30 June 2021

the Roman road

 When I had attended an online lecture about the archaeology of the Carneddau, there was also a lecture chat. Nothing interesting was happening there. However; towards the end of the lecture I suddenly realised there were two chat channels; one for general issues, and one for questions about the content. And I did have a question about the content! At the end, one of the speakers skipped over a slide because he had run out of time, but it looks really interesting. He was just talking about the Roman Road, and there clearly was something interesting to see in this direct environment. But what? By the time I had realised there was a chat for this sort of questions, he was done, thanked everybody, and closed the call. Too late for my question!

This same speaker was one of the leaders of the archaeology walk some two weeks later. And at some point I found myself walking downhill with him. I saw my chance! I reminded him of that one slide he had skipped over. Fortunately, he knew what I was talking about. So now I got a private mini-lecture about that very slide! It turned out that there are very old field enclosures in that area, and that the Roman Road cut straight through it. I thought it was hilarious and bitter at the same time! On the one hand, it is a nice confirmation of the cliché that the Romans were ruthlessly efficient engineers. If you want a road between A and B, you draw a straight line and follow it, whatever is in the way. But on the other hand; imagine you are some poor Welsh farmer, squeezing a living out of the land with difficulty (and if you don't believe me; go there), and then some huge army comes along and thrashes your farm. They wouldn't have paid much attention to any protestations.

I wanted to illustrate this post with a screenshot from Google Maps or Zoom Earth or something like that, but if there is a way of moving sideways (or any other direction) in there without using your hands, I haven't found out what it is. And I am not going to compromise my arms for this. So if you want to look it up: I suppose that what I refer to here is "the Roman Road" is a stretch of ancient road between a parking lot on the ESE outskirts of Abergwyngregyn and the remotest parking lot west of Rowen. I suppose it's best to look at the zoom Earth images as they have higher resolution than those of Google Maps, and I suppose you need all the resolution you can get. It would be cool to find exactly what he was talking about. As soon as my arms are better I will have a look myself!

29 June 2021

Guided walk with archaeologists and ecologist

 If you want to get up to considerable height from my front door, your best bet is the Carneddau. I can get onto the foothills from my house by walking some 20 minutes; in that time I can get into the national park on three of the arms of this range. There is the Glyderau range too, but in order to get onto it you need to first get past the quarry. And whether you go clockwise or anticlockwise, there are no public footpaths leading up to the ridge. Anticlockwise is a big detour, and the paths are rudimentary. Clockwise first takes you several kilometres along my running route, and then goes up very steeply, also on a rudimentary path. So I didn't go that way very often, so when we were only allowed to exercise from home, I got to know the Carneddau quite well! And when a Carneddau partnership was announced, I started following it on Facebook. So when there were activities advertised organised by this partnership, I paid attention.

My first event was an online lecture about the archaeology of the Carneddau. That is exactly up my street! There were three archaeologists talking, and I would have liked to know a lot more about the topics they were tackling, but it was time well spent. And then I saw an announcement of a guided walk up Carnedd Dafydd, with the guides including two of the archaeologists from the online lecture! That sounded great. I drew the attention of some friends to this, and figured out if I was needed for the University Open Day that day. I wasn't needed, and one of my friends was interested, and had even never been on top of Carnedd Dafydd, I registered, expecting her to do the same. It turned out she hadn't! And by the time I realised that it was too late and the trip was fully booked. But I was going anyway.

That Saturday I made sure to drive up rather early, as you are gathering in the part of the valley that gets really busy in summer. But there was plenty of space still! I parked up, grabbed my bag, and headed in the opposite way. I figured I could just drink some coffee in the hills and read the bit of newspaper until it or time to come to the gathering point. And that is what I did! On the Saturday morning I like to do a bit of coffee drinking and newspaper reading, and then I might as well do it with an amazing view. It was a bit chilly, but I had my down jacket so I was okay.

When the meeting time approached I went back to the car, reorganised my bag so I had everything for a considerable day in the mountains, and went to the meeting point. There were quite a lot of people already! And I recognised one of the archaeologists from the lecture. They took my name and I had a bit of a chat with the nearest person. It looked like a really nice group! And very Welsh. It turned out we had four leaders and nine participants; everybody spoke Welsh except two of the leaders. This was going to be a good day to practice!

When we were complete we did a small round of introductions, and then we set off. The previous time I had been on this part of the path had been with Dani; the last time I had walked up to Carnedd Dafydd from this direction had been in the snow with Kate, and the last time I had been on Carnedd Dafydd altogether had been earlier in spring, when I had been on my way to yr Elen. All quite different days!

The first thing we looked at was something that was on the map as a sheepfold. One of the archaeologists explained that there was every sign that this had been a summer farm, but that when these structures ended up being no longer used, only then had it found a new use as a sheepfold. He said that hidden underneath the bracken, there were plenty of enclosures and old summer farms! Their organisation was in the process of having the whole area scanned with radar, as that can look through vegetation to a certain extent, and detect patterns like that better than the human eye.

The next stop was at a wall. I had my first snack there! I can get quite hungry during the late morning. And here our ecologists took the stage. He took out a stack of laminated cards, each with a particular plant on it, and gave all of us two of these. He encouraged us to go look for our particular plants, and shout when we would find them. Then we could all gather, and the person who had found the plant could tell the others what interesting facts the cards held about this particular species. I got heather (which must be a bit of a bucket category; it did have a Latin name though, so it must have been a particular species) and lousewort. I hadn't heard of that! That would be my challenge. From where I received the cards I could already see heather, but I wouldn't call it until we would find it actually along the path.

We followed our way up. From time to time we stopped when one of the plants of interest was found. It was interesting to hear what they would be used for; most had known or suspected medicinal uses. And it was also interesting to compare the English, Latin, and Welsh names.

