By Manahil Afzaal
On Friday 2nd October qualifying DofE students gathered together at a car park near Slough. Although it was pouring down with rain, our spirits were high as we were ready to conquer day one of our expedition. We started off by figuring out who could fit which group essential in their rucksack – between us, we had to carry a tent, two Trangia stoves, a bottle of fuel and some emergency first aid equipment. This required teamwork in order to ensure that everyone was holding an equal amount of weight to ensure there was not any one person overloaded by the items. At around 10:30, we set off with what was going to be our guide for the next 2 days: a compass and a map. One of the continuous parts of the trip that brought relief was when we were unsure about our bearings and then all of a sudden a teacher or another group might appear out of the blue, confirming we were going the right way. On day one, we had a total of five checkpoints, where we had to leave small pink slips to show that we had reached and stayed en route.
We managed (in the main) to negotiate our way round and this motivated us and helped us get through our last stretch, although our feet were starting to ache, and our shoulders seemed heavier by the passing minute. When we got to our final destination, we were elated to finally sit down. Once we had rested for a bit, Mrs Lilley demonstrated how to use a Trangia and then we started making our meals for dinner. Our group all made noodles, whereas some people went for different options – one group even going for fajitas (with all the extras)! After we all left, exhausted and wet, we recapped the day and all the new skills we had learnt over the course of 6 hours! We had not only made our way from one place to another on the basis of a map and compass, we had also created many moments that we were going to cherish for a lifetime, which can be revisited in the form of the vlog we made.
The next day we arrived even earlier than the day before, well rested, and ready for action once again. After the monsoon like conditions of day 1 we were excited for fairer weather… but no! If anything it was worse! Our group were one of the first to head off as we tried to interpret our map and find our way around Marlow. On this day, our route was more in forests and farm outskirts, contrary to the day before when we were more on distinguishable paths. Thus, this was more challenging than the first day, in my opinion. Luckily, the residents and members of the public were very helpful and volunteered to give us some help with the bearings of where we were (residents of Marlow and surrounding area are very accustomed to teenagers attempting to negotiate their paths in the name of the Duke of Edinburgh Award). Although, many groups got lost in the forests towards the beginning, the scenery was very nice and we saw so many horses, cows and sheep which made the trip more interesting. As we made our way through, we vlogged our journey and thought process. Although we got lost we felt safe. The excitement when we saw Mrs Pether and Mr Wilkins at the first checkpoint (of 7) was like no other. Once we reached checkpoint three we decided to take a break under the shelter of some trees, where other groups had also decided to use as their lunch spot – this was very well deserved after a very long walk up a hill. One of my favourite memories was when we were going down a slope, one of our group members slipped, resulting in all the others falling too. Although we got really muddy and could not get up for a while because our bags were weighing us down, we could not stop laughing about it. I’m sure every group created lots of memories to treasure. The moment that stands out the most was when we were going upwards and were increasingly tired, thinking we were going the wrong way and trying to travel towards the road in order to try and navigate ourselves, we saw two other groups right at the top signifying all that effort was not in vain!
Overall, The Bronze DofE trip was incredibly fun – and taught us a lot of things that will be essential for us in the future. Although it was tiring, and took a lot of energy, I would not have changed anything about it!