30 March 2023

Steepest Street in the World Race 2023 - triumph!

On the day of the race I woke up with a headache. That was not a good sign! But I took a paracetamol and went about my business.

At 2 o'clock, Marjan appeared. She was going to be my supporter again! And I would drive both of us in the electric vehicle to Harlech. We got there at a good time. Parking was easy, and getting my race number was as well. So I kitted up and we went to the start. I was still wearing two layers I wouldn't be racing in, but that was okay as I could give them to Marjan just before the gun would sound.

We quickly found my colleague Alec as well. At work he had told me he was going to race it too. It is always nice to see familiar faces!

Marjan and me at the start. Picture by Alec

When we were lining up for the start I made sure to be quite far up to the front. I remembered having to weave through quite a lot of people at the start the previous year. And this time, I was actively chasing a podium position! So I didn't want to lose time doing that. Additionally, it was easier to keep track of how many women they were in front of you, if not many people at all were in front of you.

There were more than 100 people racing, and some people started quite fast, so soon after that start it was getting a bit confusing regarding the number of women around. But I realised I was soon overtaking more of them than were overtaking me. This was going quite well! One woman I noticed was even running with a cow bell. I overtook her on the steep bit.And I was breathing quite heavily, but of course I was; I was running up a very steep street. 

Running up that hill

It was a gorgeous day again! It wasn't as warm as the previous year. Then I had been running in a tank top, and this time I had chosen a T-shirt. But the views again were amazing! I was enjoying myself.

Almost at the top! 

When I got to the top I knew I should try to keep my speed up. I knew that there was going to be quite a stretch with a gentle slope down. It is tempting to try to catch your breath after all the way up, but I did not want to lose my pace. I kept pushing. And quite soon I overtook a lady I had been keeping an eye on. She was the only one I was sure of to be in front of me! And I know I am stronger on the way up than the way down, so even if I was the first woman that didn't mean I was going to stay like that, but it would mean the signs were good.

After a while I came to a junction with marshals. One of them commented that I was the first woman. I suspected as much! I was really pleased with that. But in the distance I could hear the occasional clanging of a cow bell. I was being pursued.

We came to the part of the route that sometimes goes up and sometimes down. Quite steadily, I could hear the cowbell coming closer. And a pair of footsteps that was closing in as well. Would that be the lady with the cow bell, and the one I had overtaken just after the top? The answer was no! The footsteps belonged to a man. I was not focused on the men. 

By another junction, the cow bell lady finally overtook me. At quite some pace! I expected as much. Soon after that it got steep. I am not very good at the steep downhill bits. And they had a surprise for us! Unlike last year, they sent us up some rather steep gravel path that late in the race! When you think you only have to go downhill…

In a hairpin bend in the steep part I looked back. There was no runner in sight! That probably meant I would not be overtaken anymore. And that would mean the silver medal! I was excited. I was still careful coming down the steep bit. If you fall on your face there, you might hurt quite a bit.

When the steep bit was over, I accelerated again. A podium place is a good motivator! And when I came thundering towards the finish I was loudly cheered on. And I heard the commentator say I was indeed in second position. I was chuffed! By the finish I found the lady with the cow bell again. I gave her a congratulatory hug. She was gold!

Barely believing my position 

Then I found Marjan. She gave me a hug as well! And then I heard the commentator say the third woman had come in. Both the winner and me went in for an additional hug. All female medallists in a group hug! I thought that was such a nice example of friendly racing spirit.

I then got my jumper and jacket back from Marjan. Now we had to wait for the rest of the runners to come in, and the medals ceremony to start. While we were doing that I heard Alec’s name called. I went to congratulate him too! We had a bit of a chat, and then he went back up the hill to find his family who were waiting for him there.

When the ceremony started, they first did the age category winners. Just one per category. It puzzled me a bit; none of us medal ladies got one. But if we were the fastest three ladies, surely we were also the fastest in our age categories? The winner didn't look like she was in any particular age category (below 40 they don't care about your age), but us silver and bronze ladies sure were. (When the results came in I saw that indeed the bronze lady was in the same category as me.) Never mind! Then they got to the overall female category. I was so proud to stand there!

Picture by Marjan

We also cheered on the first three men. These as well were an under-40 winner with two 40+ runners-up. We oldies are still to be reckoned with! But then it was time to go home. In spite of the two layers I had just put on I was getting chilly. And I had more to do that evening.

When I got home I got my time: 31:45. Or 31:47, depending where you look. That surprised me, as I had done it in 30:13 the previous year, and that was only good for bronze. But the route was slightly different. I suppose that was it! This year’s winners had been slower than last year’s. It might have been that sneaky gravel path. 

