2014 DofE

2014 Finishes with a BANG, Gold in Snowdonia and the Brecons and why Bothies can be dreadful.

With the rain sheeting across the hills in the background the group make their way out of Cwm Eigau

With the rain sheeting across the hills in the background the group make their way out of Cwm Eigau

I lay in my tent all night waiting for it to collapse around about me with a bang as a pole snapped. The omnipresent roar of the wind in the trees and the rocks and the water cascading off the hill in the already swollen rivers around me filled my ears. Every so often the sound intensified and I tensed myself waiting for the gust that would rock the tent and drive the rain against the nylon. With a banshee howl of the wind in the tent poles the inner would slap me in the face and then thankfully spring back up again. All night this went on, no sleep to speak of, I was glad when it was time to get up and get out into the elements, at least I had something else to occupy my mind rather than an imminent soaking.

The expedition for the three Gold practice groups had started well enough up on the North coast of Wales. Day one had seen the guys climbing under a weak October sunshine over the rising foothills into the wild area of the Carneddi to various wild campsites in and around the Dulyn.

Once the last group was in and accounted for Choire and I decided to walk into the Dulyn bothy and sleep there for the night. I have a love hate relationship with bothies, I have had some wonderful times staying in and around bothies, at the same time I have seen and been affected by some atrocious behaviour of Bothy users. The poor behaviour seemed to become more commonplace so I gave up using bothies in favour of a solitary camp in the wilderness where at least I would be guaranteed a good nights sleep.

Team 3  make good time along a good track

Team 3 make good time along a good track

We arrived at the empty bothy, cooked a meal and retired for the night in the adjoining room, sleeping on the wooden floor. Outside the weather had started to deteriorate, the wind howled in the rafters as the front door opened and two dripping souls seeking shelter came into the other room, they had a look into our room and shut the door, were quiet, sorted themselves out and retired for the night making no difference to our sleep.

At 1130 another two came in and decided to set up in the room we were sleeping in, they stomped around in big boots on the wooden floor our heads were resting on, took ages setting up their stuff making no real effort to be quiet about it then after this had been done sat down and started talking. Then the whisky came out and the biscuits, after an hour of this I lost the rag and told them to shut and go to bed. At least a Scottish accent has an impact in these situations.

Up and over the Glyders, Tryvan in the background

Up and over the Glyders, Tryvan in the background

This is what I do not understand, the MBA do not publish ( or at least not as far as I can find ) a mission statement advising what bothies are to be used for other than a shelter for walkers/cyclists etc. They do state that members are not the kind of folk who like to follow rules but how about common curtesy ? Too many times I have had my evening/night in a bothy spoilt by people who seem to think that alcohol is a prerequisite for a bothy experience and lose sight of the presence of a bothy as a shelter as opposed to a place for a social gathering. Rant over but thats the last night I spend in a bothy, which is a shame as there are some fantastic ones out there used by some great folk. However I am not going to run the risk of losing a nights sleep by being in the presence of people who abuse alcohol and spoil other peoples experience in the hills.

In the Molwyns

Over the next two days the groups made their way via Dolwydellan and the Ogwen valley towards Cwm Treglan and the base of Snowdon. The forecast was not too bad but when we arrived at the Gladstone rock the wind was again being somewhat forceful. We struggled to get the tents up and robbed the adjacent river of boulders to help the pegs stay in place. I watched in increasing anxiety as the tents looked more and more likely to collapse. Bang, I made the decision to run away, I am not sure if the groups were relieved or upset as to having to take down the tents and drop some 300m in the dark and lashing rain to a NT campsite down in valley. However it was the right decision, by the time we got back to our tents at the CC hut Choire’s had been demolished by the wind and mine had lost the majority of its pegs and guys. I hastily bouldered down the tent, Choire elected to hide in the hut and dry his stuff out, I elected to sleep in the tent which is where this story started.

The groups were superb, they took it in their stride ( in fact every expedition I have done with these guys since Bronze has been punishing weather ), it was a great training expedition and they are now more than ready for the assessed.

The perfect weather for a training w/end 6th October 2014

On a cold and frosty morning Choire and Brett share an early morning coffee prep.

On a cold and frosty morning Choire and Brett share an early morning coffee prep.

What makes the perfect conditions for a training weekend? Too wet, you put the participants off ever venturing out into the countryside again; too dry and sunny, they can get a false sense of security and treat all the warnings of dire conditions and the kit needed to survive said “death on a stick” conditions, that they turn up with little or no preparation for the harsher side of the outdoors. If the routes are too short then the groups see little need to come as light as possible because they have cruised it; if they are too long then you are back to option one.

So not knowing how good the participants are at Bronze Practice and not knowing what conditions you are going to get it can sometimes go a wee bit wrong.

However when it all comes together with 11 groups you know something marvellous has taken place.

Sat morning the two coaches belched their contents into the various carparks we had organised for the start of the expedition. No sooner had we checked kit, repacked rucksacks, done our pre exped briefings etc the heavens opened. It continued persistently all day, why is this good? well it tests the waterproofing of the individuals and their kit, and boy did it all get tested, some to destruction but then these guys know that they need better stuff now.

Early morning inversion over the lake.

Early morning inversion over the lake.

