News and Events

Developing character on Dartmoor – the Ten Tors event 

Posted: 17th May 2024

helicopter in a field

Anyone who works with young people in the southwest is aware of the institution that is the Ten Tors Challenge. Go too far east of Bristol though, and people have no clue whet you are talking about when you mention it. A regional icon of excellence for young people, the Ten Tors has been part of the adventurous activities landscape on Dartmoor for schools and youth groups for 62 years, and it has been crucial in developing the character of many hundreds of Exonians in that time.

Last weekend was the annual event – based at Okehampton Battle Camp, on the edge of Dartmoor and run by the British Army, it is a true spectacle of military organisation, and really has to be seen to be believed. The army camp is transformed into a festival like camp site, with vans and minibuses scuttling around, and an inevitable long line of fractious parents and supporters in their cars inching up the road to see participants off on the Saturday morning (at 7am!) and then to celebrate their return at the end of the weekend, any time from about 9:30 on Sunday. If it is raining, the car parking turns into a quagmire, and vehicles have to be dragged out – luckily the military has plenty of heavy duty vehicles to make this happen!

Saturday morning was a blaze of colour and celebration as the amassed supporters and participants (about 2500 of these) congregated on the hill above the start. Inspired by the words of outdoor celebrity and TV presenter, Ray Mears, entertained by a stunning parachute display by the Red Devils and blessed by the army padre, the field gun blasted at 7am, and the teams career off onto their routes. So far, so good, I hear you say, so what is the challenge? The challenge is immense. Some participants, are as young at Year 9 (that’s 13 or 14 year olds). Most perhaps a year or two older. They work in teams of six and must finish as a team with at least four participants. There are three distances, 35, 45 and 55 miles (that’s 56 to 88 km) on a number of different routes and in different directions (clock or counter-clockwise). Groups must be self-sufficient with camping equipment and food carried in heavy packs and must camp overnight on the moor – in designated spots for the 35-milers and wild camping for the longer routes. It is a huge challenge.

But of course, the challenge is not just in navigating and route-finding between the ten designated tors and additional army checkpoints along the way, the challenge is also about supporting each other, coping with blisters and other injuries and the weather – this weekend the event was twice paused due to the excess heat, and in many years the cold, snow, poor visibility and extremely boggy conditions also make the going incredibly difficult. I am in awe of what the participants achieve. It is quite simply incredible.

Sunday morning is a riot of celebration and support for the finishers, with groups dressing up in a multitude of interesting fancy dress costumes (which of course they have carried all the way round the route!) and they are rewarded with a medal, a pasty and plenty of congratulations from all present. Sadly, not everyone makes it, and this weekend we saw quite a few groups coming in with four participants (if more than two drop out the whole group must do so) and plenty with five. But that is not to say that they did not all do brilliantly, facing their personal physical and mental challenges, and developing resilience, their skills of working together and keeping up the good humour as they did so.

For us this year, with our first 55 mile team in five years, we have to congratulate Anya, Pheobe, Sara, Matty, Dan and Joe especially. They were awesome. And of course, none of this happens without a fantastically dedicated team of staff who support the training and all the weekends through the winter that mean that the pupils achieve success on the day. Ben Hall leads our Ten Tors team brilliantly, supported by so many excellent and committed colleagues, as well as a big group of volunteer parents and friends of the school, who give their time and expertise so generously. It really is a team effort.

And on the day – it is huge thanks to the military operation that makes it happen. As the gun goes off on Saturday morning we pass the pupils into the hands of the Ten Tors military team, and do so with confidence that they will support them on the moor, and ensure that they are safe and making progress on their routes.

I will leave you with Ray Mears’ words as he set them off on their challenge. “On your back you have the kit you need, in your head you’ve got the information you need, now you have to look inside your heart, to find the strength you need….. look out for your comrades, ignore your own discomfort, you’ll only succeed as a team”. Wise words indeed. And advice for all of us, whether we are embarking on an arduous journey across the moors, or not…..

Written by Louise Simpson, Head of Exeter School

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