A wild Lakeland adventure: The Y6 residential - outdoor learning at its best!
The Year 6 children have recently returned back from their action-packed week’s residential in Cumbia… and what an incredible week it was! Residing at Castle Head, an outdoor adventure education centre run by the Field Studies Council, (FSC) located in the popular resort of Grange over Sands. The house is a grade II listed Georgian-style mansion, standing in over 20 acres of grounds built-in 1778 for the industrialist John Wilkinson. Being the only school occupying the house in these uncertain times, we had exclusive use of its fantastic facilities. The children felt very lucky to be able to attend their last residential Prep School trip supported by friends and staff they have known for some time. Spending time away from home without other family members is an extremely valuable life experience and one they were so glad not to have missed, before their transition to senior school. Despite being a little damp at the beginning of the week, the sun finally arrived to create perfect days for the remainder of the holiday.
The children were able to explore the surrounding area of Lindale and then further afield to Coniston and Little Langdale to experience a wide range of outdoor activities, led by Castle Head’s own highly qualified instructors. Some activities included… Kayaking across Lake Coniston; going underground and exploring the tunnels of an old slate mine; ghyll gorge scrambling up a stream and rock climbing within the grounds of the house. As well as these exciting experiences, the children also learned how to look after themselves, making their own beds, cooking for each other, and clearing their dinner tables after each meal.
Not like any residential I’ve experienced before, this trip was a week of outdoor active learning at its best with children trying new things and overcoming their fears. Whilst some schools choose venues that offer the ‘all in one stay and play package’, with children learning to shoot bow and arrow and partake in endless scavenger hunts… our FSC residential choice adopted a whole different approach! Castle Head’s focus is to spend time in wild places, to learn about nature and appreciate all it has to offer including living things. At the same time, the children are encouraged to realise the importance of taking responsibility for the environment and learning how to look after it. The Castle Head team dedicate time for the pupils to reflect and share what they are learning by being out in the wild, why they feel it is important to spend time in them and how it makes them feel. This helps the children develop their sense of adventure, careful risk-taking, and most importantly enjoyment.
Referred to as a ‘course’ rather than a residential holiday, the children learn a tremendous amount about themselves. There is a real focus on developing their confidence, determination, self-esteem, personal and social skills, all of which help them prepare for their transition to Senior School. Many activities necessitate them to work as a collaborative team, to trust each other, and celebrate their differences as well as their similarities. During the evenings back at the house, the children could entertain themselves in the Games Room, where they were able to share their experiences and chat about what they’d learned from each day. If they’d had a bad performance, the next day they got a chance to put it right and to reflect and think about it and improve it. Additionally, all the activities are fully integrated into the Year 6 curriculum, designed to meet the specific needs and learning objectives taught back in school.
Despite being away, it was great to see our AKS sense of community reinforced by all pupils facing common challenges and overcoming adversity and fears together; learning as a team to solve problems to achieve the outcomes central to each experience. They may not have always been grouped with their best friends, and on occasion teamed with children they didn’t always get on with at school, however, in true AKS spirit, they accepted it and got on with the challenge. It was brilliant to see the children spend time in wild places and appreciate the natural surroundings, learning to live without devices and electricity that we take for granted. For Mr Rice, myself, and all the other staff that joined us, it’s been a pleasure to bring them away for the week and we are very proud of the young, caring people they’re developing into. For the children, I’m sure it’s been a very valuable, educational, and, above all enjoyable experience that will stay with them forever.
Our day-to-day residential diary!
Monday – arrival and straight to work!
Rafting: Shortly after arriving at Castle Head, the children embarked on their first activity to design, build and test a raft. The rafts were constructed using barrels, planks, poles, rope, plus a lot of imagination along the way. Staying dry depended on the group skills at putting the raft together and the quality of the initial raft design. The instructors were on hand to guide them through the process and help them discuss their ideas. Despite some groups getting more wet than others, there was always an abundance of fun and excitement when testing the limits of every raft design. Raft building is a great activity where everyone is encouraged to develop their communication and co-operative skills, alongside a sense of independence. At the end of the task, the children lined up for a quick dip in the river! It was great to see the children push their boundaries and take themselves out of their comfort zone. Everyone was working towards a common purpose/goal and there was a strong sense of mutual support.
Orienteering: Here the children had the opportunity to discover a new environment independently and promote the development of map reading skills and recognising symbols. The activity is also perfect for developing listening skills, self-reliance, and problem-solving skills.
Tuesday – Classic Lake District views!
Mountain walking and exploring slate mine quarries around Langdale: We started the day with a ramble around Little Langdale to a cluster of slate quarries in the Tiberthwaite Area. The children enjoyed spectacular views and frequently stopped to admire the scenery and eat their snacks and lunch. They also walked up and around the top, where there were other cave entrances and ruins of old slates houses. Arriving at the Cathedral Quarries, (a small network of inter-linked quarries above Little Langdale), the children were able to enter the main chamber, which stands over 40 feet in height, and is lit by two windows off the main quarry. Well equipped with hard helmets and torches, the children ventured inside a wormhole of tunnels, caves, and mining shafts to imagine what it would have been like for the miners over 100 years ago. The children also got to walk across Slaters Bridge, one of the ancient pedestrian stone bridges built in the 17th Century and still in use today. The children learned how the packhorses and miners would have used it to walk over the River Brathay to work in the surrounding mines each day.
