The third part here of three pieces hopefully articulating why I do a lot of work in early years, why I believe that is important, how it works in practice and in this part, what are the risks and how are they managed. I of course am happy to discuss any or all of the issues raised here and can be reached by email here, Twitter & Facebook.
Lets answer that question in the head line – None! The starting point here is the acceptance that being a child outside is going to result in the occasional bump, scrape, bruise or cut. It just is. Children everywhere will fall over and graze a knee on a busy high street, get a carpet burn at home, or stub a toe on the door frame. And as for standing barefoot on a piece of lego… say no more. More often than not society subjects the children in our care to what WE are afraid of in terms of risk perception which in turn has led to children becoming more and more solitary and sedentary as mentioned in Part 1.
To be clear we do not want to see our own children or the children in our care get hurt at all, but it is going to happen to them at some time, in varying degrees of severity some how, so its vital we help to equip them to manage those situations when they happen, regardless of if that event is on our watch or not as professionals. Part of that equipping is to instill the skill at spotting and then managing a risk. Those of us of a certain age will remember videos like this (and far worse… Google ‘Apache Safety Film’ then sit behind sofa at your leisure peeking occasionally at the screen).
I come back to this quote every time I visit a new setting to risk assess the proposed or planned activity in that venue :
“we must provide a risk-assessed environment that allows children to be safe to do, rather than safe from doing.”
Where I got that line from I am afraid is lost in the mists of time, but there are endless good sources of information and justification from academics, advisory bodies,government around the world and other teachers/early years professionals all extolling the virtue of risky play. Perhaps the phrasing is part of the problem? Use of the word risk is inherently loaded with negativity I think. I prefer the term “adventurous play”, it certainly sounds exciting!
A little context here may be helpful. In my other world, the British Mountaineering Council (The BMC) offer a ‘Participation Statement’ which goes like this:
“The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.”
Woah. Heavy stuff. Now clearly my planned 2019 “EYFS Everest Expedition” may now have to wait indefinitely, but we must recognise our children from a very young age climb several ‘Everest’s’ worth of risk as they grow older, from leaving the hospital in the arms of new parents who could well be terrified of their new status, to learning to walk or using cutlery and simple tools like scissors, through to riding a bike and learning to drive. Taking risks is a natural process and wrapping up our charges in cotton wool does not help them learn how to manage those risks at all. That risk management may be as simple as holding their hand out so you might take it to assist their balance. It could be more sophisticated, such as a four year old asking why they have to wear a helmet before climbing or riding that bike. This is all helping our youngsters learn about risk. The outdoors is a great environment to facilitate that learning journey and have an adventure.
So what are the risks and most importantly are they worth it? This ultimately is the question we must pose to determine if the play is to go ahead. If the risk is a splinter or a small scrape, but the outcome is hours of imaginatively driven physical play such as with pallets, then to my mind it is worth taking. We can remove or bang in protruding nails, sand down excessively rough edges, use only soft wood pallets etc to help reduce the chance of that scrape further. But if they did then get a scrape – is it really that bad? Show me the four year old that doesn’t respond to some TLC and if you are desperate a smiley face/superhero placebo plaster. More often than not I believe it is our fear of their reaction, or indeed our reaction to that event that causes more stress and upset in the child than the event itself.
It is essential that children learn that their actions have real results and consequences. I am sure most of us can think of an adult or two who could benefit from some revision in that area!
In the real world, young children are capable of assessing many of their own day-to-day risks, for instance if you asked a three year old to drop a hammer on their toe – they would likely give you a funny look and flatly refuse. However they must have the chance to learn and practice that type of risk management. Only if they’re well versed in critical thinking and not the habits that blind obedience creates can they achieve what to us is logical thought – which it isn’t! It is our experience at risk management that tells us not to drop heavy tools on our feet. Children need to learn that too. The parent who shouts, “Don’t slide down the stairs!” might well be keeping a child safe in that split second, but is also, at the same time, robbing them of a chance to think for themselves, which makes that child that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him or her what to do. How about we offer the facts (“If you slide down those stairs you might get hurt.”) and let them practice thinking things through, to consider the possible consequences of their actions, to assess his own risks, to ask herself, “Is this a risk worth taking?” or “Could I do this differently” (For the record, if it is my son you are asking this of, he will just smile at you and slide down the stairs having decided the risk is worth taking – he just might not do it head first!).
What about the zip lines, the climbing, etcetera? Well again in the climbing world the cliche line is usually ‘you are more likely to get hurt in the car on the way to or from the crag than at the crag itself’. This really is that simple, all the equipment used is fit for purpose, used in the appropriate context by someone (me!) with the National Governing Body recognised skills to be able to use that equipment appropriately. For those that don’t know, climbing ropes are strong enough to lift a car/small van. They simply do not break in normal context of use. Where there has been recorded incident is usually down to either a knot being incorrectly tied or the rope was cut over a sharp rock edge or a damaged karabiner or was exposed to corrosive chemicals and subsequently failed. Three instances that as a climber I check for each time I use that equipment in line with my training, my own due diligence, insurance requirements, common sense and desire to keep doing a job I love. Five pretty powerful motivators! Using this equipment in a Nursery’s garden, where I have yet to come across acid bathed sharp rocks is out of the equipment’s usual context for sure, but one could very easily argue it is a safer one! That said please be assured if ever I do spot acid covered sharp rocks in your setting whilst I do a site visit and risk assessment I will be sure to avoid them and let you know…. As for the knots, I keep it simple and recognisable – Figures 8’s, Bowlines, Hitches and double check each one before using the set up as planned or as if I were climbing myself.
