BADER BRAVES ADVENTURE WEEKEND
at CALVERT TRUST KIELDER 11-13 April 2014
Well – what a wonderful time we all had at Calvert Trust, Kielder, last weekend. A big thank you to all who attended and made it such a heart-warming and inspirational weekend.
We have held previous Adventure Weekends at the Calvert Trust both in Kielder and in Exmoor, all of which have been resounding successes, but this was quite a special event for the DBF as we were returning to our charity roots with a full complement of amputee or limb-deficient BRAVES and their families.
The DBF team met at the wonderful Calvert Trust Centre on the edge of Kielder Water at about 3.00pm after mutually long drives culminating in what must be some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery that the UK has to offer. The temporary DBF base was set up in a corner of the sitting area, the BADER BRAVES T-Shirts in an assortment of sizes laid out for the various BRAVES and their siblings, the necessary paperwork made ready and the room keys eventually organised and waiting. The DBF Team, consisting of David Bickers (DBF CEO), Wendy McCleave (DBF Communications Officer), Maggi Biggs (DBF Ambassador, Co-Founder of Team DBF Cycling and designer of the Team Bader Cycling Kit, which she modelled to excellent effect over the weekend), Charley Bickers (DBF help and co-driver) and Martin McCleave (support and camper driver par excellence) then waited for the BRAVES and their families to arrive.
As each family arrived they were shown to their room/s – mostly ensuite and all excellently equipped to cope with pretty much every eventuality and, to the children’s delight, many featuring bunk beds requiring mountaineering skills to access. Some parents looked slightly askance at this point quickly realising that they would constitute the landing zone in the eventuality of a rapid, or more rapid than intended, descent by the bunk-occupier!
Once all families had had a chance to settle in, look round and see the excellent range of facilities on offer, they convened in the sitting room to be briefed by Jane of the Calvert Trust, the overseer for the weekend, and welcomed by David Bickers. It was then on to supper with a disco to follow, much to the delight of the various BRAVES and their siblings. The DBF Team decamped at this point to what turned out to be possibly the best B&B in the country just down the road. (For the future reference of anyone visiting the area again, Eals Lodge B&B is not only blessed with the most delightful and welcoming hosts, but has wonderfully equipped and very comfortable rooms and must provide the best breakfasts in England. A heartfelt thank you to Bill and Pauline – and Isla the dog – for their warmth and hospitality.)
On return the following morning, it was immediately clear that some serious bonding had taken place between the BRAVES who were enjoying an energetic game of tag as we arrived while their parents sat waiting for their first event of the weekend. The 3 events had been chosen as being suitable for the range of amputations and limb deficiencies presented. The families were divided into 3 groups each with a Calvert Trust group leader, with each group participating in Zipwire and Abseiling, Indoor Climbing Wall and Velcro Olympics and Canoeing on Kielder Water. Calvert Trust has the facilities for many different activities of varying degrees of challenge to choose from as well as a wide range of leisure and indoor pursuits for those who want to sit it out at any time so there’s never a moment when anyone needs to feel bored or excluded. The choice of activities is down to the organisers with plentiful advice from the expert Calvert Trust instructors and we hope that we chose well for our BRAVES and their families. (Judging by the smiles it certainly looked as though everyone had a good time!)
Following the morning activities, the Groups returned to the Centre for lunch, which included some delicious hot and cold choices and I can personally vouch for the home-made tomato soup on Saturday! It was heart-warming to see that the BRAVES mostly gravitated to the same table for meals where clearly the company was enjoyed as much as the food.
Afternoon saw a new activity for each group with, amazingly, no noticeable drop in energy levels by children or adults alike, before a welcome return to base to warm up and relax after the day’s activities. Coffee, tea and other hot drinks were always on hand thanks to the state-of-the-art coffee machine, which even grinds its own beans. And produced excellent coffee as a result! There is also a permanent bar/tuck shop which was enjoyed by all ages. Still full of adrenalin and by now firm friends, the BRAVES and their siblings decamped en masse to the indoor sports hall for a rumbustious table tennis marathon and other general high-energy games. Quite how so many people at times managed to play one game of table tennis on one table was something of a mystery to me but it certainly looked a lot of fun! A pool table and computer area as well as a multi-sensory chill-out room were available for quieter moments. A quiz was to follow yet another good and warming supper with the only slight damper on the proceedings being poor Maria Calvache, mum to BRAVE Arashk, feeling distinctly below par. (We were delighted to find her feeling a lot better the following day and gamely all set for a canoeing experience!)
Sunday morning, sunny but cool, saw the 3 groups set out once more to complete their sets of activities. Again all 3 options provided both challenge and entertainment in spades and hats off to the Calvert Trust instructors who manage to instill confidence and trust in even the most nervous zipwirers, abseilers, climbers and canoeists. (One of my enduring memories was the expression on one parent’s face when the canoe instructor informed his group that they would be heading for the sheltered inlet to “hone their skills”!) The result was that everybody overcame whatever fears they may have had and had a go at everything with ensuing beaming smiles indicating the satisfaction achieved by completing the various challenges.
