“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…
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 – 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”.
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.
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” 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 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???
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 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.
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!