The man behind the counter remembered me from an earlier visit (it hadn't been him who had talked me into the Samsung so it must have been from when I bought the iPhone 5!) and said we could do this in 20 minutes. I said I wanted an iPhone again! They are quite robust. And we quickly settled on a 7. And we sorted it quickly! And pleasantly. It was only about five minutes after closing time when I left. With my new phone!

So did I take it into use immediately? Well no. I had other things on my mind. So I sorted it on a Tuesday morning when I was working at home because I had a lecture at 11 or so. No use first biking to Menai Bridge! So I switched it on and let it sort itself via iCloud. And switched over the sim card. Almost sorted! 

Everything worked! Except my work mail. I decided to ask our helpdesk. I popped to them after a lecture. They didn't know how to sort it either! But then I noticed I had two mail icons. The outlook one was refusing to play ball but I managed to make the other one work. Good enough! So now I have a phone that does what I want, and as I was already used to iPhones I found it totally intuitive to work this specimen. Success! And now I can take my apps off my old phone, plonk it full of music, and use it as a stereo thingy. Look at me, I'm with the times!

19 October 2019

Lliwedd mine

Some weeks ago I had gone for a walk with my colleague Kate. And that had been fab! So we had both been travelling but were now back, and we had decided that provided an opportunity to do something similar. But this time, we would only use half a day. On Saturday I was busy with other things, and on Sunday the weather forecast said lots of rain in the morning but a fairly dry afternoon. So we needed a shortish but nice trip. I suggested Lliwedd mine. I had suggested to the Cornish to go there but they had already been there. Now Kate and I could see for ourselves!

We met up on a layby near the start of the Watkin path. And got started! It still rained, but the advantage of that was that there weren't many people around and there had been parking space. And we set off! Luckily this kind of landscape is beautiful in the rain.

It was also a blessing to walk with a woman, and specifically a woman who spends a lot of time surrounded by men! When I mentioned the remark Mick had made the Thursday before, she didn't need any more explanation; she immediately said something like 'ah, and then you called it out, and then you were the bad guy, and the men didn't quite see what had been so problematic about what he had said in the first place'. Spot on! So lovely to not have to wade through treacle to explain how such things work. A bit sad, though, that this is so bloody evident to the first women you talk to. Probably to any woman. But we were no there to ponder that.

View near the start of the walk

We were just walking up until where we expected the junction to be. And it wasn't there! Only then did we get the map out and have a look. We had overshot considerably! Oh dear. But no worries; we just went back down. And found the junction. On we went!

The bridge near the junction

The path just beyond the bridge

The landscape was lovely. The weather a bit variable! It was supposed to stop raining at about three and it did. Great! We even got some sun. And after not too much time we saw something that looked like spoil. Would this be our mine? And it was! And there the path stops. It must have been the path over which the produce of the mine was transported. And that the miners used too!

The Watkin path reflects the first rays of sun

First traces of the mine

We admired the spoil heaps and the waterfalls that probably were a bit more ubiquitous than normal. And we saw an adit! But it was quite wet so we didn't want to go in. Instead we started our way up; we knew the actual mine was higher up on the hill. So we started a slog up the spoil heap. And soon we came to the first sign of the actual stope. I had expected to be very limited, but this place went down to the centre of the world! It was very impressive. But we were not equipped to go in. If we want to do a proper explore we have to one day go back with drills and ropes and whatnot! 

For now we restricted ourselves to a cup of tea in a slightly sheltered spot. It had started raining again! That wasn't ideal but there are worse things. And then we went onwards.


The adit in the lower left corner

The stope! 

We followed the stope all the way up the hill. It was impressive! And it kept being rather inaccessible by people who didn't have ropes and such. And it kept being rather wet. Waterfalls coming in from all directions! And the landscape was lovely. The going was not always easy; some bits were so steep I went down on all fours. But we got there.

When we reached the top we had to come back. We decided we would try to avoid the spoil. It's difficult to come down very steep scree without falling over or twisting your ankle or something like that. We tried the soggy grassy slope. And we got so far but had to go back to the scree at some point. But it was OK! And we got back to the path. And from there the rain stayed away and we had a lovely walk down. 

It had been a good trip! Good company, beautiful landscapes, and a great mine! Yes we now had to hang out quite some soggy gear but that's a small price to pay!