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Caerphilly Challenge 2019: interview with Brian Begg.

This month, the Nikwax Caerphilly Challenge Series returns on 9th May. Sponsored by Nikwax, this non-for-profit walking event welcomes around 500 entrants every year and has been running since 2012. But, in fact, its origins go back to 2005, when the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) of South Wales and the Countryside Service of Caerphilly County Borough Council (CCBC) wanted to start encouraging people of all abilities to get out walking in their local natural environment.

The walk is organised by a small group of committed volunteers, with another 70 volunteers helping out on the day. Geographically the challenge moves around the county every year, giving entrants a chance to see everything that Caerphilly’s countryside has to offer. And participants can choose between different lengths of route and whether to navigate themselves or walk with a guide.

This year’s Challenge is entitled ‘The Forge’, which comes courtesy of a section of the route that takes in a local shorter walk called the Machen Forge Trail. It’s the perfect time of year for a challenge event, with nature waking back up and everything starting to bloom.

What are the origins of the Caerphilly Challenge Series?
“Caerphilly County Borough is made up of 80 per cent countryside, yet, just like the rest of the UK, has poor physical activity levels. So it was a nice fit to potentially improve activity levels and health whilst encouraging people to get out in the countryside.

Caerphilly has a history of heavy industry relating to coal. At one stage the outdoor environment was coal mines and slag heaps. Since the mining has stopped, nature has made a comeback. In fact, the old mine sites are all now country parks.

Over a number of years we have set up numerous walking groups that cater for all levels of ability. On the back of this walking development we created the Challenge Series, with a view to having an event that caters for all abilities and fitness levels. Lots of the bigger challenge events cater purely for longer walks, which excludes a lot of people.

 The Caerphilly Challenge Series was created with a view to being more inclusive with regards fitness levels and ability, hence having walks of 1 mile up to 21 miles. The longer, more challenging, walks still tend to be the most popular, but people now have an option.”

This year’s event is described as ‘better than ever’. What gives 2019 this honour?
“Year on year the challenge event improves. We constantly try to improve the entrant experience and the routes we plan. We have done the ‘The Forge’ once before in 2016 and its an absolutely beauty. It has a mix of hilltop, riverside, bluebell-filled ancient woodlands, remnants of the industrial heritage of the area (including a Forge!)…and castles! Not to mention the views of the Brecon Beacons to the north and views of Cardiff, Newport and even Bristol on a clear day.”

Why do you think challenges of this nature are so popular at the moment?
“I feel these challenges are growing in popularity as people like a ‘challenge’, whether you’re 12 (our youngest entrant to date) or 90 years of age (our oldest entrant to date). The sense of achievement that is gained from setting yourself a personal challenge and then succeeding is unmeasurable. I feel these events are more than just a physical and mental challenge. They hopefully give people memorable positive outdoor experiences and help break down barriers to getting out into the countryside that is on your doorstep. If people get out more then the event is a success!

The Caerphilly Challenge Series in particular offers a ‘managed challenge’, where people can book on, have routes planned for them (in an area they may not be familiar with) and a safety net of volunteers should they run into trouble. Although we have self-led options on the challenge, we also have some led walks, where people with no experience of reading maps can still get involved and have a great day out.”

What level of training would you recommend people reach in order to enjoy the challenge?
“For all the challenge walks, entrants should undertake an appropriate level of training that aligns with the distance they are planning on doing on the day. If you are aiming for the 21 mile challenge then you should be regularly walking longer distances….with some hills. Year-on-year people get caught out by walking a lot, but not going off road or up/down hills. The longer routes can be punishing on the legs and feet! The running joke at the end of the challenge is that the entrants finish, sit down, eat some cake and then head off home doing the ‘Caerphilly Challenge shuffle’ due to their sore feet!”

Map reading is a big focus of the event. Why do you believe navigation and map reading is so important nowadays?
“Map reading is a ‘big big’ part of the event. We deliberately kept the navigational element to the fore. The temptation is to signpost the entire route, but where’s the challenge in that! We give entrants a basic map (for reference) and a route description. They then have to find their way from checkpoint to checkpoint where they have their ‘Racetek’ wrist bands scanned, so we can check where they are on route.

