2013 DofE

SA (nd no need to) R with Ibstock Place School on Silver Assessed in the Brecons, Oct 2013

IPS Silvers climb into the high Brecons

IPS Silvers climb into the high Brecons

It had been a short night and a long day, the groups from Ibstock Place School had not arrived at the two discrete Welsh campsites until 2330 due to heavy traffic problems. We had then to organize groups, pitch tents etc etc which made the 0630 alarm the next morning even more intrusive than usual.

Then after assessor briefings and kit checks the six groups on their silver assessed venture set off on their various journeys from two very discrete campsites, three from Park Farm in Llangattock and three from Tallybont on Usk.

The weather had been kind over the course of the day, our three groups spot on with their nav and timings and Choire and I were glad to get all of our groups into camp, getting a good meal cooked before dark and look forward to getting some quality sleep.

Then my phone rang, we do not allow any of the groups to use their phones except in an emergency so it was with a degree of trepidation that I answered the unknown number that was calling.

It was from one of the groups on the other side, they had been heading for Pyrgad a rather remote farm campsite and were still on the hill, somewhat disorientated with darkness coming on. They had not been able to raise Jane or Chris on the other side so had reverted to my number, which was on their emergency contact sheets.

After asserting that they were not clear on where they were I asked them what they were going to do.

“Look for a flat bit of ground and get our tents up” was the answer, no panic just following the briefings we give.

Choire and I drove round, managed to get hold of Chris and Jane ( who had been out of signal in the Pyrgad valley) and with help from Ross walked back the route and found the group, camped and cooking a meal in a field just under the access land.

Was a weary head that emerged from my sleeping bag at the crack of sparrows the next morning, but with a bit of consultation between Jane and myself we formulated a plan that got the wayward group back on track.

Group prepare to cross underneath the waterfall

Group prepare to cross underneath the waterfall

Silver assessed in the Brecons, quite a challenge for groups that have not been into wildcountry before. The routes that were set were generally more in keeping with Gold with more than 20K of travel and 500m of ascent on some days. The weather was not always kind; the last day saw fit to have the cloud on the ground at 300m and the groups crossing the 750m high hills in horizontal rain. It was a brilliant and really challenging silver assessed expedition and the groups performed excellently and left with spirits a lot higher than the clouds. You never know what you can achieve until you try and these guys have a real understanding of their capabilities now for Gold.

So what of the group that became lost? Did they pass? Was getting lost deemed a failing to come up to the required standard? No, No and thrice No. Making mistakes is human, correcting them or dealing with the consequences is all about taking responsibility for yourself and is, in my mind the essence of what the DofE is all about.

By giving groups the appropriate training and briefings we can, to an extent, relax when they are late or not to be found on their path. We will always find them, and if we know they have a warm dry bed and have had a meal, time is on our side.

I do not necessarily agree with the satellite tagging of groups, if the groups know they can be found at any time then they do not have full responsibility for their actions.

A degree of risk is paramount to the rewards to be derived from the expedition section. Risk is managed through appropriate route setting, team and individual preparation, discrete supervision, briefings and training.

A failure, no, success all round.

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness 5th and 6th Oct 2013

Bronze DofE in the Ashdown Forest.

Bronze DofE in the Ashdown Forest.

Ashdown forest was the venue for 10 groups of Bronze practice groups from Ibstock Place School. The summer weather, turning distinctly autumnal now continued and gave us some lovely conditions in which allowed our ten instructors to take these groups through all aspects of the DofE syllabus. This focus on their training at such an early stage  pays dividends as they progress through the various levels of the award and enables them to cope with the challenges ahead.

Flyagarich

Being out in the countryside at this time of the year also provides us with the opportunity to enjoy the fantastic autumn colours, not just limited to the trees.

Shaggy Inkcap from above looking more like an interstellar explosion

Shaggy Inkcap from above looking more like an interstellar explosion

The fungi are in abundance given the lovely warm weather now turning damp and moist.

Fly agaric inject a flame like presence into the undergrowth whilst a rapidly melting shaggy ink cap looks more like some kind of exotic flower when photographed from above.

(Thanks to Choire for both of these pictures, beautifully observed )

Fly Agaric is best left well alone being extremely poisonous whilst shaggy ink cap flash fried are absolutely delicious.

Do not try it unless you know how to identify them properly.

Nature is also still in abundance even in such close proximity to London proven when one of the groups spotted this slithery slow worm not really living up to its name but making off into the leaf mould at high speed.

Slithery Slow Worm, not a snake at all.

