Alun Williams
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Alun Williams - Eskdale, The Lake District, 1975

The beam at Eskdale looked like a polished tree trunk about six feet from the ground that was set horizontally between two trees. The task was simple; twelve members of the patrol had to get over the beam in the shortest possible time. We would compete against other patrols to see which one of us could do this the quickest. I have no idea who suggested that this was to be “our event,” but getting twelve people over a tree trunk as quickly as we could became important even to the point of obsession. We’d have discussions about it in the dormitory after lights out and sneak out to test our theories after lunch. Once we’d established our method, we assigned roles then it was practice, practice, practice. Remarkably, we all did it willingly; no-one was ever too busy or too tired.

Come the day of the competition, I can remember feeling nervous. We’d spent hours preparing ourselves for an activity that we planned would take less than thirty seconds. We watched other patrols complete the task with varying degrees of success, but now it was our turn. We ran toward the beam and two of the strongest lads gave a leg up to two of the fittest lads to get them straddling the trunk . Next over were our heavier members who were both pulled by the fit lads and pushed by the rest of us. The rest of us went over with the two lightest members going last and the two lads sitting on the beam having to roll off, trusting that we hadn’t forgotten to catch them. It went like clockwork.

The applause from other patrols was as spontaneous as it was generous. We couldn’t have performed better. I can remember shaking hands and patting a few people on the back, but no real celebrations, I think my overwhelming emotion was that of relief. I do remember clearly however the look of shock on our Instructor’s face, he had no idea that we had focused so much on this. The time was announced and we had got twelve people over the beam quicker than any other patrol in the history of Eskdale Outward Bound. Bad news was to follow however, we were fined five seconds for a minor transgression of the rules and our place in the record books was denied.

In some ways, I still find it remarkable that an ordinary group of people for some reason decided without coercion or persuasion and with no tangible reward, to invest so much time in doing something so utterly unimportant. But I’m so glad it happened. All of us needed to get over that beam, not just the fit and agile. To those less fit in our patrol, practicing this task must have been a trial, but they did it without complaint and worked as hard as anyone. The stronger ones knew that success would probably depend more on the performance of the weaker members than themselves, and my overwhelming memory is that stronger members were encouraging, helping and supporting, not blaming, criticising and moaning. I’ve sometimes thought that there are some senior managers who would learn a thing or two from a group of 18 year olds trying to get over a tree trunk.