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Bob Shepton

Rev. Robert Shepton
School Chaplain
1980 - 199

When asked for a CV by yachting magazines or whatever, I usually say ‘He has been a Royal Marines Officer, a full time youth leader down the east end of London, and Chaplain to two schools.’ To put a little more flesh on that, the time in the Royal Marines included a Cliff Leader Course in the Commando Cliff Assault Wing (grand title) – hence the rock climbing, and the time down the east end of London included working at the Mayflower Family Centre with David Sheppard in charge – who played cricket for England and then became the much respected Bishop of Liverpool, and later being Boys’ Club Leader at the Cambridge University Mission in Bermondsey and then Warden of the Oxford-Kilburn Club. Strangely the latter proved the toughest of them all, and I had my front teeth knocked back – but that’s another story.

Bob_Shepton_MediumSomewhere in between I went to Oak Hill and then was put out to grass as a young curate at St.John’s Weymouth, but fortunately found the unclimbed sea cliffs of Lulworth and Portland which I set about developing with the church youth club!, and later wrote the climbing guide book to that area. My first stint as a school chaplain was at St.David’s College, Llandudno where I was Chaplain and Outdoor Pursuits master, a nice combination. This mainly meant training the lads in rockclimbing and included doing some new routes with them on the Ormes, and also teaching them skiing. I suppose I brought the same sort of emphasis and attitudes to bear at KHS, along with the chaplaincy, though for rock climbing read sailing, and skiing (and parachuting, and CCF and windsurfing and …..). I have always found this emphasis goes well with the chaplaincy, and I think I can claim that my downtown youth work also gave me some understanding of the more needy lads, and led me to champion the cause of the more difficult. I suppose one could say both were well represented in my years there, especially in the early years.

I do realise that economic pressures led to the seeking of more ‘normal’ fee paying pupils latterly, but I cannot help hoping that the school will be able to return more twards its original role, which must, I feel, be more in line with the vision of the Founder.

As some will remember when I left the school I sailed round the world – that is to say we completed the ‘First School Group to sail Round the World’. They were all school leavers as the term goes, or Old Boys, (for some reason the Governors were not happy at exisitng students having two or three months off from their studies, which I could never understand!). Stephen Moon (Dood) and Simon Atkinson (Pebs) came all the way round, and we changed two people at six or seven places on the way round. The mast fell down in Antarctica which was a bit awkward but we jury rigged and sailed back to the Falklands, and the RAF flew us out a replacement mast which just fitted in the hold of the Tri-Star below the seats – and Malcolm Brecht was not even CO of Brize Norton at the time. We then returned to Antarctica, and continued round Cape Horn, Easter Island, Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu (marvellous place), Torres Strait, Darwin (Australia), Cocos Keeling, Mauritius, Durban, Cape of Good Hope, Capetown and homeGreenland_2009_Vicky_Medium

I can’t claim that all of them became A1 christians on the way round (I was Chaplain remember) but a pleasing aspect is that several of them did then pursue careers as professional sailors, some of whom might not have easily found careers elsewhere. Indeed Dood who hated exams at school put himself through the agony of working up to and then passing a Master’s Ticket, or so I believe, and is now skipper of one of those boats that is so long you can hardly see the bow from the stern. Dear old Pebs who confessed to me on the way round that he had only joined the Commando Troop to get out of drills in the CCF (but I knew that already), swanned around the Med skippering someone else’s boat professionally for a while but has now retired to help Henchy (Andrew Hensman who came round Cape Horn with us and was actually being paid by the army at the time) in a plumbing business on some Greek island in the sun. Then Ian Savage with the carefully slicked back hair (brother of present Chaplain) is skipper of some vast Dutch boat just upgrading to a bigger one, and so we could go on.

Many memories of course: Barney’s (Barnaby Athay, our cockney’s) classic remark when there was a huge bang above us off the coast of Spain, ‘Lord King gonna get a rude le’tter’. Concorde had just passed through the sound barrier. Barney wasn’t really happy till we got to Rio de Janeiro and he found a Macdonalds, at last! Howesy after the mast fell down going around saying ‘We’re gonna die, we’re gonna to die’ so we all went round saying ‘We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die’. The dramatic beauty of Antarctica, stormy Cape Horn, Henchy standing as the last moai (those huge Easter Island statues) in a row of moais, …. Scotty (Scott Joyce) arriving in Easter Island and being rowed across to the boat which was hanging off the stern of a Chilean Naval vessel at the time because it was so choppy. Quickly eating his supper and then almost immediately depositing it violently over the side, poor lad. But he soon recovered. Moorea, with its atmospheric Polynesian ethos, the pristine coral beaches of Vanuatu without a soul on them, the Rev running out of air 60 feet down diving on the wreck of a WW2 US warship, the boatyard where we lifted out at Darwin – ‘it’s concrete boots on a dark night if you cross him, mate’, Cocos Keeling the biggest atoll in the world with its extraordinary British colonial history, Easy-Peasy not turning up for his watch because he had imbibed too much alcohol in Port Richards – which may have been a good thing because the Agulhas current round South Africa was flowing fast and furious, the stormy Cape of Good Hope, the lovely Capetown and Table Mountain, the hundreds of steps up ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ at St. Helena, with Napoleon’s house of exile which is still French property. Ascension Island that plug of volcanic dust with American radio and radar masts sticking out of it. Again, we could go on. But they all did so well.

Rev_Bob_MediumIncidentally on return any temptation to hubris (that’s pride you ignorant lot) at our achievement was quickly dispelled. A little old lady sitting at the back of the church back home greeted me and - ‘Oh och aye, so did ye have a nice wee outing’.

Of course I had retired back to Scotland (where else?) and now keep myself occupied by sailing across to Greenland and climbing unclimbed mountains, either by alpine methods or on skis, and the odd new rockclimb, from the boat. One year Jacko (James Jackson) did sail across the Atlantic with us but usually KHS is not now represented unfortunately. Last summer we went to the far north of Greenland and as well as exploring a remote uninhabited island, Northumberland Island, and making a few first ascents there, we also set up an Automatic Weather Station in Smith Sound between Greenland and Ellesmere Island for the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences and the Danish Space Agency, as part of their research into arctic weather and the ice coming down from the Arctic Ocean. To our amazement it actually worked, and is transmitting relevant information back on the Internet…

This summer I have a group of ‘world class’ climbers – or so people tell me, including themselves! – due to come out to climb some huge rock walls halfway up the west coast of Greenland. I might find it necessary to stay on the boat this time!Will_Driver_Medium

Incidentally, guys, being grounded from ski instructing this last winter (shame, I am only 75) you are all under orders to buy the book, ‘No Challenge, No Life’, which I had to write to keep myself out of mischief – that is if I ever get a publisher….


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