I was sorry to see that Ogwen Cottage outdoor centre in Snowdonia has closed and is up for sale as part of Birmingham Councils’ revenue saving strategy. The council is selling off a number of properties including Og Cott in an effort to reduce to its financial deficit. The centre is apparently subsidized to the tune of £1.2m and its closure will see a number of jobs go which include outdoor instructors, kitchen and maintenance staff.
‘Og Cott’ has been a permanent fixture in my outdoor life and somewhere I still drive passed at least four times every week. The dwelling is a fairly utilitarian building in itself, situated on a bend on the busy A5 where Nant Francon and Ogwen Valley meet. However, its functional appearance is more than made up by its fabulous location; positioned at the head of the sombre waters of Llyn Ogwen, flanked by Tryfan’s rugged West Face and looking out to Pen yr Ole Wen. There are for sure, not many outdoor centres in the UK which are more favourably blessed in their setting.
The cottage was originally a coaching inn. Its position on the Thomas Telford engineered A5 made it a popular stop off point for travellers to and from Ireland via Holyhead. In the late Victorian, early Edwardian era, it became a popular hostelry with the nascent mountaineering community. Legendary north Wales activists like Archer Thomson, OG Jones and The Abraham Brothers all stayed there while making the mark on the nearby cliffs. Tryfan, The Devil’s Kitchen, Creigiau Glesion and even Craig yr Ysfa all saw new routes established by these early pioneers who set out on their quests from ‘The Cottage’.
By the 1950’s the cottage had been purchased by another Welsh climbing legend, Ron James who established an outdoor activities centre and mountain rescue base. By 1964, Birmingham City Council had taken over the centre although Ron James remained as its chief instructor.
Over the years, ten of thousands of young people from the inner cities have enjoyed their time at the centre. For many, it would have been their first time outside of their urban environment and footloose in the great outdoors. In this stunning location they would go on to take their first steps on the rock face when they nervously came to peer over the edge of ‘Tin Can Alley’ -right behind the centre- before going on to enjoy the multi pitch experience in the cradling mountains above.
The news that Og Cott is to be sold to a private buyer reflects the remorseless decline in LEA owned and run outdoor centres nationwide. Since the 1980’s there has been a steady flow of mountain hostels and centres coming onto the market as councils are forced to make deep cuts in their budgets. Last night’s TV news in Wales warned of further deep cuts in local authority funding with services to the elderly, public libraries, refuse collection services, youth club funding and even parks and gardens under threat of closure and sell off. Political cynics like me will inevitably point out that the Westminster cabal can always find the funds for pointless military excursions in the Middle East but when austerity budgets are being structured in 11 Downing Street, Health, Education and Welfare are always the first areas to see their budgets slashed.
I think most decent people would rather see their taxes funding outdoor education centres like Ogwen Cottage than paying for a nuclear missile system like Trident-£50 billion- or training a Tornado pilot. ( It costs more to train a single RAF pilot as it would cost to fully fund the Ogwen Centre for a year!).Then again...there's profits to made in the arms industry. Teaching a young kid from Handsworth to navigate in the mountains has zero profit potential I'm afraid!