I had not been optimistic about this year's race! What with falling ill less than a week beforehand. But the human body is an amazing thing. I don't think I will be able to resist the temptation to register for next year’s race as well. When you really love running up a hill, this really is the race for you! And who wouldn't want to end up in the top three? Who knows if I can do it again! 

29 March 2023

Windy day in Rhosneigr

 It seems to be a bit of a theme this academic year! Our geology field trips are marred by strong winds. We started as we would go on, on Llanddwyn. We had the sea being blown into our faces at times! 

Our trip to the Cemaes area was even worse. Any stronger winds and we would have had to cancel it. The Rhoscolyn trip was the exception. The weather was fab! But now we were gearing up for the trip to Rhosneigr. And the forecast was a bit like that for our Cemaes trip: just on the right side of acceptability. And the tide was such that we needed to start later than usual.

I drove the SOS 4WD there, picking up one student along the way. We had a good chat in the car. And we were the first on the scene. 

I had been worried about this; only days earlier I had completely lost my voice, and now I needed to shout over the wind to a whole group of students. But it was ok! We had decided I would do the introduction, and the spiel at the second outcrop we would reach. After that I would leave it to the men. So I was sure that that early on, I would manage! And I did. We found a sheltered spot for the introduction. And the second outcrop wasn’t that bad either. 

Dei holds forth about hornfels

Hornfels invisible under lichen

The later in the day, the more exposed the outcrops were. Jaco had to do a fair amount of shouting! And our last stop was the beach. The sheer number of windsurfers and kite surfers emphasised just how suboptimal the weather was for what we were doing. We looked at the beautiful deformed turbidites on the beach, but then called it a day. Another year when we don’t get to see the beach conglomerates! But they have been there for some 470 million years. They won’t be impatient. 

Turbidites in a mudstone background 

Students on beach, surfers in sea

When I got back to my office I was zonked. Being that buffeted by the wind is tiring! But we did it. I think I have to miss the next trip as I am otherwise engaged. So only one more for me! Let’s hope we get a break from the wind then…

28 March 2023

Sustainable transport in the valley

After the citizens’ assemblies, the idea was that working groups would take the ideas generated in the assemblies and run with them. I had signed up for the sustainable transport working group. And one day I got an email inviting me to a meeting at 5 pm on a Thursday. I would see Jenny that day, but she was okay to be moved. So I was available for the meeting!

The venue was the office of Dyffryn Gwyrdd, the organisation who is behind quite a lot of these Green initiatives. It's on the High Street, a stone’s throw from where I live! So the logistics were easy. When I walked in, two gentlemen who had been involved in the assemblies were already there: Chris and Huw. Chris was mainly there to facilitate, while Huw is involved in projects having to do with sustainable transport. And soon the second volunteer walked in: Pete. I was getting to know him a bit; he went to all assemblies, and he is a student in our college, I had met him in Machynlleth, and I sometimes bump into him on my commute. He does that on E-bike every day, and it is quite a distance! It was not difficult to see why he was interested in sustainable transport.

Nobody else showed up. So it was just the four of us! And we basically did some brainstorming. I thought that there should be more awareness of the various schemes we have in the valley, such as an electric bus going to Llyn Ogwen. Partneriaeth Ogwen bought up a building that used to hold a small supermarket that went bust. I thought they could probably use its windows for drawing attention to such things. Very many people come past this building every day! 

Huw also mentioned something I wasn't keen on; it is not certain that the electric car stays in the village. It was a trial! I hope it continues. But we will be getting an electric cargo bike. That is quite handy as well, but for different things.

We also thought we could use "bike to work day" to draw people out of their cars. We could do an organised commute! When you've done it once, maybe you go more often. And if not, well; we bike to work anyway. If no one shows up, or no one who does show up ever commutes by bike again, we haven't really lost much! At least we would have tried.

Some of the thoughts we had hit their heads against a brick wall of practicalities. But it was good to have a big brainstorm! And after about 1 1/2 hours we called it a day. Chris will type it all up and send it through. Let's hope we can make a tiny little bit of a positive difference!

27 March 2023

Equality and Diversity handover

During my PDR, my line manager had floated some suggestions about tasks I could take onto myself. And it had been decided I would be the SOS Academic Integrity Officer, and the SOS Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity lead. I had to take that first task over from Jaco, and he wasn’t wasting time; a few days later we had a handover and my task started. (And how it did!) It didn't quite work out that way with the second task.

