Thousands take part in milestone Tor De Force on Dartmoor

In glorious sunshine and after a two-year break, 2491 teenagers from across the South West of England took on the nation’s largest Defence led youth outdoor event, traversing the Dartmoor National Park, and tackling The Ten Tors.

Although known as the ‘Ten Tors Challenge’, the event has another name and another purpose as it serves as the backdrop for Exercise Wyver Tor, a high-level military resilience exercise led by the British Army’s Headquarters South West (HQSW) based in Tidworth, Wiltshire.

A joint Tri-service and multi-agency endeavour it is supported by the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and 25 agencies from the local area including Dartmoor Search and Rescue Group, South West Ambulance Service, HM Coastguard, Met Office and Dartmoor National Park – who this year celebrate their 70th Anniversary.

"Ten Tors is fantastic … it will be challenging but remember what you did to get here, and that is important." Captain Preet Chandi, Antarctic explorer

Director Ten Tors, Colonel Gary McDade, is responsible for the 1200 strong team and delivery of the event from Okehampton Camp, Devon:

“Exercise Wyvern Tor is far wider than Ten Tors itself, it is all the supporting elements around the exercise and leans into the engagement and resilience space.

“On the resilience side we are developing relationships with all those partners who we are working alongside because when we are called upon for floods and other resilience activity in the UK, we have established those relationships and can reinforce them when required.”

Peter Hinchliffe has been working on Ten Tors events for many years as a member of the Devon and Cornwall 4x4 Response Group:

“We have two principal tasks. One is to support the Dartmoor rescue group by getting people as close as we can to any incident. It is then part of our role to bring anyone off the Moor safely thus minimising the amount of time they have to spend on foot and in a vulnerable situation. We also provide support to the event scrutineers by checking that teams are making the right progress, have the correct equipment and that the Ten Tors rules are being abided by.”

And adds Peter:

“To give you an idea of the magnitude of this event, we have 45 members on shifts utilising 40 4x4 vehicles. We also have four of our team working in the control centre and Operation’s centre with the Army.

“The challenge has been that we haven’t had a Ten Tors for two years and many haven’t experienced this event before, so to bring all support agencies together under the Army Command team’s direction has worked so well, it’s been brilliant, the teamwork has been fantastic.”

2022 celebrated the 60th staging of this activity and remains the nation’s largest outdoor event for young people in the UK, who are tested to their limits by trekking unaided over varying 35, 45 or 55 mile routes. Over the 24 hours the teams of six encountered some of the wildest landscapes and highest peaks in Southern England. They not only had to rely on team-work and navigational skills but sheer grit and determination to succeed. The use of mobile phones or GPS was forbidden, and no adult intervention was allowed very much like the original event in September 1960.

Founded by three officers from the Junior Leaders Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals following an adventure training exercise for their young trainees it was originally based at Denbury Camp near Newton Abbot, Devon. The ‘Expedition’ attracted 20 ‘patrols’ of ten servicemen and a team of three civilians from Exmouth who were required to make the best route across ten check points, a distance around 55 miles.

Soldiers walked in their ‘working dress’ uniform, ammo or DMS boots, carried a water bottle, purification tablets, limited rations consisting of Kendall mint cake and a poncho or blanket to sleep under.

In acknowledgement of the 60th event Gryphon School from Sherborne in Dorset completed the challenge wearing some of the clothing originally worn by the pioneers of the event in the early 60’s.

Edward Smith was one of the students involved:

“We wanted to dress like this in commemoration of the 60th anniversary event. Having done a few walks with it on we decided we wanted to see if we could make it all the way around Dartmoor.

“Wearing the 60’s kit was really tough; it was much harder than anything we’d done before. We’d never walked for so long and really suffered on our shoulders carrying the old rucksacks.”

Captain Preet Chandi, who started the event, recently completed a solo expedition across Antarctica to the South Pole, in her speech to the challengers she said:

“Ten Tors is fantastic; it was so great to see all those young people raring to go at the start line. I love seeing people outdoors and to see so many young people from so many different backgrounds is amazing.

“A lot of us don’t see the work that goes on behind the scenes, there is so much preparation and training to get to this point. So, I say well done for getting here! This is a huge part of the journey, this is the last leg and yes it will be challenging but remember what you did to get here, and that is important.

“Look after yourself, look after your team as well, work as a team!”

After the start of the main event, 300 youngsters with special physical or educational needs started the Jubilee Challenge, a one-day event introduced in 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The teenagers, many in wheelchairs, entered either as teams or as individuals and completed routes of up to 15 miles; they were each accompanied by an Officer Cadet from Exeter University Officer Training Corps. 

Ten Tors has become an annual rite of passage for the establishments who return year after year, for what many participants call the ‘toughest challenge’ of their life, and something they will never forget!

"What a fantastic challenge, over 2 and a half thousand young people have been out on the Moor blessed with good weather, undoubtedly the Ten Tors flame is very much alive." Colonel Gary McDade, Director Ten Tors

Colonel Gary McDade who participated as a teenager in 1988 and two years later, and a proud holder of two Ten Tors medals, said:

“Unquestionably Ten Tors is one of the reasons I joined the services. The sense of camaraderie, the teamwork, the determination required to complete this event are fundamental building blocks both for this endeavour and also a life in the military.

“For me personally to be back as Director Ten Tors some 32 years later is a circle completed towards the end of my military career and a great privilege.”

Devoncourt High School For Boys, Plymouth were the first of the Ten Tors teams to cross the finish line taking ‘Bronze’ just before 0830 on Sunday. They were greeted by whoops of delight and congratulations from the crowd as they were first past the post completing the 35-mile challenge. 

Torquay Boys Grammar School took ‘Silver’ as the first finishers of the 45-mile route and Queen Elizabeth Hospital School, Bristol completed the 55 mile ‘Golden’ route in primary position.