All of these activities whilst certainly containing a ‘risk’ (which is managed) do I believe present the perception that the risk is at a higher likelihood than it actually is, or at a comparably higher chance than an actual risk in ‘everyday normal life’ so to speak. This makes those activities great tools for helping to teach children about risk management, help them learn to manage those emotions such as anxiety or fear and most importantly overcome them. Something I say quite often to older children – 8-9 upwards on residential courses or adventure days at various centres, when they are all to conscious of a perceived risk and the fear sets in before a leap of faith, or climbing activity is that their staff haven’t brought them here to hurt them. That’s far more easily done with less paperwork in school! That all the equipment is safe, tested, countless children before them have done this, I’ve done this and many more children will do it after them. I offer this to help them begin to rationalise that perception of risk which has caused fear and anxiety. After all, it is natural to be fearful of some instances and certain situations but I believe strongly it is our job to help those children learn to overcome those fears for themselves, manage those risks for themselves, pick themselves up and try again having learnt from the experience so their comfort zone, or sphere of experience grows bigger and faces outward rather than shrinks and cowers inward.
Another line borrowed from a lost source is this:
Our role is simply to eliminate hazards which they may not see and then to let them take us on their own learning adventure.
Which I think concludes things nicely.
Drop me a note on social media to let me know your thoughts on this and some of the other matters I have raised in these three commentaries.
This follows on from Early Years Outdoors Pt.1 where I consider why I do this type of work and what I think some of the benefits are. In this piece my intention is to begin to explain how these sessions can be a part of a broader early years provision. It also offers insight into how the Early Years Curriculum works for those that perhaps don’t know. If you do know how that hangs together, I welcome the chance to discuss it all with you. You can reach me on email here on Twitter & Facebook
So, what about the EYFS…
The Early Years Foundation Stage has four guiding principals. They are:
1.Every child is a unique child, constantly learning and can be RESILIENT, CAPABLE, CONFIDENT and SELF ASSURED.
2.Children learn to be STRONG and INDEPENDENT through POSITIVE relationships
3.Children learn and develop well in ENABLING ENVIRONMENTS, in which their EXPERIENCES respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between all the adults involved
4.Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates.
I have highlighted in capitals the bits I believe the outdoors, in whatever form, can really bring something different to the party, beyond what a classroom can deliver. As four lines, even out of context, they make a lot of sense. Who wouldn’t want their daughter or son to fit into or at least identify with those statements?
Those guiding principals sit across seven areas of learning usually split as Prime and Specific. The Prime: Personal, Social & Emotional Development, Communication & Language and Physical Development. The Specific areas being – Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts & Design. Now it doesn’t take much creativity to make all of those fit into or apply to an outdoor setting! Each of these areas contains a number of statements that early years professionals use to monitor a childs progress against the expectation of their age, for example in Communication and language somewhere between the age of 30 and 50 months, a child will begin to:
-Listens to others one to one or in small groups, when
conversation interests them.
-Listens to stories with increasing attention and recall.
-Joins in with repeated refrains and anticipates key events and
phrases in rhymes and stories.
-Focusing attention – still listen or do, but can shift own
-Is able to follow directions (if not intently focused on own
choice of activity).
The Early Years Practitioner will, through casual and planned observations note down when a child consistently carries out these characteristics or behaviours. This takes planning of course to create situations and mechanisms to initially provide the opportunity to first learn then develop and ultimately see that behavior consistently – “listens to stories…” is the obvious example. Some of that happens more naturally such as with toileting/personal care skills or the way a child eats.
This format is repeated over each specific area and age range from birth to 60 months. It is a massive task each practitioner has with each child in their charge typically up to 10 children in a key group- theirs is not an easy job!
Here are a few more, with extracts highlighted that I believe the outdoors lends itself to. This list is not even close to being definitive.
1.Communication and language. “rich language environment” “speak and listen in a variety of situations”
2.Physical development. “develop co-ordination, control and movement” “importance of physical activity”
3.PSE. “Positive sense of self” “confidence in own abilities”
4.Literacy. Physical development – writing. “wide range of reading materials”
5.Maths. Counting, shapes, spaces and measures
6.Understanding the world. “opportunity to explore, observe and find out about people, places technology and the environment
7.Expressive arts and design. “explore and play with a wide range of materials” “variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, roleplay and DT”
Where the outdoors and the odd adventurous activity fits in and my take on it particularly is it offers most children something new, different and outside their usual sphere of nursery and bright coloured plastic experience. This also provides the Early Years Professional the opportunity to focus on observing entirely natural behavior as the child reacts to me and the activity, it frees up the professional to make the observation, when usually they are delivering the activity and trying to observe at the same time, which is a tall order to do both to the high standard they would wish to. The children are involved in how that session pans out: the timing, the structure, the activity or task itself. Every session has a plan agreed in advance, but believe me every session is very different, as every child is unique and so each responds differently to the same stimulus, which then creates different reactions from me and the practitioners and teaching staff involved. It is astonishing how with one plan for each of the ten key worker groups in a nursery, all ten are unique. Even the simple act of reading a story outside in the sun or under canvass, or in a willow tunnel, perhaps having just experienced something the characters in the story have, takes on a different and deeper meaning to each child if we have just been balancing like Jess in “The Wild Woods” or helping Owl Mummy find her babies and build a nest (Owl Babies) or pitching a tent like Maisie in “Maisie Goes Camping”. Balancing different fruits on our heads like Handa in “Handa’s Surprise”. The list goes on.
