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

Everyone Needs a Field Farm Day

Life is all hustle and bustle at times – so when it is you need some time out. A great place for this time out can be found at the Field Farm Project.

Our friends Mollie and Nick run this project and I feel as if I have entered a different world when I pop into visit. They certainly live up to their business tagline: Grow – Study – Make.

A Field Farm Day

I met Mollie on a Bushcraft instructor course at Woodcraft School and part of the course was to undertake the Basic Expedition Leadership (BEL) award. I did not do this part of the course as I was already a qualified Mountain Leader however as I run this BEL course myself now Mollie wanted to do a bit of a refresher on her navigation as she runs lots of outdoor classes.

Along for the day’s training as well was my wife Alison, daughter Catherine, Mollie’s friend Debbie and her young son. It was a lovely sunny day but with the northerly wind it was bitterly cold at times. Before setting off we were fortified by some hot home-made celeriac/parsnip soup with a side of freshly baked breadsticks.

Lots of Nav

It was not all map and compass work (though there was a fair bit of it), we had lots of fun along the way.

The snowdrops were still in full bloom and we investigated the colourful world that is their underside, had a stomp around a flint/chalk pile and petted the odd Llama and Alpaca.

Explorations

Eventually we wound our way through the footpaths and country lanes to one of Mollie’s outdoor training areas. The central Beech tree was festooned with woodland art that Mollie’s classes had made, there was a small shelter and plenty of benches.

Personally I prefer to use my hammock seat however my daughter Catherine soon had me out of that 🙂

A bit of bushcraft

The weather changed in the latter part of the walk with some heavy showers but that did not dampen our spirits. We were soon back at the farm where I took a little time out just to photograph the animals.

As we arrived home we were treated to a fantastic double rainbow over our house – a fitting end to a great day.

Back on the Farm

So if you are looking for somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of life then I thoroughly recommend spending some time with Mollie and Nick at the Field Farm Project.

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

 

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

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

Teenage instructors – The new crop

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

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T S Black Swan on the Thames

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

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

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

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Delivery from Tara and Jess on food

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

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

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Kit presentation from Jack

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

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Jen and Perry busily recording their observations

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

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

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

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

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The DofE crew trying out their tents

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

The view from the classroom
The view from the classroom

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

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

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Being assessed on how they teach map reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

George

New Forest – Our annual pilgrimage to remember HMS Hood

May brings about City of London Sea Cadets annual pilgrimage to the New Forest to remember the 1,415 crew members of the mighty Battlecruiser HMS Hood who lost their lives on the 24th of May 1941 and also to provide a range of adventurous activities for our cadets to try out in the beautiful countryside.

Our campsite was in the large Scouting site of Ferny Crofts in the New Forest.

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HMS Hood Remembrance Service

This year we had a number of cadets from visiting units of ages ranging from 10 to 17. They were split into a class for the Juniors (10 & 11 year olds), a course on basic campcraft and one on more advanced skills. This weekend was also a chance for us to let the younger members of staff have a go at teaching outdoor skills to the cadets and which I was very happy to see worked out very well. We laid on a variety of classes including navigation rucksack packing, first aid, outdoor clothing, cooking and conservation.

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Outdoor classes

For the Juniors the Saturday morning included a class on responsible firelighting. This was run by Charlie who is a fire fighter in his day-to day-life and is always keen to show the cadets how to light and manage fires in a fun but safe manner. Charlie had them using modern and traditional firesteels, and also had the cadets assisting him in creating fire by friction using the bowdrill method.

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Bushcraft classes

Soon it was time to head out and about. The day was very hot so I made the decision to try and keep to the woods as much as possible. Even though it was hot, the ground in many areas was saturated, making for wet feet for some.

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Out and about in the New Forest

Along the way we would stop to have an impromptu classes on navigation, conservation, first aid or leadership. As far as I am concerned this is the best type of classroom.

