Visit to Edale
St Chad's field trip, 1968
Clarabelle was the school’s first bus, a 22 seat personnel carrier previously owned by Orsett Hospital. She was resprayed British Racing Green by a group of boys led by Clive. His surname escapes me but his name was visible on the wall of the old building until it was demolished as he emptied the spray gun there. She was a little temperamental as I’ll explain later and often had to be hand cranked to start.
The week long field trip to Edale was part of the group’s Geography course and, as far as I’m aware, the 1968 trip was a first for the school. Accommodation was a converted barn quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Beds were five ply boards nailed to lengths of two by two (hence the spare seats from the bus being carried in the video), all the water had to be boiled before use and the closest we could get the bus was about a mile away. There were separate bedrooms and washing facilities for girls and boys though the latter had a hole in the wall so that toiletries could be exchanged. We did all our own cooking in a tiny kitchen and there was a rota to cater for the preparation and washing up. Time saving short cuts was quickly worked out. To give just one example, dried peas were boiled in the kettle. The water was poured off to make the hot drinks and the peas then spooned out onto the dinner plates. The kids were horrified at first but by the end of the week we had a hard job dragging them away. In fact, a couple of years later another party insisted that they went back for a few days in their own time.
But to return to Clarabelle. On the way there she misbehaved and broke the fan belt on the M1. The AA were called and arrived with the wrong replacement. This meant that we had to be towed to the nearest service area. It was pouring with rain at the time and as Clarabelle was attached to the AA Land Rover by a very short length of tow-rope, I exercised my discretion as party leader and delegated Mrs. Edwards to drive. Well, someone had to take responsibility for operating the windscreen wipers that normally only worked when the engine was running!
Three factory visits were arranged, to a cotton mill that was used to film some scenes from the BBC series about Colditz, to a water treatment plant and to a steel works. This last one took place on a day when it was raining hard. Since it couldn’t be put off I made the kids pack a change of clothing so that when we got to the bus they could change into dry clothes. When we reached the bus there was a British Rail gang parked there and they were so amused at the antics as the kids changed that they knocked on the windows to offer us cups of tea. The air temperature in the rolling mill was approaching 190°F so wet clothes were carried to dry out.
Other trips were made to Treak Cliff Caverns to be told about Blue John mining, hence the scenes of ‘rock bashing in Winnats Pass as they tried to find there own samples of this special calcite, to Castleton for a town survey and to Dovedale for a river study. In 1968 the visit to Dovedale passed without incident. Not so the next year when I had my worst moment on all the field trips I organised. Instead of walking back to the bus from the stepping stones across the river I decided that it made sense for Mrs. Edwards to take the party on and walk through the Dale to the other end. Meanwhile, I would drive the bus round to meet them in Miller’s Dale. It was a simple task. All they had to do was follow the river. I’d walked it and there was nowhere to go wrong. Silly me! I got to the rendezvous point – a convenient pub and settled down to wait.
Time passed and with no sign of them I decided to walk back through the Dale to meet them. I walked right through to the stepping stones with not a sight of them. Then I began to panic. How was I going to explain the loss of fifteen kids and a teacher. Abduction by aliens, fallen into a suddenly opening sink-hole? I got back to Miller’s Dale and was contemplating calling the Police when they suddenly appeared from a totally unexpected direction. It seems I had miscalculated the simplicity of the task. Half way along the Dale there is a rockfall. The track down to the river is well worn and branches left. However, there is a less well-used one to the right that leads up to the plateau above. Yes, they went right. Fortunately they had enough sense to consult their maps and work out how to get to the meeting point.
But back to 1968. Once back from the day’s work, whilst the evening meal was being prepared a couple of kids were detailed to walk to the nearest shop to collect the milk for the next day, a round trip of nearly three miles. We’d had a particularly hard day and this time nobody was prepared to do it, so I went myself.
When I got back, I met Robert Atkinson on the path leading to the barn with all his belongings on his back saying, “I’m not stopping in there Sir, not with your temper!” It was the first time I realised that I had one that showed, but having ordered him back in I found out why he was anxious to distance himself from what had gone on in my absence. All my kit had been sabotaged. Salt added to my talcum powder, pyjamas sewn up, toothpaste mixed with my soap and knots tied in sleeves and socks. The mutiny over the milk had been arranged to get me out whilst the dirty deeds were done. There was only one person responsible and the next evening the kids had a lesson in the British judicial system as Mrs. Edwards was put on trial. We had a judge and jury and Mrs. Edwards had a defence lawyer. I think the verdict was guilty but with diminished responsibility and sentence was suspended.
All in all it was a fun trip with a lot of hard work as can be seen from the display produced at the end of the video. However, I wonder if the things we did with the kids would be allowed today with the present ‘health and safety’ culture that prevails. The kids learnt a lot and, most importantly, we got to know each other and how to mix in and help each other. The other huge outcome of these visits was the special bond between staff and pupils that resulted in living together in what sometimes could be trying circumstances.
Postscript – Mrs. Edwards and myself organised a sponsored walk to raise funds for the purchase of a replacement for Clarabelle. This resulted in the blue Bedford minibus seen in the videos of Dorset and North Wales.