Slithery Slow Worm, not a snake at all.

The individuals within the groups, as always, from Ibstock Place School were superb, little sponges soaking up everything our instructors could throw at them and by the end of the two days were operating on their own, making a few mistakes along the way but then there is no better way to learn and gain confidence.

The one (small) downside of operating in this area is the number of landowners who take it upon themselves to shut off rights of way and footpaths creating issues for the people who have the right to use them.

Padlocked right of way and a group showing their displeasure

Padlocked right of way and a group showing their displeasure

We go out of our way to teach responsible use of the countryside to these guys and they are then faced with blatant misuse and disregard for the law by landowners and their self obsessed view on ownership and privacy.

Happily it is not everyone who takes the law into their own hands but they can provide some of the groups with a logistical challenge to operating gates when in a team.

Ladies first, but best wait till its opened.

Ladies first, but best wait till its opened.

Now its home for three days, time to dry tents, wash clothes, dubbin out boots and repack for the silver assessed in the Brecons starting Thursday. Lets hope the weather holds.

The summer continues and Jane flies through her ML assessment, Late Sept 2013.

Its not all fun in the hills, although the vast majority of it is of course, at least while the sun continues to shine, and at least for Choire and myself.

Expedition food briefing at St Olaves

Expedition food briefing at St Olaves

Jane, Chris and Nicola were off to London to do kit and food briefings and to take six groups of Gold students from St Olaves school through a route setting exercise for their practice expedition at the end of Oct. Hmmmmm, I can imagine what the weather is going to be like for them then. Choire and I however had one Silver and one Gold group from Kings Gloucester to supervise and assess as they made their way across the Main Brecons and into the Black Mountains.

I had my down sleeping bag and heavy fleece packed along with my cold gear, my cold weather rucksack felt awful heavy after the luxury of all the superb summer weather and lighter walking we have had.

The car thermometer had advised 12 degrees the day before, it advised 24 degrees when we arrived in the Brecons, great, the groups arrived were briefed, cooked and settled down for the night, I got into my sleeping bag and started to sweat, too cold to sleep outside it, to warm to be in it, it continued thus for the next three nights, hey ho, should have listened more intently to the forecast.

Begging for food

Begging for food

However the groups had no such shenanigans, this was the first time we had worked with these guys and they were superb. The Silvers were on broadly similar routes to the Golds and generally did Gold standard routes and they cruised them. The Golds were equally amazing and simply cruised their routes.

Day one saw them coming over the high ground from Tallybont to Llangattock and on day two they made the journey from Llangattock over to Rhyd-y Bont farm in the north of the Mountains. This route has taken some groups over 11 hours to do, they easily did it in eight and they even found time to feed the sheep on the top of the hills who will come up to you to beg food whilst you eat your lunch.

From there it was over to court farm and thence to finish in Abergavenny via an early morning ascent of sugar loaf in a fantastic inversion.

There was no time to stop, it was home to drop off the dirty washing and pick up Jane and head up to Snowdonia for her ML assessment. Jane had had to abandon this after breaking her back and neck some 30 months previously and had been getting back to fighting fitness since this setback.

Navigating in the pitch black in the Molwyns

Navigating in the pitch black in the Molwyns

We had two days in hand so spent them clambering up Tryvan and night navigating in the Molwyns. Time well spent obviously because she passed with flying colours.

A marvellous end to the month of September.

A taste of Autumn in the Brecons Sept 2013

Wonderful light iluminates the Brecons behind group 2

Wonderful light iluminates the Brecons behind group 2

From Dartmoor Jane and I then went to Brecon picking up Choire along the way, we did not pass Go, we did not collect £200 we just swapped the bit of ground our tent was on for another a wee bitty further north.

STMR Group in the middle of the Brecons National Park

STMR Group in the middle of the Brecons National Park

The teams this time came from St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school in Bristol and they were there to be assessed on their skills. I have high standards, especially when i know these guys have been trained by some of the best (us). One of the groups decided that they would start at 0600 on day one, and fair play to them they did, the others went for an 0900 leisurely start.

This levelled out during the course of the expedition to 0700 and 0800 respectively, which did I have to admit make our life a little easier.

After almost three months of summer temperatures it was refreshing to have a cooler wind bringing out warm hats and windproofs. The wind brought with it some rattles of rain which stung exposed skin and focussed the navigational skills as visibility dropped.

No worries tho, the groups crossed the main Brecons with no real difficulties rejoicing in the sun as it broke through the clouds and wrapping up for the squalls which brought real autumnal temperatures in the cool northerly winds.

