The highs and lows of tour – and we don’t just mean topography

15th July 2014 by

This past week has been incredibly busy, and it is almost impossible to summarise it all in a brief blog post! We continue to harbour a complex love/hate relationship with the Welsh hills. And the ups and downs don’t stop there…this experience has been both a physical and emotional rollercoaster!

We have met the most amazing people along the tracks and roads through Wales. Hosts and locals alike have offered so much generosity to our team in the form of directions when we were lost, lifts when we were exhausted, music when we needed to dance and hot showers when we smelled more like sheep than people. We must mention our hosts who have made us feel so welcome in their cottages, barns and field corners through north and west Wales:

  • Awel, who let us stay on an explosions-factory-turned-nature-reserve with some shy sheep and made us a delicious vegan dinner;
  • Luci and Pontus, who welcomed us into their barn at 10pm, soaking wet and tired, with smiles, a bonfire, hot food, and well-deserved chocolate desserts;
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology, Luci, and Rod, who gave us a tour of the site, took us on a mountainous hike to visit Nora the wind turbine, and showed us the best place for an afternoon swim in the mountains that anyone could ask for;
  • Suzanne and Mark, who put us up in their golf clubhouse (complete with disco-dance mood lighting!), brought us their strawberries and drove our panniers and trailers all the way to Clunderwen on our 60-mile cycle day which ended up being a 13 hour hill-climb;
  • Chris and Wendy, who gave us full run of their cottage and beautiful outdoor space for a sunny afternoon;
  • Steve, who allowed us to stay in Pembrey Country Park for free and pointed us towards the beautiful sunset-lit beach and hot-shower building (much love!);
  • Tim and Catrin, who welcomed us into their home, let us take over their kitchen to cook proper food not made on a cooking hob, and gave us a workshop on stained glass painting.

We also owe great thanks to those whose names we do not know, who welcomed us into their farm and bike shops after hours, offered us free hummus and toffee waffles from their restaurants, and cheered us on from roadsides and car windows as we crossed paths. You have all helped us on our journey!

Our travel days have been tough, but we have not yet been defeated by hills.

We were confronted with the unpredictable Welsh weather immediately after leaving Felin Uchaf near Pwllhelli on our first day of tour. We followed the infamous cycle route 8, which took the first group to the top of a mountain – not recommended unless you are training for Tour de France! The rain was showing no sign of stopping, and we were only a quarter of the way on our 45 mile ride, so the team finally gave in and took the train to make it to our host Luci’s place before nightfall. While waiting for the train, a group of kids peeked above a fence and started chatting to us, so we decided it would be a good idea to present a play scene to them. Great success!

Some of our bikes were suffering with teething problems, or only had 3 gears to face the Welsh hills, so we visited Dan the bike mechanic to sort things out. He then cycled part of the day with us blasting out tunes from his mobile trailer stereo system.

This tour has brought us so many challenges, gifts, and new experiences. We’ve had late-night evening circles, we’ve had sunshine. We’ve had delicious food cooked by tour members and so much kindness shown to us by the lovely people of Wales have warmed our bellies and our spirits. We have so much gratitude for one another, and for the support we’ve had from so many people who helped us find one another on this crazy two-week adventure. Here’s to the second half of our tour and the blossoming of new ideas!

 

Inspiring Projects to make your own

7th November 2013 by

http://mariashriver.com/blog/2013/08/powered-by-inspiration-maria-shriver/Here at Otesha we’re always on the lookout for inspiration.  No doubt, there are hundreds of thousands of people, organisations, projects, and places that do the trick.  Recently we came across Revolutionary Arts and their list of 50 inspiring projects.  We like what they have to say: Revolutionary Arts is dedicated to new ideas, fresh challenges and radical thinking. It makes things for places and people.

Looking over the list below, I’d say it’s all about finding those precious moments/ideas/thoughts/people and celebrating the way they ‘inspire you to bring playfulness, pride, pop up fun, placeshaking and productivity to the place where you live‘.

Stay tuned as sources say there’s another list of 50 coming.  We can’t wait!

