Saturday, February 25, 2012

Initiative Tests - Thumbing around Radnorshire

Before we start our journey around Radnorshire - a few quotes from former pupils about initiative tests - 

Paul Starling
In the last summer that I was there the class was tasked to go as far as we could in pairs. The point was to research something we found. Transport was your thumb Lek and I went to cornwall to research the tin mines. I think we had 5 days to get there and back. Don't think schools would do that now.

Trev Teasdel 
Think it was called the initiative test. We went around Radnorshire researching the history of some of the villages. Think we were 15 at the time. I'm pretty sure the schools wouldn't be allowed now and you'd think twice about hitching these days.

Peter Melhuish I remember it well Tony Kemp and I went to Somerset using our thumbs, some of the other lads were taken by there parents, much to the schools digust. However this did not come out until after the event.

Lauri Lindsay Paul Beresford and I went to Somerset. We arranged a ride on a truck from the greenhouse company just out side of Bewdly. A bunch of us later were asked to join this company's float in the annual Bewdly carnival. The theme was Hair the musical. Back to the initiative test, rained all the time, first night in the tent we were rained out and ended up sleeping in a cell at the local police station.

Trev Teasdel  I think they did track us - we had to phone the school every night and keep to the route more or less and we had to check in with a group that were camping in the Elan Valley with the scout staff. If we didn't ring in I guess that would have triggered the alarm.

Lauri Lindsay I seem to remember a story of 2 boys trekking up to Scotland where they visited a fish processing plant and the were offered a trip on a trawler into the North Sea. Of course they didn't call back for permission and all hell broke loose when they weren't heard from.

Richard Graham....In 1960 the Initiative Test was the baby of the Duke of Edinburough.You were given a list of tasks to complete but you had to do 3 main tasks.My partner who I cannot remember decided that our 3 would be:
Go down a coalmine.
Tour of the Daily Sketch in London.
Fly in an Airplane.

To get us in the mood for trip around Radnorshire - a song by Trev Teasdel

Throw Down My Pack 
" Give me my pack, i'll be on my way
The lakes of this land are now dry
It's been a good soldier in its day
but its eyes have no water to cry"

A song I wrote in 1973 - Throw Down My Pack - relevant to the story below in someway.
The song is available on Sound Click and the lyrics can be viewed there also.


Sumanbhai Patel
Quite a few former pupils have related memories of going on an Initiative test during their final years at school. It seems pupils went far and wide to different parts of the country, some as far as Devon and Cornwall and some got up to things that weren't part of the plan (as far as the school was concerned)!

My initiative test  took us into Wales and so not so far from the school. I had in mind that it happened in the spring on 1966 when I was 15 and in my fourth year but I remember writing a song lyric on the first night of the initiative test and I didn't start writing them until i spotted the the lyric to Simon and Garfunkle's Dangling Conversation in Record Songbook - a monthly magazine which had the lyrics to current pop songs in. Checking on the internet the S & G single wasn't released until September 1966 - so either we went in early autumn 1966 or later in the spring of 1967. It happened at the same time as the scout group camped at Rhayader which Ralph Aldhous dated as 1965. 1966 sticks in my mind so perhaps it  early autumn 1966.

I was teamed up with Sumanbhai Patel and after tea one night, with tent and rucksacks on our backs, we set off towards Cherry Orchard with the remit to travel around Radnorshire and gather some source materials about the towns and villages we passed through in order to write an extended essay when we returned. Our instructions were to ring the school each night and, as the scout group were camping in Rhayader, to check into the camp when we got to Rhayader and stay one night there.

It was still light when we left but the sky was overcast and brooding and darkness was looming in the distance. Thus we didn't set out with all the joys of an adventure, it was a little cold and the packs were heavy and the journey uncertain. However it didn't seem to take us long to get a lift and and soon we were standing in a lay by in the middle of the Clee Hills. Our first port of call was Knighton in Radnorshire but it was unlikely that we would reach it straight away, having first to pass through Ludlow and we were aware, given there wasn't much traffic at that time of night, that we may have to camp on Clee! Alas another lift came by and took us through Ludlow and well on the way Knighton to a village. It was shadowy dark by now and our driver pointed us down a dark narrow lane and  told us that there were farms down there where we might camp for the night.

