Today marks the start of this year’s Ten Tors Event, an annual event where young people embark on walking challenges of different lengths on Dartmoor, organised by the Army. You can see it being reported on BBC News and other outlets. For many, it’s a two-day challenge, requiring them to camp out overnight on the moors, while for others with special needs and disabilities there is the Jubilee Challenge, with shorter routes that can be trekked over a single day.
The school I went to did – and, as far as I know, still does – send teams to take part in the Jubilee Challenge every year. And I happily took part. It’s a tough challenge – after all, it’s not meant to be easy – but we had lots of practice sessions in the weeks and months before the event, in all weathers, so we were well prepared. And for each year of participation, each walker gets a medal – bronze for the first year, silver for the second, gold for the third. I still have mine.
I don’t remember everything about the expeditions in detail, of course. It was a very long time ago now. But I do remember the early starts on the Saturday morning. Every year we were woken by the tannoy system playing the same 2 pieces of music – Chariots Of Fire by Vangelis, and Simply The Best by Tina Turner. Two wonderful tunes which really help to get you in the mood for the challenge ahead, and I will forever associate them with the event.
And talking of the tannoy system, I also remember we had a fun announcer on at least one of our trips, who liked to muck about and have a bit of fun with it. Sometimes he might just say “Bing Bong” to get our attention, and sometimes he would freestyle it, like “Bingy Bongy Boggy-de-Bong Bing” or random stuff to that effect. He certainly helped keep everyone’s spirits up. And then there was the occasion when he called over the tannoy for a man called Chris Willy to make himself known to the staff. It’s not his fault he has that surname, I know – but when you’re a kid and you hear it, your immature mind finds it funny. And we all have an inner child within us, which is why I still remember it even now, and it still makes me smile thinking about it. It’s silly, I know, but I can’t help it. Sorry Chris, whoever you are!
The actual trekking is hard work – I remember one particularly steep section on our route nicknamed Killer Valley, where I believe you had to go down the steep hill one side and then climb up the steep hill on the other side. And a lot of the terrain in general is hilly and uneven, so you have to be careful. It does require practice and preparation to do it well, including wearing the right clothing and carrying all the necessary supplies, including food and water. The weather can also hamper things as well e.g. if it’s very hot, or if there’s lots of heavy rain or wind. Indeed, the event has been cancelled or cut short by particularly extreme weather on one or two occasions..
The general difficulty is illustrated by the few who suffer injuries or exhaustion every year. It is inevitable given the huge number of people involved (2,400 are allowed to sign up). But they’re always well cared for. Indeed, it has to be said that The Army does a fantastic job at organising the event and looking after everyone, as you’d expect. They deserve great praise for working so hard on the event, and giving youngsters such an opportunity in the first place.
It is well worth the effort from everybody involved, both the organisers and participants alike. It is a very rewarding and confidence-boosting experience to complete the challenge, and Dartmoor National Park is such a beautiful, scenic place, so you get to experience lots of lovely views out there in the country.
There was also a lot of good camaraderie amongst our team every year, so we were good at helping each other out and enjoying the expedition together. And every year, when the finish line came in sight, we would all run the last bit together. It didn’t matter how tired we were or whether we were fed up carrying our rucksacks with supplies, we would still find that last bit of energy to jog those last few metres as a team, with the gathered crowd cheering us over the line. I don’t know if every team does that, but it was traditional for us to celebrate in that way.
Another thing I remember is that one year we had a film crew come to our school to record some of our preparations for the event, and they recorded a bit of our practice on the moors if I recall correctly. Most excitingly, though, the presenter of the programme was none other than Tony Robinson. Yes – Baldrick from Blackadder, presenter of Time Team, that guy. My only direct contact with him was a very fleeting hello, sadly – I don’t have an autograph or anything like that. But it was good having him around, as he was very nice and very professional. I don’t remember the programme that came out of it, but I think it was on ITV.
Incidentally, to deviate slightly, another TV presenter I remember coming to our school was Noel Edmonds, when his helicopter landed on our field during sports day to collect one of our friends as a surprise. So we didn’t get to meet him either – he came and went very quickly with the lad in question. But it was still very cool. This was back when he still presented Noel’s House Party on Saturday nights. I loved that programme, and I’d much rather have that back than any of the talent shows we get now. Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway has gone some way to filling the void, with its fun surprises and undercover pranks, but it’s still a very different show.
Anyway, back to the main topic, and I hope that everyone taking part in Ten Tors today and tomorrow enjoys the experience. And thank you to The Army for organizing it. It is a beautiful place to walk in and a wonderful challenge to take up. It’s a great achievement for all those who complete it – and even those people who don’t have the energy to go all the way can be proud for giving it their best shot. So good luck to all of them, and I hope the weather stays nice! 🙂