This walking group was a little more than she had realised...
They were shoved somewhere in the back of the wardrobe and had acquired a rather impressive layer of dust. These walking shoes were lonely, abandoned for many years. But newly single meant, to me aleast, time to try new things.
The walk leader was one of those rediculously peppy types and she often swung her high tied pony tail a little too obviously as she bounced up and over each hill with ease. She was nice though, and took the time to talk to each and every member of the group along the way. I've never been much of a chatterbox myself but despite my efforts to blend into the background I was unable to stay off her eager radar for long. She introduced herself as Poppy and I stifled a laugh as I sang 'peppy poppy' in my head a few times, it was as if I could have named her myself. I think she noticed my snigger but she was perfectly polite and continued her conversation,
'you're new here...have you ever been a part of a walking group before?'
'I'm not usually one for exercise if I'm honest'
She was very blunt and for a moment I almost didn't know how to answer her. Was I that obvious? Had I become one of those old witchy hags who everyone feels sorry for ? I decided to go with the truth.
'Recently...how did you know?'
'Look around...that's Jan over there',
A well rounded lady in her mid fourties faced me from a distance, offering a kind salute by way of a greeting.
'And that's Claire, and over there is Susan.'
She began naming everyone in the group and I slowly became aware with each name that the entire walking group consisted of middle aged, red cheeked women with eager smiles.
'We call ourselves the Widowed walkers. We're not actually widows of course, well not all of us, but all of us have loved and lost, never to love again, or so it seems'
I wasn't really sure what to say...I hadn't intended to join the Widowed walkers. If anything I had hoped to meet a man or two whilst getting some much needed fresh air. It was all a bit embarassing to be honest.
'We all came here hoping to meet our next whirlwind romances, but men seem to steer clear of our group'
'And you all kept coming anyway?...why?'
My legs, which had been aching and desperate to rest before this conversation began had somehow carried me up to the top of a huge hill which overlooked the woodland below it. I could see a long, thin stream poking out from beneath the trees and regular intervals, like a needle had picked it up and threaded it through the shrubbery to sew two pieces of woodland together. I didn't even hear her reply as a gust of wind suddenly whipped past my face. The sky had turned an ominous shade of grey and I could feel light kisses of rain on the skin that peeked out of my gym t-shirt. The ladies all fled in one direction as the rain came down harder and faster. They all piled one after the other into a dome shaped cave which sat nestled into the hill. I was afraid to go in. I was afraid I would walk in to some kind of sacrificial ceremony. That they would have removed all their clothing and began dancing around a cauldron or a campfire. Someone grasped my arm and pulled me swiftly out of the rain and into the belly of the cave. It was suprisingly light and it took me a while to realise there were little tea lights lit around the edges of the cave. More tea lights were lit in the centre spaced evenly between small platters of cold picnic food. The ladies all took their seat, some still emptying their small backpacks of food and someone else, I think her name was Jan, was emptying cloudy lemonade into small plastic cups and handing them round.
Peppy Poppy stood next to me and smiled.
'This is why we keep coming. The Widowed walkers is one place where no one feels alone. Where the pressure of meeting people, of impressing anyone is off the table. This is where true friendships are made. We hike up these hills, we share food and life stories and then we hike back down and go back to the real world for another week. And when the blind dates and the friend-of-a-friend set ups don't work out, we come back here to tell someone who cares..someone who can relate.'
I look around, a little unsure of it all. On one hand, everyone does seem happy with their flushed red cheeks and happy conversation, but I'm not ready to head of to widow-dom just yet. I haven't even experienced the highs and lows of re-integrating back into the dating society. I am still hoping for the blind dates and the set ups and the butterflies in my stomach. I smile and take a seat, I didn't bring any food but I am passed pastries and boiled eggs from all directions.
I am glad these women have found their happy place, but I desperately hope this never needs to be mine.