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Archive for September, 2011

Pen-y-Fan: Dressed like a Dog

Little did I know that when I set the date to climb Pen-y-Fan dressed like a dog to raise money for Dogs for the Disabled it would actually be one of the hottest days of the year!

I was joined on my ‘challenge’ by Jim Thompson, who dressed like a monkey to raise money for St David’s Hospice, and his dog, Ellie. Having reached the car park at the bottom of Pen-y-Fan, we changed into our costumes, much to the surprise of the handful of people who were themselves preparing to make an early start on the mountain – all suitably dressed! Although we had arrived early, it was already quite warm and obvious that my thick costume was not the most practical; Jim’s on the other hand was lightweight and breathable!

There was still a lot of early mist and we hoped that by the time we reached the summit (886m) the sun would have burnt it off leaving spectacular views across the Brecon Beacons. Under normal circumstances it would take me approximately 40 minutes to reach the top, but these were far from ‘normal circumstances’ – within minutes I had turned into a ‘hot dog’. Meanwhile, Ellie was skipping in and out of the water having a much more enjoyable experience!

We made several stops on the way up to have refreshment and take in the spectacular scenery.

Once we reached the ridge just below Corn Du the wind suddenly hit us. We decided to leave Corn Du for the return journey and instead took the path around the side of the mountain toward Pen-y-Fan itself. This is where we met our first walker of the day who couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a monkey and a dog walking towards him. We stopped to chat for a while and he put £10 into my bucket!

It took just over an hour to reach the summit of Pen-y-Fan. Because it was still quite early there were very few people around. However, moments later a party of army cadets arrived from the Cribyn side and stopped to take photographs of us (much better than the scenery!)

We stayed on the summit for around 20 minutes – enough time to enjoy a few Gower Cottage Brownies and take some more photographs. The Dogs for the Disabled bucket was carefully placed next to the summit cairn (weighted down with a few stones to stop it blowing off the edge of the mountain) and attracted the attention of several more walkers!

Of course, there was still some time for some monkey business…

By now, things were hotting up so it was time to leave Pen-y-Fan, hop across to Corn-Du and then begin the descent back to the car park. There were more people climbing up by this time and it was interesting watching them stop in the distance, look at us in puzzlement and then frantically search their rucksacks for some change to put in the bucket. Occasionally, a walker would pass us without even commenting – you can just imagine what sort of thoughts were going through their minds!

When we reached the bottom Jim suddenly exclaimed that he had put is glasses down at the last stop and had forgotten to pick them up again – thankfully he hadn’t left them on the summit otherwise he would have been climbing on his own! We had certainly worked up an appetite, so having changed into comfortable clothing we both enjoyed a well-deserved bacon butty!

If you would like to make a donation towards the work of Dogs for the Disabled, please visit www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011. Alternatively, you can donate via text – please click here for more details.

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Ystradfellte Falls

It’s now less than a week until I climb Pen-y-Fan dressed like a dog to raise more money for Dogs for the Disabled. As readers of my blog know, I climbed Pen-y-Fan countless times in preparation for the Nepal trek, but always wearing sensible clothing; climbing the mountain in fancy dress will be a whole new challenge!

Last Saturday I went to the Brecon Beacons and enjoyed a more relaxing walk, exploring the picturesque waterfalls around Ystradfellte. We left the car at the Porth yr Ogof car park (£4 charge – although I didn’t have enough change so took the risk of not buying a ticket) to begin the afternoon’s stroll.

Not from the the car park the river disappears into the Porth yr Ogof (White Horse Cave) cave. There are 15 entrances to the cave’s passageways and the most famous is known to be the biggest cave entrance in Wales. Altogether, the series of passageways measure over 2.25km in length and include some ominously named obstacles including the ‘Wormhole’, the ‘Letterbox’, the ‘Creek’ (home to the ‘Death Ledge’) and the ‘Washing Machine’. It was not surprising, therefore, to see a number of people donning helmets and boots. We, on the other hand, opted for the more gentle walk through the lush wooded valley, following the River Mellte.

The first waterfall on the walk was Sgwd Clun Gwyn (‘the fall of the white meadow’). From the path we were able to watch as the water cascaded over the abrupt edge of the first fall before hitting the second ledge approximately 10 feet below. From here it falls another 20 feet into the pool below. This was a prefect resting place and time to enjoy our picnic.

A trail follows the river downstream to two smaller falls, Sgwd Isaf Clungwyn and Sgwd y Pannwr. However, we decided to save these for another occasion and continue to the largest of the falls, Sgwd-yr-Eira (‘the fall of snow’).