I am told after sessions that what we have achieved or created impacts on the children’s play back in nursery, there is frequently imaginative play reflecting what we have done or directly recreating it for several days and weeks afterward. Coupled with art work and drawings helping recall and further self expression (‘how did that make you feel?’) the opportunities for following up those outdoor sessions are full of potential themselves in meeting EYFS statements.
What I want to achieve with every early years session is to offer a range of activity which supports the child in their development through opportunity they may otherwise not get and offers the childcare professional the chance to view their charges in a different light and perhaps gives both some different experiences to broaden horizons.
A note on being a bloke. It helps! In the Early Years world us chaps are thin on the ground. There is no getting away from the fact that being male in this environment is a little quirky and offers the children a very different approach and delivery to just about everything I ask of them. if nothing else it comes in a different tone! There is no conclusion there, it just is.
A common question in these activities and one that every Head Teacher/Nursery Manager is keen to ask is one of risk. I will look at risk and most importantly managing risk in a further piece to follow. Part three shall be its name….
As previously mentioned here, I do a lot of work with younger children, ‘the littleies’ who are at varying stages on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EFYS) curriculum. I wanted to explain why I do this and what I believe the benefits are to the children involved. It begins….
This came about quite by accident. Whilst working for Lancashire Outdoors Education at Whitehough ( a much missed OEC) in 2012, I got the chance to shadow the then teacher on site run a “nursery session”. In short, it was painfully obvious she didn’t really enjoy that element of her work, where as for me with a back ground in early years (in the late 90’s I worked in a school then Day Nursery) I found it fascinating and hugely enjoyable. The reaction of the children to the space to move around in, the way they discovered things, both contrived and naturally occurring was amazing and huge amounts of fun! The giggling and laughter is definitely infectious. So I offered to take the early years work over – and she jumped at the chance to offload it to me.
Since then I estimate having worked with several hundred three and four years old’s from,a variety of maintained, private and voluntary sector nurseries across East Lancashire, at various outdoor centres, open spaces and on their own sites (gardens!) from one off type “experiential learning” sessions to regular, progressive sessions, structured as part of that providers broader EYFS curriculum provision.
Why? Its about as far removed from climbing or walking up a mountain but it is still huge amounts of FUN. Secondly because I believe it is important.
We are repeatedly told by Government and the Media that children and young people are leading more and more sedentary lives and this is contributing directly to the obesity crisis we face. As we can appreciate and some of us will now know, through our own experience or that of family members this obesity thing leads to serious health issues further along in life. What all that means to me is that if I can help foster an enjoyment of the outdoors in children at an early age and expose those children to outside experiences, which many of them simply would not/might not get, than that can only be a good thing. Simple.
Why don’t children play out more? This I believe is largely due to the experiences and subsequent fears and prejudices of their parents. It’s difficult to not sound overly judgmental reading that! I am trying to not be judgmental- those people had their outside experiences constrained when they were children and that has gone on to shape their beliefs and values as adults. Some cultures place little value on seemingly “non-academic” activities, despite the well documented value of ‘play’.
Parents around the age of 20 to 35 right now are the children whose playing fields were sold off by successive governments in the eighties and nineties for housing (a trend which continues to this day sadly), whose sports days were “non competitive” who were penalised for playing conkers, who became adults at the birth of 24 hour media coverage and are perhaps overly fearful or cautious of the “stranger danger” that is often put out there, despite the fact that it is reckoned that 90% of children who are abused suffer at the hands of someone they know. (NSPCC information). So if children can go home talking positively about their time outside with me and the adventures they have had, perhaps they can open their parents eyes to the possibility of what they as parents could do with their own children in the great outdoors be it garden, yard, park, woods or fell, wherever! If those children begin to see the outdoors as a fun place to be, perhaps they will find the fresh air first before the sofa and tablet/TV or ask to go the park at the weekend. Who knows, maybe even the parents may benefit too!
From a health perspective, at the age of three and four children are putting the ground work in and developing their agility, balance and co-ordination – all vital in staying fit and being able to work and play throughout life. The gross motor movements of children at this age directly contribute to developing the strength and control needed for those fine motor movements we still value in society – like writing or using cutlery. We have barely scratched the surface on physical health but mental health also benefits from time outdoors. With studies reporting improved mood, memory, mental energy after time outside to people being prescribed “walks in the country” to help combat depression and stress, anything we as adults can do to instill a love of being outdoors in our children can only be a positive thing and be a beginning of equipping them with the tools to manage what life is going to put in front of them.
With me so far?
In the next part I will tie the “outdoors” into the EYFS and how this contributes to each child making steps of progress inline with the development outcomes for their age.
