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Taith Patagonia Siôn Brynach's Patagonia Trek
Hydref 2008 October



15 October 2008

The bag is more or less packed and with less than 24 hours to go before the travelling and adventure begins, I'll admit to a certain amount of nervousness. But I'm also looking forward to it. I've decided to use the old technologies of a pen and paper to keep a diary rather than trying to do seomthing on-line or electronically, but I promise that the diary will be appear here shortly after my return on 26th October. In the meantime, thanks to you all for your support, both practical and psychological over the past months.

07 October 2008

The trek is looming large by now, beginning as it does a week on Thursday. I find myself constantly thinking about what’s left to do, before I disappear to the southern hemisphere. Amig celebrating his second birthdayLast weekend was Amig’s second birthday – he was two years old – and we had a wonderful weekend of celebrating with Mam-gu and Tad-cu in Cardigan. Next weekend, Pwyll is celebrating his eighth birthday and is looking forward to the new bike he hopes to receive to mark the occasion. Last week was very busy and this weeks looks as if it is developing along similar lines. Sunday night, when we had just returned from Cardigan, I was checking the school website to see what homework the children had, when I received an email reminding that I’d promised a short article on the trek for Y Llan, the Church in Wales’ newspaper. I had to get on with it without delay therefore and managed to dispatch it to the editor before close of play. It is being published later this week following the Electoral College being held at Bangor Cathedral at present to choose the next Bishop of Bangor. One can but hope that the College chooses wisely. They certainly did in St Davids a few weeks ago, in electing the Very Reverend Wyn Evans to be the diocese's new bishop - his photo appears below in the entry for 6th April.

On Thursday, Cathrin is competing in the final of the Home Baker of the Year competition in Manchester, so I’ve got a day off from work to look after Amig. She has done brilliantly in reaching the final like this, so I hope she enjoys the experience of competing in the final on Thursday. Amig and I have been discussing ideas about what to do together on Thursday. We’ll have to see what the weather is like before coming to a final decision, but it would be great if we could take Iolo the dog for a fairly long walk at some stage. One further visit to Up & Under will also be necessary to buy some last minute items – such as iodine to purify stream water for drinking and waterproof sacks to put inside the rucksack. I’ve been intending to carry out a practice pack for about a week, but haven’t yet found the necessary half an hour.

26 September 2008

One story I forgot to mention last night was that Iolo the dog has been naughty again. Since celebrating his tenth birthday during the past month, we all hoped he had at last attained wisdom, but yesterday shattered that vain hope. Despite having a large 'buster' collar on at the moment to stop him licking a wound he has on his leg, he still managed to reach the top of the counter in the kitchen and scoff a cake that Cathrin had taken out of the freezer. And it wasn't a small cake either. No wonder he was rushing around last night - he clearly had a sugar high!

25 September 2008

Less than three weeks to go! The training has reached a new higher level these past few weeks, though last week wasn't so good. A week last Sunday, poor Amig was admitted to hospital - and had to stay there until Wednesday night. He was actually suffering from tonsillitis, but since he couldn't even drink, he had become dehydrated. This was the fifth bout of the illness he'd had since July and so the medical staff wanted to investigate the underlying cause, particularly since he isn't yet two years old. After three days of tests, the verdict was that his reserves of iron needed a bit of a boost and so he's now taking a supplement.

However, with Amig in hospital and Cathrin staying there with him, it was a very busy time for me and very little time left for training. But thanks to help from Mamgu and Tadcu we managed to pull through.

Last weekend, the first sunny one since the beginning of June, we headed off to the Brecon Beacons - and had a wonderful walk. Since then also, the rowing machine has been much in use and last night I managed to row 10km in a faster time than in the previous two years - 41'40.3" Eisteddfod PavilionI also got the results of my photography course yesterday and heard that I had passed - getting a B and with the portfolio of photographs and essay gaining particular praise. The course was very challenging and preparing the portfolio of 10 photographs was very time-consuming and really hard work, so it was nice that this was recognised.

I'm now almost there too with the clothing and equipment I need for the trek and so there should only be a couple more trips to Up & Under before 16th October. They have been great and all the equipment that they've recommended has turned out to be just the thing for the task - while they've also been good enough to tell me when the equipment I already had was good enough.

