Silver DofE Practice Expedition, New Forest

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

The Silver Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Practice Expedition, held over three days in the New Forest last weekend, was the perfect place for Block 4 participants to learn how to navigate properly, some for the first time. The challenges of the forest – paths are not clearly sign posted and blend into other paths or trail off unto thick undergrowth or fenced enclosures – meant that groups quickly learnt the importance of the compass and trying to keep to a bearing.

On day one, each group walked with a member of staff, who expounded navigation knowledge and important aspects of the country code that cannot be gleaned in the classroom. Group 5 walked with Harrison and felt inspired to write a song about their day: he has a shout out in the song. The tail end of Storm Hannah meant that strong winds made putting up tents extremely challenging on Friday night; groups learnt quickly the value in pegging down the tent before putting in the poles. This stops the tent turning into an aerodynamic kite that might fly away! Group 2 piled into tents after dark, to play cards, keep warm and wonder who might blow away. Thankfully, no one did.

It was a noisy night, but many were worn out and slept regardless. On day two, the weather was kinder. Light showers meant that people got to try out their waterproofs and were glad that rucksacks had outer covers or that they had wrapped their clothes inside dry bags. Navigation remained challenging, and the GPS trackers carried by each group, revealed that many were not on their planned route, and some groups were walking with another group. Like winged-Hermes, staff whizzed through the forest on their bikes to find groups, separate them, reroute them and occasionally lift morale with squares of chocolate. By the afternoon, all groups were walking their correct routes; Group 3 arrived into camp ahead of time and Group 1 must be commended for not sort-cutting at all. On Saturday night in camp there was a very relaxed mood with evening sunshine to enjoy and more than half of the expedition completed.

On Day 3, all groups were out by 9am and although tired and aching, spirits were high. Indeed, everyone completed the expedition and went home with blisters, but nothing more serious. Group 4 enjoyed a rest break at the Reptile Centre, and managed to resist the temptation to visit Acre Down farm shop. It must be noted that food was at a shortage. Some participants had not packed proper lunches, and relied heavily on snack-bars and kindly teachers with spare toast or carrots in their bags, and some did not have enough food to fill them up in the evenings after seven or more hours walking. It is expected that mistakes will be made on the practice, so that they won’t occur on the qualifying expedition to the South Downs in September.

A big thank you to Paul for organising such a successful event, and to Fiona, Rob, Harrison and Allen for giving up time to share their knowledge and experience with Block 4.