The downside to rain like this is that it makes doing campsite and tent pitching/cooking demos difficult, however we need not have worried, bang on queue the rain stopped just as the first group arrived at the campsite. We camped, cooked and finished up in the dark as the temperature was plummeting. Why is this good, well everyone wants to just get into their sleeping bags and stay warm so this makes our life easy.

Early morning cuppa

Early morning cuppa ( Credit R. Greenwood )

We awoke early next morning to a very heavy frost and watched the guys who had not listened to our instructions about quality of sleeping bags required extract themselves from a cold and sleepless nights tent. Did they learn a lesson ? Mmmmmhhhww.

Then it was off, as quickly as possible to keep warm, into a gradually warming and perfectly sunny day, ideal conditions to let the groups go and get lost or not but to certainly learn the lessons required about navigating. Between six and seven hours later all the groups finished on queue at the end in lovely warm sunshine.

Perfect, absolutely brilliant, with 11 groups all finishing and learning everything they need to for the up and coming assessed a most excellent result. Well done to the Ibstock Bronzes.

Back to back in the Brecons 11th Sept 2014

The Brecons in all their glory.

The Brecons in all their glory.

An Indian summer is in full swing, still warm enough for shorts and sleeves but cold enough in the evenings to make me wish I had brought a heavier sleeping bag.

The mornings are now mist laden and its getting darkish when its time to get up. The air is full of migratory birds, flocks of linnets and goldfinches echo the colours that are starting to appear in the trees. The fieldfares are on their way south along with the martins and the swallows.

Its a fantastic time of the year to be out in the hills, the air is crystal clear, the dreaded midge has gone ( well almost ) and its brisk enough on the tops to keep you moving without a heavy sweat. Our first outing was with two teams on Gold assessed from St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school in Bristol. Crossing the Brecons from East to West these guys had it easy, well as easy as 20K a day with a full pack over the hills can be.

The sun shone relentlessly and the groups revelled in the lovely weather. Dry feet at the end of four days in the Brecons, well it can happen obviously.

The perfect lunch spot.

The perfect lunch spot.

We went home for two days and then returned to assess and supervise two Silver groups and train one Gold group for Kings Gloucester. The weather stayed kind, although this time I brought my down sleeping bag and wished I hadn’t as it was too hot. This time I was operating in the Black Mountains leaving Jane and Brett to manage the silvers in the main Brecons.

The Golds drop down out of the hills to another remote campsite.

The Golds drop down out of the hills to another remote campsite.

To be fair I was not really needed after the first day of one to one training, the Golds had it sussed. Even when the visibility on the tops was no more than 20m or so they navigated confidently making me feel good about my ability to train but the credit must also rest with them for learning so much so soon.

The Silvers on the other side ran Gold length routes across the main Brecons, taking them in their stride. An excellent result across the groups.

Blister repairs, looks painful.

Blister repairs, looks painful.

In a time and land of plenty, Bronze assessed with Warwick in the Cotswolds 2nd Sept 2014

Hedgerow treasure

Hedgerow treasure

The sun shone down on us as we made our way through the lovely Cotswolds countryside just south of Evesham. It is a time of plenty and ease of existence for the wildlife that live here. The days and nights are still warm and comfortable, the trees and bushes are heavy with fruit. Apples abound, Sloes bear down the branches with their weight whilst Blackberries produce a hidden treasure for the mice rustling about in the hedgerows.

Autumn harvest of Sloes

Autumn harvest of Sloes

However the wildlife know that the earth is spinning and tipping its way towards a colder season, the swallows are proof of this as they line up on the electric lines that criss cross this landscape preparing for their long journey towards warmer winter climes in Africa. The grey squirrel invaders are busy in the hazelnut trees, stuffing their cheeks with winter provisions. On the ground the mushrooms and toadstools are rapidly multiplying as the ground dampens, the sunshine no longer strong enough to dry the earth out under the trees.

A rather nice pile looks over the land into which its fits just fine.

A rather nice pile looks over the land into which its fits just fine.

The countryside around here is soft, gently rolling and beautiful, film set villages built out of the warm cotswold stones abound, Stately houses surrounded by manicured grounds are plentiful. It is an area of retirement and quiet unpretentious wealth, it is a land of gated driveways and private keep out signs, of well marked footpaths and no access land. The inhabitants here do not regard the coming of winter in the same way as the wildlife, the inhabitants here are generally well protected from the seasonal fluctuations, with a quiet “woof’ the thermostats in the houses will keep the household temperatures regulated when the outside frosts start to threaten the comfort of the inhabitants. The grocery delivery vehicles will ensure that fridges, freezers and wine racks are kept well enough stocked to see everyone through the shorter and colder days.

Unlike some I do not have a real problem with any of this, I love this aspect of the soft and gentle English countryside just as much as I love the harsh splendour of the Welsh or Scottish hills where access is granted for all. This protected and private landscape is enjoyed by the few but is the quiet and well maintained home for many. Woodpeckers abound, Bullfinches, Goldfinches and Linnets provide a constant menu for Sparrowhawks, and Merlins as they hunt around the hedgerows and deliver a swift death from iron hard talons. It is still a working landscape and at this time of the year the harvest is in full swing, even on a Sunday as the groups make their way through the harvested and unharvested landscape. The tenders of the land cannot afford to wait for a Monday, needs must and they must get in the grain before the weather deteriorates.

