“The nettles!” they all chorus when asked what was the biggest challenge of Minsteracres’ three-day walking retreat.

The ‘they’ in question are the ten people and two leaders currently tucking into tea and scones at the end of their final day.

In the course of the three days they have braved physical trials of nettles, mud and ants, but all are remarkably cheerful.

It is the second year that Minsteracres has run this retreat, and many of the participants have returned for another go. This one, they say, has been even better than last year.

“It’s a very special retreat,” says Marie Rice, one of the returnees. “We all bonded really quickly.”

Angela Joyce, also here for the second time agrees, “It’s the same pattern, but with different people and a different dynamic. It’s a nice size too – you can really get to know each other. Three days is long enough mind you, I wouldn’t want it to be any longer!”

Jennifer and David Local from Teesside came to an open day at Minsteracres last year and picked up a programme for 2015. “The walking retreat just jumped out.” says David. They have not been disappointed.

The success is due in no small part to Jim and Ann Darlington, long time parishioners of Minsteracres and now a governor and retreat team member respectively. Jim claims he has the easy job of planning the walks, all between seven and ten miles in the beautiful moors and vales around Minsteracres. Ann has the challenge of preparing the spiritual input which was based around Minsteracres’ theme for the year “I have called you by name”.

Across the three days the group reflected on being called, resisting the call, and how each can respond to the call. It is fair to say that the walks reflected the theme – nettles and mud prevailing on the day they contemplated resistance.

“The walks mirrored our normal travels through life with all their ups and downs.” says David.

Sr Nora Gorman adds, “I’m so glad I came. The walking, the spiritual input and the easy manner in which we all related to each other has been very special. For me the walks were like chatting on the road to Emmaus. We talked about things that matter deeply and experienced valuable sharing. It built up great trust. The moment I came into the group I felt at home.”

Margot Seargeant has another reason for valuing the comradeship. “Being accepted,” she explains. “It’s very difficult being deaf, but people have coped with me and been very understanding. I know there are some things I’ve missed, but I accept my deafness and Ann has written everything down for me.”

Despite the huge effort, which included spending one evening pulling apart her plans for the next day to tailor it particularly for this group, Ann says, “I can’t express how enjoyable this whole thing is. There is something powerful in meeting a group of people and experiencing what happens as something changes. We came here as strangers and already we have made friends.”

Jim agrees, “The nature of walking, of being in the wild, allows people to open up to each other. It gives them time and space – especially over three days and sharing meals together.”

Should anyone think that a retreat like this excludes people of different or even no faith, Richard Hill points out, “Not everyone on this retreat is of the Catholic faith, and at least one is of doubtful faith. It has been very helpful to stand back, think deeply and face challenges.”

For those who would like to try a walking retreat there are three more one-day retreats in Minsteracres’ 2015 programme on Wednesday 23 September, Saturday 17 October and Wednesday 18 November, all between 10am and 5pm.