David Hirons
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David Hirons - Ullswater, The Lake District, 1963

Dave Hirons
Ullswater - The Lake District
Course U76 - January 1963

My time at the centre was initially very demanding and exhausting, and although reasonably fit, or so I thought. I simply wasn't prepared for what was to come.

First morning we were up and dressed in pumps, (remember them?) and shorts and paraded outside in our patrols until called in for our daily cold shower. The snow on that first morning was deep and crisp and even and we soon created a trench in which to run until called. Woe betides anyone making a sound during that icy cold douse as it meant another minute's torture. It was more normal to take the morning dip in the lake, only it had frozen!

Once out and dried, we sought refuge in the drying room where tents, sleeping bags and other equipment were hung up to dry. Sheer bliss was the overwhelming feeling as the blood once more began to circulate and our throbbing heads recovered.

Once our beds and the dorm' had been cleaned to our instructor's satisfaction and marks awarded, it was down for breakfast which I recall was always quite plentiful and nourishing. We certainly needed it to fortify us for the day's itinerary.

Circuit training was my particular nemesis, being quite short in stature with puny arm muscles, I had difficulty in achieving even a single chin-up, never mind the half a dozen or so, politely requested of me by my instructor, Mr Lees. Of particular note was the wooden wall, 50ft tall, or so it seemed to me. In order not to let the team, down, I was unceremoniously hauled up by my colleagues and dumped on the other side to complete the timed course.

The aerial rope course was more to my liking as I was well used to throwing myself off things, swinging across large puddles and muddy hollows and generally enjoying a whole world of danger that modern 'elth n safety' wouldn't tolerate these days.

The winter of '62/63 was a record for very heavy snow falls and low temperatures throughout the whole country, let alone the Lake District. I recall an expedition along Striding Edge and onto the summit of Hellvellyn in near whiteout conditions, all roped together for safety.

I have a wonderful poster of a snow covered Striding Edge and looking at it, and as to just how precarious that ridge is, it's a miracle that we made it without mishap. Ignorance is bliss they say! That feeling of elation though once on the summit was something I'll remember for life, though we didn't linger for long!

A hot meal, if you could persuade the basic hand warmed primus to pressure up sufficiently to light, followed by another night under canvass in double sleeping bags awaited! I did, despite being duly warned, take off my boots before retiring for the night. Big mistake! Walking in frozen boots wasn't any fun and that was only after a long period of beating them into submission before I could even get them on. I never realised leather could take on the suppleness of steel when 'chilled'!

Rope work, rock climbing, orienteering were all part of our month's stay. Foolishly and rather ambitiously, our patrol embarked on producing a scale relief model of the Ullswater valley as our course project, tracing the contour lines at every 100 foot and then transferring them to card which we glued together. I can't actually recall if we completed this task but I'm certain, Mr Lees, would have given us every encouragement!

My final recollection was the end of course concert in which each patrol had to produce a sketch or some other act of buffoonery to perform for the delights of the boys, staff and the Warden. A spectacle I'm sure. Rock climbers and mountaineers we aspired to be, thespians? - Never!

My time at Ullswater had a dramatic and inspirational impact upon my life; an experience I have never forgotten and look back upon with great fondness. Character building it certainly was and an opportunity to discover one's own ill perceived boundaries and limitations. The course, the weather, my team mates, our instructor took me there and beyond.

A month off school! - Great I thought, not realising what was in store, and that I would have to give a talk to the whole school upon return! Now that's when my course experience really kicked in!

"To Server, To Strive and Not to Yield"� is the motto; for me it represented a life changing and character building experience!