04 July, 2015

The Ten Tors Challenge

“The vital, tremendous, indefatigable youth of Britain will always rally to a good cause.” 
Colonel Gregory, event founder, c.1960

Photograph from the Ten Tors website
by Harry Waugh 

Ten Tors is a classic young persons event which started in 1960 whilst I was a boy soldier in Devon. I did the first event as a 15 year old: walking 55 miles, camping overnight, and carrying what we thought would suffice. Since then the event has grown, and obviously is now covered by a million rules and regulations, especially of the health and safety variety.

Over 350,000 young people have taken part in the event. I have helped in the organisation and safety of several since the first, as have other End-to-Enders to whom I have spoken over the years.

The 50th anniversary in 2010 saw myself and 9 other ex-Denbury boys forming a team after being invited to take part as a one-off, 50th celebration. (normally, no adults are allowed). As OAPs we were only invited to complete the shorter, 35-mile overnight route.

“If there is anything more important than the will to succeed, it is that the will shall not falter.” Colonel Gregory

Continued by Katharine Arzul:

The National Park of Dartmoor is a dramatic, unpredictable wilderness, with huge, ever-changing skies and spectacular granite outcrops, ‘tors’. After Steven Spielberg had been filming there, he wrote “I have never before, in my long, eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty.” The park is 368 square miles of hills with some 160 tors, and the high ground is the catchment area for many of Devon's rivers, including the River Dart, after which the park is named.

Ten Tors couldn't have a more challenging and breath-taking setting for the event: it is a two-day hike held every May, and organized and run by the British Army. The participants are 2,400 young people (between 14 and 19 years old), in 400 teams of 4 to 6 teens. As Harry wrote, the first Ten Tors took place in September 1960, with around 200 taking part. Although in the late '70s more entrants were allowed (more than 2,600 in 1980), the numbers are now limited to protect the environment, and only teams from the 7 counties of the South West of England are eligible.
Photograph from the Ten Tors website 


Most groups train for months before the event, and they are largely made up of Cadets, Scouts, and school and college teams. Before it was limited to locals in 2012, teens came from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand to participate. It is not a race, but some teams do compete for the fastest time. What it really offers is a challenge: of fitness, teamwork (if a team drops to fewer than 4 participants and can't join with another group, they are “crashed out” of the event), navigation and survival skills, endurance and will-power, and possibly the ability to cope in extreme weather conditions.

Not only can Dartmoor's weather be extreme, but it can change rapidly. The event has been affected by snow storms, flooding rivers, gale-force winds, freezing temperatures, and unexpected heat (26°C in 1998!)


The 50th Anniversary team of 2010. Harry Waugh is in the black-and-white bandanna immediately in front of the cross. 

There are three different course lengths depending on age: 14 to 15 year-olds walk Bronze routes of 35 miles; 16 to 17 year-olds walk Silver routes of 45 miles; and 18 to 19 year-olds (or 17 year-olds who've walked a Silver route the previous year) walk Gold routes of 55 miles. The Bronze participants must camp at a manned tor, but others may choose where to stop for the night. However, they may not pass through a checkpoint between 8pm and 6am, nor pass the ninth tor (eighth for the Bronze routes) until Sunday.

There are 19 different manned tors and teams must visit all 10 tors on their route (one of 26 different routes) in order, to receive a medal. A team leader is nominated to ensure that the route card is stamped at each tor; usually a primary navigator is also decided upon.

Ten Tors, 1964
As Harry wrote, there is plenty of health and safety regulationing, including a training camp for the organizers, a safety-briefing video for the teens before they begin, and Navy helicopters standing by for evacuations. The teams have their equipment thoroughly checked, known in the event's own lingo as “scrutineering.” They carry a first aid kit, emergency rations and water purification tablets for drinking water collected on the moor. This, in addition to navigation equipment, maps, tents, clothing, food, fuel and stoves. 

Traditionally, music is played before the start at 7am on the Saturday, and the event also has its own, quite lovely prayer. They gather for the start in a huge semicircle on the flat expanse at Anthony Stile, near Okehampton Camp on the northern edge of the moor. A cannon is fired, and the teams then have until 5pm on Sunday (34 hours) to complete the challenge and return to Anthony Stile. 


Ten Tors, 1961. Harry Waugh is holding the radio.
"If it's not hard, it's not worth doing." (unattributed)

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