While the rest of the School was filing into Speech Hall for final assembly, the first of the Gold DofE practice groups was loading up the minibus and setting off to the Black Mountains in South Wales.  An easy drive and sunny weather soon saw us over the now toll-free Severn Bridge and into the Beacons National Park.  The mild winter meant that the Eways valley was at its verdant best, with the hedges blossoming and greening up, separating ewes with their recently delivered lambs, from rounder, very expectant, mothers-to-be. 

As usual we made our first camp at Capel y Ffin, and after settling in went for a quick escorted stroll to get the Nav juices flowing again.  This was followed by the traditional valley bottom night nav exercise, serving to get everyone used to micro-navigation in low visibility conditions.

After a chilly night we were greeted in the morning by clear blue skies and a crisp covering of frost on the tents.  The team was then dropped off down at the south end of the hills, to make their way back north along the main ridge.  Despite the great conditions it was apparent that progress was rather slow, and when the group arrived at one of the check points, the high point of Waun Fach, it was clear that one team member was not very well.  A decision was taken to escort him off the hill to the bus in the valley below, while the rest of the group carried on, making good time to the evening’s camp. 

Sunday dawned, with low dreich, clagg wreathing the hills and a strong breeze driving cold damp through to our cores.  Despite the lack of actual rain, everyone was in full waterproofs by the time they came into the first check point of the day at Gospel Pass.  This was followed by a bracing pull up onto Hay Bluff, and then a brisk yomp along Offa’s Dyke before the steep drop down to the ruined priory at Llanthony for the last camp of the trip.

On Monday the 1st April, the morning saw the staff struggling (just about successfully) to resist “amusing” japes, involving the addition of ten kilometres to the planned route due to fictional road closures.  After a punctual start the team set off on the last leg of their practice, up over Hatterrall Hill and down to the pick-up point near CwmYoy. 

A weary, but wiser (and certainly smellier) group flopped into the minibus, relieved to change into comfy footwear and to start scoffing early Easter Eggs.  By the time we re-crossed the Severn, all the expeditioners were rubbernecking, with the traditional trickle of drool descending from the bottom corner of their mouths.

The team did well and learnt masses, not just about looking after themselves on the hill and putting into practice their navigation and camp craft skills, but just as importantly about looking out for each other – a valuable life lesson.

Many thanks to RSG for her help in accompanying this trip, and to the team for their increasing willingness to learn and their desire to complete a tough challenge in what was, for the majority of them, a very alien environment. 

Good luck to the next Practice, going out in a few days’ time, and for the qualifying expedition at the end of the summer.