Duke of Edinburgh season is now in full swing.
Many young people are taking part in practice camping weekends, during which they’ll gain valuable skills and knowledge ready for assessment in a few months.
I’m lucky enough to be part of the teaching staff for all three levels of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, (Bronze, Silver and Gold). It’s a long-term commitment for the young people involved, and not just with outdoor skills alone. They also have to complete a personal skill section, a volunteer section and a physical section, all over different periods of time dependant upon whatever level they may be at. This, for many young people, is in addition to school work and other extra-curricula activities.
The Duke of Edinburgh Award is available to all young people and I have been able to work with many young people, from a very diverse range of backgrounds and abilities. I think it’s a very positive and wonderful experience for any young person to be able to take part in.
These thoughts were confirmed, recently, as we had the wettest and utterly miserable weekend, while camping in preparation for a Bronze expedition. All through the week leading up to the “off”, I kept checking the weather reports for the Gower area. I kept praying and hoping that those dark clouds full of rain would disappear and we would see those lovely weather-chart images of bright sunshine, or a half-hidden sun, or maybe just a white cloud………..?
…. but they never changed.
When we all gathered, very early on the Saturday morning, the weather was OK with a clear sky. We held our breaths and didn’t mention the R**N word, so as not to bring a curse upon ourselves. However, as we started to pack the mini-buses, the rain came. It didn’t spot, or pitter-patter at first…… it just arrived in force, and that was pretty much that, until Sunday morning.
It either rained in heavy downpours, or continuous fine-mist, or somewher in between the two, (which was also very cold), so it was impossible to get dry, be dry or stay dry, all day.
I was lucky. I only had to walk to three checkpoints, and so I was only in and out of the periodically, rain for a couple of hours. However, my good deed for the day came when I offered up my waterproof trousers to a young girl who’d forgotten to pack any waterproofs for herself. I trudged along behind the group with my trousers getting wetter and wetter. By the time I was able to get some respite back inside the mini-bus, my trousers were stuck to me like a second skin and, worst of all…. wet pants are definately no welcome guest, in this situation!
Once inside the welcome cocoon of the mini-bus, I began the planned ride around the Gower, going to each of my allocated checkpoints. It’s a case of ensuring that each of the small groups walks through, and is aware of where they are and where they have to head for next.
As I sat, quietly waiting for each group to pass, looking at the dark, rain-heavy clouds just dumping gallons of water over all out in the open, I realised that this is part of the reason why I love working within the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.
All the young people passed by me, completely soaked through to the skin. Wet clothes, wet hair, wet feet. They’d eaten a cold, wet lunch while nestled in hedges to keep out of the rain and, all the while, made sure they’d used their route card and map to ensure that they stayed on the right track. Each one of them stopped and talked to me and all the other staff. They adjusted rucksacks for each other, and asked “How long left”, but they never stopped. They could have shouted, “That’s it, I’m done”, and climbed en masse into a nice, dry, warm mini-bus at any of the checkpoints.
But they just kept on walking.
Eventually, they arrived at the campsite and put up their tents in the rain. There was still no moaning. The rain finally eased off, and so we advised the young people to cook their dinner on their little stoves while the weather held off a bit for them. The comforting aromas of pasta with a variety of sauces filled the air, with one small group even taking the adventurous leap to cooking thin slivers of steak, then rammed into baps with salad and relish.
After a tidy-up, all these young people sat around with full tummies and the night to themselves. A slippery game of football took place, and then the staff wandered around the site, checking on the young candidates and making sure that all kit and people were safely inside tents, protected from the stormy night ahead.
These young people had achieved so much in one very wet day, still smiled, put up a shelter for the night, cooked food and also had the energy to play a game of football in the rain…….. I really don’t know where they get the enthusiasm and energy from.
We often hear about anti-social behaviour in young adults. We hear about hostile reactions to difficult circumstances – either by choice, design or, sometimes, simply by no fault of their own.
Without wanting to be too generally judgmental, what I do know is that many young adults in todays’ society would run to the comfort of a car, or a warm bed, and ring the local take-away for their dinner, on a wet week-end like this one.
Some young people, but not all. For me, I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to spend my time with some of those very strong-spirited, focused young people, who completed a difficult camping expedition under extreme weather conditions.
I don’t have a magic solution, I don’t know what the answer is, and I can’t save the world (though I wish I could). The young people that I meet through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme have taught me that “size really doesn’t matter”, and the louder you shout doesn’t make you any tougher. These young adults find determination to succeed, and strength from within……….
……then they put that spirit into something good.
So, this is going to be a slightly different post. I hope it doesn’t get too technical, but I would love to share an aspect of my job that I love learning about.
My job involves a great deal of continual learning and development in all aspects of outdoor pursuits. Throughout the past 18 months, I have found myself steering towards improving my map working skills.
This is quite a refined work-role, and I have learned that if a female in this field is able to acquire more diverse skills, then she becomes a much more sought-after team member. This, in turn, opens more doors to more work and, hence, more experiences.
Having completed my Basic Expedition Leader course, I now find myself working as a sessional Duke of Edinburgh Award leader. In this role, investing time on improving map skills and orienteering knowledge is a continuous process.
So here comes the techie bit…
One of my favourite activities is micro-navigation. This is the interpretation, recognition and location of small details on a map. These are found using map and compass techniques such as pacing, timing, contour interpretation and feature interpretation.
Quite simply put, the skill of navigation is knowing where you are, knowing where you’d like to go and knowing how to get there. Using micro-navigation is intended to help you to stay on the right track to your destination. Most people will feel confident in walking on a sunny and clear day, but having the ability to micro-navigate will help to guide a person when visibility is poor, tracks and paths disappear or you have to change your route.
Micro-navigation improves a persons compass work. Working on, and taking, compass bearings is an important skill, as it enables a person to stay on course even if the features are not visible. It teaches a person to use their pacing steps to measure distance which, in turn, can help when trying to determine how far you have traveled.
It really is an important tool to have a well grounded, confident approach to map work. The more knowledge you can acquire helps to overcome that slight feeling of panic that can creep in when you’re out in the wilds, and that little voice of doubt starts telling you that you ARE actually a bit unsure…….????
The following pictures show a fantastic area for micro-navigation – Penderyn Moor in Brecon.
Not too far from the road, but far enough away so that, after only half an hours’ walk, you get the feeling of…….. freedom !!
When I’m out learning about map work, I do smile to myself, as it makes me remember the one of the most romantic presents my husband ever gave me.
My Silva Militare compass.
I know, it’s a bit strange, (certainly different to flowers or jewellry), but he got it for me before a three-day assessment in the windy wilds of the Gower. I passed, and I’d like to believe that my new compass helped in some way.
The Silva compass is really the daddy of all compasses and, for me, the great thing about it is the magnifying glass. It means that I can tell the difference between what could be a blue water feature on the map, or a dot made by a blue pen. This is the difference between getting wet, or planning a needless traverse taking you miles out of your way, avoiding an obstacle that isn’t really there.
It’s practical in every respect, because it’s robust, compact and yet easy to read and operate with cold fingers !! This little gadget helped me to calculate distance very easily with a simple glance, and it really gave me a lot of confidence just by having it by my side.
I’m lucky in my career to have the chance to learn new skills and even luckier that my school is often the most stunning outdoor areas to be found in Wales and England.
Leonardo da Vinci is attributed to have once said “Learning never exhausts the mind”. With a classroom and playground like this, learning can also be fun !!
The opinions expressed herein are unbiased and based upon my own personal experiences