On Sat 28th May 2016, 42 members of Essex Army Cadet Force met at Chelmsford Army Reserve Centre to embark on the celebratory twenty first Exercise Itchyfoot. From an idea born by Lt. Col. I. Coffin, this seven day Adventurous Training exercise has grown and developed into a leading event in the Essex ACF calendar.
The cadets and Instructors embarked on their journey to Swynnerton training camp in Staffordshire, cadets’ emotions running high-“The thought of meeting all new people and facing new challenges felt daunting” B Company cadets described.
Once settled in to the camp, the first event on the Exercise was to take part in a swim test with a difference!! Once all cadets had proven their ability to swim they were given the opportunity to compete in a race over a giant inflatable obstacle course in the local swimming pool. This proved to be a great ice breaker for the cadets who came away buzzing with excitement for the coming week’s activities.
The cadets are broken down into Company defined units for the duration of the Exercise, this increases the cadets bonding experience. Activity briefings are carried out each evening to allow the cadets to prepare for the following day, around camp can be seen instructors explaining what kit is required for trekking, sizing cadets to issuing mountain bikes, issuing kayaking equipment, and cadets being shown how to correctly wear climbing harnesses and how to belay correctly. The area is a hive of activity and emotions run high as many cadets will be confronting fears, such as “ my excitement didn’t come without fears, such as whether I would like all the activities or know anyone there…… However, my fears were soon gone and replaced with excitement” L/Cpl Whittle
Activities were held at various locations throughout the Peak District, kayaking at Carsington Water, trail biking the Midshires Way, rock climbing at the Roaches, abseiling at Millers Dale, trekking on Kinder Scout, and for the first time thanks to the generosity of the Ulysses Trust, caving at Stony Martin. With the grant awarded to Essex ACF, Lt. Col. Coffin was able to secure caving as an additional activity for the cadets. Overall, this proved to be the activity which was to be most challenging to the participants “my best activity so far has been caving, I enjoyed this the most because it challenged me to my limits and I had great fun whilst doing it” Cadet Dare. The Instructor brought in to run the caving, Colum Walsh was extremely knowledgeable and approachable and from the moment the cadets exited their bus at the iconic Stony Martin climbing location, he made all the participants feel at ease and able to enjoy what was to be for all an amazing day’s activity-“we loved it so much because it was an opportunity to do something not many people get the chance to do. Everyone had to overcome mental or physical challenges whilst in the caves” B. Company.
Colum eased the cadets into this new dark world by leading the groups through larger caves in the morning to ensure that all members would be able to overcome their fears whilst in the cave systems (which they all did admirably probably more so than their ACF instructors who followed along!!) and in the afternoon embarked on a more sustained caving journey starting with an abseil down into a black hole which at the end saw each cadet emerge into the light of day wet, muddy and with great big grins on their faces, describing how they each managed to find their way through the system and full of excitement and I’m sure it would be safe to say relief for many!!
Back at Camp each evening, cadets relived their day’s experiences, from abseiling “it gave me the opportunity to overcome my fear of heights” Cadet Emily Cooper, climbing “the most adventurous activity was the climbing as I overcome my fear of heights”, caving “there was both fear and excitement in our group but in the end we all enjoyed it and it was an amazing experience” Cadet Elouise Doyle.
As the week progressed, the confidence in each cadet could be seen to have grown. Quiet, timid members were now talking proudly of their personal achievements, of how they had faced their fears and overcome them, of how they wanted to return on the next years Exercise, and of how they couldn’t wait to tell their families and cadets at their home units of what a great event Exercise Itchyfoot is. “ I feel adventurous training brings everyone closer and makes Essex become a family as we all have to trust each other in all the activities we do” Cpl Holly Scott.
As the cadets prepared to depart Swynnerton training camp at the end of the Exercise, it was great to hear them all laughing, joking and exchanging experiences from the week and for many, hoping to return another year to take part in what will always be Essex ACF’s premier Adventurous Training Exercise.
SSI Sophie Galley