  1. Open a pop up bookshop
  2. Make some robots
  3. Plant more sunflowers
  4. Start a shop local campaign
  5. Walk to work
  6. Create an indoor charity market
  7. Open a cycle-powered cinema
  8. Ask people what they want in the neighbourhood
  9. Make your own roadsigns to encourage people to walk
  10. Start a weekend festival in a forgotten corner of the town
  11. Manage the empty shops to make it easier for people to use them
  12. Make the public spaces places for people to sit
  13. Turn the place you live into a Play Street
  14. Create a Cash Mob and support independent shops
  15. Print your own money
  16. Grow more food
  17. Fill the shops with swings
  18. Plant a sensory garden
  19. Think of the bicycle as transport, not just a leisure activity
  20. Install benches with bookshelves at bus stops
  21. Open a pop up playspace
  22. Design theatre posters and paste them up
  23. Find new uses for empty shops
  24. Only buy secondhand stuff
  25. Start a bicycle recycling project
  26. Tell people what’s made locally
  27. Collect photographs of things you’d usually ignore
  28. Make your street a 10 smiles an hour zone
  29. Give teenagers their own market
  30. Open a café that gives homeless people jobs
  31. Ride your bike naked
  32. Open a box shop
  33. Find the garden under the paving slabs
  34. Build your own mobile phone network
  35. Imagine what an art festival could do
  36. Meet up to celebrate local architecture
  37. Create interactive art in windows with digital technology
  38. Open a book exchange in a fridge
  39. Ensure that people can walk (not drive) to the town centre
  40. Clean up the place where you live
  41. Make buildings from shipping containers
  42. Open a pop up crazy golf course in a shopping centre
  43. Make the whole town an arts venue
  44. Turn the local park into a city farm
  45. Paint your own pedestrian crossings on streets
  46. Start a moveable museum
  47. Bring bees to the city
  48. Find out what makes a place special
  49. Make sure your high street balances
  50. Create a pop up thinktank and write your own list of ideas for making where you live better
via Revolutionary Arts

We challenge you to address your windows

18th October 2013 by

Windows waste plenty of energy and money.  And we know that not everyone can simply swap out their old windows with new double glazed ones.  Instead, we challenge you to address your windows and make a few simple changes in your home.

  • Install draught-proofing products on drafty doors and windows. Block cracks, seal your skirting board with sealant and fit a chimney draught excluder
  • Use stretch-seal, heat-shrink plastic sheeting kits for windows (found an example of this double glazing film here) as an inexpensive and easy way to seal warped or single-glazed windows.
  • Use window quilts or heavy curtains over your windows to keep the cold out in the winter and the heat out in the summer. An uninsulated drape can cut window heat loss by one-third. An insulated drape can reduce it by hal

And if you are in the market to re-do your windows, check out Energy Savings Trust’s Windows Guide.

How apropos to know that Energy Saving Week is also taking place on 21-25 October, 2013.  Find more energy tips here and get addressing your windows!

 

We challenge you to re-think your spring cleaning!

3rd May 2013 by

We’ve been noticeably chirpier with the spring season upon us and so we’ve all been discussing about ways to start anew and get set for the coming months.  Here at Otesha, we’re closing our winter box and doing a spring clean.
This time around, we challenge you to re-think your spring cleaning!  There’s many ways you can start.  We’ve come up with a list below but if you want to add anything, drop us a line and of course, tell us how it went. We’d love to hear from you.

  • Make your own cleaning products.  It may sound daunting but it’s much easier than you think.  Our ever lovely Jo wrote a blog on how to start.  Check it out here.
  • You may also need to un-clog some drains.  Here are some helpful tips for a more natural way to clean drains. cleaningThrow away those chemicals; they go straight to our water supply.
  • Start by checking out our new and improved “3-Rs” at the bottom of our Fun Action Ideas page.
  • Instead of dropping any unused items and clothing in the bin, drop them to a charity of your choice or consider posting them on freecycle.  One’s rubbish could be someone else’s treasure.
  • Take a look at your air filters – they often need washing to keep things moving.
  • Use the sun to dry your clothes outdoors. On those very *few* days of rain, don’t forget to keep the dryer filter clean.  It makes it more efficient.
  • If you’ve got a garden and are tending and cleaning, consider growing heirloom varieties to help to preserve biodiversity.  And rather than using toxic pesticides, use natural pest control.
  • As the weather is warming (and hopefully the sun is still shining), consider walking or cycling instead of driving. Or, choose the bus/train.
  • Consider removing your shoes upon entering your home.  It’s amazing how much dirt you track through the house and when you take your shoes off it means less cleaning!
  • Adjust your curtains as the days warm up – open them in the early morning and after the sun goes down.
  • It’s difficult to make your large appliances eco-friendly but you can do things to help them be more efficient.

    Fridges and freezers are designed to cool and keep things cool this isn’t want things want to do natural, heat moves into areas of low heat so they are fighting against nature. Keeping your space about 2/3 full in both fridge and freeze means they have less to do as heat moves between the foods, and maximize the efforts of the fridge/freezer.