2 September 2008

… so where on earth have I been since the end of July? Good question, and the answer of course is that the children have been on holiday from school. So since school finished at the end of July, other things have been demanding my attention – things like bikes, games and what to do in the rain!

In spite of the weather, the month has been fun. I had a fortnight Crowning Ceremonyoff work at the beginning of August. We spent the first week going to the National Eisteddfod every day and had lots of fun. It was fantastic that the site was so close to us this year and we could walk there in under a quarter of an hour. Pwyll and Mali had the opportunity to attend the crowning and chairing ceremonies for the first time this year and thought they were very exciting, and they also had a chance to use the climbing tower, to skate in the ice rink and to spend lost of money on books.

The second week, we did a house swap with Mamgu and Tadcu coming to stay in our house and us going to their house in Cardigan. We had a wonderful time. We went to visit Llannerchaeron, for a ride on the Teifi Valley Railway in Henllan and for a walk on the beach in Poppit. Our friends in Cardigan, Gareth, Lisa and William, came for dinner and brought with them lots of lovely vegetables they had grown as a gift.

Since coming home, things have been very busy. I’ve been trying to complete my project for the photography course I began in June. I decided that my project would be on the National Eisteddfod and I now have to produce 10 digitally manipulated photographs before the end of this week.

Pink peaksSince returning home from holidays, I’ve also been concentrating a bit more on fitness matters and have been rowing a fair bit. Last Saturday I joined some of the others who will be going on the trek in Patagonia next month (yes it really is next month now!!) for a training walk in the Brecon Beacons. We had a good seven mile walk with the only disappointment being that it was misty in the morning when we were on the mountain tops and so got no view – but at least it was a sunnier by the time we had descended back down into the valleys.

I also now know the itinerary and time-table for the trek so will add that to the web-site in the near future.

23rd July 2008

So, where on earth have I been since May 12th - when this diary was last updated? That can be answered in three words - Wales Annual Review. Between mid May and last Friday, almost the only thing I've been working on has been the Review document. Its production has for some reason been slow and painful this year with the climax coming around 10 days before publication date, when the printers who were producing it ceased trading. barely 48 hours before we were due to take delivery of the final copies! In any event, after a sleepless night for me and some heroic work by the BBC Wales Graphic Design team, another printer was found who could complete the work within the deadline. So the day after we'd got this tragic news (and compared with the difficulties we had, the real tragedy was for the staff of the printing company of course) the presses were rolling once more.

Because of all the time which has gone into producing the Annual Review, the training has taken a bit of a back seat during the past few months. However, last Sunday morning at a quarter past six, Iolo the dog and I were out and on our way to Cowbridge for a seven mile hike in that area. By a quarter past seven we had set off on our walk and were back home, having completed the walk by 10 o' clock in the morning. We had a lovely time of it too with the sun shining but without it being too hot. The rowing machine has had some attention during the past couple of months, but I hope to be able to give it much more time during the coming weeks.

The children are also now on their summer break from school, the school having broken up for the holidays last Thursday afternoon. They're enjoying this first week of freedom just at the moment.

Recently I've also been participating in a training course on digital photography, being conducted by Ffotogallery, under the auspices of Cardiff University - and gained a lot from the weekly lessons. It has certainly been a challenge having to create a portfolio of work on a given subject each week, but it has been helpful to get the comments of the other students on the photographs taken.

This evening - we had a picnic on Caerffili mountain and collected Billberries. Very nice.

12th May 2008

Western entrance to Llandaff CathedralAnother week and the sun is still shining! I must confess to really enjoying this warm sunny weather – not least because it makes the walk to and from work so much more pleasant. On Saturday, we had all been invited to attend the birthday barbeque of a friend of ours, John Winton, who was celebrating his 60th birthday last week. John and his wife Gill have already been tremendously generous in supporting Mencap and me as I've prepared for next October's trek, but last Saturday, John encouraged everyone who came to the party to contribute to Mencap rather than bringing him a gift. How generous is that. In any event, to mark the birthday and to thank him for his tremendous support, Cathrin made a fantastic chocolate cake to take to the party, all the children made John a birthday card and I took him a photo of Llandaff cathedral – a photo I'm quite proud of since it shows both the western entrance to the church but also the Majestas sculpture inside the cathedral.

