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Walking with new friends - the u3a hoop experience

24 January 2023

Hitchin u3a member Pauline walked around the Hitchin Hoop with the u3a walking group. Pauline talks about how the walk was an opportunity to make new connections. This is an excerpt of East of England's booklet of walks completed in u3a week in September. Read the full booklet on the u3a East of England region website.

A large group of people, all wearing blue sashes that say u3a, stand on a path through a field. The sky is blue and they are all smiling.

As a walker and very new member of Hitchin u3a I was very excited when I learned that as part of u3a’s 40th Anniversary the Walking Group would be walking around the famed Hitchin HOOP (Hitchin Outer Orbital Path to the uninitiated, a total distance of 12 miles) on Saturday 17 September. I signed up immediately as It seemed a perfect opportunity for me to start to become really involved and to meet new people and to find out more of what Hitchin u3a had to offer.

On a sunny but brisk Saturday morning, a number of intrepid walkers gathered in Hitchin Market Place where the walk began. The walk would allow us to explore the history of Hitchin and surrounding villages travelling through beautiful Hertfordshire Countryside. The atmosphere was jovial and expectant. Some walkers planned to walk all four sections (later dubbed the twelve milers) others would walk one or more sections, leaving or joining en route, thus catering for all walking abilities.

As a newcomer to Hitchin and knowing only my family, I had joined u3a a few months previously in the hope that it would enable me to enjoy new experiences and make new friends. Walking the HOOP delivered this in spades. On leaving Hitchin Market Square at a moderate pace (Section 1 Hitchin to Ickleford 4.3 miles) I was immediately engaged in conversation with other members, some new like myself and others longer term and as we shared our lives, stories and laughter the miles melted away as we crossed the 31
Oughtonhead Common Nature Reserve. We halted on occasions so that photographs could be taken to document the event and soon it was 11.30am and a welcome break for coffee at Ickleford, the first section completed.

We left Ickleford at 12noon going to Cambridge Road (Section 2 - 2.9 miles). Here my education regarding the unique opportunities offered by u3a continued as I walked with a different group of people and learned about the Zoom dance group and face to face dance choreography group. I also chatted to someone I had only seen on the Zoom Play Reading Group.. . Here were some of the new experiences I had been seeking and I was making new friends as we went along. Suddenly we were at the end of Section 2 at Hitchin Garden Centre and more than halfway round.

Lunch at the The Hitchin Garden Centre was a well earned rest and there was much friendly banter between members who obviously knew each other very well and we all joined in the fun and ribaldry. Then after lunch on the road again to Section 3 (1.9 miles) from Cambridge Road to Wymondley Road with a brief stop for refreshments at the playground by St Ippolyts brook.

The final section was from Wymondley Road to Hitchin Market Square (2.9 miles) via The Piggery where we could have chosen to feed the pigs. No-one did as by now the prospect of tea and cake at Halsey’s tearoom and a sit down increasingly beckoned and we hastened on. We arrived back at Hitchin Market Square (the end of the HOOP walk) at 4.30pm and jubilantly high-fived – we had done it and we cheered Marion for her sterling work. This walk was completed as part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations.

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