The farm
Amazed to have got so far on our journey on the first night we began to trek down the long winding lane looking for signs of life and somewhere to camp. We came to a row of cottages on the slow bend and knocked on one of the doors to ask if there was anywhere around that we could camp. A man answered the door and we were taken aback as he had a large lump on his neck. This spooked us a little in the shadowy wilds but the man was actually very nice to us and pointed us to a farm down the lane where, he told us, they would let us camp for the night. Sure enough a little way down the lane we came across the farm and the farmer took us up to a field on the hill where we could camp.

It was now pitch black and cold and we were hungry and tired and still a little spooked. After the tent was pitched and sandwiches eaten, I began to write one of my first lyrics - it was called Lonely Valley and although I don't still have it, the title gives a picture of what we both felt that night. We figured, as there wasn't much else to do, that we should just go to sleep and get an early start in the morning. And that's what we did!

Knighton Hotel
Next morning we woke up bright and early, refreshed and opened the tent. Our world had been transformed! Bright sunlight greeted us and the view of the valley from the hill was staggering. The air was fresh and we tasted freedom and open space. A cereal breakfast and off we trecked once again. It felt so good to be out of school and tasting freedom. As far as i know, we just travelled the rest of the day to knighton but i can't think why it took us so long, give the distance wasn't that far and the next two days we would cover far greater distances. Nonetheless, my memory kicks in again about 6pm in Knighton. Patel and I are walking through Knighton, exploring, observing and looking for a cup of coffee. Everywhere is closed by now, it's past 6pm but we light upon an Expresso Cafe and wearily enter. There are motorbikes outside and 'teddy boys / rockers and greasers inside - all looking at us - both 15 year olds! The jukebox was pumping out 50's rock n roll and seemed to evaded all attempts at moving into the sixties. However we encountered no problems there and drank Expresso (forbidden at school because of its associations with bohemian lifestyles probably). We did a little more exploring and wonder where we might camp for the night. Outside the Knighton hotel in the High street, we encountered a group of local residents sitting outside, chatting and drinking and ventured over to ask if there was anywhere to camp nearby and they invited us to join them, buying us crisps and drinks (none alcoholic of course!) and asked us about our journey. After a while they introduced us to a bloke who took us in his car to the outskirts of Knighton - he owned an orchard - picture here and let us camp there for the night.

The orchard 
It was still early evening and light and the orchard was quite pleasant. The feelings we'd had the night before were completely gone. We had made friends with the locals, were being catered for and the journey had been great. So far we hadn't cooked anything. Here was a test and we screwed up big time! Patel couldn't get the gas canister onto the gas cooker and so passed it me. I've no idea why as I was just as useless at it as he! I managed to pierce the blue canister and thinking I had done it easily, let go of it. Wow! that canister took off into the air, flying around in circles and leaving a vapour trail all over the grass. It was great fun until we realised our host might not be too pleased at the gas trail all over his Orchard lawn and that we might not now have enough gas to see us through the week! I ventured forth to the house to apologise and grovel but he was a really nice bloke and told us he needed to mow the lawn and all traces would soon disappear. He helped us load the spare cylinder and showed us what we had done wrong. It never occurred to me to twist it as well! Soon tea was brewing and food cooking. Here we encountered our first cultural difference! I was taught to make tea putting the milk and sugar in last. Patel was a little upset, saying i should put the milk in first. I explained that I was taught the proper way to make tea by my mother. He said "Where does tea come from?" I said "India or China" he said "Where do i come from?" I said "India" he said "Right - I should know then how to make tea!". We laughed about it and I suppose it doesn't really matter but i still like to put the milk in last!

