29. April 2013 · Comments Off on Team retreat 2013 · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , , ,

Lichfield Cathedral
On the weekend of 22nd of March, we went on our annual team retreat to Waterhouses, a village in the south of the Staffordshire Peak District. We set off from Oxford following a symposium at the Wellcome Trust Center of Human Genetics. Along the way we stopped in Lichfield to visit the famous Cathedral and the house of Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin, www.erasmusdarwin.org). Surprisingly, Erasmus Darwin’s work hinted at the possibility of evolution, and although they had never met, Charles’ inspiration could have potentially come from his grandfather. We also had a nice meal in the Damn Fine Café, which had a selection of food and drink perfect for a cold winter’s afternoon.

We were really fortunate not to have lingered too long in Lichfield, as a large snowstorm rapidly descended upon the region. Upon arriving at “the Old Beams”, the converted pub we rented, we started our group meeting happily looking forward to the delivery of our groceries that were scheduled to arrive that night. But a little bit before 7 pm, we got a phone call from Sainsbury’s informing us that the snow was so heavy that they could not deliver until Saturday morning. So off to the nearby pub we went (and the food was great!).

On Saturday morning, the Sainsbury’s deliveryman rang again: they still could not get through. Luckily, our darling neighbour, Henry, gave us some bread destined for feeding ducks, which thankfully made perfect toast, and the local mini shop provided us with some eggs and bacon. After breakfast we split up into action teams: Team Jeff was responsible for procuring firewood and cleaning, Team James for driving to the nearest town (and thus supermarket) to get some supplies for the rest of the weekend (especially coffee, it’s what our team runs on).
lemon-meringue pie
While the snow had eased, high winds created massive snowdrifts on the road. Sometimes we could barely see the road, or anything that was ahead of us, and could only hope there was no one coming from the other direction. But again all’s well that ends well, we found the supermarket (and food and coffee) and even found firewood (as team Jeff was not successful finding any near the cottage) and a snow shovel. The firewood was really wet though, and it became a pet obsession throughout the weekend to keep it alight. Back at the cottage we had further team meetings and a journal club, and James started to cook his marvellous roast pork and world-famous lemon-meringue pie: delicious!!!

Saturday evening after dinner we played a team building game where we each had to answer the same three questions, and while someone was talking, the rest of us had to stay quiet (not easy for some of us…). One of the questions was what we still wanted to get out of the weekend. Although various answers were given, there was one consistency: a walk in the snow on Sunday! So that’s what we did after discussing the team’s future plans and projects. The first plan was to drive to Ilam and start walking from there. A few miles away from the cottage (and after some serious snow shovelling to get the car out), we were stuck in a massive line of cars waiting for a snowplough to clear a pass ahead of us. The path out of Waterhouses was completely blocked!

We waited for a bit but when we saw the actual state of the pass they were trying to clear, we decided to turn around, park the car at the cottage and start our walk from there. The idea was to go for a short walk, but as we were all so happy to finally be outside and enjoying the walk, we decided to keep on walking (especially since Luke’s phone told us we would be able to do a circular walk up a hill through a small village called Grindon back to Waterhouses). So we kept on walking, and walking, and walking, and walking, until we climbed a mountain to arrive in a remote village called Grindon.
When stuck in a situation like this, our first thought was to find a local pub to grab a drink or two before heading down. But however, almost immediately after we passed the ‘Grindon’ sign, the local people greeted us and told us that the pub had been closed for years, and that the rest of our route was blocked with snow piled up meters high. They had been stuck in Grindon for a few days and could not get out with their car, and we were the first people to reach the village since the snow fell a few days ago! We greeted them with news of the outside world.
stuck in a snow drift
Adventurous as we are, we wanted to try to push through (especially since the way back was ~ 10 km while the way ahead of us was much, much shorter). A mile or so farther we came to a lane that had become blocked by drifting snow. Undaunted, we climbed onto the snow bank, up to our waist in the snow, as the arctic winds whipped us constantly. But when Jeff who was leading us almost completely got stuck, swimming in snow, we took the wise decision to turn around and walk back the same way we came. We tried to eat some more cookies at this point, however given the extreme conditions, Wendy was keen to ration the cookies, fearing that if anyone broke their legs, those cookies would be the only things keeping us alive. We went down the same trail we had earlier ascended, braving the winds, snow, and ice, until 5 hours after we left the Old Beams, we were home. According to Isabelle’s pedometer, we had walked a total of 19 km, took 29000 steps, and climbed 84 floors (about 270 m)… not bad for a ‘short walk in the snow’ !

We departed from the Old Beam on Monday morning, drawing to a close another successful team retreat. After surviving the snowstorm, we feel lucky to have returned safely to the Sanger Institute and to continue with our scientific research.

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