All together we tackled the steepest bit; some of us were more confident than others, but with some helping hands and some spotting we all made it. It was a really nice group with a nice group feeling, even though most of us had never met each other before! And from somewhere along the ridge we spotted the centrepiece of this walk. This route had been chosen because it has an impressive array of Bronze Age Cairns. The last one we would see was the one on Carnedd Dafydd, but that was not the most prominent one; that one was built in the saddle between Pen yr Ole Wen and Carnedd Dafydd. It probably was not a coincidence that you can see that for miles and miles away.

From the moment we reached the first peak (Pen yr Ole Wen) I suspect it wouldn't get much action from our ecologist; the whole landscape is just barren rock. But that was naïve! On a regular basis, he would get super-excited, sink down onto his knees, and draw people's attention to some barely noticeable plant or lichen. But soon we were at the main cairn anyway. Finally, we were going to have lunch! It was already 1 PM and I tend to have lunch a lot earlier than that.

It was gorgeous weather, and even though we were sitting on a mountaintop I was happy there in my T-shirt. And we had a nice chat. When lunches had vanished into our mouths, the archaeologists took to the stage again, and spoke more about these Cairns. Unfortunately, there was very little from the Bronze Age still visible. For centuries, people had taken the stones of the cairn and used them to create wind shelters and suchlike. Nothing of the original shape remained! That is a bit of a pity. The reason they knew they were Bronze Age Cairns in the first place was because different ones had been excavated, and released their secrets. I suppose a bit of extrapolation was used here.

When I put my lunch away and wanted to hoist my bag back onto my back I noticed it was wet. Oh dear! That was bad news. I checked, and the tube of my water bag had partly come off the actual bag. The bag had, of course, emptied itself into the backpack. Luckily there wasn't much in there that shouldn't get wet. It did mean, though, that I had no water left for the rest of the trip! And we were on the ridge. And there is no water there. I had faith, though, that soon enough we would come to some stream, so I didn't quite worry.

We went on. We saw a few more of these Cairns, and one of them even still had a small array of curb stones still in position. These Cairns originally seemed to have had concentric rings around them, executed in big stones. And here some of that was still visible! But, of course, the main cairn had been turned into a wind shelter. And I can't blame people for doing that; I myself had had no idea they were Bronze Age monuments until the lecture I had attended a few weeks earlier. I am sure most of the people rearranging the stones didn't either. But the partnership wants to change that, and raise awareness of the heritage of these places.

After we had seen the last cairn, we just chose an arbitrary route down back to our cars. There was no public footpath here, but it wasn't steep. And we saw most of the remaining plants! Including the desired lousewort. And we found a stream too! I was saved. I filled one of my now empty flasks, and drank a lot from the stream. A lot of people were a bit shocked by that; they figured I would get ill. I drink from Snowdonia streams all the time, though, and I figured I was going to be perfectly fine.

The trip was supposed to end at 5 PM back at the cars. And 5 PM it was! One of our archaeologists was a bit disappointed at that; Wales was playing in the Euros at five, and now he had missed the kick-off. He had hoped we would accidentally be back some half an hour earlier!

When we were back where we had started, one of us took the opportunity to thank the organisation for this excellent walk. We all had had an excellent time! And the weather had held too. It couldn't have been better. If they organise anything like this again, I'll register like lightning! It had been a great day and I had learned lots! And I suppose what had drawn me and was the archaeology, and I hadn't learned an awful lot about that due to having attended that online lecture, but I have learned a lot about plants like hoary rock moss, dwarf willow, common butterwort, and fir club moss. And, of course, lousewort! And it had just been really nice to share this walk with all sorts of like-minded people!

Jim, the ecologist, getting enthusiastic about some plan he is gesturing at

me admiring cowberries in bloom (pic by Jim Langley)

the Cowberries in bloom in qustion

the ridge to Carnedd Dafydd

one of the Cairns

landscape with moss and berries; I'm not sure what kind of berries, but my guess is bilberries


bushwhacking back to the cars

 the risks of going off the beaten track

28 June 2021

Getting my kit ready for the slate Trail

With a long hike planned I need to make sure my kit is in good nick. There were two items that needed my attention: my tent and my waterproof jacket. The tent is quite old already, and it is still a lovely tent, but the main zip had started to play up a bit. I found out that the place to go for repairs of such nature is Scotland. So I contacted that service, and then sent my tent north. It came back with a beautifully inserted new zip. I am sure it is ready for the next few decades now! It would be very annoying if your zip would give up on a particularly rainy evening, which would be exactly when it would. But that problem is averted now!

The other issue was my jacket. I have a day-to-day jacket and a hiking jacket but the problem is, even though I did my best to buy a really good waterproof jacket and spent quite a lot of money on it, it isn't waterproof. Re-proofing it hadn't helped. I had got soaked on the last Swamp Hike, and I also got soaked when I visited the Gorseddau quarry with Kate. And that is just annoying! And I got a bit discouraged by all that. If you buy an expensive new jacket and you still don't end up with something that does the job, then how do you? And I decided to take the scattergun approach: just buy a fairly cheap second-hand jacket. If that doesn't do the job, you just try again. Sooner or later you should get yourself a waterproof jacket. Waterproof materials do exist! My waterproof trousers are impeccable. So I had bought a promising-looking North Face jacket in a questionable colour, but of course by the time it arrived the weather was dry. But one Friday it was just raining all day, and I decided that this was a good opportunity to give it a try. I went running in it! You don't know how good a jacket is until you have spent all day in the rain, but you have to start somewhere. This first test was successful! And I am sure there will be more opportunities. But so far things are looking good! I am getting ready!

the first test for the new jacket

27 June 2021


If you want to know anything about the history of an area in England or Wales, in Scotland is often a good place to start looking for information. Why? I have no idea. But the National library of Scotland has an impressive collection of old maps available online. I had already used it to explore some of the history of my house in the village. But now that I was suddenly in charge of our fieldwork, which was moving to North Wales, it was time I dive into their resources again. And this time, I was going to go via an app you can access if you have a login from university or something along these lines. This is Digimap, and I had already seen colleagues use it. So I gave it a go! For my part of the fieldwork I need a saltmarsh, and I need to sink a core in it. In order to make sure I am not coring in 50-year-old sediments, I have to check maps going back as far in time as they will go. Ideally, the sediments you core in go down to the last glacial maximum within the reach of our limited coring equipment, but well, maps never go back to the last glacial maximum.

