Sometimes it’s worth taking the opportunity to investigate the free flapjack option. This weekend I went on a walking weekend organised by a small local company called Will4Adventure, based in Sheffield. I had no idea what to expect, but I found it very interesting, for a number of reasons. Will4Adventure organises a number of courses, weekends and longer treks both in the UK (Peaks, Lakes, Snowdonia and Scotland) and around the world (Spain, Morocco, Nepal,…), ranging from walking to first aid, scrambling, rock climbing, navigation and so on. The idea behind the free weekends is, I imagine, to introduce people to the company and tempt them into other things, but also to build up a rapport with the client base. I thought it was a great idea, as I’d been looking at going on a scrambling weekend with them, and thought it would be a good opportunity to find out a bit more about both the trips they run, and the company itself. Not to mention checking whether the leader was a nutter or not (the jury’s still out).
The weekend was great fun, and being in the Peak District just a few miles from my house, it meant I could be back home with a cup of tea and tucked up in my own bed that evening. I’d equally have relished the opportunity to go further afield and spend the evenings drinking in the pub with the other group members, however. The group turned out to be quite a mixture of people. I was somewhat relieved to find that they weren’t all superfit and waiting for me to catch up, although on the other hand I didn’t feel particularly challenged by the walking, which if you know me at all will mean you understand that I was also a little disappointed at not being absolutely exhausted at the end of the walk. It did introduce me to some new walks though, which is always nice to discover when they’re right on your doorstep. And it reminded me that you don’t have to walk at breakneck speed without stopping the entire day, apart from 5 minutes to eat your sandwiches, as I tend to do when on my own.
The weekend gave me plenty of time for chatting both with the rest of the group and with Will who runs the company. I was able to quiz him in detail about the company, all the other trips he runs, and whether they’d be suitable for me or not. Of course, this was his opportunity to try to sell me the trips (especially the big Annapurna trek in November!) but it wasn’t just about salesmanship. Having only ever done such trips with large companies such as Exodus and Explore, it got me pondering the good and bad points about going with large vs small companies. On the one hand you have the reputation of the big companies, the incredible choice of not only trips and destinations but also dates (many of the trips run every week of the year), and the possibility of chatting to other people and reading numerous reviews online. On the other hand you have the friendliness and personal touch of a small company, the fact that the guides come from the UK so you know who you’re getting in many cases, and the fact that the whole process is much more of a two-way interaction. Will’s sales pitch that it was easier to discuss your diarrhoea with a UK guide than a foreign one didn’t really cut it for me (I’ve discussed it, and worse, with many a foreign guide) but certainly in some cases there are times when it’s nice to have someone that understands your culture. Will spent some time doing market research on me (and I’m very sure that a lot of his seemingly innocent questions about my life were very loaded!), but it was refreshing to think that a company might actually listen to what I have to say rather than waiting for 200 people to complain before anything gets changed. I also really liked the idea of the free weekends in order to get to know the company before committing to anything more. Not to mention the flapjacks baked by Will’s wife which were freely handed around!
Less than 2 hours after getting home on the Sunday afternoon, I had booked a trip scrambling in the Lake District with the company, so somebody clearly did something right. You’ll have to wait until May to hear the tales of how I get on (hopefully I won’t have to discuss diarrhoea with the guide). I’m not sure it’ll change my allegiance entirely from the larger companies for my trekking holidays, but it changed my opinion that it was better to rely solely on reputation and choice. There’s definitely something to say for the personal touch. And sometimes it’s more about who you’re with than where you go.