This is a short write up of a WGL Training course I recently attended (today, dedication!). I will try not to drag it out too much! Enjoy...
Our group going from Ryder's Hill to Snowdon (big walk! ;))
Walking Group Leader Training with Andy Holborn (provider) and Louise Ansell (Vixon Climbing, MIA)
Arriving just past 9.30 at Princetown car park I was met with a large group of adults all throwing on jackets and gaiters and I immediately knew I'd got the right car park. I quickly got all my gear on and joined the group by Andy's car. There was a total of 12 participants on the course and the 2 instructors, too big a group to set out as one so we split up and each went off with a different MIA. We were partnered with Louise, after quick introductions and last minute gear checks we were off!
Nothing too difficult to begin with but it still caught a few of us off guard, after heading south of Princetown on the main track we stopped and went through the task of finding ourselves on the map. Myself and my partner both thought we were further along but we were quickly schooled by the rest of the group - good start! Eager to make up for it I was looking forward to getting in to pacing and timings, luckily for me they were next! As soon as we hit the Moor we worked out everyone's 100m pacing (64, if you're wondering...), a few of the group hadn't done this before so it was nice to get some peer learning in and to share techniques with each other early in the day. I find it takes something like this on most courses to get everyone in the same boat so to speak, it eases everyone's nerves and allows questions to be asked and answered.
We reached South Hessary Tor in no time and had a quick coffee and chatted weather/weather predictions for the day, the rain and wind had picked up with it forecast to get worse over the day. After talking micro and macro navigation, putting away flasks and talking rocks we were ready for Louise's first real challenge of the day... We were split up into pairs and told to reach tiny contour features (Our's was SX 592 719, middle point of the "W"). We quickly did our bearings, worked out timings, looked at the collecting features and also had a look at the map to see what the ground should be like. We headed off on a very different line to the other 2 teams, not to worry, we had our bearing and were sticking to it. After avoiding a bog, going up a little bit and finding a middle something we decided we'd hit it. The other teams were a little bit further off but Louise seemed happy with how close we'd got to the contour feature so all was good! After this we headed south to the 445 Trig Point where we set another task. Once again, we were split into pairs but this time only 1 person from each team was told the location they should end up... My partner went a little bit too left so we missed our target but he knew where'd he gone wrong so a good learning point came from it. A quick lunch break in the old tin mine was a good time to chat away and get to know each other, after the rock talks earlier it was time to talk plants... Star moss, Reindeer Moss and Tormentil were all mentioned with the mosses both being present in the mine.
The next task is something they do on assessments, one person leads the group to a location on their own. The group then have to relocate and explain the route. To ease us into it, Louise took us on a short walk out of the mines towards the Devonport Leet and Crazy Well Pool. I didn't manage to immediately see the route we'd followed but after a quick chat with the rest of the group I quickly worked out the way we'd come and where we were. More micro-navigation came next with the group heading towards the contour feature at 583 708, then on to the settlement at 577 714. We did this with ease which was reassuring! After another quick coffee break we were off to the Stone Rows just north of the settlement, then on to Hart Tor, north-east from the Stone Rows and then straight back to Princetown to meet with the other group at the cafe. We spent quite a while talking about the history behind stone rows (longer the row, more important the person buried at the end of it) and taking photos so after hitting Hart Tor we got a move on and averaged about 5km/h back to Princetown.
After a coffee and debrief, we were told to meet at Combestone Tor for 9am...
Arriving early at Combestone Tor I was met with a beautiful view across Dartmoor. Our group was with Andy on day 2, as a lot of the group hadn't worked with him before another round of introductions were due. The forecast had been for poor visibility all day with it worst in the afternoon, rain and sleet with moderate winds. Everyone got all their layers on but the weather never came! After 15 minutes we were all overheating, the sun was shining and the wind was barely noticeable.