Digimap had maps going back to the 1890s, and the area of the marsh where I would like to take a core was already established then. That was about as much as I could do! But it is a nice tool. You just look for a particular location, and then you have tabs that indicate from which periods there are maps available. Not very RSI friendly, but otherwise an easy-to-use tool! If my arms improve might go back there a bit more often…

26 June 2021

Making an effort to make car maintenance green

Almost a year ago, I decided to buy a pump for my car. So far have always relied on gas stations for keeping the pressure at the desired level, but I decided it would be reassuring to have a pump so I would be able to just sort that kind of matters at home. You can, of course, buy battery-powered pumps or electric pumps, but I settled on a foot pump on the basis of that it would be the most environmental-friendly. I did realise, though, when I tried it that basically what powers that thing is your weight. And there is only so much of that!

I recently casually checked my car and saw I had another tyre that was bit low. So out came the pump! But this time I was mentally prepared. I have a sand bag in the storage space, because climate change, and I put it into a backpack and wore it. And outfitted thus I got to work! And it worked! The extra weight did the job. I managed to increase the pressure to an acceptable level. It wasn't necessarily very comfortable, but hey, the tyre was a lot better at the end of it. And having properly inflated tyres is also good for the environment! So even though it was a lot of faff, it all worked and the outcome was good. And why do I have a 24 kg sandbag? Well, when I bought the bags they were quite big, and it seemed silly to keep them mostly empty. And then you end up with quite a heavy bag. But it came in handy!

25 June 2021

Veg into the garden

I had sown another round of vegetables a while ago. I always keep trays with seeds, and pots with seedlings, in the conservatory, until I think the plants are big enough to survive outside. And I had loads of cavolo nero, kohlrabi and beetroot in the conservatory. It was time to plant it outside! So one weekend I donned my gardening gloves and set to work. And when I was done, everything was in place, and the vegetable beds were pretty much full. All the plants that are now still in the conservatory are supposed to stay there. These are my two tomato plants, and my collection of pumpkin-related plants. I could imagine that the tomatoes would be okay outside, but that is something I might try out next year. And the others are indoors because last year the slugs ate my entire harvest. This year they don't! So far I have only eaten one courgette, but the season is early, and there are several small courgettes actively engaged in growing. The pumpkin plant has already produced quite a number of mini pumpkins. So I hope that a bit later in the year, I can spend days if not weeks eating my own vegetables! But let's first keep my fingers crossed. Just that I've loads of beetroot and kohlrabi plants in the garden doesn't mean I am guaranteed a noteworthy crop…

kohlrabi in the pea bed

24 June 2021

Testing at home

 If you want to come into work for some reason, you can, but you have to have tested negative beforehand. I used to go to the main campus for my covid tests, but the main hall they had turned into a test centre has now been turned back into the University's main hall. That is not a problem, though; you can now just pick up a box of self-tests from a variety of locations on campus, and just test yourself at home. Much more convenient! So when I was in Bangor anyway, I popped by the reception of Main Arts, and picked up a box. I will be wanting to go into the lab some times. I can I just prepare for that at home!

23 June 2021

Appreciation of students

 I happened to accidentally be locking up my bike at work when suddenly, three of our students appeared.They were bringing flowers and gift bags! That was supersweet. And their timing was impeccable; quite a large number of teaching staff was just about to meet. The students  were all on geo-related degree programs, and there typically aren't many of us on campus. Three of us work at home, one is off work, and only Dei is regularly in the office. He had expected to be in the office this very day; however, not only had he been working from home, but also his car was in the garage. He had realised that a bit late, and had had to jump onto his bicycle and bike like the clappers to make it to our meeting. So they would have been close to not meeting any of us!

The students decided to wait for Dei. When he arrived, as sweaty as anticipated, he was baffled to be greeted by three students carrying flowers and gifts. Rightly so! But he really appreciated the gesture. Luckily, one of our other staff was on the ball and took pictures.

We then had to decide how we would share this gesture. There were five of us, and we live in four different towns. And what the students had bought us were flowers, wine, and chocolate. The flowers needed to find a home soon. The wine and the chocolate had a longer shelf life, but how do you get all five of us together in a configuration where we can enjoy both of these, and how will we get home afterwards? Wine and chocolate don't really go together. So either scratching our chins a bit. In the end we decided that as the gifts were addressed at "Martin and Ocean sciences", and Martin was off work, which is rarely for a happy reason, we would give the whole lot to him. So one early evening I biked up again to deliver the lot. I am sure that connection of gifts gave him a warm fuzzy feeling! We must have done something right. And it was really nice of the students to acknowledge that…

Visibly baffled Dei receiving chocolate

22 June 2021

No second chance exams; fieldwork instead

Almost a month ago I blogged about taking on the Supplementary Assessment Week, as my colleague who normally does that is dealing with family issues. But the School runs in mysterious ways, and it took a month before I heard back from management. And to my surprise, everything happened differently. Someone else was taking over the supplementary assessments, and instead I was asked to organise the fieldwork in early autumn. I have organised it once before, when it was still done in the south, and when the colleague who normally organises it was on parental leave. And it is slightly daunting; it is already mid to late June, people might vanish on holidays and such (even this year such a thing exists), and it is difficult to get everyone together to organise things. Furthermore, used to run on decades of experience; this year we are going to a new location, and we need to do everything from scratch. And we will still be working under restrictions, as the Delta variant doesn't look likely to be leaving us alone by then. And to make it even worse; we are doing this without driving force Suzie. And we don't know when the man with the family issues will be back and contributing. So we will have to ponder all sorts of things; will we be able to put students on small boats? Where will we take a sediment core? Who do we ask permission for doing that? Who can process CTD measurements in Matlab? Who is going to organise the surveying? Et cetera et cetera. So it will be a challenge but we'll make it work!