The groups were both amazing and completed the expedition in awesome style. Well done guys, some real Mountain Leaders in training there.

Aye we know where we are.

Aye we know where we are.

Summer is undoubtedly fading, the world is turning yet again but we have quite a few more expeditions to complete over the next couple of months. Thoughts are starting to turn to our winter activities, but lets hope we get a lovely Indian summer to see us on our way there.

Its Dartmoor, but not as you know it Sept 2013.

Jane "I see no ships", or anything much for that matter.

Jane “I see no ships”, or anything much for that matter.

From the New Forest Jane and I went straight down to Dartmoor to assess 4 groups of Gold participants from Kings College in Taunton.

I make no secret of the fact that Dartmoor and me are not best friends, fact of the matter is I find it really boring, wet and generally miserable. Boring in as much as there are no decent hills there, wet and generally miserable in relation to the fact that it rains nearly all the time and the ground resembles a gigantic sponge, even on the top of the pathetic excuses there are for hills there.

However it is a great place to train, especially when the cloud is on the ground obscuring the fact that it is pretty boring.

The fantastic summer we have had continued and brought the moor to life, combine this with the fact that as we were assessing and did not have to keep on top of the groups at all hours we had a wee bit of time to explore in the glorious weather.

Relaxing at the end of a long hot day.

Relaxing at the end of a long hot day.

The groups were doing a clockwise and counter clockwise circumnavigation of the north moor so on day one we went out on the eastern side. The day was hot, no wind and no clouds. We caught up with our groups and then found a waterfall to luxuriate under at around 5.30 in the afternoon, Dartmoor??

Next day we set out to do a crossing of the north moor South east to North west taking in Fur Torr, one of the most remote torrs on Dartmoor, again it was hot but against all odds we saw only one other human being during the 6 hours it took us to cross the moor.

Snakes alive !

Snakes alive !

Only one other human but loads of wildlife, Snakes, Herons, Harriers etc, they all came out to enjoy the late summer sunshine. What a brilliant day, real isolation.

We met up with the groups at Nodden gate where they were wild camping in fantastic conditions next to the river. I was really envious of their isolated campsite that night, we were camped down in Princetown next to the pub at an overpriced and noisy campsite.

Wild camping at Nodden Gate

Wild camping at Nodden Gate

The next morning and the next after a misty start the sun came out again to ride high in the sky and ensure that the groups had no escape from the ongoing heat.

Whilst it might sound idyllic the heat brings its own problems, I would far rather hump a pack across a moor in lesser temperatures.

Crossing a lower than usual Ford.

Crossing a lower than usual Ford.

However the groups were superb and finished their expedition in Princetown in excellent form. WELL DONE TO YOU ALL.

A walk in the New Forest or Back to work with Ibstock Place School. Aug 2013

Deep in the New Forest

Deep in the New Forest

The Heather flamed, turning the moorland purple, the trees had an early autumnal hint of colour with random pixilation of orange and brown amongst the green and the spiders webs hung from the bracken, heavy with early morning dew, like diamond necklaces draped across a dowagers chest as we arrived early doors in the forest to await our six practice silver groups from Ibstock Place School.

The month of August is generally holiday time for us, unless we are away on expedition, this year we had taken the whole month off after returning from a full on expedition to Borneo. Jungles and Mountains.

However it was time to get busy again, some people might think that being out training groups in a sunny new forest is not real work and I guess they might be right. I ( we) derive so much pleasure from my/our work that sometimes it is hard to equate it to making a living but in this instance we had our work cut out for us.

The DofE are now quite strict on the issue about groups being trained to gold standard if the assessed expedition is to be undertaken in wild country and as these guys are going to do their assessed in October in the Brecon Beacons we had to ensure that they were trained to be capable of coping with a potentially wintery Welsh mountain environment.

Coping with a broken tent pole by adaptation

Coping with a broken tent pole by adaptation

The new forest, although not deemed to be wild country is actually a really good place to train navigation and campcraft, there are sections of open moorland in which to do bearings and good compass training and the sections of dense woodland require that groups pay attention to distances, timings, etc etc. There is also the opportunity to wild camp which brings campsite disciplines to the correct standard.

Strangely enough, on this glorious late summer weekend it was also possible to feel quite isolated at times. In some areas ( ignoring the omnipresent susurration of noise from the A337) it was quite possible to feel we were alone on a moorland big enough to get really lost in.

The heather, alight with colour provides the perfect photo opportunity in the early morning light.