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Classes on the go

A nice spot for us to stop for a restful break is the hotel near the Beaulieu Railway station. The cadets can relax or run around the small play park for a while while the staff can plan the evening’s activities. it is around this time that Simon heads off to prepare a great meal for everyone in the Roundhouse at our camp.

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Rest and excellent food

After all the learning it is time to play and relax. The kids and staff all took part in the the tug of war and the volleyball games.

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Fun and fitness

Someone managed to get hold of the water cannons I had brought along for bushcraft games and put them to good use in the evening as well.

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Pure fun

After dark we had the usual marshmallows around the fire and I lit a couple of my Scandanavian candles. Dave though had brought along his laptop and small projector. he put a film on (Brave, I think) and projected it onto the inside of the parachute. The whole set up could not be filmed because of the dark and the smoke from the fire but it did work and kept everyone happy.

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Nightlife

As my wife Alison was also away that weekend I took my two kids (Catherine and Finlay) along with me. They got on really well with all the cadets and Finlay managed to sleep all weekend in a hammock for the first time. Not bad for a six year old.

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Sleepy mornings

As part of their Green Module the cadets learnt how to cook over an open fire on the Sunday morning and I was happy to sample the fare.

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Campfire classes

We try and set up lots of events on the Sunday morning, some to really test the cadets and some to just have fun just like they are having on the Atlatl range.

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Atlatl fun

Over the weekend one of the cadets turned 18 and so became a member of staff. We managed to get some cakes and candles together for a good old Happy Birthday sing a long.

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Birthday celebrations

I have been experimenting with video over the last few months so managed to put a short piece together of the weekend.

While we were running around the woods on the Sunday morning Paul. Andy and some of the older cadets attended the HMS Hood Remembrance ceremony at Boldre church. In all my years attending this event (since 1999) I have never gotten to the church; I’m always left behind in the woods 😉 These are official City of London Sea Cadet pictures.

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Remembrance

As usual I am looking forward to my trip to the New Forest next year. I also made a small video of what my kids got up to over the weekend.

Cheers George

Work hard – Play hard – Chosin Cup 2013

Early October brought me to the beautiful Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest. This is a military training area that is not open to the general public and so makes for an ideal place to run adventure training activities. This year London Area Sea Cadets decided to hold their annual Chosin Cup Adventure Training competition here.

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The beautiful Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest
Top picture courtesy of the Welsh Harp boat station.
Bottom picture is the view from my hammock.

Nine teams took part this year (eight teams from London Area and one team from Southern Area). Each team has up to six cadets and the weekend consists of a navigational course with stances for the teams to complete. Points are awarded for technical skills, leadership, team work and overall enthusiasm. The stances are a mixture of seamanship and improvised skills. There are rigging type activities as well as other rope skills alongside tests of fitness and problem solving.

My Commanding Officer Paul Townsend explained the Chosin Cup nicely on the City of London web page :

A team of six Cadets competed in the annual London Area Adventure Training Competition. This is known as the Chosin Cup after the actions of the 1st US Marine Division, supported by 41 Commando Royal Marines, around the Chosin Reservoir in November 1950, during the Korean War. Vastly outnumbered by Chinese troops, and in mountainous terrain where the temperatures dropped to minus 37C, 1st Marines fought their way out of an encirclement.

Well, brilliant though the London Area Adventure Training Team are- they couldn’t manage minus 37C and the People’s Liberation Army failed to oblige, on this occasion. Nevertheless, the Cup consists of a gruelling, and very muddy, series of tests of brains, brawn and stamina. Raft building, orienteering, assault course, rope work and other challenges- some conducted in darkness. Our youngish team, including Gemma Knowles, aged 12, did brilliantly to come third out of the eight London Area teams.

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The Trophies

I arrived at lunch time with Graham Brockwell, Perry Symes, Charlie Brookes and John Kelly to help set up the event. The cadets arrived in the early evening. They were given a kit check and then some six figure grid references to plot on their maps and so find their bivvy site for the night.

