It’s with some trepidation that I approach writing an article about my church mens’ walking weekend. There are so many traps to fall into. Worn out cliches about men in caves and male bonding. Stereotypes of football-loving and beer-swigging blokes. And the risk of appearing sexist as I try to explain my way around the differences between men and women.
So I’ve decided to avoid trying to answer the question I’ve been asked so many times…”Why is it men only?” Let’s just start with the fact that, once a year, the men, and only the men, of our church are invited to head off together for a weekend of walking, eating and socialising.
And, despite loving the outdoors, I’ve managed to miss this event for as long as I’ve been at the church. So, as soon as I learned the date of this years weekend I was booked on, and nothing was going to stop me.
The early start came at the end of a long week but I was up and out of the door and looking forward to arriving in Devon for our first trek.
We convened at the services on the way for a much needed coffee and some introductions before proceeding to Shipley Bridge for a days walking on Dartmoor. The walk started with a picturesque rise up a pretty valley with a sparkling, bubbling stream and we quickly lost the two budding photographers in the group.
They soon caught us up again but their hobby was just one example of what was great about the weekend; though us men do have a lot in common, there was great diversity in the group. I spoke to chemists, martial arts instructors, magistrates, accountants, and several ordained ministers (all, bizarrely called David) and what a wealth of interests, wit and wisdom. It was great to get introduced to some friends of friends who had come along and to get to know better some people from USBC. There was rarely a dull moment.
The highlight of the day was surely Tim’s lunchtime “dive” to retrieve a camera lens filter from the bottom of the river. Quite how it got there and why someone with a longer arm didn’t help out I don’t recall.
After about 8 miles or so we were back at the cars and a short drive took us to the beautiful town of Salcombe. The Youth Hostel we were staying in was up a windy road in a building shared with a National Trust property. It was a great location with excellent views and I promptly chose a bed with a sea view.
Now you might think that this sounds like an out-of-the-way, remote, beautiful location and that with all the peace and quiet, sea air, and a hard day’s walking behind us, we’d have a great night’s sleep. But noooooo. It soon became apparent that some of the party were in training for the 2012 Olympic snoring team. Rumour has it that I even took my duvet and de-camped to a sofa in the hostel’s lounge – much to the surprise of some children who wanted to watch the TV early the next morning.
We awoke to glorious sunshine over the south Devon coast. The YHA put on a plentiful breakfast and did a good trade in ear plugs. We congregated with our rucksacks and began day 2.
The walk was west along the south-west coast path to Hope (this is the name of the town, in case you were wondering) and then back, inland through Malborough, to Salcombe.
I confess that I don’t remember much of the walk. The weather was glorious, the scenery spectacular, the conversation interesting, and racing the youngest of the group uphill extremely exhausting. Mental note: don’t try that again. Another mental note – don’t ever enter a competition with Steve…he’s a blatant cheat!
We stopped for lunch in Hope Bay, a few popped to the pub briefly, and some others got lost and needed rounding up.
The walk back wasn’t quite so interesting, though we saw lots of sheep and I got to hear what an abomination bungalows are. We were all quite glad to get back to the hostel for a cup of coffee.
It was at around this point that someone started talking about 4-dimensional objects and I got dragged into giving a science lesson convering some of the trickier aspects of physics. An experience that has stuck with me. (Note to men: You all know about the theory of relativity now, so I’ll be preparing next years lesson on quantum physics!)
Dinner was reasonable. After Buttermere YHA, my hopes for the hostel were a little high and probably not quite met. The evening ended with quizes, and games and I learned to play “Bucket King”…ask Tim if you REALLY want to know.
The second night’s sleep was much better – I reckon most didn’t have the energy for snoring!
Mixing it up a little, Sunday’s trip was across Salcome Estuary on a small ferry. The walking was slightly less energetic, and we explored the sandy beach and watched small dinghy’s racing.
We gathered on a small grassy mound and were led in some devotions, songs, prayers and a simple service of communion. I confess that I was slightly self-concious, but it was good to be praising God in the open air on such a glorious day.
We walked, east this time, round the coastal path and had lunch on a beautiful bay where some even unexpectedly indulged in a little swim. I’m hoping that someone brings a bigger towel next year, for the sake of anyone who was looking on!
I was sad to leave that cove and start the final part of our expedition, but the weekened was drawing to a close.
The walk back seemed long and slow, but we eventually arrived back at the cars.
I’d had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with some great people, making new friends, and exploring the beautiful south coast of England. I was tired but refreshed. And already looking forward to next year’s trip!