The students gathered at Abergavenny Bus Station on a wet Monday afternoon ready to hop onto a coach to take them to their first campsite and to see the River Wye that they would getting to know well over the next few days.
Whitney-on-Wye is a tiny place nestled among rolling hills, and it stopped raining as we arrived to meet the DoE instructors, re-sort teams, allocate tents, stoves, and buy a new sleeping bag after a packing error. A hearty meal in the local pub and an early night ensured everyone was well rested before starting on their journey the next day.
As the mists cleared on Tuesday the students munched through steaming bowls of porridge and began a complicated game of ‘canoe jenga’. Everything they would need had to go into dry bags and then be packed into the canoes. Anything that didn’t fit was piled into the minibus but was off limits to the students from that point onwards.
The practice expedition had taken place on a canal which does not flow. The River Wey however – does. It has rocks, trees, mud banks, fishermen, reeds, bends and other river users, all of which needed some instruction. So the instructors travelled with them, imparting their vast knowledge of canoeing and of the river to the keen students. There was only one canoe that got stuck on a bank, which involved some wading and rounding up of belongings with much laughter, and some learning!
The day progressed paddling past big houses, beautiful orchards and peaceful fields of sheep. As the groups arrived they pitched their tents under the watchful eyes of cows. At the end of their first day everyone was pleased with their progress and had a better idea how the next few days might proceed as they had mastered several new skills and were beginning to feel like team mates.
Most groups sprung from their tents and having mastered canoe Jenga were off, paddling away with a sense of purpose early on Day 3 heading for Fownhope. Two members of staff had a chance to jump into a canoe, and used this time to check how the students were progressing and get some tips on steering! Each group has a project that they must complete during their trip, this could be making a song playlist, photographing wildlife, counting different bird species etc. The sun was shining and the wildlife spotting was going well. There were a lot of glimpses of Kingfishers but they don’t sit still for long. At the campsite they made friends with a nosey cat who travelled with his owner in a van.
On Day 4, there appeared to be a bit of a race on as to who would get to the next campsite first, so another early start from the students began their longest day. They paddled a marathon to end in the pretty town of Ross-on-Wye. They were beginning to get a bit tired at this stage, but we pointed out how far they had come and there was only one day to go. They had a meeting with their instructors to present their project, discuss the teams progress and answer a few questions. They all passed which meant they only had the final day to paddle and they had completed their Gold DoE!
The last day of paddling was hard. The rain was relentless, everything was wet BUT with rapids to negotiate, and seeing Netflick’s Sex Education filming locations, the students got their heads down and pushed through their last day. DofE Gold is meant to be a challenge, and the students rose to it with good humour and slightly sore arms. They helped each other in their teams and as a wider group, which was lovely to watch. We had to re-work the groups at the beginning of the week, and they just accepted each other with humour and kindness. Everyone pulled together and gave each other space when needed too.
From a staff point of view they were great to have as a DofE group, and they should be proud of their positive attitude and we wish them well in the future.
Biology Technician and DofE Leader
You don’t need to have completed your bronze or silver award to get involved.
Email Katherine Wright our DofE co-ordinator at KWright@esher.ac.uk