One Hot Dartmoor DofE

Boy do I feel old…………

It was time to head back down to Dartmoor early in July with Sea Cadets from our London and Southern Areas to run a Gold DofE practice expedition and boy was it hot.

These training expeditions have one day of training on the Moor for the cadets and staff who are doing their Gold DofE followed by 3 days of remote supervision. We tend to stick very close to the groups on the first day of remote supervision and then as everyone gets their navigational eye in we tend to just meet up with them from time to time.

Set up

Training Day

We stayed at the rather luxurious Tavistock Camping and Caravanning Club site for the first two nights – I love it as we can put hammocks up 🙂

Early in the morning some of our trainee instructors (doing their Basic Expedition Leadership Award) ran some classes on kit to carry and map work. Around 11am we headed out to just south of Princetown to get in some navigational time on the Moors and we soon found the temperature starting to shoot up.

The trip was organised by our DofE co-ordinator John Kelly and we were joined by staff from London and Southern Area Sea Cadets

Training day – Instructing – Nina, Donnah, James, Morgan, Chris and Dave

Everyone was in light order for the training day with plenty of water and sun cream. You can see from the pictures below just how hot it was with all that blue sky (and for a Scotsman let me tell you it was not comfortable). Each team had an instructor with them and were soon off onto the Moors testing out their navigational skills.

There were plenty of adventures along the way and I spent time skulking in a Dartmoor Leat (a man-made stream) photographing and filming the wildlife (I will put up a separate blog on this sometime) and even caught sight of someone paddle boarding along one.

Keeping an eye on the teams

Day 1 – Remote Supervision

The next day the teams were let off on their own and we headed up onto the Tors to keep an eye on them. We had plenty of radios and one team even had a tracking device on them.

The visibility was clear and we soon saw them on the move. One team made good progress over the Tors but two took a slight detour and had to be shunted back on course.

Day 1 – Remote supervision

Luckily we had plenty of staff with us and everyone eventually made their way over the Tors. The temperature was soon rising again and we made sure everyone had water at each of the checkpoints (and an ice-cream in Princetown).

As usual we stopped for a picture on one of the Tors (Little Mis Tor) and watched the helicopters playing about on the Moors. The Tors offered some respite from the heat of the sun with their lovely shaded north-facing nooks and crannies.

Lots of meet ups

Coming off the Tors we met up with Alan Lewis (the Old Sea Dog) and more of the all-important water. I pulled out a chocolate biscuit from my pack only to be confronted with a sticky mess – it still went down the hatch 🙂

The teams were soon off up over North Hessary Tor (under the mast) and down into Princetown where we told them to get some ice-cream.

The campsite for the teams was south of Princetown at Nun’s Cross Farm. It is a fairly wild camp but with easy access for us with vehicles.

End of Day 1

Some staff stayed near the campsite and the rest of us headed back to the campsite at the Plume of Feathers Inn in Princetown. This campsite has a stand of trees running up the side of it for our hammocks – always a bonus on Dartmoor 🙂

On the way back to camp we spotted a fallen lamb being comforted by a herd of cows. It looked like the heat had really gotten to it so Chris, Carol and I gave her (I think it was female) some water to drink – she took nearly two water bottles. Chris also sprinkled water over her body to cool her down. We tried to get her to stand but she was too weak. In the end we got the local farmer to come out and take her in.

What really surprised me about the whole scene was the care the cows were taking over the lamb. The were nudging her gently and standing over her to give her shade – quite something to witness.

The staff (and a little Lamb)

It was a great day all in all and I particularly liked spotting all the wildlife so I decided to put together a little video of that side of the expedition.

Day 2 – Remote Supervision

This part of the expedition was to prove the longest and the hardest. Due to the very high temperatures and because this was the practice expedition I decided to tell the teams to go in light order. I took all non-essential kit such as tents and sleeping bags off them to lighten their load in the high temperatures.

Day 2 – Remote supervision – a lot of waiting

I went high with Dave Lewis and the rest of the instructors either went on ahead in vehicles or were trailing the teams from a distance. We got up high quite quickly and had some time to sit back and wait for the teams – amazing where you can hang a hammock 🙂

This part of the route took the teams over to the Eastern side of Dartmoor where the views are quite spectacular down onto the coast.

Enjoying the views

Day 3 – Remote Supervision

After a night in a farmer’s field at Middle Stoke Farm, the teams were up and away for their final day on the hills. I had decided to stay off the hills that day as I had felt a torn muscle (from the year before) in my right leg starting to give way again.

The teams headed off up into the hills and navigated along to a village called Scorriton. They had a tough time as all the paths had been little used recently and were quite overgrown (we had been there last year and they were clear) but they were soon coming down off the hills with smiles on their faces.

This was a easy expedition for me as there were so many great staff who gave their time up to come along (Boy do I feel old…… I realised that I had trained and assessed every one of them over the years) but it was a tough one for the cadets and staff doing the Gold DofE practice expedition due to the heat – well done the lot of you.

Final day

A final video of the trip – one that I am very proud of – both in terms of what was achieved and its composition.

Cheers

George

Happy Campers

Every now and then a nice little weekend comes along – this trip to Crowborough Army camp with the Sea Cadets was one of them (not often you can say that with Crowborough). My friends Dave and Alan Lewis had already set up camp when I pulled up ( I had been at Woodcraft School that day so was running late).

We had a group of 5 senior cadets and a party of Junior cadets to train in campcraft over the weekend.

All set up

There was other training going on in the camp but we were separate from all that in the woods. Along with us was Gary Brodie-Barratt who is under training for his Basic Expedition Leadership award. Under supervision from Dave, Gary led a lot of the classes covering subjects such as kit, clothing and tents.

Early start

While they were cracking on with these classes Alan and myself were preparing for an influx of Junior cadets later that afternoon. I did though get out with Dave and Gary when they set off to do some navigation.

Some of the cadets were learning map reading for the first time and some were on our intermediate course which focuses on compass work a lot more.

Focus on Navigation

Everyone though gets to play with the bothy bag – this little bag is a real life saver when you are in very exposed conditions. The cadets learn how to use one in a safe and controlled manner so that if they ever need to use one for real they will know how to deploy it correctly.

Practising for those emergencies

After lunch the Juniors arrived and the peace and tranquillity of our camp was shattered 🙂 These Juniors are so keen to learn that it is a pleasure to teach them.

We got them fire lighting first and soon had sausages, bread and marshmallows on the go.

Junior time

Later on I took them on a nature walk (with a little bit of navigation thrown in) down through the old World War 1 training trenches running beside the camp.

Exploring the trenches

We had cracking weather all weekend, did not have to share the woodland with any other groups (always a bonus) and for once had plenty of staff on hand – all in all it made for Happy Campers.

All things campcraft

Below are my favourite shots of the weekend (so want one of these blow up seats).

Mt favourites

Maybe next year I will get one of these weekends again 🙂

Cheers

George

Dartmoor – Beautiful but Deadly

Remember the rule of leaving everything well alone on

Military Training Areas.

It was time for Dartmoor again in early May (seems like a second home to me these days) with some of my fellow Sea and Royal Marines Cadets instructors.

The weather was great but as usual Dartmoor threw up a few surprises.

All things adventure

We were staying at the salubrious accommodation that is Okehampton Army Camp (I can sense the shivers running down the spines of certain readers as we speak) however this time we managed to bag the officers quarters as we were the first to arrive.

I was joined initially by my friends Graham and Perry before the rest of the gang arrived in the evening. The view from my billet was great as the whole of North Moor was visible.

Early to arrive

First thing on Saturday morning our most senior of instructors Alan Lewis took everyone out to loosen up with a bit of Tai Chi. It was short and to the point but the setting was fantastic.

Tai Chi with Alan

Alan swears by Tai Chi and it sure keeps him active.

After breakfast it was time for some classes. We were joined by fellow instructors Dave Lewis, Chris Bonfield and Ben McDonald along with some of this years Basic Expedition Leader students.

The focus for the Saturday was on navigation and group leadership.

Planning the walk

Dave, Chris and Ben went off with a group of students each and Graham, Perry and myself set off onto the moors to keep an eye on them. Needless to say that as things went along they got pretty daft – always is with this pair 🙂

Overseeing – taken seriously – obviously 🙂

The weather held well and we met up with each of the groups as we went along. Everyone got time to practice their navigation and group leadership with a few scenarios thrown in for good measure – I must thank Ben, Chris and Dave for all this as they did all the work – so cheers guys.

Meeting up

Much can be said about the beauty of Dartmoor with its Tors and dramatic skies but you do need to remember where you are. Along the way we passed numerous shell holes with the odd rusting casing lying around. Also there were the odd pile of spent rounds that had not been cleaned up but there can be live ammunition found.

We spotted lying nestled in the grass a live grenade (looked like one from the new grenade launchers mounted on vehicles). I took a quick snap with full zoom and we logged its position on the GPS so as to report its position back at the camp. Remember the rule of leaving everything well alone on Military Training Areas.

On Guard

Nature has it hard as well out on the moor – mind you the frog I spotted sunning itself looked happy. It had been raining really hard the day before (you can see the amount of moss on the roof) and one little lamb had crawled into a crack in the rocks to shelter but did not make it through the night.

We also found part of a lambs leg lying in the grass – it was very fresh as so I assume it made for a tasty meal for some predator.

Beauty and Death

Sunday morning brought us back to Meldon Viaduct (regular readers may remember this from two years ago) for our abseil – known as ‘The Big Oke‘ Abseil. It is a cracker of a drop – a 100 foot free fall abseil.

Perry an Graham set up the ropes and we were soon away.

A mornings abseil

For some this was the first time they had abseiled and it is one to remember. The last time we were there the weather was atrocious so we could not drop from the centre but this time the weather was kind to us and the views were great.

A 100 foot fee fall abseil of Meldon Viaduct

The drop made for a cracking video.

As I said Dartmoor is like a second home to me (just come back from a Gold DofE training expedition on the moor) so I am looking forward to getting back down there soon.

Cheers

George

Junior Brecon 2017 – With the Royal Marines Cadets

Adventure and Tactics

Last April the guys from London and Southern Area Royal Marines Cadets (RMC) decided it was time to test themselves out on the slopes of the Brecon Beacons here in the UK.

The expedition was organised by my friend Baz Lilley of the RMC and he wanted Adventure and Tactics  – so that is what he got…………..

Adventuring with the Royal Marines Cadets

I was joined by my fellow Mountain Leaders from the London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training  team (LASCAT) Graham, Ben and Dan.

Friday Night

After a quick set up at Grawen campsite just north of Merthyr Tydfil a group of us set off to recce our first activity – Canyoning just south of the village of Ystradfellte in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.. The river was flowing perfectly for the event and we were set to go.

Planning

Saturday

After a quick breakfast all the LASCAT team headed out to set up for the canyoning. The rest of the RMC staff took the cadets out on some navigation training while we set up.

We were soon set up and I found time to take a nap, take some pictures and have a brew 🙂

Canyoning set up

Baz had paid for a qualified local canyoneering expert to be in attendance so after a chat about what we would be doing it was time to get on with it. Everyone had a life preserver on and a helmet – no wet suits for us.

I led off the first team and after a few push ups in the shallows it was time to take the plunge – the water was a tad cold you could say 🙂

Canyoning – Top half

We went down a couple of slides, through the ‘Jacuzzi’ and crossed some larger pools.

The final section was the ‘Leap of Faith’ – this was a 20 foot jump into a plunge pool at the foot of a waterfall. I went first with my team following closely – a most exhilarating experience.

As soon as my team was out of the water the life preservers and the helmets were transferred to Dan’s team for them to do the run.

Canyoning – Bottom half

The day was warm so everyone was soon dry and warm again. A few of the guys shot some video of the canyoning and it makes for great viewing.

Once we got back to Grawen it was time to prepare for an evenings Tab – I mean Yomp for my Royal Marines friends 😉 (my beret is Maroon and not Green). The plan was to march through the evening to a new campsite with all the kit we would need for a night on the hills.

It was great walking over the hills as the sun set (great photography) but as soon as it had gone the cadets started on tactical patrolling techniques with the RMC staff.

Start of the Night Nav

We hoped to get to another campsite north of Pen Y Fan but the terrain and the heavy loads started to tell on folks so a sensible decision was made to call in the mini buses and get everyone back to camp.

It was a tough day as my pedometer showed nearly 30,000 steps – tough enough with all the kit we had been carrying.

End Ex – Night Nav

The Sunday morning dawned as a fine day but not with the promise of it remaining that way. We hoped to have a morning navigating over Fan Nedd and an afternoon topping out on Pen Y Fan.

It was a cloudy start as we ascended towards Fan Nedd but as usual in Wales the weather really closed in. We decided to skirt round Fan Nedd and head straight to the Storey Arms to try for Pen Y Fan.  The summit of Pen Y Fan could not be seen the wind was strengthening and the rain was coming in stronger. With a heavy heart (consoled by a large burger) we decided to keep low down and do some skills work instead.

Sunday Stroll – Brecon Style

We found a spot in the local woods to run some activities for the cadets. We set up four stances looking at rope work, emergency procedures, hammocks and trying out the Commando Crawl.

Ropework

The lads tried out carrying a casualty over broken ground with a slippery bivi bag (harder than you think), tying different knots and had a go at the Commando Crawl – to different degrees of success 🙂

Precarious

My stance was little bit more sedate on how to put up a tarp and a hammock (in a non tactical way) – it gave them food for though but the boss enjoyed the hammock seat when he came by.

Hammocks and tarps

There was a competition over all the stances and some sweetie treats for the winners. It may not have been as cool as topping out on Pen Y Fan (the mountain can wait for a kinder day) but everyone had a load of fun while they learnt some new skills.

The evening was spent around the fire with a Sods Opera (where the cadets perform little skits imitating the staff) as the main event.

Prizes and Plays

Monday  

It was an early start on the Monday and as some of the Cadets had a six hour journey ahead of them we set off home early.

I am hoping that the RMC manage to organise another of these weekends next year – it is a real test of stamina and skills for both the cadets and the staff.

A wonderful weekend

Cheers

George

Tai Chi with Alan Lewis

Okehampton Army Camp on the Northern Slopes of Dartmoor will conjure up many memories for some folks – mostly of a wet and windswept type.

Not last weekend though when I was there with instructors of the Sea Cadets and Royal Marines Cadets. The weather was glorious, there were loads of activities undertaken but they were all started off with a gentle bit of Tai Chi.

The session was led by Alan Lewis who is 79 years young and still attending our trips on a regular basis – I may be looking into this Tai Chi business a bit more in the future then 🙂

Cheers for the great session Alan.

George

The 2017 Adventure Leaders – Weekend 1

Since 2010 I have been part of the team running the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) Award in London Area Sea Cadets. I have lost count of the number of potential Adventure Leaders I have trained and assessed over the years and more keep coming – we must be doing something right 🙂

BEL Weekend 1

This year we were joined by Roy Sellstrom from Southern Area Sea Cadets as he is looking to start the course in his area. The award is nationally recognised and the success of London Area has started to be noticed now by other Sea Cadet areas.

As the course is designed to be undertaken by students with very little adventure training experience we cover all the basics that a good leader should know. These included classes on clothing, rucksacks, leaders kit, stoves, the law and tents to name just a few we covered.

Our group contained a mixed bunch in terms of experience with quite a few who have been Adventure Leaders under the old Sea Cadet qualification system and are now looking to get this nationally accredited BEL award. This helps us as instructors as we can buddy the students up to share knowledge with each other.

Learning the Basics

The first weekend is always undertaken at a Sea Cadet unit (this year once again at TS Black Swan) so that those students who are not so experienced can be introduced to the subject in a more controlled manner. As the weekends go on they will be operating out of campsites in different parts of the country and passing on their new found skills to cadets as we observe them.

Not all the classes are indoors and we get outside for subjects such as looking at tent and stove designs. These are very hands on classes designed to let the students have time to get to know some of types of kit cadets will bring along to camps. Life would be easy if we could issue our cadets with all the same kit but as we are a charity each unit must source their own kit so it all comes in different shapes and sizes.

All about stoves

One of the reasons I love running this weekend out of TS Black Swan is the great food we always get. The galley staff are always there to feed us from breakfast time to supper time and this is really appreciated by everyone as it lets us get on with all the classes we need to cram into this course.

Eating well

No course run out of TS Black Swan would be complete without a little bit of relaxation time in the wardroom in the evening :-). Also the fact that the unit is in Sunbury on the Thames helps with the great views as you walk out of the door.

Normally I get to spend my evenings on my friend Paul’s canal boat but this year it was booked out with his new lady friend 🙁 Sort it out for next year would you Paul – I miss my bunk).

R & R

While we were running our classes there was plenty of other things going on at the unit including a Seamanship class and a Power Boat class. I spent my breaks sitting by the Thames seeing what was happening and hoping for the odd decent picture.

Other Goings On

Sunday morning was all about map and compass work. After a couple of classes by Roy and John on compasses and maps we were all off out onto the North Downs to practice our navigation.

We broke the teams up into small groups as we had plenty of instructional staff and really concentrated on giving the students some quality tuition. A massive weighting in the assessment is on navigation so this is a skill we practice and test on every training weekend.

Map and Compass time

One minute the students would be in the woods trying to figure out the paths, then out in the open gauging distance, then to find themselves trying to figure out the best way to get a group across a busy road.

