Helen Barnard, Lead Instructor at Plas y Brenin, the National Outdoor Centre, talks about the centre's proud 65 year history and its exciting plans for the future.
Tell us more about Plas y Brenin
I'm sure many UKC users will be familiar with Plas y Brenin, we've been running for 65 years. During that time our offerings have changed, some old photos even shown fishing and horse riding, but we're probably best known for training people in the mountains. We've introduced thousands of people to hill walking, rock climbing, and winter climbing, and have also delivered the qualifications needed to lead, coach and instruct others in those activities.
Our experienced staff team are the backbone of the centre.They are passionate mountaineers and climbers who have climbed all over the UK and the world. The experience they've accumulated has been gathered over the years and resides in the staff room - it's a melting pot of ideas and skills picked up along the way. I think this broad knowledge base and the idea sharing that goes along with it sets us apart, and allows our instructors to run great courses.
Some readers may, or may not know that we're one of Sport England's three National Sports Centres, along with Lilleshall and Bisham Abbey. As such, our role is to introduce people to our core disciplines; climb, hike, bike and paddle, and then to coach and develop their skills to meet their aims. We run the full spectrum of recreational courses, from first-time to high performance coaching. Our other key role is to deliver the NGB (National Governing Body) awards for those sports, these are the likes of the Mountain Leader or Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (formerly MIA) qualifications.
We firmly believe that our location, combined with our staff team, guarantee that anyone joining us on a course will get the most out of their time with us. One of the finest introductory scrambles (Moel Siabod's south east ridge) is practically on our doorstep, meanwhile a ten minute drive can take us into the middle of the Llanberis Pass or the Ogwen Valley. This means we can quickly access all of Snowdonia's mountain ranges; the Snowdon Range, Glyderau and Carneddau. As many readers will know, some of the country's best walking, scrambling and climbing lie within areas, giving us the most amazing playground and office!
What's the story behind Plas y Brenin?
Plas y Brenin was built in 1798 by Lord Penrhyn as the Capel Curig Inn. It provided accommodation for a number of royals, including Queen Victoria, Kings Edward VII and VIII, and George V, and so was appropriately renamed the Royal Hotel in 1870.
In 1955, the Central Council for Physical Recreation acquired the site using funding from King George VI's memorial fund, for use as a national recreation centre, renaming it Plas y Brenin, meaning 'The King's Place', in his honour.
Since 1997, Plas y Brenin has been operated on behalf of Sport England by the Mountain Training Trust, a not-for-profit charity founded by the British Mountaineering Council, Mountain Training UK and Mountain Training England.
What courses do you offer?
We offer more than 300 courses, split across our core disciplines, but also including things like First Aid, and specialist rescue courses. Duration wise, we run everything from our one day Epic Adventures, to our intensive four month Fast Track instructor course. Most courses are two or five days long and are designed to take people from novice to expert, should they choose to. (We hope they do!)
Our mountaineering instructors work on a diverse range of courses; one week may see them teaching navigation to first time hill wakers, another may see them guiding youngsters on Dinas Cromlech on our Young Persons' summer camps, while another again may see them supporting students to become independent winter climbers, run from our winter base in Glen Coe. Essentially, if somebody would like to learn or develop their skills, or qualify to work with others in the outdoors, they can do it with us.
We offer most of the Mountain Training qualifications – the awarding body that coordinates the provision of courses and qualifications for all course providers in the UK. Its courses train and qualify leaders, instructors and coaches in walking, climbing and mountaineering. We can provide training and assessment in the full spectrum of Mountain Training courses, from Lowland Leader to Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor. We are one of only two providers who can do this, the other being Glenmore Lodge. Obviously, we'd like you to come to Plas y Brenin if you're thinking about a course!
What are the plans for the centre's future?
It goes without saying, it's been a devastating time for the outdoor industry, so our immediate focus will be on recovering, relaunching and welcoming customers once again. We have been busy refurbishing the centre in anticipation of a busy season and we can't wait to be up and running again.
It's been a tough time for everyone, but one positive seems to be that more people are aware of, and interested in spending time outside. We anticipate interest in climbing to be bigger than ever when restrictions ease this year and we want to be able to support people in doing it safely and responsibly.
A huge area of focus for us will be playing our part in making outdoor activities and adventures including climbing more accessible and welcoming for everyone. We want to create and collaborate on new opportunities for people young and old, and with all backgrounds and abilities, to engage with the outdoors respectfully, responsibly and sustainably. As part of this, we want to encourage more children and young people to undertake physical activity and outdoor learning in our safe environment where they can build not only skills, but confidence that will last a lifetime.
Why Plas y Brenin for a climbing course?
For climbers, Snowdonia and North Wales offer some of the most celebrated and diverse climbing in the country. As a general rule, anyone attending a five day climbing course could expect to climb on a different rock type every day, single and multi-pitch routes, mountain crags and sea cliffs, and all within a 45 minute drive. Our staff's local knowledge ensures they'll find the best routes and crags for whoever they're working with.
Our ethos has always been to support people to become safe, independent climbers. We see firsthand so many people come to our centre and leave on a high, with a load of new skills and bags more confidence – and that's what we thrive on! Our staff love bumping into someone they've previously taught at the crag and seeing them having a great time – it makes them tick.
In the (rare!) event of very poor weather, we have brilliant onsite facilities. We have two climbing walls; one is similar to any other wall you'd visit, with a mix of bouldering and roped climbing. The other, which we call the training wall, has been specially designed to allow people to practice placing nuts, cams, hexes and threads. We also have an abseil tower and covered area (well known as 'The Canopy') which allow us to teach things like abseiling and improvised rescue.
Finally, the atmosphere at Plas y Brenin is very special. It's a special place, and it's a place that means something to many people. When that's combined with a centre full of people having a fantastic time, the atmosphere is something else. I've heard quite a few people say it feels like a home from home, I think that's great.