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

 

Bushcraft, Bimbles and Beaches

Currently I am sitting in my mothers house in Port of Ness on the Isle of Lewis on holiday with my family.  I have had a very busy summer however I have had a very fun summer as well. Over the coming weeks I will catch up on writing up all my trips however I have realised I have not posted in over a month so thought I might just summarise the last few trips.

Bimbles

I spent many a day over the summer wandering around my village of Bramley exploring all its nooks and crannies with my kids and their friends.

Bramley Bimble
Bramley Bimble

The Sea Cadets

The middle of July found me in East Sussex with the Sea Cadets and our annual Adventure Training competition. Even amongst all this navigational competitiveness we found time to spend listening to the rustle of the Poplar trees.

Sea Cadet time
Sea Cadet time

The Bushmoot

The first two weeks of August I spent with my family at the annual Bushcraft UK Bushmoot in South Wales at Merthyr Mawr. We calculated that we had ran about 110 bushcraft classes in that two week period so the odd cup of freshly brewed coffee over a log rocket stove proved a must.

The Bushmoot
The Bushmoot

The Wilderness Gathering

Soon after the Moot I found myself helping my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival at the Wilderness Gathering in Wiltshire. It was a weekend of wind, rain, sun and great fun as we helped our friend run all his classes.

The Wilderness Gathering
The Wilderness Gathering

The Isle of Lewis

Straight after the Wilderness Gathering I set off with my family up to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. So far the weather has been great and my kids have been down swimming in the sea every morning. I am hoping for a few more great days before striking out to visit other friends on this trip across Scotland.

The Isle of Lewis
The Isle of Lewis

On my return I will be posting up more detailed reports on each of the trips but for now I will end with the hope that everyone else is having a busy and fun summer as well.

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 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

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

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

The Lakes – Beauty All Around

different beauty all around

While out and about assessing for a Gold DofE expedition last July in the Lake District with the Sea Cadets I spent a lot of time searching out all the beauty that was around me.

This could be natural or man made however when I returned and looked at my pictures I was able to neatly drop them into different categories. These orchids below (Common and Marsh) I categorised with the carved toadstool in the middle as ‘Tall beauty’.

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Tall beauty

Sometimes the beauty was totally unexpected, as with the Money tree, the Laughing tree and a hedge carpeted in spiders’ webs.

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Weird beauty

The gentle beauty of the Valerian, the Dandelion seed head and the Cotton grass struck me as they ofen live in a very inhospitable environments. They look very fragile however they are designed to withstand much of what nature can throw at them.

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Gentle beauty

July is a great time for spotting the Sundews and Butterworts in the marshy places of the lakes. Once you get down close you can easily get drawn into these sticky little fellas.

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Deadly beauty

I spent a lot of time crossing or just gazing at the numerous little streams or waterfalls that trip. They can be quite hypnotic and relaxing if you allow yourself the time to relax (there’s lots of waiting around on a DofE trip).

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Fast beauty

One day I was wandering along the road admiring the betony and the Cuckoo flowers when a tractor came along and mowed the whole lot down ( I appreciate that this is a working landscape – I am the tourist here and I remember that fact) – they were gone in a blink of an eye.

Thankfully many of the farmers in the Lakes encourage wild flowers in their fields these days so there was still plenty to see and for the insects to visit.

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Disappearing beauty

There were plenty of reds around, such as the Foxglove and the English Stonecrop (not sure about the little fella on the bottom right). Had to take these pictures from weird angles, often involving climbing rocky outcrops.

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Red beauty

The Bog Asphodels and yellow Poppies were simply stunning. I do not see these plants in many other places and they were carpeting whole areas up in the Lakes.

I had to jump on a number of occasions to avoid squashing frogs however they do like to play dead if they are spotted, allowing you the chance to really get up close to them.

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Yellow beauty

My favourite pictures of the trip was of this little Damselfly. Simply stunning.

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Blue beauty

I had fun with my macro lens extensions (especially with the rather grumpy little fella on the bottom left – I think I was in his personal space by the look in his eye).

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Bug beauty

Lastly some fleeting beauty – the geese on Coniston Water and a deer and an owl in the woods

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Fleeting beauty

Keep your eyes open on your next trip out and you will see different beauty all around.

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 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

Dartmoor Development Days

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

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

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

The Crew

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

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

Rugged Terrain – out of remit for BEL

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

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

Up high and looking down

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

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

Down low – in remit for BEL

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

The students soon were sorted out both fed and rested 🙂

Camp, Dinner and Rest

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

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

Evening classes

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

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

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

A windy breakfast

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

Packing and wrap up

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

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

Set off

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

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

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

Casualty simulation

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

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

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

Good teamwork

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

Getting out of the wind

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

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

Cheers

George

Glorious Dartmoor Days

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

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

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Day 1 on the Moor

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

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

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

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The Gold Training team

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

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

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R&R and Homework

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

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

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Day 2 start at the Dartmoor Outdoor Training Centre

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

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Heading off the Moor

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

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Sunny Camping

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

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

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Meet ups

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

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

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Final push

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

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

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De-brief

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

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

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The whole Gang

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

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My accommodation

I put together a short video of the trip.