The heather, alight with colour provides the perfect photo opportunity in the early morning light.

The six groups, with the help of our instructors, went through all the training to have a full navigational toolkit, pacing, timing, bearings, feature and contour recognition etc etc etc were practiced time and time again until constant practice brought perfection ( I hope ). The wild camp was idyllic, on a slight hill amongst the trees and the bracken the only noises to penetrate out tents that night was the hooting and screeching of the owls.

I doubt that the assessed will provide us with such comfortable weather bhut who knows, if it does not then the groups will be ready for what the Brecons can, and just might, throw at us.

BRING IT ON. 

Summer Magic / Silly Season June/July 2013.

Monkton Combe teams cooling off in the perfect Welsh plunge pool

Monkton Combe teams cooling off in the perfect Welsh plunge pool

Last years DofE season was a washout, it rained and rained and then it chucked it down, in fact it was so depressing that all the campsites this year are reporting a major loss in trade as people abandon the long standing british tradition of camping. This does have a positive side for us however as there is also a long standing tradition of the city pond life slumping into the campsite with a hefty carryout and ghetto blaster and keeping the rest of us awake till stupid o’clock.

However although the season at the start of the year was plagued by sub zero temperatures and heavy snow summer has surprised us all.

Coming out from behind the Waterfall

Coming out from behind the Waterfall

Monkton Combe’s year nine activity week fell right into the middle of silly season with 0ver 70 pupils taking part in a two day training and then a two day expedition in the Marlborough downs. The sun shone shone on these guys and on me as I was working over in the Brecon Beacons with the Gold assessed groups from King Edwards school in Bath.

KEDS group on the top of Pen y Fan as the last of the inversion burns off in the wonderful summer sunshine

KEDS group on the top of Pen y Fan as the last of the inversion burns off in the wonderful summer sunshine

These guys started in overcast and somewhat coolish weather with a healthy dose of drizzle and low visibility navigation but ended up completing thier traverse of the entire Brecon Beacons with an early morning ascent of Pen y Fan with a fabulous inversion to see them on their way.

The newbies camp in the middle of the Snowdonia national park

The newbies camp in the middle of the Snowdonia national park

I then hot-tailed it up to Snowdonia for the Monkton Gold assessed, arriving in Penmenmawr with Jenny to temperatures of 27 degrees with a forecast for four days of continuing summer. It doesn’t really make it any easier, in fact I would rather have much cooler weather to be humping  a pack up and over the mountain ranges of Snowdonia. The heat brings out the horse flies and when evening comes and the breeze drops the midges swarm around tents that are too warm to hide in. However these groups did it and did it well with no complaint. They crossed all the major mountain chains of  Snowdonia finishing on the last day with an early morning ascent of Snowdon itself.

It could be anywhere but it is in fact the top of the highest peak in Wales at 0730 in the morning.

It could be anywhere but it is in fact the top of the highest peak in Wales at 0730 in the morning.

These groups also had an idyllic campsite under Snowdon in Cwm Tregalan where a waterfall and a deep pool provided the perfect opportunity for the groups to cool down.

Cooling down under the waterfall

Cooling down under the waterfall

Choire and Jane and Chris meantime were taking the guys from St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School in Bristol through their paces in the Black Mountains in similar conditions.

Bog Cotton waved like tufts of discarded candy floss echoing the Simsons clouds floating leisurely across the sky driven by the light, but uncool breeze as the groups made their way across the high tops of the Black Mountains.

Group crossing the high tops of the Black Mountains

Group crossing the high tops of the Black Mountains

Again these guys excelled in the face of real adversity, OK it was not raining or difficult navigation but the high temperatures bring their own problems as stated earlier with dehydration, heat exhaustion, blisters caused by swollen feet etc etc. However everyone completed thanks to their stalwart attitude and the guidance of our supervisors and trainers.

Thru the Bracken in the Black Mountains

Thru the Bracken in the Black Mountains

Now its packing for Borneo, how can I fit all this stuff into just one Bag and I have only two days to do it.

I awoke to the muffled rattle of pots and pans as the groups did their best at 0600 to remain discrete in the homely surroundings of Brynich campsite in the Brecon Beacons.

Monkton Coombe silvers on assessed.

Monkton Coombe silvers on assessed.

It had been a cold night as I had decided that my lightest weight sleeping bag would be sufficient, wrong, however I was not going to be grumpy as the four groups from Monkton Coombe school were doing their best not to wake the assessor any earlier than he wanted. Fair play to them, the Blackbirds clucking to their youngsters in the trees next to my tent were making more noise.