21 June 2021

Boiler problem solved

It had been many weeks since I had had a hot shower! And when I was certain I couldn't somehow convince the boiler to produce hot showers myself, I had contacted the plumber. Unsurprisingly, he thought he would be able to sort it. And one Monday morning I got a phone call. He was in the vicinity; would it be convenient to drop by? And it was.

He had a bit of a look and decided some engine of sorts was broken. He popped into Bangor to get a replacement, and popped that into position without difficulty. And I tried the shower; it worked! Problem solved.

As I write this it's already almost a week later, and I haven't yet had a hot shower. It's June! I don't need to. But I'm glad I at least have the choice back. It won't be June forever! And maybe one day I can have guests again; then I really want to have a hot shower on offer…

work in progress

20 June 2021

Post-lockdown climbing

 After 15 long months, the Welsh government let groups bigger than six people convene outside again. And it didn't take long before I got a message from the climbing club that we could start climbing again! And that sounded nice. I hadn't climbed since summer 2019. I was certainly rusty! But I look forward to just being able to gather with whoever showed up and have some fun on the crag. So I announced I would be there!

The crag the club had chosen was Caseg Ffraith (were the last time I ended up not climbing at all), and that isn't very far away, so I immediately had an opportunity to try out my new bike. It was a bit tight; I had to eat early, and immediately after dinner jump up to the bike and get to the crag, but it did work. I was the first one to arrive! And I really enjoyed the bike. I took the main road as it is marginally faster, but on the way back I would use the old road, which has much steeper bits, and imperfect asphalt. I've never dared to do that road on the road bike. But the gravel bike should be good for it!

Some Charlotte appeared. She didn't have the kit, though. We had to wait a bit longer for Tony to bring that! But the next vehicle that turned off contained Eifion, whom we did not expect. But the more the merrier! Tony was in his wake and we could grab the kit and walk up to the crag.

Then we got there we decided we should set up one top rope, and Tony would lead some convenient route with the other rope. And so it happened! I just sat there in the sun with Charlotte just having a chat while the men set up the top rope. This is a trad crag and I don't do trad. Especially not after having been out of it for two years!

When the rope was down I tried and failed to climb a route; not unsurprising after two years. Charlotte had actually been climbing in the past two years but she didn't manage it either. Then we went to have a look at the blokes. No luck there either! So then the men tried our route.

I was quite aware of having to bike back, and of having gone to bed way too late the night before, due to my bike adventure. So I watched both men try our route, and then scampered. The others were fine de-rigging without me. And I zapped back home on my lovely new bike! It performed perfectly fine on the old road. And the week after we would go to sports climbing territory again, where I feel a bit more at home! 

getting ready

 Tony in action

19 June 2021

Gravel bike!

I started out with my trusted old mountain bike. It is a very comfortable bike! But it has rather wide tyres and it weighs 20 kg, so fast it is not. So when I moved to Bethesda I decided I needed something faster. If I would commute 10 miles each way every day, then a faster bike would save me a lot of time in the long run. So I bought a road bike. And that sure made the commute a lot faster!

Over time, though, I found out what the disadvantages of a road bike were. A road bike with its narrow tyres and rigid frame is only really good on smooth asphalt. It can do the bits where tree roots have created ridges in the tarmac, but comfortable it is not. And every time you hit one you fear a bit about punctures. And on that note; I once did get a puncture, and then I noticed how difficult it is to get these narrow tyres off the rim, and put them back again.

Another thing was the disc brakes. I was glad to have them; this was my first pair! And they do brake well. But I also noticed they start screaming quite loudly fairly soon. It would get so bad I would be embarrassed to use my brakes, and would do steep downhill bits on foot. And one does not buy an extra fast bike in order to walk with it. And I could solve that every time by booking the bike into the local repair shop and have it serviced, but the last time I noticed that the brakes started screaming rather soon after the service. And you can't keep dragging your bike to the repair shop! And I am not confident repairing disc brakes myself. So I sort of thought that even though in principle, disc brakes are a good idea, they might not be for me.

With all of that together, I figured that what I probably would be better off with was what they here call a gravel bike. It pretty much is a road bike, but with bigger rims and tyres. The thing is, though, that it is a lot easier to find yourself a road bike. I think the sort of people who buy a bike, even though they don't love biking (but think they will use it to get fit), tend to buy road bikes! So these come onto the second hand market all the time, while things like gravel bikes and touring bikes don't. But I decided to start to have a look. And fairly soon I saw a bike I liked.

The bike in question was basically mountain bike frame that someone had fitted dropped handlebars to, and gravel bike wheels. That pretty much means it's now a gravel bike! And I contacted the seller, and it turned out to frame was a good size. The bike also wasn't very heavy. This looked good. I got in touch with the seller to go and have a look at the bike. It was a bit of a distance, but I suppose that was worth it; you can either buy a bike like that and spend two hours driving for it, or spend several times the money. If money's not an object you can buy them nearby! The local bike shop does sell them, but for several thousand pounds.

The time the seller could see me was Sunday evening. I was a bit nervous about it taking too long and me ending up in bed late. It was the end of the sunny weekend; everybody will be trying to leave Snowdonia! A bad time to go that same direction. But sometimes one has to just give something a go! If I could sort out that bike that very day then I could immediately start enjoying it. So even though I knew that in a best case scenario I could be there shortly after 9 PM, I went for it. I had had a look on Google Maps (they suggested only 15 minutes' worth of traffic jam); I should know where to go. I do have a satnav, but I don't think it works. And my phone can do that sort of thing too, of course, but I would first have to drive the long way along the A55, and I did not want to use up my battery for that very familiar stretch. So with just a small summary on paper I jumped into my car.

