Sunday, 7 February 2016

Plas Y Brenin: Welsh Winter Mountaineering (A Course Review)

Plas Y Brenin is an outdoor sports education facility with quit a reputation for excellence. Their main site is in the small village of Capel Curig in North Wales right in the Snowdonia National Park. As mentioned in December 2015, I had signed up for a Welsh Winter Mountaineering course with them. The only thing missing was the snow, but some did arrive, and we found more. I mention this separately from my review as this was the only part of the course with much to desire and out of the hands of the Plas Y Brenin team.

I booked my course early in December and the process was straight forward. The course I chose had a recommended experience of Summer hill walking. I will voice my opinion on this later in my review. During the booking process you can point out any medical or dietary issues.

I arrived at Plas Y Brenin in Capel Curig early in the afternoon. On arriving I found that my room would be ready around 4pm. This gave me the chance to have a look around and a chill out in the bar area while I waited. The reception staff, particularly the young lady I dealt with, were friendly and more than happy to help in any way they could. My room was ready before 4pm.

My room was of a reasonable size with en-suite toilet/sink and a separate walk in shower. The bed was basic, but comfortable. The linen and towels were clean and just enough for showers and washes. The whole thing was very clean and had a cosy feel to it. Compared to my usual accommodation in a two man tent, this was luxury. The shower was brilliant, and being a walk in shower, was easy to access. The toilet and shower included access for those with limited mobility. For the price I paid for my course and accommodation I thought it was real value for money.

On your arrival day, in my case Sunday, there was no meal included in the price. There is an opportunity to by something to eat from the bar however. The bar has a few of the usual drinks on offer, but it was well worth trying the odd pint of the local ales, Snowdonia Ale being a very nice pint.
Your first meal as part of the price is Monday morning’s breakfast always served at 8am for half an hour.. You have quite a few options here; a full English fry up, cereals, toast, porridge and fruit with yoghurt. It’s at breakfast time where you grab your lunch items. These are usually a sandwich, flapjack, cake and biscuits. I had decided that for the week of the course I would suspend my gluten free regime to make life easier. The sandwich choice is quite considerable with something for most tastes.
At 7pm the evening meal is served. This is the only thing I was not so sure about as I thought it might be a little late in the day, but there were no real issues. The meals were of a very good standard with a starter, main course and a dessert. Each course had several choices, including a vegetarian option. What I particularly liked was the large amount of vegetables on offer. There was no reason for anyone to go hungry through the week. As one of our instructors pointed out, it wasn’t a week to choose to be on a weight loss diet.

The Instructors

Paul and Cath were absolutely brilliant. They were very friendly, very knowledgeable, and more then happy to offer advice on any subject. I can’t say thank you enough to the two of them for making the course so interesting and fun, even when times were hard slogging up incredibly steep slopes.

The Course
The course was as advertised and well worth the cost I paid. It covered what you need to go out for a day in the mountains, particularly in the UK, and get home safe.
Our instructors for the course were Cath and Paul. Cath took us on our first two days taking us through our primary navigation and snowcraft training. The first day was spent navigating around the hills near Bathesda to allow us some easy practise.
Our second day with Cath and she really took it up a level, taking us up onto Y Garn via an off piste route. Up and around the summit Cath took us through some basic snowcraft where we found the need for our crampons. Cath also started our rope work training needed for safe passage on snow covered mountains.
Day three and Paul took over from Cath. Paul took us on a scramble up onto Carnedd Dafydd, taking us through more navigation, snowcraft and safety on the mountains. He also added more to our rope work training.
Day four and Paul took us on more advanced navigation around the Snowdon massif with even more rope work, particularly that relevant to a snowy environment. Yes, we had some snow to work with.
Day five and Paul took us to some crags to work more on our rope work with rock being more of a focus.
Four days out of the five also included classroom sessions which were far less formal than they might sound and very interesting.
Over the five days we clocked up around 48 miles, roughly 10,000 feet of accent and over 111,000 steps.
The cost of the course can be found on the Plas Y Brenin website where you can also buy insurance, which I did. Included in the cost is the use of the equipment Plas Y Brenin have for free. They also have a climbing wall, rolling pool and gym.
The following were included with the course:
Free tea, coffee or selected hot drinks for the duration of your visit
Afternoon tea & homemade cakes
Equipment hire
Free (low-speed) wifi access in the bar & dining room
In course transport
Railway station pick up & drop off (please call to arrange)
Parking with CCTV surveillance
Free use of climbing wall, gym, MTB skills course & rolling pool
The following were included if you chose accommodation at Plas Y Brenin:
Accommodation the night before your course
Accommodation during your course
Breakfast & evening meal
Bar Lunch/packed lunch
The course ended on the Friday at around 5pm which was followed by a reluctant drive home.

I’ve not included any photographs of the rooms or the site as there are plenty on the Internet already that do it justice. And as far as conclusions go, I plan to do at least another course, maybe more, with Plas Y Brenin. I think that says enough about what I think of the course I did. It was great fun and has made me feel more confident about stepping out onto the higher peaks in the winter.
One final point; the Jow Brown shop in Capel Curig was offering 15% discount to anyone on a Plas Y Brenin course. I believe that it was in the shop only and proof was required from Plas Y Brenin. But if you forget something and you can’t borrow it from the hire kit, then at least you might save some money.
If you go, have fun.

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