Many people have looked at me askance when I say that I'm heading off for a weekend of walking with a bunch of women I've never met, saying things like: 'Isn't it weird?' or 'What if you don't like them?'
I probably thought the same until I did it. And then I realised what a joy walking with women who are complete strangers can be. Here's why:
You hear their stories
In a world where we all talk to much and listen too little, when you go out walking you have plenty of time for both. Some people will immediately open up and tell you their life story. Others will gradually reveal tiny snippets of who they are. But eventually you get to the heart of what makes them unique. And EVERYONE has a fascinating story. Hearing those stories broadens your horizons, makes you recognise and appreciate people's differences, puts your own story in context and boosts your empathy.
You get to tell your story
When last did you tell someone the story of how you came to be where you are today? Often our current friends either know that story or the conversation centres around the day to day, rather than the big things that have shaped your life. By retelling your story to strangers, it reminds you are how far you've come and possibly prompts you to want to try something new to create an exciting next chapter.
You come as you are
In our daily lives, we slip into a persona people have come to expect - whether that's at work, at the school gate, out on the town, or at sports club. Sometimes that persona isn't exactly who we really are, but it feels like you have to keep it in place so as not to upset the group dynamic. But when you walk with strangers, you can simply be you, no persona required. It is exceptionally liberating.
You realise how different but the same we all are
When you don't get to choose your company, you are presented with a random mix of people from completely different backgrounds. But here's the thing: although we are all so different, fundamentally we are also all so very alike. We all go through similar challenges and emotions. Our experiences may be unique but our basic humanity is the same. Not everyone will instantly be your cup of tea, but if you remove judgement and simply see them for who they are, you see how necessary and beautiful those differences are.
You see the immense strength women have
You probably know the challenges your closest friends or family members have been through. But when you hear about the challenges other women have faced, you realise how universally strong women are. Whether it's relationship breakdowns, loss of children or partners, a career challenge, having to rebuild a new sense of purpose, fighting against injustice putting their own mental health at risk, building businesses and being the mainstay of the family unit - women are pretty exceptional and spending time with women you don't know opens your eyes to the private struggles they go through daily.
You discover a new side to yourself
Sometimes it takes a stranger to hold a mirror up to you to recognise the person you have become. They might say things like: You are so strong. What an exceptional thing you've done. That is so fascinating. Those things may seem entirely ordinary to you, but when you hear it from a stranger, you think perhaps I am strong, exceptional and fascinating. Your confidence will be boosted and your self esteem reframed.
Because not everything is serious. And they won't have heard your jokes or funny stories before and you won't have heard theirs!
If you would like to find other women to go walking with, join Glamoraks. It is an online community that lets you find other women near you to easily arrange walks and adventures together. They may start out as strangers but they won't stay that way.
This post was prompted by the most recent Glamoraks Walking Weekend that took place 24-25 March 2018 on the South Downs as well as other recent walks I've done with people who were previously strangers to me. Below is a video of the South Downs scenery and a sense of how a group of strangers left as friends.
If you would like to meet other women to go walking, hiking or adventuring with, join the Glamoraks online community.
In January 2017, I set up a Facebook group for women who like to walk. I had no real idea what I wanted it to be. I just loved walking and knew how happy it made me. I figured I couldn't be the only women who felt like that and I wanted to encourage others to experience the same joy.
Over the course of the year, the group grew to over 1000 members - mostly from the UK but with many from as far afield as Canada, USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Austria, Sweden and India. It was featured in a number of national publications including Good Housekeeping, Top Sante, Healthy and the Saturday Telegraph. I also set up and ran the first Glamoraks walking weekends in Malham and the Yorkshire Coast, where a group of ladies who didn't know each other, stepped out of their comfort zones and headed off to a hostel for a night. Several more are scheduled for 2018 including one on the South Coast, one in the Peak District and a Snowdon climb in September.
At the same time, I personally walked further, blogging about each walk, and took on some challenges, like climbing Kilimanjaro, wild camping solo on a hill and sleeping in a bivvy bag on a coastal cliff with a hurricane approaching. I also attended a women's adventure expo, Basecamp Festival where I knew no-one and did my Straight to Silver Navigation course.
But while I was doing all of that, I was still running my main business, looking after my two kids, doing all that household stuff we all have to do and all the back end work for Glamoraks, like trademarking the name, investigating technology platforms and managing the community.
It's been a massive learning experience - often exhausting - but now we are ready for the next chapter.
First of all, we have a brand new, more professional look with a shiny new logo and brand colours. I wanted colours that reflected the North Yorkshire Moors that I walk in most often. The green and heather colours perfectly capture the colours of the moors in summer. And the boots represent freedom, adventure and exploring the world.
Secondly, I'm pleased to say that the Glamoraks group will be moving from Facebook into its very own home on a new platform. Woohoo! Does the platform do everything I would like it to do? Nope. But is it better than Facebook? Absolutely. (Particularly in light of recent news about Facebook and data sharing).
What is the aim of the new platform?
The main aim is to enable women to find other women to go walking with - no matter where in the world they are. Think of it like an airbnb - but instead of finding places to stay, you find people to go exploring with. On top of that, it will act as a reminder to get out walking, a source of inspiration or ideas for new walks to try and a place questions can be answered.
This isn't a normal walking group where walks are organised and you go and follow the leader. This puts you in control. You decide when you want to walk, where you want to walk and who you want to walk with. The community simply makes it easy to organise.
Here's what it lets members do:
It is brand new and everyone is still finding their way around. But as it grows, it will become increasingly valuable. And for now until 13 April 2018, it is free. Join by the 13th and you have free access to the community for life. Thereafter new members will be charged a small monthly fee to help cover the costs of running the site. But there will be plenty of incentives. As the group grows, I will be getting discounts from outdoor brands, walking holiday companies and other relevant parties to share with members. (Incidentally, if you are an outdoor brand or walking holiday company, please get in touch or look here for more info on how to get involved). Plus members will get exclusive access to Glamoraks walking weekends, events and branded merchandise.
Glamoraks is a completely unique group. It's not trying to prove anything to anyone. It's not competitive. It's simply a way for women at all levels to find like minded women to connect with. I hope you will help me spread the word and help get women from around the world connecting - and feeling happier - through walking.
JOIN THE GROUP
Take a look at the home page of the site to find out more. Or watch the video below to find out what you can do in the new platform.