Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award Expedition: June 2014
Handed rucksacks, sleeping bags, roll mats and trangias the group of Year-10 boys all looked blankly back. What had they let themselves in for? And so the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award training and assessment expedition began. With some trepidation and nervous laughter we met at Epic HQ for a 9am start (for most of them anyway) to begin our five days away in the outback, more commonly known as the South Downs. We were fortunate to be ably assisted by the excellent Sinead and Fran – both experienced expedition leaders – and by John as the official assessor. Epic run all the Duke of Edinburgh trips for us on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea County Council, allowing MPW staff to take a more pastoral role whilst they provide the expertise and formal training.
So we set off for our adventure and within a few hours the boys had erected their tents and were in the full throes of learning how to cook their first meal using the trangia cook set. For many, the experience of being in the open and being responsible for their own destiny was a daunting thought, with many kilometres of walking still to come. We were blessed with sunshine for the first stage, before preparing backpacks for the first day of navigation following the introduction to field craft. A route was described on the map and each of the boys expected to lead for a short section. Within a couple of hours the heavens opened and we were all subjected to a heavy downpour: the essential waterproofs appeared, though some at this stage probably regretted ignoring the advice to use DofE waterproofs! However, after a seven-hour amble around the Sussex countryside we arrived back at base camp and there was sunshine once again. So the boys made supper – and a lot of mess! But, Day 1 was almost over and still all were in good heart. We managed to get them to close their tents by 11pm, only for them to start the expected stream of banter between tents. Eventually they slept, only to wake at 4.30am, with the sun streaming on their tents. This set the pattern of weather for the rest of the week: so much for my wish for character-building rain!
Day 2 arrived, and the group decamped in order to experience walking with full kit. It was interesting exercise in problem solving to pack tents and cookers into already-full backpacks brimming with cookies and treats! Some eight hours later they returned to set up camp again, a little more experienced in the art of map reading – and how to solve the problem of being lost!
Day 3 was a relatively quiet day, to plan for the assessment. Route planning, route cards and menu planning – at least we know they can all now write shopping lists for Sainsbury’s, an ever useful skill! After a short navigation exercise that resulted in them all getting lost, we travelled to the supermarket to buy food for seven for two days, with a £50 budget. Thirty minutes later they appeared at the checkout and the bill came to £49.60! The day was completed with marshmallows cooked over a campfire.
Day 4 and 5 were the expedition phase: two days of walking with all the equipment and food and covering close to 40 kilometres. The group by now had started to work as a cohesive team and successfully navigated a tricky route, arriving a few hours later at a barren and somewhat ant-infested camping area. They quickly set up tents and cooked gourmet food all around an improvised campfire. Bed beckoned and they got a few hours’ sleep. Impressively, the next morning reveille was 5am and all were breakfasted and decamped ready for their proposed 7am start! So a long day panned out in sweltering heat. A few hours were spent getting momentarily disoriented; however, they all made good speed and completed the expedition late afternoon.
This was a really impressive effort by them all. Arthur, Andreas, Darius, Tanal, Ahmed, Karim and Max all rightly deserved passing this part of their DofE. Tired, but pleased with themselves, they returned to London to complete the task of tidying up and handing in all the equipment – the boys keen to get away in time to see the next match in the World Cup.
A week later they had prepared an excellent presentation given to a small audience telling the tales of their experiences over the week away. There is no doubt that by the end of these two weeks the boys had all become young men and will hopefully look back on their experiences with a positive feeling and in the knowledge of their achievements.
I would like to thank Sinead, Fran and John for their support throughout all stages of the DofE: without their support, patience and encouragement the success of the expedition would not have been possible. So, Silver next year, and hopefully the boys will feel that they can achieve even greater things next time.