Exit into daylight from the wooded shadows.

Exit into daylight from the wooded shadows.

It is undoubtedly a land of the privileged for all who live there and long may it continue to be so. The well maintained rural landscape makes one of the best nature reserves I know.

Nine groups from Warwick boys school on Bronze assessed make their discrete ways across this pastoral paradise , they are well behaved, polite and respectful of the landscape through which they are travelling, a credit to themselves and the school.

Well done lads.

The first frosts in the Forest and a washout on the Moor 30th Aug

Silver with Ibstock and Gold with Kings Taunton.

A wonderfully wild campsite in the New Forest

A wonderfully wild campsite in the New Forest

August and the first frost of the year, believe it or not the grass was white and crunchy in the New Forest just as dawn cracked the sky. It did not last long but there it was, reminding us that the summer is coming to an end. However we still have another two months of DofE and many expeditions still to complete.

The New Forest was ablaze with colour as the groups from Ibstock Place School came down to undertake their practice silver expedition before they go back to school proper. The heather created a purple carpet across the moors whilst the trees were full of brightly coloured berries and the early autumn colours.

The New Forest is not designated wild country but it can be, if the routes are properly set, create a real challenge for groups and can be used as an excellent area in which to teach good navigational techniques. Whether you are on the side of a hill in the cloud or deep in a forest the result is the same, limited visibility and you need to be sure of compass bearings, timings and pay attention to any features you can use to assist you.

Looking ( But not feeling ) Blue. Learning to pack up whilst staying inside the tent.

Looking ( But not feeling ) Blue. Learning to pack up whilst staying inside the tent.

The other great aspect of the New Forest is that you can ( if you get permission from the Forestry Commission ) camp at designated sites which are in the forest. Wild camping is a great way to teach campsite disciplines and to prepare groups for the harder aspects of Gold or Silver in real wild country. The groups from Ibstock got a good range of conditions with lovely bright sunshine on the first two days then a real drenching on day three as the heavens opened as pelted them persistently for the last day, waterproofing was well tested and in some cases tested to destruction. However the groups were great, as always, soaking up the training and the rain.

They went home but some of us did not, Jane and I went straight to Dartmoor, we did not pass Go and did not collect £200, we had to meet four groups of Gold from Kings Taunton who arrived the same evening on their Gold assessed. It rained persistently for the three hours of driving, it rained persistently that evening for the assessors briefing and kept on raining well into the morning to give everyone a good soaking as they started their four day circumnavigation of the North Moor. Day one did eventually turn into a really nice afternoon and evening giving the groups a chance to dry some stuff out but days two, three and four were almost consistently WET.

Dartmoor sheep.

Dartmoor sheep.

I feel that I am constantly repeating myself when I praise the groups for what they have accomplished but I challenge anyone to spend four days walking and wild-camping on Dartmoor in persistent rain and remain cheerful. Its foul to be out in the rain camping but Dartmoor brings new level of suffering, if you do not believe me try it.

Once again tho these guys achieved it without a single drop out, it was not easy, it was so wet I was not really able to take any pictures for fear of drowning my camera. They struggled but came through it by supporting each other, great team work and resilience.

Well done to you all.

High Season and High Summer in Snowdonia and Dartmoor. 26th July.

Walking into a truly wild campsite with the cloud spilling down over the Carneddi.

Walking into a truly wild campsite with the cloud spilling down over the Carneddi.

Thirteen Expeditions in the last three weeks, some of them with 12 groups; the majority of them at Gold. DofE silly season has now come to an end, with a final rush and another trip to Snowdonia for Choire, Jane, Dave O’B and myself with St Olaves from Kent and Salesian School from Surrey, whilst Jason and Chris Y were busy down in Dartmoor with Collingwood College.

Challenge is the name of our game; we set appropriate challenges for the groups we work with and the DofE expedition section is all about learning through coping with challenge. Learning about yourself and others whilst operating in an environment that is both physically and mentally challenging. Our life is full of this word but what is it, what does it mean? It’s easy to spout a dictionary definition and the vast majority of my friends are always doing stuff that is termed as a challenge, in fact I sometimes think their lives would be empty if they did not set endless physical tests for themselves. However in my view a challenge is an undertaking that is difficult and that pushes the individual to do things that are outside of their comfort zone. This of course means that sometimes people will not succeed or come up to the standard that is required.

Group approaching the top of Snowdon via the South Ridge.

Group approaching the top of Snowdon via the South Ridge.

Not all our groups have passed their qualifying expeditions this year and quite a few individuals have had to withdraw from their part completed expedition due to injury, sickness or lack of fitness.

The DofE is supposed to be inclusive, but let’s face it you need to be quite fit, mentally tough and well organised to put up with the “challenge”.  One individual recently said to me that they were not unhappy that someone had had to drop out due to fitness issues as this made their accomplishment seem all the greater and I guess this is reality; we measure ourselves and our performance against each other because there is nothing else really to measure ourselves against, unless it’s our past performance.

