In a what-happens-on-tour-stays-on-tour kinda way, it wouldn’t be appropriate to chronicle Andy’s stag do in too much detail in a public environment; not that it was remotely as debauched as such events can be, the groom-to-be made sure of that by locating the weekend in the scenic Lake District to make sure that he was as far from possible away from any dens of inequity.
The plan was to head up on the friday morning, indulge in a spot of Snowboarding en route in Manchester before arriving in our campsite just outside Keswick; from where the Saturday and Sunday would be spent Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Ghyll Scrambling and High Ropes. Since I’ve not been on a bike for years, and it sounded like hard work, I opted out of the biking but did the rest.
So, Snowboarding first – with a number of the others in the crew I went for the ‘taster session’ since I’ve never been on a snowboard in my life – and it was great fun, I might consider checking out lessons at Tamworth so I can have a bash on the main slope eventually. An hour is literally enough to literally get a taste and not much else, but it ‘tasted’ good!
Driving onward to the Lakes was delayed somewhat by probably my most chimpish moment of the weekend, in that upon loading some stuff into my boot ready for the off, I closed it only to realise too late the keys were inside. I hadn’t realised my car would lock itself in this scenario, but that’s just what it did – leaving myself, Mike and John stranded. Fortunately John’s AA membership covered us, and in less than an hour a chap was with us and had successfully broken into my car – he was a scouser, so I guess it’s a talent he was bound to have anyway!
So, playing catchup I got my foot down up the M6, only to encounter traffic – with my passengers in dire need of the toilet it was an interesting stop on the hard shoulder for John and an increasingly inebriated Mike to relieve themselves before we headed off again. After the traffic cleared it was easy going, and I actually did an admirable job of catching up with the rest of the party as we arrived on the campsite ready to pitch our camp for the weekend.
Having decided my two-man tent was a bit pokey should I end up sharing, I’d cunningly procured a four-man tent from Argos for the princely sum of £22.50, which Andy kindly helped me assemble (“We won’t need the instructions!” he announced, before clearly requiring them.. in no time the camp was pitched, including Cos’s impressive 12-man beast of a tent (which became known as ‘The Turdis’ owing to the flatulence). Aside from being pitched on a slight hill, it wasn’t too bad. Andy, spotting an opportunity to get a bit more room, quickly claimed a place in my tent!
After that it was a brisk walk up the lane to the nearest pub/hotel, proudly wearing our ‘Forest legends’ t-shirts that Drei had organised. Upon establishing that our venue of choice was prepared to accept a group of 14 or so lads, we duly got stuck in to some drinking; and some food. It was all quite civilised (aside from Chris’s bowels) until some slightly-unpleasant-things happened to Mike when he was, erm, resting for a moment in the pub. One of the barmen looked like Jim Bowen’s ‘special’ younger brother too, which was quite amusing. For some reason Mike still doesn’t like him very much.
Upon getting back to the campsite after a lengthy walk down a pitch-black lane, there was time for a few more beers before sleep; in the morning we stocked up on food and grabbed breakfast in Keswick before heading to the activity place – we started with Kayaking which was ace fun, tricky at first but it was great to see the lake from being, well, on it! As we’d split up, we didn’t have Andy to pick on, so Drei took a bit of punishment, including a number of near-sinkings… although Mike once again possibly ended up on the losing side after a number of exchanges with Chris!
The afternoon saw my ‘half’ of the group go mountain biking, so Rob and I went to get provisions for the rest of ’em as we were without activities for the afternoon; and having got back to the campsite duly broke out the camping chairs and a few beers to wait for the others to head back, both keen to not ‘do a Mike’, however! Aside from Rich getting lost and needing directions, the group were back on time, and Drei manfully ensured they got showered and ready for a group of taxis ready to take us off to a rather nice hotel/pub for dinner.
At dinner we were ably waited upon by ‘Big Phil’, who – despite where we’d travelled there from – was the campest thing we’d seen all weekend. They dealt gamely with us, despite the place being quite a quiet spot, but it became increasingly apparent that they wanted rid when they repeatedly offered us a taxi to get into Keswick, which we took and ended up getting rather drunk with a number of dubious shots making an appearance which causes the memory of the evening to get a little hazy; except that Paul, our kayaking instructor, joined us which made for entertainment, particularly on Sunday morning as he looked as rough as us!
