In 2007 somebody volunteered and saved my life. That isn’t a joke or the words to a song but a true story. In turn their actions prompted me to volunteer. I didn’t save anyone’s life but perhaps I made the world just a tiny bit better?
I enjoy long distance walking and particularly ‘classic treks’. A couple of years ago I walked the Pennine Way, 270 miles starting in Derbyshire and ending in Scotland.I’d walked for three weeks and this was my final day, the last push, a tough 26 miles across the Cheviots and although friends and family had joined me for other parts, I was doing this stint alone.
It started well with bright and sunny weather and the hills stretching for miles without a human in sight. I was eager to get to the end of a long adventure and enjoy a pint at the pub in Kirk Yetholm so I strode eagerly on. But then, as often is the way in the North/Scotland, the weather dropped and the mist crept in and my visibility was reduced to a couple of yards.
I had no choice but to press on as I had long passed the point of no return. So I walked for several hours, map and compass in hand, clinging to the path which was thankfully very well marked. My guide book assured me that the views were marvellous, I have no idea if this is true as with my arm outstretched I couldn’t even see my fingers. Although I knew there was very, very little chance that there would be anyone around, there was a moment when I thought I could hear voices in the distance. Perhaps I did, but it occurred to me later that I might have started to hallucinate through shear fear.
And then around 5pm I got to Auchope Cairn which is just on the England/Scotland border and the well marked path petered out. Every time I moved away I started to flounder in a bog so I scrambled back to the Cairn. This happened several times and as the evening light started to fade I realised that I couldn’t move and I was in serious danger of having to spend the night on that bare mountain.
By some miracle I got a one bar mobile signal and called Mountain Rescue. They told me to sit tight warning me that I was very close to a precipice called Hens Drop. I’d have little chance of surviving a tumble over it. So I stuffed my kagool with the entire clothing contents of my rucksack and sat and waited staring at the mist in front of my face.
Periodically a lovely policeman called Dave called me and gave me an update on the progress of my rescue. Then two hours later Dave phoned me again and told me to start blasting on my whistle. I did with all my might. Eventually I got a whistle signal back. Never has anything sounded so sweet.
A few minutes later a line of shadows appeared scrambling up the hill in front of me, then the shadows turned into men. Nine of them. Good, decent, brave men who turned out in the worst of weathers to rescue me and guide me down off the mountain. I burst into tears and asked them to marry me.
I didn’t receive a single word of reproach from my rescue team. They told me I was well equipped and had done exactly the right thing. A few months later I was contacted by the BBC and asked to speak on a TV program about when it is appropriate to call Mountain Rescue as the service is being over loaded with inappropriate calls and although this didn’t come to anything, I felt further vindicated.
So while I did not feel that I did anything wrong, I was still aware that the chain of events could have been different. I might not have got a mobile signal, I might not have been at such an obvious landmark, my nine rescuers might not have bothered to volunteer. I could have fallen into Hen Hole, I could have spent the night at Auchope Cairn and got hypothermia. So I was still left with a feeling that I needed to pay back. That I had a debt. That a donation was not enough. I needed to physically do something in return.
As I can’t join Mountain Rescue (not enough mountains in South London nor do I have the skills) I had to find something else which I could effectively do. Eventually I hit upon being a volunteer warden for the Youth Hostel Association. So after interviewing and training, last week I did my first stint at Telscombe Hostel in the South Downs.
My days were free and in the evenings I welcomed the guests. They ranged from weary cyclists and walkers to a group of teenagers on a Prince’s Trust project who were a little rough around the edges but a lot of fun to a jet lagged family from Australia and a man who was translating the Bible into Persian. I made sure they had somewhere to cook, hot showers, beds and then sold them mars bars.
This might not have been as momentous as a mountain rescue but I did help provide inexpensive accommodation so that people can get out and live their lives to the full. I did my bit and I’ll keep on doing it because somebody volunteered and saved my life. I do not want to sound sanctimonious or take the moral high ground because it took a very dramatic event to make me volunteer but I like the idea of a chain reaction. Of positive cause and effect. That perhaps somebody who stayed at Telscombe last week might be inspired to go out and do something. Who knows?
Finally as this is supposed to be a food blog I’ll just finish this post with a couple of foodie highlights. First the mountain rescue guys gave me a cup tea out of a flask on Auchope Cairn. It was stewed and had too much sugar in it, but it was still the best brew I have ever tasted.
Secondly my week at Telscombe Hostel was a bit of a gourmet desert, so when my good friend Paul turned up on his motorbike with a couple of couple of sirloin steaks, a bottle of red wine, some salad, strawberries and a chocolate cake in his top-box it was a bit of a gastronomic rescue for a stranded foodie. Thank you darling it was delicious! And in the true spirit of cause and effect, I will cook for you next time.