Do you have more tips for us? Let us know!

Party

22nd November 2012 by

Click the image to enlarge. More cartoons here.

Brrrrr it’s cold in here!

12th October 2012 by

Today British Gas announced price increases of 6% on gas and electricity bills, coming in to effect next month.  And then a few hours later npower said their prices would go up by 9% too. This follows SSE’s recent announcement of a 9% price hike starting this Monday. Similar increases are expected from the rest of the Big Six energy companies, and all of this comes on top of an average 18% increase since the summer of 2011. What this means is that the average household is now paying at least £100 more to heat their homes than last winter.

So why does this make me angry? Surely as an environmentalist I think it’s a good thing that heat and light which is produced by fossil fuels should be more expensive? Then people will use less of it to save money and in so doing reduce their contribution to climate change? Sadly, no.

One in four households in the UK lives in fuel poverty (spending more than 10% of total income on heating), and that number rises to one in three in much of Scotland and Wales. This means people don’t have enough disposable income to heat their homes to a warm temperature and pay for other essentials, leading to an all too common choice between whether to ‘heat or eat’. The effect of living in cold homes is well documented, and it hits children, the disabled and older people the hardest. The effect on physical and mental health for these vulnerable groups is horrifying and well documented - at least 65 people a day die in the UK in winter as a result of illnesses due to cold homes.

I don’t want these people to use less energy, I want them to use more. A lot more. Enough for them to be warm and healthy. Without worrying about bankrupting themselves and destroying the planet in the process.

So how do we do this? I’m glad you asked. The main cost involved in heating your home is gas – a rapidly declining and increasingly expensive fossil fuel – as this image from Greenpeace shows.

Despite what you might have read, support for developing renewable energy is a tiny fraction of the average energy bill and less than half the cost of the Big Six profits. In fact the Government’s own Committee on Climate Change found that energy bill increases between 2004 and 2010 were 63% due to gas price rises and less than 7% due to support for low carbon technologies.

So reducing the need for gas and moving towards renewable alternatives can provide short and long term solutions to tackling fuel poverty and keeping people warm whilst reducing our impact on the environment. It’s time to get energy efficient people!

Renovate for energy efficiency. If you own your home the Energy Saving Trust has lots of information for you. For us renters, there’s still loads of improvements which will make a difference at a low cost. You could pop to your local charity shop for thick curtains to keep in the heat, make heat reflectors from cardboard boxes and tinfoil to slot behind your radiators,  and support your local hardware shop by splashing out twenty quid on a letter box cover, plus door and window draught excluders. Whilst you’re at it you could check with an older neighbour if they need any of this stuff too. You could ask your landlord to make improvements to the insulation of your home too and there are lots of schemes to give them financial support to do so. Finally you can make like Otesha and provide a communal winter box full of jumpers and scarves for scantily clad guests to put on when they feel a bit chilly rather than turning up the heating!

Stop supporting the companies who dictate high prices and a continuing reliance on fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth’s Clean British Energy campaign encourages you to switch your supplier to a greener option. It’s really simple, the costs are similar and you’ll send a clear message that you’re opting out of the system that demands more fossil fuels.

Join Otesha in signing the Energy Bill Revolution petition which calls for upcoming carbon tax increases to go straight into providing jobs making homes more energy efficient – saving money, cutting carbon and creating green and decent jobs – rather than disappearing into the Treasury pot.

Finally you can support Otesha’s Green Jobs programme! We are way ahead of the curve on this issue. We founded the East London Green Jobs Alliance and push for green and decent jobs for unemployed young people, including in the sectors improving the energy efficiency of existing homes and building super efficient new homes. Even better, for a short time all donations to the Green Jobs programme up to £10 will be doubled!

Plastic fast update: that weekend newspaper problem

7th September 2012 by

Back in June and July I was blogging here about my household’s attempt to go cold-turkey, no-ifs-no-buts plastic-free for one month. I’ve left a bit of a gap before coming back to reflect on how it went and what we learned, and I’ll definitely be writing some wrap-up thoughts on that before too long.  But first there are some plastic-fast loose ends to tie up.

For example, the weekend newspaper.  A langurous devouring of the weekend paper and all those supplements used to be a weekly ritual in my house.  Realising we’d have to cut it out was one of the shocks of the plastic fast, because our paper of choice (the Guardian), packages all its magazines, guides, reviews, etc in a plastic bag.  As long-time readers of that paper, we were pretty disappointed, so we got in touch to explain why we were going to be cancelling the paper.