In between all this we had plenty of breaks to sit down and discuss all these skills and to just appreciate the countryside around us.

Navigating BEL country

Back in the woods we started to meet up with the other groups as we took them of the paths and got them to work out their route using signs from the land around them. We get very attached to paths and I am a firm believer in getting off the path every now and then and adventuring about.

Meet Ups

There are plenty more trips on this course ahead including Dartmoor, Ashdown Forest and the New Forest before the assessment at the end of the year.

Cheers

George

Dining Out – Brecon Style

The beginning of this year was the end of an era for the Adventure Training team in London Area Sea Cadets: our bosses Perry Symes and Graham Brockwell were standing down from their roles as Area Staff Officers after many years of hard work.

So to celebrate we headed off to the Brecon Beacons here in the UK for a ‘Dining Out Weekend‘.

Dining Out

It was a weekend of many parts – once we had settled into our bunkhouse at Gilfach Farm it was time for a ceremony of handing out certificates to those students who had recently passed their Basic Expedition Leadership Award.

Kev Lomas awarded Perry and Graham a cuddly neck teddy each to carry about for the weekend. Then it was off to the pub to get some dinner (a beer or two) and to plan for the next day.

Friday Fun

After a good breakfast I had a wander outside and was greeted by a cracking view of Pen Y Fan in the distance. She had a light smattering of snow however the skies were clear.

We were soon off in the cars and mini bus heading for our start point at Cwm Gwdi car park (old soldiers may remember this camp). This spot allowed us easy access up onto Pen Y Fan without all the masses you will find on the route up from Storey Arms.

Saturday Start

The majority of the group were outdoor instructors and all had worked with Perry and Graham in one way or another over the years . Today though the emphasis was on ‘doing your own thing’.

Alan and Dave Lewis went for a low level walk as Dave was carrying an injury while the rest of us set off up the Cefn Cwm Llwch track on the northern slopes of Pen Y Fan. The going was wet underfoot at first however we soon climbed above the snow line.

We snaked along the path, well spread out, enjoying the views and chatting as we went along. I decided to record my very first Live Facebook video on this part of the walk. The videos were not top quality because of the weak signal and wind noise but I enjoyed making them.

Pen Y Fan – The Approach

I spent most of my time scouting out good photography positions and ordering the lads to pose for me 🙂 Kept me happy and I think everyone liked that they could for once go at their own pace and do their own thing.

The final bit of the track up to the summit was quite icy but safe enough if you took your time. Once on the top it was like Piccadily Circus with all the folk coming up from the Storey Arms. We soon got the pictures taken and Ben found time for a few push ups before we set off.

Pen Y Fan – The Summit

It was at this point we broke up into three groups. The first set off at breakneck speed to ascend Cribyn and Fan Y Big. I bimbled along with the middle group but soon left them, ascending to the saddle below Cribyn. After a break on Cribyn I descended off the hill on its Northern slope down the Bryn Teg track where I met the third group being led off the hill by Jacques.

Descent Time

Soon the teams met up again and while Jacques sped off to pick up the minibus James produced a rugby ball from his bergen (there was not much else in it). I asked him why he had not produced it on top of Pen Y Fan and he said he forgot (would have been an excellent photo opportunity). Anyway the guys had a good half hour mucking about and doing the odd ‘Dab’ on the side of a bridge.

Waiting for a bus

The Saturday evening was spent in the Red Lion pub in Llangorse enjoying a slap up meal. We were given the upper floor to use and it was probably a good move on the staff’s part – it got pretty noisy at times.

When I arrived though we were all downstairs in the bar and some of the guys were playing pool. They had been there a couple of hours to watch England play in the Six Nations rugby championship. I was standing at the bar when one of the locals approached. ‘Be careful,’ he advised me, nodding at my kilt, ‘There’s a bunch of rowdy English fans in the bar.’ I looked over his shoulder – then back at him – and said that it was OK, those rowdy English fans were my so-called mates 🙂 His face was a picture!

Dinner Time

The evening was a great success with good food, plenty of wine, speeches, and a few war stories before retiring to the bar downstairs.

In the morning there may have been one or two fuzzy heads as we packed up and made our way to Dinas Rock located in the South of the Beacons. The plan was for some of the guys to do some Mountain Leader ropework on the rocks while the rest of us headed off to the waterfalls at Sgwd Yr Eira. In the end no one got there as we all kind of split up (after going the wrong way initially) and did our own thing.

I found a nice spot to sit in my hammock by the river while Jacques as usual dived in.

Sunday Stroll (top left picture courtesy of Ed Juanrude – top right courtesy of Dave Lewis)

It was a fantastic weekend and it was great to be part of it. I think the pictures confirm that Perry and Graham had a great time. Below, pictured in between Perry and Graham, is Ben McDonald, the latest Mountain Leader to the team who has taken over Perry’s role as Sea Cadet Area Staff Officer (ASO) for Adventure Training in the London Area. Perry aims to stay on as the Assistant ASO for a year before stepping back totally.

A Salute

The guests were (in no particular order):

  • Paul Kelly
  • Kev Lomas
  • Deano Nicholas
  • Jacques Daragh Moore-Hurley
  • James Rawlings
  • Ben McDonald
  • Ed Juanrude
  • Duncan Boar
  • Jim Stilgoe
  • Jacob Leverett
  • Jennifer Burdett
  • John Kelly
  • Alan Lewis
  • Dave Lewis
  • Chris Bonfield
  • Chris Cook
  • Graham Brockwell
  • Perry Symes
  • and myself 🙂

Cheers

George

‘Mark 1’ eyeball, map and compass

Where have the last few months gone? – life and work have been hectic recently so I am only now catching up on my trips from late last year.

November last year found me in the Ashdown Forest here in the UK with the Sea Cadets assessing our latest group of expedition  leaders. These Sea Cadet and Royal Marines Cadet instructor/students had a busy year preparing for their assessment but it was worth all the effort. The qualification they were looking to gain was their Basic Expedition Leaders Award (Level 3). This is a nationally recognised qualification from Sports Leaders UK.

Assessment weekend – Serious but fun (bottom right picture courtesy of Jacob Leverett)

I was joined by my colleagues Perry Symes, Dave Lewis, John Kelly, Ben McDonald and Alan Lewis for the weekend.

We were soon split into a couple of teams and out on the heathland and in the woodland testing their skills. Some of these students started the course with very little knowledge so it was good to see them putting all their new found skills to the test.

As well as observing their group management skills as they navigated they all had to give ‘short on the hoof’ presentations to the others. These could be given under the relaxed canopy of a tree or under a windswept bothy bag 🙂

Assessed on navigation skills and group leadership (middle picture courtesy of John Kelly)

One of the most crucial skills any expedition leader should have in my opinion is to be able navigate to a high standard. The students were not only expected to be able to use a map and compass without thinking about it but also to be able to teach the skill to others as well.

Modern navigational aids are looked at on the course however it is the use of the ‘Mark 1’ eyeball, map and compass that are assessed. We spent the whole of the Saturday out and about doing this (hard work some may say).

Crucial Skills (top 3 pictures courtesy of Jacob Leverett)

Sunday was a day mostly of testing knowledge and each of the students had to run a class. Subjects covered included expedition food, kit and the theory of navigation.

While some of the assessors were observing the classes the rest of us were busy catching up on all the admin that Sports Leaders UK need us to complete to run our centre- admin as many of my friends know is not something I enjoy 🙂

Kit Knowledge ((top right picture courtesy of Jacob Leverett)

One of the things I like about helping to run this course is that I keep on finding new ideas for classes from the students like using this mine tape to highlight contours.

Having fun while in class – indoors and outdoors

Everyone who was assessed on the weekend came up to the standards to be an expedition leader so it was great to receive the certificates and to help award them.

Awards along the way

We have been running this award in the Sea Cadets since 2010 now (I think we have missed one year) and I have worked with every group. We have a great team that is growing all the time and other Sea Cadet areas are now sending students to us or looking to emulate us.

By the way can you spot the difference below? 🙂

Spot the difference 🙂

The 2017 group has already started so that one will be up on the blog sometime soon – so loads more trips planned.

Cheers

George

A Boys Own Weekend – More Time to Relax

OK – when I say we had a ‘Boys Own Weekend’ it was not through choice – sometimes it just happens that way and no girls had booked on the course.

Last October I spent an excellent weekend with my friend Dave Lewis teaching some Sea Cadets more advanced navigation techniques. They had all completed their basic campcraft skills and so the focus was on the use of the map and compass.

Lots of Nav

We were based in the Ashdown Forest here in the UK (Winnie the Pooh land) and really tested the lads out with their navigation. We had access to Pippingford Park training area so we were not continually bumping into people as you would do in the open access areas of the forest.

Pippingford Park has a wide variety of habitats from heathland, woodland and wetlands. The park also has many deer and wild horses roaming its interior making it a special place to visit.

Up High – Low Down

We camped in the park on the Saturday evening and soon had a good fire going. Even though it rained a lot we got the marshmallows out and I started to spot loads of fire faces in the flames.

Fireside Fun

The colours were quite beautiful that weekend with all the fungi out and the leaves on the ground. Every time the sun came out so did my camera as that is when the colours came alive.

Autumn Colours

It is weekends like these where there are only a few of us that I really enjoy teaching. More focus can be given on the advanced skills and more time can be given to the instructors to relax 🙂

Cheers

George

Brecon Gold 2016 – Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of my story on our expedition last October to the Brecon Beacons. Yesterday I published Part 1 in our Brecon Gold StoryPart 2 covers Day 3 and 4 of the expedition.

Day 3

This was a day of mostly walking the valleys from Blaenglyn to Grawen campsite so was much easier to manage for us staff. We had a leisurely wait at the Storey Arms as the cadets walked up from the campsite and then onto the hills.

JK and Deano had gone on ahead to do the high level observation (and practice some micro nav) while Morgan and myself got dropped off further down the route.

Day 3

The day was one of these usual DofE staff days – wait, wait and wait some more. Eventually the teams started to appear over the hills heading South. We soon lost them all in the woods along the reservoirs then it was a case of nipping through the back routes to keep an eye on them.

While we were waiting for the teams Morgan asked me how to make rope out of the grass around us (I have a habit of doing this since Perry McGee taught me this a year ago) so the time soon passed (I will be writing this How To….. soon),

Day 3 – A Windy One

We also had some younger cadets along for the trip – they were not doing the DofE but were along to learn about campcraft. They were being looked after by Donnah and Carol however they were joined on Day 3 by Dave. They had a wonderful day walking along the trail that is known as the ‘Along the Waterfalls’ route near Ystradfellte. As well as a location for excellent waterfall shots it is a great location for woodland navigation.

Dave did have a chat with me afterwards and the jist of the conversation was around never being asked to lead so many women again 😉

The Waterfall Walk – photos courtesy of John Kelly

That night some of the cadets and staff put a fire together and re-lived the days events around the fire. It is not every trip to Wales that allows you this simple pleasure.

Relaxing

Day 4

The final day was soon upon us and after a drop off at Dolygaer (north of Merthyr Tydfil) everyone was soon climbing high into the hills. The finish point was on the Dam at Talybont Reservoir.

Day 4

Dave and myself headed off first to get up high to observe the teams and Jess and Carol took the younger cadets around the trail near the Tallybont reservoir. This meant we had good cover of the teams as they moved through the area.

The weather was spectacularly clear and I spent my time getting landscape and macro shots of everything around me. I think Dave had a less spectacular time as where he was the cloud cover was very low (that is the Welsh Mountains for you as we were less than a Kilometre from each other).

Dramatic Day 4

Finally everyone (I think Dave and myself were in last) reached the dam on the Tallybont Reservoir. There was time for one last picture and then some very tired but happy Gold adventurers set off on the journey home.

Finish Up

Cheers

George

Brecon Gold 2016 – Part 1

For the last two months my work has been pretty manic so my blogging and bushcraft has been severley curtailed. Time for catch up then on some of my autumnal activities. I have split the story of this expedition into two parts to make it easier to tell.

My last major trip of the year was with the Sea Cadets on a Gold DofE expedition to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales here in the UK.

The expedition started at Blaenau in the North West of the Beacons and finished at the Talybont Resevoir Dam in the East of the Beacons.

Overall Route

I was joined by staff and cadets from both London and Southern Area Sea Cadets.

The staff were John Kelly (JK), Dave Lewis, Chris Bonfield, Alan Lewis, Carol O’Brien, Jess Edwards, Donnah Chandle and Morgan Hina.

All was wet when we got to Wales however we soon had the tents up (next to a field of pigs) and got to work getting ready for the next days walk.

Day 1

Day 1 of the expedition was dominated by extremely low cloud cover however the teams set off in good spirit and were soon marching off into the mists.

Arrival and Day 1

Thankfully we had plenty of staff out on the hills to keep an eye on the DofE participants (made up of cadets and staff doing their Gold DofE). We met the participants a number of times during the day as visibility at times was down to about 100 metres.

Day 1

Day 1 was from Blaenau to the campsite at Dan yr Ogof Caves. This was mostly moorland walking however their navigational skills were really tested here due to the poor visibility and sometimes uniform moorland terrain.

Challenges (Bottom pictures courtesy of Deano and JK)

Some of the staff (Jess and Deano) were using the expedition to test their navigational skills in preparation for their Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) assessment in November. Helping them along were JK and Chris Bonfield – JK and Chris were also acting as the Expedition Assessors.

I was working alongside Dave as Mountain Safety staff. Our job was to stay up high and keep a close eye on the DofE participants as they moved through the Beacons. Along the way I decided to keep an eye out for a splash of colour and I found it in the lichens.

Micro and Macro (bottom left picture courtesy of JK)

Day 2

This was from a drop off near the Cray Resevoir to a campsite at Blaenglyn. This was a day spent high in the hills and though the cloud cover was high the wind was strong.

Day 2

I managed to get some better photography on Day 2 and so did Dave (he captured the shepherd marshalling his sheep along with his Collie taking it easy at the back).

I passed a very intense herd of cows watching my every move and wondered at the beauty of the dew on the grass and the wisps of mist floating along the tree tops.

Day 2 – A working landscape

I met the teams along the way as they went from hilltop to hill top. They were all in good spirits in the first half of the day and even found time to dry their tents out from the soaking they got from the night before.

One team developed a couple of injuries and so we directed them to a lower route to the north of the route shown below. All the teams though made it back to camp before it got dark.

Clear skies

I will post Part 2 of the post up tomorrow however here is a quick photo/video of the trip to finish today.

Cheers

George

Chosin Cup 2016 – One Hard Weekend

The London Area Sea Cadets annual Chosin Cup competition is one event I look forward to every year. Since 1999 I have been attending this event and this year may not have been the hardest in terms of the weather but it sure was hard due to the sheer number of different tests the cadets had to undertake.

Friday

Kick off is on the Friday night (late September) with the cadets marching in to their bivvie sites and working on their route cards. The staff though were up into the early hours prepping everything for the weekend.

Saturday

First thing on Saturday morning they were briefed in their teams and then they were off. They needed to navigate a route inside and outside Pippingford Park military training area (located in the beautiful Ashdown Forest in the UK).

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Out and about

This year the Chosin Cup was run by our ‘soon to be‘ new Area Staff Officer Ben MacDonald. Ben is keen to really test the cadets and brought in some new activities for them to try out.

Cliff Lewis was in his element running the timed rowing race, there was plenty of archery to test the keen eyed ones, loads of fake blood for the hardy at heart to stem and a fantastic climbing tower to let the cadets scurry up.

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Multi activities

In between each stance the cadets had to keep navigating and pushing themselves to get to each one as quickly as possible.

The Tyrolean Traverse and the Minibus pull tested the cadets teamwork and strength while the Seamanship stance worked on their core Sea Cadet skills

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Skills and Stamina

In between all this tooing and frowing of cadets the staff were busy running the stances (well some got a bit of R&R in between) and we had a visit on the Sunday from the Senior London Area officers (that kept us on our toes).

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Busy Staff

As for myself I was in the enviable position of being the roving safety officer/official photographer (my car ended up totally covered in dust from all the dirt tracks).

I put together a couple of short videos of the weekend and below is the first one with snippets of the Saturdays activities.

The Saturday night was not a quiet affair, as soon as it was dark, they were off again. This time on a night navigation excercise working from point to point using compasses and maps – they all made it and were soon safely back at camp.

Sunday

All the activities on the Sunday morning were located within the confines of Pippingford Park (no hardship there as it is a beautiful site) and so after a good breakfast it was time to get started again.

The cadets were kept busy hauling themselves and all their kit up steep inclines, building rafts (a few did come apart) and stalking the enemy 🙂

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Sunday morning activities

My friend Charlie Brookes ran the Fire Race. This involves collecting different tinders and twigs then lighting them (using a firesteel) and getting the flames high enough to burn through a suspended horizontal rope – not as easy as you might think.

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Fire Race

The event culminated in each team having to run the Endurance Race. This was set up by our friend Kev Lomas from Southern Area Royal Marines Cadets and he knows how to set a tough race (he knows his stuff as he runs a company called Muscle Acre).

After a briefing they were off – each team took about 15 minutes to complete the race. It was a mixture of natural and man-made obstacles but the general theme was mud, ropes and water.

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Start of the Endurance Race

It was great to watch the cadets pushing themselves over the race and really come together as individual teams. There were staff located all around the site to encourage the cadets and ensure they were always safe. It was hard for them but the looks on their faces when they finished showed that they really enjoyed themselves.