Another photo I worked on last week was one of the small Carving of Bishop Dyfrigstone carving of a bishop (possibly of Dyfrig himself) which resides in the Dyfrig chapel in Llandaff Cathedral. I've sent that photograph as a small gift to a friend of mine, who was consecrated bishop a few weeks ago and who will be taking up his duties as bishop on the Isle of Man next month, Robert Paterson. The small sculpture seems to me to crystallise many of the best attributes one would hope to see in a bishop – but most of all he appears as a shepherd to the people of ‘the way' – to be with people is I think the most important thing of all for a pastor..

8th May 2008

At long last the boots have been christened! Thinking that it was important to have some time to break in the boots before heading off to Patagonia in October, I bought the boots back at the beginning of February in that excellent outdoor shop in Cardiff, Up & Under. But I was so traumatised after spending £120 on a pair of boots that – psychologically – I just couldn’t put them on until the middle of April! However, during the past few weeks, they have been used – not least during the wonderful walk we had in the Vale of Glamorgan on Sunday.

We were lucky with the weather, with sunshine and only a few showers despite the warnings of the weather forecasters. Our friend, Ruth, who lives in Bradford was with us over the Bank holiday weekend, so we went for a six mile walk from Llancarfan to Penmarc then down past the end of the airport runway, through a field of frisky little calves and to Fonmon castle; then it was over to Llancadle before crossing the fields (and seeing two pairs of lapwings) to Llanfydderi and back to Llancarfan. A really lovely walk, though we were all a bit tired by the time we got back to the car.

Since the long weekend however, it been a bit busy in work with a trip on Tuesday and Wednesday around Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, making arrangements for outreach events and meetings later in the year. One great pleasure was to catch up with the Rev Eileen Davies, Llanllwni, once again. I was delighted to be at the service to licence her as St Davids diocesan rural life adviser at Llanybydder Cattle Market some years ago and it was great to see her again as she advised us on an accountability event we’re planning in the Llanybydder area during the summer. Another great pleasure was seeing red kites flying above Ceredigion. They really are quite wonderful birds. However, tonight I hope once again to get back on the Concept II rowing machine after a break of a week.

6th April 2008

St Davids CathedralSo much has happened during recent weeks – Easter and a visit to stay with Tad-cu and Mam-gu in Cardigan, reaching the minimum required sponsorship for the Patagonia trek, my fortieth birthday and then yesterday a training walk to Pen y Fan with the Mencap group, and the children having their photo taken with Iolo Williams near the summit: Pwyll’s verdict - “Iolo Williams is cool!”

The Easter weekend was lovely, with a big welcome from Mam-gu and Tad-cu as always, and Pwyll had the opportunity to attend St Davids Cathedral on Easter eve since Tad-cu was conducting a confirmation service there that night. Pwyll loved the Cathedral, enjoyed the experience of being at the service, and of course of being up late! On Easter Sunday we went to the service at y Ferwig church and had a warm welcome from the congregation.Pwyll with Mam-gu, Tad-cu, Dean a Chaplain of St Davids Cathedral

During the following days we went for a great, though very muddy walk, on the hills above Cardigan and it was great that we happened to bump into Dwynwen on the way back. She was one of my former colleagues at the Church in Wales’s offices so it was lovely to see her and her family once again.

Since returning to work last Monday it has been very busy, with much of the work going to finalise arrangements for a meeting with the public at the Blaenau Ffestiniog Rugby Club. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s people turned out to be fantastic and the event was great. One of the longest standing members of the Audience Council thought it one of the best public events in the four years he has been a member. Another fantastic bit of encouragement last week was that I reached the minimum required sponsorship for the trek last Monday – thanks to the generosity of very many people. Last October when I began the task of gathering sponsorship for Mencap, I guessed it would take 100 contributions to reach the mark and also hoped to have reached the minimum sponsorship goal by my fortieth birthday on 4th April. Well fortunately, I was pretty close on both counts thank to the generosity of so many people – it took 101 contributions to reach the £3500 minimum sponsorship and I reached that goal with around 4 days to go. Thanks to everyone who has contributed so generously.

