X is for… X Pro II

I’m rather new to Instagram and I’ve only recently started to use it regularly. I don’t always use filters when posting photos but when I do, I like the moody shadows created by X Pro II; it’s fast becoming my favourite of all the Instagram filters.

Here are some photos I took earlier this evening using the X Pro II filter, during what turned out to be a rather rainy walk through Cefn Onn Park. I often take photos like this when I’m out and about as a way of practising mindfulness; noticing beauty around me.

Trees, Park, Plants, Nature Trees, Park, Nature, Sky bird, pond, nature

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram, my username is louczek.


R is for… Ruth

I discovered a wonderful lady called Ruth Steggles last November, when I saw her talk at Ignite Cardiff. Ruth is ‘The Fresh Air Coach’; she coaches people in the open air, whatever the weather, which is a concept I absolutely love.

I always feel better after going for a walk so I completely buy into the idea that being out in the fresh air can create the perfect environment for coaching and facilitating change. Ruth always insists, ” I don’t believe there is any such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing” which has completely changed my attitude towards going out for a walk in the pouring rain!

Ruth has just launched ‘Fresh Air for Happiness’, which is a 12 week course designed to help the listener achieve happiness, through listening to podcast sessions whilst walking outdoors. The podcast emulates an outdoors coaching session with Ruth – the idea is that you listen to each topic several times whilst going for a walk, whatever the weather.

I’ve subscribed to Fresh Air for Happiness and I’m reviewing it for Ruth as I go along, to provide feedback and also to document how the course is making me feel. Here’s the review I wrote of the first session:

Week 1

The topic for week 1 is ‘Being Present’ and I first listened to this podcast whilst walking through Bute Park during my work lunch break,  which was actually the first time I’d ever listened to a podcast so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was the school half-term holidays and there were lots of families around me, so I felt quite self-conscious but during the introduction Ruth’s warm manner put me at ease and I was able to focus on what she was saying.

There are some lovely exercises throughout the session to encourage mindfulness and provide tools to keep the listener present and appreciative of  their surroundings; I genuinely felt joyful doing them. The podcast finishes with a relaxation exercise which literally melts stress away – immediately afterwards I felt as if I’d had a massage or been to a relaxing yoga class and this feeling lasted for hours. The session took around 30 minutes but it can be longer or shorter because there are instances where you pause the podcast to continue walking and following Ruth’s instructions – the listener can determine the length of these pauses.

I listened to the session three more times over the following fortnight and the changes I’ve noticed are that I’m gradually appreciating my surroundings more when I’m outdoors,  and that I’m able to bring myself to the present more easily.  I feel ready to move onto week 2.  I feel grateful that I’ve made this decision to invest time in myself and gain the benefits of being outdoors more.

I’m currently listening to week five and I’m enjoying the course immensely. I’ve mainly been listening to it in and around Cefn Onn on weekends, or Bute Park if it’s during the week on my lunch break. I feel blessed to have these beautiful places in Cardiff to explore as I listen.

I’m dying to write more about this and the changes I’ve experienced as I’ve progressed through each week – maybe I’ll blog about it again after I’ve finished the A to Z Challenge. If you’re in a place where you’d like to make some changes and you like the idea of outdoor coaching, I strongly recommend that you visit Ruth’s website and check out the Fresh Air for Happiness course yourself.

O is for… Ogmore-by-Sea

When I was ten, I went on an adventure to Ogmore-by-Sea’s residential school camp with most of the kids in my class, to become a Young Investigator. The coastal village was only about thirty miles away but it was so different from Caerphilly, the valleys town in which I lived at the time, that it seemed like a trip to a foreign country.

I have distant but fond memories of newly-found detective skills, sheep roaming the streets, learning that I was terrified of caving, sharing chores in the dining hall, spending all my pocket money in the local shop on midnight feast supplies and sleeping bag races. It was all very Famous Five. My favourite recollection is of crossing the stepping stones near Ogmore Castle then running down the huge sand-dunes at Merthyr Mawr with around twenty of my classmates, shouting out Eddy Grant’s song Give Me Hope Joanna as we ran (God knows why!) and screaming with glee. I’ve still got my Young Investigator’s badge.

A year later, I revisited the camp with my violin in tow on an orchestra trip, which was a completely different experience. The Enid Blyton-style fun of midnight feasts and sleeping bag races was still there but with the added excitement of learning some orchestral arrangements, to perform in a concert at the end of the week for our parents. I can’t remember all the pieces of music we learnt but Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was one. Another was Brass on Parade; we rebels in the string section all crossed out enough letters on our music sheets so that it read ‘Ass Rade’, which was of course hilarious to a bunch of eleven-year-olds. We were so proud as we performed our concert, though.

The camp closed several years ago and although the buildings are still there, I’ve read that the land is going to be developed into residential houses, which is a shame. It was a wonderful place.

Do any Welsh readers have memories of staying at Ogmore-by-Sea residential school camp?

C is for… Cefn Onn

I love being outdoors and I’ve been lucky enough to live a stone’s throw away from Cardiff’s Cefn Onn Park (or Parc Cefn Onn if you’re a Welsh speaker) for over seven years. I’ve spent countless weekends exploring the park and beyond, in every imaginable weather condition.

Cefn Onn 1 (640x640)

Cefn Onn was developed by a private landowner over a century ago as his own private gardens but it was sold to the Council in the 1950s. It hosts a beautifully maintained collection of ancient trees, exotic plants (some look like giant, pre-historic venus flytraps!), streams and ponds; I feel so blessed to have it on my doorstep. What I like best about it is all the dogs I meet there; it’s a good spot for dog-walking and even though I don’t have a dog to walk around the park myself, the way other people’s dogs always come up to say hello fills me with joy.

Cefn Onn 3 (640x480)  Cefn Onn 4 (640x640)  Cefn Onn 5 (480x640)

If you follow the path out of the park just before you reach the main pond, you can follow signs for nature trails, the more obvious route being to climb up the mountain to the ridgeway, where you can see Cardiff on one side and Caerphilly on the other. There’s often a herd of cows to greet you at the top, which can also be a joyful experience!

Cefn Onn 6 (640x479)  IMG_1060

If you live in or near Cardiff and fancy a visit, the entrance to Cefn Onn is next to the Old Cottage Pub in Lisvane, near to the Lisvane & Thornhill train station. Click here for a map.