Pushing On
Pushing On

For many years I have run with the teams around these races however this year it was time to let others have a go and as the official photographer I encouraged/poked/prodded some of the other staff to have a go so I could film them (you have to have some sort of R&R when you reach 50!!)

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The staff having a go

Below is the second of my videos showing the Sunday activities including the Endurance Race.

After a quick wash up it was time for the awards. There were 9 teams entered in the event this year and a close run thing it was too.

Merton Unit came 3rd, City of London came 2nd and the winners were Maldon Unit – BZ guys.

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The Awards

For many years the Chosin Cup has been overseen by our two Area Staff Officers Perry Symes and Graham Brockwell. They are standing down now to make way for some younger members of staff such as Ben MacDonald to take over and test themselves.  This post then, I am dedicating, (like my videos) to these two stalwarts of the Adventure Training world in the Sea Cadets – Perry and Graham.

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Chosin Cup

The weekend could not have been run without all the staff that volunteered to come along and run it so thank you to each and every one of you.

Thanks to all the cadets that came along and really tested themselves in what I regard as the toughest competition the Sea Cadets and the Royal Marines Cadets run.

Finally thanks must go to Ben MacDonald for putting it all together and making it a fine one for Perry and Graham to bow out on.

Cheers

George

BEL – 2016 – Preparing for Assessment

This year has once again proved to be a busy one for me on the Adventure Training front, however it has probably not been as busy as it has been for some of our ‘soon to be Basic Expedition Leaders‘ (BEL) in the Sea Cadet Corps.

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Catching up on all that paperwork

This weekend my friend Perry Symes and I ran the penultimate weekend in this years BEL course. The BEL award is a nationally recognised qualification designed to give adult instructors a good grounding in becoming Adventure Leaders.

Next month they all go for assessment so this weekend was all about catching up on their paperwork and really testing their navigational and group leadership skills.

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Practice and more practice

Joining us on the weekend were Sarah, Lee, Charlie Chris and James. Everyone had to lead specific legs of the route we chose for them and manage the group as we went along.

There were lots of challenges set for them in terms of giving short lessons on different subjects and making sure they could navigate to a high standard (as well as teach navigation to others).

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Woodland wanderings

It was great to get out at this time of year and see all the autumnal colours really starting to show through. We studied hard over the weekend however we did have fun along the way.

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Autumn is here

Over the weekend we stayed at the Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadet unit TS Black Swan on the banks of the river Thames. I must say thank you very much to all the staff who welcomed us, fed us and  looked after us so well.  I for one got to kip on my friend Paul’s canal boat (Thames Boat Training) that was moored up next to the unit – so cheers Paul :-). This enabled Perry and myself to fully focus on preparing the guys for their two day assessment next month.

Cheers

George

 

A Mereworth Mooch

A great location to get immersed in nature

It has been one busy summer this year and I am just now catching up on all my travels. Way back in July I spent a weekend at a military training area called Mereworth Woods with Northern District Sea Cadets for our Adventure Training (AT) competition.

My friend Dave Lewis organises this competition for our District and what a cracking weekend it turned out to be.

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A Mereworth Mooch

The cadets arrived on the Friday night and set out on the Saturday on a route to test their navigational skills. Along the way there was always something to see, hear or smell. Sometimes that was beautiful, intriguing or sad. As all the cadets are from London so this is a great location to get immersed in nature.

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Nature all around

Thankfully we had plenty of staff on hand to be out and about observing all the teams (we had 7 teams entered). As it was a hot weekend there was plenty of water at the checkpoints and staff were continually checking that the cadets knew where they were going.

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Hard navigation

The Sunday morning concentrated on activities to test the cadets. The Atlatl proved a particular favourite but there were others to test teamwork and the likes of their First Aid skills.

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Teamwork

There was a ropes section and also a stance on hypothermia though there was always time to chill and hang about in the trees.

It is important to run the event like this as some of the teams would be going on towards the London Area AT competition – Chosin Cup – later in the summer.

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Working fun

Now the Sea Cadets have a saying – Serious Fun – I think our competitions try to embody that saying – none more so than the stalking stance. It is fun for the cadets and the staff however it is also serious as there can be good points earned here on the way to winning the District AT cup.

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Just fun

After all the points were totted up Waltham Forest unit came 3rd, Newham unit came 2nd and Enfield unit came 1st.

Well done though to all the cadets and staff who took part. We did not make the competition easy for them however we did make it fun.

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Celebrations

All the units who attended this year were:

City of London, Edmonton, Enfield, Harringay, Newham, Waltham, Forest and West Ham

Cheers

George

 

Dartmoor DofE 2016

Adventuring is hard work – but it should also be fun.

The beginning of July found me down on Dartmoor with Sea and Royal Marines Cadets and staff doing a spot of training in preparation for their assessed Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition in October.

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Adventuring

The cadets and staff were from a number of different units in the London and Southern areas. We set up camp initially at the Tavistock Camping and Caravanning site just outside of Tavistock. This is a well catered-for site located on the edges of the Dartmoor National Park – I even managed to set up my hammock here (always a bonus on Dartmoor, where the trees are few and far between).

Training day

Time was spent planning and preparing for the first day out on the moor before setting off on an intensive training session the next day.

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Prep and set off

Joining us were a number of trainee Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) so there was plenty of adult cover. We had three teams on this expedition, two undertaking their Gold award and one their Silver.

At least one fully qualified and one trainee BEL instructor were assigned to each team on this first day. The teams spent the day learning the art of navigation and group management around the heights of Cox Tor, Barn Hill, Great Staple Tor and Great Mis Tor to the East of Tavistock.

I spent my time wandering the moor keeping an eye on the different teams and meeting up with them from time to time.

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Tuition day

Day 1

Even though the cadets and staff were only on their training expedition they were expected to navigate the moor without having a trained instructor present. At this stage in their development our job as DofE Leaders and trainers is to step back and keep a close eye on them through ‘Remote Supervision’ – which basically means to keep a good eye on them from afar and meet them from time to time at pre-arranged check points.

Here’s The Day 1 route from Barn Hill viewpoint to Nun’s Cross Farm campsite (via Princetown):

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Day 1 route

Below you can see the three teams with some of the instructors who were keeping a close eye on them. The bottom two teams were training for Gold and the top team for Silver.

They had full packs for the next few nights and were soon off and away. The observers keeping an eye on them were Lee, Dave, Jess, Carol and Donna.

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The teams (pictures courtesy of John Kelly)

While the teams were on the Moor with their observing staff I helped de-camp and move the staff tents to a new campsite in Princetown.

We camped at the site behind the Plume of Feathers pub (thankfully again there was a spot to set up my hammock.

We met the teams as they came through Princetown and they all seemed in good spirits. It was a hot day and we made sure there was plenty of water available at checkpoints. Their final campsite was in amongst a herd of cows – I think it was quite a new experience for some of them.

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Day 1 campsite

Day 2

The Day 2 route was from Nun’s Cross Farm to West Stoke Farm campsite (via Naker’s Hill and Holne Ridge).

Day 2 route
Day 2 route

The teams and observational staff (Alan, Carol, Lee, Dave and Jess) were off early so I went for a wander up onto Holne Ridge with fellow instructors John, Sarah and Donna. Both Sarah and Donna are hoping to become qualified BEL instructors so we spent a lot of time doing map and compass work.

Along the way I introduced them to the delights of cleaning their hands in sphagnum moss and Donna even managed to find a whole bog full of the stuff to herself – she dried off soon enough :-).

Once onto the high moors we joined up with some of the other staff and kept an eye on the teams moving across the moors.

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Training and waiting

As the day was clear the trainee BEL candidates could really get to grips with their mapwork and Dave got the cracking ‘selfie’ below of us all sitting and observing at our meet up point.

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Remote supervision – pictures courtesy of Dave Lewis

Everyone was tired at the end of day 2 (cadets and staff alike) and after preparing their routes for the next day they got their food on the go and had a well earned rest that evening. Chris made sure that the team leaders had their route planned out well so they could brief their team members.

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Prepping and relaxing

Day 3

The Day 3 route was from West Stoke Farm to Scorriton (via Chalk Ford and Pupers Hill). As this was our last day and we needed to get back home everyone was up and away by 8am.

Day 3 route
Day 3 route

I went with a number of staff to the end point at Scorriton and headed off with Jess. Carol and Donna up onto the Moor to meet the observers. The observers, Dave and Chris, had good visibility so were able to keep me informed by radio of the teams’ locations all the time.

As there was no need for everyone to climb up onto the moors I left Jess, Carol and Donna by a stream crossing that the teams would have to pass and set off up Pupers Hill to meet the teams.

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Taking time out

Soon everyone was down off the moor and relaxing by the stream where I got some great shots of everyone. After a good rest we headed off but could not resist a quick climb into this magnificent tree (well, Dave and Jess couldn’t resist it). Based on the amount of moss and lichens on the tree you can begin to appreciate just how wet this area can be.

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Sit point

This was a hard week with misty mornings and hot afternoons. Everyone worked well and really developed themselves so that their assessment expedition in October will be a success.

We did though as you can see below have some laughs along the way. Adventuring is hard work – but it should also be fun.

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Having fun

I am looking forward to working with everyone again in October when we will be running the assessed expedition on the Brecon Beacons.

Cheers

George

Picture of the Week – Week 25 – Sundew Snack

Last week found me tabbing around the Tors of Dartmoor with the Sea Cadets on a training week for a Gold DofE Expedition.

As I was observing the cadets from afar I had plenty of time to look for the little details that make up nature. I found that detail with this scene where a fly had been trapped in the sticky glandular tentacles of a Sundew plant.

Sundew Snack
Sundew Snack

The fly had not been caught long as it was still struggling. Within about 15 minutes of being trapped they normally expire with exhaustion and are slowly dissolved by the Sundews enzymes. You can find out a lot more about this beautiful little plant at carnivorous–plants.com

I come across hundreds of Sundews at this time of year alongside the upland streams however it is not often I spot one having a snack.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Shear Leg Hammock Stand

This is a post that came about because someone decided to chop down a tree. On a recent Sea Cadet training weekend we ended up with one instructor (Jess), one hammock and one tree – my friend Dave and myself had bagged the other trees for our hammocks :-). Not an ideal situation for Jess you could say.

We could not camp elsewhere and there was nothing in the way of available natural material to help us (we were on a military camp). Thankfully my friends Alan and Dave spotted some old poles (used for team building exercises) at the back of of a building. So Dave with Jess as his assistant in true Seacadet style, set out to apply their seamanship talents to our problem.

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Shear Leg Stand

The Shear Lashing

They collected some assorted pieces of rope and a couple of cadets to help out. The poles were quite long and thick so they decided to tie the poles together about two thirds of the way along their length. The poles were tied together using a shear lashing (I will be using Grog’s Knots to help describe how they did this).

To start the shear lashing they attached the rope to one pole using a timber hitch and then wrapped the rope a number of times around both poles (this is known as wrapping). To make this easier the poles were raised slightly of the ground and the cadets helped to pass the masses of ropes around the poles.

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Wrapping

Once the wrappings were completed the lashing was tightened by being frapped (nothing to do with Facebook). Frapping is the nautical term to describe the tightening of a rope or cable. Dave did this by completing a number of turns around the centre of the lashing and pulling it all in tight.

To finish the lashing off he secured it with a clove hitch to the pole without the timber hitch. There was plenty of rope left over as well to help with anchoring the shear legs down.

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Frapping

Anchoring

Though the poles were large they were surprisingly light so they were soon standing vertical. A spare piece of rigging line was looped over the pole with the timber hitch on it and with the spare rope from the shear lashing the legs were securely anchored by wrapping both ropes around base of a solid fence post.

Both ropes were then tied off around the shear lashing on the poles to make it all secure.

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Anchoring

Alternative Anchors

If you do not have a handy anchor like our fence post you can make your own. In the past I have had shear legs and tripods for hammocks anchored safely with three large wooden stakes.

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Alternative Anchors

Securing

If you cannot drive your shear legs into the ground I would advise you to tie them together near the bottom so that they do not inadvertently splay out. Dave used the last of the lashing rope (it was a rather long piece of old climbing rope) to do this.

Finally, to finish the set up the shear legs were tied securely to our single tree using a top line. This top line as well as securing the shear legs was to act as a line to hang Jess’s tarp off.

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Securing

Testing & Set Up

I did a bit of testing after we had hung the hammock. I figured if it took my weight then Jess would have no problems. The top line went slightly slack when the system took my weight so that was re-tightened while I was in the hammock.

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Testing

After that it was a simple case of rigging the tarp and Jess setting up home for the night.

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Setting up home

This was a great solution from Dave to our missing tree problem and took less than an hour to complete. Jess slept the whole night soundly in her impromptu sleep system and I was chuffed that I managed to capture most of the stages in its construction.

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A Good Nights Sleep

If you are interested in making a slightly smaller and more mobile hammock stand yourself have a look at my two other posts on this subject,

How To…. Make a Freestanding Hammock Stand

How To…. Mk2 – Make a Freestanding Hammock Stand

Cheers

George

Picture of the Week – Week 23 – A Simple Moment in Time

A picture from a week ago in the depths of Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest. I chose this picture due to the perfect framing the canopy gave the cadets and the reedmace you can see on the left.

Adventuring On
Adventuring On

I had stopped to photograph something else and as I turned around I spotted the cadets moving off, so quick as a flash I snapped this simple moment in time before it disappeared forever.

As a photographer I am continually looking for these moments in time, they are rare but they are out there.

Cheers

George

Skilling up in the New Forest

Recently I have been reading a lot on social media about how kids and adults seemingly do not interact enough with nature. This is now the fourth year I have written about our annual trip to the New Forest so I would like to say that whoever writes these general stories has never been out with the Sea Cadets. We immerse both our cadets and staff in nature, so much so that they keep coming back for more. This is the story of just one of the many expeditions we run throughout the year.

This particular expedition is arranged each year so that we can skill up our cadets and staff in Adventurous Training (AT) activities and also to support the annual HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre church in the New Forest.

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The Crew

The weekend is organised by Chief Petty Officer Paul Townsend (City of London Sea Cadets) and we have cadets and staff attending both from London and Southern areas.

Our aim is to immerse everyone fully in nature as well as teaching them the traditional AT activities such as map reading, compass work and camping. This weekend saw the cadets finding the skeleton of a fox, observing pond life and scrambling all over the woods.

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Relaxing and Exploring

We have various groups set up over the weekend focusing on different skills. There was a group for the Juniors, various groups for the older cadets and a Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) group out as well.

I took out a group with Paul, Jess and some of the older cadets, The cadets were looking to gain various camping tickets and Jess was under training for her Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) award. This requires her to have a high level of navigation skill however it also requires he to have the skill to pass that knowledge onto others.

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Map and Compass work

Now it is not all hard work and no play by any means. Soon the cadets were flying through the puddles and we took time to rest up on the Saturday afternoon at the hotel near Beauly Rd station. On the way back to the campsite at Ferny Crofts the way got pretty boggy so it was fun watching the cadets trying to keep there feet dry. They soon learnt how to select a good route along the way.

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Fun for all ages

Evening activities involved the usual football, netball and run out games before it was marshmallow time.

We had enough wood this year for the cadets to have their own fire and soon it was sparking away merrily.

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Woodland TV

On the Sunday morning a group of cadets go off to the remembrance service at Boldre church while the rest of us get on with the mornings activities.

Simon was thankfully with us again this year and ran the galley in the roundhouse. He certainly can make some great meals with very little in the way of ingredients. The Juniors meanwhile cracked on with firelighting with Charlie and cooking with Chrissie. I enjoyed some giant toasted chocolate marshmallows however the orange cakes were left in the embers for a little too long I think 🙂

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Sunday Morning Feast

The rest of the staff and the older cadets cracked on with lots of classes. This allowed the trainee instructors like Sarah, Jess and James to gain some valuable time teaching AT skills while training up for their BEL award.

Classes included tent pitching, first aid, bag packing, cooking and compass work. I did not see much of the DofE team as they were out on their expedition on both days however reports back were that they all successfully completed the weekend.

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Adventure Training classes

While all this was going on on the Sunday morning the group at Boldre church put on a fine parade and learnt a bit more about HMS Hood. In all my years going to the New Forest for this trip I have never managed once to get to the parade – mind you that would involve me putting a uniform on 😉

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2016 HMS Hood Remembrance Service

As I get older the years seem to pass quicker however each year has been packed full of fun. I am looking forward to many more years of visiting the New Forest and passing on my knowledge of nature to others so that they can continue this skilling up cycle.

Cheers

George

Previous years in the New Forest

2013 – Adventures in the New Forest – To play and learn

2014 – New Forest – Our annual pilgrimage to remember HMS Hood

2015 – New Forest Adventures

Forest Flammage

Flammage – A phrase I heard for the first time at Woodcraft School when I was studying for my Bushcraft instructors certificate. I love the word as teaching firelighting has always been a passion of mine. Over the last couple of months I noticed I had gotten some excellent flammage shots.

I teach firelighting using many different methods however when you have lots of kids to teach and not much in the way of time then firesteels do the trick. They do make for some cracking pictures as demonstrated below by my friend Dave Lewis at a recent Sea Cadet camp. When teaching firesteels to very young children I liken them to fairy lights and you can see why below.