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

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

Cheers

George

Expedition Leaders – The new batch

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

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

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BEAL and BEL 2015 – Weekend 1 at TS Black Swan

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

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

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

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

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Different types of tents

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

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Pros and cons of different tents

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

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Lots of classroom work on the first weekend

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

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Hard work in the Galley

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

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Great food all weekend

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

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Lots of trainer led mapwork

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

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Chillax time

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

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Some winter flora

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

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Lots of individual work

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

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Mapwork, paperwork and muddy lectures

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

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The BEAL certificate for Tara

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

Cheers

George

Teenage instructors – The new crop

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

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T S Black Swan on the Thames

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

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

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

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Delivery from Tara and Jess on food

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

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

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Kit presentation from Jack

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

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Jen and Perry busily recording their observations

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

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

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

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

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The DofE crew trying out their tents

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

The view from the classroom
The view from the classroom

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

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

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Being assessed on how they teach map reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

George

Autumn Campcraft

‘no need to be uncomfortable in the great outdoors’

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

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

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Campcraft in style

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

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The beautiful Pippingford Park

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

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

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Playing with my new camera and navigating

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

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Looking and learning

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

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

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

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

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Outdoor signs

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

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

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

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Tarps up

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

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

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Preparing for nightime

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

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

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Fireside fun

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

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

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Campcraft classes

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

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

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Chilling out on a Sunday morning

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

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

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Wrap up time

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

Cheers

George

Graham’s 2014 Chosin Cup – My Anniversary Post

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

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

The Boss
The Boss

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast and away
Breakfast and away

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

Archery stance
Archery stance

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

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

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River crossing stance

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

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

Night Nav
Night Nav

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

Rest back at camp
Rest back at camp

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

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

Stunning morning
Stunning morning

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

Prep for the day
Prep for the day

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

Stalking stance
Stalking stance

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

Tree climbing
Tree climbing

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

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Heaving line and pulley

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

Atlatl
Atlatl

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

Shelter and Fire
Shelter and Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

In full swing
In full swing

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

The finish
The finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done to all the teams who took part.

A great weekend
A great weekend

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

So thank you Graham for organising another great Chosin Cup.

Cheers

George

Meet London Area Juniors

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

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

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

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Meet London Area Juniors

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

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

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Bulls-eye archery

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

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Firesteel fun

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

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Happy Fire Faces

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

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

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Comms and Cooking

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

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

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

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First Aid and Fitness

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

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Steady – Aim – Shoot

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

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

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On target

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

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Group Bowdrill

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

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

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

Cheers

George

Teine Eigin – Part 4 – Assisted Bowdrill

I was taught a few years ago by my friend John Rhyder of Woodcraft School about a version of bowdrill that uses an extended bearing block.

I found the bearing block to be particularly good for learners or for those who had injuries to their back, legs or arms. I call it the ‘assisted bowdrill’, not that you need assistance from someone else but because the bearing block is set up in such a way that it assists you in your stance while bowdrilling

Below you can see my friend David Jones using the set up on a piece of wood. Dave wanted to try this method out as he had (if I remember correctly) some problem with his knee. As he could stand straight on one leg and did not have to grip the bearing block too tightly, he quickly found he could get an ember and then flame.

Dave in action
Dave in action

To make the bearing block you need a decent length of branch. I used a decent sized piece of hazel just over a metre long to act as my long bearing block. I then axed out a point on one end of the bearing block, to be jammed into the ground when in use.

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Select a limb and sharpen one point

I marked a slight cut with my knife one handspan (outstretched little finger to outstretched thumb) away from the other end of the bearing block. Then, using my saw, I cut into the bearing block a stop cut, about a third of the way into the wood.

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Measure a full handspan and cut a stop cut

Being very careful and using small chopping motions I cut out the excess wood to make my recess for the drillpiece to be attached. As you can see from the picture below right, I have come back quite a way to the end but not all the way.

Please ensure that the sharpened tip is well dug into the ground when you do this axe work and always make sure you know where your fingers are in relation to the axe when working. I have had a few near misses doing this when I am not paying close enough attention.

An alternative method is to cut a longer limb to create a safety handle, which can be sawn off after you have axed out the area.

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Gently axe out to the stop cut

While the bearing block is flat on the ground, use the tip of your knife to make a small hole near the stop cut. This hole will be used to keep the drill piece in place.

Having seen someone put a knife through their hand while doing this, I can tell you just how important it is to make sure that the bearing block is flat on the ground and the hand securing it is well clear of the tip.

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On the ground, use your knife tip to make a hole for the drill

The rest of the set up is similar to a standard bowdrill. I commonly use this method with the Egyptian set up, assisting a person or as a relay race.

In the video below I show you the method where I am assisting someone and also as a relay race.

This method is one I would urge any bushcrafter to try out, whether it’s just to try something different, help someone learn the art, or if you (or someone you know) have an injury that makes the standard set up difficult.

Relay Bowdrill
Relay Bowdrill

As an instructor in the Sea Cadets, I find this is a stable platform for getting the younger cadets involved as well, be that with an instructor, as a group or on their own.

Cheers

George

Brecon Gold

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

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Going for Gold

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

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

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My home for the trip

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

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A wet start

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

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

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

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Straight up

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

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The Training Team

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

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Observing and problem solving

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

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Wanderings and Foraging

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

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Beautiful views up high and down low

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

 

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Steep Slopes

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

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Accomodations

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

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Sunshine

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

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Moorland navigation

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

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Lovely encounters

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

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

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The waiting game

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

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Final team in

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

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Happy Expeditioners

I made a small video of the whole trip.

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

Cheers

George

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

Archery, Atlatl and Fire – Fun with the Juniors

No pressure, no assessments, no worries – just fun, fun and more fun – these were the requirements for the recent London Area Sea Cadet Juniors training weekend at Crowborough Army camp.

I was joined by my good friend Charlie Brookes for the weekend teaching some bushcraft skills to the cadets. Also helping us were one our new Adventure Training instructors Emma Deasy and Leading Cadet Jessica Edwards (Jessica is under training to become an Adventure Leader).

We set up our classroom and prepared for all our activities on the Friday afternoon. At this stage it was just Charlie and myself but as he is a top bushcrafter everything got set up in record time.