Sunday morning saw Rich’s careful plan for the weekend come to fruition, he’d brought a microwave in his car much to the confusion of our fellow campers, it was so he could warm up a parmo he’d procured from a trip to Middlesbrough; a parmo is basically a heart-attack inducing delicacy found in the area, and one beloved of Andy and his university compadres (and indeed, myself from a visit to see him up in Boro on a couple of occasions!). He didn’t actually eat it, which was wise, but the microwave provided an easy way to cook bacon for breakfast too!
Ghyll Scrambling was our first activity on the Sunday, and it was – frankly – fucking awesome. Donning my throwaway Matalan trainers and tracksuit bottoms, numerous layers, a cagoule borrowed from the activity place, a floatation aid and finally my Forest Legend t-shirt, we walked up a fairly sizeable hill to the top of a Ghyll (which is basically a stream heading down a hill with numerous small waterfalls etc). Upon being invited to get into the genital-disappearingly cold stream, we were soon almost acclimbatised to the temperature and ready to make our descent – in the stream!
It was quite pleasant at first, splashing our way down, sliding down rocks that had formed like waterslides, until we faced our first waterfall. “Right lads,” said Aaron – our guide along with Paul – “just stand on the edge, hands behind your back, and let yourself fall!” he said, whilst doing that very thing, and dropping about 6 feet or so from the ledge onto the stream below. Hmm. That’s a pretty sphincter-twitching moment even for slight adrenaline junkies such as myself! Naturally, we made Andy go first, and upon his successful plunge we followed suit!
The next such moment involved a 20 foot plunge into water, this involved us clambering up above a plunge pool before doing an ‘extreme chicken dipper’ (‘extreme’ meant to cross your arms infront of you and tuck your elbows in to prevent injury, ‘chicken dipper’ basically means landing with knees bent to take the pressure). This one was hairy, Andy did it successfully, I relaxed my legs so much I landed on my arse, whilst Mike and John tried to headbutt the overhanging branch which wasn’t easy to avoid!
Once in the plunge pool we had to reach through a gap in the rocks underwater and be pulled through it by Aaron. This wasn’t pleasant, it was a tight gap for a big lad like me – but having got through it was pretty pleasing; although Alex thought he’d give Aaron a scare by not grabbing his hand and causing a flurry of activity to ‘rescue’ him; turns out Alex can hold his breath pretty comfortably and wasn’t in any distress at all, unlike the rest of us!
The next challenge was the worst; on top of a shallow slope, we had to dive headfirst about 20 feet into a very very narrow part of the stream. I was bricking it at this point, but having seen numerous others do it, I duly followed, and landed on a combination of my nose and somewhere I thought had fully retreated due to the cold temperature! That smarted a bit! It was a fantastic rush, though! All that remained was a blatant fib about a ‘vortex’ that most of us fell for, before forming a human dam in order to send a big surge of water into Andy to take him to the end of the scramblable portion of the water.
Fantastic fun. If you even get a chance to go Ghyll Scrambling/Gorge Scrambling or Canyoning – then do it! It will scare the shit out of you, but you’ll feel great! Tell you what too, not a hint of a hangover once we were in that cold water too!
The afternoon involved high ropes, a combination of rope-and-wood swings, climbing, bileting and tarzan-type swings. The zip-wire landing was rough for me, landing arse first onto a step, then Mike bounced up three steps on his arse which made me feel a little less sorry for myself. High cables, I wasn’t a fan – but felt very pleased when I’d done it, before a bit of punishment for Andy before playing the ‘making one person go up and down a tree’ game – which was a good laugh to end it with.
Sunday night was a barbecue. Given the length of drive I had in the morning I laid off the drink, meaning I have fairly vivid (and frankly disturbing) images of the conversations that were flowing during a course of the evening whilst Alex manfully fed us with the help of three disposable barbecues. As the night wore on we retreated into the big tent and carried on briefly, before sleepiness took over. The morning was a case of clearing up, packing up and shipping out. I’m glad I opted out of drinking, as I felt pretty good and was able to make it home in very good time, dropping off Mike in Long Bennington en route.
An absolutely top weekend; and whilst I’m generally not a fan of camping, I did enjoy it – I think any more than three days and I’d start to get a bit grumpy… as it was, it was just about perfect, and of course, next weekend is the wedding itself, so we can look forward to a catchup very soon indeed! Bring it on!