Colin Usher
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Colin Usher - Ullswater, The Lake District, 1955

Memories of Outward Bound.

Fifty-seven years have now passed since I attended Outward Bound Course U3 at Ullswater, Cumbria. Despite the passing of the years the experience was enough to leave lasting memories.

From a personal point of view my participation in the course, in October 1955, was different, in many ways, to what I had encountered so far in my life. I was 19 years old, born in Luton, Bedfordshire, and had only slept away from home on two separate occasions, once when I was eleven and once at eighteen. Both of my parents were dead and I was living with my grandparents, both in their late seventies.

I was keen on most sports and travelled around the district for fixtures but I was not a swimmer. The prospect of travelling to the north of England was particularly exciting and came about when the company that I was working for, Skefko Ball Bearing Co. (now SKF (UK) Ltd.) of Luton offered myself and two other lads the opportunity to attend the course and we accepted.

The course started on October 4th and I remember having to buy suitable clothing like sweaters, jeans and footwear and then travelling, by train, from Euston to Penrith and then on to Pooley Bridge where we were met by an army lorry which took us to the lakeside Outward Bound School at a house named Hallsteads. We were booked-in, fed and watered and assigned to dormitories.

The next morning we met the team of course instructors, many of whom seem to have had a military background and I recall mention of Royal Navy, Royal Marine and Royal Artillery as well as some local fell walking and rock climbing specialists. I also recall that we were assigned a role in the local Mountain Rescue teams should the need arise. The thirty-two participants in the course were split into four patrols that worked as a team and slept in the same dormitory. I was selected to lead one of the patrols.

The course lasted for 28 days and a few specific memories remain:

The landscape was awesome. Luton nestles in the Chiltern Hills where the highest point, the airfield is some 600 feet above sea level and here were mountains over 3000 feet looking down on me.
Our first experience of the fells started after we were taken, by jeep, to Shap followed by a three day trek back to Hallsteads. We were accompanied by an instructor (Mr Baxter) who showed us how to erect a bivouac and to map-read.
Our first time afloat was on the River Eden at Pooley Bridge in two-man canoes. The river was running low I remember.
The second time afloat was more hazardous. We were on a rather windswept Ullswater and I was in a canoe with S. W. Smyth-Windham. At one point a wave hit us side-on and the boat capsized. For some reason my life jacket was not fully inflated and, being a non-swimmer I was in danger of drowning. Hugh Roper, another course member dived into the lake and rescued me.
Rock climbing was another new experience. We had a few practice sessions on rock faces near to the school that culminated in standing erect on the top of Napes Needle.
Our first climb, under instruction, of Helvellyn, was exceptional for being made on a relatively clear day. The view from the peak was wonderful and we followed the well-defined track down to Patterdale.
Interspersed with the activities above we had a programme of athletics involving eight (I think)
disciplines: Sprinting, Half-mile, Mile, Two miles, High Jump, Long Jump, Shot and Javelin.
I can also remember Abseiling, the Toggle Ride and the obstacle course with its twelve foot high wall to be negotiated as a team.
The course came to its end with the final project, a three day team event calling on most of what we had learnt in the previous three and a half weeks. We were split into teams of four and sent out to follow a set of twelve clues and end back at Hallsteads on Day 3. Days one and two were quite successful but we were behind schedule. There had been a bit of moaning and groaning about the unfairness of it all but it was essential that we made an early start on day three if we were to succeed and finish the course. We set off at just after first light and managed to catch up on our schedule. Clue 11 took us to the peak of Helvellyn. We started in clear weather and reached the peak……in mist!!!. We found the Trig point and the footpath down to Patterdale was clear and obvious. Except that it wasn’t !!! we followed the footpath down and finished up on Thirlmere. We were only allowed to take half a crown (12.5p) with us and luckily we had enough cash to take a local bus through Keswick to Troutbeck from where we walked back to Hallsteads. It was nearly ten o’clock by the time we checked in, tired and very hungry but we had made eleven out of twelve checkpoints. We could have made all twelve if we had used the tools that we were provided with, namely a map and compass. A salutary lesson had been learnt the hard way.
The course ended with the presentation of merit badges in three grades, red, blue and white. I still have my blue badge.
The course was completed without the safety helmets and harnesses that are deemed essential today.
And, finally, who could forget the pre-breakfast dip in an Ullswater lake that got colder as the month of October progressed.
The course emphasised the importance of teamwork and the need for personal commitment to other members of the team. Given tasks need to be properly planned, prepared for and executed using all the tools that are available. When situations become difficult one must not give in, there is always an acceptable solution, and have the courage to do what needs to be done.

On reflection it is undoubtedly true that the Outward Bound experience had an influence, albeit unconsciously, on many aspects of my future life.

Finally I have the autographs of around half of the course participants....

So there you have my memories of my Outward Bound experience. I hope that they will be of interest to you.

Colin Usher