These guys were the only groups of ours that had had to abandon their practice in the dreadful spring weather, they had undergone further days out and training but they deserved to have some sunshine, and that they got, at least on day one.

The routes they did were not really Silver standard, they were Gold and they took them in their stride, wild camping and crossing the high tops of the Brecons.

Jane meantime was down in Exmoor assessing six groups at Bronze for Kings Taunton school. These guys had a real mixture of weather with rain, sunshine and low cloud but they all romped on to  success in great style.

Two contrasting sides to Dartmoor, Gold practice, King Edwards School Bath. 26th – 29th May 2013.

The problem with Dartmoor, apart from the rain, and the omnipresent bogs and the fact that it can be one of the most miserable places on the face of this earth ( apart from Benidorm that is ) is setting routes . If it rains there are major parts of the moor that are rendered fairly inaccessible due to the rivers for days at a time. Then there are the MOD Firing ranges that do not always give you great advance warning of what they are going to be doing which makes planning a traverse of the moor a wee bitty difficult.

Through the bluebell wood

Through the bluebell wood

As supervisors/trainers we also have to be fairly sure of a groups abilities to “let them go” on the moor, especially the north moor as there are no real short cuts involved in a crossing and no real “get out of jail free cards” in the event of a sprained ankle, navigational mistake in poor visability etc etc.

The guys from King Edwards school in Bath had done just this, starting from Oakhampton in the north they had planned to circumnavigate the north moor on the west side with only occasional forays onto the high moor itself. However it soon became apparent that these guys were made of sterner stuff and that the weather was going to be kind to us and that due to it being a bank holiday there was no firing going on.

Navigating

Navigating

After walking through an amazing bluebell wood ( one of the natural wonders of our world in my humble opinion ) to gain the moor proper the two teams dispensed with their first 15K day in just over 6 hours showing us just what they were capable of.  So next day, with a clear sky, great forecast and low rivers we decided to “up the challenge” slightly and set out onto the wilderness of the north moor proper to do some real navigational training.

The larks vocally larked in the sky, the lizards wriggled away from under our feet as we stomped our way across the moor and up past the tors on the tops which were baking in the late May sunshine where we rested to take in the views and eat our lunch. The guys from KEDS took it all in their stride and completed routes well in excess of 23K across some pretty rough untracked ground in 8 or 9 hours to finish the second day of the exped to the west of Princetown.

The south moor crossing

The south moor crossing

The third day was forecast to deteriorate weather-wise by mid afternoon, the groups had routes set for some 17K across the south moor and took the sensible decision to start real early to try and get into camp before the rain started.

Again they were cruising and after they had romped over the first two legs we decided to extend the routes by 3 or 4 K to give them a decent challenge and keep them warm in the “brisk” westerly which was lowering the relative temp in the windchill to 2 or 3 degrees in stark contrast to the t.shirt weather of the previous day.

The Met Office are amazing, they had forecast that the rain would start at 1500hrs and at 1500hrs the first big drops rattled off the hood of my waterproof jkt. Thankfully the groups had just finished erecting tents and only had to cook a meal to then seek shelter from the elements. Boy did it rain that night, it chucked it down, however by 0200 it stopped and the next morning dawned bright and clear allowing the groups to complete their north/south traverse of a, by now, steaming moor in bright sunshine to finish near Ivybridge.

Now all I have to do is go and look at the routes they have set for their assessed in six weeks time to see if they are hard enough !

Down in the Downs, Bronze assessed for Ibstock Place School 20th and 21st April 2013

Down in the Downs 2

The Scottish travelling folks, a way of life long gone, would advise that you did not leave your winter home to go back on the road until the “Yellow was on the Gorse”

The Yellow on the Gorse

The Yellow on the Gorse

If this sage advise was to be followed then the guys from Ibstock Place School were wise indeed to follow it, for after 5 weeks of semi arctic conditions and a very late spring indeed the sunshine came out, along with the yellow on the gorse for the nine teams on their Bronze assessed venture.

Between 75 and 90 million years ago, this part of the country was under a shallow tropical sea. It was during this time that the distinctive chalk ridge of the South Downs was formed, by the build up of marine deposits.  The bones of this ancient sea bed could be seen through the late spring growth in the fields as the groups made their way through and over the undulating landscape in excellent form.

These guys had had it tough, very tough, on their practice venture in November last year, they had survived a yellow weather warning and a torrential downpour with a bitterly cold north easterly. This however had  prepared them for the worst so I guess it was only fair that they had a bit of a break for the qualifying.

