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!


The Pedal Powered adventure begins – training week at Felin Uchaf

8th July 2014 by

This year’s cycle tour are well on their way. Here’s their first team blog from training week!

Time! Time is a funny thing. These past five days have felt more like weeks. In the safe and supportive nest here at Felin Uchaf in deepest north-west Wales we have felt welcomed by our generous host Dafydd.

These action-packed days have been filled with intense Otesha knowledge – from bike maintenance to consensus-decision making, fun games to learning about anti-oppression with an exhilarating sea swim thrown in.


Today we embark on our quest to travel the length and width of the country by bicycle over the span of two weeks, sharing information and inspiration as we visit schools and community groups en route. How are we feeling you may ask?


We arrived ten strangers and set out as a close team of ten friends. We are ready to take on the hills, the weather, the roads… We feel GOOD! See you on the other side of those hills!

Cambrian Challenge on the road

16th April 2012 by

From April 14-21, a group of cycle tour alumni are taking to the tarmac once again, pedalling round Wales to run workshops on sustainable living and volunteer at a few amazing projects along the way. Follow along here to read about their adventures:

Hello and welcome from the Cambrian Challenge alumni cycle tour!

We band of 5 intrepid adventurers are all set and ready to go, and are looking forward to pedalling the roads of north Wales. We arrived to Luci’s parents house near Machynlleth, a small but vibrant town in mid Wales, on friday evening safe and sound after some pretty challenging journeys.

The team assembles

Luci had her first experience of taking a bike trailer on a train on her own, and despite a few bruises and well placed strong words is still just about friends with Bob, our lovely yellow trailer.

Alex, Leah and Ellie arrived after some major delays to a torrential downfall that unfortunatly Wales seems famous for! Many thanks to Arriva Trains Wales for holding the train at Shrewsbury for a WHOLE hour so our Cambrian Challengers wouldn’t miss the last connection- it would have been a long cycle ride!

Day 1: turbine first aid

Saturday and the rain cleared. After a quick spot of birthday breakfast for Luci we hot footed it up to see the affectionatly named Nora, a local community owned wind-turbine. People from the Machynlleth area own shares in the turbine in return for a share in the profit (as well as some seriously green kudos).

Our host Rod was attempting to nurse Nora back to health as she had mysteriously stopped spinning. After a quick examination of the control board in the huge turbine tower it was decided that the flashing ‘ERROR, ERROR, ERROR’ message warranted a call to the local wind turbine doctor. Even though the turbine wasn’t spinning it was definately windy, so after admiring the stunning vista of rolling hills, mountains, valleys and rivers we set forth back to the homestead.

After a quick venture to ‘Mach’ (spray it not say it in a Welsh accent), where some swish new bike gear was purchased (namely waterproof socks n gloves to keep us nice and toasty for our journey ahead), we power pedalled towards the sunset to a happy little field filled with friends to celebrate Luci’s birthday with warming fire chats and dancing.

Day 2: on your marks, get set …. 

After a frosty night snoozing we were woken to beautiful sunshine and some reggae tunes. A cycle was just the remedy for our weary dancing feet, swooping through the valley back to Mach to hot cups of tea and a delicious curry provided by Rod and Angie.

With food in our bellies it was time to put our noggins together to draw up our food mandate – how we will choose our food for the week, considering the impacts on the environment around us, opting for a flexigan (mostly vegan) diet that is as locally sourced as possible as well as being organic. Luci then revealed our route and we dusted off of twinkling fingers for a spot of consensus decision-making, putting together a mini-wheel of responsibility to share the daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, and the all important ‘time-lord’ to stop us faffing and get us places on time!

Right, we shall have to bid you goodnight, we have a very very busy day tommorow! We are getting up super early to visit the renowned Centre for Alternative Technology to learn about all things sustainable, before jumping on our bikes for a 30 mile cycle ride into Snowdonia National Park, to our next destination- a permaculture farm deep in the mysterious woods of Coed-Y-Brenin just north of Dolgellau. Please cross all your fingers and toes to keep the rain away from us- it ain’t looking too hopeful, but at least we can all test our our new swanky waterproof gloves.

