Widecombe History Group Talk on the History of the Ten Tors Walk


The meeting then enjoyed an informative and interesting presentation given by Andrew Hamlyn on the history, aims and achievements of the Annual Ten Tors Expedition held on Dartmoor in May of each year since its introduction in 1960. Andrew has been involved with this from the beginning and still helps train the entrants from South Dartmoor Community College, (Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Comprehensive Secondary School in the early days). In 1960 three Army Officers were inspired by the escape of The Dahli Lama from Tibet, and they organized the first Ten Tors in which 300 young soldiers took part. In 1961, schools were invited to join in and Ashburton Secondary School was one of the first to participate. Previous to this the school had a ‘Dartmoor Club’ that encouraged some of the pupils to walk and navigate the moor under the guidance of some of the staff. Several local schools still have a ‘Dartmoor Club’ and this has proved to be an excellent way of encouraging and motivating young people to take an interest in Dartmoor. Each school can enter up to three teams. Each team has a leader and a navigator whose decisions must be accepted by all the other members of the team.

In the first years 1961 - 1967, the competitors met at Denbury Army Camp, now converted into a prison. From there they would be bused to Haytor on the Saturday morning and would end their walk at Willsworthy Army Camp on the next day, Sunday. There are three different length routes, thirty-five miles for the beginners which are the fourteen to sixteen year old, forty-five miles for the sixteen to eighteen year old and fifty-five miles for the eighteen to twenty year old. Like any good organization, it has developed and evolved during the past forty-three years of its’ existence. From a comparatively small beginning of three hundred, it now caters for two thousand five hundred young people. The expedition now starts and ends at The Okehampton Army Camp and the standard of control and strictness of rules and regulations have been increased accordingly. Strictly controlled and monitored by the Army and supported by The Dartmoor Rescue Group this is an endurance initiative of the highest order.

There are nineteen thirty-five mile routes, twelve forty-five mile routes and five fifty-five mile routes. Four hundred teams of six, each team is given a route to follow, each taking in Ten Tors that they have to visit and check into, in turn and in the order that their route decrees, before moving on to the next Tor. The routes are defined by a letter, A or B etc. and maps are allocated on the Friday when they set up camp at Okehampton and the team managers can assist them in planning their walks.

There are strict controls on what each member shall have with them in their rucksacks. This is rigorously checked by the military before the expedition starts. An example rucksack was shown to the meeting. Specific clothing, this means clothes of the correct type of fabric, for example no ‘jeans’ as they take too long to dry out after getting wet, very important in the Dartmoor environment. Modern ‘man-made’ fabrics of the correct type are ideal. Full waterproofs, a complete change of clothes, a cooker, sleeping bag, survival bag, one litre water bottle, torch, map, compass, whistle, hat and gloves, purification tablets for water when refilling bottles, a tent, this can be two tents to sleep three or three tents of the size to sleep two, the tents and pegs and poles will be divided up between the members of the team, a first aid tin, this expedition is all about team work, co-operation and joint responsibility, this is emphasised in the way that every team has to carry on the top of one of the rucksacks a large label with team details so that it can be read from the air by helicopter pilots that monitor the event from start to finish. Once the expedition starts there can be no outside help, the team has to manage on its own, even if passing an ice-cream wagon they must not buy anything from it, they have to be completely self sufficient. All the food that they need must be carried with them from the start, and as this all adds weight to the rucksack, which can weigh between twenty-five and thirty-five pounds when full, care has to be taken as to what is needed. High energy food is a must, surplus packaging is a no, food that can be increased by the addition of boiled water is a plus, cereal and fruit bars are excellent as is chocolate and with all the experience of the past years it means that all teams are now aware of what is neededand what is best to take.

Tradition has its part to play in this, as at the first event, at 4.30 a.m. Saturday morning all the participants are awakened by the playing of "Chariots of Fire" on the Army base tanoy system . Final preparations, rucksack checks completed, final briefings, route cards stamped, plastic name tags attached to every participants wrist with name, including any medical condition. Everyone then has a hearty breakfast, burgers, bacon, egg, you name it they will eat it! They then move to the post indicating their letter ready for the 7.00 a.m. start, the Ten Tor Prayer is read and they are off, they have to be back by 5.00 p.m. on Sunday. It never ceases to surprise all the thousands of parents and well wishers that go to Okehampton to see the start, that two thousand five hundred young people can disappear from sight so quickly, as within twenty minutes of the start they are out of sight. The team managers have done their job, the training is over, the teams are on their own, the team managers are confined to barracks and must stay on site until their teams return. Any outside interference and the team is disqualified. The Ten Tors are all manned and if any team has a problem then they report this to the check points and it is dealt with. Information is reported back to headquarters and it is possible to keep a check on all the teams from H.Q. Occasionally people have to drop out, the Army and The Rescue Group deal with all emergencies, all six members of the team have to arrive back to get a team certificate, they can be depleted to four and still carry on to the end in which case those completing the course will get their individual medals, if a team has unfortunately had to lose a third member, they can continue only if they can join up with another team. Yes, rules and survival techniques are of utmost importance. There is also a special course for those that are physically or mentally handicapped, these gallant young folk set off in wheelchairs, some with crutches others just bursting with enthusiasm and tons of ‘gutts’ and determination. They always get a very special welcome and are to be applauded for their spirit, everyone that takes part is made to feel very special,and so they are. Training takes part from January to May, the schools that have Dartmoor Clubs are often out on the moors all through the year and this gives them wonderful experience in survival and map reading and navigation.

Andrew showed three videos of previous years, one showed the 1990 event, the others featured the rucksack checkings, briefings, and planning and the 1996 event when the weather was at its worse and two thousand young folk had to be brought off the moor. That year snow, wind, thick mist and severe freezing temperatures meant that it was stopped part way through. This brought complaints from some parents and managers who thought their youngsters could have carried on, with hindsight it was the correct decision as there were no serious mishaps. This goes to underline the vast amount of safety regulations involved with running an event of this kind. Participants can do a maximum of eight tors on the first day, some do however set up camp just outside tor number nine on Saturday evening and as soon as they are allowed to start on Sunday at 6.00 a.m. immediately check in and off to the last tor, number ten, and then home to base camp. This is not a race but the competitive spirit will never stop those from trying to be first back - good for them!

This event was not held in 2001 due to the nationwide Foot and Mouth outbreak, the only year since its inception forty-three years ago.

On average the beginners walk at about two miles an hour, the older ones often do forty miles on the first day, but what ever group they are in and what ever length they walk that ‘sea of people’ waiting to cheer every team in on Sunday must be a wonderful sight for them, and a memory that will be with them all their lives. For the parents and friends it is a fun day, a glorified picnic while they wait for their own team, in the meantime cheering every other team in, a wonderful community occasion. The first home can be about 9.00 a.m. on Sunday, most filter in from lunchtime onwards, but the real heroes are those that make it back close to 5.00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, sometimes they have had to make sacrifices, decisions and allowances, and a real team effort to get the complete team home and so get their duly earned team certificate, as well as their individual medals. Andrew brought a book which listed all the Ashburton school participants since the beginning. "Parents make a great commitment when their youngsters wish to be involved with this scheme, and the youngsters themselves have to be very dedicated", said Andrew, "they all deserve praise".

The three different lengths of walk are defined by their awards so winning Bronze, Silver or Gold Medals.

The meeting concluded with Andrew offering to take some of our members on a tour on Saturday 10th May to see the Ten Tors in action. He is already keen on being involved again next year when he takes on the task of being "Team Manager".

Thanks and good luck!

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