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Fairy Lights

Now it is not all just one big firelighting fest as we do teach everyone to respect fire and how to be responsible in using it. Charlie got the kids in the picture below to use firesteels to strike onto char cloth and then blow it all into a flame using some dried grass. The resulting fire was kept contained in a fire tray and soon produced plenty of tea and chocolate cakes.

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Flammage

Some flammage fun here – we were given some offcuts of soft wood to burn by one of the other Sea Cadet instructors and I had brought along a pre-drilled fire face log rocket stove. With a criss cross fire lay and a well lit log rocket with the parachute in the background taking a picture seemed like a good idea.

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Log rocket fire face

I can spend hours watching a fire and when I think the flames are right out comes my camera and I start snapping away. I may take a hundred pictures in the hope that something will appear in the flames.

I call these pictures Fire Faces and in the two below I spotted two old men of the woods – see if you can spot them?

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Old men of the woods

I have plenty of pictures of the cadets and my own kids sitting around a fire toasting marshmallows and this simple act is something I never tire off. This evening though really stands out in my memory with the Fire Faces adding that bit of extra light and ambience.

Marshmallows by candelight

Taken in late spring down at my friend Fraser’s (Coastal Survival) during a rather stormy night was this picture of a bunch of hairy bushcrafters sitting snugly around the fire. Needless to say a dram or two helped pass the evening along nicely.

Stormy nights
Stormy nights

My favourite fire picture of the last couple of months though is this one. It is the fire the cadets were sitting around and I played around with the settings of my camera to try and capture the picture as best I could without a flash. I then just waited until a piece of wood split in the flames to capture all the sparks spiralling upwards.

Woodland TV

No doubt there will be a few more Flammage pictures coming up over the summer as the Bushmoot and the Wilderness Gathering approach so I will leave you with these for now.

Cheers

George

Life & Death with a Touch of Decay

Sometimes when I review photographs I have taken on trips a pattern or a theme starts to emerge. On my recent trip to the New Forest here in the UK with the Sea Cadets one of life and death with a touch of decay thrown in for good measure started to appear.

Take for example in the two pictures below. The cadets are sitting in the shade by a pond in the top picture with all the late spring growth going on around them. While in the bottom picture in amongst all the new iris shoots the bracket fungus on the alder trunk is slowly doing its bit for the cycle of life breaking down wood fibres into sugars. Two lovely pictures but ones I could too easily have overlooked.

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Water life

While the cadets were getting to grips with the art of map reading in various huddles, around them nature was getting on with its business. A rather forlorn looking spiders web seemed to be full of leaf shoot casings and the roots of some trees seemed to be tying themselves into some weird knots. Quite beautiful to see however I only spotted them when I stepped back to photograph the cadets.

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Stopping places

My friend Charlie spotted this little rabbit skull by the side of the pond you saw in the first picture. It was such a delicate little thing and we could so easily have trod on it. I have no idea how it died – maybe it was a fox……………………….

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Death – the prey

Well we found the fox – well, we found a fox :-). One of my cadets spotted some bones in the undergrowth and after a little bit of exploration we put together pretty much all of the skeleton.

The skull still had some of the fur and whiskers still attached to it so I assumed that it had not long since died. The cadets I was with were mostly city kids so they were very excited to find the fox. They wanted to take the skeleton back with us but I did not feel that that was right to do so we left ‘Foxy’ to be discovered by some other woodland adventurers.

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Death – the predator

The trees themselves were painting a beautiful picture in this cycle of life. We came across some pretty massive artists fungus (top left below) that really stood out against the skyline when you looked up from under it.

There is a certain spot I pass most times when I visit the New Forest where there are a number of holly trees (bottom left). For some reason the forest ponies like to gnaw at the bark. They leave some great markings on the trunk and I love to get the cadets guessing what causes this strange site.

Lastly we spotted this strange tree (bottom right) we dubbed it the Easter Island tree due to its likeness to the statues found there. These growths known as burls/burrs are caused by the tree trying to protect itself from some sort of infection (if I remember my university courses correctly). My bushcrafting friends know they can make for some quite exquisite bowls.

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Tree life

Last but not least are these two little critters. The toad below was spotted by the cadets and he tried very hard to pretend he was invisible. The cadets and myself lay down to observe him when we realised he was not running away. After a few minutes we left him in peace to get on with his business (I say ‘he’ but have no idea if that is correct).

A last little visitor to our camp (you can see the camp chair legs) was this little Chaffinch (bottom picture). She was not bothered by us as she searched our fireside for some morsels. I was quite content to just sit and watch her potter about while I put my feet up.

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Critters

I never set out to write this blog based on this them of life, death and decay but I was sure glad I spotted it.

Cheers

George

Picture of the Week – Week 22 – My Kind of Classroom

Classrooms are places I spend a lot of my time, some are well equipped, some are just glorified storage rooms however some are just perfect.

A perfect classroom
A perfect classroom

This spot known as Hill 170 made for a perfect classroom for Jess to teach some of our cadets the art of navigation.

Classroom Hill 170 on a day like this has it all as far as I am concerned – a view, shade and the promise of adventure.

Cheers

George

Adventure Leaders – 2016

Last April it was time to start the Basic Expedition Leaders course for 2016 here at London Area Sea Cadets. The course is spread over four weekends and the students – if they pass – get accredited by Sports Leaders UK as Adventure Leaders.

I have passed the administration of the course to my friends John Kelly and Dave Lewis. I am happiest working as instructional staff on these weekends – all the paperwork that goes with them sends shivers down my spine 🙂

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Classes, classes and loads of admin

The weekend was hosted by Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadet unit (TS Black Swan) where all of the classes took place on the Saturday. The classes were run by Dave Lewis, John Kelly and myself however all the students had to deliver their own class as part of the weekend.

In amongst all these classes we were well fed the whole weekend by the unit staff. This onsite catering allowed us to really concentrate on all the classes (one less chore to do) so thanks to everyone who helped.

I had ripped a muscle in my calf a few weeks earlier (never go trampolining with your kids!!) and thought it was healing well. Needless to say, within 5 minutes of arriving I managed to re-open the rip so spent the rest of the weekend hobbling around. I did enjoy the unit bonfire though as they burned some old boats.

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Lots going on – Bottom left picture courtesy of Jacob Leverett

There were many classes from navigation to the law but quite a few hands-on ones such as learning about different tents. It is crucial that Adventure Leaders are proficient in putting up a wide a range of tents as they’ll be faced with all sorts of different types when they’re teaching cadets.

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Tentage

I did not get out on the Sunday on the navigation exercise because of my gammie leg, however I did get a great picture of the Swans on the slipway by the unit.

Jess Edwards took the top picture below (taken on the North Downs) and its simple beauty lent itself well to black and white.

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Beauty – Top picture courtesy of Jess Edwards

On the Sunday morning I headed home to rest up but the guys all struck out for the North Downs. They had a morning of intense instruction from John and Dave. They needed it, as they would soon be taking the cadets out and about.

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The art of nav – pictures courtesy of Lee Diss

The next weekend on the course was last month in the New Forest and that report will be up soon.

Cheers

George

Nature Challenge – Day 1 – Preening Time

I got nominated by my friend Kitty Brown on Facebook for this Nature Challenge that is on the rounds. I am always up for a challenge if it helps me getting out and about.

I am currently teaching a Basic Expedition Leadership course by the side of the Thames river at the Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadet unit (TS Black Swan).

I re-ripped my calf muscle again (not looking where I was going) so I cannot move very far but luckily I spotted these beauties preening themselves in front of the unit.

Preening Time
Preening Time

My home for the weekend is the lovely canal boat the Wee Dram  (Thames Boat Training) that you can see just to the right of the picture.

Seemingly this lasts for 7 days so I may be doing a bit of macro photography in my garden as my mobility for the next few days looks like it will be severely curtailed – then again whoever said a challenge was supposed to be easy 🙂

Cheers

George

Stormy Snowdon – ‘Earning Mountain Wings’

My last trip out into the mountains proved a bit draftier and damp than I was expecting. Last January I headed off with some other instructors from the Sea and Royal Marines Cadets into the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales.

We run this every year as a weekend for experienced instructors to expand on their mountain navigation and as an introduction to mountain skills for the less experienced. Twenty two of us set off and thankfully the same returned – the weather though, was something to behold that weekend.

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Stormy Snowdon (bottom picture courtesy of Perry Symes)

The winds were particularly strong that weekend and my friend Perry Symes (he is an International Mountain Leader) said that the winds were some of the strongest he had ever experienced. You can see the white tops on the surface of Llyn Idwal (picture above) and when you see the surface like that it is not advisable except for the most experienced to climb further.

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Batten down the hatches (top two pictures courtesy of Perry Symes)

We decided to have one group stay low around Idwal and one to climb up on the rather more sheltered side of Tryfan up to an area called Heather Terrace. Perry and John took the lower route and Graham and myself took the higher route.

When I spoke with Perry and John later that day they said that at one stage they could not stay standing and had to hold onto the rocks to prevent them selves from being blown away.

We thankfully were not affected by the wind as we were in the lee of it on the other side of Tryfan. Our group was made up of instructors with different skill levels and fitness levels. We took the day at a slow pace introducing the newer members to scrambling. Even though the wind was not a problem eventually everyone was soaked through from the persistent rain.

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Scrambling

The higher we got though the tougher the going got. We could hear the wind cracking like a whip in the crags above us once we got to about 650m’s. We took one last look at the towering crags of Tryfan and decided that the mountain could wait another day for us.

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Tryfan – Wind ‘Cracking’ above

It was not all doom and gloom (though a few of us did want to top out) as we had fun slithering down again, doing a spot of bouldering, spotting some local mountain goats or like Dave did, partaking in some mountain paddling :-).

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Fun for everyone

It was an extremley hard day on the mountains that day and I was particularly impressed with everyone’s patience and resilience. To some of the instructors this was nothing new but to some it was their first experience on the mountains. We had a couple of students develop some slight aches and pains however they persevered and completed the day safely.

Everyone was soon back in one of the Moel Siabod Cafe in Capel Curig drying off and drinking coffee.

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Homeward bound

To finish off the Saturday we had a de-brief on the day back at Capel Curig Training Camp before heading off down to the Swallow Falls hotel for an enjoyable evening.

As the wind was just as strong the next day we decided to stay low down in the hills and concentrate on micro navigation. We headed off from Snowdonia up into the hills just above Conway.

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Re-cap and start of day 2

We split up into smaller groups and I was joined by Mandy, Tara and Sian. They all had different levels of map reading skills however they were all keen to get on and have some fun along the way.

I gave each of them different locations to find, sometimes with the map, sometimes with just a compass and sometimes by dead reckoning alone.

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Micro nav with a smile

We had fun along the way and met some of the other groups on our travels. The wind got so strong at times we had to stay away from the cliff edges and were able to lean right into the wind without toppling over.

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Taking it in there stride (top left picture courtesy of Sarah Diss)

Even though we did not top out mother nature tested us all out in her own way. For me it was to make sure everyone learnt, had fun along the way and came back safely.

Those that earned their mountain wings (you could say that after the winds we had) were Mandy Blackmore, Tara Green, Sian Avenell, Thomas Conway, Jasmine Turner, Sarah Diss, Lee Diss, Maria Griffiths, Amy Pizarro-Griffiths, Alan Lewis, Dave Lewis,  Ben MacDonald, Rob Hina, Carol O’Brien, Jess Edwards, Jennifer Burdett, Rachel Selby, and Chris Cooke. The instructors were John Kelly, Perry Symes, Graham Brockwell and myself.

Cheers, George

Picture of the Week – Week 7 – Paddling – Snowdon Style

I spent last weekend up in the beautiful mountains of Snowdonia in North Wales. The winds were particularly strong and the rain was pretty continual.

I was with fellow instructors from the Sea Cadets working on our navigation skills. Although the elements were against us from the start and we did not top out everyone kept up good spirits. This picture of my friend Dave captures for me the tough conditions however it also shows the high spirits of folk.

Paddling in Snowdonia
Paddling in Snowdonia

Cheers, George

The Finale – Assessment Weekend

Getting out and Adventuring

On a cold but dry weekend last October Sea Cadet staff and cadets assembled in beautiful Ashdown Forest for the finale of the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) course. This was a weekend of assessments for the staff and a weekend of learning for the cadets.

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The BEL Assessment weekend

The BEL award is a nationally recognised qualification in outdoor leadership and comes under the banner of the Sports Leader UK Award. The trainee instructors have to attend three weekends of training and put in many more hours’ work on their leadership and navigation skills.

For the assessment we brought in an independent assessor who had never worked with the students before and we also had another observer from the Sports Leader organisation along to see that we ran the course to the correct standards.

Much of the weekend was spent observing the students’ navigational skills as these have to be to a high standard. Not only do they need to know how to use a map and compass they need to be proficient in teaching others this skill.

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Assessing the core skill of navigation

Interspersed with the navigation tasks the students had to give lectures and run classes in different subjects to each other and the cadets. We were very lucky on the weekend to have a keen bunch along from Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadets. This made the assessment much more realistic and was a good reminder to the students as to why they were looking to gain the qualification.

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Lots of classes and one to one tuition

It is not all about navigation and leadership though. The assessment also tests the students on their knowledge of group management, risk assessing, camping, clothing/kit and the environment.

It is all well and good to be able to read a map and teach that skill but being an Adventure Leader is about a whole lot more. It is about being comfortable and knowledgeable in the environment you find yourself in, and having the skills to make the learning experience for the cadets as varied,  enjoyable and stretching as possible. This has to be done in a safe manner however the instructor must stretch the students enough so that they feel that adventurous spirit that draws us outdoors in the first place.

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Exploring the environment

We had a number of staff along for the weekend who have decades of experience in the outdoor environment including Perry Symes (International Mountain Leader), Duncan Boar (International Mountain Leader) and our very own John Kelly (Hill and Moorland Leader).

John was on our very first course as a BEL student in 2010 and has since gained his Hill and Moorland Leaders award. John takes over running the BEL course from me this year and has the same sense of adventure but far better administrative skills than me so organising future courses should be a doddle for him.

The champagne picture on the bottom right was when he was presented the bottle on the news of his recent engagement to Samantha and the soaking was from his daughter who he had teased just a bit too much.

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The one and only JK

One thing about this weekend was the  beautiful evenings as the sun set over the Forest. The students were a bit too caught up in their navigational assessments to really appreciate them but I sure did.

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Evening Nav

Along the way I did spot some lovely colours in the environment around me. I do not expect the students to be expert in identifying plants, fungi, animals or insects but I do expect them to be able to name some trees, flowers and have a basic knowledge of the history of the area they are working in.

Having this basic knowledge allows them to come across as a well-rounded Adventure Leader to their students and means more fulfilling and educational walks.

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The colours of Autumn

So after a lot of hard work over about 6 weekends the majority of the students reached the standard of Level 3 Basic Expedition Leader Award from Sports Leader UK. A number of the students received their certificates at the Walton and Sunbury Sea Cadet Unit recently.

There are a few more who just need to finish their final assignment and then they can be awarded their certificates.

Certificate Ceremony
Certificate Ceremony

I am looking forward to helping out once again in the BEL course this year as an instructor and assessor but thankfully JK is taking the reins in terms of organising it allowing me to do more of what I like – Getting out and Adventuring.

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A lovely end

Cheers

George

Chosin Cup 2015 – Adventuring All The Way

I had a cracking time photographing this years Chosin Cup competition with London Area Sea Cadets. This is the hardest competition I get involved with every year with the Sea Cadets.

It was a weekend of fun, tears, mist, spiders and Whimmy Diddles (a kids woodland toy) in the Ashdown Forest.

In the picture below you can see a few of the thousands of spiders webs that covered most of the bushes and small trees in the Forest that weekend – quite a stunning spectacle it was too.

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The Chosin Cup

A few of us arrived early and set up camp before the arrival of the cadets in the evening. The cadets were dropped off in the Ashdown Forest and had to navigate in the dark to their campsite in Pippingford Park training area.

The walk was not particularly long however they needed to pay very close attention to their navigation so as to not get lost. I spent most of the evening sitting in the middle of the woods waiting to spot the teams coming through. Thankfully nobody got lost this year so the staff got time to sit around the fire and relax later on.

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Friday Night

Saturday morning was a time of route planning, kit checking and setting off into the mist. The whole of the Ashdown Forest was covered in a thick blanket of mist so the cadets were briefed to pay particular attention to their micro navigation skills.

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Prepping for the Nav Excercise

The route they had to navigate along was interspersed with lots of different check points and at some of these they had to undertake marked tasks. One of the first tests was to do with First Aid where they had to perform CPR and carry out a casualty evacuation.

I toured round most of the stances to ensure the cadets were heading in the correct direction and would sometimes spot them emerging out of the mist. The mist cleared up by lunchtime and thankfully all the teams stayed on course.

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First Aid and Mist (bottom right picture courtesy of Charlie Brookes)

I did manage to get my little EDC hammock out a few times at the stances and chill out a bit. Some of these stances included searching for mines (pretend ones I hasten to add) and micro navigation games with string.

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Mines and Micro Nav

Eventually before the light faded all the teams were back at camp resting up and preparing for a night navigation exercise.

This night nav consisted of navigating to various checkpoints throughout the training area (we did allow the use of torches) and descending down a steep embankment using abseils.

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Meet ups and Night Time Descents

Sunday morning was a busy one for everyone. We had set up a number of timed activities to test all the teams out.