Love, peace and bicycle grease!
Ellie, Leah, Josh, Alex and Luci

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.

It all makes sense!

25th January 2012 by

Felicity, of our Wild West ’09 cycle tour, talks about how Otesha has influenced her & the exciting new projects she’s been inspired to work on since!

Summing up how Otesha has influenced me is actually quite hard, simply because it has, in a bigger way than I could ever have imagined.

Back in Dec ’08 I applied for the role of Tour Liaison for Otesha’s 2009 ‘Wild West’ cycle tour. In an instant I knew it was an exciting opportunity, incorporating several of my key passions: cycling, performing & environmental issues. Staring right at me was my dream project.

After a trip to London & friendly interview, they gave me the role of Tour Liaison for Wild West ’09 (a 6-week tour of Wales from June-July).  10 days later I was flying to India to volunteer for 11 weeks, including time spent with The Centre for Tribal & Rural Development, a world away from the UK & all it has to offer. This was my second trip abroad volunteering in Tribal villages, having previously done so in Costa Rica. Understanding & knowing how a community can survive with no running water or electricity is humbling; add that to the daily threat of disease, poverty & natural disasters and suddenly I can no longer complain if I break a nail!

The Wild West Tour took me to some of the most beautiful & scenic places in Wales. Starting in Machynlleth we worked our way south along the coast, finally stopping in Merthyr Tydfil, an area of high deprivation & unemployment.

My memories of Wales & The Otesha Project filled me with such a warm sense of happiness it brings a huge smile to my face writing this. For six weeks the sun shone, the hills loomed & happiness followed wherever we went. I want to say it was tough & physically demanding but if it was, I don’t remember.

I do remember all the random places we slept – barns, fields, church halls & strangers’ houses. I remember all the friendly & kind people we met who humbled & inspired us. I remember rivers, fields, forests, towns, cities & the sea. I can’t decide if seeing dolphins in Aberystwyth, coasteering off St Davids or staying on a permaculture farm was my favourite experience – in fact it all was. Even the hills.

I’ve made friends for life, seen things that will stay with me always & proved to everyone that it is possible to get a tan in Wales.

And so life goes on. After Otesha I was filled with a feeling of great satisfaction as if it all suddenly made sense & I knew what I wanted to know. My next project was with a theatre Company called ‘Stuff & Nonsense’ working as a creative assistant for their new show ‘The Enormous Turnip’.  I had another incredible experience working on this show & even to this day, the reviews keep coming in thick & fast with the latest informing us that it was Jackson’s Lane best selling Christmas show in their 35 year history.

As a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, I found myself going on yet another journey after this, although this time as ‘Youth Arts Development Manager’ for Hampshire Museums and Galleries Trust, working on a specific project called The EDGE Project; Engage, Discover, Generate, Enthusiasm.

I was chosen to lead a three year programme of events, exhibitions & performances for & by young people in various locations across Hampshire. The brief was as broad as I wanted it to be – I’m given freedom to deliver & create what young people want to do & see in these venues. I’ve hosted band nights & exhibitions, music workshops & fashion projects.

But by far my most important & biggest project to date has been GreenSpace. A couple of my young volunteers came to me with an idea to create an allotment. My ears instantly pricked up with excitement as I knew the idea had room to grow (excuse the pun!).  I approached a local Art Gallery I was working with & GreenSpace was born.

November 2010 saw our first day on site clearing an area covered in brambles at the back of the venue. 26 people turned up to help the first day. After that it was planning & implementing the next stage.

The young people designed it to look as creative as possible, as well as having full disabled access & being practical. Donations were sought from all over the local area, including 32 planks, 20 tons of soil, various plants, child friendly wood chip & 2 compost bins. Subsequent donations saw us add to site with water butts, as well as being able to purchase tools for volunteers.

Over the course of 2010 we engaged with around 300+ people. We ran maintenance days, planting days, green workshops for children & young people. We had an extensive launch & registered as part of the Eden Project’s Big Lunch-with every event operating a ‘Bring n’ Share’ Lunch. We held a green exhibition, with 120 young people from the area exhibiting their green work. A harvest Supper & Art Cracker event saw us through to the end of the year & on to 2012.

