End of term prom the night before, probably wasn’t the best prelude to any DofE expedition. Nonetheless, 17 Silver candidates in various states of consciousness staggered with heavy rucksacks to the Outdoor Ed Centre last Sunday morning, ready to be assessed on their camp craft and navigational skills in the New Forest.
Reality soon took hold as the first hour was occupied with last minute route planning as students, computers and printers sprang to life. With route cards printed and the risks of heatstroke, ticks and New Forest ponies drill in, the hour and a half drive to the drop off point was made.
As the three groups set off at intervals to rendezvous with staff at various check points, it quickly became apparent these guys were clearly on a mission. With purpose and speed, each group reached the check points with accuracy and within their predicted times.
Arriving at Ashurst camp earlier than previous years, tents were erected and evening meals cooked. But how naïve was I to think that after a 12km hike in the hot sun with only a few hours’ sleep the night before, we would all get an early night. No chance – the orange flicker of a Trangia flame provided a solution to the ‘no camp fire’ rule and the focal point for a further few hours entertainment.
The sun was the only thing rising early the next morning, until it had time to warm the reptilian bodies into activity. Slowly at first, with typical standing around camp in a daze, heads bowed and hands buried deep in pockets, but by 9am the previous days business-like approach had returned and groups were ready to leave camp.
Day two again epitomised the purpose and spirit of DofE with great comradery, determination and shared responsibility. Still moving from check point to check point with consummate ease, in what were testing conditions, the groups often arriving before the support vehicle.
The idyllic settings of Ober Corner and Wootton Bridge provided welcome opportunity to cool off in the tranquil streams and to witness at close hand the livestock which roam freely in this unique environment, although the wildlife swinging from the tree provided the most entertainment.
Holmsley became home for the second night and after a long day, camp was quieter and more relaxed than the previous night, with tents falling silent as darkness fell and one candidate deciding to sleep outside of her tent, under the stars.
Day three awoke with peerless blue sky and another stunning day in the Forest. True to form all three groups made excellent progress throughout the day, moving through Clay Hill and on to Alderwood enclosure in record time. To fulfil the expedition requirements of seven hours planned activity, their final stage had to be extended. This took the groups a further couple of kilometres north to a deer sanctuary, before returning over the final leg, over open heathland to the pickup point at Pickets Post.
Thanks must go to Mr Money and Ms Hellburg for their help and support, but also to the students for their exemplary conduct and good humour. They were truly a joy to work with and I sincerely hope they enjoyed the experience and go on to take on the Gold challenge.