When I was twelve, I wrote an essay in primary school. It was called, “A perfect summers day’. Today, the scribbles of my childhood climbed from my copybook and materialised before my eyes. It was all there. The backdrop of sun, tents, tepees, a temporary bmx track, smiling people pushing bikes, climbing walls, kids on their fathers shoulders laughing like lunatics. I walk amongst them on my own, a huge red backpack hugging my shoulders. Just outside the quaint little village of Ashford on the Water sat Thornbridge. A village so perfect it eerily reminds me of the film ‘Hot Fuzz’. This was the Peak District, curved and sloping hills, hijacked for the weekend by five hundred outdoorsy folk wanting to escape the city and breath in the country air. Alpkit’s Big Shake Out was in full swing.
The Friday night audience has the honour of spending an evening with adventurer Alastair Humphreys. A dummy wrapped in a bivvy bag, a hat and head torch sits amongst the audience. Al’s edits play in the background, a copy of his mapazine, ‘There are other Rivers’ sits on every chair. Humphreys is the absolute best for making mad expeditions seem in reach of everyone’s abilities; “All you have to be able to do is get on your bike and pitch your tent in the same day. Do that every day and eventually you’ll get around the world.” He was entertaining, spirited, reeling us in one by one, spilling out great lines like; “I had a huge support team of seven billion people that were ready to help me.” He has kids and adults alike oohing and aahing as he retells the stories of his Empty Quarter Expedition, his river walk in India, his microadventures.
Saturday morning slips in. Everyone goes their separate ways for the School of Adventure. Make a canoe paddle, go bouldering, learn bushcraft skills or outdoor photography and film. There is a lot to choose from. I arrive back from my navigation course at five and am greeted by a swarm of activity. Music playing, people slack lining, mountain biking, zip lining, juggling. Most shovelling the free dinner of sausage and mash or paella into their tired bodies. When hundreds of the waterproof jacket wearing type descend on one place at one time, something good is bound to happen. Around me, people chat and laugh. Sentences like, “when we were in the Pyrenees this summer…” reach my ears and I smile, ah typical adventurers. Everyone says hello, everyone smiles, life is so much more pleasant this way. The Big ShakeOut is an opportunity for adventure lovers with kids to get out on a family weekend away and show their kids where the magic happens.
It’s a shame that the two speaking events are on at the same time. We all have a decision to make. The SteepEdge cafe is hosting Vin Cox, Emily Penn, Joe Beaumont, and Ron Fawcett. Or do I escape to the Yurt for a more intimate experience sitting on bean bags on the floor, encircling the speaker and his screen. Winter climber Dave Garry, alpinist Paul Swail and adventurer Dave Cornthwaite wait here. I catch Cornthwaite’s talk advising people to consider living more adventurously with the great line, “Think about our moms in the throes of childbirth – do it for them.”
The Steep Edge Cafe plays rolling adventure films round the clock. The drinks are reasonably priced. Prayer flags are draped over the walls and ceiling. It is the perfect sanctuary. My advice for people going next year: drive here, because the public transport is a bit of a pain. Bring a bike, canoe, some form of entertainment for the mornings. Go with a group of people if you can. It is all there for you, it just depends on how you choose to use it.
As I walk the streets, my eyes trail across the hundreds of people that I pass. Occasionally I see someone wearing a buff, a body warmer or a pair of khaki pocketed pants. My eyes linger on them for a beat or two longer. They’re my kind of person, I think, we would get on. I smile. It’s a niche you see. And the beauty of a niche is that it is hard to find others who share the excitement, who can talk endlessly and animatedly about that one thing. But when you do? Well, its magic. This weekend, magic happened.
Save the Date: Big Shakeout 2014, 26-28th September. alpkit.com/bigshakeout
Written by Orla O’Muiri