A considerable achievement
The 1633 Challenge
With less than a week to go before the 1633 Challenge, thus read the school website on Sunday 18 March:
‘Following close scrutiny of the weather forecasts for the coming 24 hours and a site inspection of the school this afternoon, we have reluctantly taken the decision to close the school tomorrow (Monday). We anticipate that journeys will be difficult and/or hazardous for many pupils and staff. Our aim is to prepare the site tomorrow for it to re-open on Tuesday morning.’
After an exceptionally cold late winter and early spring, with wave after wave of snow sweeping the country, the omens for the 1633 Challenge weekend were ominous. However, the Met Office website was more promising: rain on Friday night but clearing through by Saturday followed by sunshine on Sunday. Decision day was set as Thursday 22 March and, with the forecast still holding, indeed improving, it was green light on.
As it turned out the Met Office only got it partly right, but when we really needed the sun to shine it did.
Leaving school at 3.30pm on Friday, the coach transported walkers from a dismal Exeter to a positively dreadful Dartmoor. Putting tents up in the rain is never fun, particularly with the dispiriting prospect of continuing rain all night, but was efficiently completed before teams moved into the Dartmoor Training Centre (DTC) for scrutineering and team registration. This done, a sustaining dinner of hotpot or cheesy pasta bake followed by apple pie and custard was served. And so to bed with all fingers crossed for the promised break in the weather.
Reveille at 5am is never welcome, but waking up in a wet tent to the sound of rain on the flysheet, and with some sleeping bags more like sponges, is deeply unpleasant. But to the teams’ credit, get up and pack up is what they did and were soon devouring porridge, bacon baps and hot chocolate in vast quantities. A full stomach makes you feel ready for anything and, despite the rain continuing to fall, the atmosphere on the start line was encouragingly positive with teams raring to go. At 7:15am 16 teams, including two from St James School Exeter, two from Launceston College and one from Bideford College, set off on one of six separate routes heading first north east from DTC towards Postbridge before swinging west and north towards Lynch Tor for the final run in back south eastwards to camp at Holming Beam.
Check point parties deployed armed with extra layers of clothing and either tents or survival shelters in anticipation of an unpleasant wait on their allotted tor. And it was good that they were both well equipped and well experienced. Up on the high moor the rain was penetrating, the wind chilling and the visibility down to 50 metres. Map, compass and careful route finding were required to arrive successfully at a check point. Then it was just a question of waiting and patrolling around the check point looking out for approaching teams to guide them in. Despite the challenging conditions the teams’ navigation was generally accurate and their determination impressive. But Dartmoor can be a confusing environment with many closely located tors looking decidedly similar so there were one or two teams who narrowly missed their manned check point; they shall remain nameless and are forgiven given the circumstances.
With the conditions showing no sign of improvement it was decided to divert some teams direct to the overnight camp early to ensure arrival before darkness fell. It takes a great deal of determination to put up a wet tent with the rain still falling and the temperature dropping. This is particularly so after a long and tiring day carrying a heavy load and the unpleasant prospect of an at best damp, but more likely wet sleeping bag. But the tents went up, stoves were lit and food prepared – suddenly things weren’t quite so bad. However the day had taken its toll and there were one or two who retired hurt with upset tummies or sore feet, and who can blame them after such a demanding day.
There was a strange lack of the familiar pitter patter of rain on flysheet on Sunday morning as teams started their morning routine at 5am. The sky was overcast but tinged with a promising hint of red as dawn broke. Tents were struck, breakfast prepared and ruck sacks packed for a 7am start and the second day of the Challenge. Fanning out west and east from Holming Beam towards Great Mis Tor and Beardown Tor teams then wheeled south to head towards Nuns’ Cross Farm and then east to Fox Tor and Swincombe Bridge for final approaches to the finish at DTC. And all the while the weather got better and better. Parents arriving early at DTC to welcome teams in luxuriated in glorious sunshine as they waited patiently. Anticipation grew as the teams’ progress was tracked on the display screen until a shout from the Operations Desk gave a 5 minute warning for each team’s arrival. Hard-faced determination was replaced by wide smiles of achievement as teams crossed the finish line into the arms of proud parents and a certificate presented by the Headmaster.
This year’s 1633 Challenge, perhaps more than any other, demanded much from those taking part and all are congratulated on their considerable achievement. Whether they managed the whole or only part of their route, all walkers gave as much as they were able and are to be congratulated on their endeavour. Well done.
Events such as the 1633 Challenge can only be as demanding and adventurous as they are with the assistance of many staff and volunteers. Ensuring that participants and teams are fed, briefed, encouraged, monitored and above all challenged within a safe envelope requires judgement and meticulous attention to detail. We are very fortunate to have such dedicated and capable people on our Ten Tors training team; thank you to them all: Mrs Broughton, Lt Col Clark, Mrs Clark, Mrs Dunlop, Cdre Hawkins, Mr Hughes, Mr Jackson, Mrs Jokonya, Mr Latimer, Mr Lines, Mrs Lines, Mr Mimpriss, Mr Porter, Lt Col Purser, Mrs Sail, Mr Saunders, Mr Shorthouse, Mr Tear, Maj Gen Thomas and Mr Steve Bedford, the chef.