It’s a Wednesday autumn afternoon after a summer that has already gone down as the wettest in 100 years.
I’m on a hillside overlooking Ilkley, although I can’t actually see ‘Olicana’ because of the heavy rain. I’m also with six other people and we are sheltering under a couple of randomly-placed trees waiting for the downpour to ease, but despite the rain we are all in high spirits.
This is MetWalking and we have been trudging through the rain for about 45 minutes chatting merrily about everything from childhood, to our career paths, home life, the weather (obviously) and our respective businesses.
“Should we turn around and abandon the walk”, I ask? The collective answer is a most definite “no”. The optimism for the weather and the enthusiasm for the occasion are truly incredible.
We venture along the Dales High Way to Windgate Nick, on Addingham High Moor, to see the remains of a wicker hound that stood there until last winter, howling across the Wharfe Valley.
Being made of wicker it was a never going to last very long; a temporary piece of art, and even now it’s still not known who was responsible for it.
As we approach our destination something incredible happens: the clouds move aside and the sun shines down on us lighting up the valley and allowing us to see in the distance towards Beamsley Beacon and the fells beyond Bolton Abbey.
This is an important moment; it’s a collective experience and something we will all remember for a long time.
You don’t get that while networking over a glass of wine and a canapé. Outside of my day job in public relations long-distance walker.
It was while I was running in the hills to the north of Otley, where I live, that my mind drifted to future running events and then somehow to networking and running, and finally networking while walking. Would such a concept work?
I discussed it with networking group the Met Club, where I’m a member and where I’ve also given seminars on PR, to see if it was something that would appeal to their members. The conversation went along the lines of: ‘there’s so much spectacular countryside on our doorstep, networking in the outdoors would be so very different, it would be a great excuse to get out of the office.'
Read any profile of a Yorkshire-based business person and it will inevitably come up that one of the things they love about the region is the countryside and how accessible and unique it is.
MetWalking, as it was now called, was the perfect excuse to visit this spectacular countryside while, technically, still being at work.
And it would also appeal to those people that are not comfortable with networking; being in a room with strangers can be intimidating, being outside with strangers surrounded by flora and fauna is a completely different proposition.
And have I already mentioned the shared experience? As we know, walking is healthy. For a start you’re away from the office, still working though, but de-stressing.
Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.
To end up on Addingham High Moor took a lot of planning. I’ve previously lead walks for Take A Hike, a Leeds and Bradford walking group aimed at people in their 20s and 30s, so I knew the importance of carrying out a recce of the route.
Ah yes, the route. I decided that a walk of around seven-miles would be a good distance, but it also had to be accessible, not overly technical or strenuous and as a way of extending this shared experience dinner afterwards would be a great way to end the day.
And so on a wet Wednesday in September, MetWalking was born. Aside from me, there were two lawyers, one specialising in property, the other employment; a learning and development trainer; a telecommunications provider; an architect and a business coach.
Only two MetWalkers had met before; this was going to be interesting. And so we set off just after 1.30pm from Le Bistrot Pierre, in Ilkley, where we were due to have dinner upon our return.
From the start there was a really good feel to the dynamic of the group. Even the heavy drizzle as we strode up the steep hill of Wells Road didn’t quash the excitement of this off-the-wall networking.
Everyone accepted that it had been a truly memorable summer weather-wise, and that even though the previous day had been sunny there was nothing any of us could do about the current precipitation which, ironically, gave us a collective talking point.
We arrived back in Ilkley slightly ahead of time and with the restaurant not opening until 5.30pm we all headed to the adjacent Crescent Inn. This was networking in a room, but it felt more like having a drink with a group of friends.
And then over dinner the talk was of when the next MetWalking was going to be and where. Importantly though, our walk had started at half one and we didn’t finish dinner until 8pm.
That’s a long time to be networking, but it had been a really enjoyable and memorable day. Just give me a chance to dry out before the next one. For more details on MetWalking visit www.themetclub.co.uk