20 Apr 2016
Bronze D of E Practice Expedition

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On the 16th of April 2016, a rather uninspiring and particularly gloomy Saturday morning, 16 girls, three teachers and a lot of extremely heavy rucksacks (packed with all the essentials- cheese strings, fluffy socks and twenty different thermal layers) gathered at eight thirty in the car park of West Pennard’s village hall. After a lot of bag re-packing, snack exchanging and goodbyes to parents, the three Bronze Duke of Edinburgh groups were ready to set off on their practice expedition around South Somerset. The hills of Castle Cary loomed in the distance as my group set off, rambling down the country lanes talking about how energetic and ready we felt (we were so naïve).

Our first challenge came when we realised there was an extortionate amount of farms on our route, and not one was the one we were looking for. After strolling into a barn of calving mother cows, and then settling down on a few bales of hay, a slightly miffed farmer came around the corner and informed us that in fact this was not a footpath, and not the farm we were looking for. After giving us directions and sending us swiftly on our way, we realised we might have to be a little more observant.

Later on, we enjoyed our first snack break of the trip, which consisted of everyone bringing out every single item of food that they had and others trying to trade some carrot sticks for a brownie bar, which, sadly, wasn’t as successful as said person hoped it would be. One of the particular highlights of our first day was when we were ambling along a certain ‘Soloman’s Lane’ (which the map did warn us in advance was a ‘track’) marvelling at how lucky we had been that day - weather had been mild, and we weren’t yet too tired. That was, until, we came across the coldest, muddiest and murkiest lakes of water I had ever seen… and there was no way around them. We tried to edge around, grasping desperately at brambles and thorns - I have the battle scars to prove it - until we gave up, plunging into the foreboding abyss. The water seeped into our boots, as we ran (as fast as I had ever ran I might add!) to the other side. We had three more of these swamps to get to, and by the end, the mood wasn’t as jovial as it had been ten minutes ago.

We finally reached the campsite - a pretty little field with some unfortunate other campers who were going to have to listen to the antics of tired, grumpy teenage girls all night. Our group successfully cooked a pan of pasta, which was a surprise to all of us. After an evening of putting on more and more layers as the temperatures dropped, and trying desperately to enjoy the game of cards we were playing as your hands were slowly turning blue, we decided to call it a night. Little did I know it was to be the coldest night of my life! I had innocently packed a summer sleeping bag, and ended up wearing every layer I had packed including my waterproof coat and four pairs of socks (three for my feet and one for my hands), and I still watched the clock as the hours traipsed by and my body temperature dropped lower and lower.

At long last the morning was upon us and I zipped open the tent, ice crystallising the thin fabric and the chill of the morning air hitting me like never before. The campsite packed up, and while having a slight disagreement in my group about who actually had the tent peg bag, we were on our way promptly at nine thirty, with a stomach full of beans and renewed hope that today just might be a little better. It was actually a much more successful day, and we were left with time to marvel at the phenomenon of filtered cow troughs, and a cap with an inbuilt torch. In fact, we were an hour and a half ahead of time.

Our first D of E expedition was not an experience I will ever forget, and we formed lifelong connections - and blisters! Eloise Thorne, Senior 4