Lowland Expedition Leaders – The 2018 Crew

Moving onto March of this year in my scramble to catch up on my blogging backlog, found me once again, involved in training our Sea Cadet instructors in becoming Lowland Expedition Leaders (LEL).

The 2018 Crew

The weekend was based at TS Black Swan – the Sunbury & Walton Sea Cadet unit on the banks of the Thames. After lots of the usual admin there was plenty of adventure training lessons to be gotten through. We try to get all the basics like Legislation, Health & Safety and Kit covered in class before heading out for outdoor sessions.

Students learn all about tents and stoves in a very hands on way. They need to learn fast as they are expected within a couple of months to be teaching these subjects to cadets (under supervision though).

Training and more Training

From the start we like to get the students practicing their teaching skills. In pairs they were tasked with giving short lessons in subjects such as map and compass work. I was particularly impressed with the cardboard compass they produced to teach everyone about its different parts.

Student Presentations

Much of the rest of the time was spent out and about practicing the use of maps and compasses on the North Downs. It was a much cooler time of the year as you can see from the pictures below – a time of year I find far more comfortable in comparison to the heat we are currently facing – as I write this in mid summer.

Nav Time

Here is to some cooler times soon (I am Scottish) 🙂

Cheers

George

A Mountain Mooch – Carnedd Llywelyn Re-visited – Day 4

Day 4 of our North Wales trip last February with my Sea Cadet friends found us once again on the slopes of Carnedd Llywelyn. This time we were joined by a number of newer instructors looking to get a taste of the mountains.

We started off doing plenty of nav work and re-visited Jacques ‘Peaks in Peaks’ art work – unfortunately one of the peaks had subsided in the time we had been away 🙂

Lowland Nav

Once we had gone over the summit of Pen yr Helgi Du we enjoyed a great scramble down, along and up the ridge of Bwlch Eryl Farchog. The views were stunning and everyone got the chance to test themselves out.

Mid Hight Scrambling

Once up onto the slopes of Carnedd Llywelyn we stopped short of the summit due to the snow and sheet ice. There was though a fantastic temperature inversion to observe all along the horizon and the summit of Tryfan could be seen just poking out of the low lying clouds.

Around the Summit

We had a relaxing walk back off the mountains, passing by  Ffynnon Llugwy reservoir where Graham managed to allow his Bothy bag to roll down into it – after a slight ‘dip’ it was blown back to the side for him to retrieve (all in the video below).

Cheers

George

A Mountain Mooch – Llyn Geirionydd – Day 3

Some days are just meant for relaxing – Day 3 of my Mountain Mooch in Snowdonia was a thoroughly relaxing affair – The Snowdon Horseshoe did tire me out a bit the day before so all I wanted was a stroll and some hammock time.

I set out for Llyn Geirionydd on my own (everyone was doing their own thing on this day) with my rucksack packed with sandwiches, cameras and my hammock.

Chilled Day

Llyn Geirionydd is a stunning lake and thankfully had some nicely spaced trees to relax and watch nature go by. I did take a stroll around part of the Lake and tried to capture some of the colour that was around. It was late winter with little new growth happening but still enough to keep me happy.

Back to Nature

Feeling relaxed and renewed I headed back to camp to await the arrival of the rest of our group.

Cheers

George

A Mountain Mooch – Snowdon Horseshoe – Day 2

Day 2 of my winter trip to Snowdonia found me with Jacques on the Snowdon Horseshoe. We struck out early with a mind to tackle the horseshoe from the Crib Goch side first.

The day was slightly overcast to begin with and there was a smattering of snow high up.

Crib Goch

As it was early there were few others around as we ascended Crib Goch. The wind was negligible however you had to watch out for the sheet ice.

I do love scrambling along the edge of Crib Goch – especially when you have good vis from it.

We were soon up onto Snowdon itself and as usual (well it is for me) the clag was right down. There was a small group of climbers sheltering in a bothy below the summit and from the laughs they sounded to be having a good time.

Snowdon

After a short break we headed off down the Watkins path before veering off down to West Peak. It was crampon time here as the snow was pretty hard packed here – one of my crampons kept coming loose so I think a new pair are in order.

East and West Peaks

The weather really cleared up for us as we motored over West and East Peaks. The views were spectacular and we were even spotted someone para gliding around East Peak.

The Horseshoe

Coming off the horseshoe I was knackered however I was so glad I took up Jacques offer of a trek round the horseshoe once again. In the right weather and with the right kit it is a cracking day on the mountains.