The cadets had to race up a steep embankment using ascending kit. Not an exercise for anyone with a fear of heights but one enjoyed by all the cadets.

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Ascending

Each team had to run the Endurance race. This race was set up around the forest crossing a stream a number of times and a few other challenges along the way. Below you can see Bexley unit and Sunbury and Walton unit still looking good after the race.

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Endurance – Bexley & Sunbury

Another challenge was to time the cadets getting their whole team across a ravine using a Tyrolean Traverse. The cadets had to devise a strategy of getting everyone across however they were only given one set of pulley equipment, so easier said than done.

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The Tyrolean Travesrse

Each team took it in turn to run the Endurance race and as you can see below got thoroughly wet. They may have been tired at the end however by the smiles on their faces they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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Endurance – Sutton and Merton

In between all this running and climbing a few little moments were captured – most involving water as you can see.

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Moments in time (top left picture courtesy of Charlie Brookes)

The Endurance race went on for quite a distance through the woods and under tunnels. All the teams completed the race and enjoyed having their post race picture taken in the river.

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Endurance – City and Enfield

Soon it was time to tally up the scores and wait for the results.

There are a variety of cups up for grabs at the Chosin Cup including one for best team leader – The Reg Wheeler trophy. This year it went to Ordinary Cadet Harrison of Sutton unit. She also picked up some extra prizes donated by the adventurer and author Alaister Humphreys.

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Declaration and the Best Team Leader

Our Visitors trophy went to Poole unit, third place to Sunbury & Walton unit and second place went to Enfield unit.

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Runners Up

First place this year went to Bexley unit. They were a combined unit of Sea Cadets and Royal Marines Cadets. Well done Bexley for winning the competition this year. It was a hard fought competition with only about 8 points between the top two units (top scores were near the 800 mark so 8 points was a tight finish).

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The Winners – Bexley

Finally I would like to say thanks to all the staff who helped run this years event, however a special thanks must go to Jacob Leverett who agreed to take on the mammoth task of organising it all.

Cheers

George

Bushcraft Fun with Enfield Juniors

Sometimes in your life a little trip comes along that really lifts your spirits. This happened to me last September when my good friend Dave Lewis invited me along to a camp he had organised for Enfield Sea Cadet unit. The camp was at Tolmers Activity Centre near Potters Bar (just North of London) and turned out to be a quite magical weekend.

Dave was leading a training session for his older cadets for the upcoming Chosin Cup competition and he wanted me to work with his Junior cadets on their campcraft skills. After setting up camp I spotted a load of folks heading down to a small pond so I decided to follow on and see what was afoot.

As I approached the pond I could hear a story being told about the ‘Lady in the Lake’ and all of a sudden the skies lit up. As I was just approaching the pond at that time I managed to get these two cracking shots of the fireworks going off.

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Friday fireworks and our playground

In the morning I took the cadets with some other staff members out towards Northaw Great Wood (a local nature reserve). Along the way we had to scramble over some tricky terrain but managed to have a bit of fun when we found an old World War 2 Pillbox.

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Scramble and a dance

Once we got into the woods we found a lovely spot by a dried out stream to try out our hammocks. The Juniors had never tried hammocks before but soon got into the ‘Swing’ of things.

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Chillaxing

Our task on the weekend was to introduce the Juniors to basic Adventure Training skills such as using the map and compass, and to get an understanding of their natural surroundings.

So as we were learning to use the map and compass we carried a Journey stick with us. This stick had string and elastic bands wrapped around it so that we could add different items we found along the way to it.

The aim of the Journey stick was to ensure that the Juniors kept a good look out for different plants and objects so that they could add some of them to the stick and so tell a story of their journey when they had finished at the end of the day.

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Green module learning

In amongst all this learning we took time out to climb the odd tree or two and just relax (the staff just tended to relax though).

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In touch with nature

We spotted many different types of flaura and fauna on our travels and played a little naming game on the way. I got the Juniors to spot different trees and name them something they all agreed on – so the Sycamore became the Star tree, the Ash tree was named the Centipede and so on. They would walk through the woods shouting “There’s a Star tree” or “There’s another Centipede”.

At the end of the day I gave them a chart so that they could figure out their given names. This method I find works well as I find that kids learn best when they are having fun along the way.

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Journey stick stuff

When we got back to camp we had a very full Journey stick with no two items the same. The Juniors really worked hard to finish the stick and each took it in turn to walk with it.

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The Journey stick

Back at camp we had a very busy campfire on the go with some great food being prepared by Alan and Dave Lewis. On the Saturday night we had a barbie and marshmallows, and each morning Alan cooked a fantastic breakfast with some lovely pancakes.

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Bust campfire

On the Saturday I had taught the Juniors how to light a fire using Firesteels so on the Sunday they all helped me to get an ember using the bowdrill. Each junior took part and we soon had a great big glowing ember.

One Junior said that he had watched the recent programme by a ‘well known survivalist’ where it had taken the contestants two days to get a fire going so he was over the moon to get an ember in just a couple of minutes.

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Team bowdrill

Once the ember was stable we popped it into a tinder bundle and everyone took it in turn to blow it into flame.

I think the smiles on their faces kind of say it all about the experience they just had.

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Flammage

Once we got the fire going properly Alan Lewis took the juniors on a cookery class. He got them to cook sausages over the fire and then to make up a bread mix. The bread mixture was then wrapped around the cooked sausages and in no time they all had their own hand made sausage rolls.

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Morning cooking

While the Juniors were cooking their sausage rolls I wandered over to where Dave was working with his older cadets. They were practising some ropework to set up a retrievable rope system for crossing a river. All this was in preparation for the forthcoming Chosin Cup competition in early October.

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Older cadets practising for Chosin Cup

To finish the course off for the Juniors I set up the Atlatl range on an open slope. It was not long before they got a hang of this primitive hunting technique and were soon landing darts on the targets.

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An Atlatl finish

I finished the weekend still feeling as fresh as I started. It is not often I can say that about Sea Cadet weekends (I usually need a day or two to get over them) but the juniors were so keen to learn and were a real bright and keen bunch that I look forward to being invited again next year.

Cheers

George

Wet & Windy – Expeditioning in The lakes

The beginning of July found me in the Lake District with Sea Cadets from the London and Southern Areas helping to run a Gold and Silver Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition. I was working with John Kelly, Carol O’Brien and Chris Bonfield.

My main roles were to act as an assessor for the Gold Expedition and as the Mountain Safety Officer. It was a very hard trip for the cadets and staff with the terrain and the atrocious weather however as you can see in the picture below of the Silver team finishing that these slight irritations did not dampen their spirits at all.

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DofE with the Sea Cadets

Day 1 – Saturday 4th July 2015: Hawkshead to the NT Campsite at Great Langdale

Initially the Gold group were to set off from Grazedale on the Furness Fells however due to road works on the way the minibus could not get through (the Silver team was being assessed by Carol and Chris and were on a different route). The group set off instead in good spirits on a wet morning (though it became increasingly dry and warm throughout the day) to the west of Hawkshead and headed up to Hawkshead Moor.

I gave the team two checkpoints that I would meet them at. These were at Tarn Hows and Little Langdale. There route was initially uphill through Forestry Commission land, over Hawkshead Hill to Tarn Hows. From there they navigated on clear footpaths over to Little Langdale and then north to Chapel Stile.

I spent my day paralleling their route and staying high where possible. I took the time to do a lot of nature photography as well and will post these pictures up as a separate post.

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Day 1 with the Gold team

I observed the group taking pictures and notes around the slate mines along the way as part of their project for the expedition.

The group were in good spirit and made good time throughout the day returning to the campsite at Great Langdale following the path alongside Great Langdale Beck.

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Project work and relaxation time

In between all the walking I took out time to feed some ducks, show the cadets some great hammock seats (from UK Hammocks) and to just enjoy the views.

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A bit of diversity

Day 2:  Sunday July 5th 2015, Great Langdale – Dalegarth Campsite.

Using their 1:25,000 OS Map &  route card the group set off west into the Oxendale valley along farm tracks. The weather was fine initially however as the day wore on it slowly deteriorated with thick low lying cloud and drizzle. I had set them 3 checkpoints I would meet them as they would be walking up to the Three Tarns below Bow Fell. I met the group at Hell Gill on the ascent, at the Three Tarns (700m) on the saddle below Bow Fell and at Lingcove Bridge over the Lingcove Beck.

Up to the Three Tarns the group were walking on clear paths and they took their time on the ascent however they worked well and always kept together. I had good views of the group on the ascent as the cloud cover at this stage had not dropped. I could see that each member of the group took it in turns to either use the map and compass and also take it in turn to select what ground to navigate over to avoid rocky or boggy areas.

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Day 2 with the Gold team

One of the group informed me she was feeling slightly unwell at the Three Tarns and was worried about carrying on. After a good lunch and rest though she felt better and was happy to carry on. The weather started to deteriorate and the path became very faint before disappearing. The group worked on compass bearings and I kept a slightly closer eye on them from the surrounding hillsides at this stage. They navigated well around some particularly rocky and boggy terrain down to Lingcove Bridge in the rain and poor visibility.

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Up onto 3 Tarn Pass

After the team left Lingcove Bridge (below) I spotted three guys trying to cross another stream. The crazy thing was they were dressed in trainers and jeans. Madness when they could have gone back the way they came.

The team then navigated on the path SW alongside the River ESK to the base of the Hardknott pass and then along the path on the valley floor to Dalegarth campsite. I spoke with the team when they arrived and they told me that they err’d slightly along the path in the Eskdale valley but managed to re-locate themselves before going too far.

The team arrived very wet and tired at the campsite but still in good spirits after a very trying days walk

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A wet day

Day 3: Monday July 6th 2015, Dalegarth Campsite – Conniston Hall Campsite.

This was a very challenging day for the group with a lot of ascent and poor weather. Initially the day started overcast however it deteriorated to low lying cloud and persistent rain until evening.

From Dalegarth they set off SE around Crook and Green Crags (400m). I met the group at lunchtime at High Tongue near Seathwaite. The group found the mornings leg navigationally very challenging however they took their time and managed to locate the checkpoint. The local forest had been felled recently making navigation very challenging however they made good use of high points to spot landmarks they could identify.

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Day 3 – Waiting

Eventually after much sitting around (fairly common in the assessing world) everyone started to appear with the Silvers first.

I spotted the Golds as they were making their way over the stepping stones.

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Silver and Gold appear

After a good rest I left them and headed up onto the slopes at Walna Scar to observe them. This is where the low lying cloud came down and the rain started. I observed though that the team took a wrong turning at the base of Long House Gill and were heading up towards the Old Man of Coniston. I did intercept them before going too far and got them to work out where they were heading and soon they were going up over Walna Scar (600m) towards Coniston. Two of the group were suffering from foot injuries so I observed that they were travelling very slow but steadily. The visibility became very limited and I moved in closer to the group to ensure that they stayed on the right track.

With good navigation they found my checkpoints along the Walna Scar road and were soon down into Conniston. The weather was atrocious however the team spirit was great with everyone helping to keep their spirits up by singing and keeping to a steady pace.

The campsite was on the edge of Conniston water and very basic and open to the elements. Everyone was wet however they soon had their tents up and dinner on. I left them tired but in high spirits.

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Another wet day but good spirits

Day 4: Tuesday July 7th 2015, Conniston Hall Campsite – Grizedale

The final day was much better in terms of the weather. It was clear, cloudy and there was little wind. The team set of early from Conniston following the footpaths to the head of Conniston Water at Monk Coniston.

The Silver team successfully navigated to the finish point and were delighted to have made it.

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Silvers finished

The Gold team navigated up through the woods onto Monk Coniston Moor as well however due to the many tracks in this area the team err’d slightly but managed to make their way to Grizedale on time for a revised pick up there.
Even though this was one of the better days they were tired and some carried injuries they stayed positive and carried on. I observed them helping each other and this allowed them all to finish as a happy team.

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Gold finished

Both teams faced many trials throughout the expedition, from injuries, navigational errors, poor weather and some very tough terrain. They could so easily have given up with any of these trials however they chose to work through each one and came through well at the end.

Well done all.

George

Bushcraft with the Royal Marines Cadets

Catch up time again – I ran a bushcraft course with my colleagues Charlie, Dave, Cliff and Alan for the Southern Area Royal Marines Cadets last June in the military training area around Aldershot here in the UK.

This is an excellent area with lots of woodland to roam around and learn about the art of bushcraft.

A great bushie weekend

I wrote three short articles about this weekend back in June for the Wildlife Trusts 30 day Challenge I undertook however this is the full report on the weekend now.

Set up took most of the Friday and we were joined by a number of the Royal Marines staff so it did not take too long.

Setting up the HQ
Setting up the HQ

I wanted the cadets to experience sleeping in hammocks so brought a dozen or so along. They took a while to set up but it was worth it in the end.

A dozen tarps and hammocks to put up
A dozen tarps and hammocks to put up

The cadets arrived in the evening and after a safety briefing, some supper and a stroll it was time to bed down for the night.

Some cadets were in the hammocks and some under their tarps on the ground. It was a wet night however everybody was mostly dry in the morning.

Bedding down

We ran a number of classes starting with building different types of shelters, and looking at how the tarps and hammocks were set up.

Shelter building
Shelter building

The camp chores such as gathering wood and getting fires going were soon under way. At this stage we taught the cadets how to use firesteels to light their fires.

I had also brought a number of cooking rigs for them to try out. The one in the bottom picture is the Double French Windlass rig and is one of my favourites.

Setting up the cookhouse
Setting up the cookhouse

I wanted the cadets to feel comfortable so we spent quite a lot of time setting up different apparatus for cooking such as this Broiling rig or just taking time to chill out (bottom left).

One rule I had made at the very beginning was that unless there was an emergency there was to be no running.  Quite hard for Marine Cadets to do I know however the feel of the weekend was to be one of a relaxed atmosphere.

Learning the art of Broiling and doing nothing
Learning the art of Broiling and doing nothing

So relaxed that magically some cup cakes appeared in Dave’s lap.

Charlie had a good time ponnasing some trout around the fire and it tasted equally as good as it looked cooking.

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Taste comes in many forms

We spent quite a while learning about knife safety, battoning and carving. Then later in the evening Dave and Cliff ran a stalking game and Atlatl range.

Knife work, stalking and Atlatl
Knife work, stalking and Atlatl

Once the cadets were bedded down the staff relaxed around the woodland TV to plan the next day out (and have a cupcake or two).

Some Woodland TV
Some Woodland TV

I think you can tell by the happy smile on this cadets face that the hammocks were a success.

Morning all
Morning all

Our resident master chef Alan soon had breakfast organised with plenty of sausages and bread on the go.

Brekkie time
Brekkie time

Classes began again soon after and I ran the group bowdrill sessions. Every team that did this got an ember and successfully blew it to flame. No mean feat considering how damp everything was.

Group Bowdrill
Group Bowdrill

We tried out the handrill however without success. The cadets and myself gave it our best shot but the conditions were not with us for this one so we went back to using the bowdrill.

Having a go at Handrill
Having a go at Handrill

Some groups also carried on with carving their butter knives. Some ended up as pointy sticks (teenagers tend to do this for some reason) however we did get a number of very nicely shaped and functioning wooden knives carved in the end.

More knife work and archery
More knife work and archery

Cliff ran another stalking game involving water pistols however they all failed to work so improvised with squeezy bottles instead (worked a treat so I will be using them in the future).

I had also brought along a number of Father and Son survival bows for the cadets to use on a short range and they were soon happily pinging the arrows down range.

Stalking and archery to finish
Stalking and archery to finish

We had to pack up on the Sunday lunchtime so it was over before we knew it however it was a great weekend.

My aim was to show the cadets how to make themselves comfortable in the outdoors and to have fun so that when they went back out again to practice their field craft skills they would have a wider and better understanding of the nature around them.

Cheers

George

New and Unusual Nature in the New Forest

On my trip to the New Forest last May with the Sea Cadets there were a few unusual and beautiful sights to be found.

Many of the wildflowers in the New Forest get cropped back by all the animals grazing but looking closely I found some lovely Bugle, Tormentil and Lousewort.

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Cool Colours

I spotted a log pile of conifer wood and a number of the trunks were made up of two trunks merged together. Quite a weird sight to see what looked like weird robotic eyes looking out at you as you passed by.

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Tree Eyes

While walking around we came across two Holly trees that were joined together by a horizontal trunk. It made for the perfect seat.

Also I spotted what looked like a small vole rummaging around in the grass (bottom left). He spotted me and played dead so letting me get up real close.

And as usual there were plenty of bracket fungus to be seen across the whole forest.

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Micro and Macro

Since it was May there were plenty of seedlings around. There were plenty of Beech seedlings on the ground but I did spot one snuggled into a hollow at the base of an Oak tree. It looked lovely however not a good place in the long term I think.

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Spring Growth

Cheers

George

New Forest Adventures

I got a bit behind with writing up my weekends with the 30 Day Challenge back in June so here is my write up finally of our HMS Hood Remembrance weekend in the New Forest last May.

We had great weather all weekend at Ferny Crofts campsite and as well as running the usual camping courses for the cadets we managed to fit in some Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) and Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) training.

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A great weekend

The gentleman you can see playing golf with some pony poo is Chief Petty Officer Paul Townsend of City of London Sea Cadets. Paul has managed this weekend for a number of years now and it is one of the main weekends in the units diaries.

