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Potteries Orienteering Club

West Midlands Orienteering Association

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First published in The Potter September 2000
Graphics © Copyright Dave Sparks 2000
Text © Copyright Alex Sparks 2000

Renovating the permanent course at Downs Banks

Got home around five – knackered, for some reason. Funny, as most of the day had been spent in looking at others doing the work: Malcolm Duncan digging (the first two holes); Sylvia Rowe shovelling with the entrenching tool; Austin grappling with the shove-holer; Barbara quietly overseeing. And so on. My contribution had been mainly telling David that he was missing some really good action shots, and to get out the blessed camera. Perhaps that had been more strenuous than I thought …

Anyway – that was the end. The beginning started a while ago, probably as a little twinkle in Brian’s eye at some committee meeting or other, before turning into a well and truly launched exercise which took place on Saturday, July 29th at Downs Banks. The aim (see title) was to replace some vandalised posts and to put in some new ones.

Well, it sounded a little dull, to tell you the truth, but like most dull things, worthy and in-need-of-support. Also, David wanted to take his photos for the Web, so we turned up.Planting a Permanent Course Marker However, unlike most dull things, it turned into a really interesting (but knackering) day. Rod, the warden, was invaluable and proved a gold-mine of information and entertainment. Who, apart from seasoned post-holers and National Trust wardens would have known that now is the right time to strip the bark off larch trees; that shove-holers are two-headed spades and just the thing for digging holes, despite the fact that they weigh a ton; and that there is a special tamping tool (again a ton) for firming the earth around the post. Also, that a crowbar (another ton) is as good as a spade for loosening the soil when it is chock-full of Triassic (is that correct, Rod?) pebbles.

As time went on, we also became aware of Rod’s plans for the area, all 166 acres. Waymarks are to be improved, directing mountain bikes away from footpaths and onto bridle tracks. Oak trees are to be encouraged. The bracken is to be destroyed by a longish-term plan of selective herbicide, physical trashing with things like the Land Rover and trailer (Rod really enjoys this), and the eventual reintroduction of grazing. Cows are by far the best for this – they have lovely big hooves. By a mere chance, we met up with a lady who could remember the days when cows grazed on the banks and there was very little bracken, if any.

So with a mixture of sun, thunder, rain, lightning, heavy work and light entertainment, the day flew by. We managed five posts in all, with a further two to be kept for another day. Not too bad for a band of unseasoned post-holers (barring Rod) whose average age was beyond fifty. Next time we hope for a bit of young blood and muscle to do the macho work of heaving and hauling, shove-holing, trenching, tamping etc. If Rod turns up, he’ll provide the information and entertainment and even if he doesn’t we’ll manage among ourselves. If it’s half as good as Saturday, it’ll be well worthwhile coming.

Alex Sparks