Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Sneaky Week In Snowdonia

It's not every day your daily commute includes a view of Snowdon in the early morning November sunshine!

Sometimes you just need to get away......

With an enforced week off work in late November, I decided to travel back to North Wales, where I was a student back in the early 1980's. For 3 years, Bangor, Gwynedd and Snowdonia was my immediate life.

With a bit of nostalgia, I left a very wet Surrey last Sunday afternoon, and drove the 250 miles up to southern Snowdonia.

Now 30+ years on, I am back in my old familiar university stomping ground, marveling at the changes that have occurred since I was last her, 3 decades ago.  A lot more retail parks, more roads, and bigger buildings than were here when I was a student. My old hall of residence Neuadd Reichel still stands, but now surrounded by a cluster of new student accommodation blocks painted in garish pastel colours.  Any Bangor alumni who remembers the Plas Gwyn and Tryfan halls, will be shocked to see how they are now demolished and replaced with the modern blocks.  Gone also are the old students union building and the Theater Gwynedd - currently under re-construction, over budget and months behind schedule.

Whilst I have lost touch with almost all of my University contemporaries, I now have new friends in and around the Bangor area.

The Bothy - home for a few days

I'm staying in a bothy, a small traditional cottage, about a mile from the village of Llanfrothen. It's a stone built Welsh cottage, located in a valley that contains a small stream.

Inside it's about 12' x 18' living space with a bed on a mezzanine floor. Roof lights make the most of the natural daylight. Downstairs a small kitchen, with two ring gas cooker, fridge and washing machine. The all important woodstove becomes the focal point of the room. Adjacent to the main living space is a toilet/shower-room. It's basic - but sometimes basic is just what we need to bring us back to realise some of our fundamental values.

The bothy is located in a wooded valley and so is well supplied with firewood for heating, there is an electric immersion water heater, telephone landline and broadband. Mobile reception here is at best flaky on some networks - at worst, non existent.

So, I'm here for a week, not exactly for relaxation, but to catch up with some of my good friends who live in this little corner of North Wales.

My hosts this week are Trystan Lea and Glyn Hudson - who founded Open Energy Monitor about 4 years ago.  The bothy belongs to Trystan's father, and was once used as an architect's studio, before Trystan and Glyn took it over a few years ago as the premises for their start up, open source energy monitoring company, Megni.

Megni has now outgrown the bothy, and has moved to a serviced office premises in Parc Menai - a fairly new development on the southern outskirts of Bangor.

It's a 25 mile commute from Llanfrothen to Parc Menai - and so Trystan has wisely invested in a Nissan Leaf Electric Car.  With a range of 60 miles, it easily meets his daily commute requirements - and what a commute that is, through the beautiful scenery of south Snowdonia.

Trystan's  electric Nissan Leaf, on the Pen Y Pass, en route to Llanberis.

The Nissan Leaf is an all electric super-mini.  It can seat 4 adults in comfort, and has a  boot that can easily swallow a couple of mountain bikes, with the back seats lowered.

A 50 mile round trip uses about 13.5kWh of mains electricity, or about £2 worth.  The same trip in my Golf TDi would cost about £6.50 in diesel.

Trystan uses the Leaf on a daily basis and at weekends, recharging at night on a standard 13A extension lead, and occasionally with a top up at the office, on the end of an extension lead.

Snowdonia was an early pioneer of renewable energy.  A little research shows that hydro electricity was first developed here in Snowdonia in the early 1900's. Today there are several hydro schemes in operation, including the pumped storage scheme at Dinorwic - which was under construction 30 years ago, when I started as a student here.

"Chapel in the Valley"  Cwm Dyli.  Hydro-electricity generated here has served this part of Snowdonia for 110 years.

A mirror-like lake, Llyn Cwellyn - on the way to Caernarfon

Though early morning mists we see, visions of reality....

A visit to my old engineering department revealed that Engineer's have a sense of humour too


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