I put together this short video of the day.

Cheers

George

 

A Mountain Mooch – Carneddau – Day 1

Last February the London Area Seacadet Adventure Training team headed up to North Wales for some staff training. This annual trip is one I really look forward to as it gives me a chance to test my mountain skills once again.

An advance group of us – Perry, John, Jacques, Jenny and myself all headed up a few days before the main group arrived. For our first day we headed out into the less touristy part of the Snowdon range – the Carneddau Mountains.

Heading Up

Our aim was to take a slow hike up towards Carnedd Llewellyn doing a bit of nav training, scrambling and winter work. All the winter work we planned was to play about in one of the lower snow fields where it is perfectly safe.

I went on ahead of the group at the beginning to find a good spot or two for photography. Jacques soon caught up with me and started playing about with some ice in a pond.

Firstly it was just a case of seeing if he could move the whole sheet with his poles but then as usual – he stepped on it 🙂 We found when it broke that it came out in quite neat triangles.

Peaks in Peaks

Jacques soon had a little range of ice peaks made up so I decided to make up a little video with him – titled by Jacques as ‘Peaks in Peaks’.

From the ice pond we were soon scrambling along ridges, throwing snowballs and watching Kestrels hovering overhead – quite dramatic scenery and hardly any another souls around.

Scrambling

Once below the summit of Carned Llewellyn in a gently sloping area we had a little play with some crampons and ice axes.

Winter Skills

The return home was just as slow as the ascent as everyone was pretty tired out from this first days hike however we were treated to some great views and a fly past by the RAF.

I put together a short video of the day below.

Daty 2 of the trip found Jacques and myself completing the Snowdon Horseshoe in ‘slightly’ wintry conditions – more of that in the next blog.

Cheers

George

Back to Basics – Back to Bushcraft

Over the last year or so I have found that my Bushcrafting has been taking a bit of a backseat to my other Adventure Training responsibilities so it was great to get back to some Bushcraft with fellow instructors from London Area Sea Cadets at one of our regular Multi Activity Staff Training (MAST) weekends.

It was a bit of CPD weekend for some and a bit of a new adventure for others. We took our time setting up camp on the Friday in the Mereworth Woods training area we had been given access to as the students were not due to join us until the Saturday morning – a kind of calm before the storm you could say.

Back to Bushcraft

Saturday

The weather was on the whole kind to us with no major showers but the tarps were up just in case. Graham got his cuppa in bed that morning (being an officer and all that) and then modeled his Buffalo sleeping bag for us by the fire – I have no idea why the thing has a full face zip – weird 🙂

Morning Sir

Along to help out and do some CPD were Dave, Alan, Charlie and Graham. The instructors from the Adventure Training team looking to learn the basics of Bushcraft were Ben, Lee, Sam and Gary. We like to run these Bushcraft courses from time to time to expand out Expedition Leaders skill set so that they can pass the knowledge onto their cadets.

Time for Tea

Before they were allowed to have a cuppa on the Saturday morning the students had to learn about lighting a fire. Off they went to learn about gathering dead standing wood, processing and grading it before learning to use firesteels – needless to say the tea and coffee was soon brewing.

Brew Time

Saw and Knife use

After their brew it was time to learn how to use saws and knives safely.  Once the wood was gathered they learnt about safe knife cuts and battoning. I like teaching in this way as there is no need to get axes out (and we did not have time to cover them anyway). The students produced some strong tent pegs and looked at the techniques for making feather sticks for fire lighting.

Saws and Knives

Camp Set Up

One of the things I wanted the students to do over the weekend was to set up their own camp. They learnt some of the basic Bushcraft knots with Charlie and how to throw a line through the trees. Soon they had their parachute up and firewood collected. Once that was all done they spent time with Dave and Graham learning how to put hammocks and tarps up (no ground dwelling on this weekend).

Camp Set Up

Atlatl Carving

A popular activity at cadet camps is Atlatl dart throwing so Dave and Alan spent a couple of hours with the students getting them to carve their own Atlatl throwers. All the skills that they had learnt in the morning with the saws and knives were used here with some finer knife cutting technique thrown in to get the points done.

Atlatl Carving

As this was CPD time for the experienced instructors Dave went off earlier on the Saturday and experimented with Spruce roots as cordage. After digging up a little he split them down and removed the bark (with the forked stick) before using it to bind his demonstration Atlatl dart for his class. He also used Sweet Chestnut bark as a flight for his dart – worked perfectly well.