Dawn over Llyn Cowlyd

Dawn over Llyn Cowlyd

The groups had it tough in Snowdonia and Dartmoor: four days of wall to wall sunshine and temperatures continually in the high twenties. But then the rewards were great as well, with fantastic views from the summits and beautiful dawn light to wake the groups in the mornings.

Soon I am going to set myself the hardest challenge of all: to take a break and sit down and do very little; however that scares me too much so we are off to India tomorrow to try and climb a big hill that no one has climbed before. Will we succeed? Who knows, but it’s gonna be a challenge!

True Grit or Time and Tides in the Peaks, Silver with Warwick. 17th July.

Along the Old Railway

Along the Old Railway

The warm summer air is awash with life, insects hover, whizz, thrum and buzz their way around on whatever insecty errands make up the pulse of their short existence. A young bird appears in the distance working hard to just stay in the air, I can sense the panic in its flight as it comes towards me, following the line of the path between the high undergrowth on both sides on which I am walking. It is struggling to stay in the air never mind steer itself in any way. With a soft thump it collides with my chest and flutters to the ground unhurt to lie there panting with the effort, starting up at me with a look which makes me feel like I am the one in the wrong for just being there..

It is the crack of sparrows in the white peak, the sun is just coming up, the air is warm and has been all night, high summer indeed. The peak district is famed as being one of the busiest national parks in the UK, some claim it is the second busiest park in the world but this is challenged by the National Trusts figures.

It sits between Sheffield/Leeds and Manchester and Birmingham and is the playground for many wanting an escape from the omnipresent city. It is an area of complex and interesting geology with Limestone and Millstone Grit predominating.

Peak_District_Cross_Section

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its geology, laid down in the Paleozoic era ( up to 500 million years ago) provides us with a great playground of high moors and soft river valleys to climb on, bike or walk through.

The tide comes in every morning as the car parks fill up and disgorge their cargoes of folk wanting a slice of what the area has to offer, they wander, run, pedal or risk life and limb on the rocky outcrops. The tide goes out as the sun goes down leaving the park to its natural inhabitants and darkness. It makes little impact on the landscape, the rocks are hard and old. The paths are well maintained, signposted and built of the compact sedimentary rocks famed for making mill wheels. It is not my favourite place, too many people, too controlled but there is feeling of age on this land, a feeling that this tide will come and go and eventually change with the passing of geological time scales. It doesn’t really care, it has seen glaciers, Irish navvies cutting railways through its crust importing religious and socialist ideologies, industrialisation, steam, coal etc etc what difference will a few million visitors make, no more than the soft thump of a baby bird against my chest.

selfie

What of the groups, well as always the boys from Warwick school excelled as you would expect from a school with such sporting prowess, Ten groups, ten success’s on the Silver qualifying.

Sunshine, showers and summer storms in Snowdonia. Gold assessed with Monkton Combe and King Edwards 10th July 2014.

Bog Aspidals flowering in the wet ground

Bog Aspidals flowering in the wet ground

A warm patch of sunlight slid across the hillside below, a quartzite boulder flared and sparked as it was lit from above, a massive patch of flowering heather was highlighted by the celestial light. The hillside looked as if bruised by some massive blow as the purple colour flared against the green and brown.

Sitting in the sun in the deep dry heather and bedstraw, comfortable in a pair of shorts and t-shirt, I watched through binoculars as my groups far below me made their way through the valley and across the hillside to their  different wild camps lost in the middle of the northern Snowdonian hills.

A newly fledged family of skylarks tweeted and rustled in the undergrowth around about me, oblivious to my existence; I had now been stationary for almost an hour. Feathered parents flurried back and forth intent of committing genocide on the local insect population, way too busy to question what I was and why I was there as they crammed them down a clamouring void.

Hacking their way up into the Carneddi, the sea a long way behind and below.

Hacking their way up into the Carneddi, the sea a long way behind and below.

Summer in Snowdonia with a good forecast, does it get any better given that I was there for two back to back Gold assessed expeditions, ten days in total. First up were the four teams from King Edwards in Bath to sweat their way from the north coast at Penmenmawr over the Carneddi, Glyders, Molwyns and then down to finish in Llanberis after the obligatory Snowdon summit. These guys got a real variety of mountain weather with hot days followed by cool overcast weather and a real summer storm on the top of Snowdon itself. Now they know why they carry warm hats and gloves even in the height of summer.

Common Heath Orchid

Common Heath Orchid

Dave O’Brien had assisted me with the guys from King Edwards but having other commitments it was up to Henry Castle Mr Climb Pembroke (Noggin) to then help me out with the assessment and supervision of the guys from Monkton Combe.

The weather was just perfect; not too warm, (well… maybe just a wee bit to be stomping up hills with a full pack), a good breeze to generally keep the dreaded midge at bay, some rain, but not a great deal and some low cloud, which could have played the white man by not appearing when the groups were on the top of Snowdon.

The park was alive with life, Sundew, Tormentil, Orchids of many different types and colours shone like precious gems from the boggy ground. Long days merged into short nights and the groups cruised through it all enjoying some spectacular wild-camping spots that we know and keep as secret as possible.

A wildcountry consultants campsite.

A wildcountry consultants campsite.

An awesome time was had by both groups, teachers and instructors.

They do say that if you manage to find a job you enjoy then you will never work another day in your life, cracked it this time !!

