Do you enjoy hiking remotely in solitude? Or prefer an outdoor adventure with close friends or a loved one? Maybe you dream of battling against the elements, trekking through uncharted landscapes in far-flung corners of the globe? I would answer a resounding ‘yes’ to all of these. However, what if you’re new to walking in hills and mountains but don’t know how to begin? There’s deciding where to go, finding accommodation and navigating the route – just some of the dilemmas that can sound overwhelming to newcomers. This was my situation eight years ago.
Rather than having designs on becoming the next Sir Edmund Hillary, in early 2014 I joined a local walking group on**Meetup.com**, an online social platform for people who share a common interest. Fortunately, hiking is a well-represented category and my first group walk took place in Surrey. The Guildford Circular experience was a success. I traded my home city of London for fresh country air,m et like-minded people and felt happier and healthier at the end of the hike. All of this without having to look at a map. What a relief!
From that moment on, Meetup became part of my hiking life. As my confidence grew, I signed up with more groups, hiking further afield in National Parks and later abroad. From Guildford to Greenland, the possibilities seemed endless. However, the pandemic understandably put a stop to these activities. So for the first time in two years, I recently returned to Meetup and joined one of my favourite groups, ‘Go London Hiking’, for a Peak District Bank Holiday weekend. Would I feel the same way about these group events after such a long break?
The journey begins
The group travels mostly in two minibuses from London to Edale YHA, conveniently nestled in the heart of the Peaks. A few other hikers make the journey by car and we total 26, including leaders Gary and Neil. I know Gary plus two other ladies from previous trips, but there are 23 new faces to meet over the weekend.
We check-in to our six-bed dormitories and choose a bunkbed. If you’re not used to sharing a room, you may find that earplugs will be your best friend, and this trip is no exception.
The following morning starts with a hearty breakfast. Then we divide into two groups and climb to Kinder Scout, the highest point in the National Park. I opt for Gary’s group, which takes a less scrambly route to the top. This gives me more time to take photos and get to know some of the others, like Nick, who works as a headhunter by day and writes for an art magazine by night. We discover our shared interest in London museums. And as we make our way through the delightful purple heather of Crowden Clough, I chat with an inspiring couple, Ellison and Stefan, about their passion for travel, which has transformed into a successful travel blog.
By the time we reach Kinder, the group members are becoming more relaxed with each other. I’m always amazed at how the sights and sounds of nature seem to have a therapeutic effect on the soul. Each distraction is welcome, from the bright lights of a glistening stream to the harmony of birdsong.
The route continues through Kinder’s moorland plateau, and we have a bit of fun taking photos of each other on top of bizarre rock formations. Gary’s dare-devilish pose, legs akimbo on two opposing thin rocks, isn’t for the faint-hearted but encapsulates the cheeky mood among us.
After a packed lunch, we chalk off some classic features along the trail, accompanied by glorious blue skies. We pass Kinder Low and the Kinder Downfall, a dramatic waterfall with huge views, before dropping down to the picturesque charm of Jacob’s Ladder and a well-deserved pint at a local watering hole.
Walk and talk
The next day we depart Edale as one large group and crack on with another classic Peak District walk, this time to Mam Tor via the Great Ridge. By now, I’ve spoken to most of the group and had many one-to-one chats, sometimes forming a deeper connection, and on one occasion experiencing a heartfelt moment with one of the group. Quite extraordinary, considering I hadn’t met this person 48 hours ago. Could walking in the outdoors be a liberating factor? I believe so.
We start walking along the two-mile Great Ridge, which separates the limestone hills and dales of the White Peak to the south from the gritstone escarpments and moors of the Dark Peak to the north. Looking around, I find the group happily chatting away with one another. My conversations could not be more varied. One minute I’m speaking to Amir from Iran, who tells me of his experiences of National Service, while Susanne from Hong Kong gives me her verdict on the vegan sausage roll.
Both Amir and Susanne live and work in different parts of England but are typical of the diverse ethnicities on Meetup. In addition, our group has a wide range of ages from early 20s to 60 plus, which is pretty standard for these types of trips, undoubtedly adding to an engaging walk with plenty to discuss.
Ascending Mam Tor (or Mother Hill) isn’t the mother of all climbs but arguably the mother of all views. The panoramic vista is simply stunning, with the air clear enough to see our previous day’s location on Kinder Scout. Some of the group have fun spotting other places where we’ve been, while others predict the whereabouts of our finishing point. We can’t quite agree where Edale is but we are unanimous in returning to the Old Nags Head pub.
Sharing the moment
Our final day begins with a short drive to the pretty village of Hathersage. From there, we gradually incline towards the rock climbing paradise of Stanage Edge.
This route brings out the inner child in me as Gary and Neil set the tone and start to manoeuvre through boulders. The rest of the group follow suit, with one member (Mickey) negotiating his way between a network of rocks to perch on the furthest point of the ridge.
The group’s adventure playground spirit has all the hallmarks of a naughty school trip, and a wonderful example of this is father and daughter Andrew and Zoe. Andrew often used Meetup for hiking and cycling events for himself, until his daughter began to express an interest and started joining him. Their family banter and enthusiasm adds yet another positive dynamic to the group.
As we leave Stanage and retrace our steps to Hathersage, I have time to reflect on the Meetup weekend. I’d felt a little socially awkward on the drive up to Edale. Perhaps out of practice from being with a large group for so long. That all changed once we began hiking, and suddenly I sensed a return to old times. The choice of routes was ideal, particularly for first-timers. All major National Park highlights ticked off, and the routes chosen by our leaders proved to be exhilarating without being strenuous.
After a tea-room lunch in Hathersage, we say our farewells, leaving the Peaks fresh-faced and sore-legged. But inevitably, the conversations driving back to London turn to work and the realities of life. I prefer to dream, trekking through uncharted landscapes in far-flung corners of the globe.
Perhaps in the future, there will be a Meetup for that!
How to join a meetup hike
This Meetup trip was organised by Go London Hiking: meetup.com/GO-London
The price of £250 included qualified hike leaders, return transport from London, three nights dormitory accommodation, three breakfasts and two packed lunches.
Tips for first-timers
Whether you want to keep fit, meet new people or simply spend time in the outdoors, here’s what to look out for on the website meetup.com
■ Use the site’s search engine to see what groups are available in your local area.
■ See how often events take place and how many members typically turn up for hikes. It’s best for this number to be relatively high or events could be cancelled.
■ Some groups have niches or themes, like walks by the water, endurance hillwalking, or events for people who don’t like early starts. Joining a Meetup hiking group is generally free and signing up takes a few moments.
■ Day-hike prices start between £5 and £10. Members are responsible for any transport costs (sometimes included for a higher fee) and bringing their packed lunch. Weekends away and international trip costs vary greatly, so read the T&Cs of each group carefully.
■ Finally, if you feel nervous and unsure about whether to sign up, I recommend trying it once. Most people end up having a great day and wonder why they were at all apprehensive.
About the author
Peter Elia is a freelance journalist and photographer specialising in hiking adventures. Follow him on Instagram @themanwhohikedtheworld