It didn't go very well. Soon I saw a sign saying there had been an accident, and I ended up in a proper traffic jam. At some point I was totally stationary, and even though I suppose this is against the law I quickly sent a message to the seller. He understood. When I finally came out of the traffic jam I was trying to follow my memory and my quick notes. At some point I started wondering if I had gone wrong. Soon after that I was sure. Damn! I found the place to stop and switched on the navigation app on my phone. It would have to guide me now! And it looked like a lot had changed in this area; more than once I was on a road my phone did not recognise. That might have been what had gone wrong in the first place. But in the end I got there. By then I was tired and frustrated and sweaty and fed up. I was tempted to just throw money at the bloke, chuck the bike in the car and zip off again. Why even try it? But trying it would only delay my bedtime by a few minutes so I did try. And the seller was very friendly.

I tried out the bike. It was nice and light and didn't struggle with bumps! And it had nice big and small gears. I didn't try it very much as I didn't have lights with me, and the bike had none. But I got a good enough impression. I bought it. I did a little bit of bike gossiping with the seller, and then I was on my way back. And the way back was very quiet! I could zip back home without difficulty. And once home I made my way to my bed as quickly as I could. That bike could wait!

Only the next day I retrieved the bike from the car. My first use of it was just for going to the local shop. But that evening I intended to take it a lot further. In preparation for that, I took my pannier rack from the road bike and put it on the gravel bike. I want to move some more bits across in due time, but for this first day this would do! With a bit of luck, a new era has begun!

the new acquisition!

18 June 2021

First night away since the cat came

 I intend to go do a multi-day hike later this summer. But I have a cat now! And then going away can be an issue. I figured the best thing to do would be to just leave her at home. That's a familiar environment! And I'm not supposed to stay away for too long. And we intend to visit my house halfway the hike when we pass it anyway. But I haven't been away much since I got her! I decided I needed to get her used to it. And it would be nice anyway to pack my bag and just head into the hills once in a while. I live in an amazing area after all!

One sunny weekend I decided it or time to start this process. I would just leave a bit later in the day on the Saturday. That meant I wouldn't be gone for all too long, but I should probably start mild anyway. I was in two minds about going before or after dinner, but in the end I decided on after dinner. I threw my bag into the car and set off. I had decided on some track I had crossed on a run some months ago. And I figured that as it was already about 6 PM, it should be possible to park, even on a sunny Saturday like this. And it was correct! I parked on a layby effortlessly. And then I was off, into the sunshine.

I started on a public footpath. I had previously been there with Kate, walking Moel Siabod. But now I turned left at some point. The first thing I did was cross an old incline. And that set the scene; really soon the mining relics came thick and fast. A row of houses, spoil heaps, a mill; and, of course, a pit. I was having a blast!

The old incline; I suppose you only see it in full screen mode. Moel Siabod in the background.

 The houses

overview of houses, spoil heaps and an aquaduct

the pit

looking back at the spoil heaps from the road

The road was comfortable to walk on and very beautiful. Along the way I gained a view over the valley; in the depths I could see the camping there. I was glad I was up here! On my own.

At some point I came to the crossing with the road I had run on. I had decided to go right there. There was a lake a bit uphill from that road. I thought it would be worth checking that out. I might get a swim in! And I had never seen it. I was only some 10 miles from home, and then seeing a new lake would be cool. So I just headed up the hill. And after a while it came into view! It didn't necessarily look promising; it might be a bit swampy! But I wanted to check it out. I had to cross two streams, one of which indeed was in a bit of a swamp, but after that the ground was firm. I saw possibilities! And I figured I could pitch on a bump; firm ground, long sun, good views. And neither the stream (for drinking water) nor the lake (for swimming) were far away. I went for it! I pitched my tent. And when it stood I realised the disadvantage of this location; there were ticks everywhere. I don't like ticks!

The lake (or reservoir, rather) looked like an infinity pool!

I decided to keep a very close eye out, get my swim in soon, and then wear lots of clothing to keep the ticks out. There were midges as well! So I grabbed what I needed and headed for the lake. The water was lovely! In my experience is that midges don't actually come looking for prey above water. I've even experienced that in Scotland. So I had a nice time!

When I was done swimming I changed into long trousers, and stuffed my trousers into my socks. I also zipped up my jumper. But back at the tent things had improved. There was a bit of a breeze and there was no midge to be seen! This was lovely. I had a cup of tea and read the bit in my book. I also just sat back and stared at the beautiful clouds and the beautiful hills. This was the life!

Lovely swim

The evening views. I was pretty much looking into Dyffryn Mymbyr.

Then from one moment to the next the midges were back, with a vengeance. I had already brushed my teeth, so I went to the loo like the clappers and then dived into my tent. I was safe now! I just read a bit more until it was bed time. And I slept well.

When I woke up the next morning I got out of the tent, I realised the midges had beaten me to it. I had hoped they were an evening thing! Clearly not. I took down the tent in no time, threw my stuff into the bag, and legged it. After a while I tried a scenic hilltop possible breakfast spot, but after a few minutes the midges found me there too. So I moved on!

I went back to the spoil heaps. Would that be a good spot? It was a bit on the edge. I decided to move on. But when I got to the incline I decided it was good enough. I sat down and got the stove out. It would be really nice to do the last small bit of the walk back to the car with breakfast in my stomach! And I can't say the midges left me alone entirely, but they were quite bearable. It was nice! And I noticed a tick; I removed it there and then.

From there I was back at the car in no time, and it wasn't much of a drive. And when I got home the cat was greeting me. It looked like she had missed me but she was fine! And that was exactly the intention. 
Now the only things I needed to do was unpack my bag, and do another tick check! I found two more. Next time I should not pitch my tent until I have roamed around a bit in bare legs to check for ticks, I suppose. And if I see some swampy ground nearby, maybe I should move on, as that might have been where all these midges came from! Although experience tells me they can strike pretty much anywhere. Anyway; stuff to keep in mind when I leave the lovely cat for two nights!

My "I don't like midges" face

It was a scenic spot, though!