We organise map reading courses leading up to the challenge, so entrants can brush up or learn from scratch how to read a map and navigate. Luckily we have a ‘Caerphilly Adventure Group’ on our doorstep who run these courses for us. Map reading is unbelievably important, and a skill that currently seems to be deemed as less important of late, with people using smart phones and GPS devices. Using a map properly can really open the doors to the countryside, and the ability to find your way from place to place without relying on a device is an art to be proud of.”

You warn people that this is a wet, muddy challenge. What do you recommend people to wear and how should they treat their gear beforehand?
“NIKWAX, NIKWAX, NIKWAX! Lol! We tell our entrants to wear appropriate waterproof clothing and footwear for the challenge they are taking part in and recommend using Nikwax products to endure the water and mud doesn’t penetrate whatever fabric they are wearing.”

What benefit does Nikwax give the event? And why do they make such good partners?
“Nikwax and the Caerphilly challenge series are a nice fit. We both seem to be on the same page when it comes to environmental beliefs and the great outdoors. Nikwax was created by outdoor people, who know the value of the outdoors from a physical, mental, social and environmental perspective.

We are a community-run challenge event that aims to get people of all backgrounds walking more whilst accessing the countryside. Caerphilly also has a track record of investing in its countryside and biodiversity, with a view to having a natural environment that people can access, enjoy and be proud of. The ethos of Nikwax producing environmentally friendly and sustainable products aligns perfectly with our interests.

We are not a big corporate event whose sole objective is to make money. The challenge was created with people and the environment in mind. Get more people active, get more people in the countryside!”

Photos courtesy of Joanne Burgess.

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Prepare for The Wild Boar challenge, 2017!

Each year in Caerphilly, Wales, the Borough Council’s Countryside and Landscape Service, along with Caerphilly Adventure Group, Caerphilly Ramblers, Islwyn Ramblers and other partners, organise the Caerphilly Challenge. This annual event consists of a series of routes for people to walk, or even run; varying from a mild 1-5 mile walk, through to the longer and much more challenging 22-mile route involving steep and difficult terrain.

The event attracts seasoned and non-seasoned walkers and runners of all ages – canines too! People register for the event, choosing the `challenge` that will suit their ability best and use the experience as a means to fundraise for charity, or just to test themselves.

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This year the challenge is The Wild Boar and is taking place on Saturday 6th May. Nikwax will be attending the event, as we love nothing more than an excuse to get out and enjoy the countryside. At our stand will be our Footwear Cleaning Station and if the routes are wet and muddy then you will be needing our services when you finish!

To undertake a challenge like this, your footwear is one of your biggest priorities, as you don’t want to end up with blisters or fungal infections as a result of damp feet from under-performing outdoor footwear. We recommend you prepare your walking shoes in advance of the event, to ensure you are comfortable when undertaking the challenge route of your choice.

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Firstly, clean your footwear with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel. This will remove any dirt and contaminants, which may be masking the durable water repellency (DWR) and could cause your feet to get sweaty and damp inside.

If your footwear is relatively new, then Footwear Cleaning Gel will revitalise the existing DWR to ensure water is not absorbed and your footwear remains breathable. However, if your footwear has been thoroughly worn you will need to add DWR after you have cleaned with Footwear Cleaning Gel.

Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proof can be applied either as a spray or as sponge-on to wet Fabric and Leather combination footwear. It adds a flexible water repellent treatment to the footwear, which develops upon air-drying and maintains the breathability of your footwear, whilst keeping your feet dry and comfortable.

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If you have full grain leather walking boots then use Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather as the aftercare product, after cleaning with Footwear Cleaning Gel. The support from leather footwear is maintained by tanning agents in the leather, if the leather absorbs water it softens and you lose the tanning agents. As a result you find your leather boots feel stiffer once dry and can lead to splitting, as well as a loss of the breathability. Waterproofing Wax for Leather provides DWR, whilst replenishing tanning agents.

Clean and protect with Nikwax aftercare now and you can join in with the fun in Caerphilly knowing that your footwear will maintain its performance and allow you to just enjoy the outdoors.

Remember to come and visit us at our Footwear Cleaning Station after the walk so we can give your footwear a much-loved Nikwax clean and reproof, ready for your next outdoor challenge!

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For further information and registering your place at The Wild Boar Challenge in Caerphilly, please visit: https://your.caerphilly.gov.uk/caerphillychallengeseries/

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#GetOutside – what’s your challenge?

