The unit set off from school with extremely excited cadets and eager parents, as they were potentially getting some respite. The travel to the Channel Tunnel was almost uneventful, barring the inevitable Dartfort Tunnel traffic. During the first fuel stop a pool of pink fluid was under the mini bus engine. Not a good omen; but we were still in the UK. After some tightening of coolant hoses and refilling, all systems were go again. The tunnel crossing proved to be extremely easy as did the drive down to the Ardeche, despite it taking 14 hours.
There was clear disappointment when we arrived onto the camp site, it was windy and overcast, not exactly what everybody had envisaged for the South of France.
The setting up of the tents proved challenging in the wind and the soft sandy ground. However working as a team, cadets and staff soon had all the accommodation up and began sorting the equipment for the week. All equipment was then issued to the cadets and groups made. Once this had been completed the cadets and staff had a few hours of well earned rest. To get the cadets minds switched onto the job of the exercise a swim test was conducted. Initially with many groans and complaints. However it soon became apparent that once in the water, with helmets and buoyancy aids, that’s where many wanted to stay and have a swim. That evening all enjoyed a BBQ; a great start to the week.
The next day started the training in earnest. Three groups were devised and a rotation of kayak and canoe ensued to enable experience in both craft to eventually achieve the BCU two star award. Basic strokes went well, with cadets learning very quickly how to move the boats efficiently on flat water.
The following days saw excellent progression of the cadets as they were constantly challenged to improve their skills. A number of trips were made up river so we could paddle back down to the campsite. A particular highlight was paddling through the famous arch at Vallon Pont d’Arc.
Along the way instruction on dealing with moving was carried out. Surprisingly we had very few swims due to capsizes. On day 3 the training turned to look at various rescue techniques as the following day would be a 24km journey down the Ardeche river. This training proved to be very popular as the weather had become more typical of the South of France. Cadets were taught to use throw lines on the land and then were throwing to each other whilst partners were floating down the river, in a small rapid near the camp site. Defensive swimming was also taught and practiced.
Then the big day, everything had been building up to the descent of the Ardeche river through the gorge. The spectacular weather of 20 degrees lessened the pain of a 08.30 start on the water. The gorge and the whole trip proved to be utterly spectacular all the way. It was also exciting from a paddling perspective as every 100ms or so there was a grade two rapid to negotiate. Inevitably there were some cadets swimming, but due to the prior training the majority managed to remain upright. At lunch time there was a small change around with the boats so cadets could get a different perspective. Overall a fantastic challenging day for the cadets.
The last day was a fun day where the cadets were taken upstream of the camp site to a grade two rapid and they were taught how to surf and play on the waves, in both canoe and kayak.
Then the long trip home. The cadets to a person all wanted to stay at least another day, but unfortunately we had a rendezvous with a booked Channel Tunnel.
A fantastic experience for the staff and the cadets, where all the aims of the BCU 2 star were achieved by the cadets.
Lt Colonel M Balmbra