Natural Cordage -pictures courtesy of Dave

We had a nearby glade that was soon set up as arrange and the darts were soon pinging away. I have used Atlatls for years and shown hundreds of people how to use them – they never fail to intrigue people and offer hours of fun either in their construction or use.

Time on the Range

While Dave and Graham ran the range I went back with Charlie and Alan to help gather the material for ponassing some fish. Dinner was to be Trout, Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs. As well as ponassing we wrapped and bound one Trout in Sweet Chestnut leaves  (these were the biggest we could find) and its inner bark. The fish was then cooked over the open fire when the coals were nice and ready.

Dinner Prep

Alan ran our little galley and had the students helping him out on all the stages. It was not long before everything was cooked and even less time until everything was eaten.

A Busy Galley

We retired to the students parachute for the evening to watch the fireworks display – Sweet Chestnut wood sparks fantastically. Luckily we did not get one of the many thunderstorms we could hear nearby pass over us, so we remained dry while we watched the fireworks.

Kick Back Time

Sunday

After a good nights sleep it was time for the breakfast feast. My wife Alison had made me up a pancake mix and Alan soon had the skillet working hard  cooking pancakes (with a few rolls baking away on the side in the Dutch Oven). As well as pancakes we had the students cooking fresh sausage rolls over the fire (another great cadet pastime.

Breakfast Delights

Bowdrill

Straight after breakfast – out came my bow drill kit. This was not a full on bowdrill workshop but a taster to show how ‘assisted bowdrill‘ works. When we do this activity with cadets we always do it with the assistance of an instructor (or as a group of four or five) due to a lack of time usually. We used a couple of different methods and got good embers every time.

Bowdrill Techniques – pictures courtesy of Dave and Ben

Grass Rope Making

In the Sea Cadets we work with ropes a lot (seamanship and all that) so I showed the guys how to make rope using grass. This is a fast rope making technique and we can create enough (with the right material) to make enough rope to do a seamanship class if needed (or just make earrings).

Rush Rope

Char Cloth

To finish Dave showed the students how to make some char cloth in a tin – we did not have time to finish it all off but they got the principles.

It was soon time to pack everything up and head home. Normally it is just the instructors that do most of this work so it was great to see all the students getting stuck in to put everything away in the correct manner so that it can be deployed quickly the next time we run a course.

A bit of Charcloth and Wrap Up

It was great to be back out doing Bushcraft again and sharing knowledge on the subject. I hope some of the guys are with us in a few years helping to deliver this course as having a good understanding of Bushcraft really enhances their skill set for teaching cadets. I hope to be back running another course at MAST next year.

Cheers

George

2017 – From BEL to LEL – Becoming an Expedition Leader

you are either good enough or you are not…….

Way back in 2010 our Sea Cadet Adventure Training team in London decided to get a licence to train and assess our instructors to become nationally recognised Expedition Leaders – this was through Sports Leaders UK and was titled the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL). Bar one year since then we have been training and assessing our instructors to become Expedition Leaders.

Due to changes in the industry wanting to make these qualifications more descriptive to their role the title has been changed to the Lowland Expedition Leader (LEL) award – fair one as far as I am concerned – so this post is dedicated to our last seven BEL students to be assessed last year: Nina, Donnah, Matt, Scott, Tony, Sharon and Gary.

The assessment weekend happened in November 2017 in and around Ashdown Forest. The students were assessed on their navigation skills, group management, knowledge on kit & equipment and their levels of nature awareness.

Along the way everyone had to give 5 minute ‘on the hoof’ presentations as well as running classes back at base. Over the previous 10 months we had worked closely with all the students and had seen them working with cadets in the outdoors so were confident of their abilities.

We do not assess the students on our own as we have to bring in an independent assessor and a representative from Sports Leader UK to oversee everything on the weekend – there is no skimping on this assessment – you are either good enough or you are not.

It is not all stressful – we do have fun along the way – well mostly the Area staff do I suppose 🙂

As well as having all this work and play I am always on the lookout for those little shots to make the day more interesting. The autumn colours brightened up the overcast skies and we managed to fit in a pub lunch along the way.

The assessment is over a weekend so we were back out on the Sunday morning testing their map and compass skills again with the odd scenario thrown in.

We move on now to the LEL award but it is with a fond heart (this has got nothing to do with all the admin by the way) that I look back on the BEL.