17 June 2021

Not being hospitable to wasps this year

 Two years ago I saw some wasps were building a ping-pong ball-sized nest in my garden shed. I thought "I'm sure we all can get along" and left it there. After all, it was only small! But it didn't stay small. After not too much time it was the size of a melon. And nothing ever went wrong; I was not stung, and neither was anybody else in my garden. But it was a little bit disconcerting! So when my neighbour alerted me to having seen wasps go into the shed again, I had a look. When I noticed they had indeed built a nest, and it was already the size of a tennis ball, I decided to take action. I was not being hospitable this time! I hope my sister will be able to visit later this season, and she won't be keen on a wasp nest in the garden. I'm sure they will have time to find another place to go. I have now already smashed it three times. I hope that at some point they get the message and go somewhere else!

The old nest left and the new one on the right

the wasps are not giving up!

NHS data

GP surgeries hold a lot of data about their patients. And that data is protected. The government, however, wants to make this data available to anyone really, including commercial companies, after only modest anonymization. Not everybody thinks that this is a good idea. I don't think it is! I think the government is overly keen on allowing people who are already rich to get a lot richer using healthcare as a tool. I don't trust the Tories one bit on topics like that. So I opted out! You can. I like my medical details to be the business of myself and my GP…

16 June 2021

Still proofreading

When my job was on the line and I had to think about potential other avenues, I thought about proofreading. And when I was off sick anyway, and could do little other than walking, running and reading, I started reading up on the subject. Later I also registered for an online proofreading course. And that was a slow road to travel down! Initially, I struggled with the fact that it was an online course. Proofreading and RSI don't naturally go together! And some of the course material I could just print out, mark up manually, and scan in again, but some really had to be done digitally. And Adobe Acrobat doesn't communicate well with Dragon!

Later the problem just became that term became busy. It is difficult to squeeze in things next to an already busy job! But I am making progress.

So how is it going so far? I still let things slip through. I had to change from USA symbols to UK ones as I had accidentally learned the former first. I have been complimented on my grammar and spelling, but criticised for my punctuation. I need to improve on that! But that takes time. Which is in short supply.

By now it is coming to the end of the allocated time. I have already got an extension! I need to finish the last two or three exercises fairly soon. So some sunny weekends are partly spent in my office, swotting away. I still think it is an excellent idea to have a plan B ready for when it is needed…

Study material

15 June 2021

Water meter pays off

I got my first overview of my water usage in the mail since having had my water meter installed. I was curious to see what the result was! And I now know I have been using 7 m³ of water in the past six months. Given how much I drink I think that is a fine result. And it is also clearly a lot less than they think I use. The Energy Saving Trust suggests a person uses 142 litres per day; that would be 26 m³ in six months. That is a heck of a lot more! And it already shows in the bill. Before the water meter, I paid £46.54 per month, but that changed to £18 as soon as the water meter was taken into use.  And as I haven't had a hot shower in weeks, I think at the moment my use is even lower. But I have contacted the plumber, so that issue should be resolved at some point. But I intend to keep my water usage low!

14 June 2021

Cave rescue training starts again

I hadn't been training with the rescue team for 1 1/2 years. There had been a cave rescue training been scheduled just before lockdown; unsurprisingly, it had been cancelled. Last July they had to be another one, but that was just when I was in the Netherlands. And there had been two callouts during lockdown; one involving a sheep on the ledge or something; there were already enough people there to sort it. And another one involving an actual person who had fallen down some cliff, but that was when I was still on sick leave with my arms. I didn't think it would be a good idea to go stretcher carrying like that. So now that there was a training scheduled, and I was willing and able to attend it, it was a bit unfamiliar again.

The training was going to be in Cwm, so for the first time in a long while I drove up to that so familiar parking lot. There were a few people there already, but it looked like it was going to be a small group. I got kitted up, and soon we were on our way up. One of the team members asked me if I still went underground with the Thursday nighters. I said I didn't, and had no intention of that ever changing. The one Thursday nighter who was present heard me say that, and immediately claimed the whole situation had nothing to do with him. It did, of course; but that didn't matter now. That evening we were in function as team mates. We went in, and down, to the catwalk. The idea was to rig and SRT pitch there, and send some other people around the catwalk to rig some complicated different rig there. Gethin, who was leading this training, had an idea of trying out a new rig that allows you to diagonally raise and lower people without that becoming complicated at either end of the rig. And so we started! I declined to rig the SRT pitch as it was one of those with anchor points really far out; I didn't think I would have the reach. But once it was rigged I did descend. That was the first time in quite a while! The most interaction I had had with ropes in a fair while was when painting my extension

Some blokes were rigging this elaborate rig. There was another woman, but she was recovering from an injury, so she didn't do any rigging herself. And then it was done! One of the team members was pulled up back to the catwalk, and then back down again. Then we did it again, but with everybody in a different position. This time I was one of the people doing the actual pulling. That is hard work! And the facemask didn't help. But we did it. Then Gethin talked us through our findings, and gave us the choice between going home or lifting a light person up the original SRT pitch. We chose the latter option, and I volunteered as the light person. So I got back up to catwalk level in comfort! Then we went out. It was a sultry evening. I changed back into my civilian gear and drove off. I will see these people again in a month's time; then we have a training combined with the AGM. That's in the east again, so a fair drive, but so be it. It's good to keep one's skills updated!

13 June 2021

Get the underground camera ready

 There was a cave rescue training due. The first one in a long time! And I normally bring a camera. I tend to have a special camera dedicated to underground use. I had had a Lumix for years, which had taken serious battering, and I retired that when the lens had become so scratched the autofocus didn't work anymore. It also had other technological problems. Before that, I had at some point realised the front panel was coming off, which evidently meant it wasn't waterproof anymore. After I dried it out, I made brass brackets that pushed the front and back panel together again. It worked for years after I did that! And since its retirement I had just kept it as a sort of a souvenir.

