Laura has written this blog post about a recent gold DofE Training and practice expedition.
I have worked with Edward VI School from Birmingham for the past few years for Lupine Adventure. We train the all girl groups for two and a half days at Sconse Lane scout camp preparing them for a subsequent three day practice expedition through the Yorkshire Dales. The girls from the school are typically friendly, enthusiastic and intelligent and this time was no different. We had two groups at the camp working hard to prepare for their expeditions. Although the group I was working with weren’t very experienced, mostly direct entrants, what they lacked in experience they made up for with enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard.
We collected the girls from the train station at Shipley on Thursday lunch and ferried them to the scout camp.
Using the bunk house facilities for the next two and a half days we run through everything from navigation, using Ilkley Moor to practice, to packing, emergency procedures, looking at appropriate food to take and buying it from the local store for their expedition.
The girls also plan their practice and assessed expedition routes at the scout camp, so there is a lot to fit in over the two days.
On Sunday morning they were ready to set off over Ilkley Moor, their destination camping at Addingham Moorside. After a cloudy start the day brightened up and I met the group at the summit point on Ilkley Moor, just about to have a well earned lunch break. They were performing well and growing in confidence with their navigation. After another meeting point 4km from camp the group were in high spirits looking forward to arriving early. The last section of the route proved more challenging than anticipated, a long and testing ending, when you think you have arrived but there is field boundary after field boundary to cross. The group were just a little behind their planned arrival and feeling tired and slightly disheartened by the last part of the route. After putting the tents up stoves were quickly fired up and it wasn’t long until the team were tucking into pasta and sauce followed by Jamaica cake for dessert, feeling better about the day ahead.
The second day was beautiful and sunny with a slight, refreshing breeze, the group followed the river up through Bolton Abbey, enjoying the scenery and talking to some of the tourists who were asking them about their expedition. The second part of the day was more challenging, with a long, steady climb up onto Barden Fell and a fair distance round the moor before dropping down to Howarth Farm campsite.
The group were feeling relieved to be at camp and exhausted by the day, but after a quick collapse on the ground were soon back on their feet putting up their tents and cooking dinner.
A lovely evening with the sun lighting up the valley, allowing the farmers to work late, tractors busy in the fields, it wasn’t long until the group were tucked up in their tents ready for a 5am start. They wanted to get ahead of their route card to ensure they finished on time as they had a 4pm train to catch.
The team were ready to depart by 6:45am, motivation high to catch the train, but spirits a little low due to tiredness. They made good time on the first leg of the route walking along the river to Barden bridge, going at 4km an hour, before heading up to the Barden reservoirs.
After a slight detour the group made it to the top of Embsay moor where we had our final debrief for the expedition, the group noting their highlights, things they would do differently next time and reflecting on the past few days. It was mostly downhill then to the finish at Morrisons at Skipton to buy a well earned ice cream, before catching the train back to Birmingham.
A lovely group of girls who showed that despite lacking in experience by working together to keep morale high and persevering they could push themselves to complete the journey successfully and with good humour.
- DofE programmes for schools and youth groups
- International expeditions for schools and youth groups
- Programmes for individuals
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.
- DofE programmes for schools and youth groups
- International expeditions for schools and youth groups
- Programmes for individuals
We do quite a bit of work for the Red Rope on Navigation training and Mountain Skills courses. Recently they asked us to provide a day of winter skills training for some of them during a February club meet in the Cairngorms. They were particularly interested to receive some instruction on security of steep ground (how to safely utilise the crampons and ice axe). We met up at 8 am at their accommodation and after a briefing and discussion on efficient ways of moving as a group we headed off to the ski area on Cairngorm Mountain. The winds were high and as we walked into Coire an t-Sneachda I was concerned that the conditions weren't exactly conducive to learning; our plan was to go to the west flank of the Coire to practice movement skills on the steep ground there. However, due to the wind I decided to switch flank as there is a little knoll that I thought would offer some shelter, it turned out to be a good decision as while we were battered by the wind on the walk in we were completely sheltered for the training element of the day.
