Sunday, March 25

Getting started - How was it for you dear?

A recent BBC news item on the centenary of Scouting triggered some nostalgic thoughts, and reminded me of where it all started for me so long ago.

And that raised the question, how did you first become involved with outdoors things? What initially triggered your interest, and what has kept you coming back?

Coincidentally I've just read Dave Mycrofts latest post on revisiting old haunts, and the changes that such visits can sometimes reflect within ourselves. All subjective I know, but none the less an important measure of who we are and our relationship with those things around us. Our own personal 'reality' if you like, measured against the 'unchanging' hills. Although of course that last statement is a foolish romanticism courtesy of the Lakeland poets movement (Wordsworth - mad as a hatter mate! 'Quick, quick the hills are chasing me coz I nicked a boat'. You can track that gem down yourself amongst his fine volume of work)

Like many kids of my generation, the choices for extra curricular social activities outside school were limited. Football, Sunday school or scouts. I can't for the life of me remember any other alternatives in the late 60s/ early 70s for a kid in a working class family.

I was lucky enough to live near a ex-private estate, nothing fancy, or even large, given over to the local authority with lots of land and a few small ponds, long since filled as a safety measure. A little beyond that there was a strip of countryside, now a formal green belt area but then a kid's paradise with fields, variable topography and a couple of streams.

I spent many hours roaming this area doing the sorts of things that many of us seemed to get up to in those days and now severely frowned on by those in authority. But they probably were then, as well. Bird nesting, pond dipping, making and using various weapons (bow/arrow, catapult, spear) cycling most places, but walking if that wasn't possible, covering many miles each day just delighting in what was going on around me. (Oh and experimenting with the joys of Park Drive tipped fags, but best not mention that. Ooops)

I slipped into Scouts the way most of us did, because it was local (in fact the only local activity) and I had a few mates interested at the same time. And there I found a more formal approach to the sort of things I had been getting up to. A fair bit of cant as well, but I could swallow that due to the benefits involved.

Around the age of 12/13 I spent my first week in the Lake District on a Scout Camp. Somewhere north of Grasmere on the edge of the Langdales. I've never managed to find the spot, but I have passed the church at Elterwater that we used for the obligatory Sunday service parade.

The camp was not on a formal site, I remember it as a rocky field, perched on the side of a hill surrounding a detached house. None of the usual site amenities so lacking toilets, standpipes etc. Camping was under old scouting style canvas tents. No groundsheet. Draughty as hell. And as this was my first time out I'd been specially equipped with a pair of exWD boots courtesy of the local Army surplus store (£4 - and packed out with newspaper to make them fit), and an army jacket circa 1942 (same source -green and scratchy as hell, but with a secret pocket that hid my illicit fags) Sleeping arrangements - a blanket. No sleeping bag/bed roll for me.

Rucksack? Don't make me laugh. The school haversacks we all bought (ex surplus) had to suffice. The more it rained the wetter the contents became. And the heavier the bag. Oh joy. And I seemed to recall it rained most of the time (strange that for the Lakes - lol) and that put paid to our overnight in the self made bivvy shelter, somewhere around 1a.m. one morning. But still we had made and used it.

In hindsight I should have been as miserable as hell, especially as in those days I was rather more of a solitary soul, a direct result I think of a working class kid stuck in a grammar school setting, and away from most of what I'd known up until that time. So being stuck in a tent with 11 others was not my favourite approach.

But in hindsight this was my first taste of really being in the great outdoors, being aware of the variety of landscape. Starting to learn to ignore the discomforts and recognise the benefits of what I was so lucky to share.

Move on to age 15/16, and for some reason three of us all involved with scouting decided to spend two weeks backpacking from Harlech to Bangor staying at youth hostels. Better equipped now, a new Karrimor aluminium framed rucksack (£12!) £15 in the post office account for emergency funds, and a pair of cheap walking boots.

We'd done extensive research on the route and our equipment. As if -dream on! An OS map, compass, and armed with a youthful exuberance. Whatever we thought we knew had been corrected by the time we'd finished the holiday.

I can still remember having to put my pack on whilst lying on the ground, or using a convenient rock, due to the sheer weight of it. No idea what that weight was but I can never forget the 2lb bag of sugar that my mother had so thoughtfully provided. Farcical looking back with the light of experience, but at that time we knew no different. But I managed some serious low level route finding, bagged Cnicht and Snowdon (of course) and inadvertently discovered the ability to hitch hike as well which stood me in good stead for a few years later.

And after that you'd think I was hooked. Ready to make a career in the outdoors industry?

Nope. A few forays into the Peak District on one day jaunts, the occasional organised YHA weekend, and a brief N.Wales/Lake District semi-solo tour at seventeen, that fell apart with a severe dose of food poisoning after less than a week. Another tale, but I still can't look at a field of corn stubble without wincing.

Work, women and motorcycling took over. The camping was something I still followed, and I was never happier than 'roughing it' on that score. Ideal for bike rallies and guerrilla camping. but the walking had quietly slipped away until many years later when time and life's pressures chose a suitable juncture to sharply poke me in the ribs and remind me of what I was missing.

And I guess in these respects I'm typical of so many others. A few lucky breaks. More a result of ennui and opportunity rather than deliberate and constructive guidance.

Today these opportunities are presented to the following generations rather too easily, and with possibly too much associated safety. Neccessary, but at what cost?

I've ensured that my own kids have been camping and walking. Some of what I enjoyed has been shown to them, so that they too can remember it for a time of their own choosing. My son in particular has been out with me on two long backpacking journeys in the Lake District. He appeared to have enjoyed the experience, and learnt a lot more about his own capabilities. And now he gets on with his own pastimes (work, beer, women etc) My how things change.

Each generation finds its own way, hopefully guided by the experiences and assistance of the preceeding one. These days it seems to be increasingly likley that this is not always from the immediate family. But looking back, and my start with scouts, I see very little social change there.

Meawhile I tip my hat to the scouting movement for my first taste of the Lakes and what was possible with a bit of self motivation, and the desire to give it a go.


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