Up with the lark in Radnorshire - another song from Trev to get us on our way - 
Just Before Dawn
"Breeze blowin' through the trees
Squirrels squatting on their knees
Trying not to freeze
Just before dawn...
Then silence vomits an almighty roar 
A thousand vehicles and maybe more 
Stampede the main arterial lanes 
To face their daily stresses and strains"

Full lyrics and download on sound Click - Here 

Next morning, our task was to gather leaflets, booklets, anything we could find that would document our visit to Knighton and account for it's history and geography so we could complete and illustrate our write up when we got back. After finding whatever it was we found (and is now forgotten!) we set off on the road again -

This time our task was to get to Rhayader and visit the Elan Valley, where Coventry, Birmingham and the City of Coventry school got their water from. It was quite a long distance and we had to check into the scout camp that night at Rhayader and stay the night. The day was sunny and the open landscape and distant hills put us in a good mood. Again we felt free from the shackles of school, walking and talking along stretches of the road, getting lifts part of the way, sometimes in a posh sixties vehicle and at other times in a rough farm vehicle or fifties car. We encountered no problems with the lifts and learnt a lot from the conversations as we sped along the rocky country lanes.

Elan Valley
Eventually by mid afternoon we were deep in the hills looking down on the Elan Valley, walking across the bridge trying to get some leaflets, booklets on the reservoir. It was very impressive but it was impossible to cover the whole of the area as we had to make it into Rhayader and then find the scout camp in time for tea. We were pleased to find the camp and get some scran to eat but our new found sense of freedom was temporarily suspended. We sang around the campfire, scout songs (well I think I faked it actually) and then pitched our tent to sleep. School discipline was maintained at the camp and clearly most of them were enjoying it, some of them getting extremely wet during their activities. Mr Mathews was a nice guy - he was my biology teacher and we got on well and next morning he was taking the minibus in to Llandridod Wells to get some supplies and took us on the first leg of our journey. Some of the other pupils came along to help with loading and it was fun. 

Llandrindod Wells
Our task for this day was pretty big - from Llandrindod Wells (after collecting source materials) was to make it through to Presteigne and then back to the school. A tall order, dependent on good lifts. I think we had a plan B - to camp out one more night if we couldn't make it back of course and would have to phone the school to let them know.

We didn't do too bad for lifts, walking part of the way with our packs and getting substantial lifts. We checked into Presteigne between 3 and 4 pm and walking into the small town, we stopped a women to ask where the town hall was - we needed to gather some materials. So happened she was the Vicar's wife and was taken by the fact that I was as blond as Patel was dark and that we got on so well. We never encountered any racism while travelling around Wales - everyone was more than friendly. i was familiar with North Wales, as my maternal grandfather came from Llandudno and the family often visited wales during the holidays, staying at the Holiday camp in Rhyl one year, touring with the caravan along the coast to Angelsey, down to Snowdonia and everywhere inbetween. I had picked up a booklet of welsh pronunciations and took an interest in the history of the places we visited, much like we were tasked to do on this initiative test.

The Vicar's wife was wise enough to know that two 15 year old school boys travelling with packs would be very hungry at this time of day in Presteigne and she was totally right. She invited us to the vicarage for tea and cake and they talked to us about many things - the localality, travels abroad and our mission! Then we stopped for dinner with the proviso that the Vicar, who had access to the town hall, would take us to find some booklets on Presteigne's history. It's the one piece of source material I still have and some photos and pages from it are posted here below this article.

We left Presteigne between 6 and 7pm, having had a good time and some great food. Now the task was to get back to the school - up through Knighton (once again) and out to Ludlow and Clee Hills and to Cleobury and the school. Could we do it? We were entirely in the hands of good lifts. I don't know how we did it but did it we did! My next memory is being on Clee Hill, the same place we got a lift on the way from. We stood in the dark and cold and for a long while we were thinking that plan B might be the only option. We looked around to see where the nearest phone box might be when out of the blue a vehicle appeared and was heading to towards Cleobury. I think we ended up lugging our gear up over the Glen and railway embankment and cutting across the school field. Done that, done in and got the T Shirt - we were back and in time for supper!


The Route around Radnorshire

1 comment:

  1. Richard Graham....In 1960 the Initiative Test was the baby of the Duke of Edinburough.You were given a list of tasks to complete but you had to do 3 main tasks.My partner who I cannot remember decided that our 3 would be:
    Go down a coalmine.
    Tour of the Daily Sketch in London.
    Fly in an Airplane.