Chilling in the perfect campsite plungepool

Chilling in the perfect campsite plungepool

Keep it secret, keep it safe. Silver assessed in the Brecons with Monkton Combe 28th June 2014.

Meadow Pipits nest on the side of Fan Fawr.

Meadow Pipits nest on the side of Fan Fawr.

The heat lay on the land like a duvet cover, stifling all kinds of energetic pursuits with its all pervasive languor. The blackbirds even sounded tired at 0430, I was well awake however having popped off to bed at around 8 o’clock the previous evening. I got up and sat outside the tent with a cup of coffee revelling in the peace and tranquillity that is only possible in the countryside at that time of the morning.

Its one of the great things about being out camping if there is nowt else to do then theres nowt else to do except to go to sleep on the basis that you just do not know how long the next day is going to be. Assessed expeditions can, by their very nature be either easy or extremely stressful. The groups are remotely supervised, i.e. you do not always know where they are so you spend a bit of time sitting around waiting for them at checkpoints or on the side of the hill with a pair of binoculars willing them to come into view from behind some obscure fold in the contours. This is when the training they have received pays dividends as if they turn up on time and in the right place then its easy. If however they do not and you hear nothing and they are two hours late and its getting dark then you have worries.

Camping at a remote farm in the Brecons

Camping at a remote farm in the Brecons

The conditions conspired to help things along with some lovely warm, calm weather, ( this made sitting on the side of the hill a nice pastime ) the groups from Monkton Combe added to this by being brilliant, exactly where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, obviously the training we had delivered had been absorbed and regurgitated as and when required with excellent results.

Four groups on four very discrete routes making their way across the high Brecons, not really silver, more a three day gold but these guys just ate it up and gave us no cause for concern at all.

Lets get cool in the pool.

Lets get cool in the pool.

 

The weather on the first two days was so clement that a dip under the waterfalls for one group was just what was needed to cool the blood. The remote farm camping locations were enjoyed to the full ( midges aside) by all. No loud noisy campsites full of other groups for these guys. Day three saw all the groups summating different hills, the green group making light work of Pen y Fan. Silver ? hmmm, what are we gonna have to do to challenge these guys at Gold.

MC Silvers on the top of Pen y Fan

MC Silvers on the top of Pen y Fan

 

Football in Rugby, no its DofE with Warwick actually. 16th June 2014

Group "100% Lost" who did not actually live up to their name.

Group “100% Lost” who did not actually live up to their name.

Sat night, lying in my tent in an indiscriminate campsite, no change there then you might say but tonight was the night that England took their debut in the 2014 World cup. Of no real interest to me I must admit, not because of my Scottish origins but simply because the idea of watching someone kick a wee ball around for over an hour and a half just does not “butter my muffin”

Insult to injury these guys get paid astronomical sums of money that is actually ( in my humble) morally disgusting. So no, I was quite content to lie in my tent and sleep. The guys from Warwick school however ( being a very high achieving sporting school ) took a very different view, combined with the fact that the campsite had no 3G signal, well it was disappointing for them and best we leave it at that.

The five groups on Bronze practice all did really well coping with high temperatures and long routes through the lovely countryside around Rugby. The biggest downside to this area is that I think we are the only people to have walked these routes this year. The paths are pretty overgrown and some have just failed to exist any more. The groups managed this with some good problem solving skills which should set them up just fine for their assessed in the Cotswolds in Oct. Looking forward to seeing you there guys.

Back to the Brecons with King Edwards 24th-28th May (There’s no chickens in these groups)

No chickens allowed !

No chickens allowed !

You can’t be chicken to take on a Gold Expedition with Wildcountry Consultants, and the guys from King Edwards in Bath certainly proved that.

The weather was not set to be kind and it lived up to its promise; however all that aside it was perfect for a practice expedition. I always worry when groups, especially direct entrants, have a practice expedition in which the weather is kind throughout. This does not prepare them for their assessed, (which is generally in tougher countryside) and if the weather is foul, well…

Onwards into the murk

Onwards into the murk

However it was not to be the case for these guys, four groups at Gold practice in the Brecons.

Following the instructions from Windsor we had split the routes up quite considerably with two very discrete start points keeping the groups as much as possible on very separate routes. Day one, however, saw most of the groups deferring to foul weather alternatives as the weather was really foul with over 10mm of rain coming at us during the course of the day. The groups, to their credit, did not let this worry them and rose to the challenge of learning to navigate through a good mix of open (albeit low level) countryside.

Group take shelter from the rain in an abandoned barn

Group take shelter from the rain in an abandoned barn

The rain did let up just in time to allow the groups to camp and cook meals in rather soggy campsites. Day two was marginally better with less rain, but when the sky did decide to chuck it down it did so at less opportune moments (camping and cooking times). The weather did lend a certain dramatic edge to the waterfall crossing as the volume of water cascading over the top was certainly impressive.

Traversing the waterfall

Traversing the waterfall

Day three gave the groups a respite as the sun actually showed its face and allowed us to dry clothes, tents and sit down to enjoy our meals. It does make a massive difference but amazingly enough I think that the groups found this day as hard as any of the others. The focus had come off just coping with the weather to coping with the aches and pains that accompany an expedition, a shift in focus that is possibly less easy to cope with.

dodging the sink holes on the high moorland of the Brecons National park

dodging the sink holes on the high moorland of the Brecons National park

Nonetheless by the time day four came around, with yet more rain, the groups were flying through their routes to complete in great style and good time at their chosen finish points.

