Silver Expedition: The Forest of Dean, Uno Night, Tawny Owls, Bridges and Adventure
Thank you to Laura C, Year 10, Frank House, for her Silver DofE diary entry
Memories of the practice expedition circling in our heads, one intrepid group of year 10s and 11s in an assortment of sun hats and weighed down by their 65 litre bags assembled on a clear July morning to embark on a scorching hot weekend of camping, navigating, laughter, tears, and most of all, walking… a very long way!
Packing in my team was just as interesting as last time. Anna had stripped down to the bare essentials, Kady brought the fluffiest jumper imaginable, Eleanor had brought a Rubik’s cube and Emily had brought what can only be described as a small taser for any insects who might bite. We were all set for the trip!
After a short coach journey, we reached our expedition location, the Forest of Dean. Notoriously difficult to navigate and notoriously difficult to achieve phone signal in an emergency, the Forest was naturally the perfect place for our expedition, especially given that we had our practice just under four months before! Inevitably, all teams got lost pretty quickly- our navigation skills really were not up to scratch! Already one member down (Vic had sprained her ankle only the night before), our team powered onwards, attempting to conquer the twists and hairpin bends of the woodland cycle paths, before hitting the first checkpoint at lunchtime.
The afternoon was slightly less successful, mostly down to my poor map reading (which thankfully improved across the days!) Wandering off the footpath, we climbed a sheep covered and extremely steep hill, ending up in a village several kilometres from where we were supposed to be; it was a relief to finally find the checkpoint! Our next mistake came when we walked full circle through a wood only to end up back at the checkpoint where we started out! Huge credit goes to all my team who somehow stayed calm and by some miracle found our campsite!
Camp gave us a chance to talk to the other teams about their experience that day and to cook, set up tents and chill a little with everyone. We had a lengthy but informative briefing from our head instructor Tony, in which we heard about other team’s encounters, such as with a horse called Craig, and one team received Top Banana for getting lost at the very start but persisting to the end. Another team earned Windmill Wally for turning up at the wrong campsite! It was a 20-minute scramble to get ready for bed but we enjoyed watching the sunset turn pink and orange in the dusky clouds over the distant forest. We fell asleep (after lots of tossing and turning in the heat) to the cries of tawny owls and eavesdropping on the conversation from the boys’ tents- I wouldn’t be surprised if you could hear them all the way from Cheltenham!
Our team had the earliest start, getting up at 4:30, but it was lovely to have the place to ourselves as we ate breakfast and got ready to start walking at 7. We made a stupid error early on and followed the wrong path through the woods to the River Wye, just across from our campsite for the night, the same one the other team accidentally went to the day before, earning us Windmill Wally! We repeatedly got lost until we reached the first checkpoint an hour behind everyone else after walking along an extremely noisy major road. Luckily, wonderful assessor and instructor Steve got us back on our feet (literally and figuratively) and we caught up quite quickly. We suffered the heat on an uphill climb along Offa’s Dyke National Trail, giving me the perfect opportunity to launch into history-lecture-mode about Anglo-Saxon king Offa in a vain attempt to cheer up my team, and the perfect opportunity for us to venture a little into Wales. Many water breaks later, we were greeted by a stunning view of Monmouth and the Welsh Mountains at the top of the hill which I will never forget.
I won’t lie, the rest of the journey was tough. All of our team were tired, hot and in need of a well-earned rest, and we suffered not only one but two injuries. I tried to stay positive and we followed the river for what seemed like years. Several kilometres later, we staggered into camp, Eleanor carrying Kady’s pack as well as her own and Anna and me carrying Emily’s pack between us like a stretcher. My arms were shaking and we were all exhausted (except maybe Eleanor, who never lost energy over all three days) but we were given ice cream and Top Banana that evening (the only team to have earned both Windmill Wally and Top Banana on the same day!) It was a hard day for all - one team had a scare when they split in half and lost each other- so getting to the campsite felt like a major achievement.
We had more time on the second evening to relax. I was lucky enough to watch an enthusiastic pom-pom dance from one of the other teams and, much to everyone’s delight, came the return of a Silver D of E tradition: Uno night! The games had their usual fun, craziness, extreme competition and laughter and it was wonderful to spend time as a whole group, not just within our teams. Everyone fell asleep far more easily that night- it felt so good after such a long day!
With the end in sight, spirits were high in the team on day three. After another early rise, we crossed a somewhat wobbly but very impressive bridge over the river and set off on our final day. Our route was shorter, which meant we could take it quite slowly, and we’d (finally!) got the hang of navigating- I even started to teach Anna and test her on her skills. We figured out the best way to stay cheerful was to talk about quite a wide range of topics and a few of us would occasionally burst into song – passers-by may have heard Olivia Rodrigo, Bastille, a detailed rendition of Hamilton and a particularly long version of There’s A Hole in My Bucket Dear Liza! We followed the river for most of the journey and we resisted the urge to cool off our blistered feet in the water!
Our final checkpoint before the very end was in an idyllic field of wheat under a deep blue sky of whispy clouds. We met Mrs McCormack, Mr Evans and our lovely assessor Amanda to give our presentation on wildlife (each team had an aim which they had to work on over the expedition and talk about to their assessor on the final day). We had a really good conversation on all that we had achieved individually and as a team, ready to be assessed on and round off our Silver Award. It boosted us for the last leg of the journey, which we completed with ease.
We finished at Goodrich Castle car park, where we met all the other teams and flopped under the shade, eating ice cream, enjoying each other’s company and reflecting on our journey. We also signed a special card for Tony, our instructor who had been with us since the practice expedition; he had to leave early as he became too emotional when we gave it to him. We took some group photos before the coach arrived. With a tinge of sadness but a strong feeling of pride and satisfaction, we headed home.
From stepping off the coach on the practice expedition, to arriving at the finishing point of the real thing, nothing about Silver DofE has been easy. We have gone through some of the toughest and ecstatic moments and have made memories that will last forever. I am immensely proud of myself, my team and the whole group - hopefully, lots of us will be completing our Gold Award in a few years’ time! On a personal level, it has given me new skills and confidence; I’ve done things I thought I’d never do and it’s left me feeling satisfied, rewarded and with quite a number of blisters and bruises! We’ve conquered Silver Duke of Edinburgh… now bring on the next challenge!