By the time I finally found an opportunity to sit together with Katrien and go through what my tasks actually were, it was late March. It has finally happened! 

I had already seconded her during an induction talk. We were supposed to induce two people at the same time, but one couldn't make it. So now that I have had the handover, I need to do that. I agreed on Friday afternoon I will do it on Monday morning. I will have to dive pretty deep into the paperwork first thing Monday morning to carry this off! But it looks like my task has started!

The biggest task ahead, though, is not inductions; it will be the upcoming application for an Athena Swan award. SOS has a bronze award. Ideally, that would mean we could now apply for a silver award. The problem is; you need to have made progress in order to be successful with that. And that has been limited! Furthermore; the demands have changed a lot. There seems to be a mismatch between the action plan you were expected to make for the previous application, and the demands for the current around. We might very well have to reapply for a bronze. I will soon try to book a meeting with a lady from HR. And then everything will become a lot clearer.

It's taken a while, but from now on I can really get working with this. There is a lot of work to do! Wish me luck…

26 March 2023

Battling international logistics

I had tried to, and failed, to book a train to the Netherlands for my trip over Christmas. I really wanted to go there, though, so in the end I must admit I flew. I didn't feel good about that! But what can you do.

I had been trying to use an Interrail pass to book the Eurostar. I just couldn't get a seat on the leg between Brussels and London. And when that doesn't work, nothing works. So I still had that Interrail pass. I thought I could use that for a trip in spring. So I had to get back to the Interrail website. 

It still wouldn’t play ball. Maybe I was just booking too late. Should I perhaps just book really far in advance, and travel by some other means in spring? I gave that a go.

I have now booked the Eurostar to the Netherlands quite deep in the year. And for my spring trip, I booked a ferry. These were still available! I had been a bit inspired by my Dutch friends who had used the same ferry to come to the Yorkshire Dales.

I am interested to see how I like the travel by ferry. I will first have to get to the ferry port. That is probably going to be some five hours.

I hope I can manage by train. The crossing itself is probably a doddle; I will just be asleep. I will see how I like it! It might be an easier way to get there. In general I like trains, but Britain doesn't make that sort of thing easy…

25 March 2023

Between mine and steep street

One week to the race! The steepest street in the world race was the highlight of my racing season. With its emphasis on running up a steep hill it was right up my street. And having finished as third woman the year before, I was keen to see if I could at all repeat that this year. Last year, I had been doing hill reps to prepare myself. Admittedly, I took it a bit too far, and ended up with an ankle injury. But this year everything was quite different! I prepared for the race by desperately trying to shake off a cold acquired in a mine. I was full of snot, and my voice was faltering. I stayed at home for two days (no need to spread this cold) and didn't do exercise at all. I just went to bed early and hoped to get better. Not a great run-up! But what can you do. That will teach me making stupid decisions underground. There's only one way to find out what affect this sub-ideal preparation will have on my performance on the day!

24 March 2023

Kit replacement

Camping kit doesn’t last forever! I hadn’t needed any big replacements recently, but I knew my sleeping bag liner was at the end of its life, and an increasingly high number of my tent pegs were banana-shaped, if not Zorro-esque. And on the last night in Yorkshire I had broken my trusted spork. So I know I needed to get myself to an outdoor shop at some point.

When I came out of a mine with Sharon and Lydia, the latter asked me if I was okay to swing by an outdoor shop on the way home. And I certainly was! And they did have sleeping bag liners, tent pegs and sporks. Of course they did. So that came together quite nicely! I am ready for the new camping season!


23 March 2023

Very vertical mine trip

After a successful trip with Sharon in a mine in the east, and with Lydia and Toby in a mine in the south, there was enthusiasm for more. And it came together well. Lydia, Sharon and I were all available one Sunday, Lydia was keen on doing a very vertical trip near Llanberis, and Sharon has enough equipment to make the trip happen. Initially, Kate would join too, but something got in the way. Miles wasn't available.

I had been a bit worried about my throat for a while. It never really felt good! It didn't feel like an oncoming cold or tonsillitis or anything, but I didn't feel good either. And on that morning, it felt marginally worse than before. I would have to be careful!

I gathered my stuff and picked up Lydia from Bangor. Together we drove to Llanberis, where we met Sharon. She had cleverly put all the kit we needed in three bags, so we could share in the load. And I am a thirsty person, and during the first half of the day I am also quite a hungry person, so I also had a bag with supplies. Luckily, I have a rather big bag, so I could put my share of the equipment and all my food (and Lydia’s) and drink in that bag. It was quite heavy, but it wasn't far to the entrance!