Lunch in the sunshine

Lunch in the sunshine

The warm sunshine allowed them to enjoy lunch breaks and to relax in their camp in the late afternoon/evening. The night however was cold and the groups awoke to a heavy frost covering tents ( and a couple of boots that had been left in the mouth of the tent ) the next morning.

Unfazed by this they were packed up and raring to go by 0800 the next morning.

Down in the Downs

Down in the Downs

Expedition projects as varied as a study of gate latches to the flora and fauna of the South downs were undertaken as the groups made their way down from Hassocks to finish just north of Brighton.

A great effort and a credit to themselves, the DofE and the School. Well Done.

A very busy week indeed 14th April 2013

Getting on with it in the Cotswolds

Getting on with it in the Cotswolds

The week started with a Gold practice for a group of Collingswood college pupils in Dartmoor, Chris was down there taking the group through their paces on a North/South traverse of the moor over 4 days. For once the moor was dry but the temperature and wind chill was certainly not April like. The group were great and coped well with the challenging conditions and emerged from the four days with sun ( and wind ) burnt noses and cheeks and now more than ready to go forward to their qualifying venture.

We then split our team into three separate venues, Choire, myself and Henry ( aka Noggin ) headed off into the lovely soft countryside of the Cotswolds to take 5 groups from the Kings School Gloucester through their paces on a bronze practice expedition.

Kings Gloucester Bronze

Well, soft and gentle the lovely countryside of the Cotswolds can be, these groups however got it tough. It rained ( if it aint rainin it aint training ) as usual, all of day one and then blew a hoolie all night. However the groups were prepared with good waterproofs and well pitched tents and not only survived the elements but emerged from their tents the next morning smiling.

One of the Kings Gloucester groups at a rather strange sculpture they found on their walk.

One of the Kings Gloucester groups at a rather strange sculpture they found on their walk.

The next day was a tad more clement and this gave the groups the opportunity to prove their navigation prowess which they did to a very high standard indeed.

Dave, Phil and Jane meanwhile were over in the Bath area of the cotswolds assessing 6 groups from Monkton Combe school at Bronze and preparing another 4 groups for their silver assessed.

Monkton Bronze Group at the start of the assessed venture.

Monkton Bronze Group at the start of the assessed venture.

These groups got a real kicking in the campsite that night with psychopathic class winds trying their best to dislodge tents. They however took it all in their stride and  walked to a victory at Bronze, finishing in good style at Rode.

As always a credit to themselves, their schools and the DofE as a whole. Well done to all.

The Saga of Noggin the Nog, the men of the north and the wandering groups of St Olaves in the Land of Dragons and Ice 4th April 2013.

Group 4 crossing just below the summit of Fan Gyhirych

Group 4 crossing just below the summit of Fan Gyhirych

In the long dark nights the men of the north would sit around a fire and tell tales, and the tale they tell today is the Saga of the Wandering Folk of St Olaves in their journey across the Icy mountains in the land of Dragons (Wales).

The majority of quests into the mountains of Brecon had been abandoned due to the high passes being held firm in the talons of the Winter Gods. With night-time temperatures set for -5 to -10 and daytime windchill at -12 and below this is little surprise.

The wandering groups of St Olaves however were made of sterner stuff; after their practice journey across the land of Rain and Bog ( Dartmoor ) last year they were much prepared for the hardships ahead. Acting upon advice from Thor Clapham in the Land of Dragons panel, some lower level routes were set and we asked Henry (aka Noggin The Nog) who holds a Winter Mountain Leadership sword to join us in the leading of our quest.

The throne of the Brecon mountain Gods

The throne of the Brecon mountain Gods

A mighty chariot carrying our questers arrived at Park Farm, Llangattock. Travelling all the way from the distant city of London it had made swift progress on the chariot-ways of the south. The men of the north (Thor Chris, Thor Choire and Queen Jane ) briefed the groups on the hardships ahead, checked that swords were sharpened and that sufficient victuals were held by all. Satisfied that this was the case the travellers settled down into extra furs to survive the cold night ahead. The Frost Imps were hard at work that night and come morning tents were well coated inside and out with the work of many of Jack’s fingers. The stalwart travellers were unabashed, cooked a healthy meal of oats, shouldered packs and set off for the first day of their travels towards the icy mountains of Brecon.