The path made its way down the side of the mountain, getting increasingly slippery as we got closer to the waterfall. It is at this point that the river Hepste leaps over a fifty foot ledge behind wide banks. Once at the edge of the river there was a short scramble across rocks to a path which disappeared behind a curtain of water; standing behind the fall was a wonderful and exhilarating experience. Apparently, the path behind the waterfall was used by local sheep farmers for centuries!

Sgwd yr Eira

This short walk in ‘Waterfall Country’ reminded me of the refreshing waterfall we swam underneath whilst trekking in the Himalayas – although today I was glad to keep my clothes on and have the added benefit of waterproofs!

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Just TextGiving

A tin collection during the Abergavenny Food Festival this weekend raised £151.76 for Dogs for the Disabled – leaving me £348.24 short of my target. I have promised that if I raise £500 by 29th September I will be climbing Pen-y-Fan dressed like a dog – so it’s time to turn up the heat!

It is now much easier to donate – just text AEGG88 £2 to 70070 (text messages are free to send on all networks) and your donation of £2* will be sent straight to the charity – easy! Please pass this message on to your friends and family and post it on Facebook and Twitter. The more people who donate, the quicker I will reach my target.

* Of course, you can change the amount you wish to pledge!

Many thanks – and happy texting!

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Dressed like a…?

As many of you know, I have agreed to dress like a dog and climb Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons to raise money for Dogs for the Disabled. I am being joined on the challenge by a good friend, Jim Thompson, who will also be dressing up to raise money for his chosen charity, St David’s Hospice.

However, Jim does not know what costume to wear and has therefore asked me for some advice. Please vote below or add your own suggestions by commenting on this blog! The final decision will be made next week, so why not subscribe to this blog to get the result as soon as it is announced!

If you would like to donate to either charity, please visit www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011 or www.justgiving.com/James-Thompson8

Many thanks – and happy voting!

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Traffic chaos in Nepal

I was flicking through the TV channels this evening and came across a programme called World’s Most Dangerous Roads on BBC2. This particular episode featured comedians Rhod Gilbert and Greg Davies attempting to drive across Nepal, through the cities of Pokhara and Kathmandu, and into the more isolated communities of the Himalayas.

The programme captured the frenetic sights and sounds of the country’s road network, with its incessant soundtrack of honking horns. I was not surprised, therefore, to find out that Nepal has one of the world’s highest rates of road traffic accidents – a fact I was glad I did not not know before jumping on the bus at Kathmandu airport. Although it was only a short transfer to Hotel Shanker, it was certainly an experience; the streets of Kathmandu are noisy, polluted and heavily congested.

There seem to be no traffic laws in Nepal other than vehicles drive, generally speaking, on the left hand side of the road. Cars, lorries and buses overtake without concern for oncoming traffic and scooters weave in and out of the traffic. Vehicles do not stop at junctions; each attempts to squeeze through, swerving to avoid other road users and ignoring the directions from the traffic police who wave their hands and blow their whistle with little or no effect. Stop signs and traffic lights are nonexistent, and it soon became apparent that the larger vehicle always has the right of way.

From my seat at the back of the bus I had a clear, but unnerving, view of the road ahead – and of the vehicles heading straight for us making us believe we were heading the wrong way down a one-way street.

The chaotic traffic continued into the late evening. Walking back from the restaurant after a few glasses of raksi we took our life in our hands trying to cross the busy road; not even a group of 30 trekkers could stop the traffic! The only way to cross safely was to wait for a small gap… and then run.

Cycle-rickshaws are common in the old part of Kathmandu and an atmospheric way for the tourist to explore the crowded narrow streets. Less relaxing are the local buses; the locals squeeze into the small minibuses with a young attendant hanging out of the side door with fistfuls of money, banging on the roof to signal to the driver that it is safe to move on.

The road out of Pokhara heading up into the mountains was less chaotic, but equally hair-raising! Brightly coloured lorries with cabs adorned with flowers attempted impossible overtaking manoeuvres; cows wandered into the road with complete disregard to traffic; and trucks powered by lawnmowers trundled along the edge of the road. The road winded its way in the mountains as we were jostled from side to side, bumping up and down as the poor suspension hit the numerous potholes.