While I was driving around the park on the Friday evening two stags shot out in front of me and proceeded to lock antlers furiously with each other. I tried to get a picture of this but my phone could not cope too well with the darkness – plus my hand was shaking a little 🙂

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Night arrival

I ended up sitting out in my hammock chair for most of that evening in the woods to stop the cadets from wandering too far off course. On this course the staff have to do a lot of waiting around for teams to appear, then there is a burst of activity and then it is time to settle down again. As you can see our Alan Lewis has mastered the art.

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A lot of waiting around

Meet a few of the team. Graham had been given a Pith helmet as a Father’s day present and in no time we all tried it on. I think the guys were all born in the wrong century and should have joined the army (though I am not too sure about Sarn’t Big Yin Kelly 😉

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Meet my colleagues
Top Left – Sarn’t John (Big Yin) Kelly
Bottom Left – Sarn’t Major Perry (Smiler) Symes
Far Right – The Honorable Gentleman Explorer Major General Graham (Ever So Mad) Brockwell

The Saturday starts out with some team planning and finalising of route cards before setting off. This year we kept the cadets within the military training area concentrating on micro navigation and lots of stances to test their team working and problem-solving skills.

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Lots of team planning and quizzes

I managed to get out and about and had a great time spotting the many different fungi that can be found in the park. On my travels I stopped off at any stance I came across to see how things were going along. At one stance I found Dave Lewis and Paul Townsend and quickly spotted that Dave had his small hammock set up. As I said at the start there is a lot of waiting around so it was time for a quick lie down:-)

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A view from Mr Dave Lewis’s day hammock – Cheers Dave

When the next team arrived it was time to get up and get some pictures. The cadets had to get the small blue box into the large brown box without entering the rope circle. They had been given lots of rope, poles, and various blocks and tackles to do the job. This team though elected to try out an alternative method using just rope and an open karabiner. Unusual, but it worked.

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Stance – Sealing the radioactive waste

My friend and fellow bushcrafter Charlie Brookes ran the archery stance. The cadets were all given a little practice and training before shooting a marked round.

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Archery

In between the stances the cadets would find time to heat up some food. As far as the staff went it was a case of grabbing some food on the go but Dave and Perry put together a midnight barbecue for all the staff when the cadets had gone to bed.

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Making time for some food – Top picture courtesy of City of London Unit

On the Saturday evening our colleagues from the Welsh Harp Boating Station arrived with lots of canoes and raft-building equipment. The cadets had to move camp after they had finished all the stances and then prepare for a night navigation exercise through the training area. This exercise involved a lot of night-time map work and crossing a lake in canoes in the dark. What they did not know was that they were not heading back to their tents when they finished.

I did not get any pictures of the canoe crossing but it all went very easily as the cadets are quite at home operating on water.

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The Dockers arrive

Dave Lewis managed to get a bit of bushcraft in and got the evening fire going while we were out doing the night navigation.

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Getting the evening fire going

The cadets were told to head to a particular spot in the woods where they were handed a couple of tarps per team. They set the tarps up and eventually bedded down for the night. Thankfully I was able to retire back to the staff area where my nice comfy hammock was waiting for me.

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Camp set up on the Saturday for cadets and staff

Sunday was another day of activities. All the teams had to build themselves a raft and row out to the centre of the lake and back again. Some made it, a few rafts did break up when they started rowing, but they all had a great time.

Bexley Unit made a great video of the event which can be viewed here – Bexley Unit Rafting in Pippinford Park.

The Welsh Harp Station Dockers also put together an excellent video containing video and pictures of this event – Chosin Cup – Raft Building

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Raft building – Pictures courtesy of the Welsh Harp Boat Station

Charlie Brookes ran the fire-making stance where the cadets had to build a small fire after gathering all the materials to get it going. They gathered all the tinder and twigs to get the fire going (apart from some hay and char cloth to start it which we supplied). They used firesteels to light the charcloth which they then used to blow the hay into flame. They had to build a fire as quickly as possible so that the flames would burn through a piece of birch bark that was attached to the string you can see in the pictures below. Most teams burnt through the bark and string within a minute or two of starting their fires.

