An Interview with James Bruton and Sam Deacon-Murray

Join us for a Q&A with instructor James Bruton and participant Sam Deacon-Murray.  


Sam, what was your first impression when you arrived in the morning?

Sam: It was very wet outside and I was very impressed with the diversity of the group, actually. I thought it was quite inspiring because we had a couple of older riders with us. And that was great.
It started off cool because we did some cornering which I'm not great at so I was looking forward to doing that.


I remember when you were thinking about doing the course you thought ‘this might be scary’. Was there an intimidation factor, or did that dissipate?

Sam: I wasn't sure about the course because I thought it was going to be a bit gnarly. But actually, the course description on the website said it's not for gnarly downhillers, the armour wearing brigade, so it was suited for me. So no, it didn't feel intimidating at all. It was great. It was really friendly bunch.

James, how did you decide on the venue or location?

James: Well, obviously when you wake up in the morning and the rain is beating on the Velux window above your bed, you have to find some motivation from somewhere. Being paid is one thing. He laughs. So yes, coming to a conclusion on where to go for a day, there's lots of things that go into the pot. Obviously a big part of it is the weather; this weekend it was pretty terrible. The ability of the riders or clients is a big one; and then what terrain you've got available to you. On the first day of a course very often I won't have a plan particularly, I’ll have some options. And actually, what was really nice was when the people turned up in the morning, they were at a higher standard than I thought they'd be so that opened up more options for us, which was really good. We stayed local on day one and a did bit in our skills area here. Then we got in the minibus, loaded up the trailer, and went to the local Gwydir trails where we selected some [trail] sections which sort of hit the targets of the client. The main focus of the first day was doing drop-offs on the bike and general trail riding skills. So yeah, that's the sort of process you go through. Once I got over the ‘it's really wet out there’ disappointment it’s also keeping their clients motivated; they weren't particularly keen on going out in the tipping rain, but once you're out there and you're wet, it’s great fun.


Sam, did you go into the course with goals?

Sam: Yeah. For me, I just want to get a bit braver and get more confidence at doing some downhill trails and doing them correctly, really, just to be a more efficient rider. So cornering was one of them because I quite often brake in corners. I probably go into them too fast which is something I learned yesterday, and gaining more confidence with drop offs as well.


Any objectives for you as the instructor, James?

James: I guess the objectives always are to provide the students, the riders, with what they want but also what they need. Sometimes that's not the same thing, and sometimes it is. So the objectives are to make it as safe as we can whilst hitting their targets. And obviously having loads of fun is key. We have lots of courses here at Plas y Brenin and that's just to get roughly the right people on the right courses. But ultimately what we do is take people from where they are and make them better. So that's the objective always really.


Yesterday was really rainy. How did the rain change the way you ride?

Sam: Oh, I love riding in the wet and so it was great. That's living in North Wales though isn’t it? Yeah, it did change the way I rode. It made me a little bit apprehensive going down single-track steep stuff. I was a bit scared that it might be slippy on the rocks but actually they weren't as bad as I thought they would be. After the first run, I definitely had a bit more confidence.


James: Yeah, obviously makes the trails more slippery. And it brings another dynamic into the sort of risk management side of things. Part of doing any of these sports and especially mountain biking is learning to process the terrain as it's coming towards you and use your quick thinking to make a decision. Along the way, we also stopped a fair bit, looked at features, and talked about how we'd ride them. We want to have fun, but also minimise the risk in the wet conditions really. And I definitely took one for the team a couple of times taking photos and getting soaked with water getting splashed out puddles!


Sam, what did you learn on the course?

Sam: To ride with a lot more space between your legs and your bike, it definitely gives you more manoeuvrability. And trusting the bike to move a bit more as well. That definitely helped my riding. And to look up a lot more, actually.


James, what would be your parting advice to the participants on this particular course?

James: Certainly for a couple of individuals, the advice was have more confidence in their ability because they were good riders, just struggling a bit with confidence. Hopefully some of the things we did on the course, breaking things down, having a better understanding of the fundamental skills of mountain biking, knowing that you can, you know, revisit individual points as you're riding down the trail. The advice I give to people is to ride a trail that is well within your capabilities and then focus on one thing at a time to improve on. And also something that I think most of the group we had on the course said they didn't do much of was what we call sessioning bits of the tracks. So pushing up and doing it again. That's quite a good way of improving confidence; building skills. So we that was a key point as well.


Sam, what do you think that will stand to gain by taking a mountain bike course instead of just going out on their own?

Sam: Oh, okay. So I think there's always something to learn. And I think we will get, I certainly get, into bad habits when I ride. And also just to get more confidence; like James said, redoing bits of the trail. It was really good for our confidence yesterday. Definitely rode it better.

