I got home from Edinburgh, having travelled by overnight train, at 10am last Friday. Before 2pm, I was out again, on my way to Wellies & Wristbands.
This was by far the biggest event I’ve ever been to – probably the biggest event anyone in my district has been to. I heard there were 2700 girls there – I don’t know if that’s literally just the girls or if that number includes the leaders. And it was happening at the same time at Waddow Hall in Lancashire as well, so you double that to get the total number of girls at Wellies & Wristbands last weekend.
The first adventure was the train. I’ve spent the last six months drilling it into my girls that they must pack light and they must be able to carry all their stuff. We got one wheely suitcase (not ideal for the mud we encountered on Monday morning) and one girl who turned up with a massive rucksack and a massive holdall with a very thin painful strap. And my bag was big enough to be just about manageable on its own but I ended up with both tents on the way home and I couldn’t handle bag and tents, so I can’t even lecture them on the subject of overpacking.
We took the train to Brockenhurst and then hauled our luggage up and over the footbridge to the coach, where we were plagued by wasps before finally being taken off to Foxlease. I knew it was going to be big but when I saw the tents through the trees as we came down the road, I refused to believe that was actually Foxlease I was seeing. But it was.
We were put on Magpies 2 and asked to squish in as there was a part of ten tents due that hadn’t arrived yet. We duly squeezed in between… I don’t know who was to our right but to our left was 20th Andover Guides, who had kindly brought a massive orange windsock and orange fairy lights. We hadn’t thought of any such thing ourselves so they were massively helpful for finding out tent.
I finally had an answer to “can you put the wristbands on your camp blanket?” Yes, you can. They’re proper fabric ones, bright orange this year. We also had a matching lanyard and a little plastic pouch, in which we carried an info sheet/map and our own health form at all times. The lanyards also serve the purpose of making it immediately obvious that yes, you’re supposed to be there. The wristbands do tend to get hidden up sleeves. And two of us had neon yellow paper “dietary requirement” bracelets as well.
First night mostly consisted of getting our bearings, finding things, figuring out what was going on, figuring out how meals work. You’re given a coloured dot in your info pack, which you stick on your plastic pouch, and this shows which meal shift you’re on – we were green which meant we were on first meals on Saturday and last on Sunday (I think. I get confused) but it took until Sunday lunchtime for anyone to start to care about your dot, so we just went along whenever. Friday night was bad – the average queue length for jacket potato was two hours and some girls didn’t get any food until 8.30 at night but I’m willing to put that down to 1) not being used to the scale of things 2) jacket potatoes being extraordinarily slow to cook. My own dietary requirement – I only eat bread and cheese – was not terribly well dealt with and I skipped dinner on Saturday and Sunday, making up for it by having two breakfasts – one before my girls got up and then joining them an hour later – and having a second lunch instead of dinner on Sunday. Breakfasts were baps with sausages or bacon or fried bread plus help yourself to cereal, lunches were walking up and down the tables in a zigzag picking up a sandwich, a packet of crisps, a cereal bar, a piece of fruit and a carton of juice. I saw lots of units where the leader went and got a box of stuff and distributed it among the girls. I think it’s easier to make sure everyone’s got the food they want by letting them get it themselves. But then I only had four girls and they did this themselves, because I didn’t see much of them.
There was so much on! The Rangers were excited about the music. I’m not so much – partly because I don’t like live music much and partly because I’d never heard of anyone who was on (I later discovered that Three Times Over had actually followed me on Twitter a couple of weeks ago but I hadn’t paid much attention to them).
I wish there was some way I could show you the photos of them covered in glowing festival paint but I can’t cover their faces without covering the paint. They drew trails of pink and purple dots around their eyes and it looked great.
There was no shortage of stuff to do during the day. There were the hot tubs (two special separate ones just for leaders!), the cream tea (massive enormous slices of chocolate brownie!), inflatables, a craft tent, a welly trail, drop-in stage workshops, drop-in outdoors activities by SAGGA, a pamper zone, drumming workshops, brass workshops – who knows what else.
My particular favourite was the SAGGA corner, especially the woodcraft bit. They had a collection of old pallets and you sawed a piece of wood off it, chopped it up with an axe, made a good little fire out of your own chopped wood and then cooked a marshmallow over it. It’s exactly the sort of things Guides should do but don’t – not least because no one wants to let a ten-year-old loose with an axe. It was hugely intimidating at first, which was partly apparently because my axe was a bit too short for me, but then I got quite into the chopping. Now I want an axe and I want to cut up firewood properly and make a good little fire! I encouraged my Rangers to have a go at that one.