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Fire making stance – Pictures courtesy of Charlie Brookes

Paul ran the seamanship stance on the Sunday where the cadets had to build a tripod, known as a Gyn, to be able to lift a heavy log off the ground. This is a skill that the cadets learn in their units and works well when we are running these competitions to assess their team-working abilities.

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Seamanship stance – The Gyn

While all this was going on I spent most of my time back at the troop shelter we had set up as our HQ. In between dong admin I spent much of the morning drying out 20 or so tarps that the cadets had used the night before so I did not get to see much of what had been going on.

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Work back at HQ – Admin and drying out more than 20 tarps

One of the Marine Cadet instructors, Kev Lomas, set up an excellent Endurance race. I only got to see the cadets as they came back from it but they all seemed to have a great time.

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Endurance race – in with a splash – Pictures courtesy of City of London Unit

The route for the race was set up through the trees and over the local stream.

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Endurance race- Over and under – Pictures courtesy of City of London Unit

As you can see not everyone got across dry. Jacob Leverett took a great video of cadets from Sunbury & Walton, Twickenham and Feltham Units running the course – Endurance race video.

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Endurance race – Over and in – Pictures courtesy of City of London Unit

After everyone had gotten cleaned up and packed away it was time for the awards.

Leading Cadet Jess Edwards from Enfield Unit was the clear winner of the trophy for the best team leader of the weekend.

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Team Leader Winner – LC Jess Edwards (Enfield Unit)

We had one team from outside of London Area on the competition, from Guildford RMCD Unit. As they are not in London Area they are not eligible to win the Chosin Cup but we do have a trophy for the winning visiting team. Even though they were the only team from outside London Area this year they did come third overall so well deserved the trophy.
As City of London Unit came fourth overall they were the third place London team so they collected their certificate and medals as well.

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Guilford RMCD Unit from Zulu Company Royal Marine Cadets – Winning visiting team
City of London Unit – Third place overall

Second place went to Bexley unit and first place to Enfield Unit. City and Enfield are both in Northern District, to which I am attached, so I was very pleased with the high scoring of our teams in the competition.

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Bexley Unit – Second place
Enfield Unit – First place

So ended a fantastic weekend. It would not have been possible without the dedication of all the staff involved in its organization, the staff training the cadets up over the year and the cadets themselves who worked hard and, as you can see from the pictures, also played hard.

Cheers

George

Hammocking and abseiling on Dartmoor

Once a year the London-based Adventure Training instructors of the Sea Cadets like to get together and have a training weekend in a remote location. Apart from having some time catching up with each other we use it as a time to skill up some of the newer instructors in map reading and climbing skills. Many of them are training to be assessed as Walking Group Leaders. Summer Mountain Leaders or the Single Pitch Award (outdoor single pitch climbing).

So this January we decided to head for Dartmoor as we managed to get booked into the army camp at Okehampton.

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Oakhampton Camp – Our B & B for the weekend – Picture courtesy of Jim Stilgoe

Everyone arrived on the Friday afternoon or evening and we spent our time catching up on things, prepping kit and planning the activities for the weekend. The weather forecast was a real mixed bag with Saturday looking good and Sunday looking atrocious. We decided to do the walking on Saturday and abseiling (and possibly climbing) on the Sunday.
We were up early and had an excellent breakfast before setting out. I had plenty of porridge before a good fry up. There was no one on the counter so I managed to get two sausages and two pieces of bacon 🙂 If you have ever eaten in an army camp you will know how rare that is.
We walked out of the camp and straight onto Dartmoor. It was quite windy but the sun was out so it was a pleasant start to the day. This was the first time I had been out on the hills for over a year and a half so I was looking forward to it.
Jacob took this picture I think on his GoPro camera strapped to his rucksack. That is one bit of kit I would like to get one day. It takes stills and video and you can attach it to just about anything.