There is no doubt in my mind that these guys are now more than well prepared for their assessed expedition in Snowdonia in July. It would be nice however if the sun did shine for them then.

Deep in the Forest 18th/19th May with Kings School Gloucester.

In the forest early in the morning.

In the forest early in the morning.

There is only one word to describe the English countryside just now and that is LUSH.

The meadows and fields are awash with the pixilated colours of daisies and buttercups separated by the hedgerows of Hawthorns which are heavily iced with blossom. The chestnut trees look like skirted tables laden down by the weight of their leaves alight with candles whilst deep in the forests the overpowering fug of the Bluebells is slowly being replaced with the sharp aromatic tang of wild garlic.

The English countryside and woods are such a beautiful place and we can, and do, take it for granted. I have the fortune to travel around some of the more exotic places in the world but I can assure you there is nothing like the English countryside in May. The UK is such a fantastic country, from the high windswept tops of the highlands to the deep lush forests of the south; long may it continue to be so let’s try to retain what wilderness we have for as long as we can.

The Jolly G's cross the bridge outside Biblins campsite

The Jolly G’s cross the bridge outside Biblins campsite

Anyhow, we were in the Forest of Dean to assess seven groups from Kings School in Gloucester who were undertaking their Bronze expedition award. The weather was kind, well kind of hot actually which brings its own troubles and the midges but as always the groups excelled.

However now the Bronze expedition season is drawing to a close as the exams finish and the Gold groups are let off the leash. So now it’s onto the high windswept tops of the UK’s hills and mountains.

Bring it on, I could do with a change of scenery.

 

Slithery Slow Worms around Stroud. 3rd and 4th May.

Slithery Slow Worms

Slithery Slow Worms

There is no place like the Gloucester Cotswolds to see wealth, real wealth. This is one of the places of choice of the TV stars and the economically successful to find a lovely hideaway in which to live. Navigating your way around and through the beautiful wooded valleys and rural landscapes of this area you come across some fabulous old houses built out of the lovely soft Cotswold stone tucked away in idyllic retreats. However there is a down side to this and it is the proliferation of big “Private, Keep Out” signs, barbed wire and deconstructed footpaths which are an attempt by some landowners to keep people out of their line of sight and off paths which they have a legal right to walk on.

A slow worms eye view of a bluebell wood.

A slow worms eye view of a bluebell wood.

This is a growing problem for DofE groups. We try to instil a respectful use of the countryside to these guys: follow the countryside code, leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures and they see others with wealth blatantly disregarding the laws of the countryside.

Choire fights a rape field planted over the right of way.

Choire fights a rape field planted over the right of way.

Hey ho, I am glad to be able to say that this is a minority reaction but one which is growing, it did not however impinge on our expedition too much.

The May bank holiday sun was out in full force for the seven groups of Bronze practice students from Kings School in Gloucester as they made their way in and around the lovely countryside in fantastic weather.

The Lovely Cotswold countryside.

The Lovely Cotswold countryside.

So nice to be out in lovely summery weather with great groups.

 

April Showers, punctuated by bouts of persistent rain, South Downs and the Cotswolds 28th April 2014.

A welcome break in the precipitation.

A welcome break in the precipitation.

Its Bronze time of the year just now, Silvers and Gold year groups are heads down in exams and schools use this opportunity to get the Bronze groups out, so guess what we were up to this w/end.

Myself, Jenny and Nicola were awander in the southern Cotswolds in and around the Bath area assessing and supervising six groups from Monkton Combe school as they set about proving to us their ability to pack their rucksacks with the right stuff, navigate over 30K of rural/pastoral countryside and just generally impress us with their campcraft.

Soggy but cheerful at the end of 30K.

Soggy but cheerful at the end of 30K.

Sat generally remained dryish, a bit dreich and showery but the sky stopped leaking as the groups arrived in camp to put up tents and cook meals.

Sunday however was not so nice.

“A bit showery” I commented to Jenny as we waited at the end for the groups to arrive.

“Yes,” she replied, “punctuated by persistent rain.”

The groups oozed into the parish hall car park in Rode looking decidedly soggy but generally v.pleased with what they had accomplished. 30km plus is a good distance for Bronze and these guys had taken this distance on and in some pretty wet conditions, a very good effort.

Flintstones, meet the flintstones.

Flintstones, meet the flintstones.

Jane, Choire, Chris Y, Kevin and Nigel were down in the South with 9 groups from Ibstock Place School in London assessing and supervising as the groups rocked and rolled over the Downs. Again Sat was Dreich but dry and Sunday was WET with persistent rain throughout the day.

Whilst these type of conditions can dampen enthusiasm to continue with the DofE awards it also ensures that groups who have had to deal with these types of conditions are aware of how to prepare and cope with them as the award levels get higher, tougher and take place in harder countryside.

Stomping across the Downs, Ibstock Place School groups on their way to success at Bronze.

Stomping across the Downs, Ibstock Place School groups on their way to success at Bronze.

