Our first Duke of Edinburgh Bronze expedition was upon us and, for many young people, it was their first time camping and having to look after themselves away from home. It’s always a huge learning curve for everyone involved, and the staff often end up feeling a bit like stand-in mums and dads for the weekend.
As we weren’t staying too far away from home, my husband and daughter joined us for the adventure. We stayed at one of my favourite campsites, which is Biblins Youth Campsite. This is a Foresty Commission campsite situated in the gorgeous Wye Valley, near Monmouth. It’s a beautiful area right on the banks of the River Wye, with no mobile phone signal or WiFi, and so it has a realistic feel of being isolated from everything.
Finding some fun, back-to-nature style.
The weather was beautiful and the sun was out, which always makes camping that little bit more special. After a day of walking, the groups started to drift into the campsite. They were all happy to reach the end of day one, and were looking forward to an evening of relaxing and fun.
After the tents were up and they’d cooked a variety of meals, (some a lot better than others!), a football appeared and many of the boys piled onto the large field, energy levels recharged. Of course, my little girl joined in, and “managed” to get a few goals in.
The great thing about Biblins is that it allows open fires on the site and, when everyone got a bit tired, we settled down to a roaring open fire and (of course) we toasted marshmallows.
Later, as the fire died down to just the pulsating glow of embers, we were able to gaze upward into the clear night-sky, seeing a speckled tapestry of brightly-sparkling stars, and even the occasional orbitting satellite.
It was the perfect night, watching the stars and enjoying tasty treats.
This early-morning picture reminds why I love waking up to a beautiful, crisp start to the day.
The second day started with a few moans about aches and pains, but knowing that they were walking to the finish-line gave them the boost they needed to set off. I had a lovely surprise at my checkpoint, as I was able to sit enjoying the scenery and watch Canadian canoeists paddle slowly by on the Wye.
Periodically, each group would pass through my checkpoint, and I’d make sure that they were refreshed, and then safely cross the bridge to continue on their way.
As each group finished, everyone was happy to see the mini buses at the end, throwing off their rucksacks and jumping on the buses ready to get home for cooked meals and clean clothes.
We were only out for one night, but the feeling and the atmosphere when camping at Biblins is just perfect. It’s a quiet and easy campsite, with no frills or fuss, but the setting is just amazing.
It always reminds me of why I love camping, and that it’s a great way of spending really great family-time together.
In work, my favourite time of the year is when we take a group of young people on canoe camp. The group work all year round, in their school, to earn behaviour points to be able to take part in canoe camp, so the young people who attend really deserve it and want to be there.
Good behaviour equals a reward.
I love it as I get to canoe in the most beautiful environment. We have two days of open-boat paddling on the River Wye, through the beautiful Forest of Dean. We camp at a lovely (and very quiet) youth camp-site, which allows open campfires, and this is great for toasting marshmallows. It’s a truly breathtaking place to be.
We were very lucky and had stunning sunshine, so there was no need for thermals or waterproofs. The suntan lotion was applied liberally before setting off and we gently paddled down the river. Throughout, we spotted ducks, swans and even saw an otter.
The late evening was spent around an open fire. We told scary stories and the adults freaked out the young people out by telling them gory tales of the wild boar that live in the forest around the campsite. Every year we tell the story, and it has become quite an “Urban Legend” throughout the school.
Trying to dry my socks in the morning sun!
The next day involved a gentle paddle, with the current slowly pushing us down to Monmouthshire Rowing Club where we exit the river. When the end comes into sight, the water fights start! This involves lots of splashing, with boats being paddled faster and faster to get away from each other. By the time we reach the end, we’re paddling in canoes full of water, with all the staff and children squelching and soaking!
It really is a fantastic couple of days. It can be hard work paddling, especially on the first day. It’s usually for about five or six hours, depending on the weather, the river levels, the wind and (of course) the different personalities within the group, but I love it.
The young people get so much out of it, and have a wonderful time. They really make the trip worthwhile, and I love their company. For my part, it’s great to be involved in something that’s so positive.
Those two days of canoe camp always reassure me that I’m in the right job, and I feel really very lucky that this is my “office” !