236: West Lexham

OS Explorer map 236, King’s Lynn, Downham Market & Swaffham. I do not own this map, and had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 18th March 2019. Note: West Lexham is in the overlap between maps 236 and 238. This visit is therefore only provisional under The Rules, as it could “flip” to counting for map 238 if I visit map 238 before a unique area of map 236. EDIT: This visit stopped being provisional on 11th December 2021, when I visited Downham Market.

I visited this map area in March 2019, on a retreat with Effective Altruism Cambridge. I’m not going to talk at length about what effective altruism is, because there are much better places to read about that than my blog – effectivealtruism.org, for example. For a short definition, though: effective altruism is a social movement, concerned with using reasoning and scientific evidence to work out how we, individually and together, can do the most good with the resources we choose to put towards helping others, and with building a community of people to support each other in doing so. This could mean working out where to donate your money, what choices to make in your career, things like that. EA Cambridge is Cambridge’s local group of the wider movement, and does things like running workshops, talks, social events; offering 1-1 meetings and career planning sessions, to help build a community and support people in their altruistic decisions.

The annual retreat that EA Cambridge runs is aimed at doing much the same things, but intensely over a few days. A group of us, 30-50, go away together, to spend some time in structured activities, some in 1-1 meetings and discussion, and some in unstrctured social interaction. The hope is that people will learn new useful things, get feedback on their plans and ideas, and build connections with others in the community – and help each other, collaborate, start new projects, things like that.

The lake at on the West Lexham site – unfortunately one of us fell in it on the last morning, when trying to handle the little rowing boat!

This year’s retreat took place in West Lexham, in Norfolk. The venue was a group of cottages and buildings on a larger site that I believe is usually used for things like holidays, conferences, weddings and the like. It was a very nice place! There was a big central barn area, where we mingled, ate together, and held sessions; while the cottages we were staying in were spread over a larger area, scattered among trees, a lake, and so on. Excitingly, some of the accommodation wasn’t exactly cottages, but in “treehouses” – they were just what they sound like, wood-built accommodation, up on stilts in the trees!

The retreat took place over three days, a Monday to Wednesday in March – we all left from Cambridge together in a coach on Monday afternoon, and returned on Wednesday. There were sessions scheduled during the day, food was prepared for everyone on-site by the organisers – I took a couple of shifts in the kitchen – and there was plenty of time for casual chit-chat, walks around the area and so on too. I heard from the organisers that a lot didn’t go to plan, but from the attendee’s perspective, it all seemed very smoothly run to me! I also ran a couple of sessions, which was interesting.

One slightly suboptimal feature of the trip for me was that the retreat started the day after I’d returned from a week-and-a-half-long trip to New Zealand – to visit my cousin Guacamole, who moved over there around 6 months previously. I was more than a little jetlagged, and ended up sleeping for 4 hours on the Tuesday afternoon, missing some sessions, and then staying awake until 7am that night. That wasn’t a problem though – some people were awake talking throughout the night, so I wasn’t alone!

Vesper in a giant saucepan – we just wanted to see whether she’d fit!

I won’t go into chronological detail on what we did as I suspect it wouldn’t be that interesting. I really enjoyed the weekend overall, though! It was certainly intellectually stimulating, and very useful – at around that time I was joining the organising committee of EA Cambridge, so it was good to get to know some of the community members a bit better. (In fact, I’m running next year’s version of this retreat!) One person I met there even ended up later linking me up with someone who offered me a charity consulting opportunity, which I now do regularly for a few hours a week. And it was really socially enjoyable too – the EA community is a really welcoming and pleasant one, and I just had a good time! The two sessions I ran went well too, which was a bonus.

On an unrelated note – something I was disappointed that I didn’t get time to do was go for a longer walk away from the site. The reason for this is that West Lexham is only a couple of miles away from Castle Acre, a tremendously interesting site that my friend Millicent had told me all about when we were passing it on our trip to see churches North Norfolk coast a month previously. There’s a lovely Anglo-Saxon church right next to the road, and a ruined Norman castle and priory. The most unusual thing about it though, is that all of these together form a remarkably well-preserved Norman planned town. We’ll just have to come back someday!

Blog note

I’ve noted above that this visit is only provisional, due to West Lexham being in the overlap between maps 236 and 238. (This has happened three times before, with maps 323, 212 and 246 – and the latter did indeed later get “un-visited” when I visited a unique area of map 245 before one of 246.).

Two posts ago, when the “un-visit” of map 245 happened, I didn’t actually notice; I have had to use the magic of after-the-fact editing to make this blog consistent. I have therefore instituted a new thing! From this post onwards, the maps-of-maps will indicate provisionally-visited maps by colouring them the appropriate colour in diagonal stripes rather than solidly. You can see below that I’ve now done this for maps 212 and 323.

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