As a team-building activity each year, the first year CSCT students go on a residential course that challenges their understanding of the natural world, and the nature of the balance that humans have with it. This year, cohort ’15 spent a few days exploring these ideas with WildWise in Dartmoor.
It was Sunday, the 22nd of November and all through the University was still. Not a person was stirring, not even the freshers, and yet, in East Car park there was a hive of activity.
Cohort’ 15 were rushing around, stuffing ourselves (and overfilled bags) into cars for our long journey south; with one final check that we hadn’t forgotten anything, or anyone, we set off! Once in the depths of Devonshire countryside, we stopped off for a slap-up carvery.
One final look over the directions before we drove in convey through the wild lanes of Dartmoor with only a single A4 sheet of directions to help. By the time we found Chris and his Wildwise truck we were well and truly disorientated! Chris led us to the muddy field “car park” next to a pine wood forest, and we pulled up, ready to start our time in the wilderness!
“Follow the track past the forest, turn right over the bridge, and then up the hill” - our instructions once we’d unloaded the cars. Ambiguous though they may have been, we quickly found ourselves approaching our home for the next few days:
Five teepee tents!
As the sun started to fall, we set up our tents ready to immerse ourselves in the wilderness – airbeds, hot water bottles and all – and made our way over to the warm fire.
After a hot meal, we fully welcomed story time around the camp fire, and the news that the temperature would drop to -2 °C (271 K) overnight…. It quickly turned competitive, to see who could wear the most layers.
A cold frosty morning greeted us the next day, with many happily surprised they didn’t have frost bite, but all was solved by the prospects of fire toasted crumpets and butter!
In the light of the morning we were introduced to our camp, the luxurious compost toilet, and our team: Chris, Del, Devon, Mark and the beautiful, the wonderful, the incredibly cute Dexter.
Off into the woods we went for a morning of “heightened awareness” where we had to spot the various “predators” that the team had hidden throughout the tangle of wood. Something our hunter gatherer ancestors would have been very successful at (we were not).
Afterwards, we learnt how to light fires successfully, where the secret is picking the right sticks. Considering the brilliant minds we all must have to be in the CDT, apparently the idea of using small, dry sticks was beyond all of us, and none of our six fires actually worked (maybe selection criteria for the next cohort?)
No fear though! Chris showed us the way and soon we were all toasting our marshmallows around our little burning fires.
With the fires dying down, half of the group went to help prepare our dinner (by skinning the deer which the Wildwise team had purchased) while the rest of us cleared away the embers so as not to leave a trace of our activity.
As evening approached we settled down to a gentle evening by the fire after our delicious venison stew when Chris offered us the option to play a game...
We hesistantly accepted.
Into the pine woods we went as two teams, one team at each end of the woods. Our task was simple: reach a coloured light on the opposite side of the woods, without being caught by the predator - Chris, armed with a water gun.
We prepared ourselves. The whistle blew, and we crept, silently, forwards….
Well that was the plan, but a forest in autumn is covered with dead twigs/fallen trees/badge holes, so we all started crashing around. But soon our night eyes kicked it and we were doing our best to merge into nature. Alas, six of our group (three from each team) were lost to the beast in our first game, but obviously we had learned much and only one of us was caught the second time. A massive adrenline rush all round!
Thoroughly worn out by the excitement, we retreated to the fire to play Mafia (a more advanced version of wink murder)! The game involves murder, witch trials and lyching and a poker face made of steal – team building at its best. Despite a number of us believing Felix to always be guilty we were continually surprised by his innoncence; instead the seemingly innocent and mild manner Dan was always one of the Mafia ring!
We awoke refreshed after a cosy nights sleep because the temperature was actually above zero! Luxury!
Ahead of us was a day of tracking skills, beginning with us trying to spy objects through the trees that Chris had hidden. Maya and Felix were the clear natural trackers spotting 22/27 things! Next we sat alone in the surronding woodland so as to aquaint ourselves with the sounds of nature. After 20 mins of silence, it's amazing what you can hear!
Fun fact: Did you know that listening to the birds can tell you whether a predator is approaching from above or below depending on the call it makes?
A spot of lunch and then we began the real training – spotting each other's footprints in soft ground (suffice to say none of us were that natural at it - disappointed ancestors).
We spilt into two teams, each was assigned an instructor to track. After giving them an eight minute head start, both teams set off eagerly!
After 40 minutes of tracking, Team 1 had found the walking stick! They were close! Up the hill a few steps and there, in the tree…the wrong instructor, Chris. Back they went along the trail but which were Devon’s and which were Chris’?! Another 40 minutes found Team 1 back at camp consoling themselves with tea and biscuits.
Team 2 on the otherhand followed their trail closely, tracking their quarry well. Ah hah! A plastic bag! There, in the hollow… Devon, the wrong instructor. Drat. Both teams had failed to find the right instructor. With the light fading and both teams following the wrong trail, everyone returned to the camp for coffee, tea and warm spot by the fire.
For the last night, we celebrated our attempt at tracking with a hearty warming vegetable curry and for desert, Bananas with chocolate cooked on the fire! (Highly recommend this one).
The dedication of the cooks was evident in the tears shed over it though this was most likely due to the significant levels of smoke blinding everyone near the fire.
Our parting gift from Chris was one final campfire story and our returning gift was to include him in Mafia – where he may have been killed off as an innocent quite quickly (sorry!). To toast a fairwell to the residental we feasted on a giant family bag of marshmallows! (Thanks Dan).
Our final morning dawned bright and early as we packed away our things and the tents. We said a solemn farewell to the team and the site, and set off again through the narrow roads of Dartmoor back to our lives in the modern world with showers and wifi…. Even if it does take 40 minutes to work out to find the main road because the sat navs don’t work. Excellent!
Thank you Wildwise for a great few days!