So, if you have seen any of my social media feeds (Twitter & Facebook), then you cant fail to have noticed the amount of work I do with pre-school children. Ages three and four specifically. These children typically attend Nursery settings, usually Maintained Nursery Schools; what we used to call ‘State Nurseries’.
I plan to tackle why I do a lot of work in this sector in another post….one day… But here, as the Taywood journey finished its first part for me a few weeks ago, after two years, I thought it would be good to review what happened, how and what was achieved alongside considering some outcomes.
In April 2015, I received this email:
I am in a nursery school in Burnley and we are looking to develop our outdoor area into an outdoor learning / forest school type provision. I have been lucky enough to secure some funding to develop an area in the grounds but we would also like a practitioner to work throughout the year with the children. First of all, would you be able to provide us with advice for how to go about developing the area? And secondly, would you be able to provide regular forest school work with our children in the area? We are also hoping to be able to have a dedicated staff member who would work alongside you, with a view to them training at Forest School Level 1 in the the first instance. And obviously, if it's yes to either or both, what costs are involved??
Now, lets be clear – I am not Forest Schools! Although I certainly borrow from that ideology, my ethos is more bushcraft and adventurous activities… much more me! So following a brief email exchange we arranged to meet on a morning in May.
I found a space with huge potential. (And a nice gateway and willow feature installed) These are just a pair of pics – I took about 30 from all sorts of angles of an approximately 150 square metre space shaped like an ‘L’ around the building.
Further discussion (and Governor Approval) later we agreed a potential year from September 2015 subject to a mutually successful Autumn Term.
All that remained was to design and agree the program!
In broad terms, working for Lancs Outdoors Education at their sites my early years work has largely been built around a story, which we then recreate elements of that journey or experience to bring it to life for the children over typically 90 to 120 minutes. With a space to convert and multiple weeks to work it and no travel to factor in – the shackles of time came off! We hatched plans to use a specified story to deliver a themed game or activity alongside the remainder of the sessions (one key workers morning and afternoon group) to build/dig/create long term features for the Secret Garden with some ‘free play’ thrown in.
Taywoods budget allowed them to invest in all in one waterproof suits, child sized tools and various materials as required to create a mud kitchen, dig a pond, insect hotel, a fire area. Various other fixed installations such as paths and some ‘temporary’ ones such as a shelter to go over the fire area, to still allow for a fire, but provide some weather protection.
Keeping the sessions semi structured but ultimately child led, so we could engage the children on each task to enable that experiential learning but also keep interest and let the children dictate the direction and tone of the session was without doubt the best way forward. We had a blast! some children were happy digging for 30 minutes, others were reluctant after only 5 minutes, some allowed us to discover the magical properties of pallets and really push boundaries as well as the joy of just sitting together, eating and talking around a fire. It was without doubt a journey for us all.
So what about the Nursery staff then? Each key worker came out with their am and pm groups with me part of the ratio. Different staff had different views, but all led to some very interesting conversations! Some were pro outdoors learning from the get go, others were a little more reluctant…(One in particular still is!), but all the Taywood staff team were supremely professional and welcomed me with support, an open mind and kindness. I shall miss working with them regularly a great deal.
That first term flew by and very quickly it became clear that this was great project in the making and one that would take time, so committing to the full academic year was a no brainer. This in turn led to an extension for another year, but with the focus being on knowledge transfer – get staff skilled up in fire lighting, erecting the shelter etc.
The sessions also progressed from less about a story/journey recreation to more about a specific activity and experience. Cue zip lines, climbing trees, pallet play etc etc.
This is really where it all took off in my mind, the staff relished the opportunity to see their charges in situations very few could have ever imagined and the children, well they just loved it.
As a regular (male) face in the nursery, I began to recognise and have regular interactions with parents, so although I was getting positive feedback from parents via staff, when the parents themselves approached to say ‘thank you’ or to meet the person their child “goes on about” was very special indeed.
We began to document the experiences of the children, by the children using large floor books – we would gather round the book with pens and pencils and the children would be asked to draw something from the garden they did or enjoyed to day, we added quotes from the child and photographs to create a tool for monitoring and recalling each session. The subsequent session would start with a review of the book “who can remember what we did last time” and “what was the weather like”. They proved a great aide to supporting the children recognise and appreciate change as the seasons passed.
Outcomes. Now, I am not in the job of having to measure these as such – but anecdotally the outcomes were significant, children, gained confidence, developed language, memory & imaginative play (reflected in subsequent play) I am told by the Head Teacher that the garden and its sessions has been a huge contributor to children making progress in a variety of areas across the EYFS and created opportunities for learning well beyond expectation. Taywood was inspected in May 2017 by Ofsted, who found the Nursery again to be “Outstanding”. Personally I was pleased to see this line in the report:
“Outdoor learning is exceptionally well promoted and contributes significantly to the excellent progress that children make, particularly boys. The outside area is a labyrinth of exciting places for children to learn and play, whatever the weather”
Full report can be found here.
I am booked to go back for a series of “Adventure Weeks” next academic year (2017-2018), one week per term to join the two Staff who have taken on the role of “outdoors practitioner” to further develop the Secret Garden. I can’t wait.
Some more pictures….
