Cold, wet and muddy but I am one proud Hippopotamus

 

This weekend 7 kids and 4 volunteers from Lincoln Navigators camped for 2 nights in the peak district and spent Saturday conquering the 636m high Kinder! It was an absolutely fantastic effort from all of them to make it all the way to the top… but we will come to that! And you’ll have to read on for the Hippo reference!

 

It starts on Friday afternoon as Matt and I decided that finishing work at lunch time would be sufficient to get together the equipment we needed, pick up the minibus, get our own food and personal kit for the weekend, pick up the other volunteers, have our tea and meet the kids and parents at 6! Well a combination of problems with the equipment and the van hire along with the usual Lincoln traffic meant that it was 6:30pm by the time we met them. I love the drive to the Edale. I have done it many times before, through the busy city of Sheffield which is not that great but when you come out the other side, you are always very aware that you have crossed into the Peak District with its Beautiful hills and scenery. Unfortunately for us this time, it was pitch black and we could see nothing!! “Are we nearly there yet” was called out many, MANY times but eventually we rolled through Hope valley and into our campsite at around 9:00pm only to be greeted by heavy rain which according to the forecast, was in for the weekend.

 

I left Tom to look after the kids in the minibus as I ventured onto the site to find out spot. The office was closed, I wasn’t particularly keen on disturbing the families who were settling down for bed so went for the lower fields which were empty. Unfortunately, the short trip around the site had not only drenched me but coated my shoes in a thick layer of mud before I changed into my hiking boots, something which I didn’t realise at the time, we were going to be becoming very accustomed to over the course of the weekend. Now when we set out starting Lincoln Navigators we were determined that this bit of the camp was going to be easy. Inflatable tents! They did indeed prove their weight in Gold as we were able to put up a shelter for the kids relatively quickly but still not in enough time not to get everybody covered in mud and soaking wet. But they were all soon ready for bed and tucked in for the night. I went round to check the suitability of all the bedding and only had to prop one kid up with 2 other sleeping bags.

 

As the instructors got their stuff together ready for bed, at this point it was about midnight, we talked about our plan for the night, how we were going to deal with kids who wake up etc. I managed to get in one of the quotes from my favourite TV programs as I suggested to Al that me and him take duty tonight. “I’ll do 8 til 12 and you do 12 til 8. You can’t say fairer than that!”. If you observe the time above and some simple arithmetic you will see the problem here!! Lucky for me, he observed neither!!! The night passed largely without incident. Except for the fact that I was freezing cold for some reason due to the fact that I was forgotten some essential personal kit and used up any spare liners on the kids! Morning came and I had slept little but the kids all seem to have had a good, warm nights sleep. We proceeded to Breakfast. For this we had got the kids all to bring Trangia’s with them, so they could cook their own. It was great to see this happening and even better to see what they had selected from the things their parents had packed them, to eat for Breakfast. I’m sure some of these meals were intended for another time, but who are we to argue with the kids. One Trangia contained Rice Pudding, another Tomato Soup!! Looking around there were some normal Breakfasts instant porridge and sausages in beans. After everything was washed up, it was time to get our stuff together ready for our climb up Kinder. The rain had not let off, so we were preparing for a rough day.

 

The first bit was relatively simple, up the village road and long a footpath but as we realised we had taken slightly the wrong turn, to get back on the right path there was a walk up a steep grassy hill which was like a baptism of fire for all of us! At the top a break and refuel was immediately required. The next stage was even more difficult as we walked over a rocky footpath to ascend the hill. One of the kids was a little apprehensive about going so high and so I agreed to walk with him the side of the hill where he could see down. I said that we would do it as a team and we were in it together. He perked up and said it wouldn’t be so bad then and actually he massively impressed me how he conquered this fear so quickly but also the fact that later on, I tripped slightly on a rock, he put his arm out to catch me and asked me if I was ok, reminding me that “we were in this together”. Wow, what a moment, one which will remain with me for a long time. It’s one thing teaching skills to kids and giving them opportunities to succeed but teamwork and camaraderie, if we can instil that in children we are doing something right and putting them in good stead for the future.

