This is followed by a pilgrimage, where we carry a rock that is supposed to signify a private burden up a hill and past instructors reading Bible verses, before depositing it at the top. Afterwards the group kneels in prayer and takes Communion. Some of the men are openly weeping. I feel slightly self-conscious but never unwelcome.
Ray freely admits that there are other ways for men to deal with the myriad issues they face in modern life, but is also unapologetic in offering Christianity as a guide. There is, however, no hard sell.
‘When you boil Christianity down to its key tenets there aren’t many people who have much beef with it,’ says Ray. ‘But we dress it up in strange language and we wrap it in cold buildings and we make people sit there and say, “Shhh, don’t fart.” I really believe that if you want to hear God, you should go outside.’
If the aim is to get a bunch of men to both talk and fart freely, I can report that Ray has more than succeeded. The weekend involves copious swearing and plenty of discussions about bowel movements – exactly as you would expect.
Trev, a jovial Mancunian with a Father Christmas beard who doles out the food, has an earthy view about the benefits of XCC: ‘You’re a dick, you’ll still be a dick after this weekend, but hopefully you’ll be a slightly nicer dick.’
The hours of walking certainly help us appreciate small joys. After wading through the river we are unexpectedly served hot soup. I take a sip as I walk back to my team. Two instructors coming the other way burst out laughing at the look of bliss on my face. Apparently, the organisers are frequently asked for the recipe. It comes out of a packet.
On the last morning, the guitar finally comes out. There’s singing and prayers. To my very great surprise, I join in. We are all asked to head off in our teams and chat about our experiences before picking the person with the best story to present to the whole group. It is clear that the weekend has had a profound impact on many of the guys.
In keeping with the theme of fatherhood, I tell my team about how I didn’t really know my dad as I only met him a handful of times after my parents divorced, when I was five.
He died when I was at university and I chickened out of visiting him on his deathbed, partly because I didn’t want to intrude on the final hours of a relative stranger.
That said, I’ve never felt there was an aching void in my life and, listening to the other stories, my abiding feeling over the weekend has been gratitude at the sheltered and privileged life I’ve led.