The second event in the series and a new part of the Dales for me. I double checked my bike after last events mishaps before loading it up the night before to travel through the dales to get there for Sundays race.
I don’t know this part of the Dales very well, having raced out of Muker a year or so ago with another Open 5 event and been impressed with the terrain for Adventure Racing I was looking forward to visiting Reeth very much. Its mountain biking is legendary, and what little I saw of it, its a place to go back to for sure.
My journey up through the Dales, essentially Skipton, turn left and keep going north till you reach Reeth was long in the dark, on line I had clocked a youth hostel on the outskirts of Reeth – Grinton YHA and thought I might see if I can park up there and use their ‘facilities’, otherwise I would just park as close to the village green as I could, from where the start/finish area was to be. I got to the youth hostel – a lone, old building in the middle of the moors, I pulled in… doors were open, lights were on, but no sign of life. No one, anywhere. I started knocking on doors, nothing. Very weird!
I carried on to Reeth itself and spotted several cars and vans that looked like they too may be competitors on a cobbled area next to the green. It looked ideal for the night, apart from the three or four pubs around the edge of the village green/cobbled market area, hmm, I’ll just sit tight and give it a few minutes to see how many people are about at 9.30 pm on a Saturday night that might want to cause me a rude awakening…. no one! not a soul could be heard or seen. Does anyone live here at all? And the public loos stayed unlocked overnight – what kind of place is this!
After a peaceful night (Shame really as some of those pubs looked well worth checking out) I awoke to a cold damp morning, alongside the usual hubbub of an Open 5; cars arriving, competitors milling about and greeting one another. The sky was a little overcast, but otherwise clear – it was going to be a good day as per the forecast.
So, confident in my bike this time round having had a recent repair and service of sorts (thank you Stevie G) all I had to manage was my cold. Another one! I’m beginning to think all the early years work I do may be detrimental to my racing… So, with Day Nurse consumed, coffee levels topped up and extra snacks to ‘feed the cold’ I registered and made my way to the start area – wonderfully close to the van for a change!
The map itself gave the following options: either up then down, or, up then down or if I was feeling really enthusiastic: up/down then up/down! I decided a clockwise loop out would work well, subject to where the scoring controls were. Run wise I wasn’t sure as it all involved some sort of climb, given Reeth’s position at the head of two valleys. I had decided to carry on my experiment of biking first, three hours then running for two ish, (usually just less, post transition).
Some of the controls on the bike were a little cheeky I thought, in that you needed to be off the bike to get them, but that added to the fun! I cycled well, really well to be fair and was in the process of thinking about extending my loop to collect another control as I headed from 7 up the bloody big hill to 9 when I came across a Female Pairs Team with a clear mechanical issue, in that the rear derailleur was on top of the rear cassette and at quite an odd angle! Having had my own mechanical issues last time, I stopped and offered to help. With a bit of brute force and ignorance we got the rear derailleur back to roughly where it should be, but it was clear it was knackered. I suggested knocking some links out and setting the bike up as a single speed to skip the broken mech, but with no chain tool to hand and looking for a quicker fix the girls decided a cable tie to try and hold it in place would be better. I assume they made it back in one piece! I carried on and was really able to get some speed built up as I hammered back to the transition. Although certainly snotty, the cold wasn’t causing me the issues the last one had and I was pleased with my bike performance. I got back just a few minutes off my plan and quickly ate and drank, bum bag on and back out to run.
As before my legs were not ready to turn over straight off the bike – How do triathletes do it!!!! I gently trotted north up the hill electing to get he higher value controls all around Fremington Edge, an obvious loop, clockwise again to get the climb in early seemed to be the way forward. It took a good 25 minutes to get my legs running again, by which time I was struggling to breathe due to my cold as I tramped up to the cave and control 31. That being my high point I was then in a good place for ‘proper’ running and pretty much down hill all the way back in, so I finally felt I was running at a suitable pace and making up ground. I ended up heading into town way faster than I anticipated, but I recognised this a little too late to add a few more points on to my total. Although pleased with my tally and performance, I do think I could have got another 15 points, I got back in with 7 minutes to spare, which is a lot given the nature of this course. Not quite top 50% – which for me is my bench mark of a good race, but given the cold I had I was pleased with my performance. Strategy wise I may return to run first/bike second next time out… I need to mull that one over some more.
The next outing in March is from Church Stretton and the Long Mynd – which I last raced over in 2011. I recall it being a great day out as well, in a stunning part of the world. It will be interesting as that is going to be the day after the race that I organise – the Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round, which I am normally on my feet for 8 hours plus and generally pretty drained after!
WAVE is a charity run by volunteers who are passionate about the outdoors and introducing people to healthy new outdoors pursuits. WAVE organises events for individuals or groups of all ages and abilities. WAVE will take you kayaking across Lancashire’s dramatic landscape, or up it through climbing challenges, where you can enjoy the stunning views the North West has to offer. They do lots of other stuff too, my involvement has largely been taking groups climbing and walking over the years.
