I did check the calendar; it was August; we were in the Northern Hemisphere and it was still supposedly summer. The weather thought otherwise. More or less as soon as we arrived in the Lakes on the last Wednesday of the holidays it started to rain. The ground was sodden, the becks and falls were in full spate and views were decidedly limited. There was a distinct feeling of “Gulp – why are we here?” from both groups as they chatted their proposed routes through with our assessor (Jonathan from our local SE DofE office), but nonetheless on the following morning packs were bravely shouldered and the teams plodded off along their planned paths into the wilds of the Langdales for the four days and three nights of their expedition.
I would like to say that the weather soon eased off and gave them some wonderful views of the Cumbrian Fells rolling off to the Irish Sea and eastward out over to the Howgills…but it didn’t. In twenty six odd years of DofE expeditions I can safely say this was the most determinedly horrible weather I have experienced – nothing extreme, just relentless. Even the local Herdwick sheep, amongst the hardiest breeds around, called it quits and headed for shelter. On subsequent days it was decided to keep the groups off the more exposed tops as winds were forecast to be in excess of 60 mph and for their last night I also brought everyone down to a valley campsite where staff could monitor things a little more closely, rather than wild camp out on the fell-side. I am still not sure if the tears were of frustration or relief when I told them of the changes to their plans. I do know that the only folks out on the hill were those involved in DofE – everyone else was sensibly indoors drinking tea.
I don’t think anyone would object if I said that this was not necessarily a group of natural mountaineers, but I was genuinely impressed with their resilience and determination to keep going despite the persistent rain, wind and low visibility. Clichés are clichés for good reason: “If it’s not raining it’s not training.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Nothing worth having in life comes easily.” All sound trite until confronted with such conditions. I look forward to the cohort completing their awards and receiving their invitations to The Palace. They will be well deserved.
Many thanks to Mr Julian Money and Jemima Young for helping look after the groups in such miserable conditions and to Jonathan Hitchinson for his rigorous, yet kind, sensitive and thoughtful assessments of the participants.