We spent the next hour or so going up and down the knoll utilising the crampons in different ways. It was the perfect location, there were a variety of gradients and depths of snow. We covered different stepping techniques and safe ways to walk in a group up a slope as well as ways to stop a slip turning into a slide by using the ice axe correctly. After we had completely churned up the snow on the slope with our repeated ascents we put it all into practice by climbing the slope that makes up the eastern edge of the coire slope to the 1141 spot height. On the way we had a brief stop to take a look at the snow pack and talk a little about the snow layers and avalanche risk. We even found a bit of an icy patch that those who wanted to could have a little climb on.
Once at the spot height we had a chat and rather than just go down they thought their lifts wouldn't mind them being a bit late so we continued up to the top of Cairn Gorm and then back down to the Ski Station.
If you would like to hire us for some winter skills training for you and / or your friends or your Mountaineering club then take a look at our winter skills training pages.
Two years ago I spent a great weekend with a guy called Cédric. Cédric had asked to be taken up Striding Edge on Helvellen in February (and thus winter conditions). We arranged to do Striding Edge on the Saturday and left Sunday open. We met up and tackled the Edge on the Saturday (I think that Cédric was a bit disappointed at how un-technical it was) and decided that rather than hunt snow to do some winter skills we would just go on a massive walk together the next day. So on the Sunday we walked up to Stickle Tarn from Langdale then on to Sergeant Man - High Raise - Greenup Edge - Greenup Gill - Langstrath - Stake Pass and back to Langdale. Cédric is a fantastic photographer (all photos on this page are his, though cropped and photoshopped my me) and I still have quite a few of his photos from that trip on my computer wallpaper. Anyway, the next year when he called up looking for some mountain adventures I was away on my winter holiday with friends so Siobhan stepped in and they managed to combine some more wintery adventures and some rock climbing above Langdale. But this isn't about previous years in the Lake district, this is about 2017 in the Cairngorms - this time with the rest of his family.
I met Cédric, his wife Laure and two daughters (aged 11 and 13) from the train at Aviemore station at about 11:30 on the Saturday Morning. After a briefing in a local cafe and a sorting out of crampons, ice axes and goggles we drove down to park up near Glenmore Lodge. We then shouldered our packs and started on our hike towards Strath Nethy. Our Day 2 objective was Bynack More so we tried to camp at the end of the North West ridge of Bynack Beg. Unfortunately we had a bit of trouble pitching on the heather, in the wind, so made a quick change of plan and crossed the river and with relief found some shelter behind a small spur about 500m away just as it was getting dark. There was still a lot of heather and it was a bit boggy at times but we had been mentally preparing for a long walk out again in the dark so it was very welcome.
After a peaceful night we got up, packed up and started the long walk up the hill to Bynack More. We started off in sunshine but by the time we got to the top the cloud had come in and we were down to about 20m of visibility. The wind had picked up so we continued on to the Barns of Bynack (some impressive lumps of granite about 700m from the top) and sheltered behind them for lunch. My lunch consisted of alternate mouthfuls of lumps of cheese and crushed Warburton thins; in contrast the family got out a stove and cooked up some soup with tofu chunks!! We then marched off to the South West for a couple of km on a bearing and down to the Refuge at the Fords of Avon for the second night.
The final day plan was to get up early and go over Cairngorm. The forecast was for light winds in the morning strengthening to 75 mph by dusk. We got up before dawn and felt that the winds were not light so decided that the weather front must have come in early so elected to walk out north along Allt Dearg. This turned out to be a good decision as the winds we experienced in that relatively low walk out were strong enough to make progress difficult and even blow the youngest participant over at one point.
We had a fantastic though challenging few days and the tenacity of the girls was more than impressive. We covered 36km in the 3 days and camped in temperatures well below 0 degrees.
If you are interested in a winter expedition or winter walking day then please take a look at our winter pages
I’m going to let you into a secret…the Picos de Europa is the most amazing mountain range in Europe. Forget the Alps, forget the Pyrenees, forget the Carpathians, and book a trip to the Picos de Europa. I first visited the Picos over 10 years ago. Travelling with a group of friends we wild camped, trekked through amazing forests of oak, pine and beech and generally marvelled at the limestone peaks. After that first short visit I have returned regularly on a mix of personal, university and DofE expeditions.