Not long before the pandemic hit, I had noticed that the same issue was starting to show on the Lumix that was the replacement of my original underground camera. It looks like this is a weak spot of this model! But it was easy to see what the solution would be; I could just use one or more of the brackets of the original camera and place it on this one. It's the same model; it should fit! So when it was clear I was going to go underground again, I had a look at the situation. I got the brackets off the old camera. I could tell the tiny little nuts and bolts had seized up a little bit! But I got everything off. Then of course the job was to get a bracket on the newer camera. I went for the easy route, and used the nuts and bolts that were the least seized up! So it was fairly easy to put them on the new camera. Not entirely easy; the whole setup relies on tens of millimetres, so it is all a bit tight. But I got it done!

Did that mean my camera went underground? Nope; as it had been out of action for a long time, the battery was flat, and I didn't put it in the charger on time. But we have another training next month, and then the revamped camera can make its debut.

The two cameras before the swap

That gap shouldn't be there!

Camera ready for action again! After the battery is charged…

12 June 2021

Barbecue in the garden

 After six months, I would have dinner in person with Jaco and Marjan again. The weather was good enough to have dinner in the garden! And we decided to go for barbecue, as that is that sort of food preparation that takes most advantage of the weather. So as there were all sorts of other things going on that day, I had been hurried and stressed when I was preparing it. But not too long after they arrived, all the stress faded away and I could just enjoy this occasion.

My friends eat meat and I still think, in spite of being a fairly strict vegetarian since lockdown (because if I eat meat, that tends to be because other people are cooking for me), that an entirely vegetarian barbecue was not really a barbecue. So we had meat! That was the first time in a fair while. My friends had brought hamburgers and I had brought some kebabs. And in addition to that we had halloumi, bell peppers, mushrooms with blue cheese, and of course things such as salad and bread. And it was lovely! It was sunny and the food was good and the drinks were too. And we had the surprise video call from Marjan's mother. It was a bit of a pity that the cat didn't come out to say hello.

After the barbecue I served tea and apple pie. It had been Jaco's birthday!

Not too long after the pie Marjan got cold and we decided to call it a day. And just before my friends left, the cat came down and they could make each others' acquaintance. The summer season has been opened!

Jaco in the garden

11 June 2021

Stressed interview about flooding

It all started with a book. Two of my colleagues had edited a book, aimed at children, that had 50 oceanic topics all dealt in one page, written by one specialist. It is called 30 second oceans, I suppose because you should be able to get through every topic in 30 seconds. I think it is a good idea! And of course they were seeking some publicity for it. And one of the bodies that was interested in providing that was the North Wales newspaper the Daily Post. They had done an interview with them, and that appeared on their website. In the interview, my colleague Mattias had applied what the book said about sea level change to North Wales,  pointing out that we have some low-lying infrastructure here. As there already are issues with flooding, further sea level rise is bad news for the area.

For some reason, the daily post had decided to enliven the text with animations of North Wales experiencing 30 m sea level rise. The comments section of the article showed signs of the public thinking that was excessive. 

So was this the stressed interview I am talking about? No, that is still to come. On Monday morning and email landed in my inbox. BBC Cymru wanted someone from Ocean Sciences to talk about this in Welsh. And I figured I might as well do it; I speak Welsh, and I am a sea level scientist. So I volunteered. I phoned the lady who had contacted the school. I was a bit confused about what she said then; she asked me what I thought the main points were from the report that the interview with Mattias had been based on. Report? Main findings? It was all based on the book. And it didn't really have new findings. It only gave one page of information! I asked her to send me any report she meant, and I contacted Mattias and Yueng. Then I found out that they know nothing about the report either, and that neither of them had the faintest idea where the animation had come from. And the book only says that average sea level rise since the 60s has been 1.5 mm per year (at the moment it is more: 3-4 mm/a), and that that is the most it has been in the last 3000 years. It also says that total possible sea level rise due to ice melt is some 65 m. That's all they say! And Mattias had not given any numbers. The public, however, would see the animation, and not know that these animations are not at all connected to the book, or to the research Mattias and Yueng do. They would logically link it to what Mattias had been saying, and concludes that these scientists are scaremongers and alarmists. Not good!

I had agreed with the lady she would phone me around 3 PM. But then I got an email; something had changed, and that it was going to be Cardiff who would phone me, and they would do that at around 4 PM. That was fine with me. There was nothing happening on that front at 4 PM, but well, one can be a bit late. I didn't have any contact information of the Cardiff crew so I couldn't contact them. And it was also the day I had promised the students their dissertation grades. I had spent the afternoon checking whether all grades were in, and trying to do something about it where they weren't. And at 6 PM, Jaco and Marjan would visit. We would have a barbecue in the garden! The first time since Christmas we would have an actual dinner in person. And I could sort all that if I would have that interview at 4 PM, but at some point I would have to light the barbecue et cetera! I didn't like this at all. By 5 PM I emailed the original lady again; had something gone wrong? She mailed back there had been some confusion; she thought Cardiff would do the interview and Cardiff thought she was going to do it. But she would kick Cardiff in the bum.

In the meantime, I started to get dinner ready. I put the garden furniture out, and the fire bowl, and big slabs of slate to put the fire bowl on in order to protect the grass, and I got oil and a poker and all sorts of things we would be needing. I kept an eye on my phone so I would notice if Cardiff got in touch. For now they hadn't, but I did get some other messages. Lots of students were telling me they couldn't see their grades! In all the stress, I must have mis-clicked a button somewhere. So even though Cardiff hadn't been in touch yet, I knew I had to get back inside and sort that out. And then I heard voices. Jaco and Marjan were here! 

I quickly explained to them that there were still two issues I had to see to before I could sit down for a relaxed barbecue. They understood! So I first went inside to sort out the grades for the students. And shortly after that, the phone rang. It was Cardiff!

We had a little discussion. They still wanted to do the interview, basically ASAP, and they wanted to talk about the amount of sea level rise by the end of the century. I had prepared for that so it was okay with me. She had to send me a link so we could have a secure connection and then we could talk.