We have now started our second site at a local art centre, with our next day planned for a few weeks’ time. We received more donations & funding to expand & are planning many more sites for the future. We’ve helped to educate young & old about gardening, sustainability, recycling, growing your own & much more. (Check out GreenSpace’s Facebook and Twitter.)

To ask whether Otesha influenced me in shaping this project? I can safely say, 100%, it most definitely has.

If you’re feeling inspired to join a six-week Otesha world-changing adventure you can find out more and apply here. See you on the road!

Legendary tales from the Northern Soul cycle tour – part 2

27th June 2011 by

This past week has been eventful… to say the least. Like the winding hills of North Wales, we have seen many summits, a few tight corners, and some good steeps!

We bid farewell to our lovely friends at Felin Uchaf on a sunny morning and only an hour behind schedule (good, we are told). Successful journey to Busybees organic farm where we managed to spend an entire days budget (almost) on their incredible honey, eggs, and fresh strawberries! All of our dreams come true. That extra protein and sugar helped us power through our first performance and set of workshops — which were a total success!

Whoever would have thought that carrying a bicycle pump in our bike maintenance trailer would be SO hilarious to a bunch of primary school kids. After a few hours worth of workshops and one hour of playtime, we were delighted to hear the kids requesting more fair trade products in the canteen, and the banana song being sung in all corners of the playground. It was so nice to have such a positive response from the kids and teachers — it has given us lots of motivation for the weeks ahead!

And then… 3 exciting days of cycling. We won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say they included several modes of alternative  transportation (land rover + horsebox, train) resulting from a few bicycle mishaps.
Until next time…
Peace, love and Marzipan biscuit sandwiches to you all! :) x

Meghan, Pete, Erin, Susanna, Holly, Heni, Rachel & Iona
The Northern Soul cycle tour team

Legendary tales from the road – part 1

22nd June 2011 by

At last the team has come together to prepare and bond before we hit the road for our 600-mile adventure from Aberdaron to Edinburgh!

We’ve had an action packed week of workshops; sharing our journeys to Otesha; outreach training; and familiarising ourselves with the ‘Morning Choices’ script to craft our very own version of the Otesha play. We’re beginning to feel well prepared to spread the message of low-impact living far and wide, and we’re excited to learn more from everyone we meet along the way. Thanks to Liz and Calu for facilitating all the week’s activities, and to Matt, Harriet and Sylvia’s Mother for keeping us well nourished!

There have been so many highs with a few healthy lows; we were perhaps all too optimistic in leaving those extra layers behind only to realise that just because it’s June, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be warm! But it was easy to forget about the cold nights with the beautiful rides, learning exchange, bicycle maintenance, cob building, and did we mention delicious food?

We’re very grateful to our hosts here at the inspirational and beautiful Felin Uchaf centre, who have shared bounty from the garden and their enchanting folk stories around the fire. It’s going to be hard to leave but after our first successful play performance, we’re energised and excited for our shows ahead.

Smiles, pedals, peace & peanut butter power,

Meghan, Pete, Erin, Susanna, Holly, Heni, Rachel & Iona
The Northern Soul cycle tour team

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Carry on Camping

3rd August 2009 by

This month we challenge you to carry on camping at a climate camp. After spending the last 3 summers camping at Heathrow Airport, Drax Coal Power Station, Kingsnorth Coal Power Station and in the middle of London, at the European Climate Exchange, during the G20, climate camp is going national. This summer there are camps in Scotland (3 – 10 August), Wales (13 – 16 August) and in London (27 August – 2 September).

Climate camp is the place for concerned citizens of all colours, from the hardiest protester, to the shyest letter writer, to people who’ve never taken any action on climate change before in their lives. The camp is organised entirely by volunteers, and anyone can get involved in that side of things by just turning up to a meeting and having their say.

The camps are a peaceful demonstration of another way of living, rather than being just another angry protest.

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