We had a great time navigating in the woods, playing woodland Jenga with logs, arm wrestling or just helping each other along.

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Serious Fun

The temperature was well into the late 20,s so some of the cadets took it upon themselves to cool things down.

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Silly Fun

We met up with the BEL staff monitoring the DofE groups along the way, helped each other and learnt a thing or two from the staff.

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Learning and Safety

One of the things I like about this weekend is that we get excellent cooking from our very own RAF chef Simon. Simon has the uncanny knack of taking a few basic ingredients and turning them into a delightful meal.

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Good food

In the evening I lit a Finnish candle and I managed to get some amazing Fire Faces from it. How many can you spot?

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Woodland TV

The Sunday is a day of stances. The BEL students ran a variety of classes such as camping kit, compass work, food and first aid.

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Sunday Stances

Charlie had a great morning teaching the cadets how to use both modern and traditional firesteels.

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Fire steels – Modern and Old

In no time he had them blowing tinder bundles into flame.

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Flammage

Once the fire was going well Simon had the cadets making the best Shmores (melted marshmallows and biscuits) you could imagine. I managed to get myself a decent sized one eventually.

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Shmores

There were a lot more activities going on incling the Atlatl being run by the DON Lt Cdr Mark Macey (I am sure Mark is a secret bushcrafter at heart), running the DofE, campfire cooking and volleyball.

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A busy morning

While we were doing all this a group of cadets with Paul were performing an honour guard at Boldre church for the HMS Hood Remembrance Service.

I have never gotten to this service as I have always been running the camp activities but every year I love to see the pictures of the guard.

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HMS Hood Service

That was the end of another great weekend so here is to another great one next year.

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 12 – Sunday Bushcraft

Day 12 of the 30 Day Challenge was one of rush, rush and rush from morning till night.

The Royal Marines Cadets we were training had the task of lighting the fires to cook the breakfast but thankfully we had our very own chef Alan Lewis to oversee all the cooking.

I tried to spend as much time as possible baking twizzle stick bread to get out of doing the many chores that were needed doing on this last morning of the camp (not very successfully may I add).

Busy Breakfast

We ran various classes that day including bread making, archery, stalking games and group bowdrill. London Area Sea Cadets have a brilliant Bushcraft team and this weekend showed that clearly – thanks to Dave Lewis, Charlie Brookes, Cliff Lewis and Alan Lewis for being that team.

Sunday Stances

Wrap up was a fast affair with everyone helping out. So fast I was home at 2pm – just in time to start on all my home chores 🙂

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 11 – Bushcrafting Saturday

The early hours of Day 11 of the 30 Days Challenge brought us very heavy rain overnight and just in time for the tapes in my trusty old tarp to spring a leak.

The day though turned out brilliantly with the Royal Marines Cadets and staff getting up to loads of activities including fire lighting, knife skills, shooting Atlatl darts, stalking games and learning about bushcraft knots.

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A damp start

One of the main events of the day was cooking fish over the open fires (more on this in a later post) however there was plenty of other delights such as Dave’s favourite cupcakes 😉

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Lots of food

This was a long day however an extremely enjoyable one for all the cadets and staff getting back in touch with nature and having a really wild day.

Another lovely evening watching a bit of woodland TV where I can definitely see two fire faces in our little campfire picture at the bottom.

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Woodland TV

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 10 – Camp Set Up

Day 10 of the 30 day Challenge found me in the military training area around Aldershot. I will write an in depth report on the weekend later but as this was where I was interacting with nature last Friday so I thought I would write up a little on what I got up to.

I had taken the day off work to prepare for a bushcraft course I was helping to run with the Royal Marines Cadets. As the advance party it was our job to set the camp up so it was mostly putting up tarps, a parachute and doing all the other chores needed to run a camp.

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HQ set up

As I wanted to give the cadets a good bushcraft experience once the main HQ area was set up we spent the rest off the evening until the cadets turned up putting up 12 hammocks and tarps. This is not easy to do with only a few of you (thanks Dave and Charlie) so I was glad to see the last one finally up.

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A dozen hammocks

The cadets turned up in the evening and some slept in the hammocks and some in bivi bags on the ground. The plan was then to allow them to swap over on Saturday night.

I finished the evening chatting with the guys around the campfire planning for the next day.

All in all a day in nature I would say.

Cheers

George

Dartmoor Development Days

Early April found me back in one of my favourite locations – on Dartmoor. I was told recently by a friend that you need to say ‘on Dartmoor’ and not ‘in Dartmoor’ – seemingly that is something else entirely 🙂

Dartmoor can be a very tough place to learn about the art of navigation but if you can crack it there then most other places will seem like a walk in the park in comparison.

This was the second of four weekends that we are running as part of the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) award for our Sea Cadet instructors.

The Crew

On the Friday night we stayed at Oakhampton Army camp on the northern edge of the moor and then camped out on the Saturday night.

Each student had to give a ten minute presentation on a given outdoor pursuits subject and also a five minute ‘on the hoof’ presentation while out navigating. We managed to do a few of the presentations on the Saturday morning before striking out onto the moor.

Rugged Terrain – out of remit for BEL

I was working with my good friend Graham Brockwell over the weekend so we split the students into two teams. My team headed up onto Yes Tor to work on our map and compass skills.

While up there we spotted the local hunt lower down on the moor. While watching them a Royal Navy Rescue helicopter came in below us and landed at Oakhampton Army camp. I always love being up high and seeing aircraft flying about below me.

Up high and looking down

It was soon time to come down of the Tor to navigate along the tracks in the valleys. The BEL qualification is a lowland award and the students have to show a high degree of accuracy while navigating on clearly marked paths.

After a few more presentations we found the old artillery range. The metal rails you can see in the picture on the bottom left were for the carriage that held a large target for the artillery to shoot at. 

Down low – in remit for BEL

Camp on the Saturday night was quite high up but very near to a road where we had our minibus parked.

The students soon were sorted out both fed and rested 🙂

Camp, Dinner and Rest

The last of the presentations were run that evening. It was still very bright but very windy. In this class Carol was doing a quiz on map symbols that involved a little artistic licence.

Once it got dark Graham and myself took everyone on a hike without torches onto one of the Tors. The skies were very clear and as everyone’s eyesight had adjusted to the dark the views of the stars were exceptional. There was a slight level of light pollution around the edges of Dartmoor but looking straight up was crystal clear.

Evening classes

This weekend I had to sleep in a tent (contemplated the hammock stand but it was just a tad too windy) but it was surprisingly comfy I have to admit – the two roll mats helped!!

Cooking on the moor can be difficult with the wind but Dave soon found himself the perfect niche to get out of the wind to brew up.

The wind was really helpful though with drying the tents off quickly. It was just the undersides that needed drying so as long as you held on tightly to it, it was soon dry.

A windy breakfast

Now Graham managed this on his own as he is a bit of a pro however some of the student instructors (I did say some) needed to get a bit of teamwork going to get everything packed away without being blown away.

Packing and wrap up

The Sunday morning was to be a short affair as we had a long drive back towards London. It was still a bit windy but brilliantly clear making the navigation slightly easier.

To begin with we did some compass work and were soon off.

Set off

Along the way it was time to run a scenario – a first aid scenario.

It is quite common for someone to trip on the moor and pull a muscle or twist an ankle. I asked Jack to quickly lie down, set the scene for the students and set them to it.

The scenario was that Jack had hurt his leg, bad enough to find it very difficult to walk but not a broken bone. The students were briefed that the minibus was nearby (it was) and that as they had enough people in the team they could treat Jacks injuries and rig a seat to carry him out.

Casualty simulation

Jack was helped over to the side of a collapsed building for shelter to be treated to get him out of the strong wind.

In the picture above you can see the students placing their hands on the ground. This was to show them how cold the ground gets very quickly and the importance of protecting Jack from the cold ground.

Once he was comfy a seat was rigged from a survival bag and slowly (everyone taking turns) Jack was transported about 100 metres or so off the moor.

Good teamwork

Dave got his bothy bag out for some of the guys who had never used one before to try out. This bit of kit is brilliant in an emergency to treat a casualty out of the wind or more commonly as a mobile shelter to each your lunch out of the wind.

Getting out of the wind

To finish some of us jumped into the minibus back to the camp while others enjoyed a nice walk down off the moor.

The whole weekend on Dartmoor was lovely in terms of the weather and the traffic on the A303 on the trip home ran really smooth – not often you can say that.

Cheers

George

Glorious Dartmoor Days

I spent seven days this Easter on Dartmoor – seven glorious sunny days.

I never thought I could have said that with my previous experience of this often wet and windy but beautiful moorland landscape.

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Day 1 on the Moor

The first five days were with the Sea Cadets where my friend John Kelly was running a DofE Expedition on the moor. I was along as Mountain Leader safety and to help train the Gold training team.

John also had a Silver team under training, another Silver team under assessment and another Gold team under assessment – Quite a busy 5 days it turned out.

The first day was all about training for me as the Gold team were under my wing all day. We focussed on key map and compass skills so that the next day they could navigate under remote supervision safely.

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The Gold Training team

Early on the first day my friend Dave Lewis managed to pull a muscle in one of his legs and had to retire early on from the walk that day. It was serious enough stop him from getting back on the hills for a few days and I insisted he put his feet up – to which I received no arguments (I needed Dave fit for another course straight after this one).

The evening of the first night was spent indoors learning all about route cards. Thankfully we were located at the Langstone Manor campsite near Tavistock where they have excellent facilities and allowed us to take over their dining area to run the classes.

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R&R and Homework

Day two saw some of the teams starting out at the beautiful hump backed bridge over the West Dart river near the Dartmoor Training centre.  Never one to miss a photo opportunity I soon had them lined up for a quick shoot.

I spent the day monitoring these teams remotely, only meeting up with them occasionally.

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Day 2 start at the Dartmoor Outdoor Training Centre

At the end of the day the descent off the moor was pretty steep but very beautiful. The footpath that took them off the moor into the village of Michelcombe was very hard to locate so after a little bit of map revision with the teams we were all soon rapidly making our way downhill.

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Heading off the Moor

The campsites were varied from the relative luxury of Langstone Manor, to the basic beauty of camping in a field of new born lambs and finally the remote camping of a high moorland copse.

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Sunny Camping

I really enjoy these trips as I get to wander the hills on my own and getting to sit back and relax while waiting for teams to appear. I have to try and anticipate where the teams will be at any given time and observe them from a distance or from time to time wander down to meet them.

As the teams I was observing were all under training I was able to spend some time with them at some of these rest spots making sure they knew exactly where they were and offering them advice when needed.

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Meet ups

Near the end of the day on the Thursday one of the cadets (Jess) tripped and strained a muscle in her leg. As this was very near the end of the day I called all the teams in from the surrounding area and revised their walk to head off the moor on an easier path.

We really took our time so that every one including Jess managed to walk off the moor and arrive back at the minibuses together.

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Final push

For those doing the Silver award this was the end of the expedition and after a de-brief they boarded a minibus to take them back to London.

Those doing the Gold assessment and training had to do one more day so it was back to Langstone Manor campsite for one more night and a final days trekking the next day.

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De-brief

I did not manage to get everyone in one group picture but got these two in the end. The top picture is off the Silver teams and the gold training team.

The bottom picture is off the Gold assessment team prior to them heading off on their last days trek alongside some of the staff monitoring them.

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The whole Gang

My final picture is of my hammock stand I had brought along for the week. I like tents but why sleep on the floor when you can hammock 🙂

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My accommodation

I put together a short video of the trip.

The last two days of the week were spent on another course training up some Sea Cadet instructors to become outdoor pursuits instructors on the Basic Expedition Leader Award. That post will follow shortly.

Will I ever get so many sunny days on Dartmoor again I have no idea but I will certainly remember this trip because of it.

Cheers

George

Expedition Leaders – The new batch

This year I became the course director in London Area Sea Cadets for the nationally recognised qualification in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEL). This is the third time we as a Sea Cadet area have run the course and yet again it has proved very popular, with 13 instructors applying. I had set the limit at 12 but with one extra applying I thought that 13 had to be lucky for some 🙂

The course is spread over 4 weekends throughout the year (the final weekend is an assessment) and is aimed at training our instructors to a nationally recognised level where they are qualified to lead day and overnight expeditions in lowland environments. We were supposed to run the first course out of Crowborough Army Camp but due to overbookings there the Sea Cadet unit TS Black Swan (Sunbury & Walton) offered us the use of their building as a base for the weekend. This was ideal as the North Downs were a short 30-minute drive away.

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BEAL and BEL 2015 – Weekend 1 at TS Black Swan

The weekend ran at the end of February and the Friday night was the usual madness of arrival and paperwork that needed to be attended to. Running alongside the BEL course that weekend was also the Basic Expedition Assistant Leadership (BEAL) course run by my good friend John Kelly. This is also a nationally recognised qualification and we run it to allow our older cadets (16 and 17 year olds) the chance to gain valuable outdoor experience as well as the qualification. The BEAL allows you to assist in an expedition, leading your own walks but not in overall control of the expedition.

Saturday morning, after a fantastic breakfast from the unit staff, was spent going over how the BEL certificate works in terms of the legal stuff and how it fits with Sea Cadets more generally.

We have candidates this year with a wide variety of experience, from very little to many years, so it was all new to some and for others the start of a period of Continuous Professional Development, but all will face an equally exacting assessment at the end of the year.

As soon as we got outside Graham Brockwell led the class on tents.

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Different types of tents

This class was designed to show the students the wide variety of tents they will come across in the future and give them hints and tips on setting them up and, crucially, hints and tips on explaining all that to the cadets they will be training in future.

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Pros and cons of different tents

One of the reasons I was very happy to take up the kind offer of Sunbury & Walton unit to use their building was that this first weekend involves a large amount of classroom time. As the weekends progress most of the classes need to be undertaken outdoors, giving the students time to practise everything they have learned.
Classes we gave included basic map work, legal definitions, risk assessing, meteorology, and also on clothing and equipment.

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Lots of classroom work on the first weekend

As the course goes on all the students will have to cook for themselves on their own camp stoves but for this weekend we had Paul Kelly and staff from the unit cooking for us. All I had to sort out for myself was some lunch on Saturday. A great job guys – it was really appreciated.

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Hard work in the Galley

Saturday night’s meal was really worth a mention. We all chipped in ten pounds and Paul and the gang produced a wonderful curry with some wine to wash it all down.

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Great food all weekend

After lunch on Saturday we headed out to the North Downs for some map work. To begin with the instructors took the lead in delivering this training. Everyone went back to basics with using a map (no compass at this stage) as we had such a wide variety of experience within the group. I found this helpful later when the very experienced students were able to assist their colleagues.
It was a damp and windy day but I find I am most comfortable in this kind of environment.

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Lots of trainer led mapwork

Needless to say, in between sessions when we were out and about we needed to take the occasional break. I like about 10 minutes’ break for every hour of travel so I found ample time to deploy my small EDC hammock chair (UKHammocks). Both Dave and myself are of the school of thought ‘if you can sit – sit, if you can lie down – lie down, if you can sleep – sleep’.

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Chillax time

While we were strolling on the slopes of the North Downs there was little in the way of flowering plants on display but I found plenty of other beauty around – I just had to look a little bit harder.

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Some winter flora

Once everyone had gotten the basics of scale, symbols and setting their maps to the ground we gave everyone individual legs of the journey to lead. Later we brought in the use of the compass, pacing, and talking about tick-off points, cut-off points and hand-railing.

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Lots of individual work

The rest of the weekend was spent getting to grips with all the BEL paperwork, more classes on maps and routecards, planning for the next weekend in Dartmoor and a bit of relaxation on the Saturday evening.

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Mapwork, paperwork and muddy lectures

We finished the weekend on a high when Perry presented Tara Kelly with her BEAL certificate. Tara undertook the BEAL last year while she was a cadet and the weekend was a good opportunity to present her with her pass certificate.

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The BEAL certificate for Tara

The next weekend is in April and we will be heading down to Dartmoor to give everyone a chance to appreciate what type of countryside they will be allowed to work in and what type they will not, also to continue working on all the skills they learned on this weekend.

Cheers

George

Winter Fun in Snowdonia

January is usually the time that as outdoor pursuits instructors in the Sea Cadets we venture up into the mountains and moors to do a bit of skills training. This is just not as a bit of extra training for ourselves but as a way of introducing some of the newer instructors to the world of hillwalking and mountaineering.

This year we went to Snowdonia National Park where we walked and scrambled around Mt Snowdon and stayed at Capel Curig Training Camp.

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Winter Fun

There was a smattering of snow on the mountains when we arrived but not a great deal. The winds had been very high in the few days leading up to our weekend and had blown most of it away. The weekend was organised in quite a relaxed manner. One group decided to walk over Moel Siabod and the surrounding area while the group I was with decided to do a bit of scrambling and winter skills around the base of Mt Snowdon.

We had arranged to meet up with some non-Sea Cadet friends that day who were also training in the area and set off early on Saturday. We were not aiming to summit that day but concentrated on working on our micro-navigation skills, leadership and group management. For me, it was also a good opportunity to practise my photography skills. I have a separate post on these pictures in this post on Special Snowdon Scenes.

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Smattering of Snow

Our route took us from the car park at Pen Y Pas, up over The Horns, below Crib Goch, up to Glasly, around the southern shore of Llyn Llydaw before heading back to Pen Y Pass via Cwn Dyli.

