Can 29 Women Survive on an Island without a Hairdryer?

“Are you a Hardy Woman?” the Dorset Wildlife Trust press release seemed like it was speaking to me “Can you survive on Brownsea Island for a weekend without your hairdryer and mobile phone?” Easy I thought. That was June when putting my name down for a sponsored weekend under the stars seemed like a good idea. Now it was September 11th and the day of the event had arrived. Why was I doing it? Had I been inflicted by some strange mid-life madness? Would anyone sponsor me? Who knows…

Welcome to Brownsea

Nearly there… waiting for the ferry

For over a week I’d been studying the Met Office weather forecast for Poole Harbour in minute hourly detail. Would it be cold? would it be wet? would it be windy, cold and wet? I’d wavered between really wanting to go and wondering why the hell I’d put my name down in the first place.

We had been given very little detail about what the weekend would consist of other than a roughty-toughty kit list consisting of two pairs of walking boots, waterproofs and a full change of clothes. Were they trying to tell me something? I’m not a natural-born-camper. I love my king size bed, frothy coffee and croissants for breakfast, to dive into a deep bubblebath and then pad around in my thick cosy dressing-gown, so why oh why had I put my name down?

Waiting on the Jetty

Waiting on the Jetty – 29 chattering women!

Anyway, the day had arrived, and with my new sleeping bag tucked under my arm and rucksack stuffed with clothes Andrew drove me to Sandbanks to catch the little ferry to Brownsea Island at 4pm. A quick kiss goodbye and I was on my own. Except I wasn’t. Looking down the jetty twenty nine women stood apprehensively waiting for the ferry as well. All different ages but with one thing in common, we were to become the first “Hardy Women”.

Our Tent!

Setting up our “tent”

Once on the island our team of Dorset Wildlife Trust staff, which included Nicky, Amanda, Emily and Abby, briefed us on the next stage, gave us an H&S talk, and split us into two groups. The Red Squirrels and the Blue Lagoons. Then we walked for a mile with all our kit to a remote part of the island set within a pine filled wood.

Next we were given 2 pieces of tarpaulin, 4 tent pegs and a bit of rope and sent of in teams of 4 to build our shelters. You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this weekend it’s how dammed practical women are. Without any fuss everyone set up their tents and set about making them feel like “home”. Jane (another Jane!) in our tent even make a pine-cone wind-chime!

Now that has to be worth a bit of sponsorship money – just look at that tent!

After dinner (cooked on a small camping stove) we walked to a viewing point and watched a blazing red sun set over Poole as the little boats bobbed on their moorings.

Rhody Bashing!

Rhododendron Bashing

Up early, cooked breakfast and more tasks. This morning, after a talk from Emily and Amanda, we were off on a “forage” for useful plants, flowers and berries.  Did you know that the leaf of the chestnut tree, mixed with a bit of water, makes a great “soap” alternative? No, me neither and I didn’t try it just in case it turned my face green!

After a swift lunch we started on our main conservation task of the weekend. Rhododendron Bashing! Many years ago the island was planted with rhododendron which have now spread across the island. Not being a native species this plant (in a wild, unrestricted state) can totally take over an area, and because its leaves are so acidic, it kills off all other plants that might grow beneath it. Pretty flowers for a couple of weeks a year, but rubbish for wildlife or a balanced habitat, so it has to go…


Whoops! Just a little fire, swifty dealt with…

Our job was to continue the work of cutting, lopping and burning the massive rhodys. It was impressive to see everyone throwing themselves into the work. After a few hours we stopped for a break and luckily we spotted that a spark had jumped from the fire we had made over the fire-break path and set a dead tree branch alight. I can only praise the DWT team for the professional way they dealt with the problem. In no time at all it was under control and the fire was out. A bit more work and then it was time to get back to camp. Did I say it would be great if you sponsored me, no? I got really, really dirty and tired… I worked really hard to earn your sponsorship – promise!

Our "tent" group

Our “Tent” crew – me on the far right

That evening after dinner we sat around as a group, singing songs, telling stories and reciting poems. Who would have thought that 29 women could be so resourceful. Who needs Saturday night TV? although I must admit I did wonder what was happening on the XFactor – just for a second!.

Making Rafts

Making our rafts

Next morning, our last morning on the island, we had one final team-building task to perform in our two groups. Make a raft and paddle across the lake. So with two pallets, some rope, two paddles and six plastic containers we set to work and soon the rafts were launched and the race was on. We won but that wasn’t really the point, we shared our prize of a bottle of bubbly with the other team, and they shared their chocolate prize with us. Would 29 blokes have done the same…. I wonder???

Raft Race

The race is on

All too soon it was our final lunch and the presentation of our certificates to confirm that we were “Hardy Women” before returning to the ferry and back home to reality.

Collecting our Hardy Women Certificates

Collecting our certificates. Officially Hardy Women!

I’m sure that everyone on the event shared a little pang of regret at going home. We’d all missed our home comforts and our loved ones, but there was a great feeling of comradeship that I haven’t felt for a very long time. No raised voices, no bickering, no deadlines, no telephones – just a group of amazing women from all walks of life enjoying a weekend away from the “real” world, raising money for a worthy cause.

View from our camp

The view from our camp

If you’ve managed to get to the end of this post and you would like to sponsor me, even if it’s only a weeny amount, please have a look at my JustGiving page by clicking here You know you secretly want to…

You can also look at more pictures from the event on my Flickr account here

Or just leave me a message and suggest what we can do next! The Hardy Women are up for it!

Thank you.

Jane x

14 thoughts on “Can 29 Women Survive on an Island without a Hairdryer?

  1. Brilliant blogging Jane! Sounds like you all had a great time, and got loads out of it. Great to hear that everyone bonded so well – no doubt some new friends were made by all. Oh, and before anyone asks – no, there are NO plans to run a Hardy Men weekend!!

    • I see that not many people are leaving comments! Hope they aren’t embarrassed because they haven’t sponsored me… Come on everyone leave me some comments I want to know what other things us mad Hardy Women can do next!

  2. Sounds like it was great fun… wish I’d been there with you!! I’d have had a wonderful time investigating all the wildlife, eating food cooked on a campfire.. hmmm did someone say sausages?? and sleeping out under a tarpaulin… woofing at every owl hoot BOL

    • Yes, Teagan you would have had a great time! Lots of different smells and noises… Thanks to TheDogsMum & Dad for their sponsorship. I’ve now got more than £100!

  3. Great blog and fantastic work with the rhody bashing – the British countryside would be a very different place without the amazing work of conservation volunteers! Enjoy your dormouse course – hope you see some!

  4. That must have been a wonderful experience! I holidayed under canvas once when I was much younger, but I have to admit prefering to be hardy under a roof. Well done all of you.

    • Hi Annabel. It was brilliant! Couldn’t recommend it highly enough… I’m hoping they do something else next year that us “Hardy Women” can get our teeth into!

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