Orientation Day 3: Mountain Biking and Ceilidh

Despite being up quite late the previous night, it was my duty as co-director to, without too much sleep, get up early and ensure that everything was flowing smoothly. I was up before seven, ready to get breakfast and go. There were two optional activities in the morning: Michelle had insisted she lead a zumba session, and Pedro was to be leading a morning run. Michelle was punctual, but Pedro wasn’t around, so I had to go lead a wake up call. In any case, they both completed their morning activities fairly punctually.

Meanwhile, Jake and Callie had to be up early too to drive Dennis, a new scholar, to the train station so he could get back to East Anglia to collect his residence permit and avoid being in violation of his visa conditions. Once they returned, they both went and got another hour or so of sleep. The departures for the morning activities were complicated. The first activity left in one bus at half past eight to Muncaster Castle. Then at quarter to nine, another bus left to the Historic Walk and Castlerigg Stone Cirlce; I had to arrange for Alex to be sent in advance to set up for the walk. Next, at quarter past nine, the kayaking left from the front of the hostel, and at half past nine, the mountain bike group was due to leave. I spent most of the morning milling about the front of the hostel managing the departure of everyone to their activities. Emma was busy too, she had a whole host of tasks to get done, and it all seemed to flow relatively smoothly.

When the bicycle hire company dropped off the bicycles, Brandon and I went out to meet them and get instructions on the safety of the bikes and the route for the cycling. They were the last group to leave, and I stayed behind in the hostel as a contact point for any activity group that needed any assistance. I took a moment in my weary state to sit and catch my breath. Fortunately for me, Miriam was also taking the morning off from any activities, so we were able to work together to prepare the food and drinks to be taken to the evening activity.

However, things started to go pear-shaped when I got a text message from people on the bus at Muncaster Castle saying that, owing to roadworks, they were going to be an hour late back to Ambleside. This was a major problem, because for one, we needed that bus to take people to the brewery, and for another, we needed the people on the bus to go to their next activities. That meant all of the activities would be delayed until they could get back. Emma, who had just come back from kayaking, and I spent the middle of the day frantically trying to get people lunch, communicate with people on the bus to work out where it was, communicate with the new scholars waiting for their next activity that things were being delayed, coordinate with the next activity leaders a way of shortening each of the afternoon activities, and continue to deal with the small problems that were brought to us by the new and returning scholars. Fortunately, everyone was understanding and the committee were adaptable and showed their initiative to help out where they each could.

Eventually, we mingled everybody outside, and took those who needed to go on the busses over to await the return of the other bus. When it did show up, a number of people transferred busses, but many of them wanted to go and have an afternoon off. Busses sent off, I took those from the Castle trip who wanted to go mountain biking back to the hostel, where Pedro had set everybody up who was already there. I quickly found helmets and bikes for those just joining and we set off. This was the activity that I was leading, so I rode at the front of the pack, there were 14 other new and returning scholars in the middle, and Olly brought up the rear of the group.

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The first bit of the ride was along the main road to Clappersgate, before we joined the off-road path of the National Cycle Route 6. For parts, we were riding through fields, other parts were alongside the road, and other parts were through forests. There were a few ups and downs, and with a relatively large group of riders of mixed experience, we had to stop a fair bit to make sure we had the whole group with us. There were people for which the pace was probably a bit too fast, and people for which the pace was a bit too slow. After about 45 minutes of cycling, we reached Wray Castle, a faux-medieval castle built as a retirement home for an couple 160 years ago, which most of the kayaking groups visit also. We stopped for a photo, and then headed back.

There was a crossroads a hundred yards back from the castle which I stopped at and offered to split the group up into a faster and a slower group. People self-selected into each of the groups. Olly took the slower riders back to the hostel, and I took the remaining cyclists through some more fields to the village of Outgate. I was able to pick the speed up a little, and stop less frequently, which made many of the group happier.

We approached a steep section of the trail which was marked with an exclamation mark on my map. I shouted back to the group to change down into their easiest gear for the climb, but had to stop at the first corner as there was a herd of several dozen cows standing on the path, who wouldn’t want to move for us. We all had to get off and walk our bikes up the hill. I took the lead, convincing the cows to move off the path. Eventually, we made it to the top of the hill and along further to Outgate.

On the return journey, when we approached the hill, we were joined by a cow who had been separated from the hill. As we descended slowly, the cow came with us. I stopped to let the cow leave the trail, but it stopped too and its calf came bounding down the hill towards us. They walked with us all the way to the bottom, where they rejoined their herd.

By the time we finally returned to the hostel, each of us were completely muddy and damp. But nobody had fallen off, unlike the previous trip which lost both Jake and Brandon to the ground. So when I rode into the carpark I decided to try and do a wheelie, which didn’t work well at all, and resulted in me coming off my bike and onto the hard surface of the car park, in front of all of the scholars sitting in the hostel cafe watching our return. I grazed my elbow but endured on to make sure all of the bikes were taken around to the supplier, who had just returned to pick them up.

