Last weekend, we took the Guides and Rangers on indoor camp (“Indoor camp? You keep saying that like it’s a thing. It’s not a thing!”) which I suppose other people might call “holiday” or something else but to us, it’s always been indoor camp. This is where we slept. Downstairs there are three dormitories. We had twenty-one Guides in two dormitories and two Rangers in another and upstairs there were five leaders in small rooms.
This is my room. Luxury, isn’t it? Made-up beds (I didn’t know so I brought my sleeping bag and blankets), tea, coffee, kettle and biscuits in the room. Outside my room is a little balcony with fridge and TV and also cheese, biscuits, posh crisps and wine for the adults. The Guides, naturally, begged for the cheese and crisps and were denied. We don’t get this sort of luxury very often. Admittedly, we didn’t eat or drink any of it but that’s not the point.
New Barn is great but it’s expensive, at £36 per girl per night before you’ve even factored in activities. £72 for two nights is as expensive as PGL and PGL includes dawn-to-dusk adventure activities. Admittedly, it includes meals. That does save time cooking and cleaning up yourselves but it also means you’re more restricted in what you can have and when. We had to fill in menus weeks in advance and then the menus had to brought so we could point out “don’t complain, you ordered it and here’s the evidence”. We only went for one night so we turned up on Saturday morning, settled the girls in, had our packed lunches in the barn and then we were off for some woodcraft.
We started off with picking nettles to make nettle tea. The Guides got really into it; the Rangers less so.
When enough nettles had been picked, a few Guides went to help with the trangias to get the tea on and then we started with some knots and lashing. I know my overhand, I know my clove hitch and I know my figure-of-eight and I hope the two or three Guides I taught the clove hitch to personally will remember because I don’t think the woodcraft man really taught it very well. When they were ok-ish with those knots and their square lashing, they were given piles of sticks and instructed to split into two teams to build a bench and a table. Other than arguing over “we haven’t got enough sticks to make the top of the table!” and running out of string because the woodcraft man didn’t teach them snake lashing and therefore they used too much string tying the eight sticks to the tabletop, it went pretty well. One of the benches was sturdier than the other but you could definitely sit on them both.
The tables were a bit more rickety and I don’t actually have a picture of the finished article but here’s a bottom and a top which you can imagine put together.
The nettle tea, incidentally, didn’t go down so well. The adults deemed it to taste like not much more than hot water and most of the girls thought it was disgusting. It smelled like something between rotting vegetation and a chicken being cooked and it was full of specks and flies. Not going to lie, Special Eater here couldn’t even taste it. We also had some berry tea but as early March isn’t berry season in the UK, we made it with teabags.
After that, we had time to run round the farm and see the animals – a shaggy Shetland pony my age, a boisterous young ram who doesn’t realise he’s not a lamb anymore and knocks visitors over and two more rams who were cheerfully bullying a newborn lamb some fool had placed in their field. One of our Guide leaders grew up on a farm and she told Adam, who was looking after us, that that lamb really shouldn’t be in with those lambs or they’ll end up killing it. As on Sunday, it was at the opposite end of the field with its mother and peace seemed to be reigning. There were also two New Zealand kunekune pigs called Doris and Britney who were very friendly and also desperate to eat anything that might come their way.
We had pizza (the girls) and fish and chips (the adults) and cheese sandwiches (me) for our dinner and then we let them run wild for the rest of the evening. They watched Ant & Dec up on the balcony while we sat downstairs and I sewed badges onto my blanket while the others did the Traditional Jigsaw. One of our leaders buys the hardest jigsaw she can get her hands on before we go on any kind of residential and the leaders spend the whole weekend working on and if it’s not finished by bedtime on the last night, then they stay up until it’s done. Previous jigsaws have featured six Golden Retriever puppies, scenes from The Snowman etc – where one piece looks very much like another. This one was done very quickly by our standards – clearly too easy!
The girls were astonishingly quiet that night. Normally we put them to bed and lights out by ten or eleven and then they scream all night and run around and generally act like three-year-olds (and the Rangers are often worse than the Guides!). Last Saturday, barely a sound. They tiptoed out a few times to go to the toilet and to complain that one of their number was coughing and keeping them awake and we saw a lot of flashing torches but they really weren’t making a noise and they weren’t disturbing other dorms and frankly, that kind of behaviour is unprecedented.
Breakfast was toast – lots of toast. There was also cereal and yoghurt and fruit but all anyone wanted was toast. They brought out a basket per table and ended up just toasting every piece of bread on site. One girl had twelve pieces. Our QM has decided there’s no more croissants or eggy bread or bacon at indoor camps and sleepovers from now on, just endless toast.
The morning’s activity was a nature walk, three miles or so over fields and through a real working farm, where we had to fold our arms and not make eye contact with anything. As it turns out, the farm dogs weren’t out and about when we were there so there was nothing to worry about. And these kids got their first face-to-face look at where their food comes from. Shrieks of horror when they were told those cows over there are a meat herd. Even more shrieks at tales of pheasants being sold to butchers. It was at this very farm, four years ago, when a Guide asked me why farmers bother keeping cows when they could just buy meat at the supermarket. And these are country kids who really should know all this already. Maybe they did, maybe they knew beef comes from cows and bacon comes from pigs but they’d never been told it while looking at a cow or a pig. Either way, I think it hit home a bit last weekend.
The afternoon’s activity was living history on the on-site Iron Age homestead which I felt didn’t work quite so well for Viking & Saxon themed activities because surely things moved on between the Iron Age and the 9th-ish century. There used to be a very enthusiastic man with long hair who dressed up as an Iron Age man and ran around bellowing and decorated his homestead with severed heads and yelled at the girls and that was always great fun but now he’s been replaced with the couple who did the woodcraft, which was ok, but not nearly as hands-on. Well, it was hands-on – we got down on our knees to grind flour, we whipped milk into butter, we made our own string and we painted slave tags but the flour and butter were all things we did for Iron Age activities which we were now doing for Viking activities. I really enjoyed the string, other than that I twisted it the wrong way and had to start all over again and therefore lost fifteen minutes and a good six inches of the string I should have ended up with. Didn’t quite have enough even to go around my wrist.
We finished with a horseshoe outside the grinding house. The Guides have an American girl with them, living over here for two years, who has been a Girl Scout and last weekend made her Promise as a Girl Guide. It’s always nice to have a Promise ceremony and that was the bit the sun came out for – have you noticed us all in coats and hats and layers? Well, it turned nice just in time for us to come home.