James: People often spend a lot of money on bicycles; bicycles are very expensive these days. And they think they can ride them, and some can, but often they could definitely benefit from some coaching. People spend all the money on the bike and don't put any money into learning to ride it. If they paid a bit of money to learn to ride the bike, got some coaching, they would be able to ride that very expensive bike loads better. And I do come across people that that think that falling off a bike is what you do every time you ride it and that in my mind definitely isn't the case. If you get some coaching on the fundamental skills, then that's a lot less likely to happen. You'll have more fun, hurt yourself less, and it will cost you less money to fix your bike when you break it.


Woman with pink hair, an orange coat, and climbing helmet is seen cresting over the the top of a cliff with green hills and a lake behind her.

SheClimbs Report: The Power of Community

Through gale force winds, workshops, and festivities, SheClimbs provided a supportive community for participants to access their limitless potential.


WMCI Emma Warren introduces instructors on Saturday morning ahead of workshops. Photo: Phil Hay

Bedecked with bunting and packed with skilled instructors, Plas y Brenin opened our doors to 65 women for the first SheClimbs Festival in our history. 

Plas y Brenin Instructor and Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (WMCI) Emma Warren opened the weekend on Friday evening with a rousing get-to-know-you Bingo in the bar. Over half of participants arrived solo, setting a tone of sociability and courage that shone throughout the weekend in various workshops and activities. 


As the building awoke on Saturday morning, a gale pounded Capel Curig. Overnight winds exceeded 50 mph and heavy rain doused the grounds. Local rivers swelled and local rock faces certainly did not present optimal opportunities for friction. Nevertheless, the instructors carefully selected climbing venues suited for the conditions and the women of SheClimbs donned waterproofs for the day. The participants rose to the challenge.


As it turned out, the day held some of the most fun and interesting workshops of the weekend! Indoor to Outdoor Climbing Workshop headed to bottom-rope on a wavy piece of rock called Craig Y Tonnau, where they reviewed belaying, tying in, and climbing commands before getting stuck into climbing. Meanwhile, the Introduction to Sea Cliff Climbing headed to Crinkle Crag on the coast.


SheClimbs participants abseils into a climb on Crinkle Crag. Photo: Phil Hay

Introduction to Climbing headed to Lion Rock to try their hands at moving on rock and learn how to keep each other safe. Mentored by Libby Peter and recent MCI Emma Kershaw, scramblers dispersed into the wet and rainy Ogwen Valley while Learn to Lead and Multi Pitch Climbing Workshops took to Tryfan Bach to practice placing gear, belay transitions, and more. One participant was heard saying she would rather be out climbing in the rain on Tryfan Bach than on a warm beach with a cold beverage! Mental Training with coaches Danielle Griffith and Juliet Scott and Movement Workshops with Emma Twyford and Dave Evans stayed dry in the climbing wall while Improvised Rescue took to the canopy, using in situ bolts to learn ascending a rope among other things. 


As the evening dried out, each workshop trickled back into Plas y Brenin for tea and cake with a browse around the Brand Meet and Greet with colleagues from Mountain Equipment, Scarpa, Deuter, Joe Brown Shops, Cotswold Outdoors, Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue, Mountain Training, and Petzl. It was an opportunity to try on and discuss gear, build connections, and meet the athletes. 


Mingling at the Brand Meet and Greet with tea and cake. Photo: Phil Hay

After dinner, folks flooded into the lecture hall for a raffle benefiting the Mountain Adventure Fund (MAF). The MAF funds young people without financial resources to get onto outdoor courses here at Plas y Brenin. We were successful in raising over £500 for the Mountain Adventure Fund, which will fund two participants for a week long course. Prizes included a hut stay from the Pinnacle Club, coffee from our friends at Tiki Tonga Coffee and Caban Cyf, Scarpa climbing shoes, a Deuter backpack, a Mountain Equipment sleeping bag, and a Plas y Brenin private instruction day. 


Climbing legend Libby Peter demonstrates a mountaineer's coil during her scrambling workshop. Photo: Phil Hay

The buzz in the room only grew when Carole Feldman and Cat Forster took to the stage to share about their journeys to becoming Mountaineering and Climbing Instructors (MCI). The MCI is an esteemed award that demonstrates competence in complex summer mountain environments. It is accredited by Mountain Training and gains its holders access to the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI). Cat described the bond she and Carol made working hard to attain their qualification; ‘’These friendships that you make when you’re really pushing yourself they become really really important and they stay with you.’’

