Memories of Churnside camp
When I joined the staff in 1973 there was a tradition, started under Alan Jones, that the whole of the first year should experience a week's camping to enable the students to develop their personal and social skills. Half the year group (80+) went at a time to be supervised by four resident teachers helped by a small number of six formers and colleagues who came for the day. Of course, this was long before risk assessment and health and safety requirements!
The camping ground, known as Churnside, lay in the grounds of Cowley Manor, which was then owned by the county council and lay just off the Cheltenham to Cirencester Road. The students and staff were accommodated in tents but the dining rooms and washrooms were located in a wooden cabins supervised by a couple known simply as Mr and Mrs Mac. Mrs Mac was a formidable lady who cooked the meals and generally presided over domestic arrangements with an iron fist. Mr Mac was the backwoodsman who enjoyed sharing his practical skills and local knowledge with the groups.
I went to Churnside twice; in September 1974 and May 1975. Fortunately I took a large number of colour slides, and a few black and white photographs, which are now on the website to illustrate the various activities described below. One lasting memory is that when I went to the camp, it was at a time of changing weather; warm and sometimes sunny days, but cold, even frosty, nights. I'm sure the heavy cold I caught in the September was not helped by the climate, especially as we, the staff, suffered from lack of sleep trying to quell the nightly excitement from the many tents!
The camp activities always followed a set routine. We arrived on Monday morning to set up the tents and generally settle in. This was followed by activities and getting to know the campsite. The favourite activity was undoubtedly the Flying Fox trip wire across part of the dammed River Churn, from which the site took its name. Only towards the end of my second visit did I summon up the courage to try it for myself and once was enough! Breakfast was always at eight and always followed by kit inspection. At the time I was a scout leader and so this was all second nature to me. The first part of Tuesday morning was spent writing letters home to assure family and friends we had arrived safely. How times have changed when nearly every student today has a mobile phone!
The highlights of the week were visits to Pittville swimming baths and to Chedworth Roman villa. Both involved a long walk, which tested many of our students. We ate our lunch on Leckhampton Hill before dropping down to catch a bus to Cheltenham centre and walk out to Pittville. After the swimming we had to walk back to Royal Well bus station to catch a bus to the camp in time for tea. The walk to Chedworth Villa also took so long that we didn't arrive until mid-afternoon and so we had to hire a coach to return us to the campsite in time for tea. This was always at six or quarter past.
The visit to Chedworth was a token acknowledgement that Alan Jones also wanted the camp to be educational. Having worked in archaeology I knew that a field close to Churnside had once been the site of Romano-British farmstead. In 1974 it had recently been ploughed and so we spent one afternoon picking up pieces of pottery and trying to recreate the pots from which they came. I think the Romans were the nearest we came to 'work', but it obviously suited me as a history teacher! However, I do also remember once devising a Kim's game based on items from nature which I had collected from around the campsite. Apart from all this, we organised football and rounders, athletics competitions, canoeing on the river and short walks around the site. Thursday night was disco night and a campfire provided the final fling on Friday evening. My scouting experience again proved invaluable. How many former students still remember singing Ging Gang Goolie, Green grow the rushes o and She'll be coming round the mountain, with its never-ending verses?! It was a fitting way to end the week. The next morning there were tired bodies striking camp and in 1974 this was not helped by heavy rain, but we completed the task rather more quickly than it had taken to set up so that everyone had returned to Campden by lunchtime.
Churnside camp provided a fantastic opportunity for staff and students to get to know each other better. It also provided some students with their only holiday of the year. The idea arose from Alan Jones's vision of what he wanted the new comprehensive school at Chipping Campden to be. Hopefully these memories will encourage some of our past students to find themselves on the photographs and contribute more memories of Churnside to the website.
David Aldred (1973-81)