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Our classroom and my billet

As the cadets arrived on the Friday evening Charlie and myself relaxed around a nice fire and discussed how best to run the weekend. We did not have to look after the cadets in the evenings as there were enough ‘Duty Staff’ around to do this.

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A relaxing evening

There were lots of activities planned for the cadets. The plan was for us to be given six cadets for an hour or so and then they would be moved onto other activities. On the saturday we had 3 teams in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.

We ran various activities in each slot including the Atlatl, archery, fire lighting and stalking games.

The Atlatl (a spear chucking device) has become a regular event at many of our courses. Just looking at these cadets you can see that they really enjoy this activity. I set up a short range of about 15 meters as I was more focused on accuracy rather than distance.

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Atlatls in action

One of the other activities the cadets undertook was a cookery class (Cook Stewards course in the Sea Cadets). I was supplied on a number of occasions with some excellent cookies that were baked in this class and every time I went into the main building I was assaulted by a fantastic smell of baking biscuits.

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Cookery class

As you can see that the little fella in the picture just above on the right turned out to be a proper little Minion. This was baked by one of the other instructors Emma.

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Emma’s Minion

Charlie spent a great deal of the day teaching the cadets how to light a fire in many different ways and also about the responsibilities they need to think about when lighting a fire. In these pictures the cadets are using traditional flint and steels on the left and more modern firesteels on the right.

Some take to this straight away and others require a little bit of a helping hand.

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Flint & Steel and Firesteels

In no time the cadets were creating good sparks from traditional flint and steels and lighting up cotton wool balls smeared in Vaseline with modern firesteels.

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Sparks and flames

The cadets also lit lots of charcloth and soon had good tinder bundles going.

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Flamage

I put together a short video showing all these activities.

I asked Emma at some time on the Saturday to go around the other classes and get one or two pictures of each one. Emma did get some good pictures but I also found this on my camera – scary stuff 😉

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The ladies taking a selfie

A little toy that really caught the attention of the cadets was the parabolic mirror. This is a concave mirror that you can use to light a small piece of material just using the suns rays.

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Parabolic mirror

Other classes the cadets undertook included First Aid and Physical Training.

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First Aid and PT

One of the activities I like to teach the cadets is about listening correctly while out and about. They all come from London so for many they do not truly listen to the countryside when out and about. to begin with I get them to focus their listening by cupping their hands to their ears. This really increases the sound volume from the direction they are facing and as they turn around they can clearly hear everything coming from quite a distance.

After they get used to this we blindfold them so that they can appreciate how much sound can help us with spotting animals in the woods.

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Learning to listen properly

The drum stalk is a game where the participants are blindfolded and have to walk from an unknown spot (to them) and touch the head of the drummer. The drummer gently taps the drum (a bucket in this case) to give the participants a focus to walk to. Each participant has a guide walking by them to make sure they do not fall into any holes or trip over anything.

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Drum stalk

Being Sea Cadets a training weekend would not be complete without a class on Seamanship and on Comms skills. In Seamanship the cadets learnt how to make a monkeys fist – this is a type of knot that creates a weight using the rope and is used for throwing a heaving line from a boat to the shore in order to tie it up.
In the comms class the cadets learnt all about how to use radios properly by getting out and about using hand held radios and they also made their own semaphore flags.

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Seamanship and communication skills

After each Atlatl session I also got the cadets to shoot some arrows down the range. I managed to get some cracking shots this time of the arrows being released.

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Archery action

On the Sunday morning a competition was held and we set up an Atlatl range so that the cadets could try out all the skills they had learnt the previous day.

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Atlatl competition 1

The cadets were definitely better than the staff with both accuracy and enthusiasm.

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Atlatl competition 2

The PT staff also set up an indoor sports competition for the cadets. I walked into the hall and the noise of all the cadets egging their pals on was amazing.

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Sports competition

A staff team was put together and thankfully as I was seen to be too busy filming was left alone. In all the madness and fun that was being had I have no idea who won.

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Even the staff took part

In amongst all this fun we did find time to do some other stuff. Charlie tested out a Wood Gas stove and I managed to do a little pot hook carving (a How To on this to follow).

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Testing and carving

A great weekend with great Sea Cadets both young and old.

Cheers

George

Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership

I got a lovely sunny weekend in Crowborough – not often I can say that in March

The London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training has run over the last few years a couple of Level 3 Certificate in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEL) courses for our instructors. This is a nationally recognised qualification and we as a team have worked very hard with the trainees to get them trained up and assessed. Our training team in the London area has grown quite a lot now with more and more camps taking place.

The downside to this was that as more and more cadets were being trained up there was a point when they hit 16 years old there was little in the way of camping qualifications we could offer them. My boss Perry Symes has worked hard to bring in a brand new qualification for these 16 and 17 year old cadets – the Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEAL).

The course comprises at least two training weekends, a couple of weekends where the cadets assist on other camping courses, and an assessment weekend.  The first training weekend this year took place in (for once) a rather sunny Ashdown Forest. Most of the training takes place outside but as we were also using Crowborough Army Camp we did have the use of a classroom as well.

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Lots of outdoor work and a little indoor work

We had six cadets over the age of 16 on the course but could have had another six if they had not applied too late. The course instructors were Perry Symes, John Kelly, Liz Rowan and myself. John and Liz passed the BEL a couple of years ago so they came on the course to gain valuable experience. John in particular is working towards his Walking Group Leaders award so running this course will give him valuable experience.

