Basecamp

As I sit here at my desk with a bit of a cold, staring at the rain pouring down outside and listening to the wind buffeting against the side of the house, I thought I’d cheer myself up (and avoid doing any work for a little bit longer) by sorting out my photos from my recent trip to Devon for a weekend of expedition training with the fantastic people at Monty Halls’ Great Escapes.

The aim of the weekend was to introduce vaguely outdoors-y people like me to the basics of planning and taking part in expeditions in remote areas, with a particular focus on establishing a suitable basecamp and photographing/filming the wildlife. An outdoors weekend in January? In tents? Surely not, I hear you exclaim. Well, actually, yes. An outdoors weekend in the thick of winter. What’s not to like?

And it turns out that there was, in fact, everything to like. We were based in a great camp set up in the depths of the Raleigh Estate just outside Dartmouth, with a central cooking and living tent…

…an outside eating area among the trees, which we didn’t use as it hardly stopped raining once throughout the entire weekend…

…and a group of smaller tents for us to sleep in. This is mine in the picture below, which I shared with a chap called Steve, who had recently moved down to Exmouth from London and seemed overawed by all the fresh air.

Having travelled down the night before, it was with great relief that I emerged from my tent early the following morning and saw that some kind soul had already got the fire going and started to rustle up some breakfast. If the photo below doesn’t make you want to get outdoors and go on en expedition, then I’m afraid there may be something wrong with you.

The next two days were a blur of activity. We used rope techniques to climb up some trees, throwing a light line (with a weight on the end) over a branch and using it to pull over a heavier rope that we could climb up. We also learnt how people get the ropes up the really tall trees you see people climbing on telly. The solution, apparently, is to get a light line over a high branch using a catapult or a crossbow. For really, really tall trees, you need to climb up in stages, throwing the line up from the branch you’ve just reached. You heard it here first.

We also did some powerboat handling on the picturesque River Dart, where we even managed to see some seals. I love being on the water, so this was probably my favourite part, especially when Rachel (our instructor) let us go out onto the sea and roar around like loons for a bit. I’m the one on the far right in the picture below.

On land, we did some off-road driving with Steve from the Land Rover Experience, who showed off the best the Land Rover has to offer (though I must admit that I prefer the Defender over the Discovery shown in the photo below) and let us drive (very slowly!) around the muddy tracks on the estate.

Needless to say, we all enjoyed the driving quite a bit, even if you can’t tell that from the knackered faces in the photo below.

Back at basecamp, we learnt about the basics of water hygiene, which is critical if you’re to avoid poisoning yourself and spending your entire expedition looking for (or digging) a loo. Here’s Aldo showing us how it’s done.

There were also, as is to be expected, numerous tea breaks. I mean, you can’t risk becoming dehydrated in situations like this.

With the camp being at the bottom of a small ravine, we couldn’t miss the opportunity of doing a little light abseiling. I’ve only abseiled once before, and that was when I was about ten, so this was quite new for me. And, to my surprise, I absolutely loved it.

And the activities didn’t stop in the evenings. We had a series of lectures from specialists in wildlife filming and expeditions, including Andy Torbet

…and Monty Halls himself, who (with his enormous black dog, Reuben) was a regular fixture throughout the weekend and, to his infinite credit, did his utmost to make sure that we all got the very maximum from our time on the course.

We also spent a little more time than is perhaps healthy ogling the array of Land Rovers that people had brought with them. Having left my little Vauxhall Astra in the car park at the entrance to the estate and cadged a lift down in someone’e four-wheel-drive, I did feel somewhat inferior. I’ve since purchased a Mercedes estate, which – to be honest – hasn’t helped a great deal. (Though it is a lot more comfortable, and fuel efficient, than the much more manly Defender.)

Overall, despite returning home exhausted and absolutely covered in mud, I had the most amazing weekend. And so, as you can tell from the photo below, did everyone else, too. If you’re in the market for some expedition training or just an outstanding weekend outdoors, then this is most definitely the course for you.

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