“We left camp early one Wednesday
morning with Major (the Commanding Officer’s dog) jumping joyously
around us. During the walk Colonel Gregory was vainly trying
to bring Major to heel but with little success. Major Nye
suggested that a higher pitched voice might prove more
successful. Therefore for the next mile or so we had to
contend with the CO sounding rather like an out-of-work opera
“Arriving at Hay Tor Rocks we found a party of girls from Holne
Outward Bound School engaged in rock climbing. (Here the
paper’s editor commented: ‘Surprisingly
the report doesn’t end here!’) From then on it
seemed all walking up and down until finally we camped down for
the night, a hot meal and coffee being very acceptable.
“The next day was bitterly cold. It started to snow, and the
monotony of the walk was only enlivened by the CO falling into a
bog! Late afternoon found us on top of a tor brewing up
something to eat. It was snowing heavily, and finally we
decided to give it up and go home. Thirty-two hours had
passed since leaving camp, and we had covered only seven of our
‘Ten Tors’. The questions remaining to be answered are: Are
ten tors too many? Is the time limit too short? Were
these the wrong tors? Was the course too hard? Was it
the weather’s fault?”
On Denbury Common, nineteen
A sound of massed trumpets heralded the sun.
A thousand young faces, weary and yawning,
Crept out of their dreams while day was still dawning.
Overnight the base camp had grown to great size,
Hubbub, confusion, and much to surprise:
"Like pigeons in a loft," the RSM said,
As he counted them in and tottered to bed.
Near the Denbury Cross, according to plan,
The momentous briefing for Ten Tors began
To wild cheers and applause, but was that because
Ten Tors was already a cheer-worthy cause?
The reception over, we turned to review
How Rothwell of Ogwell and his merry crew,
Having weathered the storm from morning till night
Turned up to continue the watch at first light.
As the chattering streams poured into the yard
A voice could be heard, like the ghost of a bard,
Speaking words of caution … then silence … until
They heard him again up on Haytor's fair hill.
There flags are fluttering, trumpeters in red –
The same scarlet warriors who’d roused them from bed.
The boys raise their faces, the girls they just smile.
The sun plays its part in celestial style.
Then out of the heavens and haloed in light
A whirring bird glitters and hovers in sight.
The cabin door opens, the steps are in place,
An officer stands by, well briefed just in case.
Stepping out briskly and looking his best,
Behold, the Queen’s General Commanding the West.
A fanfare is followed by “God Save the Queen”,
And all are impressed by the flag-bedecked scene.
The padre in cassock then asks all to pray
That God will go with those who set forth this day. *
Up steps the General, he’s clearly impressed:
“A thousand here this year: five thousand next?”
The challenge, the dangers, he speaks from the heart
But the patrols are waiting for just one word: “Start!”
He wishes all well: enjoy the fresh air!
Then again that voice speaks: "They conquer who dare!"
Now watch for the action: patrol leaders stand,
Astride maps on the ground, a compass in hand;
They talk and they argue, some grumble, some dance: **
“Why march on a bearing – let's leave it to chance!”
Away to the moors: every hill, every glen
Beckons young leaders, brave girls and gallant men,
Well trained to resist any thought of retreat
From the weather or time, the tors or the peat.
Swiftly they march beside clear crystal streams,
By pastures and meadows in sunshine and beams:
A trek across Dartmoor's bewildering scene;
To Hexworthy bound, thence to Colin's own green.
And there stands the leader at the entrance gate,
For once he is early, thank God he's not late:
Balaclava set right, bright toorie on top,
Saluting the general – and one word of shop:
"We’re through, Sir, on FM to every tor;
Conditions are perfect – could not ask for more."
A moment’s reflection, then just one more word:
"And, by the way, General, your breakfast is served."
That is the sitrep around eight hundred hours;
Some marching to the moors, and some to the bars …
(The VIPs, of course: how could they refuse
The Council’s kind offer of "duty-free" booze?)
As maps, tapes and check-boards are moved to and fro
Plant's giant display-chart takes Ten Tors in tow;
While Chandler works upwards, then down and around:
A flag for the lost and a pin for the found.
There's Willmott and Osborne and Simmonds in turn,
Wirelesses humming as the midnight oils burn.
Such dedicated men are happier this way,
Working extra long hours for no extra pay!
The sum of their figures progressively grew
As each one of ten tors was conquered anew.
Relentless, the time-watch goes on to the end,
And, wonder of wonders, they’re not ‘round the bend!’
Across yonder field called the devil's delight
The pricker of blisters now limps into sight.
You may think what you wish, but shout while you can
"A most hearty welcome, old medicine man."
Behind the red crosses the pots start to boil
Watched over by cooks as they babble and toil.
Ask Stacey, who knows that, apart from their feet,
Sooner or later even leaders must eat.
Bear with me a moment: “Up torers and cheer!”
The men and the women, who year after year,
Come, help where they can, and are always on hand:
For them hoist the bunting, and turn out the band.
Now here’s a strange message, the radio speaks,
A patrol has collapsed on one of those peaks:
"Symptom: exhaustion; feet blistered and tender;
Negotiate terms for abject surrender.”
How many patrols from Haytor first started,
How many since from their leaders departed?
With the urge to compete, still setting the pace,
Three hundred are forced to abandon the ‘race’.
To digress once again, and ponder awhile
Those stout-hearted women, the girls with a smile,
Who merrily, cheerily, right from the start,
Held no fears for Dartmoor and captured its heart.
Now their story's moral must have its own tale;
Did the women pitch camp near Princetown's old jail?
Ask Joyner, he's mum; there are rumours for sure
But what were they up to, those guardians of law?
Throughout these proceedings, perhaps just as well,
The press played its part as Mike Hartnett will tell:
Reporting each up, but more fully each down
Then judging it time to retreat from the town!
The Founder's own ruling: let me state my case
That the teams out in front do not ‘win the race’.
But those coming home near the stated ‘end’ time
Most merit approval in reason and rhyme.
The endless procession, all tired and some lame,
Patrol after patrol as homewards they came:
Juniors from Teignmouth, then the Royal Marines;
“Bravo!” now indeed for Ashburton's "Toreens".
As the hard night wore on and threatening frost,
The officials worked on to account for the lost.
And Rothwell's reception once more came alive
Till the last half dozen clocked-in at O five.
There are members of staff, too many to name,
So, so indispensable at this annual game
The pickets and rescue, in base camp and out,
And leadership on call: that's what its about.
To those men and women warm thanks are here due
For the bulk of the work well done by the few.
Yet asked if they'd rather be elsewhere, maybe?
Speak up in unison: "O no sir, not me!"
Such comradeship merits a grass-green silk tie
With something quite striking to capture the eye:
The old tinner's symbol, three rabbits, three ears,
Yet each displaying two to allay their worst fears. ***
Now came the Admiral, spot on at six bells,
To present the awards and say the farewells.
"Remarkable," he says, "a jolly good show:
Its tough in the heat but much worse in the snow!”
Such wisdom and foresight brought forth a loud cheer
As he steered a brave course "round courage and fear".
And having thus planted a thought for the day
Hopped into his staff car and went on his way.
Produced by Phillips to a Tysoe design,
With Haytor and Ten Tors emblazoned so fine,
A medallion in bronze is honour enough
For all who are born of the best British stuff. ****
Perhaps VIPs, who preside on the day,
Could bear this thought in mind, and mark what I say:
"Weighed down you may be with high honours galore,
But a Ten Tors medal could weigh even more."