A swift meal is prepared at the end of day one

A swift meal is prepared at the end of day one

The journey that day was through a pleasant land where the sun shone and longboats carried the more elderly and less energetic travellers along waterways carved out of the land by the river gods of old. One of the St Olaves groups helped to rescue one of the longboats that had run aground at a magical waterfall section of the waterway.

Camp was made that night under the watchful eyes of the mountain gods, aloof in their lofty lairs looking down with scorn at the weary travellers camped in the valley.

Thor Chris watching the St Olaves travellers with his magical spying glasses

Thor Chris watching the St Olaves travellers with his magical spying glasses

The next day dawned cold and overcast. The wind gods were in league with the mountain gods and were driving small flurries of snow set upon the travellers by the deities from on high. Our intrepid travellers were not to be daunted by such inconsequence. Three groups made their way to the sanctuary of Grawen and one group to the Storey Arms via a high level crossing of the mighty Brecon mountains. Noggin and Thor Choire successfully keeping the shrieking mountain gods at bay with skilful use of the compass and map.

Group 5 just under the summit of Pen y Fan

Group 5 just under the summit of Pen y Fan

Thor Clapham had advised that although the groups were being assessed to Gold standard by the men of the north, that due to the adverse weather conditions the more difficult sections of the journey could be directly supervised by Noggin and his magic sword to ensure safety of the travellers.

Sometimes the easiest way down is on ones backside.

Sometimes the easiest way down is on ones backside.

After another bitter night the valiant voyagers set out across the vast untracked moors to the lonely hamlet of Berthywyd,  demonstrating their skills with the magical magnetic direction finding tools they had been trained to use.

Group in the untracked wilderness of the Brecons

Group in the untracked wilderness of the Brecons

The sun shone and the mountain gods sulked in their eyries dwelling on their defeat at the hands of the St Olaves travellers the previous day.

A rest in the sun

A rest in the sun

The last day of the epic journey dawned bright and clear and the groups made their way by various routes to the underground lair of the Welsh goblins at Dan-yr-Ogof Caves.

A tale of hardships endured, of excellence in the face of adversity, of team work and outdoors skills.  The St Olaves travellers were superb, Gold at its highest standard in truly hard conditions. Well Done.

Queen Sarah, Thor Holland and Princess Rosie from St Olaves

Queen Sarah, Thor Holland and Princess Rosie from St Olaves

Thanks also to Noggin and to the men of the south, Thor Holland, Princess Rosie, Queen Sarah and Princess Siobhan from the St Olave’s centre of excellence.

Making the most out of foul conditions in Dartmoor and the Black Mountains. 28th March 2013

Ice covered pussy willows in the campsite in Princetown

Ice covered pussy willows in the campsite in Princetown

The forecast was foul for Dartmoor and really foul for the Black Mountains and it is always a difficult decision whether to cancel an expedition, especially when pressures on curricular times in schools are so tight. Cancelling gives us a real problem over finding alternative times to do the practice expeditions at a later date. So with this in mind we decided to “give it a go” and proceed as planned with the 9 groups we had out from Monkton Combe school doing Silver and Gold practice expeditions.

Jenny and I arrived in Oakhampton early doors on Friday in heavy rain, the two school buses turned up and disgorged their goretex clad loads into the car park at the back of the railway station. We kept the momentum going with a swift briefing and kit check and headed out onto the moor, two groups heading East to Moortown and two heading West to a wildcamp site at Nodden Gate. It became apparent almost immediately just how foul the conditions were as we gained height and the moor proper. The rivers were raging torrents and the wind, out of the shelter of the railway station car park was fierce. Thank goodness for the careful planning of Foul Weather alternatives.

Two of the Monkton Lads looking heroic.

Two of the Monkton Lads looking heroic.

By the time my two groups had been safety shepherded to Nodden Gate we were all wet and cold. Tents were erected in very difficult conditions and although the rain had stopped by now the wind had a double digit negative windchill. Campcraft was superb and meals were scoffed and tents retreated to very expediently.

Sheltering in the howf at Merrivale

Sheltering in the howf at Merrivale

Next day again we elected for foul weather routes, the cloud was down with very low visibility, the wind chill was again brutal but the groups were stalwart and their navigation and time keeping superb. Shelter was taken in a shed at Merrivale to consume some heat providing victuals and then it was onto another windswept wild campsite for the two groups at the aqueduct just outside Princetown.

The weather that night was brutal, my tent and the trees all around was covered by a thick layer of ice the next morning. This was a result of the considerable windchill and the freezing fog combining to create a real winter wonderland of ice shrouded objects.

