Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Six Go Potty in the Peaks

Take six women who have never met before, stick them in a youth hostel in the middle of nowhere for a weekend and make them walk up hills in storms, hailstones and gale force winds. A great idea for a new reality TV show perhaps? Six Go Potty in the Peaks? No - it’s what I did last weekend.

The Peru charity challenge I’m going on is actually a whole series of challenges – everything from the fundraising to the physical. One challenge is going away with a group of people I don’t know from Adam (or Eve). So when one extremely organised member of our Peru posse asked if anyone fancied a weekend practice in the Peak District I jumped at the chance. The organised one sorted out cheap accommodation and a walking guide and all we had to do was turn up.

Getting there was an adventure in itself, involving a hairy drive along unknown country roads in the dark, with torrential rain and fog, and frequent squabbles with my sat nav. I stopped lost at a lonely farmhouse when it occurred to me that if this was a horror film the door would slowly open with a creak to reveal a man with no teeth and a beard down to his ankles giving an evil laugh. Thankfully it wasn’t, instead a lovely lady answered and gave me directions. I resisted the temptation to ask if I could just come into her welcoming Aga heated kitchen for a steaming bowl of broth and stay the night.

I finally found the right pot holed track that led to the youth hostel we were booked into – another first as I’ve never stayed in one before. Not being acquainted with hostel etiquette I was a bit surprised when the very young looking boy on reception directed me to our room with a warning there was a lot of steep steps up to our block but offered no help to carry my bags.

After lugging one huge rucksack, a smaller rucksack and bags full of provisions up to the room I was breathless and a tad bad tempered and very aware this may not make a good first impression. But the door was flung open and I was welcomed with a big hug by Rose, the only other one who’d arrived. One by one the others got there and we exchanged horror stories of the drive we’d had and the exasperation of the steep steps we then had to climb.

Get a gaggle of women together and one thing is guaranteed – they will talk! Conversation flowed and after a good meal in a nearby pub we had covered a variety of topics including family, fears about the trek, guilty pleasures and Shewees (toilets continued to be a hot topic of the weekend!).

I can’t recall the last time - if ever – I’ve slept in a bunk bed in a room shared with five other females. Certainly not in recent times. But I love that usually responsible, busy wives, mothers, and businesswomen of a certain age can quickly and seamlessly transform into a bunch of giggly teenage girls having a sleep over.

Our organised one had organised a wonderful walking guide, Cath, who became one of the gang for the two days. I’ve never been to the Peak District before so it was great to have someone really knowledgeable and passionate about the area. She knew we were here to help prepare for Peru and had a way of gently pushing us to make sure our walks were strenuous and stretching rather than a stroll and she just smiled sweetly whenever we asked if we were at the last hill of the day (we never were).

The weekend was also an opportunity to test out a lot of the gear we’ve all been buying for the trip. And thanks to the weather we really did get to experience everything. On the first walk we had four seasons in one day – we set off in pouring rain and the waterproofs I swore I wouldn’t wear as they look and sound like you’re clothed in plastic bags became my best friend. Cath actually felt so sorry for us we were allowed a break in a tea room at one point just so we could dry out. Then the sun came out, we had our lunch break in a sheltered spot and set off with renewed enthusiasm – until we hit hailstones, or rather they hit us. Not just any old hailstones but giant gusty ones that felt like someone throwing grit into your face. After that gale force winds almost blew us off a path we were climbing to the top of one particularly huge hill. But throughout the day we stayed smiling, laughing, determined, (occasionally sweary) and supporting each other all the way.

When we got back to the hostel around tea time we couldn’t face or do the long trip up the steps to the room to get changed and come back down again, so ate early in our hiking gear and hat hair – not giving a damn what we looked like. The incentive of wine and chocolate in our room helped us get up there eventually, we sat round in our PJs chatting from our bunk beds until falling asleep at a shockingly early hour for a Saturday night.

Amazingly the next day we managed to get up early, sorted our things for the day, packed cars up ready to be off when we got back and ate a breakfast of sorts all by 9am. Our second day hike was over different terrain, on Kinder Scout the highest in the Peak District – steep, rocky, and both icy and boggy. The weather was also very different – freezing cold but sunny, and as there were no handy toilets or tea rooms, we all got used to outdoor peeing and one lucky lady gave her Shewee deluxe its debut!

It was a terrific, tiring weekend full of making new friends, having fun and of course physical challenges. At the end of it saying goodbye to the group felt both a bit sad and scary, as the next time we all meet will be at Heathrow – as we set off to Peru… Yikes!

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