Explorer Scout Camp Diary: Day Four – 7 August 2012
It’s Day Four of my Explorer Scout Unit’s (the Dragons of Maidenhead) summer camp, just outside Barnstaple. After all waking up quite late, we begin a day of shooting and tunnelling at the Collard Bridge Campsite, and then enjoy a lovely evening excursion to Ilfracombe – a town I recognised thanks to a weekend there with my choir, about five years ago. (This is the fourth instalment: you can read about Saturday, Sunday, and Monday by following the links.)
“What time do you call this?!” – Graham’s rhetorical question, yelled as I emerged from my tent at the leisurely time of 9:15am. I looked at my watch. “A quarter past nine”, I said, knowing he wasn’t that cross. Besides, I wasn’t the last to appear, and had in fact been awake for a while, albeit carefully inspecting my feet.
Ed and Danni had cooked a very delicious breakfast; the necessary washing-up after which provided an apparently ideal length of time for Graham to take a look at my pedes, under the shelter of the indoor bouldering wall. He was oddly surprised to learn of my – I think – quite brilliant and wise ‘Foot Juice Catcher v1.0’ invention (a large bin-bag I’d rested my feet in within my sleeping bag, to serve the purpose of catching any potential blister burst). Luckily, there was none such seepage. Actually, to be honest, my feet weren’t nearly as bad as I had at first feared. There were five true blisters: two on my right-foot little toe, one on my left-foot little toe, one particularly sore one on the pad of one foot, and not such a bad one on the other foot. Graham had three blister plasters with him, but promised we could buy more later, if we needed them, so I was left to decide which three areas hurt more than the fourth.
With the blister plasters applied, he told me to wait where I was while he went off to talk to the rest of the group. He was going to suggest that we decamped to the bouldering wall shelter until dinner, as the day’s scheduled activities (aerial runway and tunnelling) were all within close proximity to that part of the site. I was left alone, until Ed and Madi (followed eventually by the three other Explorers) arrived.
However, while we all patiently waited for the three leaders to arrive and for the zip wire activity to get under way, Richard – the usually humourless campwarden chap – then arrived to tell us that the shooting range instructors were waiting for us. There’d clearly been a mistake: we’d cancelled the shooting activity earlier in the week, due to budget issues and the fact that we have the ability and facilities to use rifles back at our own campsite in Cookham. Now the instructors had come in especially, though, it seemed unfair on them to waste their time, so once our leaders Graham, Aran, and Alex arrived, we all moved down to the range.
I’m normally not one to get particularly excited about shooting, partly due to the fact I’m really not that good at it. When we last tried our hands at it at one of our weekly Thursday-night meetings just before the camp, I went to collect my target-card and found not a single pellet had penetrated it. Fortunately, the rifles that were supplied here were much better than the ones we have at our own campsite. Our target was a box in which five pieces of metal hung – four of which had to be shot individually (successfully hitting each one made each piece flip up), with the fifth piece acting as a reset, causing the targets already shot to flip back down. I, amazingly, hit all four of my pieces before any of my fellow Explorers shot theirs, and I was quite proud of this feat. Sadly, Josh then quickly started sabotaging the game, and began resetting everyone’s ranges just as they were reaching their last piece to shoot. It was all good fun and luckily everyone saw the funny side; if anything, it made the rifle activity more exciting, as the pace between shots was dramatically increased.
When we’d fired every last piece of ammunition, I hobbled out on my blistered, be-bin-bagged, flip-flopped feet, and carefully walked down the extremely slippery path onto our site. Just behind me, some other members of the group spotted a (presumably abandoned) domestic ferret in the bushes, only for a minute or so, before it scurried away. It took all those who saw it by surprise.
Once again, we ate lunch in the shelter, with hot drinks kindly made by Aran.
As I said earlier, our afternoon’s activity was tunnelling – a dark labyrinth of large conduits buried underneath a mound of earth. By following the pitch-black tunnels as they wound their way around, the hope was that one would emerge from a door directly next to the one that one entered through. Graham and Alex went in to reconnoitre, but Graham nearly got stuck so reversed back. His advice was that everyone wore a head torch and that we all did it in bare-feet, to avoid treading mud into the pipes. Yet I knew that my blisters would be better in some form of protection, and whilst I had with me my clean trainers, my socks were all the way back at the camp. Another daily dose of my unique ingenuity was required, with the result being that I decided to use my small sandwich bags from the previous day’s packed lunch as liners for my feet. It was surprisingly comfortable.
The foot issue was resolved; the lighting issue wasn’t. We only had a couple of working head-torches between us, but we wouldn’t let this stop us. As we each bravely clambered in, one-by-one, we vowed to keep close at all times. Perhaps, though, as the door slammed shut, we kept too close: at the back, I had no light at all, and my face was frequently met by the damp socks of the Explorer in front of me.
Down in the dungeon, it was desperately sweaty and really uncomfortable. I wasn’t enjoying it at all. It wasn’t that I hated the close-proxemics of the tunnels – and I’m not claustrophobic – I just thought it was a completely unnecessary waste-of-time. Entirely artificial, it wasn’t like some of these archaeological caving experiences one can partake in: it was just daft. When I finally reached the end (after repeated calls from the front of “Wait, I think this is the last bit… Oh no, sorry, it bends around again”), I was pleased to be back out in the daylight and fresh air.
