Apprentices visit Brathay Activity Centre

Every year, all of the third apprentices across the group are given the opportunity to take part in an outwards bounds activity week at the Brathay Hall Outdoor Education Centre.

Hear what Matthew Pargeter, Apprentice Fitter at BEL Valves, thought of the week.


We arrived at Brathay around lunchtime and were shown to our rooms. We were given walking boots and went straight into a low ropes activity designed to make you and a partner work together using effective communication and team working skills. It also gave us a chance to see how well our boots fitted!

After lunch, we went to get ready for Gill Scrambling. This involved climbing up a river whilst navigating through rocks, rapids and small waterfalls. We were split into two teams, which were the teams we’d be in throughout the week. Working in the same team gave us the opportunity to get to know each other and made us realise how important it was to communicate and help one another. Certain points were more challenging than others and required the team to really pull together to make sure everyone got through okay. This was my favourite activity as I enjoyed having to think about what route would be best to take and help the team reach the end. I also overcame a few personal challenges thanks to the motivation of my team.

We then got the mini bus back to the centre, dried off and ate our tea before going orienteering around the site. We had to work against the clock to find points on a map using a compass and write down what was on each marker. This activity was good as it was something new to most of us. Once all of the teams were in, we went back inside to play a few team games to round the day off. It’s fair to say most of us slept well that night!


Waking up at 8am rather than 6am on a weekday to a full English breakfast was a refreshing change to my standard week. The first activity was to go rowing out on the lake, much like the orienteering, we were given points to find and a set time limit. I enjoyed this activity and it was important to work as a team otherwise we’d end up going nowhere fast. Once we got into a good rhythm, we made good time, however we became tired quickly and it wasn’t long before we started getting distracted by scenery and large spiders in the boat. After almost two hours rowing, we had a much needed break for lunch.

After lunch, we loaded the Land Rover and mini bus with all the supplies we needed for a hike up ‘The Old Man of Coniston’ and an overnight stay in a mountain hut. We packed our bags with waterproofs, water, helmets, dinner and any personal bits and bobs. We then set off on a short drive to the bottom of the mountain where we were given a map and had to navigate ourselves to the mountain hut while the Land Rover drove up with the supplies. Working as a team and using the skills we’d been taught, we all managed to arrive at the hut. The hut was very basic, we mainly used the large room to eat and take part in activities, opposite was a large kitchen big enough for a group like us. Upstairs was our bedroom, full of three story bunk beds with crash mats for mattresses. In fact, they were very similar to the ones used in school P.E. lessons.

For tea that night, it was decided that one team would cook and the other would clean, then we would swap the next day for breakfast. Our team was on washing up first while the other team attempted to make spaghetti bolognaise for 17 people. While they were cooking, we planned our route to the top of the mountain including times of arrival at certain points, the gradient and terrain and the distance we had to travel.

Tea was ready just as we finished and although it didn’t taste great, everyone cleared their plates; we then had the mammoth task of the washing up. We split off into teams and played a few games and activities before heading to bed. The crash mat mattresses teamed with one of the group snoring like a fog horn meant that we didn’t get a lot of sleep that night!


Our team got up early to cook breakfast for everyone. I can honestly say I have never seen so many rashers of bacon, tins of baked beans and eggs being cooked at once. I think it was safe to say that breakfast was nicer than dinner! After eating breakfast, the other team washed up and we started to pack everything up. We left the hut at 9:20am and started to make our way up the mountain. Throughout the hike we faced all sorts of terrain from flat level grass, to steep rock faces we had to scramble up. We worked well as a team, keeping each other motivated, working to each other’s strengths for navigation and choosing the best route up the rock faces. The temperature and weather conditions gradually got worse as the day went on and just as we got onto the minibus at 14:45pm, the rain started.

When we got back to Brathay we all had a much needed shower and a cup of tea with a bit of time to relax before the next activity, which tested our team working and communication skills. We then had an hour to relax before heading to bed.


We’d all started to get used to our full English in the morning to get us ready for another activity filled day. The first activity was the ‘high v’s’, where we had to partner up with someone of a similar height and each climb up a telegraph pole type ladder. We were then standing opposite our partners, we then had to walk along a high rope wire whilst making a v shape by holding our partners hands. The rest of the group were holding onto the ropes to hold us up as the wires gradually got further apart so you had to trust your partner and communicate well. I hate heights and I was terrified at first, but I was proud that I managed to push myself and overcome my fear.

Once everyone had completed the ‘high v’s’, we split off into teams to complete a wooden puzzle challenge. We had to assemble a puzzle in less than 10 seconds, which was a lot harder than it looked. After a lot of frustration, my team completed the puzzle in the practice run. However, after dinner during the time trials, neither team could do it in less, but we both hit 10 seconds. We all got very competitive during this challenge but it made us think and work together.

This evening we had to plan an agenda for a visit from the British Engines management and HR team. We planned a quick game to act as an ice breaker and then we gave a presentation on our week at Brathay. We also decided to give them a taste of the kind of activities we’d been doing. We chose the ‘high v’s’ activity for them to try before going for tea. Adam Leggett, an Operations Manager at BEL Valves and Ian Davison, an Engineering Director at Rotary Power volunteered, although I don’t think Adam’s pointy shoes were best for the activity, but they managed surprisingly well despite their shaky legs.

After tea we discussed what we will be taking from this experience and how we would apply it to our working environments. One thing we all agreed on is that communication is the key to completing any task effectively and making sure you listen to everyone’s ideas and opinions, rather dismissing them straight away.


After one final hearty breakfast on our last day we had a choice, we could jump in to the lake or complete an activity on the grass. I chose to do the activity although it was raining so much we were just as wet as those who jumped into the lake! We then dried off and began to pack our stuff up back at the rooms.

Before we left we had time for one more activity, the leap of faith. You had to climb up a less than stable 15ft pole, stand on the top, turn 180 degrees and jump off to try and hit a ball. Easier said than done, lots of the group froze when they got to the top but we kept each other motivated shouting encouragement and the entire group managed the jump. We then had lunch for the last time, loaded up the minibus and headed back.

Overall I enjoyed the week, it was a really good way to help bring the group closer together as we are all spread across a number of sites. We had a lot of laughs and overcame challenges whilst doing so. What I will take from the week is that communication and teamwork are more important than I originally thought.

I think the outward bound week is a great part of the apprenticeship programme because it gave us an opportunity to do something we wouldn’t normally do and experience new things.