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  • Writer's pictureMike Lintott-Danks

Merlins on the Moors

At the beginning of May the Dartmoor becomes awash with teenagers who arrive in teams to complete the 62nd Ten Tors challenge.

The reason for Airspeed Media to attend was the opportunity to photograph the support helicopters which help to move people and equipment to the various checkpoints across Dartmoor. Under the named Exercise WYVERN TOR, two Commando Helicopter Force Royal Navy Merlin HC.4s arrived in the evening of the 9th May at Okehampton camp in preparation to support the Ten Tors challenge.

The 10th May saw the two Merlin start to ferry equipment out across the moor using a variety of routes to get to the various Tors south of Okehampton Camp. Climbing up Tors close to the camp allowed for us and various other photographers to get close to the ladened helicopters.

The event and the exercise were a success as the press release from the British Army below explains:-

In glorious sunshine and on the warmest West Country weekend of the year, 2406 teenagers from

across the South West of England took part in the nation’s largest youth outdoor challenge,

traversing the Dartmoor National Park and tackling The Ten Tors. 

Over two days, teams of six from schools, Armed Forces cadet units, ramblers’ associations,

youth, and scout groups were tested to their limits by trekking unaided over routes of 35, 45 or 55-

miles (56, 72 or 88km).

Aged between 14 and 19 they relied on sheer grit, team-work and navigational skills to visit the ten

checkpoints across the difficult, wild terrain of Dartmoor without the use of mobile phones or GPS.

The teams were entirely self-sufficient, they carried all their food, water, bedding and tents,

everything needed to stay out overnight and complete their challenge safely.

Although known as the ‘Ten Tors Challenge,’ it also serves as a high-level military resilience

exercise led by the British Army’s Headquarters South West based in Tidworth, Wiltshire.

Exercise WYVERN TOR is the umbrella event for the planning and coordination of the Ten Tors

and Jubilee Challenges which provides essential Tri-Service operational effectiveness.

Event Director, Colonel Matt Palmer responsible for the 62 nd Ten Tors event which started in 1960

as an ‘expedition’ with 200 servicemen and three civilians from Exmouth, said: “At a time when the

Armed Forces are so heavily committed to delivering operations all around the globe, I am

delighted that this wonderful event remains a firm fixture in the calendar of the South West.

“As in previous years, the extensive organisation and safe delivery of Ten Tors 2024 would not

have been possible without the dedicated support of over 1000 enablers from across the Armed

Forces, emergency services and voluntary organisations.”

The day officially started to the rousing tune of ‘Chariots of Fire,’ in a time-honoured tradition.

A parachute display by the Army’s ‘Red Devils,’ prayers led by Mandeep Kaur, the Sikh Chaplain

to the Armed Forces and the firing of an Army light gun marked the start of a long, arduous

challenge over Dartmoor and the highest peaks in Southern England.

There were words of advice from TV presenter and bushcraft survival expert, Ray Mears who told

them to “look inside their hearts to find the strength you need.”

“I think what you are about to do is amazing,” he told the challengers. “Look out for your comrades,

you’ll only succeed as a team.”

The life-shaping experience has become a rite of passage for those taking part, and alongside the

traditional event, 335 young people with special physical or educational needs took part in the

Jubilee Challenge, completing routes of up to 15-miles (24km).

This year the event hosted the first Jubilee Challenge Plus (JC+) aimed at young adults with

Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) who are capable of an overnight stay but may

find the Ten Tors Challenge too demanding.

Following months of cold and wet conditions, the early morning sun was a welcome sight as,

Orchard Manor School from Dawlish in Devon were the first team and JC+ group to cross the

finishing line.

“It has been a brilliant experience,” said Janice Woodward, the Team Manager, despite the “hard

work,” she had a huge smile on her face. “The team get on really well, encouraged each other and

had a laugh, and that’s what got them around.”

She added: “This event gives them skills for life, promotes independence and is all about


Gabriel Moore, one of those Orchard Manor pupils whose school motto is ‘we live and learn

together’: “I’m very proud of us. We are tired and the first thing I’m going to do is have a shower!”

Paying tribute to the support staff from all the organisations and groups taking part in Ten Tors

2024, Colonel Palmer, said: “Their selfless mentorship is the driving force behind the teams who

enter this historic event.

“Furthermore, I have been humbled by the perseverance and fortitude of all the participants. Their

commitment to many months of training and huge effort over this weekend has been truly


The success of an event this size relies heavily on volunteers and local knowledge. Lieutenant

Colonel (Retired) Tony Clark has been involved for 50 years and the Director Ten Tors Advisor for

over three decades. Stepping down from the role, he was honoured with an award to be presented

annually to the “champion enabler,” the person who has contributed the most.

Tony will become the archivist, capturing the “glories and joys” of the event that has been a major

part of his life, continuing to share his passion that is the “spirit of Ten Tors.”

Reflecting on the 62 nd Ten Tors Challenge, Colonel Palmer: “It is often said that Ten Tors is in the

DNA of the South West. Having now overseen my first event, I understand that this is no

overstatement; it holds a very special place in the heart of all involved.”


Royal Navy Merlin HC.4


The 25 Merlin HC.4 is utilised by the Royal Marines and has been modified for their use. This includes a fast-roping beam that allows for the rapid deployment of Marines from the cabin door.

The aircraft is powered by three Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca RTM322 engines that power the main rotor assembly consisting of five British Experimental Rotor Programme blades. Inside the cockpit there are six digital screens which display the navigation, sensor information and other aircraft systems, all of which are compatible with night vision goggles.

For protection and force projection the Merlin HC.4 can be armed with general purpose machine guns fitted to the cabin door and ramp. And the defensive suite consists of a laser warning system, missile approach warning system, radar warning receiver and a Nemesis AN/AAQ-24 Directional Infrared Counter Measures jammer.

Thank you to Army Media Officer Waters for her support with this article.

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