Adventure Camp

It was far too noisy to sleep; driving rain battered the gossamer thin nylon; the wind bent the tent poles and cracked the fabric like a whip. Somehow I did manage to sleep and by the time I woke the intensity of the storm had lessened to such an extent that I could make out the reassuring sounds of people preparing breakfast for the camp. They deserve a medal, I thought. Our Adventurers really are a hardy lot; rain, mud and the late night revels of teenagers did nothing to dampen the spirits of the fifty people who had come to the Ashdown Forest to celebrate fifteen years of the Craggers Adventure Camp. It didn’t rain all the time and we spent one day in glorious sunshine climbing at Stone Farm Rocks. The Weald has a complex geology; from the chalk and flint of the coast and South Downs to the weather sculpted sandstone of the outcrops where we climb. The rock is very soft so we can’t use traditional methods of protecting climbs on the lead or placing bolts; we have to run the rope from the top of the climb taking care that the rope does not saw away at the rock. We made a big purchase this year; a Coleman Event Shelter which during the bad weather served as classroom, food prep area, dining room and emergency bedroom. We had to rearrange some activities but managed to do most of the things we wanted or substituted things which were just as much fun. We have not had a serious accident at Camp and to guard against having one this year we did rigorous training in safely using saws, axes, hatchets and knives. Abseiling in the rain added an extra element to an already exciting activity. Your heart starts to beat faster as you ascend the Zip Wire ladder, when you stand on the small seven metre high platform being connected to a pulley your legs start to wobble and as you stand with your toes on the edge waiting for the command to GO! you wonder why you decided to do such a silly thing in the first place. You launch into space and it is fantastic; zooming down the wire towards a rapidly approaching tree. You want to get right back up to do it again. Budding Robin Hoods had a great time during the archery session. The Tunnels are intersecting plastic tubes buried underground. Everyone uses the same entrance but can decide on which exit to emerge from; the closest ones have a low score, the score increases with distance and complexity. Two teams compete to get the highest score and have to make tactical decisions about how to do it. It is very dark in the tunnels and it is not long before everyone is completely covered in mud. Climbing up the swaying telegraph pole is unnerving enough and seems to go on forever. Eventually you arrive at the tiny platform of the Perch and are faced with leaping for the trapeze which seems impossibly distant. But you leap and catch the bar; relief but then you have to let go and be lowered to the ground. The Crate Challenge is another team game where pairs of people have to build two towers of milk crates adding to one while standing on the other and then moving over. Other members of the team pass up crates and belay the climbers; the process continues until they can’t balance any longer and the towers collapse and the climbers are lowered to the ground. We had a great wide game, in the dark, based on the film Frozen. It involved lots of running around following clues. There were lots of ad hoc football games and water fights. We did a foraging walk and realised just how many edible and medicinal plants are available. The kids were really excited to walk to the Bluebell railway to see the steam train emerging from the tunnel. In the Event Shelter classroom and between showers, outside, there were several sessions grouped under the broad heading of Bushcraft. Knife sharpening was demystified with a demonstration of how to sharpen using various Japanese water stones, finding the correct angle for sharpening; the differing properties of various steels; stropping the knife to remove the burr and polishing and protecting the blade. We made attractive survival bracelets with parachute cord, incorporating compasses and whistles. We made cordage from nettles and carved jewellery from various types of wood from the forest; beads from elder and pendants from silver birch. We carved spoons, made wooden flowers and feather sticks and learned various ways to make fire including using fire steels and making fire by friction with bow drills and hand drills. On the last day the kids had a big treasure hunt. Our adventurers all pitched in to collect firewood, fetch water, cook meals, keep the camp tidy and help out their fellow campers. The volunteers did a fantastic job in sometimes trying conditions to ensure that the camp ran as smoothly as possible; not always an easy task as campers ranged in age from a baby a couple of months old to people in their sixties. We had a larger number of lively teenagers than ever before and it was sometimes a challenge to keep them engaged. We had some new volunteers this year who performed magnificently in difficult conditions. So fifteen years of Craggers and more people than ever want/need out Adventure Camps. Where will we go from here?