We all like the idea of getting outside, but what’s the challenge that will get you out there whatever the weather? Nikwax took part in the Caerphilly Challenge in Wales last month and asked the other participants that very question!

The Caerphilly Challenge offers a range of hikes – from a tough 22 miles, to 17 miles, 11 miles or a more leisurely 1-5 miles – there’s something to put everyone through their paces and test their choice of gear for the day.

The event therefore attracts a variety of people, both young and old. This year’s partakers ranged from a group of young boy Scouts to a man training to walk Camino de Santiago, Spain in June, when he’ll aim to complete 500kms on foot in just a few days!

The 22-mile challenge was certainly that for one of the participants, who’d took up the hike after a 40 year break from walking. This goes to show it’s never too late to rekindle an old passion and #GetOutside.

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A group of three chirpy ladies were using the challenge as training for climbing to the top of Ben Nevis. They have made a promise (to themselves) this summer of Scottish sightseeing, followed by shopping as reward!

We joined a group who were using the challenge to explore local haunts.  From the starting point in Bedwas, the 11-mile challenge took us through the 1900 village of Trethomas, with streets named after the local colliery owner’s children.  Walking along disused railway lines to Lower Machen, the group had a very 21st century pit stop of tea and cake at the 12th century St Michael and All Angels’ church.  As the weather started to clear and coats were shed, two of the walkers fondly reminisced about their wedding there some time before (although a little unsure of the year).

The walk took us over the River Rhymney via the Iron Bridge, a 16-metre span cast iron bridge built in 1829 and restored in 2011.  Across the fields we passed a new build house, which sparked debate about the building’s merits and its possible place in Grand Designs.

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Then onwards up a hill, stepping through bluebell broadleaved woods, to Coed Craig Ruperra, an iron age hill fort situated on the top of the ridge.  Savouring the panoramic views as well as our lunch, we could see how other Challengers were progressing as they passed by. Over fields and along the Machen Forge Trail we continued, its landscape impacted by iron production in a time now past. Then along a railway track once serving Pentwyn coal pit.

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With a number of dogs also taking up the Challenge, one participant confessed she often volunteered to take her friend’s dog out as it was a great excuse to go for long walks.  As we walked on through a sea of wild garlic with its wafting scent, some of the dogs were definitely enjoying being outside and delighted in rolling around in the fragrant plant.

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As we reached the finish back at Bedwas High School and collected our goodie bags plus free sample of Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel and Nikwax BaseFresh, everyone seemed happy their challenge was complete.

After a mix of weather over the day, starting with rain and turning to heavy humidity and then 24 degrees sunshine, some took the opportunity for a free boot clean and re-proof at the Nikwax footwear care clinic in preparation for their next walking challenge!

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So what’s the challenge that will get you outside, whatever the weather?

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Legends of ‘The Pimple’ – Twmbarlwm Trek 2015

Guest blog, courtesy of Gavin Jones, Caerphilly County Borough Council; providing an insight into the great Caerphilly Challenge!

If there is one walk etched in the annals of history (well in the old Welsh county of Gwent anyway) it’s the ‘Twmbarlwm Trek’. This may conjure images of thousands of people braving windswept peaks and open common land to reach a mystical monolith atop a misty mountain, marshalled by soldiers, rewarded only by fantastic views over the sea of far-off lands with exotic names like Weston-super-Mare.  Well, you’d be nearly right and forgive the overt ‘Game of Thrones‘ imagery but we are talking about the 1980’s with its rah-rah skirts, deely-boppers and other inappropriate walking attire (check out ‘the steel’ on those rucksacks!).

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So what is this mysterious Twmbarlwm – and how do you say it again? Pronounced Tum-bar-lum, locally known as The Twmp (hump) or indeed ‘The Pimple’ and another, more obvious part of the human anatomy, the 419m (1375ft) mountain sits to the northeast of Risca, CaerphillyCounty, South Wales. This Iron Age hill fort built by Celtic Silures is steeped in legend; make sure you don’t celebrate reaching the summit too boisterously and wake the Sleeping Giant or indeed, be harshly judged by angry Druids with dire consequences – ewww  ‘Game of Thrones’ again… 

