Explorer Scout Camp Diary: Day Three – 6 August 2012
48 hours into the camp, and me and my fellow Dragons Explorer Unit members are at the start of Day Three at Collard Bridge Campsite. The plan was to be off-site all day, completing an eight-hour hike on Exmoor. But Josh sustained an injury half-way through the walk and we were forced to turn back. (This is the third instalment: you can read about Saturday and Sunday by following the links.)
On Monday morning, we had a strict timeframe for getting out: 9:30am at the absolute latest, but ideally not long after 9:00am. We therefore had to scoff down breakfast while packing ourselves some food and water for the day ahead.
Our three leaders, Aran, Graham, and Alex, had prepared a DofE-style routecard for us to follow both accurately and, most importantly, to time. It would take us the whole day to complete the hike, but sufficient breaks for snacks and for lunch had been incorporated to the schedule.
Dropped off in the rural village of Exford – which itself is right in the heart of Exmoor, the open moorland that stretches West Somerset and North Devon – we located ourselves on the Ordnance Survey (OS) maps we’d been given, and then were told that we may or may not see the leaders again before the end of the walk.
The first leg of the journey was up quite a steep hill, but to quote Joe Simpson for the second time: “I began to enjoy the exercise, feeling fitter and stronger than I had thought I would. We were making fast progress”. That was until, about half-way up the hill, someone suggested I turned around. Some distance further back, very much bringing up the rear, one of our fellow unit members was struggling. “Ahh, bloody hell.”, one of us at the front exclaimed. It wasn’t the most diplomatic of responses. I was surprised, though – I didn’t think we’d been walking at a tremendously quick pace, and this well-surfaced road (though steep) shouldn’t have been a great obstacle to cross. As was necessary, we waited for the individual to catch up (using the time constructively to remove the many layers of heat-insulating waterproofs the leaders had insisted we wore, as it was no longer raining), and then walked at the pace of the slowest walker. It was a bad reflection on me, more than anything else, that I’d let myself and some of the group get so far ahead.
We reached our first checkpoint, Porlock Post, twenty minutes ahead of schedule, meaning we’d been walking substantially quicker than the 3 km/hour the route-card’s timings had been based on. However, I knew that if the whole group found out that we’d walked ‘too quickly’ on that first leg, they’d inevitably slow down for the next stage – when we’d be walking slower anyway due to the fact that we were now off the tarmac. I therefore allowed us all a ten-minute longer break than that of the one that was scheduled, but then got moving again.
It was just as well that I did. Part of the challenge the leaders had set us was to ensure that everyone had a go at navigating unaided. As the compass changed hands from one unit member to another, the new map-reader admitted that they hadn’t a huge amount of experience. No bother, though, and we were led – fairly confident that we were going in the right direction – onwards for the next section of the hike. 45 minutes later, though, and I decided to stop the group. Much as I was happy to be led rather than to lead, I wanted to see the route-card for myself to make sure we weren’t walking totally blindly. Admittedly, the sheet wasn’t hugely detailed, but the size of our mistake was massive. According to it, we were meant to have followed the so-called ‘Macmillan Way’, a footpath about five minutes’ walk (if that) from Porlock Post. None of us had seen any signposts directing us to it, and after taking a bearing I was certain we’d followed the right track, but it was pretty clear we’d followed it for far, far too long.
The hard task of breaking the news to the group fell to me – we’d lost all of the time we’d made up, and by the time we’d corrected our mistake, we were the best part of an hour behind. But at last, Madi spotted a somewhat overgrown footpath to the right, and I led the next hour’s pretty easy hike. Passing livestock and taking in amazing vistas, all while enjoying the repetitive rhythm of our collective pounding feet plus the unmentionable benefits of the truly decent weather, made us all really enjoy the walking.
For me, though, I was quietly fighting a battle that would require my full attention at our next stop: my feet. The insides of my boots had become wet earlier in the camp and, with so far no opportunity to have dried them, they were tearing up my feet. With every footstep, I felt my feet burn. I was wearing two pairs of socks, but it wasn’t really a huge help: the secondary layer had kept the damp off my soles for a while, but by 11:30am or so, my feet were wet again – and for good. At our lunch break, I untied my laces and removed my poor hooves. A funny sight beheld me. It looked like there was more skin than there was foot, and I knew that that meant I had blisters, but strangely, due to the extent of the condition, I couldn’t tell which bits hurt most. Having done all I could do – that was, to assess the situation – I decided I was fit to carry on (fit in willpower at least), even if I would end up with huge blisters by the end of the day.
Ed took the helm of the direction for the next stretch and, at first, we did alright. We noticed that the route-card the leaders had made for us had a slight error, as it instructed us to eat lunch twice, but thanks to Ed’s leadership we didn’t let this duplication confuse us. But then, whilst looking for the next checkpoint, we became dizzily lost, partly due to us being on the overlap of the two OS maps. While Matt Keen surveyed the land, Josh decided to run and jump off a dry stone wall. The jump was impressive (I’d say he cleared about six foot); the landing, less so. He cried out in pain and, though he thankfully hadn’t broken anything, we decided it was best to get Ed’s spare bandages to secure the ankle. Ed hadn’t necessarily acted with the greatest haste, first wrapping the bandages around his head in an Egyptian mummy-style fashion, but eventually Matt volunteered to do the honours of helping our friend.