Joyous but caked in mud, I went to find Alex in the cafe to have a look at my elbow. He suggested having a shower then putting a bandage on it, so I did just that. By the time I had returned, all of the afternoon activities had returned, and we were beginning to assemble for the evening activities. I found Emma and we ran through the game plan for the night, before everybody assembled at the front of the hostel at quarter past five. Emma led everyone down to the pier and onto the boat, marking them off as she went. Michelle and Rebecca ran through the hostel to collect any stragglers, and I joined everybody as the last few onto the boat.

The old vessel had three levels for entertainment, on the top floor was some outside decks, the middle had outside spaces at the bow and stern, and a number of seats and tables all through the middle, and there was a bar underneath in the middle of the ship. The committee met at the back of the boat once we were sailing to discuss what was to happen later that evening, before we each went out and socialised until dinner. Dinner was provided by the caters on the boat, a marked improvement on the hostel dinners. There was a barbecue with sausages, chicken, patties, and vegetarian grill, with sides of salad and bread. When it was ready to serve, everybody lined up and after a time, managed to get some food. The rest of the boat was spent socialising, with an additional photo at the bow.

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When we returned to the harbour, a couple of people raced off to get the cars, a few people went ahead to the busses, and the rest marshalled all of the new scholars away from the hostel and to the busses. The final activity was a surprise to them; none of them knew what was going to happen. A few rumours had been spread around; some of the ones I had heard was that Bill Gates would make an appearance, that there would be a cage fight, that Bill Gates would be in a cage fight, or that a number of combinations of the returning scholars would be getting married. The busses took us ten minutes up the road to Rydal Hall, where they parked at the bottom of the driveway and drove off into the dark. We would meet up with them later.

Megaphone in hand, we sent all of the returning scholars ahead up the road to set up, leaving just me with the new scholars. I told them all to get their phone torches on, and took them slowly up the driveway, a few minutes behind the returning scholars. We went up narrow road, and around the back of a manor house, before congregating on a bridge across a narrow stream in the dark. At this point we stopped to gather together, as some of the returning scholars were rushing out of the hall ahead: apparently there was a lack of tables which needed to be resolved.

I stayed with the new scholars for a while as everything was being set up. At one point I rushed up into the hall to check that everything was going okay and get an ETA on being allowed to bring the new scholars in. When I walked in, I was amazed; every single one of the returning scholars was frantically moving tables, pouring drinks, setting up food; everyone was busy and really pulled together to go from arriving to being ready to go within ten minutes. Cansu came down briefly to help engage the new scholars before we were able to bring everyone up into the hall.

Inside all of the drinks were ready, the food set up, and the ceilidh band were preparing to play; they too had only arrived ten minutes prior. People grabbed their drinks, while I chatted with the caller to make sure everything would flow smoothly during the night. By half past eight, we were ready to go. For the sound checks, the ceilidh band played a short instrumental song. Excitable, Jacqueline and I began spinning to the music, and were very quickly joined in by a number of other returning scholars. Once there were a dozen of us spinning, we began to switch partners every few cycles, and we very soon had a semicircle of new scholars looking on at us in confusion. At this point, I started linking arms with some of the new scholars in the semi circle, and bringing them out on the dance floor. Others quickly followed, and very soon, there were many people swinging around to the music.

The ceilidh began properly soon after, and very quickly most of the new scholars were swinging away to the music. Most were very excitable and joined in gleefully, but some preferred to sit and chat outside away from all of the chaos. At ten, Emma and I brought the committee on stage to thank them all for the hard work that they had put in, and Callie via Caroline had arranged a few small gifts for Emma and I as well.

Over the course of the night, I joined in the dancing and met and hung out with many different people. But come the end of the night, I was watching the caller nervously as I knew we had to wrap up on time to get the bus back to the hostel. The drivers only have a limited number of hours they can drive per day, and we were stretching it to the limit. After one last song, we all thanked the band and ushered the new scholars to head back down to the road, the returning scholars remaining behind to clean everything up. We managed to get a bus full of new scholars heading back to the hostel before the returning scholars had quite finished, and then managed to get everybody else back onto the second bus.

Our hard efforts now over, we managed to get everybody inside and home safely. Once everything had settled down a bit, I went out to the pier where a number of the returning scholars were sitting around relaxing. Someone had brought their guitar, and so Pedro was strumming away and there was a lot of singing from the likes of Emma, Jacqueline, Joanna and Jake. The stresses of the last few weeks now passed, I took a quiet moment of reflection on the past year and all of the people I had gotten to know so well.

Finally, in the early hours of the morning, it was time to head towards bed. I said good night to those still staying out, and made my way back into the hostel and hit the pillows. We would still need to get everybody home the following day.

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