With the messages from the Speech Day still ringing in our ears, we headed north, to Halton Camp on the banks of the River Lune. Those essential characteristics of resilience, self-reliance and self-confidence would certainly be tested in this week, the aim of the week was to develop a solid nucleus of junior leaders within the contingent.
Climbing in the Langdale valley was blessed with cracking weather and proved to be the challenge one would expect. Despite some wounded pride, the group showed great teamwork and determination in managing the climbs and received great physical, emotional and technical support from our instructors.
Canoeing on Coniston Water was next up, with a couple of boats resembling submarines in the hands of some members of the group! We visited Peel Island made famous in Arthur Ransome’s creation “Swallows and Amazons”, narrowly missing the film crews for the current film remake. Several members of the group celebrated the day with “jetty jumping” to round things off.
The surprise hit of the week, for the majority of the cadets, was the trip into the Long Churn caves, just above the picturesque North Yorkshire village of Ingleton. Despite a few horror stories from the staff, the group ploughed on in high spirits. We were wet through quite swiftly, but all were keen to crack on and reach the very narrow Cheese Press, which was tackled enthusiastically and resulted in no great tragedies. We also enjoyed climbing up a short waterfall in Dr. Bannister’s Hand Basin, and crawling through the tight, waterlogged channels above the main route, ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’- which resulted in some unrepeatable language from some quarters! In spite of our water-filled Wellingtons, we emerged wanting to have a crack at Wilson’s Cave, a smaller cave with deeper water.
When the cadets emerged from the short walk through the tunnels into Cathedral Cavern, a few jaws dropped as the full face of the giant abseil came fully into view. We swiftly established that having a fear of heights is not conducive to good abseiling! The group divided, with some moving immediately to the 150ft abseil and some tackling a smaller drop close by; both tremendous efforts for the group, few of who had abseiled before. Despite some nerves, most of the group cleared the 150ft abseil, which we set out to complete, with some also completing the other small abseil. After donning wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets, the intrepid crew made their way up to the start of the ghyll scrambling in Church Beck, which runs through Coniston village. As part of the preparation, the instructors swiftly submerged us. Ignoring a few emasculating screams, we pressed on, and soon learnt why they call it ‘scrambling’. Although few of us could preserve our dignity, we did certainly enjoy climbing through the various waterfalls and jumping into the deep pools to make it up the beck.
We awoke on our final morning to glorious sunshine ready for our ascent of the Old Man of Coniston. After a good one and half hours walk, the group arrived at the first large feature on the route, Goats Water, sitting between Dow Crag and the Old Man of Coniston. We then started the short but steep ascent to the summit ridge of The Old Man. After many years of travelling to the Lakes, Lt Gray and I cannot remember having such wonderful views across the fells. The Isle of Man stood out to the west, Ingleborough to the southeast as well as all the Lakeland ranges. After a quick snack and some photos, the group continued along the ridge taking in the summits of Brim Fell and Swirl How. After deciding that three summits were enough for one day, much to the disgust of the adults, we started the steep descent in to the valley below which was peppered with old abandoned quarries and copper mines. The path was rocky and at times quite challenging but nethertheless we made it down unscathed, arriving back to the minibus, greeted by half a dozen custard creams, washed down with plenty of squash.
The day’s activities are only one part of the residential experience; the hidden aspects of interpersonal relationships and patience of both the cadets and staff can be sorely tested in this time together. This week was a steep learning curve and after a summer of reflection, an experience that will be very valuable to these young people in the future.
Many thanks to the Ulysses Trust and to the all those involved in making the week possible and so successful.
Major Jeremy Ballard