On Friday 8 March to Monday 11 March I went on an 18-25year old weekend with Action for the Blind. We stayed at the Windermere Manor Hotel in the Lake District and despite the arctic conditions, I had a great time.
The event was heavily subsidised by The Big Lottery fund, meaning for accommodation, food, activities and travel (they paid for my train ticket), I only had to pay a nominal £50.
I had never been away with Action before, so as with anything new I was a little unsure of what to expect, but prior to the weekend some of my anxieties were silenced, as they sent out countless emails. They also set up a Face Book group giving participants the opportunity to get to know each other before the event, which was a good idea, only I think everyone found it a bit socially awkward trying to interact with strangers! Personally, I was making judgements about people in my head, eyeing up who I thought I would like and who I wouldn’t!
After sprinting through New Street with Calvin and the assistance guy to catch my ‘impossible’ connection, which I caught with a good minute to spare, I had quite a relaxing train journey up north. On arrival at Windermere several of us were on the same train and were promptly met by Action staff and escorted to the hotel.
Once everyone had arrived, brief introductions were made and one thing I learnt was that the staff made it very clear that they wanted everyone to be as independent as possible in order to gain the confidence to re-visit the hotel at a later date unsupervised. I am not sure why this panicked me, I am fairly independent and have been away with visually impaired friends to unfamiliar places loads of times, but something in those words caused me to secretly stress inside. We were split into small groups for a mobility session and I prayed Calvin was paying attention because the hotel felt like a rabbit warren to me! I had no intention of revealing this to anyone though, as nobody else was openly fretting!
Before dinner we had the chance to go swimming in the hotel pool. Some children were having swimming lessons at the time, so we were restricted to a small section and to my amusement we all just kept swimming into each other! A couple of us used the sauna afterwards where we met Mr Romania (one of the waiter’s at the hotel) who would become a somewhat strange, yet comical addition to the weekend.
After dinner, a quiz and bingo were organised in the bar. Somehow we ended up having a girl’s only team and named ourselves ‘The Ladies of the Manor’. I love a good quiz, well anything competitive really and was certain we were going to win...but we didn’t. Brushing that to aside, bingo was up next. I had never played Braille bingo before and embarrassingly spent the first game asking for help, as I couldn’t read my numbers not realising that I had the card the wrong way around! I had my card the correct way around for the subsequent games, not that it made any difference, as I didn’t win anyway.
Feeling slightly disgruntled at my losing ways (I am a sore loser), I went to spend Calvin in the designated spending pen before bed. As I opened the gate to put him back on the lead, he legged it! I must have been calling his name for what felt like an eternity, yet there was no sign of him. I had flashes of him being run over in my head and was ready to crumple to the floor when he casually comes sprinting back after his adventure. I think the hotel is well enclosed, but I didn’t know this at the time. Once I got back to my room (which thankfully I didn’t have to share), I am not ashamed to say I sat on my bed and allowed a few tears to roll down my cheeks, wishing I had never come on the weekend and longed to go home. It is one thing to look after yourself and another to look after a loon of a dog too!
At home the first thing I do every morning is spend Calvin. I was tempted to make him cross his paws until I could go to the pen with the other Guide Dog owner at breakfast time, but felt guilty, so ventured out in my pjs. I am not sure if Calvin had developed amnesia over night, but we spent ages trying to find our way out of the hotel. He kept taking me to people’s bedroom doors instead of the doors to get to the stairs and then outside. Being unfamiliar with the layout myself, I did feel a bit helpless. I am not sure when or how, but a set of stairs appeared through a doorway and I thought we were sorted. However, in my half asleep state we reached a door to go outside, which I don’t believe was the same door we used to walk to the pen. I had no idea where we were, I hit a railing and noticed that there were bushes behind it, so I told Calvin to just do his busy in the bushes whilst I kept him on the lead! I think this makes me a bad person, I was relieved I didn’t have to worry about losing him though!
That morning the weather was beyond grim and we were given the choice of either doing canoeing or rock climbing indoors. I got out voted, so canoeing it was. I think I enjoyed it on reflection, I definitely didn’t feel like I was having fun at the time with my hands and feet feeling like they were ready to drop off at any point! The weather didn’t bother Calvin who I heard caused a suitable amount of mayhem, I expected no less! Apparently he went for a splash in the lake, escaped into a field of horses and point blank refused to be put back on his lead when he was having a blast.
The afternoon was spent doing workshops on funding, campaigning and education. When I applied for the weekend I thought it was going to be all social, so was surprised by the timetabled workshops. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear other people’s experiences that we perhaps wouldn’t have spoken about otherwise.
In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant and went to the pub afterwards where half the group stayed for the remainder of the night and the other half, including myself went back to the hotel bar. It was nice that the group split in two, as I had the opportunity to talk to others I hadn’t had the chance to before. I made sure someone came out with me that night to spend Calvin before bed, just to ensure I didn’t have to go through the previous night’s trauma! Of course it was fine this time though.
I had figured out that they close the doors late at night (3 sets between the stairs and my room) and leave them closed until a certain time in the morning, which I think may have baffled Calvin and me the day before. So now I had that all worked out, I had no problems navigating my way around the hotel and can stop boring you with that! The morning was spent doing a hand massage workshop and then we had a long workshop on ‘the wonderful world of work’. We had two options in the afternoon, to either go for a walk ‘on the wild side’ or stroll into town. I wasn’t really up for letting Calvin get muddy, so made the slightly selfish decision to go into town.
Although initially hard work to begin with, I really enjoyed working Calvin in a new place and especially on our way into town. You can’t beat the feeling of striding out down the street. Calvin and I stopped at every curb to wait for the others to catch up and see which way to go next. I wasn’t even walking at full speed with him and still we must have been walking four to five times faster than everyone else. We went into a little boutique shop, which had lots of inspirational quotes printed on various items to buy (I will put my favourite at the bottom of this post) and then collapsed in a cafe aptly named ‘Lazy Daisy’. I can only describe the hot chocolate I had as heavenly! It was regular hot chocolate with vanilla, cream, marshmallows and I even got a chocolate spoon to stir in and it melted away! I’m not sure if I appreciated it more because being a dedicated athlete and all that, I don’t really have chocolate these days or whether because it was so bitter outside, the hot drink was exactly what I needed. Either way, it was lush!
After dinner was disco and karaoke night. Personally, this was my favourite activity. By this time in the weekend we all knew each other much better, the conversation flowed more easily and we could generally have a good laugh. I was always going to do karaoke, but wanted a few people to go first. I ended up doing Barbie Girl with one of the male participants as my Ken, only I think he got stage fright or something, so it was more like a solo. If you fancy a giggle, one of the girl’s recorded it and posted it to Sound Cloud just click here.
We had a technology workshop in the morning, which confirmed my impatience of touch screens as we had the opportunity to try out different tablet devices. We were all on the same train home, getting off at various places to catch our respective connections. All in all it was a hectic, but enjoyable weekend where I met some genuinely lovely people.
Action for the Blind run various residentials throughout the year for different age groups. I would definitely recommend them if you are looking for a new experience or want to meet new people.
‘When it rains, look for rainbows and when it’s dark, look for stars’