I also went zorbing. I enjoyed it so much I got a bit overexcited, lost control of the zorb and went head over heels inside – violently enough that I heard something in my back crunch. Funny how clear your senses suddenly go when you think you’ve paralysed yourself. I lay in the zorb, breathless and sweaty, more adrenaline than blood in my veins, hyper-aware of everything and hugely relieved when the shock wore off enough that I could get up and slowly, carefully, paddle my zorb back to the beginning of the course. That was Sunday afternoon. It’s now Thursday evening and my upper back still feels stiff and sore and I suspect it’s going to hurt for at least another week.
I had a go at riding the bucking surfboard. I pushed my trousers right up to get extra grip with my knees but my hands were so slippery – it’s incredibly difficult to keep hold of the thing and at one point I let out a standard “I’m going to die!” squeak-scream, which is apparently a noise my Rangers have never heard from me. I managed 24 seconds.
And I’m wearing the official Wellies & Wristbands t-shirt. I looked at them all of Saturday and then on Sunday morning I discovered that three of my four Rangers had bought one, so I decided to join that club. White is an impractical colour but never mind. There were also hoodies, in pink and blue, but they were more expensive and also more or less sold out by the time I gave in. And there were, of course, badges. Oh, I have such a collection of badges! I have the Wellies & Wristbands one, I have a Foxlease archery one (Foxlease don’t have generic “Foxlease” badges yet but they do have special badges for some of the activities; I got a Tree Climb one at YOYO last year) and then, in the Leader Lounge, they had fundraising badges – “please help us fundraise for [x] by buying a badge!” so I ended up with four or five. Plus the wristband itself is going on my blanket, so I’ve got a lot of sewing to do.
My Rangers enjoyed the facepainting. That was so popular you had to book an appointment first thing in the morning. They went along on Saturday to find they’d missed out so they were back first thing on Sunday. Two had flowers designs done, one a swirly tribal pattern and one became a cat.
Of course, as well as all this, you’re each given two adventurous activities. If you don’t like them, you can go and swap them (since the swap shop did not open as early as advertised on Saturday, I ended up swapping mine in the queue outside; they open the Saturday swap shop first thing on Saturday and the Sunday swap shop on Saturday afternoon, plus of course Sunday morning). I ended up with swimming and archery. I enjoyed the archery, of course, although the instructor did shake his head and say “who taught you to shoot?” to which I had to admit South Wiltshire Archery Club – I did a beginners course in 2012 but I have phases of shooting worse than someone who’s never picked up a bow and this weekend was one of them. As for the swimming, the pool is warmer than I thought but… well, it’s not exactly pristine. The bottom is slippery with algae in places, the water is opaque and you come out coated in green patches. I went in the hot tubs before and after, which was a mistake. Wet feet go in wellies three times, wellies fill up with water, wet wellies rub huge holes on both ankle sides of both ankle bones in the less-than-five-minutes it takes to get from the hot tubs to the tent, wet wellies are too wet to wear again until I absolutely had to on Monday morning and even then, only with big fleece liners to soak up the moisture and protect my raw ankle bones. Next year I’m taking flip-flops for after the hot tubs.
On Monday morning we woke up to torrential rain and a field full of mud. The main field was a river, so the accustomed pattern of “in the back door, out the front door” had to go – we all had to go in the front door and an overenthusiastic leader was directing traffic – “Smiley happy faces! Go straight to the end of the tent! Smiley happy faces!”, and there’s nothing like being endlessly yelled at to look happy to make you not feel happy. Saying that, when we came along for breakfast, one of the marshalls said we were the first smiling faces she’d seen all morning, so that was nice.
The tents had to come down and be put away wet. I had to show one of the Rangers how to fold up her self-inflating mat properly so it became a quarter of the size she’d made it and actually fitted in one of her bags and I had my heavy bag taken off me by a passer-by with a trolley because I was struggling so much to carry it and the tents. I think we were all a bit sad to be leaving but on the other hand, it was wet and muddy and miserable and it wasn’t like there were any activities to do on Monday. And I hadn’t slept in my own bed for eleven nights so I was delighted to be home.
We plan to go again next year.