Silver DofE practice walk – perspectives

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Last weekend, 56 Block 4 students took a walk in the countryside surrounding Bedales, initially guided by seven experienced members of the school’s Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) team. Here we share accounts of the trip from three students and one member of staff.

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

This was the first extended, practical opportunity for students to put into practice the basic navigation, pacing and map reading skills we’ve explored in our after-school sessions, and it also gave the students a chance to experience first-hand the importance of route cards, try out their kit and work as a team.

On Saturday morning, it looked as though we were going to get very wet in the afternoon, but in fact it was heavy wind and the onset of darkness that we had to contend with over Shoulder of Mutton in the nearby Ashford Hangers. The important business of putting participants into groups, and then reassembling the groups so that everyone was walking with at least one close friend, took some time. Once this was sorted, groups set off with a large rucksack containing emergency kit such as a high-vis jacket, head torch and tent, which they were instructed to take it in turns to carry.

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First Duke of Edinburgh expedition of the year

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

When 37 students in Block 5 headed out on their qualifying Silver Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition, they might have been extras in John Keats’ seminal poem, To Autumn. Last weekend on the South Downs, the world was rich in “mellow fruitfulness”. They plucked ripe blackberries from hedgerows, scrumpt apples from “moss’d cottage-trees” and in the evenings you might have come across the odd corn on the cob cooking alongside Wayfarer’s meals and pesto pasta.

On Friday morning it took a while to organise routes and check kit at the Triangle Car Park near the Trundle. As classic cars drove past on their way to the Goodwood Revival, assessors made a note of who had packed particularly carefully, and made sure those that needed an extra compass or water bottle were looked after. Routes were checked and starts were then staggered so as to make sure the groups were not tempted to mass together, before they headed off in different directions: east towards Graffam or west to Treyford.

There was no doubt that the participants had the weather was on their side, and navigation was considerably easier than on the practice expedition in the New Forest. That said, the West Sussex terrain presented the groups with different challenges, and many arrived in camp on Friday sore and exhausted from 400 metre climbs past fields of “full-grown lambs” and nosy herds of cows. After a glorious sunset, the full moon lit up the campsites making the night colder than expected and thus the tents were drenched in moisture on Saturday morning.

As the weekend bore on, it was clear that all 37 participants had personal challenges to meet. Some found the walking very tough, others had to manage their frustration with slower members of their group. Some had to share their food and kit, others to manage sore ankles and painful blisters. It was impressive to see groups leaving relatively early on their second day, and even earlier on the third, determined to get the bulk of the walking done in the morning. It was even more impressive to watch groups share out the load, so that all could complete the walk. All did and can hold their head high, having successfully completed this section of their Silver award.

A big thank you must go to Allen, David, Gordon and Rob for bringing wisdom, humour and years of experience to the trip. A thank you also to Duncan Selmes, who joined us from Dunhurst on Saturday afternoon, bringing more DofE expertise and enthusiasm to the team.