It’s Scout Camp and, as my Scouts are the only two unfortunate enough to have a parent who writes embarrassing trails books, I’m asked to lead a hike through the woods above Blackmill. I do a recce with Lionel. I’m playing fast and loose with the word ‘recce’ here, as a stile inconsiderately blocks the path into the woods. Lionel doesn’t do stiles. We look at the woods, stroll along the country road next to the woods and go home.
A monsoon arrives with precision to ensure a suitable Welsh ‘croeso’ for the visiting Danish Scouts, who’ve been planning this trip for a year. They arrive at 11pm after a stopover in London, during which they sit in lots of traffic, queue for the Natural History Museum, give up and get back into the traffic to drive to Wales. They are remarkably cheerful when I arrive for the hike the next morning. My Scouts are not cheerful. I step out of the car into a bog and discover one of my trail shoes has split since I last stepped into a bog. I’m not very cheerful either.
The Scoutmaster splits the Scouts into groups, hands out maps and sends them off at 10 minute intervals. I had thought we would all be together in one nice, big hike. My smallest Scout is with me but my slighter bigger Scout is herded off with two friends and two towering 16-year-old Danes. It will be fine, I tell myself, watching them go and thinking how small my slighter bigger Scout still is. I lead my group into the woods and no one refuses to cross the stile. The sun comes out, the Scouts ask excellent questions about maps and we make stick arrows on the ground as clues for the groups coming up behind us. The woods are quiet, eerily as if no one is behind us.
We hike four miles, pass the Scoutmaster and concur that no other Scouts are in the woods. We return to camp, play cards in the sun and wait for the other groups to drip feed their way back to us, which they all do just in time for lunch. Except for my slightly bigger Scout and the towering Danes.
I volunteer as the search party, retrieve my car from the bog and drive too fast along the country road. Just past Blackmill, five hot, thirsty Scouts head towards me. They’ve bypassed the woods entirely, walked miles along the road, run out of water and been shepherded back by a local dad out strolling with his son. My still-quite-small Scout beams and tells me it’s been a fabulous adventure.
Back at camp we eat squashed cheese sandwiches before I retrieve my car from the bog for the second time and leave, Scoutless and cheerful. I drive straight to the nearest retail park and try on five pairs of very waterproof hiking boots; after all, there’s nothing like a spot of shoe shopping to help a girl recover. I buy the sturdiest boots and wear them around the house all evening. They are super comfortable and way too shiny. Luckily, I know just the bog to jump in to fix that.