It has all made possible by my colleagues Perry, Graham, Jacques, Dave, Ben, John, Jen, Duncan, Alan and our very own Cliff – all who have been involved as instructors (and some as students as well) over the years – apologies if I have missed anyone here.

The 2018 students are already under training for the LEL award – so more on them later.

Cheers

George

Golden Peaks – 2017

It was late October 2017 (I know I have a lot of blogging catch up to do) and I set off North to The Peak District with my lad Finlay. We were off to join teams from London and Southern Area Sea Cadets undertaking their Gold DofE Expedition.

It was a busy 5 days and the weather was glorious resulting in some fabulous Golden Peaks.

Golden Peaks

The cadets and young instructors undertaking their Gold Expedition had four tough days ahead of them carrying all their food and kit as they hiked through The Peaks. It was a windy but warm Peak District that greeted us on their first day.

Setting off from Pindale Farm they soon passed through Castleton and ascended up onto Mam Tor. This is a steady climb but one that affords great views on a clear day.

Day 1

All the staff headed off to different locations to ensure that the teams walked the route (they do this without supervision) safely. I went onto the slopes of Mam Tor with Finlay and Dave Lewis.

After spending a bit of time watching out for the teams from the minibus roof we headed up the slopes some more. Finlay got a bit of nav practice in from Dave and a bit of flying practice from me 🙂

Mam Tor

After Mam Tor the teams headed West along the gentle ridge that is Rushup Edge before heading North down into the beautiful Edale valley. We met the teams a couple of times along the way but otherwise left them to their own devices as we explored the countryside and practiced our own nav.

Camp for the night for the expeditioners was the remote but rather well laid out campsite at Upper Booth Farm.

Edale Valley

Day 2

This was a tougher day for everyone as the route was up and over the Kinder plateau. The weather was clear so that made the nav much easier for everyone (including ourselves).

I did not see everyone leave camp as I set off to ascend Kinder from the small town of Hayfield on the Western slopes of Kinder with Dave, Nina and Finlay.

There was a temperature inversion that morning and the mist was trapped in the valley. The mist slowly crept up the valley until it topped out onto Kinder reservoir making for a great panoramic. I also spotted for the first time a Mist Bow. This happens rarely – when you get sunlight reflected off water and through mist.

Kinder Reservoir

Once on top of the Kinder plateau we settled down into some crags and got the hammock out. I carry my EDC Hammock around with me for just such occasions. We spoke with the teams as they passed through our positions and it was good to see them all in good form.

Kinder Plateau

After a while Nina, Dave Finlay and myself moved North over the Kinder plateau to observe the teams dropping down Snake Path. Finlay spotted a dead lamb along the way an got some more nav practice in from Nina – Dave got his head down and I got a few more pics 🙂

I followed the last team from a distance down Snake Path while the rest went back to Hayfield. We all met up again at the campsite the expeditioners were using that night.

North Kinder

Day 3

The weather turned on Day 3 with lots of low cloud and rain. Finlay had left the expedition the night before with my wife Alison so just Dave and myself headed off up into the woods over Ladybower Reservoir to meet the teams.

We eventually spotted them all as they hiked on through the clouds and rain. Eventually the clouds lifted but the rain did not. The teams walked up onto Stanage Edge later in the day and the wind started to pick up. Luckily they only had a short section to walk along the Stanage path and were soon down into the shelter of the woods and their camp for the night.

Stanage

Day 4

I did not see the teams on this part of the route but thankfully the weather improved greatly for their last day. Straight after breakfast they were back up onto Stanage Edge and hiking South East to the finish at the Fox Inn.

After a short de-brief all the kit was dried out and the ‘Survivors’ group photo was taken.

Endex

There ended a fantastic October expedition to The Peaks.

Cheers

George

Chosin 17 – Skill Sunday

Unlike the Saturday where navigation skills were the focus the Sunday at Chosin Cup is all about testing the cadets skills such as teamwork, ropework, first aid and archery – to name just a few (there will be a further post on the Endurance Race).

After a short briefing the cadets were sent out in their teams to various stances set out in and around the woods earlier that morning.

Being Sea Cadets a weekend without testing their Seamanship skills in some way would not be proper so they soon found themselves having to construct a pulley system to transport water across a ‘raging river!!‘.

Bushcraft is a key part of their training now so their firelighting and pioneering skills were also tested however there was always time to take a few minutes’out‘ on the hammock.

Seamanship and Bushcraft Skills

Our adventure training boss Ben McDonald had organised for a mobile climbing wall to turn up that morning. I have no idea how they scored this event however the cadets were up and down it like yoyo’s.

