Getting to know the neighbours was a good enough excuse for Bolton school to throw down the gauntlet. Kevin Berry witnesses the inaugural contest
We are in the heart of the Lake District and the weather couldn't be better. Two teams of Year 10 students are constructing rafts and in a few minutes they will be racing their creations across the water. "And when we get to the other side," says Stephen Shaw, the instructor, "we want the rafts dismantled and the knots untied."
The two teams are from Lancashire schools and they are participating in the inaugural Patterdale Challenge. Six schools have been invited to send teams to Patterdale Hall, an outdoor pursuits centre at the southern tip of Lake Ullswater and set in 100 acres of private land.
The challenge is the brainchild of Guy Lovgreen, a PE teacher at Bolton school. Financed by a parent and the Ogden Trust educational charity, the challenge is a way for Bolton, the indpendent school, to build links and friendships with neighbouring state schools. "We are the hosts," Guy says.
"Our sixth-formers are scoring the different tasks in the challenge, apart from the specialist activities such as raft building. Marks will be awarded for how team members work together and not simply which team is the fastest."
The students look smart in their specially made team T-shirts. Each member also has trainers and a rucksack, donated by company sponsors, and they can take them and their shirts home. The winning school will get a PC system.
Adventure and achievement are all around. On the rope course teams must pick up a bucket of water and carry it without spilling. Some groups are out on a language manhunt. When they reach a map co-ordinate they must solve problems in French to get the next co-ordinate.
On the first evening there is a general knowledgeproblem-solving quiz to break the ice. Two weeks ago the teams were given a topic for a musical recital and a public speaking presentation.
Team-building is the key factor in each of the activities. Everyone understands what team-building means. "You might be good in one thing," explains James Artingstall of Woodhey high school in Ramsbottom, which eventually won the challenge. "But your friends can help you with some other task. If we don't pull together we won't finish."
The schools have been preparing their teams with problem-solving activities, rope work and fitness training. They had no prior knowledge of the tests, apart from the public speaking and music recital.
How exciting are the challenges? Top of the scale. The teachers are itching to join in. Some girls tell me they have put tents up for the first time in their lives and have spent a night under canvas - also for the first time.
They walked to the tents in the dark. "We had lamps on our heads," says Rosanna Mcferran of Smithills school, Bolton. "We were holding hands in case anyone slipped. I thought it would be silent but we could hear owls and the sound of the stream."
Back to the raft builders. Robert Flitcroft, of Mount St Joseph's high school, Farnworth, has his team practising lifting the raft for the dash to the water. The rafts are in the water, paddles moving in unison. All seems to be going well, but first one raft and then the other breaks up. Barrels bobble freely. The crews continue with the race. They swim for the finishing point, holding onto barrels and pulling the timbers. "I've noticed quite a change in them," says teacher Richard Barlow, of Mount St Joseph's. "Even in such a short time, this task brings them together. Their energy is focused. They can't hang back and let other people do it. Things go wrong and they have to sort them out."
They eventually struggle to shore, water gushing from their wetsuits. "This is one of the best things I've done," says Adam Whitehead, of Rochdale Balderstone technology college.
Patterdale Hall, tel: 017684 82233; email: firstname.lastname@example.org;www.patterdalehall.org.uk