Night trail: This early evening activity saw the children searching for a range of animal footprints to include fox, hedgehog, squirrel and badger. Even though spotting animals at night is sometimes very difficult, even the stealthiest beasts can leave clues behind. The children soon got busy searching to find which creatures had left their mark using guides to help them. There were 8 prints to find in total and it was a race to see who could find and identify them first!
Wednesday – the longest day!
Rock climbing at Lindale: We didn’t have to go far for rock climbing, located in the grounds surrounding the house is a natural rock face perfect for beginnings. Under the guidance of our very qualified and experienced instructor Sarah, the children learned the basics of single pitch climbing including; how to correctly put on a harness and tie in the rope, belay safety plus basic movements and techniques. The children had lots of fun attempting two different climbs, not to mention the added adrenaline of leaning back and abseiling flat-footed back down the rock face. A great way for the children to build confidence and gain a feeling of self-belief, pride, and a sense of achievement.
Low Ropes: This activity is designed as an individual and team challenge and to encourage the development of trust and communication skills; not forgetting, to have a lot of fun too! The children were split into groups and encouraged to work as a team and challenged to get around without falling off! One game saw the children having to do a crossing carrying cups of water too… this proved more difficult than the children anticipated.
Outdoor cooking using a trangia stove: Here the children got to cook their own dinner outside on the veranda. They had to boil their pasta and cook through their bolognaise. There was also garlic bread thank goodness, compliments from the cook at Castle Head… and lots of cheese and salad too. The children really enjoyed fuelling up their stoves and stirring up their ingredients before eating every last mouthful. Boy, they were hungry! Thankfully, Mr Rice secretly nipped out to the village to get fish and chips for all the staff.
Campfire stories, marsh-mellows, and tents: A critical element of a Castle Head experience is the campfire, where the children got to toast marshmallows and tell stories, before settling down for an amazing night under canvas. ‘How the night sky came to be’ story, told by instructor Sam, really set the tone for the evening. Later on, the children couldn’t wait to move their belongings into their temporary homes for the night and get comfortable. Well done to Mrs Dixon and Mr Rice who also braved the great outdoors that evening! The children were encouraged to reconnect with nature and thrive in the natural environment. Teamwork, woodsmoke, life-skills, new experiences, self-sufficiency, and appreciation for the outdoors were really celebrated here.
Thursday – wet and wild water sports!
Canoeing on Lake Coniston: Waterproofs and lots of spare clothing were necessary for today’s activities. Shortly after we arrived the clouds lifted enabling us to see Lake Coniston in full glory. There was a ‘wow’ moment as we all stood and appreciated the wonder of it all. We started by canoeing over Coniston Water to a sheltered stretch to practise basic skills. They then competed against each other in chasing a tennis ball and floating rubber duck games! It was all good fun and the high light for many on the holiday as they got to learn a new skill too! This afternoon was all about fun, friendship, adventure, sunshine, awe, and wonder! I can confess too, that I returned to Coniston during the half term to purchase a Kayak of my own! They say you’re never too old to develop a new passion - you could say I’ve got the bug!
Ghyll Scrambling: Once the children were all suited and booted top to toe in waterproofs and hard helmets, it was just a short drive in our mini-bus to Church Beck Ghyll – a hidden gem, situated just a stone’s throw from the village of Coniston. From that moment on It was pure excitement and adrenaline all the way, guided by our Castle Head instructors Stuart and John. The children were led safely through a fast-flowing aquatic combination of waterfalls, tricky rock traverses, rock pools and obstacles before jumping into the gorge itself from a height of over 12 feet! Everyone finished the day tired and exhilarated and really keen to go back wanting more! There was a real sense of achievement from everyone as we headed back to the house, stopping for ice-cream on the way. This activity promoted so many of our Round Square ideals, environmental awareness, teamwork, leadership, responsibility, trust, personal challenge, and tenacity – all set in a unique, beautiful, and exciting environment. This was without a doubt one of our most memorable experiences with immense fun and laughter.
Friday: Homeward bound! - House games, packing, picnic lunch, and travelling home to see parents and pets!
Here’s some quotes from the children’s feedback forms:
“I immediately felt adventurous because there is a new area to explore.” Penelope
“I feel we are lucky to have the chance to visit so many beautiful places.” Anika
“It sounds funny, but I feel peaceful in wild places, it makes me feel calm being in such a tranquil environment.” Eddie
“I now have a new respect for nature and will re-visit again with my family and teach them how to behave in wild places without leaving a trace.” Maanav
“I really enjoyed the outdoor lessons eating apple flavoured flowers and finding insect-eating plants that grow up on the hills”. Aiden
“I can’t believe I just did that!” Henry
“I’m going to take up rock climbing.” Shelby
“I really enjoyed relaxing around the campfire after dark telling stories whilst making s’mores and toasting marshmallows.” Kate