I first came in to contact with WAVE several years ago as I was pursuing my climbing qualifications. Graham, the founder, had posted on the UK Climbing Forums he was seeking experienced climbers to help run climbing sessions for his groups and would welcome voluntary assistance with this in return for that time being able to go in a log book – the essential tool for proving experience and competence prior to any assessment being undertaken as part of a Mountain Training Qualification. Rather than a “chat” and a coffee, we decided the best way to get the measure of each other was to go climbing. So one spring morning we met in Tesco’s at Glossop before embarking on a great days climbing at Stanage Edge. Skip forward to a few weeks ago and Graham asked if I would be available to supervise the mobile climbing wall they were borrowing from Bolton Council as part of a family fun day they were putting on as a result of some funding they had won. It being a January weekend, I was only too happy to get involved.
So I pitched up ready to get stuck in to find just about all the graft had been done! So with brew in hand and a catch up with some of the regular WAVE volunteers we awaited the arrival of the Climbing Wall.
So with Tower erected, we had four routes, two on auto belays, two on human belay. the wall came with a willing helper – Geoff and with the WAVE belay team – Helen and Aidy we braved the sub zero temperatures (yes that is ice on the picture) to give about 40 people, mostly children a bash at climbing. On the whole they all loved it!
The day was considered a success by Graham and team at WAVE, who were delighted with the turn out on what was a bitterly cold day.
A link to a write up in the Bolton News – with more pictures.
The Open 5 Series is a series of Adventure Races held over the winter each year. The objective is to visit (navigate/find) as many checkpoints as you can in five hours. Some checkpoints can only be visited on foot (using a 1:25000 map), some on mountain bike (using a 1:50000). I have been doing these events since 2011 and absolutely love them. These take top priority race wise in my diary each winter and I have traveled the length and breadth of the country to take part (Somerset to Scotland anyway). One thing these events do well is take you ‘just’ off the beaten track: places you wouldn’t necessarily visit and after a five hour foray you get a good sense of the place you are racing in. I enjoy the personal challenge of keeping moving at pace for 5 hours (if you are late back, you incur penalty point deductions) and the fun in navigating over two different map scales.
This event, the first of the 2016/2017 season containing 4 events was bound for a place I know well. The North Lakes area around Threlkeld promised great mountain biking and some challenging navigation depending on which side of the road (A66) the organisers took us. In the end it was north – around the foot of Skiddaw and the Skiddaw Forest for the biking and south, essentially an exploration of St. John’s in the Vale, for the run stage.
I headed up the night before, to sleep in the van as I anticipated parking in Threlkeld to be a challenge for a hundred or so teams! Now at this point its worth noting that all the gear I use is well tested and trusted, including the bike, having been out on it locally the week before, I knew all I needed to do was lube the chain from when I cleaned it after that trip out. The morning of the race arrived and I got registered and organised and ready for the ride to the Start/Transition/Finish line, which on this occasion was a 20 minute/4km ride away (by Keswick climbing Wall).
I set off and as usual I began to shift up and down the gears on my bike to get it all sorted and make any last minute adjustments to…. hmmm, no gears. I shifted the lever a few more times (on the rear mech)- nothing, then a sudden jump to the next cog. I tried the front derailleur – yes! All three. So that gives me 6 gears… ish. I kept shifting… nothing. This could be a long day! Feeling utterly deflated, I tried to tighten the cable using the adjustment wheel by the gear trigger lever, this seemed to make no difference. Now, up till this point I had never had a mechanical issue on these events, not even a puncture, so I began to hatch a b-plan of a shortened bike section and longer time on the run. I usually split the five hours as two hours run followed by three on the bike (there are more points available on the bike). This time I had already planned to try biking first, and I decided I would stick with that and see how I got on. I set off at 9.30 and as luck would have it bumped in to a fellow competitor I knew at the first CP on what I planned to be a clockwise tackling of the course, he – Steve and other competitor Andy, having asked if they had any suggestions relating to knackered gearing helped me do as much adjusting as possible whilst I was the bike rack. Having tightened up everything we could, with still no joy, Steve suggested I head in to Keswick and see if there was a bike shop open (9.50 on a Sunday morning!) that could help. They wished me luck and I thanked them for stopping to help and I set off into Keswick to start finding a mechanic! This was going to be a frustrating race! Steve had suggested Whinlatter bikes, I was thinking Keswick Mountain Bikes, both are a minute apart so off I sped as best I could. KMB had signs of life (Whinlatter was all dark) and as I peered through the door a chap appeared to sweep the entrance area, I put on my best Bambi eyes and asked “could you help me, I am supposed to be racing now, but my bike has failed” and the chap – Adam – very kindly said yes, bring it round the side. So having started racing at 9.30, by 9.58 I was in KMB, with my bike in a stand and receiving some attention from the very helpful staff of KMB. The verdict was the cable was past its best and needed replacing, that not being an option now (time and money both short!) Adam offered to pull the cable as taut as he could to give me a limited range for the day.
It worked! I set off throwing thank you’s behind me (card and tenner in the post) and started clicking to see what I had… about 10-12 gears (from 30!) All in the mid range, so “I can’t go super fast and I’m going to struggle up hills, but I think I can make this work” was the mantra. Right on with the plan and off to the next CP!