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Start of the nav training – Picture courtesy of Jacob Leverett

We decided to have a look from on high at the viaduct we would be abseiling from on the Sunday but on the way we came across a year-old lamb with its head stuck in a fence. The ground was fairly churned up around it so it looked like it had been there for quite some time. Eventually Dan and Jacob managed to free the poor thing and before anyone asks I was not tempted to turn it into supper 🙂

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Lamb rescue

As the guys headed off I went off on my own slightly higher up to see what I could see in terms of plants and tracks. Jim took this picture of me sky lined and I think it is the best picture taken of me on the hills ever. Cheers Jim.

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Wonderful walking – Picture courtesy of Jim Stilgoe

After having a look at Meldon viaduct (with a few gulps) we headed off up to Yes Tor. The streams were very high so we had to follow them for quite a distance to get a safe crossing point. There are few bridges around here and to cross safely you need to be able to do it in one step. Eventually we found a decent spot where everyone could cross safely.
When choosing a spot to cross make sure that you can not only cross over in one step, but that you can also cross back the other way in one step. This is best done where both banks are at the same height.

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Safe Stream Crossing

I spotted a couple of small trees by the side of the stream and asked the guys if they were OK having a break there. As soon as they agreed, out came my little EDC hammock. Normally I just set this up as a chair but the trees were just that bit too far apart so I went for a conventional set up. I really rate this hammock. It crams down to nothing so I can stow it away in my rucksack but in a matter of a minute it can be set up. I normally set it up with an Evenk knot on one end and a Tarp Taught hitch on the other. You can pick one up from UKhammocks for about ÂŁ15.
Anyway I was happy to get off the wet ground and have a break. Jennifer took these pictures but when I asked if she wanted a go was not too keen (need to convert you to hammocks this year, Jen).

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Who says life on Dartmoor is always tough

Moving on up to Yes Tor the ground became increasingly saturated. Even the rabbit holes were flooded.

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Waterlogged Warrens

I spotted very few flowering plants except some flowers on the gorse bushes (tasted nice) but spotted a few fungi and lichens. The Devils Matchsticks (Cladonia floerkeana) really stood out because of the lack of flowers. Also on the way up I spotted four separate clumps of fox scat and the hairs of the prey were clearly visible. There is a good write-up on the Dartmoor Fox here on the Legendary Dartmoor site.

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Devil’s Matchstick lichen (Cladonia floerkeana) and possible Fox Scat

Someone in the group spotted a puddle with some bubbles in it. After having a good look I could see that the bubbles were caused by escaping ground gas. When I bent down to take a picture I noticed Perry’s reflection in the water. With the walking poles it turned out surprisingly arty.

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Puddle gas bubble

The wind was in our faces the whole way up Yes Tor and we met a number of youngsters out doing the Ten Tors. I was happy to be doing just one Tor in that wind. No reports that night of anyone missing so they all must have made it back. Normally the challenge is in May so these guys had picked a tough time of year to do it.

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Approach to Yes Tor

A quick snap of Jim just after he had tied his shoelaces. It was good to see you back out with us Jim.

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Our Jim just redoing his laces

Up on the summit the wind was so bad you could hardly stand but Dean insisted on a picture. Next to the summit is a large flagpole on which the army hang a red flag if there is live firing in the area.

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Dean on top of a rather windy Yes Tor – Picture courtesy of Dean Barnett

After reaching the top I spotted a little alcove in the rock and asked Ben and Matt if they had any climbing kit to help me set the hammock up. They pulled out a full rack of kit and in no time the hammock was up again.

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Who needs trees when you have climbing buddies with you?

While I was chilling out Dan had gotten his rope out and was practising some abseiling skills as part of his Mountain Leader training under the watchful eye of the boss Perry. The hut in the background is for army personnel to use when the range is in use.