The Ibstock guys were just plain awesome, well ready now to progress to Silver and the New Forest later in the year.

 

Just where and what is the Long Mynd, back again for more Silver DofE 19th April 2014 

A group makes its way thorough the spring colours of the rural Long Mynd landscape

A group makes its way thorough the spring colours of the rural Long Mynd landscape

After my last DofE post I have had many people ask me ” Where and what is the Long Mynd”? So to prevent any further questions.. Jane, Dave O’Brian and myself rocked up at Cardingmill visitor centre in the Long Mynd to assist Warwick School with their 10 groups of practice silver teams for the second time in just 10 days. The Long Mynd is an area of the Shropshire hills designated an area outstanding natural beauty some 10miles south of Shrewsbury. It covers an area of just 8.5 sq miles, the majority of which is heathland owned predominantly by the National Trust. However for its small size it packs a good punch with some steep sided hills, deep valleys and high windswept moorland more reminiscent of Snowdonia when the cloud and drizzle persist. 

Team Vamos from Warwick School

Team Vamos from Warwick School

With all this in mind it is just perfect for challenging groups at silver practice or tough bronze assessed level. A good three day route can be set with 17k being covered each day whilst never crossing the same terrain twice and this is exactly what our groups set out to do and achieved.

The spring sunshine lit the blossom on the trees whilst the greater spotted woodpeckers drummed out a request for a mate in the valleys and the curlews haunting calls swept across the heather clad high moorland driven by the chill north westerly that kept the rain at bay this time.

The area attracts a lot of people from the area around Birmingham and is busy with mountain bikers and walkers and model plane fliers etc etc. however drop into the valleys and get into the rural landscape which is criss crossed with a good network of long-distance and permissive paths and you can find yourself in a pastoral idyll. A great change from the high hills of Snowdonia and the desolation of Dartmoor.

Nature reclaims an old plough as a tree grows over and through it.

Nature reclaims an old plough as a tree grows over and through it.

A most enjoyable three days working with great groups.

Lock, stock and two stinking socks. DofE in the Long Mynd and Dartmoor 10th April 2014

One of the groups of Boys from Warwick school.

One of the groups of Boys from Warwick school.

Dave O’Brian and myself arrived at Cardingmill visitor centre in Church Stretton to await the coach carrying the silver practice groups from Warwick School. This is not an area that we work in regularly so it made a pleasant change to the usual haunts. The Long Mynd, as it is called, is geographically quite a small piece of access land in Shropshire but it packs a big punch for such a small area. The hills there, although not high are steep with deep valleys in-between. Its an ideal area in which to train silver practice groups and that is just what Dave and I did over the next three days. The weather provided some nice sunshine but also some low cloud/poor visibility, ideal for challenging the groups new navigational abilities.  Day three provided some heavy rain to finish in, just right for testing waterproofs, those who got soaked will have learnt the lesson at just the right time and should be better prepared for the assessed later in the year.

A real Dartmoor postbox, not one of the fake ones that hides under boulders.

A real Dartmoor postbox, not one of the fake ones that hides under boulders.

Jane, Chris Y, Choire and Graeme meantime had arrived in Dartmoor to meet four groups of Gold practice groups from St Olaves school in London. After kit checks etc the groups retired to wake next morning to the usual Dartmoor weather, torrential rain. This continued all day, the moor quickly became a challenging environment to operate in. Low cloud, a cold wind and quickly rising rivers, the foul weather routes opted for became difficult and river were forded as an enforced evacuation of the moor to the nearest campsites took place. I had just finished in the Long Mynd when Jane phoned me to advise of the situation so I decided to head on down there to gauge the situation for myself. After a stupid o clock rise the next morning I drove down through atrocious weather to arrive in Princetown at 0800hrs.

Group ( trying to look heroic ) on the Clapper Bridge at Postbridge

Group ( trying to look heroic ) on the Clapper Bridge at Postbridge

No way were the groups going out on the moor, there was no point, rivers that you usually step over were 3M wide torrents, the rain was torrential and being driven by a harsh south westerly, the bigger rivers were “death on a stick”. I opted to keep the groups in tents to wait and see. By 1300hrs the rain had eased so out we went leaving the tents where they were to have a walk and dry off in the watery sun that had chased the clouds away.

Next two days we headed north to cross the moor, two groups on the East and two on the West. As quickly as the rivers had come up they went down and we were able to venture into the depths of the moor to put our newly found navigational skills to the test.

The river Dart becomes a mental "death on a stick" river

The river Dart becomes a mental “death on a stick” river

Nature never fails to amaze me, what is one day benign is the next a life threatening obstacle. We teach our guys never to challenge a river and the picture above shows why. In normal circumstances this river can be crossed by stepping stones, in less than 12 hours it looks like it does above.

Once again the guys from St Olaves excelled, its a steep learning curve to have a baptisim of fire like this but they coped. They did however punish their trainer for the weather inflicted upon them.

Lock, Stock and two Stinking Socks.

Lock, Stock and two Stinking Socks.

Squelch..Dartmoor Gold and New Forest Silver. 1st April 2014.

Monkton Green group in the New Forest.

Monkton Green group in the New Forest.

