First Silver DofE practice expedition of the year

The first DofE expedition of the year went out right at the end of Lent Term to the Ashdown Forest in East…

The first DofE expedition of the year went out right at the end of Lent Term to the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex.

The new challenge of Silver often comes as a surprise to pupils as the step up in expectations is not inconsiderable: a less familiar area; an extra night away; the weather this time of year is often ‘mixed’; the temperature is lower than the balmy summers of Bronze; the routes are longer; the hills are (a bit) steeper; the packs are heavier and the navigation is more complex. None of this is to be underestimated and all pupils should be very proud of themselves that they got through it successfully.

Day one commenced with a drop off of the two groups (nine pupils in total) at Kingscote Station on the Historic Bluebell Line and then consisted of a 12km accompanied walk to Broadstone Warren Scout Camp, our base for the next two nights. Pupils went over their navigation skills and their organisation with their team supervisors and arrived on-site around dusk. It was a fairly challenging first day that gave a taste of the tasks to come and pupils certainly slept well the first night!

Day two was the longest and most challenging route, making up about 18km and over some fairly hilly terrain. The weather was also a significant factor and as a cold easterly wind blew and the rain came down on the “longest hill in the world”, students experienced the step up from the Surrey Hills in summer. There were some moments of high emotion as students realised their “they’ll be fine” pac-a-macs were maybe not quite up-to-the-task after all; luckily the DofE magical mystery-mobile had foreseen this moment and was on hand to dish out a dry replacement – this is a practice after all. After a long day on the trail, students were keen to get their heads down. In the late evening, the skies cleared, meaning this was also the coldest night by some margin (about 3 Degrees Celcius) so another challenge was presented to our intrepid team.

On Day three, students packed up for the final time – had the campsite checked for leaving it in a suitable state – and headed off on the shortest route of the weekend. Again, the weather was distinctly and frequently changeable, which presents its own issues with kit. For this day, two early (pre-planned) departures meant the two teams turned into one seven-man team – again another challenge presented itself – to listen to new team members and adapt to different ways of doing things. The last part of today’s journey was through the part of the Ashdown Forest that inspired Winnie the Pooh and after going through some final navigational skills were gone through and checked off, we finished off the weekend with a game of ‘Pooh sticks’ at the bridge that inspired the whole game. It was a quiet bus home as students warmed up, dried off and caught up on their sleep.

Lots of learning happened this weekend – navigation skills, choices about what kit to take, how much food to take, decisions taken on the route, teamwork and, most importantly, how to approach a difficult situation positively. This is exactly what a practice is for and, whilst it’s sometimes difficult to perceive this at the time, ‘mistakes’ made will be the most valuable learning they all take forward into the next stage. On the subject of learning, the most fantastic comment was made by a pupil when asked what they had learned: “I’ve learned that whinging about something doesn’t change the situation”! Joking aside, I can’t think of a more profound takeaway for life and is exactly what DofE is all about.

It is also about adventure, challenge and fun and hopefully the warmer climes of The New Forest in July for qualifying expedition, will meet these conditions without the need for so many replacement waterproofs.

A huge well done to all who took part and a huge thank you to Amber at Broadstone Warren Scout Campsite and of course to Mr Money, Mr Kinnersly, Miss Robinson and Miss Hellberg for all their hard work and enthusiasm throughout the three days.

Written by Mr Phil Leamon

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