Situated on the north coast of Spain the Picos de Europa national park covers an area of 646 km2. The park is divided into three limestone massifs; eastern, central and western. The central massif contains the highest peak Torre de Cerredo 2650 m and is divided from the western massif by the Cares Gorge. If high limestone mountains and deep gorges are not enough to draw you to the Picos the flora and fauna is unlike anything we have in the UK. There are bears, wolves, wild boar, wild cats, vultures and a diversity and abundance of wild flowers that is mind blowing.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Picos twice in 2016 in May and in October. In late 2015 Bedford Modern School had asked Lupine Adventure to put together a Gold DofE expedition to the Picos. After meeting the group and supporting them in their route planning I headed out in May to check campsites, walk their planned route and complete the expedition specific risk assessment. I based myself at Camping La Viorna on the edge of the town of Potes. A great campsite with modern clean facilities, friendly staff and good cheap food and wine I would totally recommend this campsite as a base for a visit to the Picos.
View from the campsite at Potes
In October I travelled down to Bedford and joined the students and staff travelling to the Picos. We drove down to Portsmouth early on Saturday morning and boarded the ferry to Santander. The ferry journey allowed lots of time getting to know the students and staff from Bedford and lots of relaxation time as well. We arrived in Santander on a Sunday morning and drove 100 km along the coast and up into the mountains and arrived at our campsite in Potes. In anticipation of the fact that supermarkets are generally closed on Sunday in Spain we had brought from Bedford Tesco food for our first evening meal. Utilising all our Trangias we cooked a feast of rice, mixed fresh vegetables, Quorn ‘chicken’ in Chinese style sauces. That’s the great thing about Trangias, you are not limited to boil in the bag style meals…you can actually cook proper food.
Monday was an acclimatisation day spent food shopping (Potes has amazing local cheese), discussing emergency procedures, acquainting the group with their Spot beacon and re-familiarising the group with the 1:40000 scale maps of the area. Over the subsequent four days from Tuesday to Friday the group from Bedford Modern worked hard and totally earned their Gold DofE awards.
Starting at Cosgaya the group trekked north-west along forest tracks and camped at Refuge El Redondo in Fuente De. From El Redondo (which is another campsite that I would totally recommend) they headed west over the mountains to Santa Marina de Valdeon. One of the things that most impressed me about this group was that at lunchtime they asked if it was ok to summit an adjacent peak before continuing on with their planned route. They worked out that it would take an additional hour to summit and return to their lunch spot. I approved this and supervised them as they summited Alto de la Triguera 1890 m. After a night wild camping on the edge of a forest the group headed north along the Rio Cares and down through the magnificent Cares gorge. Another night of wild camping followed before the group faced their final day and biggest uphill push. From the Cares gorge the headed north-west and up into Vega Maor where they stopped for lunch. Transhumance agriculture is still practiced in the Picos and Vega Maor is an upland pasture that is used for grazing cattle and goats during the summer months. From Vega Maor they continued west and finished their expedition at Lago de la Ercina.
After spending the Friday night at a campsite near Covadonga we drove to the beautiful coastal town of Sant Vincente de la Barquera. A nice walk on the beach and a seafood lunch followed before we drove back into Santander and caught the ferry back to the UK. Safely back in Bedford a team of happy but tired students were collected by parents and I had one last cup of coffee before heading back up the M1 to Leeds.
If you are wondering where to do a gold DofE in Europe, we think that the Picos de Europa wins hands down.
For more information on our European Gold DofE expeditions please visit our International DofE pages.
I was really pleased to get this book for my birthday, recently. It’s a sort of outdoorsers’ travel guide to Lupine’s backyard, in the Three Peaks area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s a place we often find ourselves privileged to inhabit in our work and play.