The forecast was set to deteriorate further with snow forecast for the next day so we decided to set shortened routes for that day then retreat back to civilisation. The conditions on Dartmoor were nothing short of full Scottish mountain winter conditions and the groups did superbly in coping with them for the three days they were out.

High spirits in the heavy snow

High spirits in the heavy snow

Meanwhile over in the Black Mountains Jane, Chris and Choire and the five silver groups were experiencing heavy snow and rapidly deteriorating conditions. By the time evening had descended the five groups were amalgamated into one campsite and the decision had been made to return to school.

Well at least we had tried, canny win them all. However we used the next two days to consolidate training and navigation by taking the groups out into the Mendips.

All the guys we take onto the hills are pretty good, showing determination and resilience, some get it easier than others as the sun and clement temperatures make a big difference to being outside.

These guys had it tough, really tough but came through the experience learning BIG lessons along the way. My hat is off to you all.

In the mendips consolidating training

In the mendips consolidating training

Out for the first time in 2013 18th March 2013

All smiles despite the temperature

All smiles despite the temperature

The primroses winked at the daffodils from the bottom of the hedgerows, the daffodils in turn nodded at the newborn lambs who bounced around in the fields like demented jack in the boxes let loose from an eternity of constraint, whilst down in the Llangenny river a Dipper bobbed up and down and viewed with envy the bright blue flash of a Kingfisher as it sped by on its errand of urgency. Spring was here in the Black Mountains and we were out enjoying it to the full.

Sat morning four groups, two from King Edwards in Bath and two from St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School in Bristol had gathered at Park Farm campsite in Llangattock to complete some pre-Gold expedition training. The weather was kind to us and gave us warm(ish) sunshine in which to do tent and stove training. The afternoon into evening had been set aside for some Navigational training and with a degree of delight I watched the clouds gather and start to make their way down the mountainside towards us enveloping everything in their path just as we started to leave the campsite. Its frustrating trying to teach navigation in clear conditions, however with the cloud came the rain and as we gained height onto the hillside the rain turned to sleet and then snow.

We persevered and kept going into the cloud looking for the footpath we were trying to follow, turning around from the increasingly heavy snow we made a hasty retreat towards the campsite with darkness chasing us into our tents after a hastily cooked meal.

A cold and rude awakening to the demands of Gold expeditioning

A cold and rude awakening to the demands of Gold expeditioning

The temperature plummeted during the night, I was warm and toasty in my four season downy paradise, however the same could not be said for all the participants. The whole idea of pre-expedition training is to give everyone an idea of just how tough it can be and whether or not their kit is up to standard. A cold shivery night is a hard lesson to learn, especially when you have to get up the next morning to a frosty campsite. However everyone was up by the time I had downed my obligatory coffee, I did not have to chase anyone out of their tents and within a couple of hours we were all out on the hill.

The day just got better and better, the early morning mist dissipated and the temperatures climbed higher and higher, I doubt it made double figures but it provided just the right environment for walking in the hills. A circling Buzzard watched us from on high as we climbed towards the summit of Sugarloaf squinting against the sun reflecting from the pristine snow under our feet. Timings, pacings, bearings all being mastered the two groups from King Edwards had a simultaneous arrival at the peak for the very necessary summit photo.

Two groups from King Edwards on the top of Sugar Loaf

Two groups from King Edwards on the top of Sugar Loaf

After the view had been devoured a brisk ( and cold ) wind chased us off the top and down to the finish point in Abergavenny.

A brilliant training event, we could not have had better conditions for it. We tested everyones kit, navigation and resolve and everyone came out of it smiling.

A great result, now to get ready for my favourite place in three days time, yup I’m off to Dartmoor……..

A great start to the year 14th Feb 2013

The expeditions do generally not start until March but right now we are heads down against the computer keyboard checking route submissions, booking campsites, completing green forms, getting staff booked up etc etc etc etc etc.

group1

When we are not doing this we are out in schools doing training sessions. For people like us who prefer to live in the outdoors, this time of the year can be a wee bit depressing, but a necessary evil.

Some of the team also pictured in the feature photo, collect their awards

Some of the team also pictured in the feature photo, collect their awards

So it was a real delight to get this picture sent through to me today. It shows Aaron, Josh, Mike and Ali collecting their Gold Awards at the palace only a week ago.

These guys I took through every level of their award so it is really rewarding to see it all come to fruition. They must be the luckiest group out there, they never had any rain on any of their expeditions, the sun even shone for the award ceremony.

Well done guys.

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