After experiencing the summer camp of a lifetime, Shirley Ridson set about creating an event in the UK
BY SHIRLEY RIDSON
Read the first part of Shirley’s story here: divamag.co.uk/2019/04/16/how-i-met-200-naked-lesbians
My friend and I left the magical island of Sejero off the north coast of Denmark, where we had spent a memorable time at a lesbian summer camp in 1978. I used the last few days to seek advice about arranging a similar camp back home in the UK. The Danish women felt another country should take on the challenge. I collected names and addresses from the women who showed interest in attending and promised to keep them informed.
Back home I wrote an impassioned letter to Spare Rib asking for volunteers to help us organise a lesbian holiday, which brought forth interest from 10 women. My companion on the trip to Denmark had met a new partner shortly after our return. They wanted to be involved, as did my then partner. We arranged a planning weekend for the 10 women. It was decided to approach Laurieston Hall, a commune near Castle Douglas in Scotland. They welcomed our request, so we booked a week as an experiment.
Laurieston Hall is a huge mansion with plenty of bedrooms, which we felt was appropriate in case of bad weather. We left it to individuals to decide whether to camp or stay in the hall in dormitory accommodation. The only negative factor about our choice of venue was that men live at the hall, and whilst some of them would be away, there would be a few on the premises. They agreed to keep a low profile.
We advertised the holiday in every publication we could think of. I invited my contacts in Europe and we waited to see what would happen
In the event, 70 women came. There was a large contingent from the continent and it was good to see some familiar faces from Sejero. Fortunately, the weather was hot and sunny, which was a bonus. We could sunbathe nude, as we had done in Sejero the previous summer.
Two Laurieston residents took responsibility for liaising with us over the arrangements. On the second day we called a general meeting, where they outlined the ethos of the commune and spoke of “rules” – of which there were few.
They announced that another group would be arriving towards the end of the week. This caused much consternation amongst us. We felt it was important to have just one week in the year solely in the company of lesbians and bisexual women. To our relief, the other party agreed to cancel.
Some women disagreed with the use of the word “holiday” and wanted a more structured event. The planning group were keen to prevent a heavy atmosphere. The idea was to have fun and enjoy ourselves. The two Laurieston women catered, with support from our us, and we devised a rota asking women to sign up for two chores each during the week. Daily breadmaking was the most popular.
Some women joined a pottery class and a raku evening was held. Others explored the extensive grounds surrounding the hall. A sauna was built in the grounds and a barbecue. There were yoga sessions, massage, self defence and some of us made up songs. The variety of talent was amazing. We enjoyed cycling around the locality. There was the opportunity to canoe on the nearby loch. Some women came with fishing tackle and were happy to instruct others. During the evenings we enjoyed ceilidhs. Scottish country dancing moves were called out by one of the Laurieston residents. The foreign women did well to follow instructions. One German woman said, “What is this dozey doh?”
In my dormitory, the Danish women were surprised at the English propensity to have tea in bed in the morning. When we explained about Teasmade machines, which were popular at the time, they were staggered to hear of a clock that made tea.
One lesbian, in a bank queue in the local town, overheard a woman telling another, “They’ve got a lot of women at Laurieston this week. Some are homosexuals and some are tetrasexuals.” Not sure what they are!
The week flew by and although it was nothing like Sejero, we felt satisfied that we had successfully provided a unique experience for 70 women. The planning group felt the benefits of the holiday were meeting and making new friends and sharing experiences with them. There was a powerful sense of sisterhood and no one could have gone away untouched by their stay.
We were sad that no Irish women or women of colour came, and we felt we should have made more effort to support women who came on their own.
Laurieston Hall were happy to have us back the next year so we must have been welcome guests.
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