The final ascent involved lots of rocks, running water and snow. Lots of it!! We had to be very careful at this point, especially here the snow was lying. One wrong foot on a piece of undisturbed snow now knowing what was below could be serious injury to somebody. Luckily they had some great volunteers with them and between us, using our years of experience and also a lot of teamwork between ourselves, everybody came through this section completely unharmed. And then we were at the top!! We looked out whilst we refuelled some more on this absolutely beautiful part of the country. At least we did between the clouds which we found ourselves amongst every now and then!!

The conditions weren’t exactly getting better though so we decided to head straight back down instead of walking for a bit on top as we had panned. It was foggy, it was covered in snow so we weren’t able to see the footpaths at all and it wasn’t worth the risk. At least we had made it to the summit! We headed down and this was equally difficult as the climb. When we got towards the bottom we came to the grassy slope we had been looking for which enabled the kids to get those bivvy bags out sit on them and slide down!! Well I have never walked up and down a section of hill so many times in my life, pulling kids down, heading back up again to pull the next and it absolutely killed me.

 

We got back to the site and it started to get dark. We changed our plans a little here and decided to go t the pub!! Yes with the kids. It was definitely the right decision. There’s nothing better than a warm pub after a long walk. The kids tucked into their meals and us into ours as everybody talked about what we had done that day. Really the kids had been fantastic. 7-11 years old they all were and they had climbed to a height of 630 meters! Not just that, they had worked together, encouraged each other and not complained at all. I was really impressed by all of them and it was great to watch them all laughing together at the end of it as they sat in the pub. Then we went to bed.

I haven’t really mentioned the mud up to this point but man was it bad. Mud can be very demoralising!! Especially when its all over your shoes, clothes and skin. In your food, in your tent, everywhere we looked there was mud! There is no escaping it. It is possible that your sleeping bag can be a mud free zone but it is there waiting for you the next morning. The worst bit is if you have to nip out in the night for the toilet, this is generally an undesirable experience on camp going out into the cold but you can usually get away with it bare footed. Not in this case. But what’s the other option, put a really muddy set of boots on? It was definitely the worst bit. And if you’re wondering about the hippopotamus reference in the title, it’s that I felt our campsite could be comparable to a Hippo’s mud bath!

 

I got little sleep that night too with a cold that I had been dealing with for a week or so rearing its ugly head and I woke up the next day with a headache! The worst thing you can have on packing up day. We lay thinking about the size of the task ahead of us. 2 large muddy wet tents to take down, a kids tent which looks like a bombs hit it and has as much mud inside it as outside, Breakfast to get sorted, 7 kids asking for help packing up their sleeping bags.. the list just grew and grew and we knew that every step we took would be into a sticky muddy ground! But we set about it. 10:30 we were supposed to be off site, well that was never going to happen. We finally managed to depart around noon.

 

On the drive home we could appreciate the beautify Peak District more so than on the way here and it was a great sight to behold. We stopped in Worksop for a McDonalds as the kids were hungry and we were past the time we were supposed to be home and finally arrived back with the parents for 3pm. The back of the bus opened and out came piles and piles of wet, muddy clothes to be claimed along with a black bin bag full of muddy shoes. Shortly followed by 7 tired, muddy, bare footed kids.

 

Spare a thought for the volunteers, the guys who made this weekend happen. Now don’t get me wrong, there is only one reason we do this and that is because we love it. We love giving the kids these opportunities and wouldn’t do it if we did not. But spare a thought that when they finally finished sorting everything out at 6pm and having been on duty essentially for the last 48 hours at the beck and call of our young people, once returned to their families, they will still be at work tomorrow. The minibus still had to be cleaned to be returned first thing in the morning. The tents are still wet and muddy and currently stored somewhere until we get a chance to get them all back out again, give them a good clean and dry so they are ready for next time. For the volunteers, I would say for every minute we spend on camp, we spend equal time off it as well either before or after and they really do deserve a lot of credit!

 

This is the first time we have run an activity like this for our Navigators and we feel it was a real success. We did not get everything right and there is a lot we will take away from this and learn from. But on the whole the kids seem to have enjoyed themselves and were proud of their achievement on Saturday.

 

I sit at home writing this blog having had a nice hot shower, clean clothes and a good meal. I spent the last 2 nights thinking wouldn’t it be nice to just be going to my bed right now but I find myself now thinking despite the mud and the rain, despite the cold and sleepless nights, wouldn’t it be nice to be back at the top of Kinder, seeing all the kids beaming with joy at what they have achieved. Take me back there any day.

 

Now I look forward to our next adventure together.

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