Is a pollution-causing, one-use, throwaway plastic bag the only way to keep all these supplements together?

A tweet – direct to the paper’s sustainability team – got no response, but we did get a speedy reply to an email.  Here’s how the exchange went:

Us:

Will you look for a way of packaging your Saturday edition in a plastic-free way – and keep us up to date so we know when we can start buying it again?

The Guardian:

Hi, I understand your frustration. We have written about this before and the problem is that the supermarkets demand that the various sections are already pulled together on delivery, whereas in the past it used to be done at the newsagents.

Also we have had many problems in the past of people stealing the sections they wanted, such as the guide, and then readers complaining they were missing.

What we have done is explored alternatives and also reduced the amount of plastic used in the packaging.

I have also cc’d our environment manager who may be able to give you an update.

best wishes

Us:

I appreciate that there have been some complaints about parts of the paper missing. However other newspapers, such as the Saturday Independent and Independent on Sunday, manage fine without the plastic bag. Moreover these newspapers do not use glossy paper in their magazine so it is less toxic.

When you referred to exploring alternatives, what alternatives did you explore and what were the conclusions of that process?

Have  you explored the use of paper packaging which can be used as a branding exercise, such as ‘your guardian in paper bag’, or potato starch packaging for example, which is biodegradable.

The Guardian (now from the Environment and Sustainability Manager):

Hi,

I admire and support your cause and do attempt to make changes in my own life to reduce plastics and chemicals i.e stainless steel water bottle and food containers.

But more importantly, back to the Guardian Sustainability.  We are in the process of publishing our 2012 sustainability report, but this is the link to the 2011 operations sections http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainability/operations.

We are both committed and passionate about the environment and our impacts on it.

I have included the conclusions from our previous research into the polybagging (this was before my time), but I am aware that we should re-investigate this issue.

We focus our efforts on primary impact areas. So we have concentrated on where our paper comes from,  now 98% is from recycled or certified virgin source. We report energy consumption from all the paper mills (58% of our carbon footprint) and are planning to build a similar water database. We have reduced the the weight and density of the magazine paper, but have to consider quality which affects breakages and waste in the printing process.

We also are looking at your glossy magazine concerns in terms of the sustainability of other paper additives. Certain grades of paper, especially those used in magazines, may use a significant proportion of non-fibre (i.e paper pulp)  additives to improve gloss, brightness and other properties. Many of these additives are mineral- based and the extraction and processing of the raw materials may have the potential to result in habitat loss and pollution. This is an issue which tends to be conveniently ignored by the industry.

We are also supporting leading academic research into understanding the impacts of our Digital Media, which is too easily seen as “Carbon Lite”. The footprint of guardian.co.uk is approximately 10,000tco2e in 2011_12 (not yet published), we believe no other website has done this.

We are not perfect and we acknowledge that in our annual reports. But do try to make a difference and are committed to constantly improving.  I am more than happy for you to come to Kings Place for a coffee and chat.

So the conclusions of the 2008 study on plastic wraps:

Case study: Polybagging

The science of sustainability can be incredibly complex, as we found out when we investigated how to create a more environmentally-friendly wrapping to our weekend papers.

We have become increasingly ill at ease about the use of see-through polybags, even though commercially they are essential given the need to hold together our multi-sectioned weekend papers and the insistence of some of our supermarket clients to have our publications ready bundled.

The current polywrap is made from 100% polythene and as such is a type 2 recyclable material, but it is difficult finding recycling places, other than supermarkets that offer plastic bag recycling.

Our readers too have consistently been unhappy with the current practice with 92% saying in our reader survey that it is important the plastic is made of recycled material or is biodegradable.

Prince Charles joined the debate, writing to the chief executive of our parent company GMG in April 2008, to ask if we “have any cunning ideas about how this practice could be altered. Otherwise the Pacific Ocean will become even more clogged up!”

We had already been working on switching to alternative bio-plastics made from potato or corn starch, commissioning a lifecycle analysis of the environmental impact of polybagging in 2007.

Following an inconclusive initial report, a secondary study was commissioned which suggested that unless disposed of in the correct way through composting, bio-plastics would be more harmful to the environment than regular plastic wrapping due to the emission of harmful greenhouse gases, including methane, when disposed of through landfill.

This information led to our environment editor writing a front page splash on the dangers of these plastics, which are used by many supermarkets for wrapping food products.

