DofE 8.0, New Forest.

22°C, bright summer’s day.

Time spend getting the coordinates right in the satnav paid off with an easy journey to camp. The roads were very good in contrast to yesterday.

Unfortunately, I had to pay for a pod at the campsite because the fields are full. Better than faffing with a tent after a very long drive (280 miles). These pods are actually quite good and I slept well.

8.1: met my group in heathland in the New Forest. It took quite a while we got the fit of their packs right before we could make our way. This first day is training where I walk with this one group. They quickly showed themselves to be capable navigators who set a reasonable pace without undue breaks. Heathside has done it again, lovely kids, very able, optimistic and articulate. There was time for interesting rambling conversatios. They were full of questions in the process of getting to know their leader. What a tall group too.

Although this is mostly mixed forest and heath, it’s quite low lying here. The high points are only about 50m amsl.

The New Forest is famous for wild ponies. They are everywhere, even in villages. They often force traffic to slow down or stop and wait for their sleepy road crossing. It’s suit common here to squeeze part ponies to get into a shop in the high street. In this weather, the horses are sleepy and slow. They stick together and look after their lanky foals.

8.2: All groups are walking by themselves today. We will checkpoint them frequently and resupply water stocks. Today, monday is due to be warmer than day 1. Although it peaked at 24°C, it felt far warmer because the sunshine was strong and the wind, light. My ‘NEAR’ group continued to be delighful. They actually said I was ‘the best leader they’d had’, that includes their bronze last year expeditions. How wonderful it is to hear such things.

Groups like NEAR, make you feel like an excellent instructor. They draw so much out of you, we covered masses of material and all of them responded eagerly. One of the best things to hear when you meet a group is : “we’re so glad to see you”. For NEAR, it was only becaue it confirmed their navigation. The horses caused them to divert off the planned route under a railway bridge. In the heat, horses would gather under bridges to avoid full sun.

In the evening, we did some route planning once tents were up. Hard dry soil led to some bent tent pegs.

There’s one in this group who can fix you with a look. All of them are quick witted, but this one. She has piercing blue eyes. Eyes so piercing that if she were to stare hard at the TV, it might change channel (I think).

Btw, I can hear a woodpecker in the distance, such is the stillness of this evening. The sun is low but is has another hour to reach the real horizon.

8.3, last day, a Tuesday.

More forestry and heathland today. Early on, I warned them about adders. They may still be basking in the morning run. It’s an excuse to cover what their response should be. None of us saw any snakes, let alone adders. It can’t harm give give a warning with an avoidance tactic.

At tbe end, they regretted not being drawn (I’m so rusty and besides, we’re not allowed to photograph them so the same rule must apply, surely?). They wanted to write me a refernce too, please don’t although I appreciate the kind gesture.

I returned home, on the log drive thinking these days over. Bath looked beaitiful in the orange evening sun. The towns peaked at 30°C and I felt nostalgia for the years I lived in Bristol.

Chris was at the sevice station at Gloucester. He caught me drawing in my A5 sketcbook.

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