We also had another course running alongside this one for the younger cadets covering all the subjects for their Basic Campcraft badge. This course was run by Dave Lewis, Charlie Brookes, Lloyd Martin and Dean Barnett. Lloyd has passed his BEL course recently as well so it was good to see him in action and Dean is just starting out in his training to becoming an Adventure Leader.

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Learning to erect tents so they can teach the art in the future

I think Perry and John were trying to prove to the cadets that if they could both fit into one of the smaller tents then they would have no problems at all 🙂

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A squash and a squeeze

While the BEAL students were doing some class work, Dave and Charlie had the younger cadets put up my tipi. They used this over the weekend as a group shelter and temporary classroom, and some of the cadets slept overnight in it.

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Teamwork for the team tent

In between all the classes we do try and have a bit of fun wherever possible.

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Fun and games

Both teams set out in the afternoon on the Saturday to focus on navigation. The young ones at this stage get an introduction to using a map and working as a team in the outdoors. The BEAL students had already shown us they could use a map and compass in the morning so we set them to work in pairs with some challenging places to find.

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Serious time

On our travels we came across the memorial plaque to A.A. Milne. There are fantastic view from this spot so it is great for more macro work with the compass. We got the cadets to take ‘back bearings’ on known locations they could see to identify exactly where they were and also to use their compasses and maps to try and identify far-off unknown features they could see.

Perry wanted a proper picture taken of him but I seemed to get in the way:-)

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100 Acre Wood

What we aim to do with this course is to train the BEAL students up to a standard that can be assessed for a nationally recognised qualification so that one day they can take over from us. In the meantime I am very happy to continue teaching outdoors skills but recognise that one day others will need to take our places.

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Current instructors and future instructors

While we were doing compass work the younger cadets had found the Airman’s grave. This is not an actual grave but a memorial site to the crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed here on the 31st of July 1941 returning from a mission over Germany.

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Basic Campcraft group

Later that evening after all the classes were finished, Charlie, Liz and myself took the younger cadets off for an evening’s walk. I insist that the cadets do not use torches to show them how quickly their eyes adjust to the dark. Most of these cadets had never walked in the woods at night, let alone without torches. Thankfully we had a good moon that night with a clear view of the skies.

I took them down to an area of the military camp that is heavily wooded but is the site of some old World War 1 training trenches. In no time the cadets were running all over the place having a great time and had totally forgotten that they were nervous about being in the dark. We took them through various types of woodland and heathland and also met the Royal Marine Cadet instructors out training.

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Night time wanderings

Just before we got back to camp we got the torches out and cut up some dead standing wood for a fire to toast some marshmallows. On the way back after this we managed to get a bit of star gazing in as well.

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Wood Party

One of my usual nightly chores is to carve some marshmallow sticks for the cadets to use. Thankfully though we have some good willow shoots nearby. While I was doing this Charlie was teaching Dean how to light a fire properly and maintain it. I got this little video of it all in between carving the sticks.

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Marshmallow sticks

After the fire got going it was time for a photography shoot to get some fire faces. You can see a small one on the left in the bottom picture.

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Fire Faces

Then it was onto the serious job of teaching the art of toasting a marshmallow. It still amazes me to find so many children in their teens who come on these courses and have never had the simple pleasure of toasting a marshmallow over an open fire.

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Marshmallow time

Next morning in between classes I managed to get some time in spotting some unusual fungi (cheers Liz for finding these) and a bit of spoon carving. I have a tutorial on carving this spoon here – How To…. Carve a Simple Spoon: the double-handle technique.

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A touch of bushcraft

It turned out that running these two classes at the same time worked quite well. The younger cadets had to learn all about camping like using stoves and the BEAL students had to re-learn the same subjects so that they could prepare themselves for teaching the cadets themselves in the near future. In the top picture Perry is showing the cadets how that if a gas bottle is shaken too much it may flare up and become dangerous.

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Classes

While Perry got on with the class with all the cadets and other instructors Dave took a well earned break and I got my sleeping bags out for an airing.

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Hammock time

Part of the course is designed to get the BEAL students to come up with different ways to get the learning across. Here they are using Charades to explain the Country Code. They felt a bit embarrassed at first but soon got into it.

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Trying to make teaching the Country Code interesting

It is not often you come down to a weekend at Crowborough in March and manage to make fire using parabolic mirrors. I even found a nice honeysuckle-wrapped shoot that could be turned into a nice walking stick. I gave it to Dave as I’d broken one of his walking poles a few years ago – it was after he had tripped in a ditch and bent it and I had tried to straighten the thing 🙂

Photo 23-03-2014 00 21 07That was the end of a very successful weekend. All the BEAL students went off with areas of navigation to work on and a date for another course which they would help to run. Some of the new instructors gained some valuable experience and I got a lovely sunny weekend in Crowborough – not often I can say that in March.

I am looking forward to the second training weekend later in the year for this course.

Cheers

George

Getting Outdoors – Where it begins

Best to learn the tricks of campcraft here so that when you are sorting your life out on that wet and windy morning in Brecon – life is a breeze. 

This post documents the last of my courses with the Sea Cadets for 2013 and one of the first of 2014. It was a very good year (2013) for expeditioning in the Corps as far as I was concerned. Some of our cadets will eventually find themselves climbing mountains in the Alps and great fun they will have too, but they have to start somewhere before this high-level work can happen

In November last year and in February of this year I helped run two Northern District (London Area Sea Cadets) Basic Campcraft weekends. These weekends are designed to introduce the cadets in a constructive but fun way to the skills they will need to develop to reach their higher goals – be that completing a Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s expedition or climbing in the Alps.

