“Epic journey – very cool.” That was how one member of the 11 teams out in the Pentlands on the weekends of 17 and 24 April and 1 May described their DofE expedition. “Amazing”, “Good fun”, “Really enjoyed it” were other typical comments.
Poignantly, 17 April was the date of the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, who set up the Award over 60 years ago. To mark this, the groups carried a picture of Prince Philip and took photos of themselves with it at suitable points during their hike. Explorers and leaders also joined the minute’s silence at 3 pm. This was, however, in the spirit of celebrating what had been achieved by the late founder, and in no way detracted from the experience of today’s participants, some of them born 85 years after him.
When asked to identify the highlights, many referred to the beautiful weather and to the scenery: landscapes, mountains and reservoirs – “I didn’t know there were so many!” Wildlife was often mentioned: newts, ducks, a kestrel, three deer, even woodpigeons, were new and exciting. Farm animals also featured: “It was cool seeing the cows.”
The highlights included some very personal insights:
- “Walking away from home and phone”
- “Being able to pick out North Berwick Law”
- “Being on Allermuir, which Mum sees with binoculars from home”
- “Hearing everything – birds, rivers, sheep …”
- “Getting a different perspective”
There were things like blisters which could only be regarded positively by adding them to the list of lessons learned, which also contained map and compass skills, adjusting rucksacks properly, and cooking – it was pleasing to note that the Explorer whose stove ignited with a pretty loud bang on day 1 managed to avoid that on day 2.
Even the problems were usually approached philosophically or with humour:
- “There were lots of uphill.”
- “The worst thing was ‘The Pain’.”
- “The best bit was the rests.” (Perhaps because their pack weighed 15 kg?)
- Another, disappointed that they could not camp overnight, decided to have a campfire in the garden, instead.
- “We learned to check the navigation before we started to walk.”
The leaders were very impressed by the Explorers. The groups often came from two or three different Units and, unusually (because of Covid), had a range of ages from 14 to 17. Some found it easier than others, but by the second day all knew how to cooperate as a team, and one commented “We learned mutual respect.” There were some excellent examples of groups providing support where it was needed, in the best traditions of DofE and of Scouting.
In different ways, the Explorers all felt a sense of achievement:
- “At the end it felt like I had accomplished something.”
- “It felt very gratifying once we had finished.”
- “I haven’t had a proper walk for ages.”
The three weekends, under the extremely competent leadership of Steven McIntyre, Fraser Dunmore and David Ingram respectively, were made possible by the efforts of a very large team of adults from across the Region as part of the even bigger SEEE group of leaders and other adults who have been cooperating to provide the training, organisation and support required for our expeditions – hillwalking, biking and paddling (see separate report). The Explorers excelled themselves, the adults really enjoyed working together again, and everyone relished being outside in glorious weather.
Bronze done, Silver and Gold in preparation, for an expedition season we could not be sure would happen. Well done, Explorers, and many thanks to everyone who has been helping.
John Buchanan, Simon Cocker, David Newton – for the SEEE team
List of leaders involved on weekends (not including the many who helped with training online and locally)
In April, our inaugural Silver and Gold DofE paddlers undertook their two-day Practice Expeditions, journeying 30km from the centre of Edinburgh to the District boundary and back, giving them the opportunity to check their pace, use route plans, cook on expedition, experience doing project activity and work as a team, all in preparation towards their Qualifying Expeditions. On each of their Expeditions, the teams commemorated the passing of HRH Prince Philip, acknowledging the poignancy of the occasion but celebrating the legacy that is The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.
As our first group of fifteen Silver and Gold paddlers head towards the finishing line for their Expeditions in the coming weeks, we’re also delighted to have started the practical training for our next group of Explorers from across the Region who’ve chosen to undertake their Award expeditions on the water. With thirty-nine new paddlers across Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, interest continues to grow in our water-based expeditions that provide a different challenge and opportunity to learn new skills in a teamworking environment.