HEADMASTER’S BLOG: The Dark is exciting

Adam Williams | 8 January 2024

Whilst tidying the house recently and pre-planning the somewhat pointless New Year’s resolutions of a cleaner, tidier life, I came across a classic childhood book – The Owl who was afraid of the Dark. Beautifully illustrated, it explores the journey of an owlet learning about how wonderful the dark is and all that it offers, but from a position of ‘I don’t like it.’ It is about finding one’s true self, speaking to strangers and about being open-minded. It is about thinking differently; amen to that.


As we look outside, the winter solstice has now passed in the Northern Hemisphere as 21 December rolls into the rear-view mirror. It is the shortest (and therefore) darkest day of the year with only 7 hrs and 49 minutes hours of daylight in North Hampshire, compared to 16hrs and 38 minutes at the Summer solstice. Those latitudes north of 50 degrees are drifting into slumber, before the spring reawakening. And, yet, with the lights off, the world is very much alive.


Crepuscular (that’s your dawn and dusk crowd – including your cat) and nocturnal animals are coming into their own, not to mention the sky that is alive with stars and storytelling for those who have been embracing the books and shows of Brian Cox (The Planets, Cox and Cohen is awesome) or Tristan Gooley.


Just 50 minutes east of LWC, there is no such thing as the darkness really, for London, the global megacity that it now is, is part of the world’s 24-hour economy. The nightshift, so to speak, is alive and well with many workers resisting their body clocks (not a good thing if you read the research) and moving the nation onwards. Like the time and sleep, the nighttime economy refreshes what occurred in the day, so we can start again as the sun stretches its “rosy fingered dawn” across the landscape. (I’ve stolen that from Homer’s Odyssey – love the phrase).


But at LWC, darkness reigns supreme. With little light pollution, once the Flowers Science Centre turns off its motion-sensored lights, the stars blaze out, notably in Frog Lane, between Sutton /Park House and Sheephouse Copse.


But let’s take it up a notch and turn the lights out almost completely, and then throw in an ultra marathon… Let me introduce you to The Tunnel Ultra. 200 miles of continuous running in the darkness.


To quote the organisers;


‘The Tunnel is a mind-bending test of extreme endurance and sensory deprivation. This challenge is a 200 mile ultramarathon through the darkness of the UK’S longest foot tunnel. You will run on flat terrain but in the pitch black between 11pm and 5am; there will be low level lighting in effect at other times.’


The Combe Down tunnel is in Bath, Somerset, and there will be a checkpoint at the south end of the tunnel. You will have 55 hours to run approximately 100 ‘out-n-backs’, or 200 times through the tunnel, which is possibly the greatest mileage ultramarathon ever run 99% underground.


It is one of the ultimate tests in the UK. And if you want to enter…


The Tunnel | Cockbain Events Ltd


Even the Devizes to Westminster marathon canoe race, that nearly 40 of our pupils are undertaking in April this year (on the back on being National Schools champions in 2023), looks like a jaunty punt down the river compared to this. That said, please do ask if you want to find out more about how to come and watch / support our team compete, even if you haven’t got a child racing! It is one of the best things that LWC pupils do, creating memories (and blisters) for life.


But what do you do when the lights go out?, to almost quote Albus Dumbledore to Ron Weasley in Harry Potter, The Prisoner of Azkaban – in fact, I think the exact words were;


“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”


J K Rowling was on to something here, but beyond tunnels and Deluminators, the UK is seeing a resurgence in areas being designated as Dark Sky parks – we have six UK National Parks; Exmoor, Brecon Beacons, South Downs (Moore’s Reserve), Snowdonia, North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales that have been awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status.


Northumberland, with England’s most pristine dark skies, is an International Dark Sky Park (Gold Tier). Now this really does have to be seen to be believed. And not forgetting Exmoor becoming Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011, with its rugged moorland landscapes transforming at night into star-filled scenes. Top spots for stargazing there include Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Ansley Gate, Haddon Hill, Wimblehall Lake and County Gate.


And the darkest sky in the world? That honour goes to the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia. NamibRand Nature Reserve | Dark Sky. Now there are a few holidays ideas for you…


But with the nights are drawing out and more light flooding back into our world, schools, like nature, will spring back into action, as will our energy levels. And to help with this, I thought you would appreciate reading the most recent external review of LWC undertaken by Talk Education, who visited us recently. Please do pass on to your friends and family. We are delighted with their feedback and will be working hard to raise our profile both regionally and nationally this year. Demand remains at record levels, but we will never become complacent, rather continue to challenge ourselves. Your feedback has been instrumental in this too, so thank you.


Lord Wandsworth College – Senior school in Hook (talkeducation.com)


Spending time at LWC


I am delighted to provide the scoop that LWC will be (for the first time) opening our gardens as part of the National Garden Scheme early in the summer term and hope that more and more of you will start to visit Zanetas on a Saturday morning to enjoy the coffee and home baking. Our school is very much your school. Please come and enjoy the planting, the landscape and the environment.

You will also have the chance to watch our newly formed girls’ football teams playing this term (up at Southview), our netballers competing at the beautifully refurbished Bramley Centre and our boys playing an exciting brand of hockey as they hang onto the coat-tails of the girls success last term.


In conclusion


And so, with 2024 underway, there is much to look forward to. This year will see us apply to Hart DC for outline planning permission for our new strategic campus masterplan, come together for a wonderful Oliver! production at the Haymarket, Basingstoke and congratulate our 5th Formers on their English Language GCSE results, to name but a few elements. The views of what LWC might be this year are not quite as spectacular as those coming from the James Webb Space telescope peering out into the stellar darkness presently as we start to redefine our view of the Early Universe, but the ambition is the same…