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Basic Campcraft with the Sea Cadets

The areas we cover in the course are:

  1. Providing shelter
  2. Food and Cooking
  3. Packing and carrying equipment
  4. Safeguarding health and well-being
  5. Recognising suitable clothing and equipment
  6. Navigation skills
  7. Safeguarding the environment and countryside
  8. Planning and preparation

The pictures in this post come from both courses to show all the activities the cadets undertake. Some of the cadets who come on this introductory course have never camped in their lives. Most are city kids who have had little chance to get out and about into the woods and hills so the pace is taken gently as we slowly expand their comfort zones.

After introductions, discussions on safety and a kit check it is time to start learning how to read a map properly. I find it best if the cadets start to read maps like a book, and the only way to do that is to understand the symbols. Everything else such as scale, slope aspect and compass use comes later.

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Learning how to use a map

We get out and about as soon as possible but will vary the timings depending on the weather. On the left below is Chief Petty Officer Dave Lewis, who is as keen as I am in getting the cadets adventuring. On the February course Dave and I took a step back to let one of the younger instructors, Emma Deasy, run the course. We were there for safety, to add extra detail when required and to assess Emma for her Adventure Leader qualification. This is an in-house Sea Cadet qualification but is a first step towards gaining the nationally recognised Basic Expedition Leader Award.

While Emma briefed the cadets (picture on the right) Dave and myself watched from on high.

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Getting out there

The cadets are not expected to lead the navigation at this level but just get used to using a map and to start to get an understanding of how it relates to the real world. In between all this learning it is always good to find some mud.

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Finding muddy trails

These are the two groups we had, the top picture from February this year and the bottom picture from November last year. Pictured in the bottom picture in the red jacket is Lt (SCC) Keith Coleman RNR. Keith like Dave is a great friend of mine; I didn’t know at that time that this was to be the last Sea Cadet course I would work with Keith.

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The cadets and staff

I had to get this picture in as I always like to take my EDC hammock chair with me on trips. Sometimes I get a rest, more often the cadets nick it. The trip in February was hard for me as I forgot to take it with me – poor skills on my part.

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Time for a brew

It is not all navigation: it’s good to get close to nature too – be that alive or dead. The bottom picture shows some wood pigeon feathers found by one of the cadets. After some initial hesitation the cadets got up close to investigate them. On close viewing you can see the blunt bite marks typical of a fox but some of the quills have the single score line on them typical of a bird of prey. I am no expert in tracking or hunting but it’s clear there is a story to tell here and it is great for the cadets to see this and start to open their own eyes and mind to what is happening all around them.

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Watching nature

Along the way we teach the cadets about the plants that are in season at that time and they are then expected to start to look for more of them along the way. I don’t expect the cadets to remember all the names, just to start noticing them more.

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Plant ID – Shepherds Purse and Coltsfoot (taken in February)

No introduction to campcraft would be complete without trying out an emergency bothy. Most instructors will carry one of these whether they are on the hills or just wandering around the woods. I have used these for real on a couple of occasions in high winds and rain on mountains. When you get inside as a group the bothy traps warm air so that the temperature rises quickly. They are not waterproof but do cut out the wind and can make all the difference.

For the cadets it is a fun if squashed couple of minutes.

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An intro to the emergency bothy

These two courses were run at the Waltham Forset Sea Cadet Unit in North London. As we had access to the main building we ran some of the classes indoors (some other courses are based solely outdoors). As I said at the beginning, this course is about an introduction to campcraft where we slowly expand the cadets’ comfort zones.

Speaking of comfort zones, as you can see (below left) Dave has mastered the art of getting comfortable no matter where he finds himself. In the picture on the right the cadets are being taught what to look out for when buying or using a rucksack.

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Indoor breaks and classes on kit

Next up were classes on First Aid kits and footwear. You can see that not all the cadets fully appreciate the need to wear walking boots at this stage and some do turn up in trainers thinking they will be OK. On both weekends there were a few cadets with wet feet.

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First Aid and footwear

While we were running about doing this adventure training stuff there were other courses being run out of the unit, including Seamanship, Communications and Physical Training (PT).

In the pictures below you can see cadets learning how to throw a heaving line properly and taking part in games on the PT course.

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Other courses – Seamanship and PT

Usually when the cadets turn up on the Friday evening the staff have to help them set their tents up. A few bring their own but most cadets are given a tent to use by their own Sea Cadet unit. Most of them won’t have set a tent up before and some will never have slept outdoors in their lives.

On the Saturday we normally have a class on the different types of tents you can buy and how to erect them. Here Keith is leading the class and once he had shown them the basics it was over to the cadets to have a go.

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Setting up tents

Sometimes things go pop in more ways than one. In the top picture the cadets have failed to secure the pole over the entrance; in the bottom picture the pole had actually snapped. In the former case the pole is easy to re-position but with a snapped pole a little bit of imagination, a tent peg and some duct tape are essential. Everyone got a good night’s sleep in the end.

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Dealing with problems

Eventually the tents were all up properly. The staff hammocks and tarps are right at the back. I do not usually let cadets on this course sleep in hammocks, but when they advance to other courses they will be offered the chance to do this. Here the cadets get to see what hammocks are all about and to try one out if they wish. I like to see the cadets using hammocks as they do have a real historical association with the sea.

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Getting it right

In the evening wherever we are running this course I do try and have a camp fire lit. I remember as a young lad what camping meant to me – sitting around the fire in the evening eating toasted marshmallows (yes they were around then).

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Evening fire

We do not cook food over the open fire on this course as it is not on the syllabus but it is our tradition now to have Shmores whenever possible.

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Time for marshmallows

A Shmore is a toasted marshmallow or two inside a couple of biscuits. Why some people find this unappealing (Dave) I will never know.

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Who could resist a Shmore

The cadets do have to cook a meal for themselves on the course so need to be introduced to some different types of stoves. After some safety tips and basic tuition it is over to them to have a go under close observation.