The Lonely Planet guide to Nepal gives the following advice to anyone mad enough to want to attempt negotiating the Nepalese traffic: “…our best advice is to trust nothing and nobody. Expect kids, chickens, ducks [not Amber, you will be please to note!], women, old men, babies, cows, dogs and almost anything else that can move to jump in front of you at any moment, without any kind of warning. Good luck.

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This afternoon I joined some of my fellow trekkers for a reunion at the Dogs for the Disabled centre in Banbury. The afternoon was an opportunity for us to reminisce about the fundraising trek in Nepal and to share our photographs. But, more importantly, it was an opportunity for us to see how the money raised is used to train assistance dogs for children and adults with physical disabilities, and to assist families with a child with autism.

Some of the staff at the centre demonstrated how the dogs are trained to carry out practical tasks which many people take for granted: opening the washing machine, removing items of clothing, turning on lights or picking up keys which have been dropped on the floor. The training takes between six to eight months and equips the dogs with the skills they require to help people with disabilities. As well as performing practical tasks, the dogs also provide companionship and allow disabled people to live a more independent life; for some, the partnerships have meant the difference between living alone and needing full-time care.

John and Freya, trained by Dogs for the Disabled

My brother-in-law’s family have had first-hand experience of this. Andrew’s uncle, John, had suffered with Motor Neurone Disease but was given a new lease of life from Freya, a golden labrador trained by Dogs for the Disabled.

John explained that “before having Freya I was frightened that if there was a fire, or if I had a fall, there was nothing I could do. But since having her I am a lot more confident. If I have a fall I can make her bark, which means the neighbours hear and can raise the alarm. I never envisaged having a dog before but now I cannot imagine my life without her.”

Sadly, John passed away a couple of years ago.

However, Andrew’s family continue to fundraise for the charity and their neighbours in Banbury act as puppy socialisers, looking after the puppies until they are old enough to begin their training.

Shortly after signing up for the trek I met Jamie and his assistance dog, Tyler, in Cribbs Causeway – one of my rare shopping trips! I introduced myself to Jamie and explained that I was going to take part in the Nepal trek to raise money for Dogs for the Disabled. I was astounded and touched when I returned home that evening to find that Jamie had logged on to my JustGiving page and left a message of support and appreciation.

Through Twitter I have also come into contact with Lizzie Owen who, together with her assistance dog Frodo, writes regular blogs on the Dogs for the Disabled website, and Wendy Morrell whose Golden Retriever, Caesar, sadly passed away a year ago – “a joyful and dignified soul who touched the hearts of everyone he met around the world.” Both Lizzie and Wendy have helped my fundraising and have sent me messages of appreciation.

Stephanie Lawless, Community Fundraising Manager, announced this afternoon that the total amount raised for the charity from our trek was £36, 058.85, although this figure is still climbing – I handed in another box of ‘pennies for pups, pounds for hounds’ this afternoon and I hope that dressing like a dog to climb Pen-y-Fan later this month will help to augment this amount!

The fantastic amount raised would…

  • enable the charity to purchase 52 puppies; or
  • pay for 13 dogs’ first year; or
  • pay for the aftercare costs for 1 year for 49 partnerships; or
  • pay for two dogs through their entire lifetime

Watching the DVD of the trek, put together by Laura Pryor who works for the charity and who joined us on the trek, helped to remind me of some of the events which I had forgotten about – for example, Jules’ towel catching fire whilst we were huddled around a primitive burner one evening – and will no doubt assist me in writing this blog over the next few weeks!

Thank you to Laura, Steph and the rest of the staff at Dogs for the Disabled for their hospitality and for giving us an insight into the wonderful work of this charity. To find out more, please view the video below.

Don’t forget, you can still donate online by visiting www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011 or come and find me at the Tithe Barn during the Abergavenny Food Festival – I have three very large buckets which need filling!

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Beyond the duck

I was surprised when I opened the post on Friday when, amongst the many bills, I received a letter from Girlguiding Cymru  thanking me for the recent blog, ‘Every good trekker should pack…‘ and the photographs of Amber in the Himalayas. Attached to the letter was a ‘Beyond the Duck 2011’ badge which will be sown to my rucksack next to the flag of Nepal; both badges will remind me of the wonderful trek and the fundraising for Dogs for the Disabled.

Thank you to Girlguiding Cymru for their generosity, kindness and support of this great charity. I understand that the blog will be printed in the next edition of the Girlguiding magazine.

Meanwhile, fundraising for my climb of Pen-y-Fan dressed like a dog continues – if you would like to make a small donation, please visit www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011. I am sure there will be plenty of photographs in future blogs!

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