School Camps: Fun in the Dales

 School work became more important. At Whitsuntide 1963 I was preoccupied with GCE ‘O’-levels, but Roxy and I persuaded Dad to take a tent, deckchairs, books and food to Shaw Field in his Dormobile. There we pitched at a respectful distance from the Salem camp and revised for our exams. We achieved an unaccustomed degree of luxury and convenience living, which extended to taking stewed rhubarb in glass jars to avoid having to cook it.

For four days we played the part of eccentrics, if not actually rebels. It was a new role for me, because I’d toed the line for much of the previous five years, and although I’d resented the discipline of Scouting, I’d always accepted it. The thought of challenging the established order never occurred to me.

Whilst I was never openly rebellious, Vowlesy most certainly was. In his last few weeks at school in 1961 he took on Ray ‘Joe’ Smith, our woodwork and metalwork teacher, in a meaningless challenge. Joe was the most terrifying teacher at Prince Henry’s, with a prop forward’s build, a booming voice, a special line in humiliating boys who made a mistake in the workshop, and a propensity for slapping random punishments on any pupil he suspected of being recalcitrant in the slightest degree. His standard imposition was ‘One Hundred Four-Syllable Words by Tomorrow Morning’, and when you handed them in he tore the sheets up in front of you without looking at them.

Joe also ran the school’s Camping and Canoeing Club, which regularly spent a week at Netherfield Hall School near Grassington. By offering boys and girls from fourteen years of age the chance to go camping, he and a few other teachers enjoyed a free holiday for themselves and, in Joe’s case, for his wife and the younger elements of his large family. The Club provided tents, cooking equipment, gas and canoes. Those attending were allocated space in a single-sex tent and had to buy and prepare their own food. Apart from telling a teacher where you were going if you left the site, you did as you wished: a day of skimming stones on the River Wharfe; a walk into Grassington; a hike to Kilnsey or Arncliffe to visit – you didn’t tell Joe the next bit – the Tennant Arms or The Falcon. No camp fires. No kit inspection. No uniform. No flag break. Camping with Joe was a great change from Scout camps, and at camp Joe himself was great.

Vowlesy had for some years been in the habit of goading Joe by insisting that Scout camping was far superior in style and substance to anything that the Camping and Canoeing Club offered. Joe invariably reacted like a stung bull, bellowing and ridiculing Vowlesy’s view, so eventually Vowlesy invited himself to the next Club camp to demonstrate that he was right. He approached Robert and me to take a bell tent and cooking pots to Grassington, to cook our meals on an open fire, and generally to camp in best Scouting style, though not in uniform.

For the life of me I don’t know why I said yes. Robert went along with it as well. Mum questioned my common sense, pointing out that it was one thing for Vowlesy to get at loggerheads with Joe, but I still had my future at school to consider. Anyway, we went.

The week was a crushing defeat for Vowlesy’s promotion of Scout camping, whilst from Joe’s angle it was a bundle of trouble. We pitched our bell tent in the middle of a beautifully mown camping field, whereas Joe erected all his tents along the edge, in the shelter of a belt of tall trees. We dug out turf so that we could make a fire place. When the groundsman pointed out that he struggled to drive his mowers past our set-up, Joe demanded we move it, but Vowlesy argued that the grass wouldn’t grow much in a week, and there the tent stood until a midweek gale blew the pegs out in the middle of the night, and we looked silly.

Within an hour of our arrival, Scout camping had as good as vanished from Vowlesy’s list of priorities. He found himself in the proximity of a number of attractive girls from my year, and if Joe had set out his stall to distract Vowlesy from his mission he couldn’t have devised better bait. Puffing up his chest like a pouter pigeon, Vowlesy spent much of the week strutting up to the girls’ tents and engaging them in conversation. Despite his continuous efforts, there was no detectable softening of their hearts or opening of their tent doors to him, so in an attempt to raise his kudos he invited everyone to join him in an afternoon hike to Kilnsey.