View from the entrance 

We got in, and quickly found the first pitch. Sharon rigged it like the wind. It was a bit wet, but not too bad. And we got to the second pitch pretty much immediately. At the bottom of that there was a bit of horizontal exploration. It’s a pretty mine! And a metal mine, so nice staining here and there. 

What I saw near the bottom of the second pitch 

What they saw (pic by Sharon)

The next pitch also lead to a level where some exploration was possible. And I was considering my options! The next pitch was allegedly quite wet, and I was feeling my throat. I didn’t think getting soaking wet and cold would improve it. I did discuss this. Sharon went down first. She said it was just like rain. Not too bad. 

Lovely bucket

Lydia admiring some blue staining

Sharon looking at a hole in the floor

Lydia in a level with green staining on the floor

Lydia went second. And then I followed. It was very wet! And when I touched down there was nowhere we wanted to go. The level had quite high water. We didn’t fancy going into it. But that meant we were all three huddling on a very rainy square meter. Why not shout up coming down wasn’t worth it? Coming up would be wetter. 

Lydia went up first. I was wearing a thicker furry suit! It felt like it took her an hour. Then I went up. It was so wet! And a 34m pitch is hard work on the best of days. At the top I knew my voice had gone. I asked Lydia to shout “rope free” for me. And told her to move up the next pitch. That would speed things up! 

We made our way out. One pitch was a pain as I was the first up. The rope didn’t want to feed through my chest jammer! And then you have to manually pull it through. That’s really hard work. But that situation sorted itself. I wanted to be in between the others; then they could do the comms. They had voices! And a mine with falling water is a noisy environment. The message only partially came through, though; Lydia shouted at me several times from a distance to ask me how I was doing. She had good intentions, but was clearly not thinking that one through. 

When we got to the top and Sharon was de-rigging I figured I’d just go back to the car. I had by far the heaviest bag anyway! They could carry the rest. And when I got out the wind had picked up. I was soaked to the bone so I was feeling the cold! I was so glad to be able to slip into something dry. 

Soon the others appeared too, and we all changed into something dry. Me in silence, obviously. This was not how I had wanted the trip to end! I was seriously regretting that last pitch. But one learns. I knew I had to get home and take it very easy for the rest of the day. But it is a nice mine! Where you can have a lot more fun with ropes than in your average Welsh mine. I would like to go back there one day in a dry spell, when the pitches are not so wet, and that lower level is a bit more inviting. I could imagine the others feel similar! 

22 March 2023

Bigger game

I came home from the cinema and what did I find? A dead rat in the kitchen! I had never before seen evidence of my little not-so-brave cat handling anything that fierce. She regularly brings in mice and shrews, and very occasionally a small bird. Once she brought in a live pigeon. And that is bigger in volume. But a rat! That’s a different kettle of fish. They are much more intimidating.

The cat was nowhere to be found. Not unusual; it was the sort of time she likes being outdoors. But often, when she is outside when I get home, she soon spots my presence (the turning on of lights?) and comes bolting in. Not now! I was a bit worried.

Soon she appeared. All cheerful and hungry! Would my scaredy-cat be on a slow trajectory of becoming more assertive? Or did she just find a particularly poorly and resigned rat? Time will tell!

21 March 2023

Noise instead of dust

In Welsh class, some attention was dedicated to a Welsh film that had come out: Y Sŵn, or the noise. It sounded interesting. I had also seen in an email that there was a public lecture coming up. It was about the struggle for compensation of quarry workers with silicosis. The title explicitly involved the word ‘llwch’, or dust. And then I had a look. They were at the same time! Now I would have to choose.

I chose the lecture. That would be a one-off. There might be another opportunity to see the film! I could potentially see it on the Saturday night. So after work I ate my sandwiches and went to the building where the lecture would be. It was closed! And there was no one to be seen. Was something wrong? And then two other ladies appeared, with the same mission. Then I checked the email again and realised the lecture was actually a week later. But that decided it; I would just go to the film instead. That started half an hour later.

The film was about an event that is very famous in Wales, but that I had never heard of before coming here and learning about Welsh history. In Wales there was a noteworthy movement fighting for the Welsh language and more autonomy for Wales. One of the important people in this movement was Gwynfor Evans; for a long time the leader of the Welsh National party, and the first MP of that party in Westminster. The movement had had a boost in reaction to the flooding of the Tryweryn valley. And it had been campaigning for a Welsh language television channel. The government had promised that that would come, but then in 1979 it change its mind. And especially the Society for the Welsh language took exception to that.

