An appreciation by Lou Lavender
Every year for the past 8 years I have signed up for a Walking Women holiday, and some years, more than one. I’ve met wonderful women and interesting women, and as always happens when women get together I’ve learned new jokes, new remedies for aches and pains, picked up gossip and emulated some good walking gear and joined in rants and raves, and, but not so often, mulled over issues with other feminists – interestingly, this more openly feminist discussion is happening more often now than 8 years ago.
I’ve watched the business expand from holidays solely in the Lake District to its present Europe-and-beyond coverage. The new Spring Brochure for 2010 lists holidays in: Lake District, Snowdonia, Northumberland, Peak District, Scotland, Yorkshire Dales and Moors, Wye Valley, Shropshire, Cotswolds, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset, Sussex, Berkshire, Channel Islands, Nepal, La Gomera, Spain, Crete, Turkey, – and I happen to know there are others to come this year in Tuscany and I think, South Africa. There are also holidays snowshoeing, and Alpine and Crosscountry skiing.
Why am I promoting this outfit? Because this is feminism in action, sisters! Successful and vibrant… Good value for money…. Caring and non-competitive and professional in its ethos. Walking Women was the brain-child of Diana Clarke, homeopath, who by 2000 was realizing that her work was depriving her of walking opportunities. She tells me she just woke up one morning and thought, ” It’s got to be women’s walking holidays.” And from her Leamington Spa base she had set up Walking Women by the end of April, 2000.
I wanted to write this blog today, November 12th, 2009, even though it may not get posted till next week, because today’s the day when Diana hands over her business to someone else. Walking Women will in future be run by Sue Donovan from her base near York. So it’s an important day. And a day for looking back and appreciating, as Diana retires after 10 years. Diana’s new business venture was hard hit by the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001 but she recovered and went on expanding, as more and more women came and returned for the happy experience Walking Women provided. The walks are graded, professionally guided, well accommodated, recorded by the guides in words and photos, and feed-back is encouraged. The brochures come out twice a year and are available on line, as well as a newsletter and newsflashes for bargain holiday; and there are holidays for lesbians. Diana herself has been guiding as well as managing, and now is looking forward to just enjoying the guiding; she’s signed on for 13 holidays this coming year.
Walking with women is, especially if it’s new to you, an empowering experience; as one woman remarked to Diana, “It’s a quiet revolution.” So many are radicalized by it, including women coming out of difficult marriages, widows who’ve been so used to a man blocking the view in front of them as they walk along that they remark on the improvement with astonishment and increasing appreciation, and any woman reacting to the standard comment from passing males, “Where’s yer men?” (Yes, still, I know…) When this happened to my group walking on Guernsey, one woman immediately replied, “They’re cooking the meal”, which is not bad but we munched over it all the way back because it didn’t reflect how cross we were. So, hours after the event, we came up with: “We could tell you but then we’d have to kill you!” It was the heterosexual women in our midst who enjoyed this the most…It is still, sad to say, a revelation to some women that they can enjoy themselves in the company of other women. And many of the feed-back sheets that I’ve peeked at, remark ‘haven’t laughed so much for years’. Another constant theme is that women feel ‘looked after’, and I know from various conversations that that is the draw of the Glenthorne Christmases – women doing it together and for each other instead of catering for others. I think I only truly appreciated what a gem Diana is when I watched her running a quiz one evening, with 40 women being noisy and unruly and Di managing it all with grace and good humour and clearly enjoying herself.
This is my tribute to a wonderful woman, a generous, thoughtful, practical feminist who, for goodness sake, is also blessed with business acumen and entrepreneurial skills, which she used to benefit women. This is the woman who, when my hovercraft from Poole to Guernsey was cancelled, rang round no less than 30 B&Bs in Poole until she found me. A fixer, a problem-solver, a heroine for me and hundreds of happy Walking Women! All of whom will join with me in wishing her well in the future, and in supporting Sue’s new ownership: catch Walking Women on: http://www.walkingwomen.com