We’d been ‘trapped’ for no longer than ten minutes, but Graham informed us we had the use of it for two hours. Undoing my helmet, though, I told him I for one had had enough, and the group all felt similar. Instead, we passed the time by judging a younger Scout group’s ‘rap battle’ activity, giving TV talent show clichéd feedback: “I want to see a whole lot more of you”, and “It’s a massive yes from me”. I carefully spun the two-way vote between the six of us Explorers so that it was a very diplomatic draw, but the two young patrols seemed to be delighted with each vote they received.
Graham and I drove to Tesco to do the day’s food-shop, where in addition to helping source the items on the unit’s shopping list I also bought a few new pairs of thick hike-boot socks for myself. We also bought ingredients to make doughnuts by the recipe featured in the 22nd World Scout Jamboree 2011: Cook Book, so it was great to see my adventure of last summer having a kind of legacy in our Explorer Camp of this summer. The one ingredient we lacked as we came to check-out was baking powder. We’d looked down every aisle, asked at Customer Services, and even found out that there was none in the stock-room. ‘Never mind,’ we thought, ‘someone somewhere will have some.’
The next hour was spent driving around Barnstaple looking for this blessed stuff. Nearly driving down a one-way street was a bad start, but it did lead us to Lidl. I was sure they’d have some. This was my first experience of walking into the German discount supermarket. There seemed to be no helpful shelf-stackers to ask, but fortunately I found a security guard who I was sure would be able to help direct me. “Hello, could you please tell me if – and if so where – you stock baking powder?” “Nahh, mate,” came his response, “I don’t know: I’m only security.” With that he disappeared into a backroom, I thought, admittedly rather optimistically, to have a look for me on the system, but three minutes elapsed and there was no sign of him, so I queued up to ask the cashier. To be fair to him, he did say he wasn’t sure, but pointed me to a corner of the shop where it would be “if we sell it”. It wasn’t. They didn’t. Defeated, I walked back to Graham’s car empty-handed.
We tried Barnstaple high-street – again, to no avail. But then Graham remembered an old supermarket he used to visit with his grandparents during summer holidays with them. Now a Co-Op, I was quickly able to locate the jar and return triumphantly.
Back at the site, most of the unit had spent the two hours we’d been gone relaxing – having a nap or, in the case of Josh, trying to have a nap but failing.
At 7:00pm our vegetable stew dinner was ready, and we then started making the mixture for the doughnuts. Probably as a result of the excessive amounts of sugar we coated them in, they were extremely moreish, but the batter quickly ran dry and we were left to begin the washing up.
Graham thought it would be good to take us to Ilfracombe, a resort I knew well after visiting in 2005 with the Taplow Boys’ Choir, on a kind of mini-tour for a weekend. Instantly recognising the distinctive, affectionately-named ‘Madonna’s Bra’ (so called due to its double-conical brassiere-like shape) of the Landmark Theatre, where I’d performed as a nine-year-old, in a trip that also encompassed a visit to The Big Sheep.
Once Madi and Danni had found a toilet, making use of the one in the pub, the six of us walked up to Capstone Point. The view from the top was amazing, as the lights of the seaside town shone brightly.
After admiring the statue at the top, apparently put in place in memory of a young Russian language student who died by the cliffs in 2000, we began our descent down the other side of the torr. Initially I took it very steadily, knowing it was much steeper than the climb up, but I rapidly gained speed and was uncontrollably accelerating. My flip-flops were noisily, and painfully, slapping my feet against the ground, and I knew I needed to kick them off to avoid doing myself injury. I genuinely couldn’t stop myself – it was really quite disconcerting – so was forced to run onto the grassy slope and drop to the ground, meaning I slid down the wet hillside before coming to an eventual stop at the bottom. The people of Ilfracombe would wake up the next day to two giant mud tramlines on their beautiful hill.
After driving back to Collard Bridge Campsite, Ed, Josh, Madi, and I began walking to the shower-block. Whilst we were doing so, some of the Thornton (Bradford) Scouts that we’d met a couple of days prior intercepted us. “Oaah maa gawddd, have you seen t’shower?” We replied by simply informing them that, no, we hadn’t seen the showers at all, all day. What they said back was somewhat surprising. “D’y’know t’at someone’s shat in t’showaa?” Certain that they were in fact making a big fuss over some mud on the floor, the four of us (followed by them) carried on marching towards the washrooms.
I entered the left one of the two showers, as I had done previously, and as I’d expected there was a little dirt on the floor. But from outside, I heard the mob cry “Eurghh, that’s disgusting.” As I wasn’t yet undressed, I thought I’d take a little inspection myself to see what the fuss was all about.
“Oh. Somebody’s actually defecated in a shower. That’s what’s happened there.”
Fortunately, I was able to forget the sight (and ignore the underlying smell) for long enough to be able to get on with my washing myself in the cubicle adjacent. Once I was dry and out, Ed moved in and cleaned himself too. Word about the ‘incident’ had spread quickly, and all the while children were flocking from around the campsite to come and stare at this piece of human excrement, like wise men coming to admire the baby Jesus. One girl is said to have gone for a second look, and on that occasion vomited herself. It was all very distracting for poor Ed.
The disciples’ third ‘midnight-picnic’ (we consumed some of the biscuits and sweets we’d accumulated over the course of the previous few days) took place under the bouldering wall shelter, where we stayed out for much longer than before. But the now-resumed rain looked set to only get heavier, and as it was now 2:30am we were all quite tired anyway, so we decided to call it a day (and a night) and run back to our tents and our sleeping bags, hoping we wouldn’t get too wet in doing so.