Silver DofE Practice Expedition in the New Forest

Walking in woods

Last week I went to The New Forest for the first time since I was about 5 years old. I wasn’t alone but with 52 young people from a London school and 7 other Mountain Leaders. We were there to undertake a practice expedition for the Silver Duke of Edinburgh’s award. While it was my first time working in the New Forest quite a few of the other ML’s had worked there on a number of occasions so we had a fair bit of experience in the area. The plan was to set up tents and go over stove safety as soon as the participants arrived and then go for a navigational refresher walk.

We had decided that on this walk we would really focus on taking bearings and measuring distance as we identified these as the most important hard skills when navigating in the forest. My group lapped it up. I don’t know if they were just a very good group or if there was something else involved. Maybe the forest environment with its lack of visible features (visual distractions) helps with the teaching of navigation, maybe it forces the learner to concentrate on what is close by which is much more useful than looking at things in the distance? This is something I am going to investigate further with groups in the future. After a few hours of navigation refresher we did a kit check, ate and then there was free time before bed.

The next day we all set off on the practice expedition. My heart sank as all 8 groups seemed to be ready at pretty much the same time, I thought that we’d have groups following each other all day, however the number of different paths available meant that after the first 200m we were all on our own differing routes. The forest was great, with deer, ponies, squirrels, woodpeckers, baby foxes all seen by groups during the day. My group’s route went past a reptile centre so I took the opportunity to take a look at some lizards (and a Goshawk nest cam!). I had been warned about lots of muddy paths and bog trotting in the New Forest but it had been dry for a few weeks so the mud that I was expecting didn’t materialise. My group continued to perform well so by mid-morning I was hanging back and just letting them get on with it. By mid-afternoon I had decided to leave them completely and arranged to meet them further along their route by the end.

We had arranged with the forestry commission that we would have all 8 groups wild camping (on 4 different sites) so we filled up with water at a pub close to the end of our route and headed off to the campsite. It was wonderful. I absolutely loved the wild camp. It has been a couple of years since I wild camped with a DofE group and I have never done so outside of a mountain environment. It was so quiet, relaxed and serene. It made the experience so different to being on a commercial camp site. Obviously the participants weren’t too impressed with the toilet arrangements but I would like to think they will look back fondly on it. We were treated to a cloudless night and a BIG red full moon.

The next day we got up and continued with the expedition with the group being remotely supervised the whole way. Yes, they got a bit lost on a few occasions but the navigation was hard. We have this group back in July in the White Peak and I expect they will find their assessment a doddle.

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