Andrew Harbottle
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Andrew Harbottle - Aberdovey, Wales, 1966

I was an apprentice with Alfred Holt's Blue Funnel Line at Odyssey Works in Birkenhead when I was selected to go to Aberdovey Outward Bound Sea School in August 1966. Seeing the web site recently prompted me to recall wonderful memories of that time. This was part of my apprentice training to teach one to be more independent and self reliant, and it worked! Leaving Birkenhead with three other apprentice colleagues from Woodside Station, long demolished, it took most of the day to reach Penhelig Halt by steam train. We where met by the school Landrover which took up to the school and out introductory "lecture" in the hall by Captain Fuller and his staff. We had to promise not to smoke, scuttling down to the Penhelig Arms Hotel for a pint, all on pain of not getting the requisite good report or the little chrome and blue Outward Bound lapel badge. The adventures started immediately after induction and settling into the twelve man hut. I was allocated Hawke Watch. I remember the huts facing each other up a stepped rise and I think there were 10 or 12 huts in total. Pretty basic but how we had to clean and polish them! The floor was some sort of compound material, but the shine was something to behold! We had to choose one main activity from three, which included sailing, rock climbing or pony trekking.

God knows why, but I choose pony trekking, but it transpired the "pony" I was given was more like a bucking bronco! I'm afraid the description "pony" should have come under the trades description act! Duke looked very benign , jet black and with wide staring eyes. Mucking out the stable each morning was the easy part. I think that the ponies, er, horses, must have sensed that forty different lads over a month, knew nothing about riding, as they took control from day one. Nearing the end of the four week course we had to try five bar gate jumping with our steed.Well youv'e never seen anything like it, I can assure you. The gate was set up by it's self in the middle of the meadow with the well worn track before it and after. At a given point, Duke just exploded at a gallop, leaping up and over the gate, leaving me flying out of the saddle and ending up sitting at the base of his neck in front of the saddle with my arms round his neck shaking like a leaf. Needless to say I've not been on a horse since!

We learnt drown proofing in the small swimming pool to the side of the main building and did a little swimming as well, not that I was very good at it, but I learnt not to drown! Many happy hours where spent on small dinghy sailing as well as taking out the large cutters, ex old ship's life boats into the estuary. We had to be quick there as the tide soon dropped and it was a heavy job to pull up the huge centre drop keel or we would have been stranded. We also manned the RNLI lifeboat as I recall, the coxan also being the sailing instructor, a Mr. Gunnel if I recall correctly. We all had the opportunity to "skipper" the boat and to pick up a pretend casualty in the form of a life jacket. Just as well it wasn't a real person as more often or not the alleged casualty ended up under the boat. The cutters, three in number, where kept by the old wooden pier with the dinghies and duties included keeping the sail loft clean and tidy which was sited just behind the pier. Many a dinghy and two man crew which had gone to far out to sea had to be towed back by the lifeboat. We had the choice of a five day cutter expedition or similar time expedition up into the forestry commission land beyond Happy Valley and over the steep Tarrin Hendre and True Gelli range of hills. We stayed in a Forestry Commission hut which was pretty basic but had to repay their kindness by working one afternoon clearing the lower branches off the pine trees. Hard graft in the August heat! There was a small lake in front of the hut which a welcome but rather peaty dip was taken. The assault course in the grounds kept us fit, as if we really needed to, but it was good fun, greatly enjoyed and built up camaraderie. We had to do our share of canteen duties, setting meal time places, cleaning up as a Watch and as I well remember, peeling mounds of spuds. The dish washer was an ancient wooden contraption which failed dramatically one day when the rotor arm came off and smashed most of the crockery within Another activity, viewed I might add with great trepidation, was mine shafting at the back of Fairbourne in an old slate mine. This involved abseiling down four separate, vertical mine shafts in the pitch black with nothing to light the way except for helmut lights which I found terrifying to say the least. The final way out was up a thin and weak looking wire ladder! Fortunately we only had to experience this activity once. On the final night we each had to give a short talk on what we considered was helpful to us from our experiences over the course and a brief insight to who we where, hobbies, employment and hopes for our future. This I think, was more stressful than the whole course, and especially that horse!

The following day, the Landrover delivered us back to Penhelig Halt station on the promise that as the course didn't officially end until the following day we were neither to drink or smoke until then. Unfortunately, as soon as the Landrover was out of sight, we all made a mad dash down the short path from the station and into the bar of the Penhelig Arms Hotel. But that is another story. The train arrived soon enough from Aberdovey and we arrived many hours later at Woodside, tired but elated we had survived! I feel that the Outward Bound stood me in good stead in teaching self reliance, independence and was grateful for the opportunity that Alfred Holt's gave me by going there. They also paid all the expenses of the course, and my wages for the month as well! I find it hard to recall many names from the "crew" after so long but the memories some times come back and I appreciate all the help and support that the instructors gave us. I only wish I still had the course photograph but it disappeared in the mists of time. I thank the present staff for sending me the Hawke Watch photo. Keep up the good work providing valuable guidance and reliance on oneself. Best wishes, Andrew Harbottle