Now, though I hated to admit it, there were two of us struggling with the walking, but we both vowed to carry on (with Josh hilariously pretending to require the use of a Moses-like cane) to at least the next checkpoint. This, though, was still an issue. Still none of us were quite sure where we were, and with two injured party members we really didn’t want to take any expensive wrong turns now.
I was in fact secretly pleased when the group decided, as a group, that it would be unwise to continue, based on the knowledge that the next stop was at least a good hour-and-a-half’s walk (on healthy legs), according to some friendly local ramblers. We turned back and retraced our footsteps, all of us checking our phones to see if we had any signal with which we could contact the leaders in the minibus and inform them of our decision. Eventually, a call was made, but the leaders’ own phones were out of range, so it clicked through to their Voicemail.
I had to stop once more en-route, to adjust my socks and check the state of my disgusting feet. Josh, ever the good doctor despite his own injury, helpfully diagnosed it as ‘Pedalian Brain Disease’, due to the cerebral-like wrinkled appearance of my paws.
When we finally arrived back at the cattle-grid, dumped our bags, and sat down, there was a long wait ahead of us. The leaders told us, when they rolled up in the minibus about an hour later, that they’d not been far from where we were when Josh’s accident happened, and as such had to drive along many miles of meandering roads to collect us.
Unsure what to do, we drove around for a short while before stopping overlooking a spectacular bay. The temptation for Graham was to save the hassle of shopping (and then cooking back at the site) by doing a second and final fish-and-chips takeaway. But, rather honourably, he offered us all the choice. Alex and I were keen to make hay of the still dry weather, and suggested we cooked tonight and kept the takeaway budget for Wednesday’s ‘beach day’. That way, if the weather were to be good on Wednesday, it would be a fine end to a fine day; if it were to rain on Wednesday evening, it would be an uplifting treat at the end of a disappointing surfing lesson. Other members of the unit had similar thoughts, so we drove on to Tesco.
Most people got out, except for Josh due to his ankle, so I bought him an ice cream to cheer him up. I also bought six ‘extra-value’ pairs of women’s tights, which I’ll admit is a strange item for a 16-year-old boy’s shopping basket, but they would keep my legs warm as the temperature dropped later that evening. Driving back to Collard Bridge Campsite, Madi and I fell asleep on each other after the tiring day: her warm head nestled underneath my cold chin, my shoulder cushioning perfectly her tired head. It was an extremely comfortable combination, and we napped soundly all the way back.
When we stopped, though, my slumber was fast ended with the realisation of the very real problem about my feet. I couldn’t carry on wearing those old boots around the site – I had to get them dry – but I didn’t want my only other pair of shoes, a completely un-waterproof pair of trainers, to become caked in mud. My decision may surprise some, but I think it was pretty ingenious stuff. I screwed up newspaper balls from my copy of Saturday’s Times and stuffed them inside my boots. Together with the fact that I put rubble-sacks on the floor, thereby ensuring my boots were off the wet ground, I was hoping that I’d have them dry in the next couple of days. Now the clever bit. I located an old pair of flip-flops that I’d brought with me and put them on – this opened my towel-dried feet to the air, doing them no end of good. However, I knew from Josh’s previous experience that these would, on their own, simply squelch into the mud and make my feet dirty. So, with each beflip-flopped foot, I stepped into several layers of carrier bags and bin-bags, which I then tied to my legs. Yes, I looked like a total pillock, and those northern children we met the previous night would indeed laugh endlessly at me when they saw (and heard) plastic-bag-man coming, but at least my feet weren’t going to get any worse.
After dinner, the three ‘disciples’ and I did another of our late-night walks. I’m sorry to report that we didn’t exactly treat Madi – who was desperately worried from the offset about the possibility of ‘bumping into someone’ – with the greatest care, scaring her silly in the utility shed as I concocted some ridiculous tale about an escaped maniac who repeatedly mowed the same stretch of grass, over and over again, having gone totally mad. “Then he turned into a slug!”, Josh added to the increasingly bizarre ghost story. “Then suddenly…” I said in a hushed tone, “the lawnmowing slug moth man monster thing threw himself into his own path and was sliced into a thousand pieces.” Madi was unreasonably terrified, bless her, and I soon found my hand being gripped tightly by her. “Can we go back?”, she begged. Ignoring her pleas, the three of us led her deeper into the woods, hoping to create another frivolous story there. But a quiet rustling in the trees began to chill Ed (and even Josh, a bit) too, and Madi’s grip grew tighter. I dismissed the noise as nothing, merely a bird or another animal. Then, though, a very definite, sudden noise, making the three of them fully convinced of something nasty lurking in the darkness. Although I was certain its source would only be the campwarden fellow, if it were a human at all, I still decided it was best (given the lateness – it was 12:30am) to run back to our site and go to bed. We’d had enough adventure for one day.