Celtic Illumination, part 287, We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside
Thankfully the police didn’t show up that night, not that I was that bothered about them. I had all the appropriate paperwork to show that, at least in my opinion, I had gone through all the correct procedures. They may have been right, the land could now belong to them, but no one in their right mind would ask such a party, like ours, to leave immediately. The staff from Plas y Brenin were just playing at being hard-nosed businessmen, and failing dismally. This was not the attitude of most people involved in outdoor activities. Normally it is a very friendly and easy going environment.
It was a beautiful morning and I could have stood there all day long, all week long in fact, just drinking a nice cup of tea and watching the clouds sweep over the mountains. Once again Linda came toward me, this time leading a single man. He reached out a huge hand to me and from the look and feel of his paw it was apparent that he was not a pen pusher. He introduced himself as a local farmer who had been having a beer the previous evening in Cobdens and had heard that we might have a small problem. As I began to speak he stood back. “I didn’t know you were Irish!” he said, at which his whole demeanour changed.
“Look,” he says, pointing into the distance. “I have some land, just across the river from Cobdens; you’re more than welcome to camp there.” Like the farmer with the shotgun at Rhydtalog this fellow assumed, I think at least, that all the cadets were Irish and basically fellow Celts. The hand of friendship was well and truly extended. And given the attitude of many of the Viet Taff who had been burning the English holiday homes in the area I suppose I should not have been surprised by it at all. I told the adult staff to supervise the decampment; I was off with the farmer to view the land he had offered. It certainly was a decent piece of luck as I didn’t have the official MOD map with me that showed the exact location of other sites, I only had my memory of them.
The land he offered was perfect. It was a narrow strip of land about thirty feet wide. It was bordered on one side by the river and behind us, protecting and sheltering us, was a high wall and wood that curved around to meet with the river. Once again there was a slight combat course to cover to get into the site and there was no way we could get the coach across the rough field from the only gate access. I thanked the farmer and agreed that we would take him up on his offer. Normally people can arrive and set up their tent late evening without asking permission. The farmer will come around in the morning and collect a fee from them, which then was usually about fifty pence, per person, for the night. I had some forms with me which I could complete and the farmer submit them and get paid. I of course forget how to count correctly and probably put down more of us than there were, but then as they say, one good favour deserves another.
As I had expected the moral was quite low and I knew that I had to step in and try to lead from the front. We managed to break camp, move all our gear to the side of the road and then pile it all back on to the coach. Cobdens was only half a mile back along the road so I asked John, the driver, to hang fire as I went down to see the manager and ask his permission to use his car park so that we could unload. The manager agreed and we parked up and began to unload. This time we had to cross a narrow bridge, but at least it was solid, and then traverse a rocky outcrop, that wasn’t too bad, and then twenty five or thirty yards of rough wooded ground to a small wire fence and we were on our new camp site.
The largest and heaviest single item was the canvas for the cook shack. I made sure that I got a hold of it, and leading by example, began to jog to the new camp site. I could feel that the canvas tent wasn’t positioned correctly on my shoulders, but I needed to try and raise the moral of the troops. I thundered off, calling for the cadets to follow me, which they did. My heart was in my mouth as I traversed the rock, as the raging river beneath me looked rather cold. Once clear, I opened my legs up and increased my pace, still calling for the cadets to follow me. As I leapt the fence, and here you probably have a mental image of grace and refinement, perhaps something like Red Rum clearing Bechers Brook at Aintree, and you would be correct. Unlike my traverse of the rocky outcrop, my heart was not in my mouth this time but the field was.
The toe of my right boot had caught the top of the small wire fence and I had gone face first into the field with the heavy canvas tent making sure my face went well into the damp grass. Even though I still had the cook shack sitting on my head I could hear the cadets and staff laughing their heads off behind me. Once again, unwittingly, like the knicker raid at Swanton Morley, I had raised the moral of the unit without even trying. It was pointless even thinking about attempting any activity that day so I made sure that the base camp was set up and then allowed the cadets to relax and explore their new surroundings. A couple of the cadets approached me gasping, “Sir, sir, can we set up a death slide.”
I wished they had another name for it but what they basically did was tie a rope to a tree at the top of a hill and then secure it, out and away from the bottom of the hill, with a huge tent peg. They were now going to slide down the rope. They would have been at the most ten or fifteen feet high in the air and I wasn’t worried about safety as the ground they were hurtling over was quite marshy. It looked quite scary and they couldn’t find any cadet to be the first to try it out. I have to say I was both concerned and proud when the only person who stepped forward to give it a go was my nine year old son James. I remember once when I had to take James to the hospital in Ipswich, to have a wound in his forehead stitched up, that he was lying laughing with the doctors as they sewed up the wound. So I knew that if he came off the rope he wouldn’t complain if he was hurt or else he would bounce.
When they tired of the death slide, they set a rope up across the river, which was a good thirty feet wide and began hauling themselves across it. I didn’t mind, I needed them to tire themselves out. I went in to the cook shack to have a quiet coffee and a smoke and a few moments peace and quiet. It was nice to hear them all enjoying themselves until you start to hear the call, “Sir! Sir! Sir!” I came out of the cook shack to see someone hanging on the rope; they had clipped themselves on using a climbing harness and carabineer. The rope had lost tension and slumped in the middle, meaning that the person on the rope was now in and under the water. One member of the adult staff was standing on the river bank next to the rope but he wasn’t moving, neither were the cadets, they were in shock, pointing at the person on the rope.
Without thinking I ran towards the incident and leapt straight into the river, made my way to the fellow on the rope, now drowning, and lifted him clear of the water. It was my son James. He spluttered and hung onto me as I released him from the rope and carried him back to the bank. The adult member of staff was standing there with one of his shoes in his hand. I asked him what he was doing, and I’m sure you know there may have been an expletive or two used. He told me he was taking his shoes off before he went into the water. I told them to re-tension the rope before they used it again. James was fine and laughed it off. I went into my tent and changed my clothes.
As I came out of my tent I couldn’t believe that I was met once again with the cry of “Sir. Sir! Sir!” The exact same thing had happened again and this time there was no adult member of staff near them. Once again I launched myself into the river and pulled Abella out of the river. He too like James laughed the incident off and I announced that the river crossing rope was to be taken down. As I went back to my tent to change my clothes again I noticed that the adult member of staff, who had been next to the initial incident, was moving slowly along the river bank looking for something. I shouted over to him and asked what he was doing. He said that he had set the shoe he had taken off down but it had floated away. He needed to find it as he had no other form of footwear with him. I squelched my way into my tent and hoped and prayed that nothing else would go wrong, I mean it couldn’t, could it?