A couple of challenges they faced involved climbing in pairs carrying a ball between them and making the climb blindfolded – both more difficult than you would think.

The Wall

A favourite of mine is archery. This year our archery instructor Jacob brought along his Area kit so my poor bows could have a year off (I broke one a year ago so glad we have new kit). It proved a ‘hit‘ with both the cadets and staff and even the visiting VIP’s had a bash.

The Range

Perry and Deano spent the morning running the tree climbing stance. The cadets had to use ascending devices to climb up into the big old oak tree. This was done to varying degrees of success as it can be difficult if you do not get the knack right.

Ascending

We had a birthday that weekend – Frankie Mae Edwards turned 13 on the weekend and the cadets had brought her along a cake to celebrate. Needless to say the staff did not get to see much of the cake – thankfully I missed out on all that polishing – well done Cliff and Dave – vary shiny job.

Busy times in the office

Normally all our classes are located outdoors but this year for some reason the First Aid and the Navigation quiz was hosted indoors – no idea why and hopefully will not be repeated next year 🙂

First Aid and Navigation

The one activity missing from this post is the Endurance Race – that deserves a post all of its own which will follow after this.

Soon it was time for the awards and we all paraded in the massive troop shelter on the training area. Enfield unit came 3rd, Sunbury & Walton unit came second and Poole unit won the visitors trophy.

Runners Up

First place went to Merton unit and the Team leader trophy went to Niamh Kelly. Well done to everyone – cadets and staff for taking part in what was a great weekend.

Winners

I compiled another short video of the day.

Next up will be the post on the Endurance Race.

Cheers

George

Chosin 17 – The Friday & Saturday

Catch up time again – this post is the one I think that caused me to stop blogging for a bit last year – just too much to capture and show I thought. As you can see I have finally gotten off my backside and written it up.

Chosin is the is the one cup any Sea or Royal Marines cadet who does adventure training in the London Area wants to win. It is a tough weekend where all their skills are tested.

Friday happenings

Our new Area Staff Officer Ben McDonald managed to get the training area around Pirbright Ranges booked (they were not in operation thankfully) for a weekend in late September last year. We found a great little woodland to set up the staff camp and an open field for the cadets to use on the Friday night.

The Friday is always a hectic one with setting up camp, sorting the teams out as they arrive and planning for the Saturday and Sunday events.

I took a fair bit of video on this weekend so have made up a number of short videos for the post (hence the delay in writing this up). This post will focus on the Friday and Saturday only with a further one with the Sunday Shenanigans.

Saturday morning got off to a quick start with some staff heading out to check points and some to act as a roving assessment team. I was part of this roving team and had along with me Sharon Selby and Kim Pybus. Sharon and Kim were under training for their Basic Expedition Leaders qualification (now known as the Lowland Expedition Leader Award) and they were using the weekend to help hone their navigation skills.

My fellow colleagues Dave Lewis and Dan Keefe each had a team of trainee instructors as well to take out making for one of the best staffed Chosin Cups I can remember.

Staff training

Sharon and Kim were soon off navigating and I kept a discreet distance away most of the time. We were hunting the cadet teams that had headed out earlier however they bumped into Dan’s team where one of his trainees – Gary 🙂 put a seed of doubt into their minds as to their location. Needless to say this caused a moment of two of Faffing to happen but they soon got on with things again. They did get their revenge later when we bumped into them again :-).

Fun along the way

It was not all study on the day – Kim and Sharon are a little bit mad but great fun to be with – that is what makes them great instructors.

The teams were set tasks along the way and we came across units having their team work assessed at the First Aid stand. Not the usual First Aid but a blind fold carry through the woods – a lot more difficult than it looks – only one team member could see and they were not allowed to touch the other team members in any way.

Testing times

Another stance was about communications. Instructions were given to a runner behind a tarp, the runner had to pass the info to the others who had to then navigate through a pretend minefield. Their were plenty of other stances including erecting an antennae in a tree and a navigation quiz.

Along the way I did come across some intriguing spots, including checkpoint markers (hope the Paras won), a Pine with its inner trunk burnt out, beautiful Welsh Love Spoons carved by Phil Dent and some great skies.

Odd spots

Looking back on my videos there were some more silly scenes apart from Sharon and Kim.

Once the teams had finished the navigation for the day they had to set up camp and cook a meal from the food they had brought and present it for inspections. Paul Townsend and Graham Brockwell volunteered for this duty – brave men 🙂

Did not get to try out the delights myself however they did manage to stagger away from the tasting session and live to tell the tale.