In an attempt to change the government mind back, there were rallies and protests and delegations sent to Westminster and whatnot, but nothing seemed to help.

And then Gwynfor Evans made a drastic decision. He announced that he would go on hunger strike if the government wouldn't change its mind back, and stay on hunger strike until they would. And if they wouldn't, well, that would be the end.

Long story short; it worked, and the Welsh channel is still going strong. 

So what was the film like? I enjoyed it! The story had got a bit festooned with unlikely details for dramatic and/or comedic effect, but I didn’t mind that too much. They also didn't shy away from having archive footage mixed in with the re-imagining with actors. And I have no idea how close they stayed to the actual Gwynfor Evans, they did give a plausible rendition. And it increased my respect for the man. What a dedication to a cause that was so close to hopeless! I'm glad I went. I don't think I can make the dusty talk next week, but this way at least I've got some Welsh culture in!

20 March 2023

Climate change teaching done

One week to the Easter break! It always feels like such an important milestone in the academic year. And this year, a module that kept me especially busy was our climate change module. The year before I had completely changed what I teach, so this year I had to improve on that. I never get things quite right the first year around. And I am sure next year I will still be tweaking. But on the Friday of the second last week before the Easter break I had my last lecture. So now I can go into the last week with student contacts with that off my plate. And it feels good.

I am still teaching on my rather wide-ranging Earth, Climate and Evolution module. And there also is teaching in the tutorial module, and the fieldwork module in that week. But that will probably all stuff that I can prepare for without haste. Great! And of course the Easter break is not really a break; for instance, my big job will be to prepare for the dissertation presentations conference. But I can work on that with less interruption than normal!

18 March 2023

Main University building has a courtyard again

One of these days, I was teaching in the Main Arts building. I walked past the courtyard to get to an entrance. This had been fenced off for months! There had been massive work going on there. And suddenly, the fencing was gone. I didn't expect that!

New! get an idea of what it was like in this post

I know I don't always give my undivided attention to communications from the University, but I had expected there would be so much hoo-ha about the courtyard being accessible again I wouldn't have managed to escape the news. I was clearly wrong!

It's only a minor thing for me as I'm not in that building particularly often, but I was glad to see the work finished. I think it looks good! Even though I missed the nice greenness of the lawns that were there before. Maybe this was a climate adaptation measure? It is possible that in heat waves, the grass dies, and in very wet periods, it becomes very muddy. And paving over grass exacerbates flood risk, of course, but let's not go into that.

The courtyard being accessible also means the library now has disabled access. The temporary access route involved a few steps…

Later I had to visit the library and saw the place in sunlight. Even better! 

View from the library entrance 

I wonder if there will be some official opening. And if not, we will see this space undoubtedly used to its fullest effect in the summer graduation ceremonies! I'm sure it will provide a good backdrop for pictures…

17 March 2023

Impeded therapy

When I told one of my friends I was going to have therapy in Llanrwst, he had his doubts. Wasn't that place under water all the time? I acknowledged that that risk was real, but I didn't worry too much about it. And for weeks on end, everything was fine.

Then one rather wet day I drove to the village via my normal route, came to the famous bridge in the middle of town that I always cross, only to find it closed. Oh dear! I parked up somewhere and sent my therapist a message. Soon after, she phoned.

She knew the bridge would be closed, so she had driven around! It seems not to have occurred to her did I didn't know it was closed. So now what? We just agreed on a different meeting point: in Capel Curig, a lot closer to home for me. This did mean, though, that I drove past two point of interest I might otherwise have visited on the way back. One was the outdoor shop in Betws y Coed; I had decided in Yorkshire that some of my gear was beyond repair and needed to be replaced. And why drive to go to a shop if you drive past on the way to somewhere else?

The other one was the hotel that was renovating. I would have liked to pick up a bit more firewood! I hadn’t the week before as I had had my boot full of bike. Pity to miss two opportunities in a row! 

The weather was appalling. At some point my therapist suggested we just turn around given that we were both battling against the horizontal rain. That doesn't really help conversation! So some of the time we were just standing still in a spot where some trees provided shelter. It was by far the worst weather we had had since starting this!

The weather that day

When we were done, I decided to first drive home and put on the some dry clothes. I had not bothered with waterproof trousers so I was soaked to the bone!

We agreed that in the future if she realises the bridge is closed, she will draw my attention to that. That will avoid the sort of fruitless driving around we did this time. And this session didn't yield things like a new sleeping bag liner, nor firewood, and it did necessitate a change of clothes, but I was glad we still had managed to at least get the therapy part sorted, which of course is the essence!