Snowdon Map
Our route on the Saturday

While we were ascending up to The Horns and then onto the base of Crib Goch some of the lads took the opportunity to get a bit of bouldering in. The weather was cold but clear, making it ideal for keeping what little snow we had and perfect for photography as well.

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Bit of Bouldering

We got some good views as we worked on taking bearings on near and far features so as to double check our positions. Also we spent some time working on rope skills, learning to ‘dog lead’ a nervous student over tricky terrain.

Route finding is always a good skill to practise, whether that is to avoid great big coils of barbed wire or picking your way across a stream.

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Skills training

While we were wandering around having a good time a shepherd and his collie dog came by. As soon as the shepherd stopped the collie sat perfectly still. They both looked around, scanned the mountainside and then were away. In a couple of minutes both the shepherd and collie had disappeared. This moment reminded me that our playground is also someone else’s workplace.

Later in the day Graham and myself came across the Cym Deli pipeline that feeds water down to the oldest hydro electric station in the valley below. It is known locally as ‘the chapel in the valley‘ due to its design. I did not know this until I read the wiki page on the site but the pipelines appeared in the James Bond film ‘The World is Not Enough’

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Working Snowdonia

We had hoped to scramble up Cribau but decided against it as there was a lot of ice at the top. Not everyone had crampons or ice axes so we decided to head down to Llyn Llydaw instead. We walked around the southern shore of Llyn Llydaw to get off the beaten track and concentrated on micro navigation. 

The route is not obvious but well worth the effort. When we reached Cwn Dyli it was time for a snowball fight. Needless to say no prisoners were taken.

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Enjoyment in different forms

We all decided to stay down low on the Sunday morning. Some of the guys went to the Pinnacles to do a bit of rock climbing and the rest of us walked from Capel Curig Training Camp up to the cafe in Capel Curig.

It was a stunning morning with low-lying mist and beautiful sunshine.

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Sunny Sunday

We did a little bit of navigation but to tell you the truth we mainly just enjoyed the walk. It got a bit muddy in places but we just took our time.

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Navigating and a bit of R & R

Just before we reached the cafe at Capel Curig I met up with Dan Keefe and his lovely family. They had all come up for the weekend and were staying at Llanrwst to celebrate Dan’s birthday. This was also the first time I had met Dan’s little lad Oscar.

 

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Meeting the Keefe clan

The rain came in just after I took this picture so it was time to get a bit of lunch before heading off home in the minibus.

Cheers

George

Special Snowdon Scenes

I spent a lovely weekend in Snowdonia National Park last January with some of my climbing friends from the Sea Cadets.

While we were walking and climbing in the park I set myself the challenge of photographing the beauty of the park in as many ways as possible.

I aimed to try and capture the big scenes, the little ones, the natural ones and the man made ones. This is my record of that attempt.

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Stunning Snowdonia – big or small – natural or man made

Those who have ever been to Snowdonia will know that water is a very dominant force in this mountainous terrain. I found beauty in simple drips hanging off branches, the outflow from a stream monitoring station and the drip drip from an icicle.

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Water – beauty in many forms

I have always been fascinated by reflections on water. I tried to capture the full reflection of Crib Goch in the picture below but could not quite get the angles right to get the top of the mountain in the picture as well.

The bottom picture I liked not just for the reflection from the mountains and the small rock but the texture of the water surface, with half of it semi frozen and half of it unfrozen.

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Reflections – big and small

The geology of the park always catches my eye. I aimed in these two pictures below to capture the ruggedness of the scenery both in the sharpness of the rocks in the near distance and the rolling majesty of the land in the far distance.

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Geology – sharp and rolling

While walking around Snowdon I came across these hardy little souls. The mountain goats were well at home on the steep slopes and hardly fazed by our presence.

I stood watching them for a good half hour as they jumped about in search of green shoots and even got some of their tracks in the snow.

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Fauna – the beautiful mountain goat

The pictures below of a large bird of prey do not do the actual moment any justice at all. My lens is not the telephoto type so I could not get tight onto the bird to get a close up.

We were walking as a group in the woods near Capel Curig when I spotted the large brown bird land in a tree. We walked as close as we could to it and managed to snap these long range shots as it flew away. I am not sure if it was an owl, a hawk or buzzard but it was big and beautiful and majestic in its flight.

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Fauna – the airborne sort

Lastly not to forget the beauty poking its head out of the snow. I spent a lot of time lying in the snow getting close up shots of whatever plant life I could see.

At this time of year the ferns, mosses, grasses and heathers are the dominant flora on the mountainside. To really appreciate this beauty you need to get down close and personal.

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Flora – spikes in the snow

I find that photography is starting to awaken in me a greater awareness of all the beauty that surrounds me, even in environments where I think at first glance very little is going on.

Cheers

George

Teenage instructors – The new crop

I spent the last weekend of October by a lovely stretch of the Thames at TS Black Swan – Sunbury & Walton Sea Cadets unit. I was assessing a Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEAL).
With me were Perry Symes and Jennifer Burdett. This course is one of the most difficult a cadet can undertake in the Adventure Training world and leads to a recognised qualification.

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T S Black Swan on the Thames

Alongside us our friend John Kelly (bottom left) was running a DofE training course. This proved very useful to us as we could assess our BEAL students as they taught the DofE students the basics of living under canvas.

The other staff members - Perry, Jenny and John
The other staff members – Perry, Jenny and John

The first class, taken by Tara and Jess, was on the different types of food you would want to take on expedition. In terms of assessment, as well as expecting them  to talk about different food types we were looking to see how well they managed to hold the attention of the class. They had plenty of different foods to pass around and engaged the students well by asking them plenty of questions to keep them thinking.

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Delivery from Tara and Jess on food

Next up was Jack with his class on the different types of kit they would be expected to use. Jack had brought a lot of kit to illustrate the discussion and explained well why he used particular pieces.

The DofE students were all fairly new to camping so found this invaluable.

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Kit presentation from Jack

Thankfully Jen and Perry were happy to take all the notes as that left me free to take the pictures 🙂

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Jen and Perry busily recording their observations

While the guys were running their classes indoors, Mehmet and James had been busy outdoors setting up a range of tents and tarps. They discussed the pros and cons of each tent type with the DofE students to give them some information to think about when either buying a tent or setting one up.

Mehmet and James delivering their tent class
Mehmet and James delivering their tent class

We were grateful to John Kelly for letting us use his DofE students for our assessments as we could really see how the BEAL candidates interacted with these younger cadets, which made the assessments very realistic.

From the looks on these students’ faces I would say that they had a good time.

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The DofE crew trying out their tents

While all these assessments were going on it was good to see so much happening on the river. We’d decided to run the final assessment here as we had finished with all the navigation parts of the assessments on previous courses. I had never been at this unit before and really enjoyed watching all the river activity.

The view from the classroom
The view from the classroom

While we were happy that they all could navigate for themselves, we watched each BEAL student run a one-to-one session with a DofE student to explain how maps worked and how to use a compass.

Being a good navigator is important, but if you cannot pass that skill over to someone else then you will never make a very good expedition leader. All the candidates fared well here thankfully.

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Being assessed on how they teach map reading

The classes carried on well into the Saturday evening, when we observed the BEAL candidates supervising the DofE students as they cooked their evening meals.

All went well and everyone got fed quickly and safely. I have seen a few accidents happen at this time as everyone is tired and it was good to see our young trainee instructors still keeping an eye on what was going on.

Some late night assessment on teaching cadets safe stove use
Some late night assessment on teaching cadets safe stove use

Sunday morning was spent getting all the paperwork for the students in order and giving them feedback on their progress. I was happy to see that as a group of instructors we agreed that four of the students had passed after this weekend (the other was deferred, and I’m confident will pass very soon).

This was the first BEAL course the Sea Cadets had ever run (I do not think that even the Army or the Air Cadets have run one) and I was very proud to have been a member of the team. These new instructors (and they are instructors in every sense) are the ones who may well one day take over our jobs in the Sea Cadets.

Well done to all those cadets that undertook and passed this pilot course and I am looking forward to helping out at the BEAL course we will be running this year.

Cheers

George

Autumn Campcraft

‘no need to be uncomfortable in the great outdoors’

Have you ever wondered what your kids get up to when they go off camping with one of the many different youth organisations we have in this country?

Well with the Sea Cadets we always try to make it a special trip as many of our younger cadets have never camped in their lives, or even wandered freely outdoors. There is a lot to learn if you want to live comfortably outdoors but even if the weather is not being nice to you all the time there is no need to be uncomfortable.

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Campcraft in style

I spent a lovely weekend at the beginning of October this year with my friends Dave Lewis and Charlie Brookes teaching campcraft to Sea Cadets from North London in the beautiful military training area that is Pippingford Park located in the Ashdown Forest. The public do not have access to this area and if the military are not running exercises then it can be a most beautiful and tranquil place to visit.

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The beautiful Pippingford Park

We had a small group of lads for this weekend and we started off by teaching them the basics of navigation. When I say ‘we’ I must truthfully say Dave taught the cadets: I spent most of the time trying to get to grips with the manual settings of my new D3200 Nikon camera.

The picture directly below was taken beside one of the many different weirs with a very slow shutter speed to try and capture that feeling of motion.

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Playing with my new camera and navigating

In between learning the art of navigation and talking about the various properties of kit I snapped these two pictures with the leaf hanging off a spider’s thread. I like the totally different effect when the focus changes from the leaf to Dave.

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Looking and learning

As usual with our weekends we spend a lot of time with the cadets discussing the different signs that can help us with navigation.

Below you can see Dave explaining to the cadets how the shape of lone trees on exposed slopes can reveal the prevailing wind direction. I taught the cadets about how to distinguish different tree types by looking at the leaves, bark and (in the example below, with the beech nuts) the fruit. Knowing your trees, for example whether they are coniferous or deciduous, is key to successful map reading.

We also got the cadets to identify animal tracks when they spotted them. The picture at the bottom left shows a steep slope where the hoof marks of a herd of deer could be clearly seen as they had tried to scramble up or down the slope.

Not all the signs are natural and the cadets soon learned to identify man-made objects such as this stepped weir (bottom right) so that they could identify where they were on the map easily.

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Outdoor signs

The weather was a bit damp that weekend and as soon as we returned to Crowborough Army Camp we set up our tents, hammocks and tarps.

For our classes we set up a large tarp to keep the worst of the weather off us. The cadets put up the large tarp with a bit of instruction from us.

In the picture below the cadets are being introduced to the safe use of camp stoves.

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Tarps up

After getting the stoves going the cadets got some food cooked and while they were doing this I had a look around and managed to get the lovely shot below of the spiders web covered in water droplets.

After tea we had a evening wander in the nearby woodland but did not stray too far as the military were conducting exercises there. Thankfully there is a lot of dead wood in that area so it did not take long to get together enough for a fire for the evening.

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Preparing for nightime

The evening fire turned out to be quite a nice show in the end. As many of you will know I collect ‘Fire Faces‘ and will happily sit for hours in front of a fire taking pictures. Of every 100 or so I photographs I take I probably keep only one. I call the picture directly below ‘The Three Amigos’ as I can see a cat on the left, a rooster in the middle and a dog on the right. Take your time and see what you can see.

The usual marshmallows and biscuits came out for a relaxed evening by the fireside.

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Fireside fun

Sunday morning was spent discussing all the different kit they will be expected to use outdoors. The classes cover kit such as rollmats, sleeping bags, bothy bags, rucksacks, food, packing, tents, first aid and footwear.

The amount of information they need to take in is enormous so at this basic level they are not tested on it. As they get older and move on to more advanced courses like the Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership they will then be tested on the subjects.

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Campcraft classes

On the Sunday morning we were joined by our friend and fellow Sea Cadet instructor Charlie Brookes. Charlie and myself took the cadets out of the camp into the woods to do some micro navigation. Up to this point the cadets had just been learning how to use maps for navigating so this short walk was just to introduce them to the use of the compass.

After we had finished with the compasses Charlie and myself got our EDC hammocks out for the cadets to try out and needless to say that they were a great hit – no need to be uncomfortable in the great outdoors.

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Chilling out on a Sunday morning

Just before lunchtime we packed away all the tarps, tents and kit. While we were doing this a cadet called me over to one of the tents. The inner tent was covered in scores of baby spiders – it seems the heat of his body had caused a nest of spiders to hatch in the grass under the tent. They were really minute – the one I photographed was right at the edge of what my camera could handle.

After lunch it was time to parade, pass out the certificates and load up onto the buses to head home.

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Wrap up time

This was a great weekend – the weather was not the best but as we took our time and prepared well everyone had a great time and came away with some lovely memories and new skills.

Cheers

George

Graham’s 2014 Chosin Cup – My Anniversary Post

A year ago I first advertised my Bushcraft Days blog on Facebook with a view to recording my adventurous activities and sharing them online. I did this primarily to let everyone know what we get up to in the London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training Team.

We are a small team of instructors dedicated to getting cadets and staff outdoors and exploring as many different environments as possible. When I joined the Corps back in 1998 I came across this slightly eccentric but vastly knowledgable and experienced Adventure Training (AT) instructor Lt (SCC) Graham Brockwell. Graham has been in the Corps since he was a lad and I would say is the Corps’s most experienced AT instructor.

The Boss
The Boss

For quite a few years now he has run the London Area Chosin Cup competition but he decided this year’s would be the last with him in charge.

This post is therefore dedicated to my friend Graham – our slightly eccentric, vastly knowledgeable but very friendly Boss.

As usual the AT team turned up early on the Friday (26th of September) to set everything up and the rest of the staff and cadets turned up over the course of the Friday evening. The cadets had to do a night nav into the campsite after being dropped off by their minibuses. Most teams found the camp but four teams took a wrong turning and headed off into the Forest. Dave Lewis and myself found them all huddled together conflabbing about where to go but they were in high spirits and were soon back at camp.

It was an early start the next morning where the teams were given separate routes and headed off to their stances. After finishing each stance they would head off on a new bearing to find the next one, repeating this throughout the day. My job was to keep moving around the course to make sure everyone was OK and not getting lost, which allowed me to take lots of pictures.

First I found the raft building stance where Enfield made a valiant effort to float their raft but sadly things were a bit loose and they soon ran into trouble (they managed to keep smiling throughout though). Next I came upon the plank race. This was a tough little race in the woods but the cadets were continually egged on by Tommo and his microphone and speakers.

Breakfast and away
Breakfast and away

One of my favourites has always been the archery stance. Charlie ran that one again this year with Robin up on Hill 170. It seems that one of my bows may need to be retired as it is now developing latteral cracks but it managed to last the day thankfully.

Archery stance
Archery stance

One of the stances I visited was the flag raising one with Paul and Eli but as no teams turned up while I was there could not take any pictures. Paul did film some of the stance though and I put this short video together from his footage.

Next I found Dave and Paul in the woods where they were running the river crossing stance. As it is training there was not a river in sight but the cadets had a great time setting up their rigs and ferrying their kit and themselves across.

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River crossing stance

There were quite a few other stances I did not photograph including an AT quiz and identifying knots.

After all the stances were completed the cadets went back to the campsite to cook dinner, but as soon as it got dark they were given a new route to a different campsite. They had to navigate in the dark and cross one of the lakes in canoes. A bit of a logistical nightmare but great fun. Thanks to Jo, John and Kev for organising all this.

Night Nav
Night Nav

After all the cadets were set up in their new camp the instructors all relaxed for an hour or so around the campfire. It was great to get the night nav finished so early and for once I got a decent sleep on a Saturday night over Chosin Cup.

Rest back at camp
Rest back at camp

I made this video of the Saturday showing as many of the stances I could and it is set to my favourite classical track – The Ride of the Valkyries.

Sunday morning was one of these special ones. I got up at 6am and grabbed my camera straight away and got some beautiful shots.

Stunning morning
Stunning morning

While I was prepping for the day I had a chuckle as I watched the Deputy Area Officer (London) Lt Cdr (SCC) Cliff Lewis giving the London Area Staff Officer Adventure Training CPO (SCC) Perry Symes a field shower. Not often you get to see that or even say all that 🙂

Prep for the day
Prep for the day

The Sunday stances were all concentrated in and around a small woodland so the cadets could get around as many as possible. My first set of pictures were of the stalking stance run by Cliff. The cadets competed against each other to remain undetected, retrieve as much water as possible without spilling it, and identify the various man-made objects strewn about the course.

Stalking stance
Stalking stance

Dean and Tommo ran the tree climbing stance. They had rigged some ropes up to an Oak tree and the cadets used a prusik system to ascend to the top.

Tree climbing
Tree climbing

The cadets had to test out their seamanship skills by trying to get a heaving line into a container and Paul had them rigging a pulley system to move a very heavy water carrier.

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Heaving line and pulley

Another of my favourites is the Atlatl. Dave ran this stance and had it set up against a massive pile of hay in the meadow to catch any stray darts. I was relieved to hear that my unit (City of London) came top in this stance 🙂

Atlatl
Atlatl

As Graham had wanted quite a bushcraft feel to the Sunday there was also a shelter stance and a fire making one. Paul had them setting up tarps to help treat an injured casualty and Charlie was doing timed firelighting – both fundamental bushcraft skills and great fun.

Shelter and Fire
Shelter and Fire

Ian was running Kim’s game where the cadets have a minute to study a range of items and then when they are covered up have to describe each one in great detail – not as easy as you may think. Alan was running the Gyn stance – the cadets had to use all there seamanship and team working skills to build the Gyn so as to raise a log up to a set height.