Similar to the day before we kicked off with a simple track on to Dartmoor - I'd cheated by doing night navigation here the week before so was aware the simple track isn't actually marked on the map but a footpath to the left is. After showing off and letting everyone know about it we did some relocation stuff by following Andy through a homestead, through the rocky ground south-east of Horse Ford, contouring round an old leet then on to Hooten Wheals (an old, large mine). We then followed the main track north of the mine to an old building, we discovered some large pieces of concrete which had been used as targets some time before! Probably by the American or Canadian troops of practiced on Dartmoor around WW2. After this we did some mock assessment tasks by telling one person to lead and the rest to relocate. I volunteered to go first and I was given the "cairn circle and kist" south of Skir Hill, after doing my bearing and looking at the hill where it should be I made the mistake of assuming it would be a circle of large cairns... After getting to where it should have been in my head none of us could find it or even see it for that matter. I asked the group to split up like a search party and continue up the hill until it was found. In the end it took a GPS and Andy to find it - turned up it was a few rocks around a smelly hole full of water! Next we headed up to the north end of Skir Gut, up to the BS 550m's north of Ryder's Hill, round to Snowdon, east to the homestead by the wall, along the river Mardle then north to the tin workings and mine. This allowed everyone to have a go at leading while the rest of us relocated and kept an eye on their bearings, this was a really useful learning method as Andy was just there to give people targets - I don't think he had his own map out all day! While at the mine we talked about emergency procedures and first aid bits. Our next task was to jump in the group shelter and wait for it to get dark... Andy headed off to the car and we ate sandwiches and chatted about kayaking. We were told to leave at 6 even it was still light, we then had to navigate to 2 points in the dark and get back to the cars. We found our first target straight away (it was visible from the mine still) then aimed off and headed for the Stone Rows (675 710) so we could turn left and reach the breaks in the wall before heading back to the car. All of this went smoothly and we were soon reunited with Andy at the car park.
Day 2 was a much bigger day, 9 hours of practical navigation compared to the 6 on day 1. We were all knackered and ready to head home to get some well earned rest.
Andy was happy with our navigation for the day and told us to meet him at Princetown Community Centre for 9am with logbooks!
Today was the theory side of things, so to speak. We chatted about the Award, what was happening to it (changing to Hill & Moorland Leader), had a Q&A session then spoke about experience and assessment bits. We were told to go and visit the Dartmoor Visitor Centre (located by the main car park), we all headed round there after some tasty lunch in Fox Tor cafe but unfortunately the main exhibition area was closed for renovation (reopens late March). After this we headed back to the Community Centre to cover camp craft and tents.
We had a group discussion with Louise about this then split up into groups to cover different parts of camping and tents. Our team was given the tent section, tips for putting them up and general knowledge about makes/performance/reliability. We got 2 tents up to help us show the other groups what were talking about, had a quick discussion about our tips then we headed back to see the other teams and hear there sections.
This was a great tool for sharing information - there was so much experience in the room and it gave everyone a chance to get it on the table. There was some lesser experienced people who I know loved the opportunity to lap up all the knowledge.
And that's it! A quick debrief from Louise and WGL Training was done. Quite a few of the participants were keen, myself included, to get on and book Assessment straight away while others were aware they needed some more logbook experience. It was a great course, no question felt too silly, it flowed well with the right amount of breaks and stops and the MIA's were both great but in different ways. Their each style complemented the others though which is great on a course like this.
Quick comment on each MIA;-
Louise Ansell - I hadn't met Louise before but I was quickly impressed. Great knowledge of Dartmoor and the history of the area. Great map reading and great teaching, our whole group was very impressed and I recommend you book on one of her courses. Very professional coaching and kept the group moving, she kept challenging us but also joined in with the jokes and laughs. Louise operates as Vixon Climbing, based in Ashburton.
Andy Holborn - I did my CWA with Andy so I've known him for a while now. He's a great instructor and an absolute fountain of knowledge with years of experience behind him, I thoroughly enjoyed my CWA with him so he was my first choice for WGL. I recommend him too! Andy operates as Andy, based in Ivybridge.
The group on top of Ryder's Hill
Looking out from around 500m up
Looking out across the Moor at sunset.
- Thanks for reading, apologies for any mistakes, I wanted to get this written while it was fresh in my mind! -