Sunday, 23 March 2014

Regional Men's Adventure

For many years now, at this point in the annual calendar, we as a church have run a national event for men.  This year we've managed to get Carl Beech (Christian Vision for Men) to agree to come.  But he isn't free until November.  So we opted to run something regional rather than let the Saturday in Spring pass by.  Our ladies have a similar event - Accelerate - in two weeks' time.

Devising something that a mixed-age and mixed-ability group can all enjoy is something of a challenge.  When thinking of adventure, we invariably mean braving the elements and getting muddy somewhere out in the Peak District or Pennines.  Steven asked if something culturally adventurous may qualify.  He pointed out the Sheffield's public museum and art gallery may be just as stimulating as local limestone or gritstone.  In fact a year or so ago, he'd organised a very successful treasure hunt around places of public interest, which we completed on foot around the city centre.

I suggested Creswell Crags.  I - like most others - have never been.  It has varied points of interest, a tea shop, toilets and it isn't long journey.  Even Paul thought it may be tolerable.  It ran out of favour because it's only a small site, and 'some people' need a hike across several miles of forbidding rainlashed countryside to begin to warm up to excitement.  'Geo-caching' muttered the mud plodgers.

When I got back from Africa, the day had been highjacked.  No longer could I invite friends to a known civilised location of reputable worth.  Jack was up at unearthly hours for several mornings burning diesel in his flatbed truck round Upper Derwent.  The OS Explorer Map hasn't moved from his desk, and he's been doing overtime on the laminator.  "How much did you set for a budget?" he threw over his shoulder to me at one point.  "£250, but it got cut to £150.  And there's no money in the Regional Fund anyway."  "Hmmm.  That'll hardly pay for the bacon."  He resumed conspiracy mode.

"If it's Upper Derwent, I'll walk out there."  I announced to Mary on Friday teatime.  It's about 13 miles, and will take three-and-a-half hours.  That means leaving at 7.00am if the other are starting by car at 10.00am"

I was up at quarter to six for a bowl and a half of muesli with hot milk.  The city seemed deserted.  This was strange, because in a week's time when the clocks have changed, everybody will be up.  Ah, chronos time versus kairos time.  The A57 and the footpath to Ladybower Inn were a delight.  At 10.00am I stuck my head round the pub door.  "Any chance of a coffee?"  The lady put down her hoover attachments to get some, while I sat outside in the sunshine.   This was good.

Half an hour later, I was sitting in the sunshine on the wall at the end of the viaduct that leads to the Snake Pass, waiting for our vehicles.  First was Jack's truck, with Titus and Silas on board.  Then Viv drove straight past.  Then the white van.  "Oh, well,"  I thought, I can always make my own way to the carpark and hang around.  Paul rolled up and offered me a lift.  He took me to the wrong starting point.  I never saw the minibus that was supposed to collect me for the more challenging of the two walks on offer.

Eventually we rendezvoused.  It was starting to rain.  We headed up along to Alport Castles.  The group leaders were armed with route directions, some extra teaser instructions that needed to be unravelled to help, a series of puzzles meant to give clues to some (vital to the day!) items hidden away, and a GPS.  However, as time passed it became clear that they hadn't listened at Jack's briefing session.  Stash no 1, found by Mark (who knew about trolls), was a portable stove hidden under a footbridge.  (You see what I mean by vital - no stove = no hot food at the end!)  Stash no 2 was a second stove.  No-one could agree whether the stone cairn we trudged past was the clue.  The stove remains hidden in a pile of rocks as I write. 

We climbed to the top, towards Birchin Hat.  The rain had turned to sleet and the sleet had turned to snow.  The wind had turned up several notches on the Beaufort Scale.  Cloud came down.  Having missed stash 2 some time back, we now spread out, battered by the elements, to try to find it in completely the wrong place.  "It says, 'turn left'".  But a left turn only led over a precipitate edge.

"Bardon Moor,"  I muttered to myself as I sank behind a broken stone wall to wrestle underneath my waterproofs for a drink.  Bardon Moor was another - legendary - Jack-inspired expedition in the middle of December some years ago.  "I'm not staying cooked up in this house another blooming Saturday;" he'd exploded one Friday teatime.  ('This house' was Cad Beeston Manor in Leeds.)   With little over three hours of viable daylight to play with, next day a bunch of guys parked up at Bolton Abbey.  We intended to try and find the beautiful walk that he and Harriet had completed on a glorious July afternoon.  We were caught in a merciless blizzard, with no map.  Only by dint of Andrew and I joggling several miles back down pitch black lanes, did we manage to rescue the minibus before the Abbey carpark locked up for the weekend.

Eventually, someone had the bright idea of a small group returning to the disputed stash 2 cairn to try again.  Meanwhile we'd try to find stash 3.  Almost simultaneously Viv arrived back brandishing an orange thermos flask, and Andrzej found a spade near the broken wall on the top.  We headed down a track to the right, grateful to be moving again, backs to the wind.  Only, the instructions said that stash 4 would be found by walking straight ahead.  

I chatted to John, Josh's old housemate.  Half an hour later, through the trees, we saw the white van and Jack erecting a bright blue gazebo.  Home!  And shelter from the rain.  "No that's not it," he muttered of Viv's thermos flask.  "And where's stash 4?"  Jack explained the clue again, patiently.  A woeful team of four heroes went off to recover a buried tin of flapjack (hence the spade).  Only one piece had survived the internment.  Viv was not impressed.
 I squeezed into the back of the van and thawed out.  Barrie had the engine running and the heater going.  After all, this time last week I was in Kenya's sunshine.  Meanwhile, the other 'slow' party fanned out along the shore of the reservoir to find the frying pans and bacon.  They were following a clue about Gadarene swine, for which Jack had given the wrong bible reference.  Andy fell in a stream trying to find another tin of flapjack.  It's still hidden under a waterfall if you have a mind to search it out.

When hot drinks and the freshly cooked bacon, sausage and fried egg breadcakes began to roll off the stoves (minus one), all was forgiven and forgotten (even by our new friend Muhammad).  We put a group of drivers in the van and ferried them back to the parked vehicles.  This way we could all head straight home when the convoy eventually reappeared.

Once back, Jack asked manfully: "Any lessons?"  "Try and get people to listen when you're giving out the instructions," Paul suggested.  This was slightly more moderated than Mark's: "Next year, I'm organising it."  Hmmm.  I thought it was great.  (But when you're no longer responsible, you can.)

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