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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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 😉
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.
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.
The areas we cover in the course are:
Food and Cooking
Packing and carrying equipment
Safeguarding health and well-being
Recognising suitable clothing and equipment
Safeguarding the environment and countryside
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
A Shmore is a toasted marshmallow or two inside a couple of biscuits. Why some people find this unappealing (Dave) I will never know.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