On Friday I celebrated my fortieth birthday and my kind colleagues arranged for me to have a wonderful birthday cake to mark the occasion. On Friday evening, having driven home from north Wales, we went out, with Mam-gu and Tad-cu to enjoy a curry together and everyone enjoyed.

Pwyll & Mali with Iolo WilliamsYesterday, Mencap had arranged a training walk to the summit of Pen y Fan, and the family and Iolo the dog came with me. Everyone behaved brilliantly while walking, and reached the summit despite the fierce wind. Iolo Williams, who will be leading the Patagonia trek, had also come to lead the training walk yesterday, and Pwyll and Mali loved being in his company. He was as nice in the flesh as he is on screen and held Mali and Pwyll’s hands to help them along during the most difficult bits of the walk.

The children go back to school tomorrow – Mam will miss their company during the day.

18th March 2008

Three very busy weeks – at home and at work. Around a fortnight ago I managed to reach an important rowing milestone – the 3,000,000m mark. I've had a chance to do a fair amount of rowing these past two evenings too which was good after having had such a busy week last week that I hadn't found a single opportunity to use the Concept II rowing machine. However, last night I rowed 10km faster than previously during this season. A success therefore! I'd also rowed 10km on Sunday night – the previous evening – so quite a bit of exercise over the weekend. On Saturday we went as a family on a four mile hike in the countryside around St Nicholas and St Lythans and had a great time, despite the almost constant rain – the only break in the 4 hour downpour was when we were sheltering near the St Lythans cromlech eating our picnic. No wonder therefore that we burnt lots and lots of calories – over 600 during a four hour walk, and I'm sure all the mud we trudged through also helped. The children were pouring water out of their wellies by the time we got back to the car and so they all had a bath as soon as we got home, and then relaxed in front of the TV to watch the Wales v France rugby match. And what a match it was. My fingernails have almost entirely disappeared!

But to return to the rowing for a second, that too burns a huge amount of calories. Last night for example during the 42 minutes and 18 seconds it took me to row 10km on the Concept II machine, I burned 700 calories.

20th February 2008

It is Wednesday and we're only just recovering from the long walk we had on Sunday. The plan had been to have a short walk around Ystradowen, but the sun was shining and so we went on for longer than we'd intended - and ended up walking seven miles. The children were once again fantastic and there were no moans at all. It was wonderful and the views over the Vale of Glamorgan quite lovely, though we were all glad to get back to the car by the end. These walks in the Vale are great and we've been following the direction provided by charity Valeways. Click here to see which way we went during walk on Sunday - and also to see what other walks are on offer from Valeways.

14th February 2008

Another busy fortnight and some examples of generosity that have given me some real encouragement. On Ash Wednesday (6th February) for example, I'd woken early and was sitting in bed cradling the youngest child, who is a year old, who was unwell, and, as one does in that in-between state between sleep and wakefulness, I was quietly worrying about the mountain still to climb in terms of reaching the minimum sponsorship. I know there are still nine months to go before the Patagonian trek but one still worries, particularly at six in the morning! However, that evening I arrived home from work to - literally - an answer to a prayer, in the form of a cheque for £250 from the Carningli Baptist churches circuit as well as other cheques totalling £50 from members of the family. Talk about being grateful!

Since then several other generous donations have also come to hand and so with a shade over £800 still to collect before I reach the minimum sponsorship required the challenge looks a little less daunting than it did a week or two ago.

Sarah BroughtonIt is also the season of colds and illness and several of the children have been ill - the youngest last week and the middle one this week. It is the half term holiday this week, and we had all hoped to go to the launch of Sarah Broughton's new novel in a book shop in Cardiff city centre. Sarah used to live next door to us. However, it was not to be and it was Pwyll, the eldest child, and me who went to the launch, with the other children staying home and warm with mam. When Sarah lived next door to us, we used to get regular updates about progress on the book and so it is fantastic that it has now seen the light of day. We hope that Other Useful Numbers will be the first of many novels by Sarah – and Cathrin and I look forward to reading it.

Last weekend, we had a wonderful walk in the countryside around Dinas Powys – a five mile trek without any complaints from the children, fair play to them. The weather was spring-like and that was undoubtedly a central element in our enjoyment of the walk. It is surprising how quickly one can reach countryside from Cardiff. Within ten minutes of leaving the house we were out of sight of any buildings. Iolo the dog had a wonderful time running around the woods and splashing through streams and in ditches - he had to have a shower after arriving home - but there remains the rather strange, but pungent mix of tea tree oil and ditch about him!