While I was waiting for that link to arrive, I briefly sat down with my friends. It didn't last though; I got a message saying "have you received my link?"; I checked my spam box and it turned out I indeed had received the link. So it was time to run inside, tell the interviewer that IPCC expects sea level rise of 26 to 80 cm by the end of the century, unless West Antarctica runs amok and makes things worse. And that was it! I don't think I did very well. I had been on Welsh radio before, and already noticed I lose my ability to speak, especially in Welsh, if I am suddenly talking into a media microphone. But I managed to say something useful I think. And I don't watch television so I didn't see the final result. It was going to be broadcast on breakfast television.

With my job done I went outside again, grabbed me a beer, and sat down. I could really use a relaxed barbecue now!

Cleaning in Menai Bridge

 The previous weekend, I had helped my friend Kate Igraine to put some items into storage. Her time in Menai Bridge was coming to an end! But when you leave your rental property, you need to empty it and clean it, and that is a bit of work. So this weekend I was back. I personally never liked these last stages of moving house. When you want to spend time in your new house, but you still have to do the tedious job of cleaning the kitchen cupboards and stuff! So I had offered to help her. If you do it together it is less tedious. So on a sunny Sunday morning I biked over. We first had a coffee, and then we got to work!

I started out taking fixings out of the garage. Garages are good for storing outdoor gear, and that might be associated with all kinds of hooks and loops and pulley systems and whatnot. And that needs to come along! So that kept me busy for a while. Then I swept the courtyard. Kate did the run to the recycling centre, which tidied up considerably. Then we had another coffee. With brownies!

After that I cleaned the kitchen. Then I thought it was time to go home and look after my own place. Kate thought she would only need an hour or two more to finish everything off. It turned out otherwise. But she got it done! And the next time I see her she lives in the new house! I am glad I could lend a hand.

10 June 2021

Checking the tent

I have plans to go walk the entire Slate Trail later this summer. And that means my tent will get some action again. It needs to be in good nick! And I had noticed the previous few times I had used it that the main zip was getting a bit iffy. And if it split, I always managed to close it anyway, but it is only a question of time before at some point you can't close it anymore at all. And that is bad! You want your entire tent to be waterproof. And also, you wanted to be a bit of a blob with not too much purchase for the wind. So I figured it was time to have it repaired. I had a bit of a look on the website of the manufacturer; where could you get a thing like that repaired? And in the UK, there was one address, in Scotland. I contacted them and they said they were perfectly willing and able to either change the runner, or the entire zip, for a reasonable amount of money. So that sounded like a good idea! But I wanted to check. I hadn't pitched that tent in a fair while. Was that zip really as I remembered it? So I pitched it in the garden. And yes, as it was indeed how I remembered it.

One complication I sort of had not taken into account was the cat. She thought it was mightily interesting what I was doing! And as soon as that tent stood, she slipped underneath the outer shell. Oh dear. What it would she be doing in there? Would you be trying to sharpen her nails on any of the delicate fabrics? I tried to shoo her away. If you think of your cat "she really wouldn't do that, now would she" then probably she would.

I then had to get the tent ready for shipping. That involved folding it up tightly. I made sure the cat wasn't in the room. But of course, as soon as I started handling the tent, she appeared, and was way too interested in what was going on. I could imagine her trying to catch moving guy lines, and in the process stick her claws through the material of the tent. So I chucked her out of the room unceremoniously! Oh dear. But soon I had the tent packed up in a reasonably small box, ready to go to the local post office.

I think I also will have to sometimes go away for the night in my other tent, to get the cat used to the idea of me not being home all the time! I haven't spent a night elsewhere since she came to live with me…

 tent pitched; cat already lurking

 two seconds later…

09 June 2021

Long run after all that cycling

 I had spent two days in a row getting my exercise out of cycling; once to Menai Bridge and back, and once to Bangor and back. And the funny thing is that it felt insufficient! So on Saturday I wanted to go for a nice long run. And I decided to more or less run the route I had only walked once; basically, following the coastal path all the way to where it turns into the valley where Aber Falls are. There turn right and head back, over the crest of Crâs, and then Moel Wnion. The main difference was that back then, I had looped around Moel Wnion at a rather low level, and this time I intended to go straight over the top.

It was nice weather for it. Nice but not too warm! And not so sunny there were other people on the path. I happily told along the coast, and easily found the path heading uphill. There are two paths; the previous time I had taken the steep one, but this time I didn't want to. And it is such a beautiful area there!

I had intended to run over the top, but I when I saw that path and its run-friendliness (or lack thereof), and its alternative, I decided to take better path that curves around it. This was still a different path than the one I had done the previous time. I was going to hit new terrain! And it was lovely. Even without doing the top it was a long enough run! I might do the route over the top some other day. And only really close to the village I met other people. It was half term! I suppose everybody was on the top of Snowdon.

When I got back I had a shower, and then was hungry, so I had dinner. And then I was pretty much ready for bed! That's not where I went; I had stuff to do, but I felt quite rosy. I suppose that's a good thing!

Crâs in the distance

Sea views

 the waterfall seen from one of the tops of Crâs

running selfie

08 June 2021

Work on the vegetable beds

 I had improved my veg beds by chucking several bags of shop-bought compost, and some home-made stuff, into them and mixing it in. But that only serves a purpose if you then put vegetables in them. And some of my veg had grown big enough! It was ready to go into the big wide world. The first thing that went outside was my peas; the slugs don't like them so they are a safe bet. And the next were my cavolo nero. These might be more to the taste of the slugs! I just had to keep my fingers crossed for them. And I had bought three aubergine plants on the Friday market; these joined the rhubarb in the other downstairs vegetable bed. In the upstairs bed I put kale and carrots. I spread some organic slug pellets and placed some protective metal cages over the small plants. Otherwise the cats will just dig them right out!

With all these vegetables moving out I had space to put some of my seedlings into separate pots. I still have beetroot, kohlrabi, and cabbage still waiting to move out. There still is space there! Would I have a better harvest than last year? Let's hope so!

the upstairs vegetable bed with potatoes, beetroot, kohlrabi, kale, carrots, sage, mint and oregano

the downstairs veg bed with peas, leek and cavolo nero

The cat demonstrating why these protective arches (in this case, over aubergine plants) are there