It was hard work with the limited gearing and I did cut my plan short – essentially no outlying CPs from the main track and I made it round the course in a full three hours – I definitely could have got more CP’s in less time, but I wanted to have a good run and needed as close to two hours as I could get. Its about here that I should tell the group about my cold. I have a cold. Its on the slide, but its still there. It made it presence felt on the bike, with a seemingly non stop flow of snot which I attributed to the cold air (the whole day was sub zero conditions, largely frozen ground with ice patches), but the minute I set off on the run, I coughed… and coughed and my nose was streaming.
I started walking after the Castlerigg Circle, CP 21… and thought this event keeps getting worse! My head cold which I thought was on the wane, clearly was not waning enough, as I walked I studied the map and reigned my plan in, this was going to be a conservative day and despite almost perfect conditions (it was a bit slippy in places) I was going to have to be cautious not to push to hard and over extend myself, to then be late back and lose points from the meager total I had.
I got back in the end utterly deflated despite the glorious day, I knew I had not done as well as I might. With 20 minutes left on my clock, I sat and considered what I may have done differently… On the positive side – at least I discovered the mechanical issue at the start and not half way through – when I was in the middle of nowhere and not near a shop! Also, although a head cold I have, as I write this it certainly seems to be better, barely 24 hours later. I think I dropped about 50-70 points with changed plans etc and definitely rode less – only 35km’s its usually over 50km for me and I ran only 8 km, I typically run 12-16km’s on these events. I scored 380 points, disappointing, but better than it could have been! Bring on the next one in February in the Yorkshire Dales! (Gutted there isn’t one in January this year).
I was awarded my 10,000 points picture here. Open Adventure keep a tally of your Open 5 career points and commemorate them at 5,000 with a named number card and wee bottle of bubbly and at 10,000 points a framed picture of you on an event taken by James Kirby, (these are made available to all through Facebook after the race).
The 33rd running of the Tour of Pendle.
It’s a classic fell running race up my local hill – Pendle Hill (557m). I say ‘up’ it. Its basically up and down it five times from various sides. Its held in mid November and is the last AL race of the FRA (Fell Runners Association) calendar for the year. ‘AL’ is the grading of race – ‘A’ being steepest, ‘L’ being longest. It works out at 27km (16.8miles) and getting on for 1400m of climb. Part of its attraction is the fact that its a long race at a time of year where the weather can play a big part on the outcome. None more than in 2015, where the course was shortened (to a BL) due to the threat of a horrendous storm, low temps, driving torrential rain and strong winds. So with bated breath the 447 entrants on the start list I suspect were watching the forecast with a great deal of anticipation… I know I was!
The forecast was for intermediate snow/sleet/rain lower down throughout the day, and although with windchill the temperature was going to be well below zero, the winds were not strong and from the one direction, meaning part of the course would be ‘chill free’. Part of me expected a shortened course… but YAY not this time! I have been ready for this race and looking forward to running it for a while now, several recent long training runs, the BG recce, three mountain marathons this year – I felt the best prepared for this race since about 2012. Bring.It.On.
I had set myself the goal of sub 4 hours in the previous weeks, (my PB being 3.45), conscious the snow would have an impact, I still felt that was attainable, even if a PB was not.
With multiple club mates and clubs from all over the country in attendance, the Tour is something of a marquee race in fell terms – everyone wants a good run. Most first timers just want to “finish it” (there is a cut off two hours in at Checkpoint 4). Fell runners can be judged on their “Tour time” in the same way their performance is gauged in the ‘Lakes Classics’. The route is enshrined in Pendle Fell running lore; club runs on the hill are described by Tour route ‘reference’ points. That route being: “From the Village (Barley) Hall, up the reservoir road to Buttock, then to the Trig (top), but don’t stop, across to the gate/ladder stile, then to the gap in the wall – Checkpoint 1, before cutting across the moor (boggy!) to pick up the Ogden/main track heading for Apronfull Hill and the Quarry – CP2, before an about turn down to Churn Clough Res(ervoir) and CP3, then climb up on to Spence Moor before charging down ‘Geronimo’ and on to CP4, also known as “Bill’s Stone” after the memorial there to Bill Smith. (I recommend you Google “Bill Smith Fell Runner“).
This is about half way in distance terms… however the Tour’s sting is all the big climbs are on the back half of the race! From CP4, its along Ogden Valley, climb out of this and up to the main track, down Ashendean Clough to CP5, before heading up again to the Memorial Cairn (two CleM runners, who sadly died in the nineties in separate incidents, but both pursuing what they loved to do). CP6 is beyond here, cross the wall and aim for the ‘Big Dipper’ (Mearley Clough), an insanely steep descent to CP7 at a stream/wall crossing, before crossing the stream then immediately climbing straight back out an equally steep hill to ‘Scout Cairn’-CP8, (Pile of stones on the OS map). Connoisseurs of contours will enjoy looking at Mearley Clough! From CP8 its along the top ridge line, past shelter cairn, over the ladder stile and then DOWN to CP9. This is the killer blow. Its a long way down on ‘Downham side’ (a small village to the north west of Pendle HIll) and an even longer way back up – ‘the Big End’ again, to the trig, and CP10. Then its time to summon whatever you have left and charge down a long gentle hill from CP10, across Barley Moor to CP11 (same as CP4) to then join the main reservoir track back to the Village Hall. Sounds simple right?
