In the last few years, I’ve been concentrating so much on conquering Scotland’s mountains, I forgot there are others out there. My experience of England is driving at 70mph (ok 75) from north Glasgow down to London to visit family. A few times we have stopped overnight at friends in Norfolk or a quick stay at a Travelodge to break the journey but generally, not encountered much outside the Scottish confines. I considered climbing Snowdonia once for summer solstice but that was as close as I got as Ben Nevis stepped in…
Trail Magazine were advertising on Facebook; a weekend in Blencathra at the Field Studies Council centre. Sounds interesting… Alan Hinkes would be there (who?) and Terry Abraham (nope, not ringing a bell) With work commitments and other obligations, the few friends I asked couldn’t make it so I hesitantly decided to go myself. I think it was the huge Gear sale that they ran on the Sunday; that was a big draw!
I arrived the Friday an hour early and made my mumbled excuses at reception. They pointed me to the quiet parking area which would be my home for the next 2 nights. I had opted to stay in the van; in my own bed. Later that day, others pitched tents in great spaces and accommodation was on offer in the main building at a great price. I pottered around the premises a bit lost. No one else there except a couple of young lads sitting on the picnic tables “oh s**t, did I read the description properly, will I be hanging out with teenagers for the weekend?” A few hours later, a warm smile was offered by ‘Rob’ who showed me around the building then shortly after others started arriving. Everything was still so quiet except for the Trail crowd; they were full of energy and seemed excited for the weekend ahead. I don’t think its ‘just another job’ for them, the genuine passion and kindness oozed for the full 3 days… The lounge had a few folks in, quietly flicking through copies of the latest Trail mag or mobile phones. Closed mouth smiles and head nods were offered. Silence… After 5 minutes of doing the same, “anyone for a cup of tea?” says I, standing hands on hips. Everyone automatically declined in surprise except one who gingerly accepted. Returning with 2 mugs, the chatter had started, my awkwardness subsided… Ok, I think I’ll enjoy it here.
The whole packed weekend from that point on was superb. Food was fantastic, Trail and field centre staff were great. The entertainment in the form of pub quiz, navigation skills, discussions with Alan Hinkes (FYI the only Briton to climb the world’s 14 highest mountains) and Terry Abraham (humble but expert director) climb up Blencathra with nature talks, boot advice and fitting, ‘guess the rucksack weight’. I loved it all and attended everything except the pop-up tent challenge, I couldn’t do that with the audience it drew!
I would normally never do something like this on my own but I am so glad I did. In fact, I think it made it far better. It’s too easy to huddle unsocially in a corner with a pal. Mixing with walking people, hill climbing people, outdoorsy people, camper van loving people, music loving people all knowledgeable and willing to share information and stories was just the tonic I needed and made it a hugely memorable weekend for me. Everyone was welcomed and accepted in whatever form they took. I wore a bobble hat to breakfast, where else could you do that comfortably?
My weekend highlights (small as most might seem)
- Making tea for that one person
- Listening to Phil talk about different moss
- Alan Hinkes / Terry Abraham film on Saturday
- 5 minutes early to the gear sale as we won the pub quiz which bought me a ‘non-panic buying’ session!
- Standing in the rain, watching Alan Hinkes mountain goat-like across Blencathra
- Sticky toffee pudding
- A warm and welcoming smile from a friendly stranger when I was ready for heading home
- Getting a Whisperlight stove for £20
- Meeting awesome, like-minded people and making new friends
- Wearing a bobble hat to breakfast!
I am looking forward to attending again, wherever camp sets up and whoever attends, not just with this team who organised this but will look further afield too. I am keener than ever to wild camp (Scotland – Spring 2018) and step far from this comfort zone that’s been built for 47years. I may even partake in a pop-up-pop-down tent challenge next time, that will really push me…