A Perfect Day on Projects – a group leader’s point of view.
This is a perfect Project day. I have had all of these experiences, but not necessarily all on the same day, as Eric Morecambe might have said. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent, others have been kept to indict the guilty.
Six o’clock, sun in my eyes, time to get up. I am in a single room in the Youth Hostel – the other two chaps on the staff have to share, but I got the privilege of a single room, actually a store cupboard, because I snore. There is an overwhelming smell of disinfectant and Dettol in my room, but it’s better than the sweaty sock smell in my colleagues’ room.
Get up, stretch, a bit of stiffness after the long walk yesterday, but feeling good. I look out, blue sky, sun clearing the mountain tops and lighting up the loch. Go down to the kitchen, no one about, make myself a cup of tea and then go out and sit on a boulder – too much dew on the grass.
Spot two figures running along the lochside road towards the hostel. Wait a minute, they’re two of our chaps, out for an early morning run. They flop sweatily next to me, and I offer to bring them a cup of tea as a reward for their efforts. We chat, and I point out the hill that we are aiming to climb that day. Both boys are rugby lads, and good runners, but strangely enough they find the climbing difficult.
Time to waken the troops, get the duty group up to make breakfast. Eventually everyone gets down to the kitchen but just as we’re about to tidy up and make our packed lunches, someone says, "Has anyone seen Nick today? No, where is he?" I send someone up to the dorm. Nick is there, head under the duvet, fast asleep. A rude awakening, but he manages to getup, breakfast and his packed lunch ready in record time.
Everyone is now ready – they know the form and have their day-sacks ready, boots on. I do a check – everyone got their emergency clothing? Shorts and suncream? Not words you usually associate with Projects. I tell the group what the plans are for the day. Pile into the minibuses. Not far to go, just four or five miles up the glen. Out of the buses. I tell them we’ll take the path, cross the burn at the wooden bridge and then start climbing.
Quite a lot of chat to start with. I’ve got one of the colleagues at the head of the file, and I bring up the rear – my usual position on Projects. I hang back and see this chattering, bubbling bunch of kids drawing away in front, and watch the procession against the background of the big hills, thinking how lucky we are. About twenty minutes in, the group stop, take a drink and peel off a layer or two of clothing.
Then we set off again, more serious, not so much chat as the path becomes steeper. This is the moment when we develop a rhythm, head down, plod on. At about 11.30 we stop for our first lunch, or elevenses. However big breakfast was, the kids are always ravenous about this time so they eat their first sandwiches. Then onwards and upwards. We look down into the glen, where the minibuses are, impossibly small. Feels good to have gained that height.
The next section is a bit tricky, the ridge narrows and there’s some scrambling. A couple of kids are a little unsure, but we help them through. After this local difficulty we set off along the next section where the ridge broadens and the views open out, A spectacular Corrie to the left, with dark cliffs and sparkling water in the lochan. Over to the south you can glimpse the sea loch, and the islands beyond.
One false summit after the other. "How far is it, Mr S?" "Not far", I say. Then finally, there we are, on top of a broad grassy ridge, with the summit cairn about 200 meters away. The pace quickens, but I stop the group. There’s the summit, I say. Off you go, sprint, jog, or walk. And just as they set off, I say Please don’t go higher than the summit. But no one gets my joke. Where do they get their energy from? Almost all of them tear off towards the summit, even one of my young, fit, and still competitive colleagues, who much to everyone’s disgust, arrives first. I arrive last.
The usual photos, the group on the cairn, views all round and then lunch. Everyone sits, there’s a slight breeze so I tell them to put on an extra layer or two. Any blisters, I ask. No, they say. Can we take our boots off, ask some. Yeah, sure. Some lie back and drowse off, others chat, one or two jump from boulder to boulder. They have too much energy to burn. I check the horizon, no clouds. We’ll be OK.
Then after about three-quarters of an hour, we saddle up and head down, following the same route. There is much laughter and light-heartedness, bad jokes, a feeling of fun and good fellowship. The young ones jump down springing from rock to rock, I have to rely on walking poles to take the strain off ageing joints. We are moving fast and getting quite sweaty.
By mid afternoon, we are down by the road and we take the time to stop by the burn for some paddling and splashing, throwing in boulders, skimming stones, building dams. Poor old Mhairi, she slips on a rock and falls backwards into a pool. Much laughter from everybody, including, eventually, Mhairi. So that’s a sign to head back to the hostel. We draw into the carpark and there’s the usual rush for the showers. Mhairi gets priority. We all agree.
The sun is still high, blazing down. Time for a cup of tea, glass of juice and a slice of homemade cake. (God I could murder a beer!). There’s an hour before the duty group have to start preparing dinner, so some down time. I take a book and lie out on the grass. A bit of chat with the kids. A feeling of deep contentment. I doze off. No book.
It’s not my group on duty tonight, so my principal worry is getting my feet under the table in time for dinner. Everyone excited, pink, comparing tans. Luckily they’ve all showered and put on cream. Spaghetti Bolognese (yum)and Angel Delight (yuk). Then after dinner, people can do what they want. Board games, cards, writing up logbooks, chatting, joking. Some play football in the field next to the hostel. Then supper at 9.30 and afterwards a small group climb up the hill at the back of the hostel , just a couple of hundred feet, to watch the sun set over the loch.
Back down to the hostel in the gathering dusk – the midgies are out, so we seek refuge inside. Time for a last cup of cocoa, and I tell them a ghost story. Of course it’s true, I tell them, otherwise I wouldn’t tell it to you. Everyone off to bed. Too tired to be noisy. Yet myself and the colleagues sit out in the corridors until they have settled. Then it’s a shower, off to bed for me, back to my broom cupboard smelling of industrial disinfectant.