“Well lads, if we take a bearing and head for that little island shown there on the map in the middle of the river we will cut at least 4K off our journey, however I cannot guarantee that the Ford will be crossable”. A unanimous vote settled on, but I did not take part as I knew what the probable outcome was, cutting the 4K off. River arrived at with an admirably accurate bearing, it became quickly apparent that the only way over was to get wet feet and knees, and thighs for the smaller participants and therefore trousers etc etc.

Group two showing the strain of crossing some of Dartmoor's most difficult terrain to get to the top of Snowdon hill

Group two showing the strain of crossing some of Dartmoor’s most difficult terrain to get to the top of Snowdon hill

So next dilemma, reverse route and add another 5K onto the 2K we had already done avoiding the 4K we had cut off or wade river. Again no contest, wet feet etc ensued. now before all you H&S fixated individuals howl your protests and send me e-mails demanding I be blackballed ( or worse ) from being an AAP I would hasten to add that sometimes allowing people to suffer the consequences of their mistakes goes a long way to effectively teaching a good lesson. So there we were, as remote as we could get on Dartmoor’s north moor and wet through as well, Hey Ho only another 15K or so to go to camp.

The Dartmoor post, believe it or not this is an important navigational feature, finding it in good conditions is relatively easy, finding it in low vis is not.

The Dartmoor post, believe it or not this is an important navigational feature, finding it in good conditions is relatively easy, finding it in low vis is not.

Jenny, Graeme and myself had arrived at Oakhampton the day before in heavy sleety rain, the high tops were whitish with snow and the air temp showed a chilly 4 degrees. Out on the tops however the windchill was driving this well below freezing as we made our way to camps at Nodden Gate and Moortown farm. Although the rivers were running high next day we ( I ) elected to take the group across the middle of the North moor to give some good navigational training. To me it was a great decision, out in the middle of nowhere under a clearing sky being harried by a freezing wind, perfect walking weather.

Group One atop one of the north moor tors.

Group One atop one of the north moor tors.

We made our way, eventually, to another wild camp near to the aqueduct at Princetown. Day three saw the four very discretely operating groups coalesce into a camp at Huntington Cross. On that day one of the groups had crossed the ground between Plymn Ford and Ryders Hill, very difficult ground both navigationally and physically, quite an achievement.

An idyllic campsite at Huntington Cross.

An idyllic campsite at Huntington Cross.

Then after a brutally early start in the dark the groups made their way via differing routes to finish at Oakhampton.

Meanwhile, down in the New Forest, Jane, Choire, Chris Y and Simon were putting the silvers through their paces. For me the silver practice is one of the most difficult expeditions that groups face, Bronze, to take nothing away from the participants is a nice walk in pleasant countryside at Silver things ramp up, navigation becomes much more important as does the organisation of your kit and food etc etc.

Green group make their way through the trees.

Green group make their way through the trees.

The New Forest may be seen as an easy option but after a winter of heavy rain it was more than just a tad soggy and gave excellent opportunities to test everyones resolve. Day one saw the groups coping with persistent rain to camp at a basic scout campsite. Then it was off across the moors and through the forests gently steaming under a brightening sky to Foxlease. Day three saw everyone arrive safe and sound at Kings Hat.

Picture perfect in the New Forest.

Picture perfect in the New Forest.

An awesome result, well done guys.

The DofE starting Gun goes Off.   March 2014 

And so it starts again, well it ( DofE ) has never really stopped. The expedition year may be March – Oct but the winter months are full on planning, training and route setting, this culminates end of Feb beginning of March with a full on rush to get everything ready for the starting gun.

Sheltering from the biting wind under a big sky.

Sheltering from the biting wind under a big sky.

The starting gun went off for us on the 22nd of March. Simon, Jason and I were nice and warm and cozy planning and route setting for 10 groups of mixed level expeditioners at Kings School Gloucester, Chris Y was busy but also nice and warm and cozy setting for 5 groups of Gold at King Edwards in Bath.

Jane, Choire, Brett and Henry were out under a big sky in the Black Mountains with St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school from Bristol.

As always at this time of the year the real concern is the weather, if it really misbehaves then we can be forced to bin an expedition and with academic pressure in schools being what it is it can be really difficult to find alternative dates to fit another expedition in to the calendar.

Henry ( aka Noggin ) in his magical horseless chariot.

Henry ( aka Noggin ) in his magical horseless chariot.

The groups turned up on Sat morn to sleet and hail being driven across the campsite by a biting wind. We retreated to covered accommodation to do as much training as we could indoors. The foul conditions did not last long however and we were able to get out, put up tents and then get out on the hill to bring a warmth to numb feet and hands.

Some navigational training completed and meals cooked in encroaching darkness we retreated to tents and cozy sleeping bags to let the wind howl and the sleet harry our well pitched tents.

Next day the scudding clouds in a BIG sky alternated with rainbows and painful sleety showers as the groups made their way over Sugarloaf putting their improving navigational confidence and techniques into practice.

Rough going underfoot on one of the old Welsh drove roads.

Rough going underfoot on one of the old Welsh drove roads.

Cold, windy and potentially really uncomfortable weather was made easily bearable with good preparation and a positive attitude by the guys who turned up as direct entrants and went home ready for their practice expedition later on in the year.

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