There were a few tentative faces on the zip wire platform as participants contemplated the long run over the river to where the Calvert Trust instructor waited to bring them safely to land on the other side. Without exception, the nerves evaporated once whizzing down the wire and gritted teeth gave way to broad smiles. Abseiling both from the zip wire platform and on the climbing wall was a great favourite once the abseiler learned to put their trust in the instructors, lean back and enjoy the ride down. The indoor climbing wall was a brilliant device with sections of differing degrees of difficulty ensuring that there was a challenge for everyone and Richard Stainer, dad of BRAVE, TeeJay, doing an impressive Spiderman impersonation and definitely not going for the easy route! Again, the instructors were amazing, offering just the right amount of encouragement and advice to ensure that each BRAVE completed the challenge themselves. Once the climbing wall had exhausted its appeal, the large Velcro Olympics inflatable was brought to life and, after a few races with BRAVES inevitably beating their parents, much to their delight, they discovered how much more difficult it was to get to the finish when wearing a special velcro suit specially and rather cruelly designed to stick to velcro strips attached at crucial points to the inflatable! As she peeled her small daughter off the carpet, one mum decided she’d like to buy one to keep her children still when she went shopping!
The hall was a wonderful place for the youngsters to let off steam as it also boasted an adjustable basketball basket, which was a huge hit with the BRAVES while they waited either to climb the wall or disappear into the inflatable! There was also ample room to race around either on foot or on one of the supertrikes.
If the group activity was canoeing, the BRAVES and their families were ferried by special Calvert Trust mini-bus to the canoeing lake on Kielder Water. What a beautiful place it is; sparkling, peat-dark water bordered by forest-clad hills and utterly peaceful. A variety of canoes were available so, again, there was something suitable for everyone. Under the expert and watchful eyes of the instructors (who were able to turn into remarkably efficient water-borne sheepdog equivalents when required), some families opted to paddle together in double canoes while others split into smaller groups of 3s, 2s and even singles to venture across the water. Usually in the right direction! I gather that paddling against a strong wind warms you up pretty quickly even in the chill of a cold April day on Kielder Water…! 3 things I learned about Kielder over the weekend were that it must be one of the most beautiful places in the UK as well as one of the most peaceful; that the weather can change almost instantly from bright blue sky and warm sunshine to wind and glowering clouds and then back again with all kinds of permutations in between and that the absence of light pollution allows for the most magnificent night skies anywhere. I hadn’t realised that there were such things as “Dark Sky Awards” but it turns out there are and Kielder has one. Next time the Kielder Observatory….
One of the high spots of the weekend was when Baylee Abbott proudly presented David Bickers with a cheque comprising funds raised at her school for the Douglas Bader Foundation. All at the charity are extremely grateful to Baylee for her efforts and this very welcome contribution. Thank you, Baylee – you’re a star.
After all the groups had returned from their activities at lunchtime on Sunday, David Bickers presented all the young participants with certificates signed by himself and DBF Ambassador, below-knee amputee, Maggi Biggs, pronouncing them true BADER BRAVES for completing all the challenges of the Adventure Weekend. There were then group photographs before the families either enjoyed their last Calvert Trust meal or headed home, for some a l-o-n-g drive and we hope you all got back safely.
It had been a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and one I personally felt very privileged to be part of. The BRAVES were, without exception, an inspiration and, as always, it was a joy to see children and parents alike enjoying each others’ company. One of the great benefits of these weekends is that it gives parents of amputee children or children with limb deficiency an opportunity to compare notes and to pick up tips and helpful advice from other people who truly understand their situation. As Maggi Biggs says, there is a wealth of information and prosthetic help out there but you have to know what to ask for and then ask for it LOUDLY! (Don’t forget that Maggi also runs our LimbLine and you can always contact her for help and advice using the link on the Website Home Page. She’ll be delighted to answer questions she can and direct you elsewhere if necessary.)
One of the things we hope is that we can improve this aspect of the Website and offer more information and help to the families of our BRAVES so please do send us any information or advice you think may be helpful to others and we can publish it on the Website. Please also do send in photographs, stories or personal reports you’d like to share with others.
Speaking for the DBF and its representatives, thank you all for making it such a special weekend for us all. It was a true pleasure and privilege to meet you all and share the experience with you. We look forward to seeing you all again soon – keep checking the pages for new information, opportunities, events and Flying Days and please keep in touch to let us know how you’re getting on.
A huge thank you also, of course, to all at Calvert Trust for their hard work and expertise. They are a wonderful team in a wonderful organisation and they did us proud.
You can see a selection of photos in the gallery below. This is the first batch and there are many more to come so please keep checking in. If you see a photo you’d like, do contact us and we’ll send it on to you. We’d also love to receive any of yours that you’d like to share as well as your experience of the weekend so…please, keep in touch.Adventure Weekend, amputee, Bader Braves, Calvert Trust, Douglas Bader, Eals Lodge, Flying Days, Kielder Observatory, Kielder Water, limb deficiencies, limb-deficient, LimbLine, table-tennis, Team Bader, Velcro Olympics