Shell Exploration Week

Marlborough was a better place in the summer term.  One was allowed to go off on one’s own in the afternoon play period.  I usually bicycled somewhere by myself.  Sometimes I would find a nice patch in a wood, and lie there for an hour or two under the trees, reading, or watching the birds.”
(Sir Francis Chichester (C1 1915-18), The Lonely Sea and the Sky)

At Marlborough Francis Chichester revelled in the moments of freedom, when he was able to explore the Wiltshire countryside.  For him happiness was found outdoors.

For many pupils since 2002 the highlight of Summer Term has been Outdoor Activities Week.  COVID-19 forced the cancellation this year.  While we could not hope to replicate this unique experience, we could honour its ethos.  Shell Exploration Week was born.

Using Chichester’s solo circumnavigation as inspiration, the Shell embarked on their own journey of discovery.  Each day they read books and undertook activities relating to ‘exploration’, be it physical, academic, cultural or spiritual.  Beaks contributed a remarkable range of ideas, from scientific experiments to poetry, arts and crafts to cooking.  These were done outdoors as much as possible, making a break from months of ‘laptop learning’.  In this aim we were aided by the weather, which could scarcely have been lovelier.

The compulsory exercise challenges proved that compulsion was unnecessary.  Could the Shell of each house collectively cover 295 miles over four days, representing the 29,500 miles Chichester sailed around the globe?  They could.  Rather than dividing by 100 we might have set the full distance instead!  On the ‘Ascent Day’ they had to climb in aggregate 884.8 metres (Everest being 8,848m).  Some sought the local hills; those in flatter regions hit the stairs.  The success of each house suggests that Marlborough’s mountaineering tradition lives on.

Denied the chance to climb in Wales, some pupils used OS maps to dream up their own hikes through some of the most beautiful parts of Britain: the Yorkshire Dales, Lake District, Dartmoor and the Black Mountains.  With expertise worthy of the RGS they planned two-day walks with overnight camps, aiming to achieve the best combination of distance, height, interest and scenic splendour.

This would please EGH Kempson, after whom our OA Centre is named.  In addition to instilling a love of climbing in boys such as John Hunt (leader of the successful 1953 Everest Expedition), he founded the College’s Natural History Society.  Exploration of the natural world was offered in myriad forms, from bird watching and nature journals, to creating art and fashion from flora, to the production of nature documentaries.  This last activity revealed many budding Attenboroughs – and one Crocodile Hunter.

The written, photographic and video records of Exploration Week are extraordinarily impressive.  They testify to the wise words of Sir Peter Medawar (OM), winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine:

For all its aberrations, the evidence of the senses is essentially to be relied upon – provided we observe nature as a child does, without prejudices and preconceptions.”


Richard Sandall
Head of Shell







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