Ten Tors 50th Birthday

PUBLISHED: 18:06 26 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:16 20 February 2013

Back row: Elliot Lambell, Bethany Jim, Henry Powell, Alex Evens
Front row: Jacob Barratt and Redford Milford

Back row: Elliot Lambell, Bethany Jim, Henry Powell, Alex Evens Front row: Jacob Barratt and Redford Milford

Since it first began in 1960, Ten Tors has been a rite of passage for thousands of teenagers. Anna Turns heads to Dartmoor to discover more about this extraordinary challenge.

It is run by the Army in the wilds of Dartmoor, and it is the largest mass-participation event for youngsters in the South West. For two days over the course of a weekend in May, more than 2,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 19 take part, on hikes of either 35, 45 or 55 miles (depending on their age). Each team must complete a different route across Dartmoor, reaching a manned checkpoint at each of ten tors.

How did it all begin? In 1959, three British Army officers from the Denbury Boys Junior Leaders Regiment, the Royal Corps of Signals, Newton Abbot, were on an exercise on Dartmoor. Over a meal around the campfire at Sittaford Tor, Lieutenant Colonel Gregory, Major Parker and Captain Joyner discussed how an expedition on Dartmoor would be a great challenge for young people. In 1960, the Ten Tors Expedition teams of ten completed a 50-mile hike from Hay Tor to Willsworthy.


Brigadier Steve Hodder, Director of Ten Tors, who took part himself as a CCF cadet at Exeter School, says training is a key part of the whole Ten Tors process and can be the hardest part of all.

Training is limited to just two training sessions on Dartmoor, so teams have to look elsewhere for additional training. Introducing kids to enjoying the countryside around the region is fantastic a real spin-off from the main event, says Brigadier Hodder. We work closely with Dartmoor National Park Authority to enable access to the moor while also promoting respect for the environment, so we are restricted to 400 teams.

The Event

When teams arrive at Okehampton Camp on the Friday, they are given their route. They then plan their hike across the terrain and submit the times they expect to reach each checkpoint. Each team undergoes a thorough kit list check with army scrutineers. Teams have to carry everything they will (or might) need, from a whistle and survival bag to tents, food and stoves.

With Sea King helicopters overhead, theres a real buzz in the air as the race begins at 7am on the Saturday. After a reading of the Ten Tors prayer by the Chaplain General, the 400 teams disperse in all directions to begin the challenge.

Theres a real party atmosphere here this year, explains Brigadier Hodder. As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations we have introduced the Ten Tors Award for the dedicated volunteers who make this event possible. One guy has helped us for 44 years solid, and its that kind of support that makes Ten Tors a success.

The Operations Room is a hub of activity, with police, Dartmoor Rescue volunteers and the Army all working alongside each other. For the first time this year all Ten Tors teams are tagged and monitored by GPS technology, so organisers can track each team as they cross the moor.

The system comes into its own on the Saturday evening as dusk falls and a 55-mile team is lost. The tracker shows them almost coming off the southern edge of the moor. When the team presses the panic button, the Ops team calculate their exact co-ordinates to assess the land type in that position. Its too rough for land vehicles so the Dartmoor Rescue team fly in by helicopter and bring them back to safety. Despite all this technology, Ten Tor teams are still armed only with a compass and maps, so the challenge for them hasnt got any easier.

On the Moor

In 50 years, the kit may have changed, but Dartmoor has not. It remains a wilderness of extremes. In all its beauty, it is still a rugged, ever-changing and dangerous environment to navigate, and everyone faces the potential risk of hypothermia or heat exhaustion. Thankfully, the Army and teams of rescue volunteers have all corners of the moor covered.

At the main Okehampton base, the army hospital houses a medical team of 20, and each tor checkpoint has two medics on duty. GP Major Giles Stevens, explains: On the Saturday morning we had quite a few hypothermic after the start, and later on there were more musculo-skeletal injuries.

Warrant Officer Richard Dory, from the Royal Navy based at Combestone Tor, says: This morning many of them were very tired, but last night they were all singing and dancing, even though there were a few blisters on blisters. It restores your faith in teenagers, especially when you look at the team spirit they have.

The Finish Line

The first teams cross the finish line at 07.37am, but many parents wait anxiously for hours to see their children complete the challenge. Some teams look stunned, some elated, but all their faces tell the story of what an amazing achievement they had pulled off as a team.

It was tiring, says Bethany Jim, aged 15, who walked 35 miles with Exeters Bramdean School, and had come back with lots of blisters.

The Shebbear College 35-mile team from North Devon sums it up. That was really hard, and there are lots of blisters to prove it!

Dan Rogerson from Shebbear College injured himself but hobbled on regardless. I hurt my knee and its all swollen up but I just took painkillers and carried on. Its all OK, but weve all got very sore feet.

Mike Feighan, father of George in the Exeter and District Scout Group, says: Theyve really rallied together as a team and theyve had to walk through lots of different sorts of weather conditions. So Im extremely proud.

Tom Wheeler, 18, from Horizons Youth Centres 55-mile team from Kingsbridge, says the hardest part for the team had been getting up at 4am in time to start walking by 6am. Jenny Sterry, team leader, says: I loved being the team leader, it was amazing, and I helped to keep them all going throughout the weekend.

Anniversary Medals

As part of the anniversary celebrations, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who is Patron of Ten Tors, congratulated teams and presented medals. With his lunch, he drank Legend Ale, Dartmoor Brewerys Ten Tors anniversary ale.

Each competitor is awarded a certificate, a Ten Tors 50 medal and a Devonshire pasty.

Denbury Boys

To mark the anniversary, ten men in their sixties who had completed the expedition as teenagers, took part in the 35-mile route. Team leader Bob Etherton, 65, said: We had quite rudimentary Army kit back then, and there were no tents. Its wonderful to see all these young people here, and a privilege to be out there again.

What really impressed me was the children the enthusiasm and the manners, says Rick Levett, 62. In our day, kit included Second World War webbing equipment, big heavy ponchos and old-fashioned studded boots, so no fancy footwear.

Latest from the Devon Life