CHEESE making, perverted horse-riding tutors and drunken nights in Magaluf.
These were just a few of the bizarre topics of conversation as I joined social adventures specialist Large Outdoors for a weekend in the Yorkshire Dales.
“So you’re saying the ride school owner paid for one of his workers to have a boob job?”, I asked, bursting into laughter and almost spitting out the delicious sweet chilli chicken I was devouring.
The discussions over dinner had taken a strange turn – but this showed how people were relaxing, getting on with each other and, most of all, having a good time.
The atmosphere was sociable and warm and friendly, and it put a smile on my face.
I hadn’t expected the whole thing to work quite so well.
I’m a lover of the great outdoors, so I knew the Large Outdoors guided walks would be right up my street.
But I’m a bit of purist and obsessive when it comes to exploring the countryside. I often head out into the mountains alone, drawn to the solitude and escapism of wild camping.
So the prospect of throwing together a disparate group of strangers – people of different ages, genders, backgrounds and relationship statuses – and hoping they got along left me a little uneasy.
“I wonder what’s wrong with these people?”, I said to myself, as I drove north for the weekend away, which would be based at the exclusively booked YHA Kettlewell for our group of 12.
“Haven’t they got their own friends to go walking with? Oh God, I hope they’re not all geeks and weirdos. What on earth are we all going to chat about?”
I shouldn’t have worried.
Getting a group to bond, feel at ease and have fun is what Large Outdoors prides itself on.
Founded by Gareth Williams, it is deliberately an alternative the often all-too-serious mainstream walking groups, which can be intimidating for some.
Instead it has a simple objective – “great walking where the fun factor isn’t forgotten”.
And, based on my experience, that goal was certainly achieved.
I arrived late for the weekend, courtesy of a jammed motorway, and had missed the introductory evening meal.
But, before long, I was sitting by a roaring open fire, sipping on a pale ale and chatting away with the group who, despite my fears, were totally normal.
The social aspect of Large Outdoors inevitably attracts singletons, as well as those who want a helping hand to explore the countryside.
But it wasn’t all middle-aged, unconfident, divorced women. Our small group included an intrepid young couple who had amazing stories about their worldwide travels – I found their presence refreshing – while everyone else was really friendly.
Gareth was a seasoned pro at hosting too, with a penchant for wacky stories and an infectious laugh.
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we headed out for a hike north along the River Wharfe, the conditions scuppering my hopes of anything more lofty or adventurous.
The weather was truly atrocious – torrential rain all day and it was, to be frank, pretty miserable.
Classic English weather. Cold, grey and very, very wet.
We soldiered on, kitted out in all our best waterproof jackets and trousers, but still looking like drowned rats.
The rain however didn’t dampen the spirits.
Conversation flowed, jokes were shared and puddles were jumped in. Gareth was at his extrovert best, chatting away and ensuring people were happy and relaxed despite the downpours.
I wanted to grab some photos of the group walking, so I hung back briefly and snapped away on my Apple iPhone.
It was then that I paused and, all of sudden, got the Large Outdoors ethos.
In weather like this, everyone else was indoors, watching trashy TV to stave off the boredom.
But – with the support and social camaraderie of the group – twelve people, me included, were sharing good times, enjoying the fresh air and having a mini adventure.