DofE 12: Brecon Beacons.

24°C, sunny with fair clouds, light breeze.

Back to the Beacons, with different groups this time; however, most I’ve met or taught before. Yes, it’s my old school DofE again. My job was to drive the Gold groups to their start location so they can walk to their first campsite in llanthony Priory.


12.0: Monday, The problems came fairly soon.. We were instructed to drop them off and then drive to the staff campsite; later, we would checkpoint the groups. A small problem pointed to a larger problem with this scheme. The idea of Practice is to practice the training and simulate the qualifying expedition. But their training was a year ago so they were practising a skill-set they had every reason to be rusty with. Instead of driving to the staff camp, I went to the gold’s first checkpoint it was only 2.8 km away over a ridge. Neither group showed up, not even after 2 1/2 hours. Something was wrong and I had no way to contact them, nor with base. No phone signal or shortwave radio reception in this valley. My anxiety level shot up; if something happened, it would be me that has to explain my decisions to the judge.

I decided to drive off and find better reception. I caught Group 1 over the radio who could relay messages to Group A over the ridge. Bothgroups had made mistakes in woodland. They’ve done this before. Remember when this group needed rescuing in the dark? Here they were again, going the wrong way in woodland, again.

I decided to drive back to base camp since I was out solo and worried. Was I carrying paperwork that the Silver groups needed etcetera. Going back felt wrong too, my instinct said that I can leave them but should have contact every two hours. I’ve brought 8 teenage girls well over 100 miles from their school and dropped them in a field unfamiliar to them. What if something happened? I tried the radio once more, then Aneeka’s voice! She gave a location, and she could relay messages from the other group on the hill that I could not directly hear. Contact!

Relieved but not satisfied, I drove away to base and the other staff. I raised my concerns around the theme that our duty of care is the same as for year 9s’. As a staff decision, my plan won the debate…

12.2 Tuesday: . So Today, I walked most of their stage to teach navigation to the higher Gold level carrying a list of skills to try out. My total walk time was just shy of 11 hours including the return walk. We covered many techniques, pacing, bearings, and others. At the north end, the ridges opened into a plateau so I left the groups at a trig point there to make their descents. One group took longer because their nav. decision required more reading of the contours. The other group chickened-out of cutting the corner over grassland, “what if we get lost?”. They seen nervous about walking on the compass. Eventually, they went from the trig-point.

Here, the second part of my day started. I picked one group’s route and followed it back to the minibus. I did discover some tricky navigation points such as woodland and a path that started in dense bracken. In an ideal world, we leaders would walk the kids’ routes beforehand. Thus, it turned into A Long Day; I got back to the bus at 21.15.

Look at that, 11,400 calories in one walk, one day. I didn’t even feel that tired. That means it was mostly fat burning rather than sugars.

Sitting in the grass were the Silver practice groups, they were in low spirits and looking rather shocked.. Exhaustion, blisters and excessive distance brought on by gross errors in nav.. Their mistakes had added 5km to their walk. Their instructor, in despair, moved them back in the minibus to resume the route on a correct course only to see them wander off in error again. What’s going on.

12.3, Wednesday, today’s route over the mountain meant there were fewer places to set up checkpoints. Still, I want contact every 2 hours, though a position fix by text will do. I didn’t get such a fix for over 4 restless hours. Faint female voices did echo around the valley in the humid, still air. Then the radio crackled and though unintelligible at first, the tone was enough to make voices recognisable.

I have a particular affinity with these groups; it was they who needed rescuing on Gradbach Woods a few years ago when they became benighted. I’ve posted about that day here years ago. Eventually, my colleague radioed to say they arrived at the minibus while I was patrolling the hill opposite looking for them. Actually, they were in good spirits, the new girl E in particular had taken control and pushed them on. What a fabulous kid, she had the most horrific looking blister but determination enough to press on regardless and kept spirits up amongst the others.

12.4, last day, a Thursday. Still roaring hot, we could see fires on one of the mountains. Today’s routes take them along hills to the south, limestone country. Qualifying exped will be in the Yorkshire Dales. Here is some taster of the ground they will encounter up north. Soldiers were on manouvers which was funny when one ran out in the road by us, looked at a footlath sign and ran away again. He carried a rifle daubed with fluorescent orange. It was the way he ran that looked comical.

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