Almost the entire company set off, and after a refreshing drink at the pub we turned round to head back to camp. At that point Vowlesy declared that he knew an alternative route that avoided the main road, so he led us across the valley to Conistone and onto a faint path by the river. As we straggled along, the sun slipped below the skyline, and our tee shirts and shorts seemed none too warm. Vowlesy started looking worried, and without him saying anything the truth dawned upon me: he’d realised there was no bridge across the river before Grassington, and we faced a long detour and a hike along the main road in the dark, with Joe’s fury waiting at the campsite.

Vowlesy made the decision that we would wade across the river, and he sent me first. It was no problem, as there was neither strong current nor deep water to hinder us, but unfortunately there was a sharp piece of glass, as one girl discovered when she sliced open her foot. As we gathered on the bank Vowlesy again took charge, ordering one of the girls to run the half mile to camp and ask a teacher – preferably not Joe - to be ready to take the injured girl to hospital. Obediently, the lass set off on her errand while others fashioned a dressing to staunch the flow of blood, after which we lads carried the casualty back to camp.

‘What are you going to do?’ I asked Vowlesy, as my mind’s eye watched images of Joe assaulting him with flailing fists.
‘Take it on the chin,’ he smiled wanly. ‘He can’t kill me.’
I wasn’t so sure.

We duly encountered the full force of Joe’s apoplectic rage. He lashed out verbally in every direction, faced as he was with the dual emergency of the gashed foot and the collapse of the messenger, who had bravely done her duty despite being asthmatic. Vowlesy was down and discredited: he kept a low profile for the remainder of the week, though Joe erupted in one more incandescent outburst on the final day, when the green turf we had dug for our fireplace was revealed as a shrivelled brown thatch. Robert and I kept our heads down and carried on camping, while Vowlesy left school and joined the Police Force.

A year later we were once more at Grassington, as were David Veall and a large assortment of males and females of our age. It was our fourth year at Prince Henry’s. We all knew that it was our last chance to go camping together before ‘O’-levels, and after that the majority would leave school.

We had the pleasure of the company of two fifth year lads, Peter ‘Frank’ Lodge and John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. Frank was regarded as the most sexually precocious bloke in the school. Hutch was Frank’s stooge, a tall, thin, odd-looking youth of limited intellectual acuity who spent a lot of time in the metalwork shop. His main claim to fame was that his father had won the football pools. Frank and Hutch were the source of endless entertainment, mainly for their drunkenness, but Joe admitted he couldn’t send them home because the lorry that transported all our equipment was provided free by Hutchinson’s father.

Apart from the lurid exploits of Frank and Hutch, the main event for me that week was walking the Three Peaks. The party consisted of Keith Larrad (PE teacher), sixth-former Ian Mullen, David Veall, future head boy Martin Yates, and me. We started by packing into the Morris Minor of teacher JM ‘Plug’ Smith at 0600h. Plug deposited us at Dale Head Farm, and we quickly conquered Pen-y-ghent, then we hared across the drumlins to Selside and gratefully swallowed pints of tea. Next came the head-on assault of Whernside from Ribblehead and a descent to Chapel le Dale and the Hill Inn for more tea. We made a seriously steep ascent of Ingleborough before trotting across the limestone pavements, through Horton in Ribblesdale, and over the flank of Pen-y-ghent to rendezvous with Plug. We completed the circuit in ten and a half hours, and I felt pleased with my performance, always up at the front and pushing myself hard.

Two years later, in 1964, Joe drove me, Denis Blackburn and Jim Collins to Sedbergh and left us to set up camp. Next day he arrived with the others, including Mary and her friend Angela Sharp. In a week of fair weather, my only day on the hills came when David and John Moxon joined me to climb rain-lashed Whernside. We then dined in a restaurant at Kirby Lonsdale thanks to their father Cyril, which compensated for the foul conditions. That was my last school camp.

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