To be fair it is – even in poor visibility, there is no real navigation required, a well worn trod has been created and even in the snow – well, it was a foot deep rut in places more or less all the way round. So provided you are not in the top ten or so and leading, you just need follow that. The snow negated any local knowledge I could bring (frustrating – I have plenty) as the moment you were out of the trod, you were in enough snow to impede progress, (unless descending, in which case snow is the best thing ever!) so all the little runners trods and snickets on to runnable/less technical terrain were all the same – snowbound and therefore out of bounds.
As the pictures and video clip suggest, the snow was on the ground and falling intermittently, making a really challenging race. Runners wiser and more experienced than I, all remarked “that was the toughest Tour” they could remember – after 18,20,25 odd goes at it, they should know. It was the combination of fallen snow, but unfrozen and therefore muddy tracks, with the wind, precipitation and poor visibility in places that seemed to add 20-30 minutes on to peoples expected times, the record for the Tour is 2 hours, 11 minutes. The winning time today was two hours and nearly forty minutes, so there is something in that ‘plus 20 minutes’ for the conditions.
From my perspective this was my best Tour, and up there with some of my best races/runs. I felt strong, was pleased with my performance and even though the Garmin says 4.09 (results not up as write this – so no official time yet) if you take 20 minutes off, that puts me where I wanted to be before I set off. I felt as though I was passing more people than were passing me from CP1 onward and I got my food and drink right today, no flagging or bonking on the route at all. A couple of negative things stood out, concerning other competitors poor decision making, mostly kit related but here and now is not the place for that. I’ll save that rant for another day! All in all an amazing days running and one for the memory bank.
I raced in 3/4 length leggings (OMM brand), Injini socks with Seal Skinz over the top, Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s (classics – green and black), top half I started in a skinny fit long sleeve Helly Hansen base layer with CleM vest on top, but on the first climb from Buttock to the Trig when the frozen rain and wind blew in I put on my Montane Minimus smock and it stayed there for the duration. I also wore an Innov-8 peaked cap – great for protecting eyes in inclement weather. I also wore gloves -ODLO ones with a great pull over mitten feature – used plenty on this run, great for warming fingers/protecting from the wind. In my OMM bum bag was the usual FRA kit – Waterproof pants (Montane Minimus again), a compass (-Silva type 3), route map, a trail mix bag of malt loaf, jelly babies and jelly beans, two SIS Gels and about 800mls of water with ~High5 electrolyte tabs in. I can say that all the kit is well tested and trusted, but in particular today, the nutrition bit was spot on.
So, I’ve never been a diligent, or good boulderer. I just don’t get it. Well I do, it just doesn’t float my boat…particularly. I understand the training benefits from a broader climbing perspective, the overall ‘challenge’ of it and to be frank, I am struggling to recall the last time I went. we are talking years! Its something to do I think with people standing around, posing, tops off and watching… I think!
So why today then? Well a mate had suggested checking The Depot out, a posh new wall in Manchester a few weeks ago. I had read some press, seen some reviews it all sounded very positive, so said yes, lets do it. However he then cried off sick, so I went for a long run instead. Skip to the present and I thought, I have a few hours, why not head to The Depot. So I did.
After an epic snow filled, roadwork infested trip round the M60 taking nearly twice as long as it should have, I walked in, clean lines, ‘new’ feel definitely, and SPACE. Lots of SPACE. For a Friday late morning session there were people about, but with loads of space between them, pairs, solos, three’s all ascending and largely descending a variety of well spaced lines. I liked that… its clear to see the problem you are facing, rather than trying to decide if that hold is a yellow or green under layers of chalk/rubber/grime, they are clearly laid out and well spaced. A good start. So after the usual safety registration piece (membership is a fiver) I was pointed in the direction of the circuit board and each coloured line was graded from V0 to V10 some encompassing a range. The Junior ones were green and a bit “squished together” which I thought was good – challenges with the young’uns in mind and they had left up the competition routes as well from a bash a few days previous. I scoffed and offered the fact I would be staying well away from those! To be told they start dead easy (they did too!) and get progressively harder… (they did that an all.)
So I started at the bottom (V0-V1) and thought I’ll bash through them all and then go on to some V1 to V2’s and maybe a comp line. there were loads! To be honest I lost count, but comfortably over a dozen – that is a good number for beginner lines and despite my discomfort “bouldering” (be assured my top was on and staying there) I was enjoying the fact that I had been there 45 minutes and wasn’t bored yet having blasted through the easy stuff and getting spanked on the moderate grades! I had a go at a few comp lines – I got to the third problem and two blues, before grabbing some food (kind of pricey, £1.50 for a coffee £3.90 for a pannini -but nice). Feeling replenished and rested I went back to the white circuit and went again… but by the 6th or 7th line I was feeling it in the arms so decided with a big race tomorrow I didn’t want to injure myself or stretch too far, so time to retreat. So for £5 membership for the year – I will be back.
It looks like they change routes regularly, host other events (a film screening coming up, the comp the weekend previous, do parties etc) and run ‘Yoga for climbers’ sessions. Location wise if you are Manchester based or west/south of Manchester, then its a no brainer. For me, with the road works on the motorway (and okay the weather didn’t help) it took me three and a half hours to get there and back… I was expecting two!
Still, here it is: http://www.theclimbingdepot.co.uk/manchester