While continuing to investigate an alternative, we have in the meantime taken action on our existing plastic wrap, by reducing its thickness by 20%. We have also successfully tested the use of 25% recycled polythene and hope to roll this out in 2009.

——-

So that’s where the Guardian was at.  They really went out of their way to get detailed replies to us, which is really encouraging, and the level of detail they’ve put into examining and quantifying their impact is impressive. It was also good of them to share their as-yet unpublished figure for the carbon footprint of their digital operations.  And the concerns about the environmental impact of bioplastics is troubling – something I haven’t looked at closely enough (or at all) in these blog posts.  That said, some of the Guaridan’s answers were a bit hmmm. For example…

It’s odd to blame the supermarkets’ demands when, for example, the Independent doesn’t bag its own supplements on the weekend – are the supermarkets really asking one thing of the Guardian and another of the Independent?

And then… why plastic or bioplastic at all?  If the supplements absolutely have to be bound in some way, why not in a recycled paper envelope or bag – the Guardian’s designers could even have a lot of fun with the design and branding (you could even print the crosswords on it!)

And… off the plastic topic a bit, but if glossy paper is so harmful (with “the potential to result in habitat loss and pollution”) and the industry is turning a blind eye, why is the Guardian still using it? There are plenty of non-gloss options out there – just do it!

So the Guardian (no doubt other papers are as bad or worse) has ‘fessed up in a lot of detail to the problem of its plastic addiction and other harmful effects of its production, but hasn’t really set out what it’s firmly planning to do about it, which is disappointing.  Hopefully it will be in their 2012 sustainability report, but it’s not very clear.  If they want to get in touch and fill us in on where they go next on this one, we’d love to hear from them!

[There, I managed to get through this post without going off on a rant about newspapers reporting on the environmental crisis and yet continuing to publish travel sections promoting long-haul destinations and flying, fashion spreads encouraging one-season wardrobes, Christmas features cheering on turbo-charged consumerism and… oops.]

Shifting towards a conscious society – reflections on the Small is…Festival

4th September 2012 by

Yesterday I came back from the Small is… Festival organised by the amazing charities Practical Action and Engineers without Borders. The event was full of stimulating thought.  The overall theme asked: How can we empower people at the grassroots to tackle global issues like the energy crisis? Currently around 1.5 billion people are still living without modern energy while in the developing world we are consuming more than our planet’s-worth of resources.

People matter and must be engaged

The talks made me recognise the importance of engaging people in the things that matter around them and to become politically excited and engaged as agents.  Toby Kellner, for instance, spoke of a project to engage communities living on low income estates in Bristol by injecting some fun into a solar array project and building a solar tree installation.

Another salient point was about making sure energy technologies are intelligible – people need to understand the mechanics of where their energy comes from at a basic level.

Demonstration of a micro anaerobic digestion unit – it’s a great, simple technology to get your head around and is the sort of knowledge that needs democratisation

We must speak from the heart

The founder of International Peace Initiatives had a different approach to engaging people into action.  Karambu Ringera spoke truly to the heart – she emphasised going within and finding out who you really are and the importance of love as primary forces acting in change projects. Her project building an orphanage on a wasteland in Kenya in the face of opposition from the men surrounding her is testament to this philosophy.

Another technical fix isn’t enough

In actual fact, although we grapple with finding the right social and cultural projects to prevent rising energy consumption and climate change, a more technical fix is on the table. A friend recently suggested that a mechanism to tax carbon at the production side would solve our climate woes. Set highly enough so that only a limited amount of carbon would be emitted, it would effectively force the market to provide solutions and get to the crux of CO2 emissions reductions fast.

Job done? Hmmm, not really. If implemented carefully it may be a fix for climate change but what of social transformation – the reclaiming of our political, economic and social spheres away from the elites towards a commons? How do you engage those who have very little yet have the most to gain from change?

I don’t subscribe to a view that people who have very little materially aren’t interested in engaging in activism and radical themes but I do recognise that many who struggle just above the breadline may have less ‘headspace’ because of the pressure to get by. I think it’s about going to the places and hearths of people to strike up conversations and thoughts – be it stands at the supermarket, or banners on main roads.  The loss of spaces to socialise and meet people and talk about issues is making us more isolated. We need to claim these back in order to flourish. This will be an issue that will perpetuate with or without climate change and I think is fundamental to being tackled before we invent another way to damage ourselves collectively. The real question is how do we make the very workings of our society nimble and truly conscious?

Carla Jones is an Otesha cycle tour alumnus.

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.


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