In 2012 I experienced a DofE hike for the first time. And bless my naïve little soul, for I thought walking through ankle deep mud and being unable to tell one small-to-middle-sized farm from another was the worst experience I had ever gone through. But soon my composure was shaken. In 2013 I completed DofE silver, and boy did things change. Now we had to contend with wind and psychotic horses as well, surely this was the worst experience I had ever gone through. Surely…
Anyways, the other day I went on my final DofE expedition. This one was for gold and let’s just say it’s the highest and hardest level of the program for a reason. The route we had [taken three months] planning took us up mountains, down mountains, above clouds, below clouds, around randomly placed bodies of water (tarns are strange aren’t they) and it included two wild camps, where you pitch your tent in wild country, rather than in a campsite (y’know, where there are buildings and stuff). Seriously I don’t know what we were thinking, obviously we had briefly forgotten what contours are or something.
But we were all very happy when we set off, the six hour mini bus ride filled with the happy sound of the Now That’s What I Call Legends CD and setting up camp for the first night was lovely (for we were safe in the knowledge that the campsite had toilets, showers, drinking water, a shop, a washing up room and a room full of washing machines). Even meeting our assessor didn’t phase us, even when he pointed out some members of the team had the wrong shoes and no waterproofs!
Right, so we got moving the next day, each of us trying to stealthily carry as little of the group items as possible, and each of us failing. We’d already been on a few practice walks in the Black Mountains, where various members of my group had suffered panic attacks, nose bleeds, mild lung failures and loss of sanity, but we were high spirited that nothing worse than that could happen. In fact the first day’s walking was lovely. Went through a few forests, past a nice country village, took some selfies, ate a week’s supply of cocktail sausages etc. Then it started raining.
It kept raining for the whole afternoon. We got to our campsite, in the rain. Set up our tents, in the rain. Tried to cook some disgusting pasta thing, in the rain. Vomited up said pasta thing, in the rain. You get the general idea. It was rainy. It was also raining in the next morning too, so for the first half of our second day, we were drenched (this included a 300m climb btw). This, let us call it ‘downpour’, affected the rest of the day quite a bit. The path we were following was certainly well laid, but every 10m a stream would run over it. When we rose higher, the wind also increased in intensity, pushing us over onto the soaking wet grass, and higher still, we entered the rain cloud itself.
Saying that, our camp that night was a wild one, Bleaubury Tarn is anyone cares, and I must say it was bloody beautiful. The rain had cleared up, sun was out, the view was stunning, the food was nice (because I didn’t cook it). The tarn itself was clear and still and lovely and, in that moment, I achieved a state of complete peace and happiness. Well not really. But it was better than the rest of the week.
So day three. What do I say? Lots of hills, lots of wind. Somebody fell in a stream. Then it poured with rain. Not that interesting the day to be honest. I think I’ll base this paragraph on the night…
…So we reached our destination, some tarn or something, and it was pouring with rain. Pouring to the extent that every flat piece of ground suitable to pitch a tent, had basically been turned into a swamp. But eventually we found some ground dry enough (turns out it was dry because it was basically rock) and popped the tents up, trying not to get the insides wet as we did so. What we didn’t realise is that the location of our tents; perched on the side of a valley, and intense wind that was coming that night meant we would all get about one to two hours sleep that night. This was because once or twice an hour we would look up to see that the front of the tent had been blown out of the ground and would have to get up to put it back. This was only marginally better than the fate of the back of the tent; which was merely being blown almost flat on top of us. In fact our weight was probably the only thing keeping it down.
So none of us were happy in the next morning. Also it was raining again, bloody weather. We were all aware that this was the last day walking, so just got on with it, getting ourselves off the mountain and back into the realms of human society. When we reached the final point we basically collapsed at the side of a road, don’t ask me where. We were picked up, dropped at our original campsite and then we sorta slept. Oh, and that night we had massive pizzas in town.
All in all a pretty… interesting week. I’m certainly glad I did it, and would recommend the great experience to anyone. I wasn’t quite so keen on being soaking wet, depressed, hungry and nearly getting blown off a mountain.