We went to the beach today and found a small piece of driftwood. It was a handy size to hold, so I gave it to Archie and said ‘why don’t you write your name in the sand?’. And he did. Just like that. For the first time ever. Happy days.
In 1986 I took part in Ten Tors. In my case this was a 35 mile, two day trek across Dartmoor in a howling gale and torrential rain for which I earned a bronze medal. Ten Tors dates from the 1960’s and was established to provide a challenge for civilians to tackle sleeping, navigating and field cooking on Dartmoor. It really is a challenge, a proper tough one. Dartmoor remains one of England’s greatest wildernesses and is recognised as a difficult place to navigate. The moors look very similar in every direction until you know it well enough to recognise the different tors and it can get very foggy very quickly. It’s also very boggy in places so walking in a straight line isn’t always wise – I remember a school friend disappearing up to her waist on one walk – once we’d stopped laughing we had to tie a rope to her to drag her out of the bog. Ten Tors has evolved to an annual event where 400 teams of six teenagers tackle 35, 45 or 55 mile routes across Dartmoor over two days, carrying everything they need and navigating and crossing the moor independently of adults. It takes a lot of training, back in the 80’s we undertook months of training, starting with day walks and including three practice camping weekends. It was a pivotal event in my teen years – aged 15 I could accurately navigate in thick fog and was able to look after myself in wild country. It gives teens a challenge – and an opportunity to be trusted – two days and a night on the moor without teachers or parents checking up on you (okay so there are army checkpoints but you’re expected to make your own decisions and are responsible for yourself). I’ve forgotten a lot of things I learned at school, but I still use my Ten Tors training today. So all in all a somewhat brilliant event. I’ll accept the embarrassment of looking like a boy (‘WOW mum you look like me’ as Joseph said) to post a photo from our finish line in 1986. So how does Ten Tors have relevance for Archie? Well Archie loves Dartmoor. One of the reasons we moved back to Devon was after seeing a 2 year old Archie running free and happy across the moors. Of course moving was followed by a year or two of Archie refusing to stand on grass which rather put paid to time on Dartmoor but we got over that. I started taking Archie up on Dartmoor regularly from about the age of 8. I encouraged him to walk in all weathers although he’d sometimes shut the car door and refuse to get out if it was really bad. A full on Ten Tors independent trek isn’t a possibility for Archie but he was able to take part in The Jubilee Challenge. The first event was held in 1977 and it now involves about 300 participants trekking across Dartmoor on the Saturday of the Ten Tors weekend. Like the mainstream event participants camp overnight on the Friday at Okehampton Camp before starting half an hour after Ten Tors at 7.30am. Jubilee Challenge participants also have the choice of different length routes and, like those taking part in Ten Tors can earn themselves a bronze, silver or gold medal. When Archie was given the opportunity to take part in The Jubilee Challenge by his school I jumped at the chance. As all the team were new to Ten Tors is was decided to do a shorter walk (7.5 miles) for a bronze medal. The team and staff headed up to Okehampton Camp on the Friday afternoon with a very excited Archie. He hadn’t been all that well in the few days before – he’d had a very sore and blistered tongue and I wasn’t surprised to get a call asking me to join the team late on Friday night. I rushed around the house a bit shouting ‘where’s my socks? Where’s my sleeping bag?’ before hot footing it to Okehampton Camp. I arrived just as it was getting dark, just as the wind was picking up and just as it started raining. The wind howled and the rain poured all night. I was slightly confused in the morning when I found the sides of part of the school base camp had disappeared. Although Archie had been awake from 2.30am I’d missed the tents falling down around us (different schools and groups) and so hadn’t felt the need to help. Archie did eventually fall asleep at 4.45am only to be woken at 5am by loudspeakers playing Chariots of Fire; a Ten Tors tradition I remember from 1986. I lay for a while in the sleeping bag I’d used in 1987 remembering when it had been my turn. Once I’d staggered out of bed I had to speed up a bit as we needed to be on the bus to take us to the start line at 6.15. A quick bacon sandwich later and we were ready. The weather started okay, but it soon deteriorated into 50 mph winds, rain, rain, rain and fog. I’ll add a gallery below – it was tough for the kids in places, but the team of six from Archie’s school all made it round. I haven’t included group photos because I’m not sure I’m allowed to, but really it was a great achievement for all the young people and the whole point of Ten Tors is to support your team and get round as a group – they did this wonderfully, helping each other around the course. It was an emotional moment for us all as they crossed the finish line. The conditions were absolutely atrocious and the medals were hard won. Archie’s is at the top of this post. It is exactly the same as mine from 1987. He thought this was wonderful. Roll on next year.
And just to show the sort of changeable place Dartmoor is; Ten Tors took place two weeks ago. Last weekend I took Archie onto Dartmoor for a short walk with the dog. The conditions were a little different: