Anthony Nicholas
Back to alumni stories

Anthony Nicholas - Ullswater, The Lake District, 1959

In 1959 I was a callow youth of 18 and working at The Times newspaper in London. Each year the management of the newspaper sponsored three boys to attend Outward Bound. Our course was U43 at Ullswater from 12th October to 7th November 1959. Like others here I found the Outward Bound experience to be life changing in an entirely positive way, although perhaps I didn't appreciate it as such when stuck, drenched through, in a tent, up a mountain in darkness and the rain hammering down! What follows is an article I wrote for The Times House Journal upon my return.

Climbing, Canoeing and Camping at OUTWARD BOUND
By Anthony Nicholas

Once more another Outward Bound is over and three lads return to Printing House Square with quite a different view of the School than the one they had before they left. The School is situated on the northern shore of Lake Ullswater, about nine miles west of Penrith, and has been teaching boys the arts of rock climbing, canoeing, mountain rescue and camping in abnormal conditions for about four years now.

When we arrived at the School we were divided into eight patrols of 11 boys, each patrol being given the name of a famous explorer or climber such as Whymper, Watkins, Shackleton, Scott, Mummery, Oates, Mallory and Hillary. The first week was spent mainly in learning knots, map reading and first-aid, items which proved important to us in the following three weeks; we were also put through a stiff athletic course to equip us for the physical hazards which were to follow.

Our first day of rock climbing was spent on a rock face about 200ft. up Gowbarrow Fell and for those of us who had not done anything of this sort before it was certainly frightening, but once one gained confidence in the rope it became quite enjoyable and several of us climbed time and again.

On the Monday of our second week we set out on our first camping and fell walking scheme. It was for two and a half days and was to be the toughest period I had spent so far. We were driven to the camp site in pouring rain and although we had only to walk for 20 minutes or so, we were completely soaked through on arrival. I think all of us could have given up then and there; it was bitterly cold, our clothes were sticking to us and nobody had any idea how to set up the tents. To make matters worse it was rapidly getting dark. The instructors (there were two of them), however, soon came to our aid, and quickly showed us how to erect our tents, although it was a horrible job in the appalling weather. In the darkness we cooked ourselves a meal and then went straight to bed, wondering what the following day had in store for us.

Up at 6.30 to another day of rain and bleak skies, although by now we were getting acclimatized to the wet and cold. We cooked ourselves a meal which, surprisingly enough, turned out to be enjoyable, and then set off on a fell walk of about 15 miles. This did quite a lot to dry us off and we returned with rather high spirits, although tired, to the camp site. About 2 a.m. a calamity overtook us; a gale arose and blew one side of our particular tent completely away off the ground; consequently we went through another soaking and remained that way until the dawn.

Another wet morning faced us but we set off to the School, thinking of the hot showers, tea and beds which would be waiting on our arrival. We were given a day to recuperate from our ordeal, and then we were sent out on our "Tod"� scheme. Each boy was given a groundsheet, food, and check points on a map, and from the moment he left he was completely on his own - a severe, but (in retrospect), enjoyable test. Needless to say the instructors know where to find any boy should he fail to return on time the next day!

Canoeing was an event greatly enjoyed by all and on the four-day "pleasure"� scheme we certainly had a great time. Originally it had been planned for us to canoe across two lakes and down two rivers but because of the bad weather on the first day (gales of 70 to 80 m.p.h. had blown up during the night) we had to use the River Derwent only. We embarked four miles up river from Lake Derwent and before the first canoe had gone 25yds. it capsized, to the amusement of the rest of us waiting on the bank. When, however, the next two craft met the same fate, things began to look black and of the 12 canoes that started the trip only two made it all of the way without overturning; I was one of the lucky four in these two craft. I think the memorable event of that day was that the Warden came out of his canoe and, completely disregarding all the rules in his haste to get to the safety of the bank, left it to sweep away down stream. His paddle was found three days later on the shores of Lake Derwent, proving to us all that even at the top things can go wrong.

On the last of the four days we canoed from Lake Bassenthwaite to the town of Cockermouth and although the gales had died down the river was still very rough and fast-running. In fact, half of this journey had been accomplished in five and a half hours on the previous course, but it took us only half an hour. At Cockermouth itself is a four-foot weir, which we had to canoe over, and here, this time everybody, including the Warden, overturned. It was quite a sight for any of the local population who happened to see 22 wet and bedraggled boys carrying 11 canoes across a field full of indignant cows, and although we felt sorry for ourselves at the time we soon started laughing and joking about our various experiences as "Cockleshell Heroes"� on the way back to the camp.

The final athletic event was the five and a half miles cross-country, which was run up one side of Gowbarrow Fell (2,300ft.) and down the other. It proved to be quite exhausting but every one of the 88 boys completed the course in under 58 minutes which was worthy of a merit award. Another competitive event was the Wall and Beam, the "Wall"� being a structure of planks, l3ft. 6ins. high with a rounded top and sheer on each side. The aim was to get the whole patrol over in the shortest time possible. The winning patrol did it in one minute seven seconds, but we understood that the record stood at 37 seconds; our course thought that for a patrol to do it so fast it must have been composed of supermen. The "Beam"� was a fairly thick pole slung between two trees, 8ft. from the ground, and again the idea was for the patrols to get over it in quick time. Here the winning patrol took 27 seconds, but again we learnt the record stood at a much lower figure - about 14 seconds.

As the course drew to a close the final three-day scheme took place. We were sent out in groups of three or four to cover various checkpoints on the map. Our instructions were not to take any extra food with us, not to sleep in any sort of shelter other than our tents and not to use any form of transport other than our legs. Each group covered between 50 and 60 miles in three days, and considering the fact that the weather was bad everybody came through it all safely without getting lost or injured.

Finally Brian Pope, Tom Ryder and myself would like to thank the Proprietors and Management of The Times for giving us the opportunity to go on the exhilarating adventure of Outward Bound.