Kim's game and the Gyn
Kim’s game and the Gyn

As I had taken a lot of video I made a separate video of the day.

Also running throughout the morning was the Endurance Race. The race was right down in the valley so the cadets would have to cross the river.

The start of the Endurance race
The start of the Endurance race

There was a great Postman’s Walk (rope brige), muddy slopes, ditches and netting to get through in a fast a time as possible.

In full swing
In full swing

The teams had to help each other as much as possible as the clock did not stop until the last cadet had finished. I had a great time running around the course trying to get the best position to film and taking pictures.

The finish
The finish

My last video of the weekend was of the Endurance Race.

I had to leave before the placings were announced so I have used Joanna Russell’s pictures here. The visiting team trophy went to Poole unit and third place went to City of London unit.

Poole - Winning visitors City of London - Third place
Poole – Winning visitors
City of London – Third place

Second place went to Finchley unit and First place (for the second year in a row) went to Enfield unit.

Second place - Finchley unit First place - Enfield unit
Second place – Finchley unit
First place – Enfield unit

Also for the second year in a row the Team Leader trophy went to LCdt Jess Edwards of Enfield unit.

L Cdt Jess Edwards - Winner of the Team Leader trophy
L Cdt Jess Edwards – Winner of the Team Leader trophy

I thoroughly enjoyed the Chosin Cup this year as the weather was kind to us and the bushcraft stances worked well but most importantly it’s great to see so many teams entered in what I think is the hardest competition the Sea Cadet Corps runs.

Well done to all the teams who took part.

A great weekend
A great weekend

There are a lot of people that make Chosin Cup happen (including staff and cadets) but without the drive and dedication of Graham Brockwell it would not be the success it is today.

So thank you Graham for organising another great Chosin Cup.

Cheers

George

Meet London Area Juniors

Meet our Junior Sea Cadets from London Area – Cadets who love to learn by having fun.

A year or so ago my friend Lt Cdr (SCC) Mark Weston invited me along to help out on one of the weekends he organises for our Junior Sea Cadets. Mark believes that it is sometimes good to bring these youngsters (10 and 11 year olds) away on training weekends where they can learn in a fun manner but not have the prospect of an assessment hanging over them at the end of the weekend.

I was hooked on these weekends from the start as the Juniors undertake a number of different activities to learn new skills and I get the chance to play at bushcraft with them.

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Meet London Area Juniors

I was joined on the weekend by my friend Dave Lewis to deliver the bushcraft class in the woods. The training was conducted at Crowborough Army Camp but thankfully this time we got access to the ajoining woodland where we are allowed to light fires.

Many of the Juniors had never shot an arrow before but after some tuition they were pinging them down range as quick as they could. One little lad was so chuffed as he got the tiny bull’s eye on one of the targets.

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Bulls-eye archery

Dave and I took it in turns to deliver different classes as we got a group of about 6 Juniors at a time for about an hour and a half each time. So while I was doing archery Dave was teaching half of the group how to use a firesteel properly and then how to build a proper fire.

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Firesteel fun

I collect Fire Faces from images I see in the flames but the best faces are always found on the owners of the flame. Even Mark helped out with the fire lighting and I think his face says it all.

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Happy Fire Faces

While we were having fun in the woods, other instructors were running courses back in the main camp. Here you can see Kay modelling some of the signalling flags the Juniors had designed in her class.

Also Sam and Lorraine ran a very busy and successful cookery class where the Juniors made some rather delicious biscuits (I know – I tried a few out).

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Comms and Cooking

Every Junior took part in the First Aid class with Keith and learnt about CPR and got themselves a signed certificate to confirm this.

A Sea Cadet course would not be complete without a seamanship class so Alan and Nigel were kept busy teaching all the Juniors about bends and hitches.

Up in the gym Darren our PTI kept the Juniors running around all day with fun classes to use up all their excess energy.

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First Aid and Fitness

On the Sunday all the classes were up in the camp and included the ever popular Atlatl class. This skill has become a popular one to learn as the older cadets are now marked on this in the Chosin Cup competition held annually by London Area Sea Cadets.

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Steady – Aim – Shoot

Dave ran this class leaving me free for some time to concentrate on getting these pictures and capturing some video of the weekend.

As some Juniors were doing the Atlatl others were in the gym with Darren competing against each other doing lots of games.

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On target

I got some of the Juniors and staff together that morning to do some relay bowdrill. I didn’t have time to run this with all the cadets but those that did had a great time.

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Group Bowdrill

I put together two videos of the weekend. The first one shows all of the activities the Juniors undertook and was partly filmed by Deputy Area Officer (London) Lt Cdr (SCC) Cliff Lewis while I was teaching.

The other video shows the relay bowdrill I did with the Juniors. This was an experiment and as it was successful I will be using this technique with them again. Thanks to Chrissie Weston for filming much of this.

This was a great weekend and Mark has gotten a winning formula with the variety of classes the Juniors get to try out – I am looking forward to the next one in late spring next year.

Cheers

George

Brecon in Bloom

‘for some reason the name Bob comes up time and again’

While helping with a Gold DofE Expedition this July in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales I got photographing as much of the plant life I could that was in flower.

I find that many people who walk these high hills (including many adventure leaders) pay scant regard to what is down by their feet but if you look closely enough you will see a riot of colour.

I have used two good reference guides for this article – these are:

1) The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland – Charles Coates

2) The First Nature Guide to Wonderful Wildflowers of Wales – Volumes 1 to 4 – Pat O’Reilly and Sue Parker

All of the pictures were taken inside the Brecon Beacons National Park mostly on the hillsides.

On the left below is Bog Asphodel a beautiful yellow flower that is now in decline. Historically farmers associated this plant with ailments to sheep such as brittle bones or foot rot. It was not the plant that caused the problems but the poor soil the sheep lived on. As farming practices change so does the soil and so the plant is now in decline.

At the top right you see Tormentil and this little plant is always ovelooked but once you become aware of it you see it all over the hills. This is an astringent little plant that was used to treat gum disease and colic. Another common name is bloodroot for the red dye it produces.

At the bottom right you can see Perforate St John’s Wort. I normally spot this plant low down slopes but I found this one in a gully quite high up where it had found some shelter. Herbalists use this plant to treat depression to this day however due to its perforated leaves (hold one up to the sun to see them) it was previously thought to be good for treating wounds and stopping bleeding.

Bog Asphodel, Tormentil and St John's Wort
Bog Asphodel, Tormentil and St John’s Wort

I found Water Forget-Me-Not in a number of locations, sometimes on its own and sometimes in whole carpets but always around water in sheltered spots. Apart from being given to loved ones in the past so they would not feel forgotten this little plant was seen as cleanser of mucus so thought good for treating whooping cough and bronchitis.

A little point on naming plants is that when I am out and about especially with my younger students I do not always tell them the names of the plants. I get them to agree a random name for different plants and say out these names as they go along every time they spot one – for some reason the name Bob comes up time and again (must be a Blackadder thing). Once we are back at camp I then get them to ID Bob for its given name. This seems to make the plant names stick with them more. I got this idea many years ago from a fellow bushcrafter.

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Water Forget-Me-Not

Another couple of plants of wet areas are the Sundew (top) and the Butterwort (below). Both plants exude sticky fluids to catch insects and have been used to treat rough skin to make it smoother (Butterwort) and also to treat sunburn (Sundew).

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Sundew and Butterwort

I came across a bank made up of shaped stones to support a small railway and saw that it was completely covered in Wild Strawberries. I have never seen so many Wild Strawberries in one place. The bank was facing the South West over open water so that must have had quite an influence on its growth.

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Wild Strawberry

Back out on the moorland the land was dominated by the Soft Rushes. As recently as the second world war the soft piths of these plants were used as candles.

I found the Water Mint in a tiny stream in amongst the Rushes. I did not identify it easily at first as it was not in flower but its smell and square stem gave it away. A great medicinal plant and I like it in my tea.

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Soft Rush and Water Mint

The Brambles (top) I spotted in mid July were just starting to ripen their Blackberries. Is it me or are the blackberries very early this year?

I spotted these Bilberries (bottom) while walking with the cadets where the sheep could not get easy access to so we had a bit of a feast.

Both these fruits make excellent puddings and jams.

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Ripening Bramble and Bilberry

The beautiful Meadowsweet was in full bloom in July and was growing abundantly in the low lying areas around the hills where it had plenty of light and water.  This was one of the plants sacred to Druids and was a plant that Bayer used as one of the key ingredients when developing aspirin in the 19th century. It gives off a lovely aroma and was traditionally used in the home to cover up bad smells.

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Meadowsweet

On the left you can see the Common Spotted Orchid. I came across this beautiful flower in the hills but on the steep grassy slope by a river where the soil was not too acidic. A common ingredient in love potions all over the world I am told.

At the top right is the tiny Wild Thyme, a plant I got confused with Self Heal for a long time. As a medicinal plant it was used as a sedative and was good for hangovers.

The Red Clover in the bottom right is a little flower spotted all the time by most people but at this time you can see that it has opened up slightly. This little fella I can remember as a kid providing me with a shot of nectar. It is also loved by farmers as a nitrogen rich fertiliser or as a feed for animals

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Common Spotted Orchid, Wild Thyme and Red Clover

I did not see a great deal of the Bell Heather (top left) as it does not like the soil to be to acidic so it can be an indicator of drier ground. Traditionally this plant has been used in the making of ropes and baskets due to its long fibrous stems.

The Marsh Thistle (bottom left) as you can see by the insect feeding on it is a good source of food for many different types of insects. The young shoots are quite tasty too.

On the right is the majestic Foxglove. I did not spot too many high up in the hills but found a few in some of the more protected gulleys. A poisonous plant but one I remember playing finger puppets with as a child. As I know it is poisonous now as a father I do not let my kids go anywhere near it.

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Bell Heather, Marsh Thistle and Foxglove

The Meadow Crane’s Bill (top left) named after the fruiting body it grows that resembles a Cranes beak. This is another medicinal plant used historically for treating wounds and nowadays for treating diarrhoea and also as a gargle.
Bottom left is the tiny Self Heal. Another plant that is easily missed but was once seen as the woodmans friend and used to treat small cuts they got from their tools.
On the right is the tall and slender Great Burnet. I found this one in only one spot on my trip near a railway line and nearly walked past it. I like to nibble the young leaves. It’s other name is Burnip due to its ability to help treat burns.

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Meadow Crane’s Bill, Self Heal and Great Burnet

On the left is the well known medicinal plant Yarrow. This tough plant was growing all over the lower slopes. Up high you still saw the odd one but hugging the earth very closely. I remember being on a Bushcraft course, having a cold and being given Yarrow tea laced with honey. That cold did not hang around as it normally would do with me.

I think the yellow flower on the right is a Hawkbit. These little yellow flowers are difficult to identify correctly if you do not look closely at the leaves. I forgot to do this but I think it is a Hawkbit. The genus of this plant is Leontodon which translates to Lions Tooth – referring to the squared of but toothed tips of the flower.

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Yarrow and Hawkbit

My last picture I included as I came across a lot of logging in the lower slopes of the hills. It is Larch I think and I really liked the contrast between the young green growth, the growing cones and the sharpness of the stump left by the loggers.

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Larch

I really enjoyed spotting and photographing these plants (I had to climb down into some steep gullies) however please let me know if you think I have identified any of them incorrectly.

Cheers

George

Brecon Gold

Last July I found myself helping out with a Sea Cadet Gold Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition in the Brecon Beacons of South Wales.

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Going for Gold

I was asked to attend in a safety role as a Mountain Leader but soon ended up doing safety and training as we had a shortage of instructors. The expedition was over five days and we had one team along for training and two other teams doing their assessed expeditions. All the participants were from the Sea and Royal Marine Cadets (including both cadets and younger staff in the teams). The participants were from London Area and Southern Area Sea Cadets.

I joined the expedition at the end of the first day at Dan yr Ogof campsite. The staff and cadets under training were camping there but the assessed teams camped elsewhere remotely. I soon had my hammock stand set up and turned around to see my neighbours were some pigs. At least they were better company than the midgies.

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My home for the trip

My first morning was a bit of a damp affair but the bacon sandwiches soon made up for that. I was joined by my friends Alan and Dave  Lewis, John Kelly, Chris Bonfield and met for the first time Paul Kelly. Paul also holds a Mountain Leader qualification which proved invaluable over the expedition.

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A wet start

I took a little bit of video after my first night in my recently modified hammock stand. I had a great sleep and it was nice to get away from the mossies.

I took out a team who were training for a future expedition. It was made up of Jess, Maisie, Rosie and Tara. Tara and Jess are also working towards their Level 2 Assisting Basic Leadership award with me so this trip proved great experience for them.

In the role of safety officer I normally like to get up very high in the hills to observe the assessed teams remotely. My team was dropped off at Tyle Gawr at the foot of Fan Nedd. The day was blustery but at this point the visibility was clear. We were soon slowly picking our way up the side of Fan Nedd, discussing all the factors of good route selection on a steep slope.

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Straight up

The spirits of this team were high and they did not let the wind or the rain get them down at any time (which makes my job far easier).

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The Training Team

After doing a fair bit of map work, where they had to continually identify where they were, we soon spotted the first of the assessed teams on the hills. Also while we were ascending Fan Nedd we were passed by many troops heavily laden down with heavy kit. They seemed to reach some point then turn around and run off down the hill. I said to the team that we would do the same and received an incredulous look from them – we did it anyway and it only took 15 minutes to descend half way down Fan Nedd to the minibuses.

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Observing and problem solving

Along the way we did a spot of foraging for bilberries and did a fair bit of wild flower spotting. I will do a separate post on all the wildflowers we came across later.

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Wanderings and Foraging

The weather soon closed in but we were still able to navigate easily over very rough ground (with limited use of maps or compasses) and keep an eye on the other teams remotely; thankfully though when we were lower down the visibility was much clearer.

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Beautiful views up high and down low

After ensuring that all the assessed teams had descended off the Beacons Way to Blaenglyn Farm campsite, I took my team to recce the steep slope at Craig Cerrig Gleisiad as this had been discussed as a possible point to ascend into the hills the next day. It soon became apparent that,thanks to the recent heavy rain, the steep grassy slopes would be too much of a challenge for the teams the next day. At least the team had a good time practising their route selection skills again as they descended this steep slope to the camp site.

 

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Steep Slopes

After the end of a long hard day all the tents, tarps and hammocks were soon up. Those on the expedition stayed at Blaenglyn Farm campsite while all the staff stayed at Grawen campsite.

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Accomodations

Day two started and finished with excellent weather. The teams were bussed to a new start point just at Twyn Garreg – wen. This day was to be much lower down but the ground was very treacherous with tufty grass before descending into the woods then climbing up onto Cadair Fawr and then to Grawen

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Sunshine

Dave and I spent the morning observing the teams and met them only a couple of times in the day. The training team also spent the day by themselves following the route. With so few landmarks on the open moorland the day was a good test of the teams’ navigation skills.

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Moorland navigation

Along the way I came across this group of ponies with a number of foals grazing on the hillside. The teams did not all get to the summit of Cadair Fawr (due to a few minor aches and sprains) but did spend the whole day navigating as much of the route as possible.

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Lovely encounters

The last day was spent navigating from Pont Sarn to Talybont dam. I found a spot halfway along the route to wait out the teams passing through at Buarth y Caerau. It was a long wait and I only saw two teams all day. The third team went slightly off track but got to the end on time anyway.

I spent my time watching wildlife (spooked a heron) and taking pictures of wild flowers.

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The waiting game

All the teams reached the dam safely and on time. There was a few aches and pains (including the staff) but an over-riding sense of achievement amongst everyone.

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Final team in

After a good clean up it was time for one more picture and the long trip home.

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Happy Expeditioners

I made a small video of the whole trip.

I hope that this is the start of many more Gold DofE expeditions in the Sea Cadet Corps and look forward to helping out on them in the future.

Cheers

George

Teine Eigin – The Force of Fire

I have been bushcrafting on and off for most of my life. Growing up in a remote village on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland I was free to get out and about as a boy and really explore my surroundings. I saw this sometimes then as a lifestyle that was stuck in the past: I remember wishing for all those modern gizmos and ways of doing things I saw advertised on the television.

But now, aged 47, I really appreciate that upbringing, even though we did struggle at times. When I teach outdoor skills to kids these days I see the effect on them; having been sat in front of a TV or computer for most of their lives they are afraid at first to explore or take risks outdoors, but with a little bit of encouragement and support it is great to see them discovering a whole new way of learning.

One of the tools I use in that learning process is the ‘force of fire’.

Happy Fire faces
Happy Fire faces

That force of fire can be made in many different ways but my favourite is Teine Eigin – Gaelic for rubbing two sticks together to make fire. Nowadays bushcrafters know this as bowdrill or handrill (though there are many other techniques, such as the plough) but what many do not realise is that this method was used in certain areas of Scotland up until the middle of the 19th century. I wrote a recent article where I put some good links to this tradition – Bushcrafting at Lews Castle College.

This summer I plan to explore some different methods of making fire by rubbing two sticks together – Teine Eigin.

Here is my intro video to the subject.

This is my first video with commentary so I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions.

Cheers, and I will be back over the summer with more articles on these methods in detail.

George