Get to know Jess Moon Bowen
Find out more about what the outdoors means to Mountain Rescue volunteer Jess.
Your journey in the outdoors has taken you all over the place but has brought you back home to the Valleys. How did it all begin?
“It all started when I used to go to youth club in the valleys, and we had a sexual health residential week down in Pembrokeshire when I was about 16. It was called ‘Sun, Sea and Sex’! We did a lot of watersports and outdoor activities. I absolutely loved it and that was when I started to realise that I might want to go down that avenue for a job.
“I ended up going to the watersports venue for a week’s work experience, and stayed for a whole summer with an offer of a job the next summer! Every time I went out on the water, I felt more love for the outdoors. I’ve always been an outdoorsy person anyway from living in the valleys. The mountain was my playground; I used to go out and build dens and all the usual stuff you do when you live in the mountains. There’s nothing else to do in the valleys I suppose!”
How did you turn your passion into a vocation?
“I decided to do an HND in watersports and adventure management after I left school and ended up on placement in the south of France. I managed to get a job out there and became manager of one of their centres. I spent 5-6 years out in the south of France, sailing, mountain biking, kayaking, all sorts of stuff. I also went up to the Alps to work which was exciting; the Alps really blew my mind, especially having never been abroad until then.
“From that I decided to go freelance. I worked with Cycle Training Wales as a cycle instructor in a school before heading towards DofE award leading – down the expedition avenue and into mountain sports. Then I decided to do my mountain leader qualification to challenge myself and to get more work and climb bigger mountains. I really enjoyed bagging peaks and getting the time out on the mountains.
“I then moved into long distance events. I did a few of the London to Paris bike rides before leading school expeditions further afield. I took a school to Nepal where we did projects in Kathmandu and a Poon Hill trek. Lots of leeches and dramatic students but all good fun. I went to Kilimanjaro, getting into the overseas expeditions which was fantastic. It was really nice because for most of the people you’re doing it with, that might be the biggest challenge of their life and to be able to help them achieve that was really special.”
So how did you end up back in Wales? And more importantly, doing what you do now?
“I saw a job on Facebook for Atlantic College. I didn’t think I’d get it to be honest, because it just seemed completely out of my reach. I’ve always struggled with confidence. I applied for the job at 11:59 before the deadline and got through to the interview stage where I spent a whole day. The interview was with students which made it so relaxed for me because that’s what I do best; being with the students meant I could just be my natural self and there was nothing staged. I’d never enjoyed an interview before, but I loved this one! I had a phone call within the hour and they offered me the job.
“I’ve been working there for the past 18 months, and it’s a really special place to work. There are students from all over the world; it’s so diverse and so different to the valleys because everyone in the valleys is from the valleys! It’s been so nice to give the students experiences in the outdoors. For example, taking students from the middle of Africa to the seas of Pembrokeshire: they’ve never even seen the sea, let alone been in it. Five minutes later, you’re jumping off cliffs with them into the water and seeing the smiles on their face. It’s a special job that I thoroughly enjoy being a part of.”
How do you feel about exploring the outdoors alone, compared to doing it with others?
“I enjoy both, I really enjoy being in the outdoors by myself, more so in the summer than in the winter obviously. I love to just come home and go for a run up the forest. I have an amazing venue here; I can just literally go across the road and then I’m up on the mountain, where I can go and escape from everything.
“I have quite a stressful family life, so that is my escape: just running through the forest, hearing the birds, seeing the squirrels. The dog is a massive part of my life too, just running with him and seeing him enjoying running around as well, in the leaves, chasing the squirrels and chasing everyone else.
“That is my escape but on the other side of that, I love taking people out in the outdoors. My best friend likes the outdoors as well. We do trips up in North Wales quite a bit and I took her up Tryfan where she had a complete meltdown because she thought I was taking her up this horrid mountain. But I told her that she couldn’t go down so there was only one way: up! She had a right old paddy with me saying I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but for me, it was really nice to get her up there and challenge her.
“I often go mountain biking with my friends just across the road too, and that’s great because they also have a stressful family life and they like to go and have a blowout. Last night we went mountain biking in the night. We got to the top of the mountain, switched all the lamps off and just looked at the stars. It’s amazing to share that with your friends.
“But equally, I like to do that by myself. Just wandering the hills by myself is absolutely lovely, it’s a really special place to be and I can just think. Especially mountain biking, going down the hills, you can’t think of anything else. You have to think what’s coming up, am I going to fall off, what’s my next line? Your mind is just focused on that one thing and you haven’t got to worry about anything else. I love it.”
What or who has inspired you on your journey in the outdoors to engage with it as you do?
“As a young child, the 4 of us – my mother, father, sister and me - used to go on mountain walks up in the valley. We could really relax, it was just nice to be out in the fresh air and enjoy each other’s company without being confined to a house.
“We used to have cowpat fights up on the mountain which was absolutely hilarious. My father used to find the soggy ones in the middle, so that was fun. I’d say my father is a big influence in the outdoors for me. Growing up, especially as a teenager, my time with my father was going out for a walk with the dog out on the mountain.
“In recent years, he’s really suffered with mental illness. He’s got arthritis and he is struggling quite a bit. Whenever we can, we go out for a walk just to use that fresh air and open space to talk. I feel like whenever me and my father are together outside, he is himself. He has influenced me massively to get out in the outdoors. He has always pushed me and been proud of what I’m doing. He tells everyone!”
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