Having had their Prom only hours before, the ‘arrival of the living dead’ best describes the gathering of bleary eyed candidates on Sunday morning for their Silver expedition. Unavoidable changes to groups and last minutes tweaks to route plans focused minds and after a flurry of activity and a briefing, mini buses were loaded and off we headed to the New Forest.
Arriving early afternoon, three groups set off from the drop off point to navigate their way to Ashurst campsite, some 20km away. As the hours passed and the temperature took its toll, it became a race against time to reach camp before dark. The groups were pushed from check point to check point with one group arriving at camp in daylight but the other two finally arriving after dark. Tents were erected hastily and a meal prepared in the gloom, before a tough first day drew to a close.
Day two dawned with warm sunshine and a more relaxed mood around camp, reassured they had the whole day to complete a similar distance as day one, the aim being to reach Holmsley, with sufficient time to still have an evening of just ‘chilling’ around camp. Although the ‘New Forest’ suggests a dense tree canopy, wide swathes of open moorland had to be crossed, meaning the heat was blistering and water stations numerous.
Non-the-less morale was high, with great team work evident and all three groups demonstrating effective navigational skill, using bearings to good effect for the first time. The elusive underpass was found without too much trouble, then on to Ober Corner for lunch under the shelter of the trees, followed by Wooten Bridge, where boots and socks came off and sore, blistered feet were revived in the cool waters of the stream.
Only a short final leg to Holmsley meant the group had a well earnt, extended break at Wooten Bridge before continuing and reaching camp within the hour. Despite protestations about the heat, the inevitable fatigue and the need to remove of a couple of ticks, I think everyone enjoyed the experience of what was a very successful days hiking. The objective of a relaxed evening around camp was met, with one group deciding to dispense with their tents and sleep under the stars.
Next morning, cocooned in their sleeping bags, together with those who made it into a tent, like reptiles, needed the warmth of the morning sun before any movement was witnessed. The groups eventually emerged and struck camp, leaving the site spotless, which was further testament to their good camp craft. Day three continued as day two ended with enthusiasm, purpose and camaraderie as the groups made their way to the pickup point. The near Saharan condition on the final stretch slowed the pace considerable and coupled with the lie in, heavy traffic and the customary stop off at Mac Donald’s on the way home, culminated in a late arrival back at school.
At 7.15pm the debrief and clean up was done in record time. The speed and efficiency with which this was achieved was attributed to most of the group wanting to watch what was left of the England game. The fact the match went to extra time followed by penalties was the cherry on the cake of what was an exception few days of D of E activity.
Massive well done to all the candidates for everything you achieved, in what were very challenging conditions and thank you for the way you conducted yourselves. Huge thanks also to Mr Money, Miss Baily and Mr and Mrs Winterbottom for their invaluable help and to Isla for keeping the troop entertained. I hope most of you will seriously consider going on to do Gold.