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.
It was a chilly morning when 14 ladies gathered in the carpark at Sandsend in mid-January. Some had come alone, others with a friend. All were ready to have a good, long stomp to blow away the January blues and to walk off any lingering Christmas calories. After adding layers, checking backpacks and having final cups of tea from the nearby cafe, we set off.
We walked the two miles along the beach towards Whitby, leaping over streams - some broader than others - as the tide rushed out. Walking along beach sand is remarkably tiring and soon layers were being stripped off and cheeks were pink from the cold and exertion.
Too early for fish and chips, we ignored the waft of vinegar and made our way through the old fishing town to the famous 199 steps that lead up to the ruins of Whitby Abbey. If we weren't warm before, we certainly were by the top of the stairs. We bid farewell to two of our group who were off to do their own shorter walk, while we headed for the clifftop path.
Layers of ice made the path through a campsite slippery but soon we were on the muddy path, taking in the stunning coastal views. This route is part of the Cleveland Way, a long distance walking path that starts in Helmsley and ends in Filey, with exceptional North Yorkshire scenery for all of it. It's easy to break the walk up into stages and do them anytime you have a free day or weekend.
We chatted and learnt more about each other as we slipped about in the mud. On several occasions we narrowly missed having a muddy landing and in one, case, did!
We stopped for a picnic lunch in a field with an impressive view. The day had brightened up and the sun eventually popped out as we continued on our way. I have personally done this stretch several times, the first time kickstarted my love of walking. It also forms part of the Coast to Coast route, either being the first or last day of the multi-day hike depending on which way you are going. My cousin Lynda - who did the Coast to Coast with me - had flown from Sweden to join me for this Glamoraks weekend, so we had a moment of nostalgia as we found the C2C sign.
With the sun starting to dip in the sky, we made our way down the steep hill into Robin Hoods Bay, a fishing village made up of tiny houses stacked higgledy piggledy on top of one another. Half our party headed to the pub in search of a restorative ale or port, the other half found the last open tea shop and tucked into slices of cake, scones and pots of tea.
Suitably revived, we headed off towards Boggle Hole, just 20 minutes away. The sun was setting, creating a beautiful scene with the snow on the moors ahead of us. We got to the hostel just as it got dark. If you've not been to Boggle Hole hostel before, you are missing a trick. It is festooned in bunting and nautical paraphernalia, with plenty of hidden objects for children to find. And it's situated right on the beach. You can hear the waves crashing as you lie in bed.
After finding our shared rooms, we reconvened in the cosy dining room with a roaring log fire. Glasses of wine, a hearty chicken curry followed by apple pudding and we all felt ready for bed. We had, after all, done 11.5 miles of fairly tiring walking across sand and slipping on mud!
Another reason for the early bed time was Sunday's weather forecast of strong winds and snow arriving mid afternoon, which meant we needed an early start. While we all had the right kit to keep warm, none of us fancied trying to drive back home over the North Yorkshire Moors in a blizzard.
We got the chef up bright and early to cook us a hearty breakfast, while taking in the magnificent sunrise. We bid farewell to four of the ladies who wanted a shorter day and a nosey around the quaint shops of Robin Hood's Bay, before getting the bus back to Sandsend. The rest of us retraced our steps along the path the way we'd come as the tide was still too high to do the beach walk. We were treated to even more spectacular views of the sunrise and we all agreed that it was moments like this that made us face the sub-zero temperatures and get outdoors.
After making our way back up the steep hill in Robin Hood's Bay, we opted for the Cinder Track, a route that runs roughly parallel to the coastal path only it's slightly more solid with less slippy mud. However, what it lacked in mud, it made up for in slippy ice. We still managed to make better time and soon rejoined the coastal path again. Thanks to the very low overnight temperatures, all the mud had frozen solid, making it much easier to walk back.
We managed to get to Whitby in time for lunch. General agreement was to ditch the packed lunch we'd been given in favour of fish and chips from the famous Magpie. What a treat to tuck into warm chips and gravy on an icy cold day (with the added bonus of trying to fend off dive bombing seagulls).
We could see the weather setting in so we headed back up the beach to Sandsend for our final two miles. As we reached the carpark, the snow arrived, flying in sideways on the wind. A quick cup of tea at the Wits End Cafe, and we dashed to our cars. We drove in convoy up and over the moors in a blizzard, with deep snow on the road sides. Had the driving conditions not been quite so scary, it would have been beautiful, like a scene out of a Christmas card.