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Learning how to use stoves

We try to keep the cooking simple with foodstuffs such as pasta, beans or even just boil-in-the-bag ration pack food. Dave though takes a strong dislike to seeing the inevitable pot noodle rear its head out of some cadet’s rucksack. Have a guess who the culprit is on the right? Although pot noodles are quick to heat up with boiling water they generally have only about 300 calories in them, not enough to keep a cadet going on these weekends.

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Trying it out for themselves and some less-than-desirable food

Put the tents up – then learn to put them away properly as a team. It is easy to do in this controlled environment when the weather is dry and there is little wind; it is a bit more challenging on the side of a hill in Brecon on a wet and windy morning.

Best to learn the tricks of campcraft here so that when you are sorting your life out on that wet and windy morning in Brecon – life is a breeze.

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Packing away properly

There were many more classes including different types of clothing to wear, first aid scenarios, planning, the countryside code and packing kit that the cadets have to cover.

At the end of the course all the cadets receive their certificate and basic campcraft badge. For some this is as far as they will go with camping but for most I will see them again on more advanced courses leading them into the mountains and the world of bushcraft.

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The Awards

These two courses were an end of an era for Keith and the beginning of a new era for Emma.

Emma managed to pass her Adventure Leader assessment after working hard towards it over the last few years. This qualification is not easy to attain due to the complexities of all the different situations you can find yourself facing – so welcome to the team Emma and well done.

Keith has now left the Sea Cadets but it was always a pleasure working with him. Keith is a good friend and we will work again on other courses, in particular bushcraft courses, as that is where his heart truly lies. As well as being an excellent Adventure Leader Keith is a great organiser – Dave, that leaves you and me to do the paperwork now 🙂

Cheers

George

Wet and Windy – Getting comfy in the woods

The cadets knuckled down, worked hard, had great fun and made things comfy for themselves – that’s bushcrafting for you.

The end of October last year found me down at Crowborough Army camp in the Ashdown Forest. I set up a bushcraft area in the woods near for the camp to run a course to introduce some of our younger Sea Cadets to bushcraft.

Helping me on the weekend were Dave Lewis and Charlie Brookes (and at different times Christine Weston and Emma Deasy).

The weekend’s weather was pretty poor to say the least with a lot of rain and some quite high winds.

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A team of hardened Sea Cadet Bushcrafters

The high winds were a concern for me so I told the cadets that sleeping in hammocks over the weekend was not an option. A few were upset but soon got on with things. The cadets ended up sleeping in their tents in the grounds of the main camp nowhere near any trees.
They had to set up the main tarps to work under, after a bit of instruction on knots they were left to their own devices and managed to get two big tarps up by themselves.

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They had to set up their own campsite

Once the tarps were up the cadets had to collect dry wood from the surrounding area. As it had been raining heavily there was very little in the way of dry wood lying around so we taught them how to identify dead standing wood. Thankfully the woodland had been coppiced in the past and left untouched for many years so there were plenty of dead standing coppice poles in the area.
Once all the wood had been collected and graded it was time to play with some firesteels.

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Learning how to use a fire steel

(NB The light levels in the woodland were poor and I only had my phone camera to hand so some of the pictures have been brightened slightly or have had the colours in them deepened slightly.)
Once they got the hang of lighting char cloth the cadets experimented with other tinders such as pampas grass and birch bark.

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Practising using different tinders

Everything was very damp but the cadets persevered and eventually had two good fires going to get a hot brew on. As we were running the course in the woodland within the grounds of the camp all the cadets were being fed from the main camp galley. This freed us up to concentrate on different bushcraft activities without having to worry about getting food cooked over the open fires.

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They kept persevering through all the rain

One of these activities was to introduce the cadets to a bit of safe knife use. After discussing safety issues and the legalities of using a knife, the cadets learnt how to carve themselves a small wedge. I like this simple activity as it involves using a variety of carving techniques.

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Good knife safety was practised

The cadets practised cutting techniques safely, making cuts away from themselves and in front of them or off to the side. We spent a good hour trying out different cuts and everyone managed to finish their wedges.

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Working well off to the side

The wedges were needed because the next lesson was about battoning – where you use your knife more like an axe to split small logs. I did a demonstration to the class showing the whole process and then we split into two groups to let the cadets have a go themselves.

I find battoning is best done kneeling down and with the use of a stump on which to rest the piece of wood that needs to be split.
The knife is positioned on top of the piece of wood at 90 degrees to the body and the back of the blade is struck with the ‘hammer’ (a small but weighty stick) so that the edge of the blade is driven into the wood. I published an article on knife safety last year that covers battoning in more detail.

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Later we introduced the cadets to the art of battoning

Here you can see that the knives have been driven well into the wood and the wedges are now being used to widen the split further.

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Dave and Charlie led one class while I led the other

The cadets got the hang of it pretty quickly and were soon splitting the wood down.

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Using the knife and then the wedge to batton

Here the knife has been removed and the cadets are using the stump to help drive the wedge into the wood to split it.

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Hammering the wood and wedge into a stump to split the wood

Later that afternoon we started on two shelters. Normally I would ask for volunteers to try and sleep out in them but due to the high winds I did not offer the cadets the option this time. The weather was quite cold, but this activity kept them moving and warm.

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An early start to shelter building

It was not until well after dark that I called a halt to the shelter building but they did a good job and worked well together.

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They worked well into the evening

Even though the weather was not kind to them and we worked them hard there was still time to play and chill out around the fire with a marshmallow or two.

