Many of our students don’t have a lot of experience with the outdoors and virtually none of them have experience of the outdoors on an English wet day but this was their chance to show they could handle all that Dartmoor could throw at them. And it did.
The DofE is the world’s leading youth achievement award, giving millions of 14 to 24-year-olds the opportunity to be the very best they can be.
There are three levels of programme you can do which, when successfully completed, lead to a Bronze, Silver or Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. The main differences between them are the minimum length of time they take to complete, how challenging they are and the minimum age you can start. One of the hardest stages of the award is the expedition stage. This involves students carrying out an expedition of up to four days which in most cases is a hiking expedition. They take part in groups of four but entirely on their own with only remote supervision.
This weekend was the first training session of the year and was for students who want to complete their silver expeditions before Christmas. Some have carried out expeditions and completed their awards at Bronze level but for many this was their first experience of a hike and camping.
We stayed at a bunkhouse near Ivy Bridge on Dartmoor National Park. Dartmoor National Park is a vast moorland in the county of Devon, in southwest England. Dartmoor ponies roam its craggy landscape, defined by forests, rivers, wetlands and tors (rock formations). Trails wind through valleys with Neolithic tombs, Bronze Age stone circles and abandoned medieval farmhouses. The area is dotted with villages, including Princetown, home to Dartmoor Prison used during the Napoleonic Wars.
We left for the moors straight after school on Friday and arrived just in time to get tents up and dinner cooked before the sun went down. After dinner we went into the bunk house to plan our routes for the following day and to go through some basic map reading skills and compass work before heading to our tents to get some sleep ready for a long days hiking.
Once we got our tents packed away and had our breakfast we left to make the climb up onto the moors. It was a slow climb and we passed through some fantastic old villages with early Victorian stone churches that make you feel like you have stepped back in time. Just to amplify this feeling we found ourselves confronted by a herd of sheep in the road being controlled by sheep dogs.
We continued to climb but just as the rain started to pour down so heavily that we almost immediately found ourselves soaking wet. Once the rain eased off we split into groups and made our way onto the moors on different routes meeting on the top to pitch our tents and to cook our lunch. We were then struck by an amazing sight. A group of about 10 Dartmoor ponies walked towards us before stopping to watch us eat.
Once we had refueled and warmed up we continued across the moors heading back to the bunkhouse. This was a hard trek and the weather threw everything at us. Mud, rain and wind all stood in our way, not to mention the sheep.
We had to find our own way in the mist and continue to keep our spirits up. But we faced the challenge and never complained because this is what it is all about. Taking it on and succeeding. Bring on the real expedition!