Cotswold Care Hospice's Midnight Walk, Cirencester
PUBLISHED: 18:09 29 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013
Fiona Fullerton embarks on a girl's night out with a difference
It's good to surprise your friends now and again. "You're doing what?" they exclaimed, with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. "I'm doing a ten mile midnight sponsored walk for my charity," I replied grandly. "And actually, if you must know, I've been in training for four weeks."
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm not particularly partial to working out and a gymnasium is a foreign place to me. So my idea of preparing for the midnight walk was to take my two dogs for a longer daily outing than usual. For this, of course, they were eternally grateful. Two or three miles used to be about the average, but we upped it to four miles a day come rain or shine before the walk. Now, however, Archie (the Jack Russell) and Spencer (the golden Cocker Spaniel) are extremely miffed that we are back to our normal routine.
I have been involved with the Cotswold Care Hospice in Minchinhampton for about four years and help them to raise awareness of their desperate need for funds. I also try to get involved in the fundraising, acting as a conduit to some of the large City institutions. On a recent visit to see the magnificent brand new building that is the new hospice, adjacent to the old hospice, I caught a glimpse of a leaflet that said 'Fancy a Girls Night Out?' Well, how could I resist?
I asked two girlfriends if they would walk it with me and one of them suggested we bring our children as well, which is how my 12 year old daughter Lucy, came to be walking around Cirencester at 3am on Friday 27th June. Poor thing. It wasn't mummy's idea, honestly.
The trouble was, I had been asked officially to start the walk, so there was no backing out. When I began to waver, my friend Sarah, who is slight and fit and exhausts me by jogging nearly every day, would make me feel like a wimp. Her two girls, Flora, 16, and Phoebe, 12, who is Lucy's really, really good friend, had pledged to do it too.
At 11.15pm on the night we arrived at Cirencester College and linked up with another friend, Michelle, who is six feet tall with legs up to here, which means I have to take three steps to her one stride.
There were women everywhere. "Why aren't men allowed to take part?" moaned my husband, who rather sweetly had come to see us off. "Because they're too competitive," said Sarah, slightly dismissively. (I'm sure there's another reason.)
I don't think I've ever seen so many women in one place all laughing and joking and sober at that time of night. (We were under strict instructions not to consume alcohol before or during the walk.) There was an enormous sense of camaraderie while we queued to register and get our number - no preferential treatment for me thank you - and when I pinned it on I felt like Dame Kelly Holmes. I've never worn a large number on my chest before.
Lady Apsley, who had very kindly granted us permission to trample all over her land in Cirencester Park, was there, waiting to see us off; all 1300 of us, which way surpassed the charity's expectations. She had brought along the actress Helen Worth, from Coronation Street, but such was the crowd's excitement that they didn't notice any of us and were champing at the bit to get going. By 12.15am, with the chap from the Territorial Army doing his 'Elf and Safety' stuff, they started to wander off, so I didn't get the chance to 'officially' send them off. Lucy was most upset. "You didn't get to hoot the hooter," she said.
But we were on our way; a surging pulchritudinous mass of women on the verge of a huge achievement.
A slight drizzle descended and within seconds Michelle - with the long legs - was out in front and we didn't see her again. (She actually finished seventh.) There was much hilarity during the first mile when the two chaps from the TA, who were leading the pack, took a wrong turn and the marshals held us all back until they returned. When Sarah and I arrived to see a stationary crowd gathering at the bottom of the hill she said, "Oh look, I think we're going to sing a hymn." Eventually the embarrassed soldiers turned up, received a huge round of applause, and the walk resumed.
We kept up a fairly brisk pace, which Lucy thought was too fast, so she kept saying "can we slow down pleeeeeease, you said this was going to be FUN" but I thought we should aim for three miles an hour, otherwise we'd still be going when the shops opened.
The route through the park was wet and dark but with the aid of torches we could just about make out the pathway. Looking back was a beautiful sight; small glittering beams like fireflies bouncing in the cool night air.
We sang marching songs and played games to keep the girls amused. I would quote a famous line from a film and they would have to guess the title and at every marshalled junction they would ask how far we'd come, and then groan. (You don't want to hear "two point eight miles" when you think it's five.)
At the halfway point at Cirencester Rugby Club we were greeted by cheering volunteers proffering lots of chocolate, bananas and water and Lucy and Phoebe sat down for a while, which was probably not a good idea, but with renewed energy we ploughed on.
Back in town at around 2.30am the drunks came out to accompany us, staggering around and cracking jokes "Oy! Malcolm, I can't keep up with this one" and the marshals shouted encouragement to the girls, who were the youngest on the walk by far. Lucy and I found the last two miles incredibly hard but I couldn't complain just in case she sat down and refused to budge.
We made it back to the finish line at 3.40am with tiredness fighting any sense of elation but I was so proud of the girls and my friends and the 1300 women who did it too, not only for their own sense of achievement but to raise money for a very special place.
At the time of writing it looks as if the Hospice has made around 100,000, which is an incredible amount for one night's fundraising. Now that's what I call girl power!