We all made it home with rosy cheeks and tired legs. A total of 23 miles walks, washed down with cake, fish and chips, wine, curry, good chat and the chance to forget about day to day life. The perfect Glamoraks weekend really!
If you would like to meet other women for fabulous weekends like this, join the Glamoraks community.
If you'd like to do this walk, park at the Sandsend carpark (free of charge over winter), postcode YO21 3TD. Walk along the beach to Whitby (or the signposted path if the tide is in). Head over the bridge in Whitby and follow signs for the Abbey ruins. Climb the 199 steps, walk through the car park and turn left onto the coastal path. Follow this through a caravan site and then simply follow it all the way to Robin Hood's Bay. When you enter Robin Hood's Bay, turn left onto the main road heading down towards the sea. Just after Smugglers pub, turn right and follow the coastal path signs again until you reach Boggle Hole. You simply retrace your steps the next day. Or, take the sign post for the Cinder Track just outside Robin Hood's Bay (where the Coastal Path starts again). Turn right off the track when you reach a road that leads to Northcliffe holiday park. Walk through the park and you'll reconnect with the coastal path. Turn left and follow it back to Whitby and then on to Sandsend. roughly 11.5 miles each way.
The first ever Glamoraks Walking Weekend was held on 24 - 26 November. And it was fab! Fourteen ladies made their way to Malham Youth Hostel. Most people didn't know each other so there was a certain amount of trepidation, but an evening in the cosy Lister Arms pubs with several glasses of warming red wine, and any anxieties were laid to rest. The hooting of the resident owl sent us off to sleep ready to tackle a day of walking.
Once the rest of the group arrived on Saturday morning, we set off. Using the footpath that runs directly alongside the hostel we made our way up to the base of Malham Cove. It's a stunning setting and gave us a taste of the scenery to come. Crossing a stone bridge over a stream we made our way up the steep steps the carve around the edge of the cove. From the top, the views over the Yorkshire Dales were incredible.
After a warming cup of tea, we gingerly made our way across the limestone pavement - famed for having a Harry Potter scene set on it. The slippery stones made it slow going. On the far side we decided to split into two groups - those who wanted a more gentle walk of 4.5 miles to Gordale Scar, Janet's Foss and back to the hostel; and those who wanted a longer walk up to Malham Tarn and Malham Raikes before picking up the path to the Scar and Foss.
While the sun was glorious during our walk up the Ing Scar, at the Tarn it was bitterly cold, so we found a wall to shelter behind to enjoy our picnic lunch. Suitably revived, we headed for Malham Raikes and got stuck in icy bogs en route. After squelching through those for a while, we were pleased to hit a drier path and finally reached Gordale Scar. Just as we were heading for home, the heavens opened and our faces were whipped with sleep and rain. A final stretch in woodland passed Janet's Foss and we made it back to the hostel before the sunset.
Thanks to Janet for the ingenious idea to create hot port, we feasted on cake and hot toddies and soon thawed out. A team dinner of chilli, rice, salad and garlic bread, washed down with wine, and soon we were solving all the problems of the world. It wasn't a late night for anyone!
We had an early wake up call as the fire alarm went off at 4.30am for absolutely no reason whatsoever. After catching a few more hours sleep and a hearty breakfast, the group once again split into two. The smaller group had to get back in time to catch trains to London and elsewhere, so they headed off to Kirkby Malham where they timed their arrival just as the Sunday service ended. They received a warm welcome from the Parishioners.
The larger group decided to tackle Pikedaw Hill. This is a reasonably feisty climb that started in stunning winter sunshine but ended in murky fog at the top, where a layer of snow still lay on the ground. But before the fog set in, we were rewarded with more spectacular views. We crossed the top and headed by to Ing Scar where we picnicked for lunch, before making our way home, a total of about 7.5 miles.
All too soon it was over. But we left with pink cheeks and smiles on our faces. The best thing about walking with other women - even if you don't know them - is that you very quickly get past the superficial layer of conversation and dive straight into the good stuff.
Thank you so much to all the lovely ladies who joined me and for giving me a snapshot into your lives. Let's do it again!
If you want to meet other likeminded women to go walking with, join the Glamoraks community.