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Plenty of time to just play and chill with a marshmallow

We stayed a couple of hours around the fire before sending the cadets back to the main camp and getting our own heads down. All the instructors stayed in the woods with our hammocks and it was a slightly ‘swaying’ night to say the least with lots of creaking from the trees above us.

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An evening around the fire

Charlie had a brew on first thing and also showed the cadets how to use the Kelly Kettles safely.

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The day starts with a brew

There was time for a couple of posed pictures in front of the shelters before the cadets dismantled them both and scattered the debris back around the site so as to leave no trace of them. Apart from becoming unstable if left up, shelters tend to attract rodents to the site (since it’s not just humans who seek shelter)  – so down they came.

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A few daylight shots of their shelters before dismantling them

For the next couple of hours it was time for Atlatls, bows and stalking games.

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A morning of games including Atlatls and Bows

Once the cadets got their eye in some had pretty good groupings.

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Some good groupings

Even the staff managed to get a shoot in 🙂

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Not that the staff were competitive 😉

Even though the cadets did not get to use the hammocks and tarps this time we did get some out for them to try.

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Checking out tarps and hammocks

The final part of the weekend was to return the campsite to the condition we found it in, if not better. This was the easy part of the weekend as the teams were now working well together and everything was stripped down and packed away quickly.

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Wrap up and home time

I hope to run one or two more bushcraft courses for the cadets this year and give them the chance to sleep out in a hammock.

Even though the weather was against us this time the cadets knuckled down, worked hard, had great fun and made things comfy for themselves – that’s bushcrafting for you.

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

Bumped from my hammock – With Enfield SCC Unit

Back in early September of 2013 my good friend Dave Lewis invited me over to Danemead Scout Camp to help work with some cadets from the North London Enfield Sea Cadet unit that he was planning to put forward as a team for the London Area Sea Cadet Chosin Cup competition in October.

I had worked with the team earlier in June focussing on their navigation skills so this time the focus was team working. The Chosin Cup marks highly on good team working and we both felt that Enfield had a very good chance of winning. As well as the teamwork we wanted to give the cadets some time to relax and enjoy the outdoors in a way that they would not normally have the opportunity to.

As part of the team working training I briefed the cadets that I wanted them to set up their own group tarp, fire and individual hammocks. They had learnt many of the necessary skills before so they just needed a little refresher on bushcraft knots and off they went.

The white platform the cadet is standing on is actually one of my archery targets made by Mark Gater of G-Outdoor. An excellent bit of kit that has many uses other than just a target. I did a review of the G-Tuff Field target on Bushcraft UK back in 2011.

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Group and individual tarp set ups

We used a mixture of tarps including the DD Tarp XL, a Hennessy Hex and Extended Desert Cam tarps.
The hammocks were the Woodsman Uk Hammocks and DD Frontline hammocks. I had also managed to buy some Snugpack Underblankets for the cadets to use. These underblankets make a massive difference to the quality of sleep you get by blocking out the cold air beneath the hammock. A lot of this kit we’d bought after fundraising in 2012 by running a bushcraft course for a group from the City of London and after I received a grant from the Jack Petchey Foundation to buy bushcraft kit for the Sea Cadets.

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Hammock set ups

Now a recurring theme of the weekend was the lack of time I got to sit on my EDC hammock chair. I love this chair so I was a little upset at its overuse by others 😉

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My hammock chair was stolen

The cadets were also taught how to use Laplander saws safely so they could prep their own fire for the evening: the wood slightly propped up and sawn off to the side with the arm supporting the branch crossed over the top of the blade.

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Safe sawing skills

The cadets needed no help getting the fire going with firesteels as they had done this many times before, and then it was time for a well-earned rest.

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Fire set up and learning the art of doing nothing

On the Saturday after noon we had a visit from our friends Jim and Maria Stilgoe with their sons David and James. I had never met baby James before so it was nice to do so out in the woods. David on the other hand is not one to sit around for long and was soon off exploring and had a great time with Jim shooting the Father and Son bow.

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A visit from the Stilgoe clan with a bit of Father & Son time

After a bit of shooting David needed a bit of a rest and soon found his first hammock – ‘And the little one said roll over’ comes to mind here 🙂

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A hard-working pair

As I was saying earlier I did not get much of a chance to use my own hammock chair. It makes a perfect seat for mother and baby I think.

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Still not given back to me

Camping would not be camping without a toasted marshmallow or two. And the occasional cremated one.

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Evening activities

That evening around the fire the cadets had made I got some cracking Fire Faces.

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The weekend’s Fire Faces

After a good night’s sleep (we were only out for one night) it was time to crack on with more activities.

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Sunday morning wakey wakeys

The focus on the Sunday was to improve the communication between the team members when doing tasks. Here the cadets are working together to set up a river crossing activity by manoeuvering a log to act as one of the make-believe river banks.

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Working together as a team

I taught them a new way to create an emergency stretcher from a single piece of rope (not the usual Mountain Leader version).

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Lift and shift

At break time you can guess I was still minus a hammock.

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Still hogging the hammock

Dave set up the river-crossing activity and talked the cadets through what he wanted. They set up an excellent crossing and soon all were over the other side.

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Practising river crossing techniques

To finish off we got the Atlatls out and had a ping. It is good for the cadets to practise this as it is a standard test at the Chosin Cup now. I took a short video of the cadets using the Atlatl that weekend.

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Fun with the atlatl

The best thing about the EDC hammock is that it has a zip. Somehow the cadets found this rather fun. I had given up now on ever getting a seat 🙂

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Had enough and just zipped them in 🙂

I had a great time over the whole weekend as all the staff and cadets knew what they were doing, they wanted to be there and the weather was perfect. You do not get that too often when teaching outdoor education so it is one weekend I remember fondly – apart from the hammock stealing!!!

