The Jubilee Challenge / Ten Tors

Ten Tors medal 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.   Ten Tors 86 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. young Dartmoor1   young Dartmoor2 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: hot Dartmoor

Journey to Ulster

Archie is half Irish so every few years we make the trip to Northern Ireland. There are plenty of bonuses to this. We tend to head to the north coast where the surf is good (although admittedly this has never been a consideration until this year) and the beaches are empty. There aren’t that many places in the UK where seaside resorts are this quiet in August:

However, we have to get there. We don’t fly with Archie. Not ever. He doesn’t wait that well (spot the understatement) and we suspect it would be pretty unmanageable. Anyway we’re not that s̶t̶u̶p̶i̶d̶  brave. Given the title of this blog that sounds a little restrictive so we therefore p̶r̶e̶t̶e̶n̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶w̶e̶  subscribe to the view that it’s not the destination it’s the journey that’s important and drive. From Devon to the north coast of Northern Ireland, usually via Glasgow so we can visit Richard’s sister and the kids can get together with their cousins. These journeys have become the stuff of family legend, still talked about years later.

Remember that time we drove to Northern Ireland and Archie would only eat home made gluten free bread and we had to carry a bread maker and toaster in the car and try and fire them up in the hotel room.

Hey remember that time we stopped in that town in the middle of Wales and we thought Archie would love the little train, but for some reason he hated it and you got off looking like you’d been glassed

Do you remember when it was really rough and I was six months pregnant and you and Joe were being sea sick and I had to crash around after Archie who didn’t notice it was rough and was running around next to the magician on the ferry, and he kept going through the exit barrier on the on board shop and setting off all the alarms.

Oh gosh do you remember when had such a traumatic ferry journey that I made you ring your mum as we drove off the ferry and tell her we were NEVER GOING TO NORTHERN IRELAND AGAIN

Oh how we laugh. And then there’s one from last summer.

Remember when we drove to Northern Ireland and Archie screamed from Birmingham to Glasgow and we didn’t know why‘.

It was really quite incredible. The car journey is usually the easy bit with the ferry being problematic. The ferry involves waiting, and other people but Archie loves being in the car and providing we don’t hit traffic jams we usually have a pretty peaceful, if long, drive. But this year? Oh no. We hit Birmingham and Archie started screaming and he didn’t let up until we reached Glasgow. We spent quite a lot of time trying to work out what could be wrong and in the end gave up. Richard drove and I posted increasingly desperate Facebook comments. From ‘Archie appears to have lost his love of long car journeys :laughs hysterically:‘ to ‘Okay it appears we’re not allowed to stop for lunch‘  and  ‘Bad he’s been screaming literallly without pausing for breath since Birmingham, we’re north of Manchester and need to get to Glasgow‘. We were momentarily amused by the bossy Scottish road sign saying ‘Tell Your Passengers To Belt Up’. Er yes, we were trying.

Anyway we never really got to the bottom of it although Archie started screaming at Birmingham again on the way home. We came to the conclusion he just doesn’t like Birmingham. Or something.

Next time we go to Northern Ireland we’ll have the talker and I would expect this to be able to help with any screaming. Often Archie screams because he cannot make himself understood; he has something he is telling us; or he wants an answer to something but simply cannot get us to understand.  We cannot work out what he is saying and so he becomes very upset and frustrated. We play guessing games and if eventually we hit on the correct answer or correct understanding of his communication we’re rewarded with peace. If we guess incorrectly he becomes even more frustrated and loud. Already, this is something that we are finding hugely beneficial about the talker, it makes it so much easier to understand the problem and so cuts down on the screaming.

Last night after school Archie started shouting and complaining. Gradually it became louder. I grabbed the talker and asked him what the matter was. ‘Granny sweeties’ came the rely. All he needed was reassurance that yes my Mum was coming to see that night, and yes she would be bringing sweets and she was just running a little late. Silence resumed. He went back to happily google mapping and I went back to cooking or working or whatever it was I was doing. It took 2 minutes, if that,  rather than perhaps half an hour to sort out.

The talker may end up helping with another aspect of travelling with Archie that can be difficult. Archie looks, for want of a better word, entirely ‘normal’ and so when he kicks off or is difficult we can receive a very unsympathetic response from the public. Another Facebook status from last year’s journey suggests this was, as usual, a problem ‘Next time I travel by ferry with Archie I’m going to dish out lemons for the public to suck‘. It doesn’t really matter, but it can be irritating. The talker helps those that need the help to understand that something is up, that maybe he can’t completely control his behaviour and it can mean we don’t get shouted at. It means I don’t have to use my friend’s technique of a loud ‘TRY not to be so autistic Archie, you’re frightening that lady’. It makes all our lives easier.