Presdales DofE Silver Practice Expedition (21st -23rd April)
Wow! Just Wow! What an absolutely fantastic experience this was. When I drove up to the start location (slightly delayed having been caught in the early morning rush hour!) I arrived to see a sea of Presdales students, all brightly coloured in their high vis jackets, waterproofs and fleeces, ready and waiting in their teams, eager to get started with their first day on expedition. The weather was perfect, and the fresh morning air was filled with the buzz of excited chatter and laughter as participants compared equipment and tested the weight of one another’s backpacks. After registering the teams, they were met by their instructors who handed out tents, stoves and maps and briefed them about their routes for the first day. Before we knew it, the teams were waving goodbye and setting out into the woods!
The first day was long and tough with unexpectedly warm weather and strong sunshine which added to the challenge. Groups were reminded regularly to reapply sun cream and hydrate but all reached the finish with flushed faces (some more so than others!) and in need of a sit down in the shade! The wind started to pick up and participants were tasked to building up the camp and cooking their suppers on their stoves. For some, this was their first experience of camping and cooking in the outdoors but they learnt quickly with the guidance and support from instructors and from those who had done their Bronze last year.
The hot food and drink as well as removing their heavy boots gave some participants a second wind and soon there were games of volleyball and rounders happening on the field. Koa, the Gold Retriever, invented her own game of stealing all of the tennis balls and thoroughly enjoyed making the year 10s chase her to get them back!
By sundown, the day’s exertion was taking its toll and participants began peeling off to snuggle down in their tents. All was quiet by 10pm and the camp looked magical with the 50 orange tents glowing in the moonlight under the stars.
It’s safe to say here that 06:30 wakeup call was unpopular. Camping with 3 to a tent is never particularly comfortable and the lack of a good night’s sleep combined with the chilly morning mist and aching bodies made it even tougher for the participants to leave their sleeping bags and begin building down the camp. Despite this, by 09:00, participants were smiling again and kitted up and ready to set out on day 2.
The second day pushed participants further as they were required to navigate themselves from checkpoint to checkpoint over a distance of approximately 18km. Instructors remained at a distance to give participants more independence and to build on the skills that they had learnt the previous day. All took this challenge in their stride and groups began flocking into the 2nd campsite as early at 15:00!
Dorney Wood Campsite was stunning with forest, fields and an impressive firepit which felt more like an amphitheatre! Students pitched their tents and cooked supper with more confidence that night and by 20:00, it was time for the bonfire!
All 72 participants gathered in their groups around the campfire and it was moving to see them all happily discussing the day’s events whilst warming themselves and toasting marshmallows. Harry and Steve, two of our instructors, provided the night’s entertainment by playing Eric Clapton on the guitar and telling ghost stories. It truly was one of the best nights on expedition we have ever had and any of the instructors said the same.
The final day began bright and early and participants were up and out with speed, eager to reach the finish line! It was wonderful to see the emotional reunion at the finish location as the parents arrived to bring the participants home and although it was sad it was over, we were all ready to get home for a shower and good night’s sleep!
I’d just like to finish by saying that it was thanks to the students that this expedition was such a success. Although they were separated into expedition groups, there was a real feeling of togetherness, warmth and respect which isn’t always seen on large expeditions such as this one. Every student looked out for those around them and were ready to stop for a break, offer help and share the load wherever it was needed and I felt proud of every single one of them.
I am really looking forward to the qualifying expedition in July and hope that the students are too.