16 March 2023


I had seen the weather warning of snow that was in force, but I figured that would probably mainly hold on higher ground. I live really low down in the valley! But when on a Friday I opened my curtains, I saw a white world. Really really white. That surprised me! 

I decided to go into the garden and take a few pictures. How often will I see it like this? And then I went to have breakfast.

That day I was expected on the main campus. I grabbed the bike with the winter tires again! And I'd made sure I would leave on time. These conditions are not good. 

I pushed my bike to the road. There I got on. It was actually quite warm, so the traffic had turned the snow on the road to slush and water. That was far from ideal! I didn't need the spikes, but I was getting soaking wet. When I could turn onto the bicycle path I did, but there I felt that the snow was quite deep and slushy, so very slippery. Spikes don't work on slush! 

I turned back and just drove. That worked fine! My car didn't like getting off the very snowy parking lot very much, but did it; once I was on the road everything was fine. I don't really like being chased off my bike, but I think I made the correct call. 

When I got back the mountains looked absolutely glorious. The day after, it was rainy and snowy. And the day after that, all snow had vanished from the view from my house, and in the morning it seemed to be proper spring, while in the evening it turned into thorough autumn. Never a dull moment here in North Wales! But I do have some nice pictures of what my garden can look like at its most wintry…

What I saw first thing in the morning

Deep snow! By Bethesda standards.

15 March 2023

Dog rescue

It had been a hectic week! If you go off on a jolly for a few days, you tend to come back to a to do list the length of your arm. I found myself preparing for my teaching of the next day until quite late in the evening some evenings. But on the Wednesday, I had got quite some teaching out of the way, and there was not an awful lot immediately afterwards. I had that lovely feeling that I was up to date with things, that everything was under control, and I was really enjoying it. And then my phone pinged.

It was a message from the rescue team. There was mention of a dog having fallen down a hole! I didn't yet say we had to go there. The location was given as a village some 50 minutes east.

Sometimes when there is an issue with a dog, one person can and does sort it out. So I wasn't sure if I was going to get called out! But I was. So I grabbed my kit and drove east. 

When I got to the site, the dog was already being hauled up by people who had got there quicker. Read how it went here! She was fine. And very cute.

From the Daily Post. Copyright NWCRO.

I had basically driven quite far east and got to bed way too late in vain, but that is how these things go. Although I did mull over how this rescue had gone through the eyes of someone who is expected to become a controller. There were several things I thought we could improve on! Not really on charm levels of the casualty, though. I hope the lovely dog will have a very uneventful life from now on!

From the NWCRO Facebook page 

14 March 2023

International Women’s Day 2023

It was March the 8th again, so international women’s day. The university always organises something, and if I can I attend. This year it was a panel discussion with internal women. And I was there.

The room was largely empty! And of course the vast majority of people there were women. In that sense, it wasn’t very encouraging. But we’ll have to struggle on! There is still a lot of work to do. Maybe we should have an international men’s day event too? Maybe that would attract all genders. And only if we have everyone on board, we can make serious changes…

The VC opens the event

13 March 2023

Students on secluded beach

 It is early spring, so inevitably, we would be doing the field day on the beach. The one I do with my friend and colleague Lynda, where we look at glaciofluvial sediment exposed in a cliff on a beach in southern Anglesey. Normally we do that first thing in the morning, but this year the tides were against, and the students would only leave the main campus at 11:30. So I had the morning for other things. And at about 11 I took the School’s pick-up truck to the layby by the path to the beach.

When I got there, the water was still too high to get onto the beach. I texted Lynda to say I would have to set out the sections for the students to log while she would give them the introduction. I just had some sandwiches, and then the coach with the students appeared.

No beach! 

By that time, the water was so low the first part of the beach was accessible. But only just! There is a stream that enters the sea, and normally there is enough space to walk behind it. But since last year, it has moved inland; the only way of getting onto the beach now was to clamber over some big boulders by the meander in the stream. Not very inviting!

Stream inhibiting access to the beach

I set to work. I always pick a number of sections that I find interesting, mark them out in chalk, and hammer in a peg with a section label next to them. And I had just about enough beach to mark out to the usual number. Then I went back to where Lynda was talking to the students.

Just enough beach to get past the promontory 

Sediment selfe

She rounded off, and the students went off in their groups to log the sections, and we walked around checking on how they were doing. It was a gorgeous day! It was cold but sunny.

