Scout Camp at Boreaton Park
After my mad cycle ride from Bangor to Aberystwyth with work, it was straight home to shower, feed the cat and the guinea pigs and then back into the car for a drive to Boreaton Park in Shropshire for a PGL Camp that we had organised for the Scouts.
Anna, Morgan, the other leaders and all of the Scouts and Cubs had left Aberystwyth a little earlier in a bus and I was to drive there as we didn’t know what time I would finish my cycle ride. When I arrived I asked where they would be and was directed to the area of the camp site that was to be our home for the weekend. There was no sign of the others though so I wandered around, asked a few more people and tried to find them, but they were nowhere to be seen. Anna didn’t answer her phone either so I just wandered aimlessly around the camp until finally about 45 minutes later they appeared. Apparently there had been various issues with the bus so they had arrived late. They were therefore late for dinner which had been kept back for them so rather than being at their evening activity and setting up camp had been in the dining room having dinner (which I had missed out on!)
Re-united with my troop we set about moving into our tents and playing a few games. I have to say that setting up camp and the entire organisation and planning a camp had been extremely easy so far. We were staying at a PGL camp so the tents are permanently erected on concrete bases. They have proper framed beds and there is a dining room and kitchens where food is provided for us. We literally had to just turn up. The leaders tents even had bedding provided and had electricity! Glamping indeed!
Usually we spend days before hand sorting out trailors, packing tents, mess tents, kitchen tents, sleeping bags, stoves, getting gas cylinders filled, sorting out a menu, buying food, packing food, organising walks and activities, planning games, checking and packing cooking utensils, matches, first aid kits and filling out various health and safety forms etc etc. There was none of this (or at least very little). On top of all the physical things such as camping equipment, food and cooking, we even had a blue clad PGL leader with us all the time. These were either leaders / instructors for the various activities we had planned or our own ‘private’ concierge called Tom who took us as a group from activity to activity, led us to the dining room for our allotted time and basically kept us and the children entertained the whole time we were there. I wouldn’t say it was a relaxing break, but with nothing to really organise and run we could actually spend some time with the Scouts and probably got to know them better than we would on a normal camp where we spend the whole time cooking, cleaning, planning and organising. Here, we could just get on with being at camp.
After settling into our tents in an area that we were sharing with a larger group, we played a few games and then started going to bed…
Notice of course that I say going to bed because as you would expect this doesn’t actually involve any sleeping. When on camp with 18 excited children there is never any chance of any sleep at all on the first night, and when you are sharing a campsite with hundreds of other excited children as well then things don’t get any better. A few of ours were a little naughty on the first night so Anna got up to tell them off twice. I was then up at 4am, by which time they had all gone to sleep. I therefore explored the camp a little. I would have liked to have gone for a swim in one of the lakes but having had no sleep at all didn’t quite feel like it and I don’t think it would have been looked upon too well by the PGL staff and the Health and Safety policies either. I discovered later that day that we could watch the Scouts kayaking but only if we stayed at least 5 metres from the waters edge. Any closer than that and we would have to wear helmets and buoyancy aids. I don’t think a 4am lone swim in the lake would have been allowed!
Our Chaperone Tom arrived back on camp at 7:30am though ready to take us up to the dining room for breakfast. There was always plenty of food with enough choice for everyone to find something they wanted. Cereals, porridge, bacon, sausages, beans, egg, toast, yoghurt and fruit for breakfast. It was all tasty enough but obviously not quite gourmet food when catering for people on such a scale. It’s during our time in the dining room that you really get to see that the whole place runs like a well oiled machine and we are just on a conveyer belt of groups getting pushed from place to place with precision timing. Tom was really there to make sure we were where we were supposed to be at any given time so as not to disrupt this never ending machine. In one end of the dining room, along the the food counters, sit down and back out the other end of the dining room, all within 30 minutes and then off to the next activity.
For the first activity we were split into two groups, Anna and I went with the Scouts to the Abseiling Cliff, whilst Cira and Julie went with the cubs to the Challenge course. We then swapped over activities halfway through the morning. The preparation for these was a well choreographed routine as well. Tom would take us to a congregation point in the field and would introduce us to our instructors for the morning. They would already have the kit (harnesses and helmets in this case) laid out and we’d get kitted up before heading off to the activity, once again led by blue clad PGL staff. There wasn’t a time when we were without them (except overnight in camp) and wherever we went we were chanting songs led by the staff in blue and playing games.
The whole ‘production line’ system worked really well and once again meant that we had very little to do other than tag along. We could have joined in with the activities if we wanted, but there was only just time to get all of the children in our larger Scout group through them so Anna and I sat out and just watched and chatted with the Scouts that were waiting their turn. We have had a few changes to the Scouts lately, a few have left us and we’ve had a few new ones join and the balance between girls and boys is now a little better. We also seem to have quite a nice group in general at the moment. They all get on well with each other and we had no falling out at all for the whole camp. Most of them have a good sense of humour and are willing to get stuck into things too and some are really helpful, not just with us, but with supporting the other Scouts too. All of which makes things more pleasant for us as leaders.
