Sunday, August 26, 2007


Above : New backwoods shelter area - staff pretending to be really busy for the camera!

Despite the widespread availability of cheap, waterproof tents, many campers at Fordell prefer to sleep in much more basic conditions - no doubt having been inspired by Ray Mears and others. The site has had a backwoods cooking area for many years which is well used, but this weekend the staff started work on a new backwoods area elsewhere in the site where groups will be able to bivi overnight in minimal style and hopefully still keep fairly dry.

The new area is in an unused part of land near the abseil wall and will have a large open-sided shelter (see photo above) using a big tarp, with a smaller wooden-framed shelter for sleeping in next to it (bottom photo). Although not quite blending in with the trees (since you don't tend to get pink and green trees in Fife) the tarp shelter looks like it will do the job and will also enable groups to have a small fire underneath on top of some slabs.

After numerous ideas for the smaller shelter were discussed and rejected, it was decided to build a timber-framed structure which would then have canvas stretched on top - hopefully then allowing perhaps 10 people to sleep underneath. After a few mis-measurements and non-linear sawing from the less DIY-skilled members, in stepped woodworking pro Henry to finish things off and teach the youngsters a thing or two about hammering nails in without them bending!

By sunday evening most of the work had been completed with a few more things to finish off - photos of the final shelters will appear soon and they will no doubt be thoroughly tested by groups shortly.

Above : Due to a shortage of posts, 4 of the staff had be sunk into the ground to use as uprights for the new shelter.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Activity of the Week - Climbing Tower

In the first of a series of occasional features on the many activities Fordell has to offer, one of the most popular...the climbing tower.

Above : Fordell tower on rare sunny day (or have rainclouds been digitally removed with Photoshop?)

Fordell has offered climbing as an activity for over 10 years - the original climbing tower was situated in the main field and saw many years of use by visitors, but several years ago the much-improved climbing tower was constructed between the wet weather hall and SHQ building.

The tower stands approximately 40 foot high in total, with the actual routes being just below 30 foot in length. 3 walls of the tower are used for climbing with the other being used for access (there are stairs inside to allow instructors to setup ropes before the session). There are 6 routes at present, ranging from the fairly easy to fairly hard (overhanging). Since most users will probably not be regular climbers (and most climb in trainers or boots), the routes are designed to be challenging but not so difficult that everyone can't manage at least some of them.

Rather strangely, despite the tower being completely open at the top, it also has a couple of double-glazed windows lower down! The benefit of these is somewhat questionable...

Above : doing things the hard way - doesn't the young lad realise there is a nice easy staircase on the other side which goes right to the top?

Climbing sessions generally last 2 hours with a maximum group size of 12 - the first part of the session consisting of safety/technique briefing and issuing of harnesses/helmets before actually climbing. Participants climb one at a time and are belayed by a staff member using a top-rope which ensures maximum safety for those taking part. All staff are trained and assessed by our external climbing instructor and are encouraged to take part in regular in-house training sessions.

A novel feature of the tower (apart from the double glazing) is that at the top of each route there is a good old-fashioned fire-bell. The purpose of this is to provide a means for each climber to prove to everyone that they got to the top by ringing it, something which is fairly straighforward on the 2 vertical walls but which requires unusual effort or extreme flexibility on the overhang (or freakishly long arms).

The climbing tower is also very popular with day visitors (particularly birthday party groups), and the centre is happy to provide shorter 1-hour sessions which give visitors a quick taster session of climbing and leave plenty time for other activities too.

Next time...the children's favourite and the parents' least (due to the mess)...the Challenge Course.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Family Funday

Although not a busy weekend for camping, there was lots of work to do due to a few day visits from groups on the Sunday. The largest group was from local bus company Stagecoach, whose drivers had organised their annual family fun-day for around 200 people. Arriving early on sunday morning, some of the members of their organising committee spent the whole morning setting everything up for the rest arriving, assisted by the Fordell staff.

Above : Challenge course - participants crawl through a pitch-black tunnel for 20 feet and are then dazzled by an annoying man with a camera and flashgun.

Lots of activities were set up including grass sledges, soft play area, volleyball and a slippery slide. After extensive testing by the adults (just to make sure they were safe of course), everything was ready...except for the bouncy castle. Due to a mysterious power problem with the generator, it wasn't possible to inflate the castle so Bob and the staff tried to rescue matters with a monster collection of extension leads and safety circuit breakers which were run round the perimeter of the whole main site back to one of the accomodation buildings. One hour later, the leads were all set up but still no power! Despite numerous checks and re-checks, it was decided that it would be easier to use Fordell's own bouncy castle in the wet weather hall, especially as it was starting to rain a bit.

Despite heavy rain in the afternoon, there was a good turnout for the funday, with the adults sitting under shelter and the children oblivious to it all, enjoying the slippery slope and other activities. Some of the bus drivers spent the whole afternoon manning a barbeque to make sure that everyone had enough hot food and drink.

Above : The traverse net - a collection of holes tied together with rope.

Sunday afternoon also saw a flying visit (:->) from an Air Cadet group from very far away up north, who had been at the Edinburgh Tattoo and had popped in to take part in a few activities. Despite getting thouroughly muddy everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, although some who had forgotten to bring spare clothes were forced to borrow clean clothes/binbags/anything from others before they were allowed back in their clean minibus.

5pm and the site was back to being fairly quiet again for a few days, hopefully giving the grass a chance to dry out a bit before the next lot of visitors arrive again.