First, I’ll get the historical side of Slapton out of the way before I delve into the technical aspects of our field trip. What put Slapton on the map was the D-Day practice exercise known as Operation Tiger that took place in 1944. Regretfully, one of the ships used in the practice was actually attacked by German U-boats on patrol; furthermore, a large number of Americans were killed as a result of friendly fire due to a miscommunication. Today, there is a tank and obelisk dedicated to the lives that were lost in the practice.
We, however, were in Slapton because of the Slapton Field Research Center where we would be stationed for the next week as a home base before braving the elements to catch larva, bugs, snails, rats, and lord knows what else. Much to the dismay of the professors though, none of this trip was assessed in any way, so all will to perform well went out the window on day-one and was quickly replaced with a carefree I’m-still-on-vacation attitude. This attitude is likely what saved most of the students from suicide and utter frustration because, when the professors weren’t bickering, the entire trip seemed extremely poorly organized (as if they hadn’t don’t the exact same thing for the past 10 years, whoops!).
It all started with the badly planned train ride there. Three and half hours. Most of which was spent sitting on the floor between carriages until we finally managed to nab a few seats together for the remainder of the journey. We were greeted by someone I’ll refer to as The Driver at our terminating train station who would drive us the remaining 45 minutes to Slapton. Now, if you’ve ever ridden a roller coaster, that’s very comparable to our experience driving to Slapton. The Driver floored-it about 60 mph in a 45 mph zone winding around hairpin turns and one lane backroads until we finally managed to chug into the Slapton driveway…most of us on the edge of vomiting.
The room accommodations were rather nice, but we barely spent any time in them. Most of our time was divided between wandering around Devon (the county which houses Slapton), the labs at Slapton, and the dining hall. Fortunately, and mostly unfortunately, the Slapton Field Research Center is uber eco-friendly. That’s fine until they decided that instead of giving out Tupperware for your packed lunch, they’d distribute flimsy, extremely permeable, and non-weatherproof cardboard boxes. You know what doesn’t go into a cardboard box very well: pasta salad and BBQ chicken.
Amongst the tasks at hand were to collect blackfly larva from a local stream (“you must not wear jeans and you must wear gloves”), search for woodlouse in King Henry VIII’s abandoned summer home*, row around the Slapton Ley in search of snails (in which myself and my three best friends were intentionally split up for fear of gathering too accurate and precise data; furthermore, I was forcefully chosen to row one of the boats in so I insisted I couldn’t swim (even though I can) to get out it, but I was still forced to row), dreg for ticks in the wasteland of Dartmoor (where my previous split up group was reunited to collect the MOST ticks of all other groups), and "check" mosquito traps at 6 AM.
Slapton was peppered with some especially great moments however. On one of the first nights we got overly involved in a hardcore game of dodgeball with some sixth formers (fancy British word for high schoolers). Another day we meandered to the lake (near the beach) to collect snails on our own, and, after diligently searching the shallows for snails, we all relaxed and napped on the beach. Also, it was one of my friend’s birthdays and, of course, we had to celebrate. It wasn’t her fault that she was stuck in no-where-ville England for her birthday. We were also treated to some Cornish cream teas while in Dartmoor, a delicious pastry drowned in a jam and clotted cream (something thick and creamy like butter).
All-in-all, Slapton was a hilarious venture thanks to my friends at LSHTM. It’s a charming little English seaside town with a lot of scenery to take in, except for our 5 AM morning wake up by the nasty extremely loud crows (featured in the video below). Next time remember to bring your own Tupperware though.
*not intended to be a factual statement
As part of my training at LSHTM, I was forced to attend a compulsory field trip to the wonderful coastal "town" of Slapton. I'm being extremely generous when I call Slapton a town. In addition, this field trip was right in the middle of a 5 week break from school, and interrupted everyone’s vacation planning. Either way, we managed to make the best of the situation.