The abseiling cliff was of course a challenge for some of them whilst others took it all in their stride. Morgan was one of the ones who nearly didn’t do it, but finally plucked up the courage to give it a go.
We then swapped over to the challenge course which apparently the Cubs and Cub leaders had found quite challenging and good fun. The Scouts enjoyed it, but it wasn’t really that much of a challenge for them.
It was then off to lunch where we were whisked in and out, fed and watered and then back out to meet the next leaders for an afternoon of kayaking. The sun was shining, it was warm and the lake looked inviting but rather than Kayak we sat in the shade watching the Scouts and dealing with a couple of minor first aid incidents!
We do our best to leave Morgan to it and pretend he isn’t our son while on camps such as this, and at Scouts generally. It’s a little difficult at times, especially when we see him heading off to a kayaking activity with his school shoes on and no ‘water’ shoes in his bag. Anna was about to tell him, but I decided that had it been one of the others we wouldn’t even know that they were wearing the wrong shoes so just left him to it. He did realise once at the lake and to his credit didn’t ask us what to do but instead tried to kayak barefoot. He nearly got away with it as well until one of the instructors spotted his shoes in the grass and asked who’s shoes they were. Once they had realised that he was barefoot they made him put them on, so that was it, his school shoes were wet. He wasn’t the only one either as later in the day it transpired that another of the Scouts had been kayaking in the only shoes they had with them so now didn’t have any dry shoes to wear. Luckily for them both, Anna had some spare shoes of her own that fitted them so they could have dry feet for the rest of the camp!
Mind you, I don’t know how they managed to do it because Tom our chaperone had told them all many times exactly what they needed to pack in their bags and exactly what they needed to wear and had even made a game of going through every bag and every item individually to make sure they all had what they needed. They certainly had the necessary items when we checked but somehow they weren’t wearing quite the right things when they got to the lake. The mysteries of Scout Camps!
It was also a mystery how it was already Saturday evening and once again time to be herded through the dining room procedure, but not before a quick trip to the gift shop during a 30 minute allocated slot. Even the visit to the gift shop was highly choreographed giving the Scouts just enough time to spend their money on the usual souvenirs, sweet and crisps. After dinner, Tom had a treasure hunt style game arranged for them all and told us to leave them with him while we as leaders went to a cheese and wine reception in the leaders bar. This was really an opportunity for a feedback chat with a member of the management staff, again all well-planned and executed and actually quite good that they are genuinely interested in hearing our comments so that they can improve.
Back at camp with some now quite tired Scouts we were hoping for some sleep. Surprisingly we did all actually get a good nights sleep – at least as good as it gets whilst on camp and responsible for 18 children. It’s the only time that we were without a blue-clad PGL member, but even then there are a couple of staff members in a tent on night duty not far away.
Sunday was a similar story and a non-stop whirlwind of activities with breakfast, lunch and dinner in between. Our first activity of the day was the zip-line which everyone seemed to enjoy. Anna and I even had a go on this as well.
It was then off to the sports hall for some fencing. This was probably the least favourite of the activities for most of them, but they all still had a good time doing it and for one of the cubs it was easily his favourite activity which as far as I’m concerned is what it is all about. I think it’s really nice to give them all the opportunity to try new things. They aren’t all going to enjoy all of the activities all the time. Hopefully they’ll all have fun and every now and then one of them will find something that really appeals to them and who knows, they might just go on to do it more seriously. You just never know, we could have a future fencing world champion in our midst but without the opportunity to give it a go we and they would never know. I don’t think we do, and that’s not why we do it, but amazing things can happen when you give children the right opportunities and if all they get out of it is some fun then that’ll do as well.
Our afternoon activities were climbing and quad-biking. Unfortunately the bright blue skies had left us and it was raining quite heavily for the climbing, but it did ease off by the end. Once again, they all enjoyed the climbing and the heights and physical aspect of it taxed some of them. The quad-biking seemed to be a firm favourite too. It all looked quite tame from where we were watching, but I guess just being in charge of a motorised vehicle of any sort whatever the speed is quite exhilarating if you’ve never done it before.
With that done and yet more songs sung it was back for a final rushed dinner and then onto the bus for the journey home. I of course was driving the car home and Morgan came with me. Anna went on the bus so was a little later home than us, but at least I’d unpacked the car and sorted out the laundry etc by the time she got back.
Everyone was exhausted but everyone had a smile on their face. As I said above, running a camp through PGL saves a lot of headaches as far as the organisation is concerned and having a nice group of children makes things more pleasant for us. I think they all thoroughly enjoyed their weekend. It’s certainly a full-on, non-stop weekend but everything went well. The PGL staff were all very good, the kit was all in good condition and everything seemed to run very smoothly. I’m sure from time to time there was lots of frantic rushing around behind the scenes to get everything in the right place at the right time, but that is to be expected. With hundreds of 7-17 year olds staying there at any one time either in the mansion house, the lodges or the tents and all with three or four activities to get through, plus breakfast, lunch, dinner, a gift-shop stop and evening games each day, PGL seem to have it down to an art so that it runs like a well-oiled, if slightly frenetic, machine.
And to add to it we don’t now have loads of went tents to sort out either.
I’m sure we’ll be back soon.