The very first time I wrote for this Blog I wrote a biography which mentioned having grown up as a part of the Scout movement. I learned many of my basic camping craft, navigation and climbing skills here. I am hugely indebted to a group of people who gave up countless hours of their time and holiday allowances to give me a host of experiences I will never forget, all without pay or reward. I am still in touch with many of these people and enjoying time outdoors with these friends whenever I can.
At the age of 19 I was invited to join a long standing tradition that had already existed for a generation before my own. This was not a Scout event but a group of friends going away, this was a men’s weekend. The concept was simple; one weekend a year, normally the same weekend for ease of planning where a group of men all arrange a weekend free of family and responsibility. In a modern world where many men struggle to spend any meaningful time in friendships I believe this is a great thing for all guys to do. Its not about getting drunk and trying to live like single teenagers. Its about enjoying old friendships and taking some time out of the busyness and stress of life in an environment that is both relaxing and inspiring.
True to form November came and so did our get together. Mid-Wales and the Elan Valley was our destination. One of the guys had found a wonderful Independent Hostel with no mains power or gas. The hostel ran on solar powered water and bottled gas. Its main source of heat was a large log burner in the middle of the lounge and I was impressed to find a full hob and oven running from bottled gas alongside a few extra heavy duty gas burners for boiling drinking water.
Myself and a friend, Andy, drove over together and after a few hours and three fords we eventually arrived in the middle of nowhere around 10pm. Our happiness about arriving was slightly thrown when we realised that despite it being quite late, we were the first to arrive. After sliding down a muddy path to the hostel we peered through a few windows and finally managed to rouse the warden from deep within. We were quickly ushered inside and the tour began. The Warden was a slightly eccentric volunteer who’s enthusiasm was quickly explained when she informed us she had not seen another person in the last three days. Within an hour the rest of our party had arrived, much to our relief, and we sat long into the night burning logs, catching up and sampling a few whiskeys that had been brought along.
Before I knew it 9am had rolled around and I had slept through. I arrived downstairs to find most people finished eating and getting ready for a walk. I quickly made some porridge and a flask of coffee and grabbed my ruck-sac in time to join the line of people walking out of the door. What followed was a lovely scenic walk along the river, surrounded by pine forest and broken up with water towers and dams. The rain hammered down but still the colours shone within our surroundings. After a while we joined some of the single track country roads and continued on our way. All thoughts of footpaths and travel across country were abandoned due to the excessive rain and ground water. On the plus side navigation became easy as one of the guys claimed he had literally driven down every road in the area the night before in his attempts to find the Hostel. This appeared to be true as he quite ably directed us through tiny rural worlds with precision.
Soon we were back at the Hostel warming ourselves by the log burner and drying ourselves out. A most excellent evening followed. We had taken it in turns to provide courses for the evening meal and managed to come up with five, although I am not sure the Rum cake was solid enough to be classified as a course. A game of poker and some more whiskey and we all retired warm, slightly aching and with much laughter shared by all.
The next day we voted against walking. The ground was sodden, clothes still wet and the weather really was miserable. As we discussed options over breakfast an idea came up; “Let’s go to the beach”. Off we headed to Aberystwyth. I have heard many great things from friends who have studied or lived there but never been myself. As we pulled onto the seafront I was stood between beautiful multicoloured houses, the sort you can only find on the coast, and a raging sea that was very much living up to the moody coastal weather Aberystwyth has become known for. As we took photos of the sea the wind was so strong that we struggled to walk. We headed towards the lighthouse to try and get some pictures. As I looked down at my phone to unlock the camera I felt a soft spray of water against my face and simultaneously heard my friends shouting and laughing. As a looked up it was hard to describe the scene in-front of me; the soft spray of water I had felt had been the end of a huge wave that has made it over the sea wall drenching the rest of our party from head to toe, but had somehow stopped just short of me! So much for a dry day, was the sentiment of much of the laughter that followed. A walk around town and a coffee later we went our separate ways, relaxed, refreshed and tired, to head home to our families, jobs and busy lives, remembering that little bit clearer why we do the things we do and why its important to regularly slow down, unwind and catch up with friends.