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Rope skills training

After a while, even sitting in the lee of the Tor, we started to feel the bite of the wind. A quick check of the map and we were off again. I think Jen and John were feeling the cold at this point, I know I was as my fingers were starting to stiffen up.

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Planning the next leg of the day

The next stage was out onto the open moorland to do micronavigation with compasses. We were looking for a metal marker out on a spur when we came across this lone pole. Up close you could see the gaping exit holes of high calibre bullets. The tiny marks were from lower calibre bullets that had just ricochted off and I think the small pyramid shapes were bullets that had gone through one side but not out the other. Not something you see very often.

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Impact marks

It was at this point that some of the guys headed off to do some more micronavigation training. I took a wander off down to the artillery range at the base of the valley, which is dotted with little ponds formed out of shell impact craters. The army use this area as the ground is so soft that much of the energy of the shells is absorbed by the peat. I would love to do a survey of this area as there are so many little microclimates dotted around down there.
Next to the impact area is a rock bunker for observers to sit and watch the shells impacting. It was muddy inside but would keep you pretty safe.
I caught up with the others heading back to the camp and had a great chat with Jen and John on the way back. This helped me as my right ankle had really tightened up at this point. A sign of old age, not being on the hills for ages or both (the latter probably).

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Military presence

All the blokes stayed in this building but as Jennifer was the only lady in the group she got one of the new buildings all to herself.

Sunday morning was all change on the weather front. As well as the wind it was the usual Dartmoor horizontal rain. Some of the group decided to walk around to the viaduct (about 2 miles away) and the rest of us took the minibus with all the kit we needed.

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Our accommodation on a rainy Sunday morning

After parking up I came across this elder tree covered in jelly fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae). A real tasty treat for foragers.

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Jelly fungus and lots of it (Auricularia auricula-judae)

Meldon viaduct outside Okehampton is 50 metres high and provides an excellent spot for abseiling. We had permission from the army to do this and were given the keys to access the underside walkways. It would have been far too dangerous to abseil from the centre in the high winds so we picked a spot about a quarter of the way along the span. The height at this point was about 25 metres. Some of the guys wanted to go over the kit that they would be using with Dan so while they did this I cleared the landing spot, set up my hammock again and had a bit of a chill. I needed a ladder for this set up but it was worth it.

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A wet and Windty Meldon Viaduct – Our abseil spot

The set up of the abseil did not take long and was done by Dan, Ben and Matt. Matt went first and I went second followed by Jim. This is a free abseil set up: no bouncing off a cliff face, you just launch yourself off the side and drop down at whatever speed you want.
Matt filmed his descent on his GoPro camera strapped to his helmet. I have not seen the video yet but will link to it when I can.

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Set up and Matt is first off

It was my turn next.

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George is away

Dean had never abseiled before (apart from a quick practice a few minutes earlier on a short section about 10 feet high) so this took guts to do. I remember my first abseil and can clearly remember seeing my legs shaking furiously.

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Deano ready to take the plunge

I took these pictures from the bottom after I had abseiled. Jim is on the left and Dean is on the right.

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Jim and Deano descending

After this I took three videos of the the others that abseiled that day.

Ben’s abseil video

Graham’s abseil video

Dan’s abseil video

We very nearly did not do the abseil at all owing to the atrocious weather earlier on but I’m glad we did in the end.
It was a great finish to the weekend. I got the picture of Graham and myself to show the amount of water flowing over the dam as it was an impressive sight.
Lined up below in the group photo in the Back row (left to right) are Dean Barnett, John Kelly, Jennifer Burdett, Jacob Leverett, Jim Stigoe and Ben MacDonald.
Front row George Aitchison, Graham Brockwell, Perry Symes, Matt MacDonald and Dan Keefe.

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Happy Instructors – Endex

A big thank you to Graham and Perry for organising this weekend, and to all of you for being such great company. To those who could not make it – there is always next time.

Loads more pictures can be seen here in my photobucket account.

Cheers

George