I might get wet!

July 10th 2014

Talking about the holiday we had planned to the Avon Tyrell Centre Ian had said this so often it became the catchphrase of the holiday. In the weeks up to our activity holiday it looked as if his fear/hope/expectation was going to be realised. We scanned and checked the weather forecasts every day every hour in the hope for a let up from the waves of showers and gloomy weather that rolled our way on a seemingly endless conveyor belt. But perhaps by some kind of reverse magic we struck lucky and had a wonderful, sunny week in the woods and heaths of the New Forest.

This was our second activity holiday to Avon Tyrell. Karen Chia led a group last year and was so enthusiastic about the place I decided another group should get a chance to enjoy it. I was the group leader with Martyn Saxby and Nicky Leslie, our Art instructor. The “holiday makers” were David Brown, Andrew Brownrigg, Gareth Edwards, Stephen Gardener, Richard Joseph, Emma Passmore and Ian Townsend.

After the intensity of ensuring money and medication all checked and accounted for and a very sweaty half hour lashing the luggage to the roof rack under the tarpaulin we were off and had a pleasant journey down to the New Forest. We were in a different wooden chalet from last year and everyone seemed delighted with its simple rustic charm as they laid claim to their various bunks and beds.

076_590Our first day’s activity was a visit to the Beaulieu Motor Museum, a ten mile drive away. We have a number of car fanatics in our ranks and these were in seventh heaven looking at the incredible range of motor vehicles, right from a replica of the very first internal combustion car built by Herman Benz to the most modern. However it was the Top Gear display that had the broadest appeal, including the Reliant Robin they tried to fire into space and the bespoke “grannymobile” with features such as a large print speedometer. We all greatly enjoyed riding on the monorail train which took you on a scenic tour of the site.

The remaining two days were spent doing on-site activities. Wednesday morning we had booked an archery session and were instructed by Ben in the skill and art of the bow and arrow. Fortunately all the arrows went in the right direction even if not always into the target. The concept of releasing the arrow once the string had been drawn back was not always an obvious one for one or two but the staff at Avon Tyrell had catered for this difficulty by attaching a bow to a stand that allowed the bowstring to be held under tension until released by pulling another string. This device enabled everybody to succeed in firing an arrow. Full marks to Avon Tyrell for thinking of this!176_590


After lunch we had canoeing on the lake at the other side of the site. Avon Tyrell was owned and built by Lord Manners in the 19th Century and although somewhat frayed at the edges it was possible to imagine the glittering soirees and tennis parties of the 1920s as we went down the terraces to the lake. An idyllic summer’s day, with the trees reflected in the still water. Too bad we had to ruin it with our shrieks of laughter as we tried to ram each other and splash the other crews with our paddles. Ian’s prediction was realised – at least for everyone else! After we had got this out of our system we were invited by our instructors to find “one flower, one twig, one lily pad and one stone”, the first team to do so being the winner. This was achieved remarkably quickly and the rest of the session was spent drifting, chatting and enjoying the peace and beauty of the surroundings.

286_590Wednesday night was pub meal night at the aptly named “Fish Inn” by the River Avon at Ringwood. Getting there was tricky enough finding and negotiating some very narrow country lanes but the return journey was even more challenging. With Martyn driving and me navigating, we managed to take the wrong turning, ending up back at Ringwood. After much cursing and torch lit map reading we finally found the road home. The pub meal was well worth it however. Martyn declared the fish and chips the” best he had eaten for years”.

Our last day dawned. Oh the delight of waking up in a woodland clearing to the sound of a cuckoo calling nearby! Our activities for the day were bushcraft and campfire lunch and “problem solving” games. I think people were somewhat tired from the late night before so we were late getting down to the bushcraft area, but once there all concerns about time, schedules and programmes fell away. There is something about preparing and cooking food in the open air that connects you to a time before all the pressures of the modern age.

Our instructors were Rachel and Ben. They showed us how to make a fire without matches, just using a ball of cotton wool and a steel and flint. Everyone had a go and I was impressed how determined our group were to do something that I suspect was an entirely new experience for them. After foraging for twigs and making tea with a “Kelly Kettle” the next step was mixing the dough to make pizza, forming it on a metal plate and baking it in a “Dutch Oven” (a large iron cooking pot). Tomato paste and grated cheese were applied and the result given a final baking. The results?...  crude and rough hewn maybe but delicious. Yours truly however, managed to drop his on the ground wrong way up to general hilarity (people can be so cruel).318_590

The afternoon session was slightly more up-tempo and certainly a challenge to our ingenuity and teamwork skills. We had five problem solving games. The first involved linking hands in a circle and passing a hula-hoop round without breaking the circle – not just one way but finally two hoops in opposing directions. The physical contortions needed to achieve this were hilarious. The second game involved passing a ball along sections of plastic guttering which had to be added on to. This called for some quick thinking and real teamwork. For the third game we had to avoid a prowling shark (one of the instructors) trying to steal our “stepping stone” patches. The fourth was more hula-hoop manipulation and the final game was a kind of geometric jigsaw puzzle. Whether she was flattering us or not, the instructor said ours was one of the best she had seen at solving all these problems.439_590


I have done a number of these activity holidays but this was truly one of the best. Everyone said they had a great time. New friendships were made and we all felt relaxed and stimulated by our week. A tearful Emma even said she didn’t want to go home, but all good things, of course, come to an end. Still...there’s always next year to look forward to!409_590


David Metherell.