Each year, after their school exams, all of Shrewsbury School’s Year 9 pupils undertake a 6 day program of various activities. 3 days are spent doing activities based out of school, but often going off site. This year included an activities day at Nesscliffe Training Camp, a conservation day with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and a leadership day. For the remaining 3 days, the school provides those pupils that have successfully completed the appropriate training an the opportunity to complete a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh qualifying expedition. Those that have either not completed the training, or are not interested in doing the expedition, do a variety of outdoor activities including rock climbing, abseiling and mountain biking.
I, along with a number of other instructors, have spent the last 6 days assessing 2 lots of qualifying Bronze DofE expeditions based out of Brow Farm campsite in Ratlinghope in the Shropshire Hills. The week was split into 2 three day blocks (Sunday-Tuesday and Wednesday-Friday) with the same program repeating each time.
Day 1 gave us the chance to meet the groups we were assessing for the first time, and to undergo a thorough kit check. It’s always a bit late when you discover you left the tent poles behind once you arrive at the campsite – and yes, I’ve seen this happen! After a quick chat about what to expect from the 3 days, a reminder about the principles of the DofE expedition and a discussion about food selection, it was time to go shopping for their exped food. It’s always entertaining to watch a bunch of 14 year old boys food shopping but, on the whole, they chose wisely.
Once we’d arrived at Brow Farm campsite, it was time to head out onto the Shropshire Hills for a couple of hours just to brush up on some of those navigational skills, check that rucksacks were alright and talk about a few things such as emergency procedures. Really, the purpose of this walk was to satisfy me that they were sufficiently trained and ready to embark on the unaccompanied expedition. Back at the tents, if was time to review safe use of stoves and fuel and to have a thorough look at route cards before getting a decent night’s sleep.
Days 2 and 3 were much more hands off for me, as the groups headed off on their own. To me, this is what Duke of Edinburgh expeditions are all about – a group of young people, who have been suitably trained and prepared, spending time together, taking responsibility for themselves, making their own decisions, working through highs and lows without someone like me doing if for them. Many find the whole experience quite liberating and discover things about themselves and their friends that they would never have found out otherwise. Having access to a car, a mountain bike, the group’s route card and a pair of binoculars meant that I was easily able to get around the countryside and check on their progress without interfering.
Both groups that I worked with during the week were a real pleasure. They experienced ups and downs, all brought different qualities and skills to their teams but both managed to pull together to successfully complete their respective expeditions. So thank you guys for making it such a great week for me. I would also like to say a big thank you to the owners of the field in Smethcott that my groups used for the actual expedition night, who were extremely accommodating and generous. Also, as always, the Shrewsbury School staff looked after all us instructors extremely well – a real treat.