The Ten Tors Challenge is an annual event, organised by the Army alongside the other Services, the Emergency Services, Dartmoor National Park and Dartmoor Rescue. Unique among endurance challenges, Ten Tors is only available for teenagers from the seven Counties of South West of England. In early May, 2,400 teenagers descend on Okehampton Camp, ready to walk a distance of 35 miles, 45 miles or 55 miles (depending on age) across the demanding terrain of Dartmoor in just 2 days. The teams must be self-sufficient, navigating their way to ten nominated checkpoints, many of which are situated on the Granite Tors, for which Dartmoor is famous. Dartmoor is also infamous for its bogs and ability to attract foul weather conditions. Preparation is key to successfully completing the event as a complete team. The teams must carry everything they need to complete their route and stay out overnight safely. Those who complete the challenge, along with their parents and teachers who prepare them to remember with pride the huge achievement that completing Ten Tors brings. I would like to thank the 14 amazing girls who started training for the challenge, their parents for their support and encouragement, and the staff (Miss Curtis, Mrs Williams, Mrs Haynes, and Miss Taylor) for being prepared to give up their precious weekends to help prepare our team for the challenge of a lifetime.
This year the team of Alice Bedford (team leader), Natasha Reid (deputy team leader and navigator), Bliss Firth, Isobel Kirkwood, Emily Langman and Meghan Salisbury completed the challenge, finishing at 1328hrs on Sunday 8th May. Below is their story.
“Before the final team was decided, we had to go through some vigorous training. The Ten Tors training started in January in Bath where we learned how to navigate using maps and compasses. Challenges, such as getting lost on a regular basis, had to be overcome. We learned some basic first aid, how to set up tents and cook a meal using the Trangias. One tip we would give to anyone starting the training is to make sure you can cook your food relatively quickly. The Bath training sessions were really fun and we certainly learned a lot. We very quickly became closer as a group.
After two weekends of Bath-based training, 12 members of Year 10 travelled to Dartmoor which gave us our first insight into the reality of the Ten Tors Challenge. On the first weekend, we arrived at the campsite on Thursday to find it was raining (of course!). However, we managed to get our tents up quickly and enjoyed a delicious meal at the campsite’s restaurant, a one-off for us. We discussed our route for our 19km walk the following day and then headed back to our tents for the night.
On Friday morning the weather had changed for the better - this made navigation a whole lot easier for us! Carrying our extremely heavy rucksacks (minus the tents which we left up at the campsite) we visited some of the checkpoints which ended up being on our route for the real event. We were definitely surprised when we had to use our sun hats and sun cream. We got back to camp early in the evening, exhausted, but pleased with what we had achieved that day.
It was the gale force wind and torrential rain that woke us all up on Saturday. In anticipation of the bad weather we had already cut our 19km walk down to 13km to avoid the rivers which had swollen and would have been difficult to cross. Once we got walking, we realised that because of the low visibility we were going to have to rely on compass bearings to get us to our checkpoints. This was very difficult because we had to be sure where we were on the map at all times. We trudged on through what seemed like a never-ending bog but not before long the decision was made to head back to the minibus because we were soaked through to the bone. We warmed up back at the campsite with dry clothes and hot chocolate, before sadly deciding to come back to Bath a day early because of our drenched tents and clothes.
On the second Dartmoor training weekend, with only 8 people left, we wild camped on the moor. We camped near a leat (a man-made river) so we had a water supply for the night. We had a very fun evening- as no one could hear us we sang at the top of our voices while we watched the sun go down. Over Saturday and Sunday, it barely rained at all. Overall, it was an amazing experience!
After all the training it was time for the real event! On Friday 6th May, the Ten Tors 2016 team along with their Team Manager (Mr Hardcastle) and support team of Lara, Becca and Mrs Williams arrived at school ready to set off to Okehampton, Dartmoor. Mrs Duncan presented the RHS flag to the team leader Alice Bedford and at 0800 their route was announced (Route GL) on the Ten Tors website. The team with a mixture of excitement and nerves was ready to leave school and head down to Dartmoor. After an adventure involving our minibus, an army truck and a very narrow road with cars parked on both sides (fortunately no one was hurt), we arrived on the camp at Okehampton at around 1100 and were ready to start planning the route. At 1300, after a hasty lunch, we all headed up to the control room for a briefing, which consisted of an overview of the weekend, a tracker demonstration and a weather report. At 1700hrs, the team headed to scrutineering, an event which can be extremely scary and jeopardise your chances of starting the challenge, but luckily our team sailed through and the only thing the scrutineer commented on was the fact that we had too much food! In the evening, with excitement running high, some members of the team joined in with the traditional conga line and dance circle that went around the campsite.
0500hrs, Saturday morning, the adventure began… we woke up to the strains of the Chariots of Fire theme and we felt ready for the day ahead. As everyone prepared themselves at the start line we felt a mixture of fear, excitement and determination. The canons blasted, helicopters circled above us and 2,400 teenagers surged onwards and upwards. Becca, Lara and Mrs Williams were eagerly watching from the hill opposite; they then went to see the start of the emotional Jubilee Challenge for disabled teenagers. We reached our first Tor in good time and the whole experience still felt surreal. We pushed on at a strong pace and by the time lunch came around we were an hour ahead of time and grateful for some rest.
We tackled the Tors with grit and despite facing some difficulties, we remained positive and achieved our goal of making it to ‘White Barrow’ (between Tor 6 and 7) to camp at 1952hrs on the first day! When we reached camp, we were exhausted and treated ourselves to a delicious warm dinner, hot chocolate and some soothing foot cream.
On day two, we woke up at 0400hrs and began to pack away our tents. We started to walk at 0600hrs, making a solid start, reaching Standon Farm within 45 minutes. We were storming through the Tors and set a goal of making it to the finish for 1400hrs. We encountered some very steep hills as we came close to the finish; the highest Tor on our route being 542m above sea level. There were moments where we doubted that we would achieve our goal. We never gave up and we managed to cross the finish at 1328hrs. It was the most incredible feeling to have achieved something we worked so hard for. For that moment we forgot about our swollen feet and aching backs and just absorbed the amazing atmosphere. There were smiles all round.
People sometimes ask us why we do Ten Tors, as in it is only walking to some rocks. We were thinking about this while we were walking up a very long hill and we came to the conclusion that the pain is greatly outweighed by the laughter and the memories made. The group definitely grew closer together and we are now friends for life. At the beginning of training, the group would agree, we were all self-conscious and feeling that we weren't very good at anything. But, by the end, after completing Ten Tors or even just making it up a tough hill, the great sense of accomplishment and the grinning from ear to ear, made us feel like we could achieve anything!
We'd just like to say to anyone who's unsure about doing it next year...DO it. If you don't go to the training, you'll always regret it and wish you had taken part. Through Ten Tors we became more aware of what we could achieve and our team work improved greatly. One of the first things our team said when we finished was, 'I want to do the 45 miles next year!'
Finally, we would just like to say a huge thank you to Mr Hardcastle. He organised everything, taught us all we needed to know, and encouraged us in moments of doubt. He has shown us how to get the best out of the environment, and how to love the outdoors! There has not been a stage in this whole process since November that we have ever regretted signing up for it. If we had to describe Ten Tors in 3 words it would be: Laughter, Memories, and Joy!
For those in Year 9 – watch out for the launch for Ten Tors 17 in the Autumn – just don’t expect another sunny event for another 10 years!”