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Walking the Wall – Day 3

Humshaugh to Twice Brewed

I started the day with a bit of a detour, thanks to my longstanding friend and co-mischief maker, Gwyn Mckenzie. Gwyn is the ADC General Duties for Hadrian District (though I can’t think of her as anything other than National Akela to the UK’s Cub Scouts back in the nineties.). She kindly offered to take me to see the camping ground where the first official Scout camp under Baden-Powell’s leadership took place, very close to Humshaugh.

But surely, the first Scout camp was on Brownsea Island?

The historian, Colin Walker, takes up the story… “Well, the boys at Baden-Powell’s ‘experimental camp’ on Brownsea in 1907 were not Scouts in the normal sense of the word. Around half were members of the Bournemouth and Poole and Boys Brigades and some of the others, the Public School lads, may have belonged to their school’s Cadet Corps. As the camp was an experiment pre-dating the Scout Movement these boys did not belong to recognised Scout Groups, know the Scout Law and they had not taken their Scout Promise.

The camp at Humshaugh (pronounced Hums-alf) had the distinction of being the first ever for serving Scouts to be led by Baden-Powell. The boys were members of Scout Troops from across Great Britain and they camped at the site close between August 22nd and September 4th, 1908.

Today there’s a good deal of debate in some Scouting circles about sponsorship of events by corporations and whether or not taking money from companies is acceptable. Interestingly, this camp was sponsored by the publishers, Pearson, who boldly proclaimed in Issue 1 of “The Scout”, “Who of you would want to spend a fortnight under canvas with a troop of other boys, and under the care of General Baden-Powell? Is there a boy in all the land whose heart does not jump with joy at the prospect?” “The most fascinating holiday ever offered” was to be for 30 boys, all expenses paid, “including Fares and Food”.

But there had to be a catch, for there were thousands of lads who would have given their eye-teeth to camp with their hero. And there was. What “The Scout” was actually announcing was a competition, and the prize was to be an invitation to go to the camp. To win the prize you had to be in the top 30 names listed in The Scout of those who had collected the most ‘votes’ in the issue published immediately prior to the camp.

Baden-Powell did not have editorial control or any financial interest in The Scout. Any profits were Pearson’s ‘reward’ for putting up the £1,000.00 it took for B-P to promote Scouting just before Scouting For Boys was published and to cover any losses Pearson might have made on that book. (As a world best seller, no loss was made!)

The ‘votes’ were nothing to do with democracy. You could vote for yourself, but only on a special form to be found in every issue of The Scout, published weekly until the closing date the week before the start of the camp. The magazine conducted a high-profile campaign to encourage boys to take part. There were exhortations and weekly lists of the top 50, then, as the time got nearer, additional names were listed in divisions A, B and C of young hopefuls who frankly stood no chance.

Scouts would encourage friends to buy the papers so they could have their voting coupons. It may have started out like that, but I doubt Scout F D Watson, who accumulated the most ‘votes’, had over 29,000 friends! The 50th boy in the league table had over 5350 votes. The scheme must literally have attracted tens of thousands of sales.”

You can read a full report of the camp on Colin’s fascinating website at

There’s a cairn in the woods by the campsite (now, as then, just a nondescript farmer’s field.). Gwyn and I tramped through the field and up the hill to see it – and take the essential ‘selfie’.

It was a wonderful opportunity to see a piece of Scouting history – and I’m very, very grateful to Gwyn for taking the time to come and find me.

Gwyn dropped me off at a small copse and within minutes I reached Limestone Corner, the northernmost point of the Roman Empire when the wall was built.

The weather forecasters had said it was going to rain. They were right. Firstly a light drizzle and then, as the day progressed, a growing mist of rain, made more interesting by the wind that was blowing into my face. As one walker who passed me going in the opposite direction, said, “well, now I know of a good reason to be walking the Wall from West to East”.

33 years ago, I wrote in my log, “On the route to Housesteads I felt terrific. I tend to walk alone usually, so I didn’t talk much, but as we followed a more and more apparent wall, rising more and more steeply above the northern side, I felt happier and happier. The weather was windy, blowing hard into my face. I knew that if we stopped then I’d become cold very quickly.”

Today, I felt very much the same. I passed the Broccolitia Roman Fort, the Mithras Temple and Grindon Turret. By now, it was raining quite hard, so I limited the stop at Housesteads, just as we’d done when we did our DofE expedition. (“We spent the time eating lunch and looking vaguely around. Deep discussions on Roman central heating and using sponges for lavatorial purposes. Very nice with lunch.”)

The path from Housesteads to Steel Rig must rate as one of the country’s most amazing. It’s also part of the Pennine Way. I leave it to my teenage self to describe it. “The walk became interesting as a walk because the path rose and dropped up hill and down dale fairly sharply. Paul, of course, was fairly fed up about this. He hates to lose height once he’s worked to gain it. The group became less straggled and kept much closer now. The steep hill down from Hotbank crags, down past Crag Lough was the best part of the day. Barren and open scenery. I wouldn’t want to live here, but it’s good to visit. As we crossed over a stile, we saw George (our DofE supervisor). He shouted at us from below. We were high up on the side of a crag and couldn’t see how to get down. It was 3:30, dead on time. Down to Twice Brewed and our campsite. Tent up.”

Tonight, I’m not in a tent. I’m in the very, very comfortable Twice Brewed Inn, next door to the new and very impressive visitors centre. And I won’t be eating corned beef hash either…

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