Tasting

The cadets thought that was it for the night but they were told to strike camp in the pitch black and pouring rain, then given some co-ordinates to head for (with all their kit). Thus involved having to scramble down a steep slope using descending gear and navigating from point to point in the darkness and rain.

Nightime

This did not take long and after a debriefing they soon had their tents up and got their heads down ready for a busy Sunday the next day.

Cheers

George

An Old Stomping Ground & The Cunningham Cup 2017

Last September I came back from France straight out onto Hankley Common in Surrey. I joined Sea and Royal Marine Cadets from our Southern District in London.

The weekend was about training and testing teams in Adventure Training. Hankley Common is a training area I have been going to since the late eighties. It is predominantly sandy and as it was used as a testing area in World War II there is a lot to explore.

Southern Districts Cunningham Cup

Saturday

I brought my mountain bike along with me as the sand makes it impossible to drive around the area. The Saturday was a day of cycling, observing the groups moving around the area, watching nature and eating ‘Rat Pack’ delectables 🙂

Saturday in the Sand

One of the stances had a lift and shift across a hillside – the cadets had to devise their own stretcher from what was in their packs. I also explored one of the old bunkers that were used to test out artillery shells. The slit showed damage from direct hits and if you shone your torch inside you could see the impact points from shells that had gone right through.

Evening Explorations

Another job I got was to set up the Night Navigation exercise.  The cadets had to navigate without torches (thankfully the moon came out later) around the common to different locations using only bearings and pacings. The bunker you saw in the previous picture was the final destination – hard to find navigating over the featureless moor and dark woods.

Sunday Stances

Sunday Stances

After an excellent night in my hammock it was time to run the stances. I ran the Atlatl stance so I did not get a great deal of time to see what the others were up to.

I did though spot that there was a First Aid stance and the cadets were put through their paces on a ‘Rigging Rescue’ 🙂 There were other stances such as  navigation, basha building and ropework.

Rigging Relay

I am afraid I cannot remember all the units that attended the weekend but I do remember I had a great time. Hankley is a place I remember well from my younger years and I do love coming back every now and then to make more memories

Hard work but fun

Thank you Ben and the rest of the Southern District staff and Cadets who made my weekend so enjoyable.

Cheers

George

Losing the urge and finding it again

Ever lose the urge to do something? – well I did a couple of months ago and that was to whether or not carry on with writing up my little adventures.

I thought at first it was I because I needed to do something different but on reflection (over the Christmas period) I now know it was to do with stresses at work (Adventure Training is not my full time job).

Looking back on my pictures and videos of the year I realised how far behind I have gotten in updating this blog and – what I now refer to as my ‘Digital Diary’. Parts of this diary are instructional (The How To….. section) but the majority is a digital diary of what I get up to in my spare time.

So to catch up…………….

Last July (Yup I am that far behind) it was time to help out with our District Sea Cadet Adventure Training Competition. My good friend Dave Lewis set up the weekend on Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest and we were joined by a number of District staff. As you can see when it comes to these weekends we do not rough it – It takes years of training to remember to bring all these comforts 🙂

Set Up

Saturday

First thing Saturday morning the teams were up and away navigating their way around Ashdown Forest. We only had 3 teams enter this year due to a Sailing Regatta being run that weekend but they were still tested to the same high levels.

The cadets had to carry all their equipment for the whole weekend and as well as testing their navigation they had a number of leadership tasks to undertake as well.

Saturday Strolls

As I said at the beginning it takes years of training to remember to bring along the right ‘comforts’ 😉 and this includes food. Alan, Dave and Charlie prepared some great food over the weekend for the staff – that roast was brilliant and I got a cracker of a Fire Face.

Fine Dining

Sunday

It was great wakening up in the morning in my hammock but it was soon time to crack on with the Sunday Stances. I had brought along some Atlatl’s and Dave brought along some Darts. These are great for testing out your marksmanship and easy to teach.

Darts in all shapes

Other stances (in between the herds of wild horses) were the stalking game and the Seamanship stance. Both stances require high levels of team work in order to be completed successfully.

Wildlife and Challenges

The weekend was soon over – City of London came 3rd, Haringey 2nd and the winners were Enfield unit – well done to everyone who took part.

Awards

It has been good re-starting my Digital Diary and I hope to get back in to making my videos some time soon.

A Great Weekend

Cheers

George

 

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