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

Northern District Advex Competition – July 2013

A particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit

In July this year we had our annual Sea Cadet District Adventure Training competition in a rather sunny Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest.

Five teams from Northern District within London Area Sea Cadets attended the weekend. There was supposed to be a sixth but seemingly they thought it was the following weekend.

The weekend itself is a competition to test the cadets’ skills in navigation, team working, seamanship, first aid, communication and campcraft skills. The top three teams get invited to attend the London Area Chosin Cup competition later in the year to compete against the winning teams from other Districts within London. Over the last few years we have relaxed this criteria so that if a unit comes outside of the top three, they can enter for the Chosin Cup if they really want to. The competition is still very competitive but a bit more open now at all the levels.

Thankfully I do not have to do much of the organisational paperwork for the event as my good friend Keith Coleman has that firmly taken care of. Admin has never been my strong point.

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Our little Minion Mascot for the weekend

I try to arrive early on the Friday and set up the parachute and the rest of the admin area. I was a bit gutted this year as I left the long extending pole I use to put up the parachute rope behind at the site and have never seen it again.
My hammock seat was well used this weekend but thankfully since then some of the guys have bought their own ones now.

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Base camp set up and a bit of hammock seat testing

Once we are set up it is a case of chilling out until the cadets arrive. The campfire cooking rig has been donated (on a long term loan) to the Sea Cadets by my good friend Mark Beer. It made a big difference to the amount of food that can be cooked quickly over the open fire.

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Friday camp set up

Our District Officers Mark Macey and Mark Weston were both keen to try out a hammock but as yet have not volunteered to sleep in one. Apparently for Mark Weston this was the first time since he was a young lad that he had camped out. Good on you Mark for staying out. It seems though that his good lady Chrissie has learnt the art of delegation and supervised the whole tent set up business 😉

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Officers relaxing

The teams all arrived on the Friday evening and set up camp. After they sorted themselves out they were sent straight out for a night navigation excercise with all their kit. We found all the teams eventually and had them set up camp.

Saturday

In the morning I managed to get a group picture of each of the teams before the hard slog began.

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Enfield & Haringey Units

Each team is supposed to have 6 cadets and they need to be totally self sufficient for the whole weekend. Kit checks are undertaken as soon as they arrive to ensure they have all the basics such as a sleeping bag, tent, waterproofs, water etc. They loose marks for any kit that is missing from the kit list they are sent out before the competition. I always bring extra sleeping bags, tents, jackets, roll mats and gloves as there are usually a few missing pieces.

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City of London & Waltham Forest Units

While the cadets sort themselves out on the Saturday morning the staff tuck into a good breakfast as the day is a long one. By the time any night navigation exercise is finished at the end of the day they could have been on the go for 18 hours.

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Finchley Unit and some of the staff relaxing over breakfast

As part of the navigation assessment, each team has to produce a route card for the day’s walk. The route goes all around Ashdown Forest and there are various checkpoints they have to get to. At some checkpoints they are set various tests on Sea Cadet skills. This was a particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit – do not ever say that being in the cadets is a breeze, it can be tough.
I do not have any pictures of the cadets while they were out but by the end of the day two teams had completed the whole course and the others were either picked up or had just missed out one or two checkpoints.

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All the units had to produce a route card for the weekend

Sunday
This part of the competition is undertaken just in Pippingford Park. The cadets have to navigate to different stances in the training area and complete different tasks.
All the stances are designed to test personal skill, team work, leadership and communication skills.
One of the stances was to rope up a river crossing system, using their seamanship skills, to be able to carry the whole team across.
All cadets are trained in First Aid so we usually have a stance on this. It can be quite weird listening to all the theatrical shouts and groans that come from this stance 😉

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River crossing and First Aid stances

Teamwork and communication are skills scrutinised on the mine clearance stance. Pretend mines are hidden and the cadets have to probe for them. If they find one they mark it with a tyre.

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Mine clearance

The Observation stance is set up with objects or people set out in front of the cadets. Some are obvious to spot but due to the skill of the Royal Marine Cadet instructors who set up these stances can be extremely difficult to find.
The challenge on this year’s Seamanship stance run by Paul Townsend was to use a variety of ropes, poles, blocks and tackles to set up a rig to conduct a Colours ceremony. I like this stance as it brings together Sea Cadet skills originally aimed at use on board ship out into the woods.

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Observation and Seamanship stances

My favourite – the Archery stance – was run this year by Charlie Brookes. All the cadets look forward to this stance both for the fun of it and for its competitive spirit within each team and between teams for the highest scores.

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Archery stance

At the end of the Sunday we have an Endurance race. A course is set up through the woods going through streams, over logs, under them, up and down steep slopes. Each team gets to run it twice: first to get to know the route and secondly as a timed event that can be scored.

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Endurance race

We finish with a final river crossing and a group picture. The looks on the cadets faces tell you very clearly that they had a great time.

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Final crossing and a happy group

A special award was given to Enfield unit for saving a Fawn that had become tangled up in some wire fencing. Well done guys.

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First place for animal rescue. They rescued a fawn trapped in a fence.

Enfield receiving the Fawn award and Waltham Forest receiving their Third place certificate.

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Enfield Unit receiving the ‘Fawn’ award and Waltham Forest Unit receiving the 3rd place award

Second place (and the Team Leader award) went to Enfield and the winners were Finchley unit. Both these teams scored highly in what was a very tough but fun weekend.

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2nd place to Enfield Unit and 1st place to Finchley Unit

As well as being a weekend full of assessments this course was a great training event for the teams that went forward to Chosin Cup later in the year but more on that later.

Cheers

George

Links

The Sea Cadets