We had to be a bit quicker the normal, as this late start meant we had to do everything in slightly less time. So after not too much time, Lynda did her final spiel, and this first group of students went back to their coach. I waited with Katie, the PhD student we had for support this year, for the second cohort to arrive. And then we did it all again!

Lynda ties it all together 

One thing that was noteworthy that this year, there were practically no other people on the beach, undoubtedly due to the stream getting in the way. That made going for a quick unobserved leak very easy! 

The beach got big later on! 

The second group was a bit colder than the first; the sun was vanishing behind the cliff, so all sections were soon in the shadow. We made sure to be done by five. 

What struck me this year was that the students are really reluctant to make a sketch of the sections. That really is the way to document them! But so many students said they just took a picture, and then took notes in their phone. But how do you know afterwards where you put your unit boundaries? I kept telling them that making a sketch forces you to make decisions, and you can base these decisions on as close a scrutiny of the cliff face as you want right there. Once you are back home and trying to do it in hindsight, you can't anymore. You are inevitably running into trouble!

I am sure that times are not far off that all students know how to draw on the pictures they take. If you do that, it's okay! You have the picture, and then on top of them you have the decisions you made about the interpretation. But nobody was doing that. I did manage to convince a fair number to make a sketch, but undoubtedly not enough!

When we were done I didn't have big problems getting the pegs out again; sometimes that is a bit of a job. But not this time. And then I could drive back to campus again!

I had stupidly left my access card in my other trousers, so I couldn't get into the building to drop off the keys. I just waited around until some better-organised person appeared, and asked them to let me in. And then I could go home! Next year again…

12 March 2023

Bike gets some love

My commuter bike makes a lot of miles! If I have a day where I only travel to the office and back, that covers 14.5 miles. If I travel both ways via Bangor, that that takes 18.5 miles. And the shorter way, unsurprisingly, has more hills. If you do that almost every day, your bike suffers with some wear and tear.

Since I had bought it, some one and a half years ago, I hadn't had it serviced. I had replaced the brake pads twice (or rather, I had Martin do it once and done it myself once), and oiled the chain many times, but that was basically it and that is not enough!

The big bicycle repair shop in town, Evolution, which looked after my road bike, is so successful they refuse a lot of work. And I had emailed the repair shop in Mynydd Llandygai to ask if he would be willing to do it. It is a Mountain bike shop, but maybe he was willing to also have a go on the commuter bike? I didn't get a reply. Not as far as I could tell, anyway.

Jaco alerted me to the existence of another repair shop, called Mud Cows; this one in Menai Bridge. I contacted it, and they were happy to take my bike on! So one morning when I had to drive to work anyway for reasons of having therapy in Llanrwst early in the morning, being in the field until quite late because of the tide, and then still being home on time for my Skype dinner with Jaco and Marjan, I made sure to have my bike in the boot. In between therapy and work I dropped it off. 

I wasn't quite sure what needed doing, but the repair man had a look there and then. His judgement: new chain, new bits of the rear wheel (it had started showing movements it shouldn't), new front brake pads. Especially that wheel will be crucial! 

I look forward to getting it back spic and span. And unless I don’t like his work, I’ll be coming back there! Very good to have a bike repair shop that takes on random commuter bikes near the office…

The somewhat dissembled bike in the repair shop

11 March 2023

The grand reveal

It looks like my date and me have a bit of a habit of doing things in a strange order. He has already appeared on the blog in the hike posts. But he hadn't been announced yet! There were some conditions not yet met for me to take that step, but between the hike and me starting to release blog posts about the hike, they were. Hence that careful readers of the blog already know that his name is Dave and what he looks like. So although that limits what is still there to actually reveal, I did think it was well worth a blog post of its own. This looks like it is turning into quite a big change in my life.

So who is Dave? He is an outdoor instructor turned software developer who only lives 10 minutes on foot away from me. He has two teenage children who both live part-time with him. He is a very active climber, and normally is also an active runner, but an injury is keeping that very limited at the moment.

In spite of the evident differences (e.g. his parental status and climbing talent) we have so much in common that I sometimes think he may not even have noticed the quirks that made me wonder if I had manoeuvered myself well outside of society and the dating pool. I know he has noticed (and not necessarily enjoyed) that my house is a bit on the cold side, but that I use my wood burner as an important source of heat, try to use as little drinking water as possible for purposes that don't require drinking water, don't eat meat, try to avoid plastic, don't watch television, et cetera et cetera are all things that I think he just considers totally reasonable things to do. And with greatly overlapping interests, we will be able to sometimes do the things we enjoy together. So I suppose it is easy to see why this seems to work! And there obviously is also a spark. Quite a substantial one. Otherwise none of that would be relevant. 

