Llanberis, a small town of 3,000 in North Wales, is one of the undisputed climbing and hill walking capitals in the UK.
Whilst unemployment is not dire, it's hard to make a living around here. Many work at Siemens, First Hydro, or Electric Mountain but it is the natural beauty of Snowdonia and the business of the great outdoors that is the major supplier of income to the area.
DMM, one of the UK's only manufacturers of climbing equipment employ over 120 locals, many hundreds more make an income from climbers, hillwalkers and general tourism. Plas y Brenin is just up the road and publishers Ground Up are based here (as well as UKC's Chief Editor, Jack Geldard).
Amongst the climbing businesses it is Joe Brown's Shops that is one of the most well established and they are expanding. This year they have added two more shops to their original Capel Curig and Llanberis locations.
First they bought and renovated a building on Llanberis High Street. This is The Corner Shop, Joe Brown's full service emporium for hillwalkers, with a specialised boot department, as well as shells to protect you from the Welsh drizzle.
And now there is Joe Brown 4. Many will be familiar with the Pen y Pas, a launching point for the Snowdon summit. The National Park building here houses a small visitor centre and used to be home to a dreary cafe that sold expensive weak tea in polystyrene cups.
That has now changed. In a joint partnership, the Caban - a social enterprise wholesome cafe based in Bryn Refail - and Joe Browns have teamed up to create a joint climbing shop with cafe.
Brown's are selling walking essentials whilst the Caban are running the restaurant/cafe in a newly renovated space.
I had an early breakfast with Sue Peyton from Joe Brown's last week at Pen y Pass and it is quite a change from a year ago. The Caban is known for its high quality and reasonably priced food and the new decor has made this building a pleasure to hang out in. We had superb views down the Llanberis Pass through a large bay window whilst devouring poached eggs on toast and drinking proper coffee. Yes there is an expresso machine - it's a big one.
British Mountain GuideStuart McAleese, freshly back from a successful trip to Baffin, dropped in for coffee on his way to work at Plas y Brenin where he is head of rock climbing instruction. He stops by every morning.
Stu and Mike 'Twid' Turner are giving a slide show at Pen y Pas in the cafe in September. Sue of Joe Browns plans to hold evening events here and it would be good for a climbing club dinner. The cafe opens early - 7am - and closes around 8pm. Parking is free for the duration of your cafe visit. It really is a place to be proud of and has created 5 new jobs. If you are in the area it is worth a visit.
Possible UKC Adventure Climbing Skills Weekend at Plas y Brenin
The day before, I was at Plas y Brenin talking to Martin Chester (PyB Director of Training and BMG - British Mountain Guide) and Dave Cheetham head of marketing at PyB, planning another Plas y Brenin/UKC weekend. This time the possible theme is Adventure Climbing:
a weekend of skill workshops for those climbers interested in growing from single-pitch outcrop climbing to more committing climbing on multi-pitch mountain crags, sea cliffs and sea stacks.
It will be a similar format to the alpine skills weekend with a fun quiz with great prizes (like last time) in the evening.
JC New MLTUK Supremo and Elfyn at Siabod
Then it was over to Siabod Cottage home of Mountain Leader Training UK for a chat with MLTUK 's new boss, John Cousins. John, who was formerly PyB Director of Training, has the task of making the MLTUK more efficient and streamlined to better serve those who want embark upon a career as a climbing instructor or guide.
The BMC's new Welsh Officer, Elfyn Jones is also based in Siabod and I asked Elfyn what was the current status on Dali's Hole in the Llanbers slate quarries, where access is currently restricted. He couldn't say much as negotiations are on -going with the very receptive First Hydro (who are pro-climbers) and it is hoped that there will be a positive outcome soon. There is no hiding our heads in the sand over the need for low grade sport climbing in the UK whatever your preferred style.
Ask Before You Bolt
Elfyn is enjoying his new post and has multiple access projects, and negotiations on-going all over Wales. One point he did make was that these days climbers just can't go out and bolt routes without consultation with land owners and conservation bodies, those days are gone. If you are a new router, before drilling holes and driving metal home, it is responsible to check first with the BMC as to whether there could be potential access or even legal issues.
Elfyn's other projects include upland footpath mangement and the obvious - parking in Snowdonia. Most weekends over 3,000 cars are looking for a place to park in Snowdonia so that people - climbers, walkers, birdwatchers, runners, mountain bikers, paragliders - can explore the beautiful Welsh hills. However, there are only 1,500 parking places. This is going to be a tough issue to sort out.
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