Every May the Ten Tors Expedition takes place on Dartmoor. This is probably one of the most famous of the annual Dartmoor walks and always makes the local television news. There are three levels of challenge which are over one of 26 specific routes, the bronze routes are 35 miles long and are open to youngsters 14 – 15 years of age. The silver routes are 45 miles long and open to 16 and 17 year olds. The gold routes are 55 miles long and open to 17 – 20 year olds, anybody aged 17 years must have completed a 45 mile route in previous years. The idea of the main challenge is for teams of 6 youngsters to walk across Dartmoor on a set route which visits ‘Ten Tors’ and lasts over two days.
There is also and event which since 1996 has been called ‘The Jubilee Challenge’ which takes place on the North Moor. This particular challenge is focused at young people with specific physical and educational special needs There are 4 routes available which range from a 7½ mile trek along metalled roads, to a 15 mile cross country route.
The teams congregate at the Okehampton Army Camp on the Friday where they will be briefed, kit checked and will camp for the night. On Saturday morning the teams set off for their designated routes at 7.00am. They are allowed to walk for up to 13 hours after which they must make camp for the night but it is not permissible to pass the eighth tor. The bronze participants must camp on a tor whereas the silver and gold teams can camp anywhere on the moor. The next day the teams must have visited the furthest tor on their route and return to the Okehampton camp by 17.00pm thus completing the expedition. Any team who in the organisers opinion will not meet the 17.00pm deadline are considered to be ‘crashed’ and are extracted off the moor by vehicle and deemed to have failed the challenge. The teams of 6 youngsters must comprise of a leader and a main navigator and are open to those aged 14 – 20 who live in the south western counties. They have to be self sufficient for their time on the moor and so each member has to carry their carry tents and provisions. The event has become that popular that there is now a restriction of 2,400 individuals for each year. Teams start training for the event in the previous winter and continue up until the actual day of the challenge.
Ten Tors Silver Medal
In 1959 three army officers devised the challenge on the following year saw the first ‘Ten Tors Challenge’ in which 203 youngster took part. By 1980 the numbers had grown to over 2,600 which was when the organisers decided on the 2,400 limit. Up to 1967 the event was organised by the Junior Leaders regiment of the Royal Corps of Signals, it was then passed to Headquarters South West District, and in 1986 to Headquarters 43 (Wessex) Brigade who umbrella the following units for the event:
The RAF and Royal Navy, who provide the event scrutineers, man and supply the 19 tor checkpoints and ensure safety across the Moor
243 (The Wessex) Field Hospital, Royal Army Medical Corps.
848 Naval Air Squadron.
The Rifle Volunteers.
7 Regiment Army Air Corps.
57 (City and County of Bristol) Signal Squadron (Volunteers).
Dartmoor Rescue Group.
Exeter University Officer Training Corps
It has recently been brought to my attention that I have been remiss with the above list as I have not included the Royal Wessex Yeomanry who are a TA regiment, for which I apologise. Over, “the last six years the Royal Wessex Yeomanry have provided the manpower, vehicles, and infrastructure for the majority of the Tor fallout RV’s and transport RV’s, and since 2006 have provided this for all Tors. We ensure that all participants that require to “fall out” from the expedition are escorted safely off the moor and transported in comfort back to the “Fall Out Cell” (also manned by RWxY personnel) where participants are booked back in off the moor and the returned safely to their respective team management”.
The army tend to use the event as a logistics training event with support from the Air Force and Royal Navy. They man the check points, provide ‘medevac’ cover and first aid and generally ensure the youngsters all round safety.
Over the years of the event the teams have been exposed to the whole gamut of Dartmoor’s extreme weather conditions. In the May of 1996 Dartmoor experienced snowstorm and sleet showers which resulted in poor visibility and freezing temperatures. These were the worst snowstorms seen on Dartmoor in any Spring and resulted in the organisers deciding on a mass emergency evacuation of the teams. 2,100 youngsters out of the 2,400 were brought off the moor by means of helicopters and search and rescue teams. I can remember that for months after you could find abandoned tents, equipment and supplies lying across the moor such was the speed of which the teams were extracted. In contrast the May of 1998 saw blistering temperatures of in excess of 26ºC and many of the teams suffering from dehydration. That year the helicopters were kept busy flying water supplies to the checkpoint tors. Many other years have seen lesser variants on cold, wet, foggy and hot weathers. The only year the event was not held was in 2001 when the moor was closed due to the Foot and Mouth epidemic. In 2006 the event will take place on the 12th, 13th and 14th of May.
In 1977 a separate challenge was introduced for youngsters with disabilities, it was originally called the ‘Special Event’ but in 1986 was renamed ‘The Jubilee Challenge. There are four routes which run from between 7½ and 15 miles. The 7½ mile route is over metalled surfaces and is suitable for wheelchair users, the other go cross country. Most years sees between 200 -250 competitors over the various Jubilee routes.
Youngsters who successfully complete their routes in both events can expect to receive a certificate, a corresponding route medal and blisters. During the event a website is available for family, friends and trainers to watch the progress of the teams as they pass through each checkpoint.
As with any activity that involves people walking on Dartmoor there are the ‘purists’ who consider the event should be banned because of the ecological and environmental effects on the moor. It appears at times that these people would like a huge fence around the moor which would allow the ‘select few’ to have sole rights to the enclosed lands. Compared to the sense of achievement the youngster gain along with a massive confidence boost the impact of the Ten Tors Challenge upon the moor is minimal.
“O God who has made the Earth of great beauty,
and who has given us the Spirit of Adventure,
we thank you for the beauty of the world,
for the courage and vigour of young people,
for the companionship and for the opportunity
to enjoy all these gifts.
We pray that you will keep them safe on this great venture
and grant that they may meet each challenge
and difficulty with unselfish courage and so find the
true spirit of comradeship as shown to us by
Jesus Christ, our Lord”. – Amen – Ten tors prayer.
Inside the army camp stands a stone cross now known as the ‘Ten Tors Cross, has a plaque stating:
“This cross was moved here in 1971
from the original Ten Tors venue at Denbury Camp
near Newton Abbot.
It was presented in July 1960 to the Juniors Leaders Regiment
Royal Signals by the people of Bovey Tracy to commemorate
the assistance given by their regiment at their
700th charter Anniversary celebrations
as the Regiment had played a leading part in organising
the original and successive expeditions
When they left Denbury
They also left the cross and bequeathed it to
The Ten Tors Expedition.“
The 2007 Ten Tors event was cancelled on the Sunday morning because it was deemed to risky to let the challenge go ahead. Weather conditions meant that the rivers were becoming swollen and visibility was considered to be worsening. The logistics meant that over 2,000 participants had to be taken off the moor, either by their own steam or by helicopter. Many of the youngsters were devastated that the hard work they put into training had all been for nothing. Several said that in their opinion they could have completed the event despite the prevailing conditions, the organisers said that it was a, “silly risk”, to let the event continue. This was also the first year that the entrants were allowed to carry mobile phones for ’emergency’ purposes only. Additionally, March 2007 also saw the tragic death of one of the entrants whilst out training for the main event in March.