30th January 2008

I went for a lunch-time walk a few days ago and had an opportunity to listen on the iPod to a BBC Radio 4 Case Notes programme, about children who have Down's Syndrome. It was a very interesting programme, both from an intellectual point of view but also since it really tugged at the heart strings, conveying as it did some of the challenges which face people who have Down's and their families. You too can hear the programme or read a transcript of the programme by clicking on the either link.

I listen to a number of PodCasts these days – particularly while rowing – and one which is regularly on the iPod is BBC Radio Cymru's nature PodCast with Iolo Williams. It is always extremely interesting and further details about it are available here. One of the recent PodCasts had Iolo scrambling around a quarry in the Blaenafon area in the Gwent Valleys. As usual Iolo made me feel as if I walked around the countryside with my eyes shut! Each 10 minute PodCast is a little gem in my book.

8th January 2008

Well - an exciting and full month between Christmas and everything else. A week or so before Christmas the Spanish lessons finished for the Christmas break, with a chat and games in the Cayo pub on Cathedral Road, Cardiff. It is in this kind of context, where you have to think on your feet that some progress has been made - thanks to Sandra, our teacher, and the help of the other pupils in the class. The lessons start again this evening, and I'm looking forward to them very much!

I also reached the goal with the Concept II 'holiday challenge' but it was a bit touch and go. I was determined this year that I was going to do better than last year and complete the challenge before Christmas Eve. However, on the Saturday before Christmas I started feeling unwell (Cathrin had already been ill, and the youngest child had also started vomiting) and of course, it turned into 24 hours of illness for me too. However, with one final 12.5km session I managed to reach the goal of 200,000m. Since then the rowing machine has had a break although we did get some exercise over the Christmas period having some lovely walks during our few days staying with Mamgu and Tadcu in Cardigan and another great walk as a family last weekend on the hills above Llanthony in the Brecon Beacons. We were totally unfamiliar with the area until recently and the views as we climbed were spectacular. It was nice too to visit the historic church at Patrishow for the first time in twenty years or more.

We look forward to more such walks during the weeks to come.

8th December 2007

Success - I've reached the 100,000m mark in the Concept II holiday challenge. Only another 100,000m to go before Christmas Eve!

6th December 2007

Well, in the end I decided to go for it and by now I've reached almost half way towards the 200,000m goal of the Concept II holiday challenge – and within around 12.5km of reaching the 100,000m mark. I thas been tough, however, and rowing around 15km at a time (on top of everything else) has been a strain, as well as taking time. When I do a 15km piece it takes around an hour and eight minutes. At the end of last week and over the weekend therefore I ddi three 10km session and it was somehow a lot easier psychologically. Last night I gave 12.5km a go and that was relatively straightforward too. Rowing for an hour or more seems to be an extra psychological hurdle to leap over.

As Christmas gets closer, life generally also seems to get busier. Last night, Cathrin and the children made the Christmas cake and this weekend we hope to send the Christmas cards and possible even decorate the Christmas tree. Next week we'll have the pleasure of attneding the children's Christmas Show in the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. The house has been ringing to the songs from the show for days if not weeks. We are looking forward to seeing them on stage.

And the car insurance saga also came to an end. M&S failed to sort out the situation in time –so now the car is insured by the COOP insurance company – although M&S did phone a few days ago to apologise for the mess and inconvenience caused.

19th November 2007

Well, the last fortnight has been frantic. First of all I wrote and sent letters to all those friends on our Christmas card list asking them to sponsor me to undertake this trek on behalf of Mencap, and the response has been fantastic. I am so grateful to all those who have already sponsored me – and done so in such a generous way.