Introduction to Climbing workshop making bonds and pushing themselves. Photo: Phil Hay

Saturday evening continued on with a Q&A with climber Rachel Pearce, who since 2019 has improved one E-grade per year (an astonishing rate of change for any climber). She challenged us to climb for the love of it rather than to meet expectations. Chasing grades or working to impress people with your clout, she argued, were not sustainable approaches to climbing. Her remarkable journey was based on her love of challenge and adventure. Find what you love, she suggested, and do it. 


WMCI Emma Warren interviews Rachel Pearce at Plas y Brenin. Photo: Phil Hay

If you have ever gotten in a fight with a crack climb, Harriet Ridley’s talk on her journey to crack climbing was an eye opening instruction in humbling yourself to the task. She presented the 10 steps to crack climbing, #1 being: protect your hands! Photos of red sandstone in Indian Creek and sparkling quartz crystals in the Alps certainly inspired even the reluctant in the crowd. 


The final event of the evening solidified a lasting sense of inspiration as we watched Emma Powell ascend ‘Guardians of the Underworld’. At 22, she is the first British woman to climb a D12 route. It was thrilling to watch as she cut her feet and swung on precariously delicate moves, working her way upward by wrapping her foot around her arm to bring her center of gravity closer to the wall. 


Thoroughly knackered and content, participants drifted to bed in preparation for another day of learning, improvement, and connecting over climbing. 


The SheClimbs 2023 Community. Photo: Phil Hay

By Sunday evening, it wasn’t just climbing skills that had grown; friendships, confidence, and the spark for adventure had taken seed somewhere between workshops, shared meals, and good conversations. The challenge now is to nurture those seeds in the mixed soil of the larger climbing world, but as Emma Warren reminded us in her opening talk, 

‘’If you can see it, you can be it.’’ And this weekend, we could see it.




Words by Sadie Sarvis, Plas y Brenin Content Creator and lover of all things climbing

Plas y Brenin to Host Trash Free Trails’ State of Our Trails Summit

The Trash Free Trails Summit aims to unite the outdoor community for sustainable trails.

We are proud to announce that we will be hosting the Third Annual State of Our Trails Summit here at Plas y Brenin in September. The upcoming unique conference is dedicated to the future of sustainable trails. With inspiring lectures, thrilling outdoor adventures, and dynamic discussions, the summit aims to bring together trail enthusiasts, organisations, and experts to collaborate on protecting the trails and wild places we cherish.


What to Expect

Expect a memorable experience that combines learning, adventure, and camaraderie. The Summit kicks off with a Guided Purposeful Adventure led by world-renowned outdoor leaders here at Plas y Brenin, offering attendees an immersive outdoor experience. The program continues with energising lectures, hands-on collaborative workshops, and ground-breaking keynotes, encouraging thought-provoking discussions. Participants will conclude each day with networking opportunities and celebratory drinks from the Yr Wyddfa Bar on site. 


Community Connection

Rooted in an innovative research program, the State of Our Trails Summit serves as an annual gathering for businesses, charities, non-profits, policymakers, activists, researchers, and practitioners associated with recreational trails. The summit provides a platform for the best minds and brightest sparks in trail conservation to share their work, present future initiatives, and foster collaboration to safeguard our beloved outdoor environments.



State of Our Trails 2022. Photo courtesy of Sam Dugon.


The Work of Trash Free Trails

The 3rd Annual Summit will showcase Trash Free Trails’ ongoing research and recent activities as members of the UN Global Plastics Treaty. Additionally, the event will facilitate collaborative efforts to establish tangible actions supporting cross-industry alliances. By bringing together trail enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds, Trash Free Trails aims to catalyse positive change and inspire collective responsibility for the protection of our trails.


Why Plas Y Brenin?

Located within the stunning Eryri National Park, Plas y Brenin is the perfect venue for the State of Our Trails Summit. As a top outdoor community destination, We have a long-standing commitment to outdoor education and inspiring people to embrace outdoor activities. Our courses, adventures, and training programs equip individuals with the skills and passion to engage with the outdoors responsibly. Choosing Plas y Brenin as the summit venue reinforces the shared values and the dedication to preserving our trails for future generations. 


With all that said…

The State of Our Trails Summit 2023 here at Plas y Brenin promises to be an exceptional gathering of trail enthusiasts, organisations, and experts, united in their commitment to sustainable trails. By collaborating, sharing knowledge, and embracing new ideas, we can build a future where our trails remain pristine and thriving.


For more information, FAQ’s and tickets to join us, head to The Third Annual State of Our Trails Summit Tickets, Capel Curig | Eventbrite


Participants of the Summit in 2022. Photo courtesy of Sam Dugon.