July 11, 2018

DofE Silver Qualifying Expeditions (Canoeing and Walking)

21-24 June 2018

Two three day DofE Silver expeditions took place over last month. Eleven canoeists and Mr Drax paddled down the River Tweed from Melrose to Berwick-upon-Tweed, while Mr Thompson helped Rob O’Connor to supervise one team of four walkers aka The Beatles over 55 kilometres of Cumbrian mountains. The fifteen boys were assessed on their campcraft, navigation, teamwork and specialist skills like canoeing. Heat affected the walkers more although one or two canoeists also felt the challenges of the summer weather.

Every canoeist except Noah C and Freddie F fell in or allowed large waves to swamp their boat. Some sitting in the front of the boat earned the nickname ‘Batman’ for missing large rocks standing like tombstones in the river which then collided with the boat. Fortunately the sturdy canoes coped with the punishment. All kit was stowed in watertight barrels tied to the boat, so no one slept in a wet sleeping bag. Beautiful birds lined their route to the sea – dogfighting Sand martins, sphinx like Herons fishing on the bank, a Peregrine falcon perched on a crag, an otter at Coldstream, screeching oystercatchers and the odd shag or cormorant, and finally hundreds of swans not far from the sea. Sadly the hunting barn owl did not reappear above the second wild camp opposite Norham Castle. All eleven boys made it to the finish at Berwick.

The fab4 walkers suffered in the intense heat and took hours to reach the first and second camp but they set off at 6.00am on the last day in an attempt to reach the finish in time for the football match. 500m is a big climb in normal temperatures and the relentless hot weather drained their energy. They persevered without complaint, like they did when the Beast from the East shuddered into their tents in Swaledale on the practice expedition last March. Rob said: I was particularly impressed with their resilience as they never looked like quitting even when they were working really hard.

All 15 boys passed their Expedition section and now have only to complete the other three sections – volunteering, skills and physical – in order to gain their DofE Silver Award. Several who are planning to start their Gold Award next year have just heard that participants may have a walking or a canoeing expedition option for the first time Autumn 2019. Many thanks to Mountain leader Rob O’Connor, the Silver walking assessor Vicky Armstrong, to the two intrepid canoe instructors Kirstie Macmillan and Tom Thomas as well as their legendary captain Martin Simpson, and finally to Messrs Drax and Thompson.