Archive for March, 2010

New Website Design Launched

If you’ve visited this site at any time in the last ten years or so, you’ll probably wondering what’s happened to it. The familiar green and yellow design has gone, to be replaced by a dramatic new look.

Despite winning the President’s Award this year, the old design was looking tired and dated. Since Christmas, I’ve been working on a new layout that would refresh the site’s appearance and pull together the group’s various online activities more effectively. These efforts are finally ready for a public airing. Here are just a few features of the new design:

  • Colour Scheme:  The new scheme uses a range of natural greens, yellows and browns. As well as being appropriate to our outdoor activities, these colours complement the new banner image and other pictures on the site.
  • Google Search: As part of the new ethos of using freely available services instead of doing it ourselves, the site search has been outsourced to the leader in the field: Google. The prominent position of the search box might mean people use it more too.
  • New Front Page: The home page has been totally rewritten, in order to better welcome people into the site. A Twitter widget (see below) and some news feeds give an at-a-glance guide to what’s happening in the group and in the wider world of hostelling.
  • Twitter: We’ve been posting to Twitter for nearly a year now, but the new design makes it a lot more visible. Tweets are automatically generated whenever new content is added to the site, and can also be written manually by committee members. The widget on the front page makes it easy for everyone to see what’s been happening lately.
  • Advertising: Nobody likes ads, but they do help to cover the costs of running the group. Placing ads above, below and (sometimes) beside the content of each page should attract a few clicks, and a few pennies!
  • Footer: A new area at the foot of each page gives easy access to the Group’s other web outposts. As well as Twitter, we’re also on Facebook, Google Calendar and Flickr. You can also get to the group’s new Amazon store,  where every purchase earns us a small commission.

This is only phase one of the redesign. The next step will be to review each page on the site, correcting any outdated information and trying to make them easier to use. The “Frequently Asked Questions” section will be an early candidate for a revamp.

I’d be interested to hear any feedback – positive or negative – or ideas you may have for further improving the site. Please talk to me in person, by email, or in the comments section below.

Website wins Award

At this weekend’s Affiliated Groups’ Conference, Leicester won first prize (jointly, with Dunstable group) in the President’s Awards Best Website category.

The Presidents Awards is an annual competition between YHA groups, where they are judged on such aspects of their operation as publicity, programmes, newsletters and fundraising. The idea is that, by learning from the winners, all groups can improve.

Leicester group won the best website category for five years running, since its introduction in 1999. Though this year sees a return to winning form, the site will not be allowed to rest its laurels. A redesign of the site has been in preparation since the new year (ironically, partly in an effort to win this award!) and should go online in the next week or so.

A certificate and cheque (for the group, not for me!) were awarded by Caroline White, the Chief Executive of YHA. A full list of winners of all categories can be found on the yhagroup.org.uk site.

Cold Mountain at Corris

Last year we spent Easter at Corris and, while sitting in the Braich Goch hotel having a number of medicinal pints, the proprietor happened to mention that they had a bunkhouse and also a beer festival next February. Sitting there relaxing in a gentle hoppy haze we decided that we would book another weekend for that and in a fit of fervour I agreed to do the organising.

I then totally forgot about this till Dave mentioned it some months later and we got an e mail from the Braich Goch checking that we were serious about the booking. At first I thought we’d never get 12 people in February to return to Corris and Cadair Idris let alone a beer festival in a village with no shops. However bit by bit the numbers built up and we ended up with ten (though admittedly I press ganged my son Tom and his girlfriend into it, he was keen on the beer bit and I swear I mentioned Cadair to him as well).

So off we went back to Wales and the hills and the sheep — whoops! – mustn’t mention sheep — remember Trefin? I went with Liz and Boh, this time we kept to the main roads and missed last year’s tour of the country lanes — with the result we got there first at 5pm and found the festival in full flow. There were about 12 varieties of real ale with exotic names and strengths and by the time the others came several hours later we had already sampled a number of them.

By now it’d started snowing, though fortunately everyone got here OK in the end. Walking out of the door of the hostel to greet a new arrival a gritter roared past and covered me in grit and very wet slush. At least that should stop me from slipping on Cadair. We also met the hostel cat who was a tabby with a delusion he was a Manx as a passing lorry had taken off his tail. Needless to say Chris soon struck up a rapport with him.

By now the festival was in full swing and the local band arrived. I forget their name but apparently they’re very big in Machynlleth and reminded me of some middle aged late punks with a demon keyboard player in a pork pie hat. It was at this stage that Dave reached for his ear plugs though the pub was heaving and it was obviously the mad night of the year in Corris (I even thought I saw Owain Glyndwr dancing in the crowd and also King Arthur, who is reputed to sleep in the nearby hills but must have been woken up by the noise).

So next morning we woke up bright and early. Tom had gone missing from his bunk and I thought he’d had enough and done a runner, but he was sleeping in the lounge as he’d found the combined snoring of our dorm a bit much for him — I’d forgotten to warn him about that as well. We looked out of the front door and saw nothing except mist in the valley and several inches of snow. So it looked like a good day for Cadair via the Minffordd path and off we went at a healthy 9am.

On the way we passed some sort of portakabin by some road works with the title “Welfare Office” in large letters on it. What was this? — a bold plan to bring welfare services to rural Wales or was it for distressed sheep — sorry said it again! — strange though as there wasn’t a house for miles.