It’s mainly written in two “books”. First comes the Up, explorations above ground, and then the Under, ventures below ground into some of the district’s more accessible caves. The premise is that, while the area draws its crowds to the summits of Ingleborough (the author’s particular favourite), Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent, there is much delight to be had in venturing off the beaten track to discover its lesser known places.
Before getting to the main events however, the author underpins the text by explaining the geological processes that have formed this limestone region. I found it gave a really good “potted history”. Just enough to support the text, reinforce the understandings I already had and add a little detail without being dry or overly technical. Indeed, the book is dotted with personal observations and anecdotes which communicate an enthusiasm (verging on obsession) which I found really engaging. The hand of the primary headteacher and exuberant dad is strongly evident. Occasionally the text seems a little “folksy”. The summits in one chapter are characterised as contestants in a beauty pageant - Penny, Ingle and Whernie. I guess some, perhaps younger, readers might enjoy this playful conceit (it didn’t bother me) and it’s an entirely accessible book for an adventurous and literate teenager.
Both the Up and Under sections are presented as a number of Adventures with practical details, grid references and directions supplied, such that it is possible (with the aid of a map and a little planning) to follow these itineraries for oneself. The advice on equipment is sound and useful, especially for novice hillwalkers and those considering venturing underground for the first time.
The Adventures provide quite a thorough exploration of the area uncovering some gems of landscape and natural and social history along the way. Some really stunning locations are included. A Three Peaks Up and Under would be useful to any questing soul planning to make repeated visits to the area or advising others where to go “off the beaten track”. With this in mind I’ll be using it to inform my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and other expedition work in the area and sharing the routes and stories with my own kids.
•A Three Peaks Up and Under is available, direct from Scratching Shed Publishing, via our Kit and Bookshop page.
• The author maintains an informative and entertaining blog at – www.oldfieldslimestone.blogspot.co.uk
If you would like to take part in a Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge event in a group or on your own, please take a look at our Yorkshire 3 peaks pages
Each year we work for South London School in Snowdonia. They have a 3 year rolling programme to complete their Gold DofE expedition section.
- Year 1 Training
- Year 2 Practice expedition
- Year 3 Assessed expedition
Each year the whole group comes up and carries out their 5 day programme. This year, for the first time, we put all the training group through the Mountain Skills course as part of their training. We had 2 groups on training this year and decided to run the Mountain Skills course in the first 2 days of the programme before setting out on a 3 day training expedition involving a wild camp above Pen-Y-Pass.
On day 1 we did much of the navigation part of the Syllabus from Capel Curig making our way up to Crimpiau via Clogwyn-mawr. We had fine views from the top to the North East over Llyn Crafnant Reservoir. Our decent was an ambitious drop off the edge down steep heathery slopes.
Day 2 took us up Moel Siabod via the South East Ridge. This meant we could cover steep ground really well and as they were an 'up for it' group it meant that we could take the sporting line for the entire ridge. As we approached the top I learnt that a group can download an app on their phones which then links the phones via bluetooth that means that all phones play the same music chosen by one of the group. The group learnt (after I got over the wow that is so cool factor) that I don't appreciate groups listening to music in the mountains.
The 3 day expedition started at Capel Curig headed west to Little Tryfan then over the Miner Track and down to Llyn Cwmffynnon for the night. This meant there was a big hill to climb with low cloud and a strong south wind to welcome us when we got to the top. It was my first time over the Miner's track and the low cloud and the lack of a track on the ground meant that their navigation and in particular relocation training from the previous few days was put to the test. After a water stop on the way down we found our camping spot and I managed to find somewhere a little way away from the group with awesome views but with a bit of a slope on it.
After a wet and windy night and morning, day 2 of the expedition took us over Snowdon. and despite having been up Snowdon in excess of 20 times this was the first time I've seen the trains running while on the mountain (I'm normally that way either in Winter or on a Welsh 3000's challenge at about 6am). We camped the night in Llanberis and did a treasure hunt / wide game / navigation type activity in the areas around Llanberis on the last day.
It was great to have a group for 5 days and the Mountain Skills syllabus fitted beautifully into their training package. Looking forward to meeting them next year for their practice expedition.