Things have been going fast. After all, our first meeting was this year, and it is only March! And we have already met each other's oldest friends. And I have met his sister. And now he has his announcement. 

There are still loads of important and even rather basic milestones to reach, but I have faith we will indeed reach them. I think I can say we are both serious about this. I hope we have the wisdom to make this a long and happy relationship. And if so, his face will be popping up here now and again for many years to come!

A beautiful picture (I think) that Dave took of us on top of Ingleborough; anonymised on request

10 March 2023

Spring swamp hike 2023: day 3 &4

When I woke up on the third day of our swamp hike I noticed there was snow lying on the tent. Snow! I had noticed it has been cold the previous night, but this was a bit more than I expected. Dave was dead to the world next to me, so after a while I got dressed and got up. I figured I could take some snowy pictures of our undisturbed camp! And I did. I also noticed very cute tracks in the snow of the grouse we had heard around the tents.

A cold morning!


Soon, Henco was up as well. As usual. So we started making coffee. It was cold but also very beautiful! And one by one the others appeared too. The last one to come out of the tent was Dave. He could now meet everybody else! And although he is an experienced outdoorsman, he hadn't brought anything to sit on, so he joined Roelof on his generous mat. And we had a nice snowy breakfast. We also decided to walk into the valley and then decide on whether to climb Ingleborough or not. We weren’t all that prepared for snow. 

We packed up and left, in the direction of the Whernside summit. We got there in no time. And did some frosty summit selfies. Then we descended, which was less straightforward than it should have been. That path is slippery! And it wasn’t even icy. 


Whernside summit selfie!


Henco contemplating the way down

In the valley we sat down for coffee. We also finished the spekkoek, of which we had only managed to eat half the day before. It was a new concept to Dave! And by then, Ingleborough was already snow free, so we decided to just go for it. So we crossed the valley, having a look at the little chapel on the way, and started the way up on the other side. We saw some amazing limestone pavements! And we chose one on which to have lunch. Dave had brought some extra supplies.

Coffee. Pic by Henco

Busstop? Lime kiln? Both?

Limestone pavement! Pic by Henco

The way up was steep but not actually very high! It didn't feel like much of an effort. And at the top we did a few more summit selfies. Two of the three local famous peaks conquered within not much time!

The way up

Ingleborough selfie

Our plan was to just descend until we found a good place to camp for the night. Inevitably, we would be quite close to Ingleton, but so be it. We approached a beautiful farm from which it was unclear from a distance if it was inhabited. If it wouldn't be, that would be a great spot! But on closer inspection it was a B&B. So we decided to camp on a field a bit higher up on the hill. There was no water there, so we made sure to fill all our containers in the stream close to the path before we went there. And I had a good wash before I joined the others.

Last camping spot

I also thought it was time to bring out my whisky. So far it had remained untouched! The first night we had had beer, and the second night everyone went to bed at seven. But now there was nothing getting in the way!

That night it was my turn to cook. I made pasta. Normally I would have sausage in that; I have had the habit of many years to drop my vegetarianism if I am hiking, because it is just so easy to make any food taste good with meat. Just carry a chorizo and you're sorted. We were now so far up the path of being Guardian-reading Wokerati that I had decided against that. Luckily, it was still good! Although I feared it wasn't enough. Beginner's mistake. But I have dropped a hint to Dave that he could make himself popular by bringing things the rest of us wouldn't be crazy enough to have with us on day 3. And he had! He actually carried a bottle of wine, and what was needed to turn it into mulled wine. And he served that with chocolate.

As usual, we went to bed quite soon after dinner. And I slept well! And in the morning we had the usual routine of Henco and I making coffee. It was a rather relaxed breakfast. We knew we were close to the village. There was no hurry, we could be generous with fuel, and didn't have to bring much water with us. And we enjoyed the much milder weather than we had had the previous night. 

After breakfast it was a very straightforward walk back into town. We first headed for the cars. I enjoyed putting on some civilian shoes there! And then we went back to the café where we had started. And altogether we enjoyed their breakfast menu, their lunch menu, their cake menu, and there we are offering. I think we were good customers! But all good things come to an end, and the Dutch contingent had to catch their boat. So we said our goodbyes. Soon again, I hope!

When the Dutch were gone I first brought Dave back to his vehicle. And then we decided to give the hike one little appendix; we drove to Dent for a half pint. Such a gorgeous village, and it also is the birthplace of Adam Sedgwick! But then it was time to drive home. The first spring swamp hike ever was now truly over! But I think it was a good one!