Once we arrived at the mountain, the mist had started to clear except on the tops, and all the trees were covered in snow – which looked great. The sky was blue and the sun came out as we started climbing the infamous steps –or staircase to heaven as a rock band (Sorry Dave) once put it. The steps were very giant friendly for anyone over 8 ft with long legs but unfortunately none of us were that size. Is there an 8 foot high planner who makes a living out of planning massive steps in upland areas? The snow was starting to melt off the trees and we all got roasting, but the snow looked brilliant against the blue sky with bits of cloud rising out of the main Cwm around the lake like smoke from a waiting Welsh dragon round the corner.

As we began to climb up the south ridge we could see the lake half frozen over but I failed to get Liz to repeat her swimming in the lake feat from Brecon two years ago. When we got to the top of the first ridge there was a great view over half frozen Tal y Llyn lake with snow everywhere and fleecy clouds floating below us. The thing with Cadair is that it is really a collection of several summits and you can’t see the highest summit till you’re right on the top, so you think you may have reached the top but of course you haven’t.

You get up to 690 metres on one summit and then on to the next at 791 metres. It was at this stage that the clouds covered the tops and the snow that must have been lying there for some time turned out to be a foot deep (oh, and I forgot the wind as well). Last time I came over this one it was boiling hot! You then get to a bit of path right near the edge with a 900 foot drop to the lake at the bottom. There were footprints in the snow going right to the edge but then turning back… Was this a member of the kamikaze walking group who changed his mind at the last moment and got a lifetime ban from the group? — who knows.

So at 791 metres you comfort yourself with the thought that the highest peak is only 893 so it’s a mere 300 feet or so to go — then you hit the downhill. If we’d all carried old tin trays with us we could have tobogganed down to the bottom but as we hadn’t it was a matter of slip slide and slurp in the snow drifts down to 700 metres which made it 600 foot or so to the top. That’s not much really but you couldn’t see the top and it was uphill through a foot of snow. I’ve got a photo of part of the group disappearing up the snowy slope in the mist which looks very like Scott trying to find the South Pole having wished he hadn’t made a madras curry of the last husky (overdid the garlic too said Evans, as he disappeared in to the blizzard saying ‘I may be gone some time’).

Having inadvertently mistaken Boh for a polar bear we dragged on upwards through various snowy clad rocks rocks till we found the summit with a highly frozen trig point. (It was at this point that I was asking myself do I like hill walking or am I just a ******* masochist?) After a brief lunch in the bothy at the top with well chilled chardonnay and sarnie glace we noticed that the cloud had cleared from the summit — as it often does on Cadair — remember Kings, where it cleared and Dorothy could see as far as the sales in Barmouth? The sea still looked cold and oddly the valley to the north was snow free while the one to the south wasn’t. Last year when we came up we could see Snowdon to the north, the Brecon beacons to the south and well into England in the east. This time it wasn’t as clear though you could make out the Snowdon range.

So on to the downhill. First we had to go across a snow covered plateau and the mist came down again. This and the wind made it look very like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and at one stage I thought I saw a ghostly French dragoon till I realised his helmet and plumes was in fact Dave’s multi coloured woollen hat. Anyway eventually we started going steeply downhill — and downhill — and downhill — till we were sick of going steeply downhill and almost started wishing we could go uphill again. Eventually we got out of the thick snow and the views were great with the fading winter sunlight over the sea and the snow clad hills. Then down the “giant’s’” steps and to the car park and the general feeling that that it had been ‘One hell of a walk’. Also congratulations to Donna. Tom and Lisa on completing it on their first walk with the group – they’re not all like this one!

Back at the Bunkhouse it appeared that Shep the singing sheepdog and his band from Pontllanfraith Uchaf had cancelled due to lambing problems and were replaced by the heaviest metal band this side of Dinas Mawddwy. Led by Dave we then decided to try the village pub which thank goodness is still open and the very hospitable landlord fitted us in for food and quite a lot of drink — we must have given his takings a good boost. By the time we returned to the bunkhouse the party was still in full swing (King Arthur had just got barred and gone back to his cave in the mountain) but they’d run out of my favourite stout and most of us crashed out fairly quickly. After last night’s experience Tom opted to sleep with Dave and Stuart who proved snore free!

So next morning most people went off but some of us stayed for an “undulating” walk up the side of the valley from Corris to the old slate mine at the top and then on to Upper Corris and back via the teashop. On the way we passed the ‘Italian House’ where an Italian spent a lifetime building models of Italian buildings in the garden from a large variety of bricks.

This led to a keen ethical debate on the role of women between Liz and Stuart — did Mrs Italian pine away alone in the house while her chauvinist neglectful husband sublimated in his garden with his beloved bricks or did she breath a sigh of relief when he went outside and settle down to watch the telly in peace free from his endless talking about bricks? Perhaps this topic could be on the agenda at the next AGM?

Anyway that was that and for once some beer assisted idea raised in a pub had led to a great weekend.

New Slideshows Mark 2

A few people have reported difficulty in seeing the group’s slideshows since I changed the system last year. Even those who could see them had to put up with tiny images, and Flickr’s habit of serving them up in random order.

So I’ve changed it again! The “back end” is unchanged – the photos are still stored on Flickr and can be contributed by any member – but the page that shows the slides is totally different. Now all the slides are shown at once (in order!), and you just have to click one to start a big, impressive show. Take a look at the shots of our recent snowy ascent of Cader Idris to see what I mean.

On a related note, I’m still waiting for more photographers to come forward and contribute to the site. If it just falls on one or two people, they inevitably tire of the burden and the group suffers. Get in touch if you want to know how to help.