Iam standing on an inflatable paddleboard in the middle of a lake. The water is calm, the surface mirror-like and my paddle makes barely any sound as it propels me forwards. Clouds are rolling down from the surrounding hills, lit by the golden glow of the recent sunrise, and in the distance three ducks take flight, skimming across the surface of the water.
It’s freezing cold at 7am on a Sunday, in the middle of a lake in Wales. But I’m not chilly. My wetsuit keeps me insulated from the morning breeze, and adrenalin warms me from the inside. This alone was worth the five-hour drive from London to the Pant-yr-Onnen campsite in Bala, Snowdonia.
My friend Debbie Burton and I are on a girls’ weekend, but there isn’t a spa hotel or a cheesy nightclub in sight. We’ve chosen the New Girls’ Weekend, a back-to-nature adventure where the closest thing to pampered luxury is the tiny log-burner in our lakeside shepherd’s hut. You might not necessarily associate paddleboarding and open-water swimming with two women aged upwards of 35, but psychologist Emma Kenny says Burton, 55, and I are right on trend.
“Women of this age are realising they have a whole heap of living to do,” she says. “The myths they heard about needing to be established and working towards a pension have been blown away.” And with busy lives involving children, ageing parents, careers and domestic responsibilities, Kenny says we are prime candidates for a more immersive break than sitting in slippers sipping prosecco.
“Women are fitter now and that makes things like climbing, surfing and bike riding more reachable,” agrees personal trainer Jane Wake, 49, who had her own outdoor-based revelation when she discovered surfing.
Shona Vertue, personal trainer and author of The Vertue Method, adds: “There are plenty of scientifically sound studies to suggest the benefits of time in nature for both the body and brain, including the reduction of activity in parts of the brain that relate to anxiety.” Anxiety is arguably more relevant to women aged upwards of 35 than any other demographic.
“Questions around mortality are huge at this age,” Kenny says. “We are working towards losses, not new beginnings, so we want to take any new beginnings we can find.”
I’m only 36, but I certainly questioned my own mortality as I paddled across and later swam in Bala Lake, especially when Burton casually told me it was 100ft deep at the centre. Our adventures slid seamlessly into long and open conversations about life, the universe and everything. “Once you have shared vulnerability over something physical, what’s in your head is easier to share and it’s better than therapy,” she asserts.
Melissa Talago, 44, set up her website, glamoraks.com, after she spent a weekend walking the Yorkshire coast. The site caters for women aged 35 and up who “have spent years doing things for others and have lost the confidence to get outside.” She agrees her weekends spent enjoying the outdoors with friends provoke deeper and more meaningful conversations than a coffee-shop chat. “When we’re out walking we tend to go to a far deeper level.”
Camilla Palmer, 44, says a recent surfing weekend in Cornwall with a group of friends made them all feel “more alive in just five hours on the water than we had in a long time”.
“I think the idea that women need shops, make-up and cocktails to have a lovely time together is as misguided as thinking that all men need a pub with Sky Sports,” she says. For Adele Mitchell, 54, mountain biking weekends with her female friends hit the spot. “We all leave with an amazing sense of achievement and confidence, and wherever we are, we always end up laughing until we cry, which is priceless, really.”
This fun and supportive female bonding is the bedrock of a good girls’ weekend. Burton maintains it’s easier to achieve when you’re taking part in a shared activity rather than passively experiencing a massage or beauty treatment. Talago agrees: “Last weekend I went wild camping with a friend. We took bivvy bags and spent the night on a cliff watching the stars. On any other night we’d have been at home watching a box set or doing the washing. Who’s going to remember that?”