My dad always said that I was born in a field. As a young girl growing up I was lucky to live in a place that had in wide open spaces. There were Horse Chestnut trees to climb and rhododendron bushes for dens. I’d pick rose petals to make the most awful rosewater perfume and spent hours making daisy chains.
But it was when I started High School that my passion for the outdoors really kicked in.
As well as teaching history, Mr Fletcher was passionate about our school farm at Hayfield in in the Peak District. It was a run down house at the top of a long steep drive. The bunk beds were hand-me-downs from a prison. The furniture consisted of old, worn out settees and chairs, wobbly tables and ex-school chairs. Everything we needed for a weekend stay had to be carried up from the bottom of the hill, including the coal for the fire. Often we had to collect water from the spring in the next farm. It was tough living, but I loved it. I spent many weekends there with Kev and his wife Jan and a gang of school kids.
During the day we took long walks around Kinder Scout and in the evening we told ghost stories, whilst sat in the dark, with only the light from the fire and a few candles.
The farm was haunted, or so we were told, by Annie, a widow, who lived many years alone on the farm, until life became too hard for her and she hung herself with a rope thrown over the beam by the fire. Each time we went to the farm the tale grew longer and more elaborate… Her shadow could be seen passing under the crack in the door, her cat could be heard meowing. We went to bed terrified, and slept little because of the damp and the cold in the bedrooms. Life was good.
Again with Ken and Jan, we went camping all over Britain and Europe. We travelled to Switzerland and Germany, France and Italy. We travelled in the school minibus and camped overnight. The company was great and the adventure was good. Jan served up a plethora of dehydrated meals, including dehydrated cabbage!
Kev inspired me to get outdoors. It was through his enthusiasm for getting young people to enjoy being in the countryside that made me pursue my love of being in the hills and dales. He lit the fire that keeps my passion for exploring the countryside alight.
Kev and Jan are still my closest friends after 43 years. He once wrote in my school report that I was an ‘excitable Golden Labrador puppy’. I may not be the puppy now, but am still golden and excitable.
I wish that every school child could have a Kevin Fletcher experience. We certainly wouldn’t have all these problems of childhood obesity or mental health issues. We would have a society of young people who have a love for the outdoors and want to live a life of adventure.
As Julia wrote, “Spirit is a good word, I like it. Alongside gumption and pluck. She’s a spirited individual… that Debbie, for sure.”
Thank you Kevin Fletcher. You gave me the spirit.