The Isle of Wight

12th – 16th April 2013

Freshwater Bay: only imagine - the sun-sparkled waters in the cove, the rolling Chalk Downs, the views, the breeze from the sea, a pre-prandial drink in the gardens as the sun goes down...

Only, it didn’t turn out quite like that. Sou’westers (you know, those big, yellow, waterproof hats that lifeboat men wear) were designed to withstand the worst that the weather could throw at any coast open to the winds from that quarter. And we were in that quarter! Add to that a cloud, engulfing even the lowest parts of Tennyson Down, whipping wind and rain into every pore, and we offered a silent prayer of thanks that our leader confidently led a safe route back to the refuge of the drying room and hot water. That was Saturday. Supper-time talk was full of speculation about the teenager who had fallen down the cliff, the helicopter that had to abandon the search because there was no visibility. ‘He was wearing only a t-shirt and jeans.’ ‘He’d escaped from the young offenders’ prison.’ ‘He was drowned.’ ‘He was caught.’ But we heard nothing of it on the news.

Sunday, by comparison, was a breeze; a very stiff breeze. Could they really be having a barbecue at home in Oxfordshire while we huddled in the lee of an abandoned bothy and admired the view from the island’s highest point? Clear, clear air to refresh and renew us, and inclines to challenge our legs and fortitude. We reached the second highest point on the island, and almost the highest... but our leader changed course. I forget why. But I did feel well-exercised and invigorated. And virtuous!

Monday was lovely: the walking well paced and full of variety, a group ambiance that confirmed the pleasure I derive from the Society’s activities, and that comfortable weariness at the end of the day which is best expressed by mens sana in corpora sano.

Walk leaders are so vital to the enjoyment of the day. Some of us walk purely for exercise, or for time to ‘think’; some of us for the scenery and points of interest. Others just love the ambiance of good companionship, of spotting unusual flora and fauna; and most of us walk for a combination of all of these. For the first hour the group settles into itself; the good leader adapts the pace, picks up on the mood and interests of the group and allows just the right amount of information and drink stops to establish an harmonious rhythm to the walk. When leaders seek to have a personality cult or to be over-controlling it can lead to unedifying confrontations. This was my first experience of a walker clashing with an HF leader and it was most uncomfortable. I understand that the leader in question is retiring.

And then there is the pleasure of a well-run country house hotel, staffed by happy and willing personnel ever on hand to meet, promptly and smilingly, every request... no leadership from the top here; but the younger members of staff were lovely, and obviously self- motivated.

Oh, do not think we had nothing but negative views! OFS people, I have come to realise, are more than able to focus on what is good. Saturday apart, the walking was memorable. (And actually, that cloud-soaked freezing day will not readily be forgotten.) All my previous holidays with OFS have been wonderful: I love the choice of walks, the good companionship, the excellent food and accommodation, the lightweight entertainment in the evenings, the affability the activity engenders.

I am really looking forward to the next group break, at Selworthy, in October.

Lesley Fraser