But the other thing which seems to have taken an inordinate amount of time since the beginning of the month has been renewing the car insurance which expires at the end of this month – a relatively straightforward process you would have thought, but not with M&S Money from whom I bought the policy last year. The process of trying to get a renewal quote based on accurate information from them has been like pulling teeth! Trying to be organised I started the process at the beginning of this month. Ten days later, they asked me for copies of the information with which I’d provided them last year – admitting that they were too lazy themselves to retrieve them from their own archive. They then asked me last week, to contact their insurance underwriter to confirm information I’d sent them in March. I did this at the end of last week, but when I got yet another renewal quote based on inaccurate information on Saturday morning and upon calling M&S Money being told nonchalantly that it could take anything up to another week for them to issue a renewal quote based on accurate information, I’m afraid I went ballistic. The result was a letter faxed on Saturday morning to the M&S Chief Executive asking him to use his influence to try and sort out the situation. We’ll see what response, if any, is forthcoming. The annoying thing of course is that these things take up time – time which would otherwise go into training. Over the weekend, I did however manage to row 24km in two 12km sessions.

November 22 sees Concept II, the manufacturers of the rowing machine I use, launching their annual “Holiday Challenge” – the challenge being to row 200,000, between USA Thanksgiving (celebrated this year on 22nd November and Christmas Eve. On average this requires 7km on the rowing machine every night, but of course, it is virtually impossible, because of other demands, to row every night. I did complete the challenge last year (at 10pm on Christmas Eve!) so I am seriously considering whether to give it a go once again this year. I’ll have to weigh it up during the next three days – and of course see whether I’ll have to waste even more time encouraging M&S Money to pull their finger out and sort out the car insurance renewal!

4th November 2007

Well here we are, back from our week's half term holiday. It has been a good break - disastrous for my waistline - though good in terms of opportunities to practice some photography. We've now been to the same cottage in the lovely little village of Llangernyw in the Elwy valley several times. It is perfect in terms of our needs, since there is a plenty of room in the cottage's large garden for the three children and the dog to run around.

But to return for a second to the photography - one of the most wonderful things about the area is the hills which are within a stone's throw of the cottage and in spite of having been there twice before, we still found new footpaths to explore. The day after we arrived we went for a walk with our friend Ruth, who was visiting for the day, through the woods which lie just below Hafod Unnos, the now empty stately home which dominates the landscape when you look across from the other side of the valley. The landscape during this walk is very striking, with the river which lies alongside the path cascading over cliffs in several places. A few days later, when Nain and Taid visited, we all went for a walk on the nearby hills, walking for over two hours and seeing no-one except the farmer and his two sheep-dogs - though lots of interesting plants and birds of course. Our reward for our efforts was lunch in the Old Stag in the centre of the village. One of the photographic pleasures was seeing the change in the landscape brought about by the change in the season, as well as the impact of autumn's golden light on everything. Some of the photographs I took will appear on this web-site shortly, as soon as I've put them in some kind of order.

Tomorrow, it is back to school for the older children and a return to work - and the rowing machine - for me. There are several excess inches to be burnt off after last week's fare of Nain's fruit pies and less exercise than usual.


11th October 2007

The youngest child’s first birthday is a reminder of greatest challenge I’ve faced thus far in life. Exactly a year ago, I was putting the older children to bed with Cathrin downstairs in the kitchen. The midwife, who had been here earlier, had returned to her office having predicted it would be hours yet before baby put in an appearance. However, that’s not how things transpired.

Around twenty-five past seven I heard a shout from the kitchen! I cantered down the stairs to find Cathrin flinging a shower curtain over the sofa in the lounge. She told me to follow the midwife’s instructions when she’d departed earlier, and not only to phone her, but also to phone the ambulance service. As she'd left earlier, she had said that the ambulance can often get through traffic far quicker than she could with a blue light. Soon after beginning the call however, it became clear that I was going to have to be the midwife! “Excuse me while I just rip the phone off the wall” I told the ambulance dispatcher and I took the phone through to Cathrin’s side in the lounge.

The dispatcher’s instructions were first class, fair play to him, though I did feel a mixture of helplessness and utter terror, since for the first time in years, I had no idea of what to do. I had been present when the older children had been born, but had rather kept away from the business end of things.

However, by the time the ambulance arrived, Amig Ffransis Brynach had been born – a mere eight minutes or so since Cathrin’s first shout. He’s been at full throttle ever since!

The trek in Patagonia will also, I’m sure, be another huge challenge. I just hope that I’ll get the opportunity to give it a go having raised the necessary cash for Mencap.


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