GCSE week at Grafham Water

GCSE week at Grafham Water

Grafham Water Centre is an amazing place for people who want to learn a new water sport, how to work in the teams or just to have some fun. All the instructors are very helpful and communicate with students as friends. They try to encourage you to push yourself to limits you didn’t think it possible to achieve. At the end of the day, there is wonderful bowl of hot soup which is heaven for those who’ve come from very cold water. In my opinion, Grafham Water Centre is an incredible place and definitely helps to bind people together.

The visit began with team games and problem-solving activities. Our teams had to work together on challenges, for example, how to make a large shark from human bodies. We also went outside and worked in teams where we had to stand on crates and manoeuvre ourselves to pass the crates that we were on to a point further up the field. Meanwhile, the instructors kept pinching the crates, making our task much more difficult!

Only half of our group attended the first day. The other half of the year were in Cambridge as part of their GCSE Geography course. Leonie Llewellyn and David Shah accompanied the Geographers on a fact finding mission to find out about tourism in Cambridge.

Our first evening was filled with the Geographers working on their Controlled Assessments using the information gathered during their day in Cambridge. The rest of the group went to Penny Isitt’s session on War Poetry. Penny had brought along a candle and other props to add to the atmosphere. The students worked on their own poems and also studied a play, which they subsequently acted out for their peers. This activity gave them a further insight into the conditions endured in the trenches during war fare.


On the second day we were told the news that we were to go sailing. This didn’t come as a happy moment to most of us, as it was a very cold and windy day. So we were all a little nervous about falling in and getting wet! It took us all a while to set up the fun boats as most of us hadn’t been sailing before. Once all of the sails were up and ready multiple gusts of winds hit the sails and this tended to lift the boats off the ground which was very hard to try and keep the boats down. Once we got into the water it was a lot of fun, as the wind caught the sails very quickly and we took off surprisingly fast.

For some of us it was great to get back on the water and remind us how much we loved sailing.  It has persuaded some of us to join a club and take up sailing again! So a big thank you to the Grafham Water Centre staff. You are wonderful!


One of the activities was climbing, which was on the second day, and everyone took part. It was great fun and the instructors told you how to climb and how to belay. This is important, because if the climber loses their grip, footing, or both, and falls, if you belay them then they won’t fall very far because the rope will be tight and injuries and risk is minimised. After that, people were given the choice that if they wanted to they could opt to do their grade 1 in climbing they then had to climb the wall 10 times and belay 10 times. The instructors also gave us more advice on how to climb the wall quicker, including challenges such as saying were only allowed to touch a certain type of rock, so we weren’t allowed to use any one we wanted to get up the wall. This was quite a challenge, but overall it was mostly good fun.

Level 1 NICAS Climbing - some information

To complete Level 1 NICAS (National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme) we had to climb to the top of the artificial climbing wall ten times and come down correctly. There are five levels in this scheme and the first one is aimed at people who have never climbed before. In order to complete Level 1, we had two climbing sessions and we had the choice of three climbing walls.  

During all activities on the wall we were wearing harnesses and helmets. We also had to belay someone down 10 times. This means that we had to connect someone’s harness to a rope with a retied figure of eight knot and stopper and then securely fasten the rope to the climbing wall and ensure that the person gets down to safety whilst keeping a controlling hand on the rope. We were given a log book as Foundation Climbers and our instructor assessed us and filled in this log book in order for us to complete the course. We really enjoyed climbing, and it gave those who had done it before the chance to push themselves.


On the second evening at Grafham Water we went across to the Sports Hall for an archery session. This began with learning the basics and then we worked our way up to attempting to hit balloons rather than just the main target. We played team games, working our way in order through the different coloured rings on the target and the first to finish was the winner. This was a fun activity and Joel took to it like a duck to water!


On the first day of Grafham Water, in the afternoon, the group participated in a taster paddling session. As there was a strong wind coming on to one side of the reservoir  and we were taken by power boat over the choppy water to the other side where the wind was not as strong allowing us to control the craft more easily. For the first half of the session we used Canadian canoes which were spacious and very hard to capsize. The second half of the session was spent in white water kayaks which were a tight squeeze for some of the taller students, these kayaks were much easier to capsize and one or two students got a little wet. Overall it was a great first taster session and everyone enjoyed it.

One student describes his experiences in the following extract

“When I went to Grafham Water I chose to be in the paddling group instead of the climbing group. It was a lot of fun, especially after sailing when I went on a proper boat and drove around the reservoir, the weather was rainy and cold but I still thought it was good. I also thought Ru [the instructor] was funny and he ran the activities well. Sailing, going for a ride on the speed boat and canoeing were the best activities”.

Another commented that “During the canoeing sessions we learnt to use our taught skills such as the different strokes and teamwork to coordinate the canoes.  This was done by blindfolding the front person so communication was key. During the kayak sessions we were taught to turn on the spot more efficiently using weight distribution with our wide strokes; how to go backwards quickly or controlled and how to empty our kayaks if we capsized. The major things that helped us learn these was listening to the instructors and practicing the skills”.

Mountain biking

Some of us were lucky enough to go mountain biking twice. We cycled around Grafham Water Centre, one half consisting of steep hills, and the other was mainly flat. It was a good idea for us all to have done this because it really pushed us outside of our comfort zones, and at the end of it we all felt a great sense of accomplishment to have finished 10 miles. This experience was also enjoyable because of the beautiful scenery along the way like the first time we cycled the route, we paused at a lovely beach where we met the other group who were canoeing. Definitely a good experience!

Grafham Challenge

On Thursday we did the Grafham Challenge. At first I didn’t want to do it because I thought I would get covered in mud. Then when I found out that I had to be blind folded I really didn’t want to do it! Then when it actually came to it they said we got to wear one of their coats so I didn’t have to get my jumper covered in mud, thank you for that! Although there were times in the challenge when I really didn’t like not being able to see I found myself enjoying the fact that no one else could see so we had to help each other! Even though I was covered in mud and freezing I really enjoyed it! Thank you.

Our final morning was spent tackling the high ropes course.  We attempted to climb Jacob’s ladder, an exercise that definitely required team work. We also had to run across a bridge which was positioned many metres above the ground and negotiate our way across ropes. For the people who don’t like heights this was a serious challenge but one that the majority attempted.

Our time at Grafham Water encouraged us to work together with students that we might not always come into contact with. It was not all fun and games as we had homework to complete in the evenings. We did, however, learn to be patient, encouraging and to see that whilst challenges are sometimes difficult and problems complex, they are not insurmountable. We would like to thank the Instructors at Grafham Water, plus the staff who accompanied us – Lisa, Nick, Joel and Markus.