Gold DofE Expedition To The Black Mountains

Just after Easter a somewhat apprehensive band assembled down at the Outdoor Ed Centre – it was beginning to rain and the…

Just after Easter a somewhat apprehensive band assembled down at the Outdoor Ed Centre – it was beginning to rain and the forecast was dire. Oh joy! Lots of stock phrases about “no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” and “if it’s not raining it’s not training” obviously went down well and did wonders to lift the mood, as we checked kit and ensured that everyone was going to be warm and dry(ish) for the next few days.

After an easy drive down to South Wales, we pitched camp and set off in increasingly damp conditions for a short navigation shake-down walk prior to cooking a hot evening meal and getting a much-needed hot drink. As dusk settled waterproofs and muddy boots were again donned and the teams set off in small groups to work their way round a small orienteering style course in the valley bottom, prior to hunkering down in their tents for the night, sheltered from the increasingly vile weather.

Overnight things were fairly grim and fully in line with the tempestuous forecast, so a decision was made to pull everyone off their planned day over the high tops (snow, hail, gale-force winds and zero visibility conditions) and implement a valley bottom “plan b” which allowed easier walking, closer supervision and more sheltered conditions. By the time everyone got back to camp the worst of the winter conditions had blown through and the teams were able to dry out a little and have a more relaxed evening.

Fortunately, things continued to improve and Thursday saw everyone make a reasonably efficient departure off up onto the main ridge, back on their original routes, as planned. Clear blue skies and blustery conditions soon dried everyone out and saw the teams making good progress along Offa’s Dyke, before dropping down into Llanthony Priory for the evening. It was really heartening to see how everyone’s navigation skills and “admin” had developed as they realised the importance of these essential skills in making life bearable. It was also gratifying to see how much folk seemed to be genuinely enjoying the experience and discussing the views, the birds, the scenery and their ability to rise to the challenge.

The next morning wet weather returned, but all the groups were up, packed, fed and off in good time, having learnt the importance of team work and group effort. With no navigational hiccups, everyone made it into the final checkpoint bang on time, before collapsing into the bus in a somewhat fragrant, waterlogged heap to rubber-neck all the way back to Surrey.

This was one of the tougher Gold expeditions I can remember and the relatively inexperienced participants coped well with the cold, the rain, the wind and the mud. A real learning experience and proper education!

Many thanks to Mr Money, Mr Leamon and Mrs Taylor for assisting to make this such a positive experience and for joining in with such enthusiasm and good humour despite the quagmire of red gloop in which they were being asked to operate. Fingers crossed for slightly more benign conditions for the assessed trip in the summer.

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