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This year’s Caerphilly Challenge Series will be taking on this legendary hike, which peaked in popularity during the 1980’s as an annual walking event, attracting 1000’s of people and led by just one man (another tale of legend). Only the presence of checkpoints manned by her Majesty’s Armed Forces prevented wayward off-roading, excessive dawdling and horror of horrors, those violators of the leisurely step, runners…

Things are different these days; you can run for a start!  Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Countryside and Landscape Service, in conjunction with Caerphilly Adventure Group, Ramblers Cymru and other partners including our Nikwax chums, are once again throwing down a challenge for all abilities. Taking place on the 9th May 2015, with routes from a 1 mile stroll along the Mon Brecon Canal to the mystic 21 mile Twmbarlwm Trek, there will be a Challenge walk to suit you – no matter how fit you are!

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So, why not join us for the whole Twmbarlwm experience and follow in the sandal-footed steps of Roman centurions, the callused bare feet of Celtic Druids and the painful walking footwear of 1980’s hiking fashion? We can’t guarantee treasure guarded by angry bees (true legend – true grammatical contradiction) but we can offer before and after massages, food and drink, an ‘Events Village’ featuring a great thumping soundtrack, oodles of Nikwax and the opportunity to grab some bargains.

 To book go to our website www.caerphillychallengeseries.co.uk and to keep up to date on all things ‘Challenge’ and rural in Caerphilly, go on and ‘Like’ our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ruralcaerphilly

The Caerphilly Challenge Series is supported by the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013, which is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

 

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Once famous for Cheese – now famous for Challenges!

What have a sleeping giant Wild Boar, a mystical standing stone and menacing hills shrouded in a swirling ethereal mist got in common? Game of Thrones perhaps? Why no! – we’re merely Waxing lyrical about features of interest that our army of walking warriors enjoyed as they braved the elements to walk, jog and even run the Caerphilly Challenge Series ‘Wild Boar’ 2014.

A fantastic Saturday in May saw the running (by some) of the third Challenge, a not for profit community event part funded by Ramblers Cymru’s ‘Lets Walk Cymru’ and organised by a partnership of the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Caerphilly County Borough Council and many others.

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Welcoming a record number of all-comers with our ethos of challenges for people of any ability, routes ranging from 1, 5, 9 and 14 miles, up to a boot-bustin’ 22 mile yomp through some of Caerphilly’s wild and rugged Rhymney (pronounced Rum-nee, we’re in Wales y’know) terrain were on offer, along with some amazing support and goodies thanks to our friends at Nikwax!

Keen outdoor enthusiasts from all over the UK – not only South Wales, but also the Midlands, West Country and Ireland – rocked-up at the very un-Saturday time of 6.00 am, to be greeted by enthusiastic staff and free massages (not from our really enthusiastic staff by the way, from experts of course…) set to a soundtrack of foot-stomping, walking-themed, bangin’ tunes! Could there be a better motivation for our bleary-eyed, hardy Challengees nervously anticipating their various challenges ahead?

Caerphilly Challenge WalkingWell, maybe the promise of an energy boosting cream tea, winning a box of Nikwax delights and a further free massage at the finish!

The relentless weather proved to be no deterrent to our intrepid ‘Boarers’, with the first 14 miler returning in 2.5 hours. However ‘’shower-proof’ was no deterrent to relentless weather either, as some of our more soggy strollers found out!  If ever there was a reason to invest in supporter Nikwax’s products, then this was proof – no pun intended of course ; -)

Thankfully the goody bags that went home with our booted ‘Boar-bashers’  included a fantastic complimentary wash of TX.Direct, whetting (and waxing) the appetite for next year’s event.

Bringing us Cheesily to that very subject… 

Saturday May 9th 2015 is set to see the Caerphilly Challenge Series return to its spiritual home, Twmbarlwm (pronounced tum-bar-lum, another free Welsh lesson for you guys). Whether its a 1 mile stroll along the Monmouthshire Brecon Canal or tackling the challenge of the 22 mile Twmbarlwm Trek, yet again we will be throwing down a walking, jogging or running Challenge to suit you – no matter how fit you are!

A £10 entry fee, with £8 early bird and further £2 off for under 18’s – checkout the website for updates on when to enter:

www.caerphillychallengeseries.co.uk 

So come on Nikwax fans, are you ready to ‘Take on the Trek’ in 2015?

This Guest Blog was written by Gavin Jones, Caerphilly County Borough Council.