Cambrian Challenge – Chapter 2

24th April 2012 by

Last time we left you the courageous Otesha alumni were about to embark on an epic adventure up the wilds of the Cambrian coast in north Wales. But before we hear of their tales of high hills and handlebars  here are some handy statistics:

Punctures: 1 (one very steep hill  = one burnt inner tube)

Workshop audience numbers: 20

Miles covered: 150                                                                            

Hours spent cycling in the rain: circa 10 minutes!

Average leg muscle growth: about 5 inches (ish)

Mountainous Mondays

Monday arrived and we packed up our panniers with much gusto, itching to get out onto the road. First stop was the Centre for Alternative Energy, a world renowned eco-centre perched on an old slate quarry in mid-Wales. Everyone had a good time learning about all things renewable – with Alex picking up some hints about how to make a solar water heater for his houseboat.

Unfortunately we had to rip ourselves away from this sustainable heaven and say goodbye to Machynlleth, heading over the hills to a permaculture farm near Dolgellau. And wow, it was hilly! So steep our front wheels were lifting off the road. Alex won the medal of the day for valiantly pulling BOB the trailer all the way over the steepest hill of them all, while we lagged behind eating sugary treats.  The struggle was worth it though as we were treated to the most stunning views of green wild valleys and buzzards fighting in the clouds.

We finally arrived at our destination deep in the Coed-Y-Brenin pine forest just as dusk was falling. Our home for the night was Penrhos Uchaf mountain bothy, an old farmhouse kept in good nick by volunteers – it didn’t exactly have many mod-cons (like electricity or running water) but was a welcome shelter. After a gourmet Thai-style curry courtesy of Josh we all curled up for a good night’s sleep.


Tasty-time Tuesday

We discovered that a dark cottage in the woods and scary noises coupled with  with 5 over active imaginations does NOT make for a good night’s sleep. Nevertheless we all survived to see dawn, and a trip to see Chris Dixon and his permaculture land project at Tir Penrhos Isaf. Chris and his wife Lyn have been working on the site since 1986, basing land design on observation of natural eco-systems. We spent an inspiring, if cold, morning learning about how to build productive habitats using sustainable methods, as well as hearing about the intricacies of low-impact development planning permission. An interesting new development in Wales is the ‘One planet development‘ policy, which makes it easier for low impact dwellings to be built.


To thank Chris and Lyn for showing us their amazing project we did a couple of hours moving wood and taming brambles, before hopping back into the saddles and heading up north. Several hills, one hail storm, a chocolate eating fest and 20 miles later we reached Llanfrothen- a small village nestled in Snowdonian foothills. We were met by a feast of bean stew and cake provided by our generous host Awel, and put our feet up by the fire purring like content cats.

Workshop Wednesday

Wednesday morning and time for school. Awel had arranged for us to do our Fairtrade workshop with the older classes  (a total of 10 pupils in years 4-6!), so we spent an interesting morning discussing the finer points of where your money goes when you buy a banana. After playing some fun games our newly clued up advocates of a just trade system ran off to check for Fairtrade fruit at their break-time tuckshop, and we cycled off to find tuck of our own.

Later that day us Cambrian Challengers walked over the soggy fields, making up a thank you poem for our host Awel, on our way to an old farmhouse which was to be the setting for our next workshop for Gwerin Y Coed (the Woodcraft Folk in Wales). We had decided to give our workshop on energy here as the farmhouse is powered by solar energy, giving a chance for the young people to get up close and personal with renewable energy. Not only that but Trystan, who lives on the farm, is somewhat of an energy expert, building his own open source  household energy monitors which he ships as far away as Uruguay. Anyway, we must have done something right as apparently the kids (aged 6-10) spent the 15 minute bus ride home debating the merits of solar versus coal!

Thursday and we’re thundering along

The weather gods were upon us on Thursday as we cycled along the North-Wales coast in blazing sunshine, just missing some major storms judging by the puddles on the road. We stopped for a spot of lunch (ergo potato salad) by the harbour in Pwllheli, before grabbing a cuppa (or ‘paned’ in Welsh) to warm up. The road onwards and a return to the hills due to a small map reading error (we were singing ‘she’ll be coming round the mountain’ at full belt until we realised we were actually going over it). Nevermind, we had a breezy downhill sprint all the way to our next destination- Felin Uchaf- a wonderful land-based community project right on the tip of the Llyn Peninsula. Here we met up with Iona who was on holiday from her normal job as Otesha Change Projects director. She showed us around the community-run garden, ship-building barn (under construction) and cob round houses built by local volunteers and school children.

That night we all snuggled down in one of the stunning roundhouses, complete with resident bat (all that is apart from Ellie who got lost on the way), looking forward to volunteering the next day.

Friday funday

The team refreshed from reclining in the roundhouse, Emyr, who works at Felin Uchaf, led us off across the fields to some trees that had been planted about 5 years ago as a wind break. Our task was to remove all the guards that the trees had outgrown but as ever work slowly disintegrated into hilarious chaos – how much fun can you have in one wheel-barrow?

For lunch Leah and Josh had assembled us a superb stinging-nettle soup, complete with a garnish of wood sorrel, all foraged from the fields we were working in. Talk about local food! It triggered the usual debate over whether nettles taste like fish or not…

A windy but sunny trip to the local beach followed- Ellie and Leah were brave bikers (or foolhardy?) running straight into the sea whilst the rest of us shivered on the beach. Later that evening we sat around a fire eating stir-fry made from the garden’s vegetables, playing biscuit themed charades and plotting about how we can move Otesha HQ to  Felin Uchaf.

Super speedy Saturday

Saying farewell to Iona, the band of Cambrian Challengers stampeded along the route of the longest and final cycle ride, a mammoth 50 mile race to meet the 5pm train from Bangor. Those hours of pedaling up hills must have paid off, as we made it to Caernarvon, a 35 mile ride in only 3 and a bit hours, leaving time for a spot of lunch in a high-class greasy spoon. After toasting to a highly successful tour with a cuppa the Cambrian Challengers disbanded – Leah,  Alex and Ellie zooming off to catch a train to Bristol, and Luci and Josh off to spend the night in a cosy yurt near Bangor.

Although short the Cambrian Challenge tour sure did pack a lot in! Not only did we get to cycle through one of the most stunning landscapes in the UK but we also learnt a lot about sustainable land projects, renewable energy, and low impact building. Hopefully we inspired 20 young people to take small sustainable actions like buying a fairtrade banana or switching off the lights, and have all been inspired by the amazing projects and passionate people we met along the way. So now we shall bid you adieu, I for one have a pair of lycra to wash!

Love the sound of this and want to get in the saddle as part of an Otesha team? Sign up for our summer 2012 tours here.

2 Responses to “Cambrian Challenge – Chapter 2”

  1. Erik Riehl says:

    A small vegetable garden in your own backyard can bring you many benefits. Not only will you realize the creative benefits of gardening, you will grow fresh produce for your family and the local food pantry. Gardening can be a family affair with your children acquiring gardening skills that can be passed on to their own children.`

    Our web page

  2. Tamsin says:

    Hi Erik – yes we’re totally with you on that one; and that’s why we’ev launched our Branch Out programme too – to get more young people growing and keeping green spaces, er, green!

Search Blog

Get Social