Peak District Explorers Adventure


I’ve just returned from a fun few days in the Peak District with Phoenix Archer Explorer Scouts and thought I’d do a quick blog about what we got up to!

We’ve been to Gradbach Scout Camp before; having wanted to give the young people a bunkhouse experience we found what we were looking for in the Peak District years ago and decided to return again this year.

Motivating young people, especially from an urban population such as Swindon, into hill walking can be hard at times. Although we have the Ridgeway a short ride away not many of them use the green spaces or go beyond the entertainment areas but, being Scouts, they do get out and about and we like to offer them different opportunities away from the town; so twelve young people joined us on the adventure!

The bunkhouse has bunks that they loved. Ideally, they sleep eight per room but they all managed to bunk in together in one…

I wasn’t present for the first days activities, I was on the train from Swindon to Macclesfield… the fourth national park I’ve managed to travel to via train and one of the easiest – Swindon to Reading to Macclesfield (then 20 mins by vehicle to the site) and in the same amount of time it would take to drive there. Simples.

For the second day they decided to have a small walk in the morning and explore Buxton in the afternoon, so we started off at Speedwell Cavern car park, up to Hollins Cross, along the ridge to Mam Tor then a walk down Winnat’s Pass to the minibus (which, started to roll down the hill due to the weight of all the Explorers sat on it! THAT was a moment of panic and having to get them to exit the bus quickly!)


James making clouds again.

The next day, I’d planned a route which involved a grade 1+ scramble up Red Brook to Kinder Low area. We had some Explorers who had been to the Peaks with us before, so had to change things up for them as well as planning a route to keep newer participants interested!

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The weather was on our side and the scramble was great. At first, it was just a bog slog to get to the lower parts but once on it, it was a lot of fun!

Off route walking to our destination!
Looking up at Red Brook from the valley below
Arriving at the top of the scramble

Will definitely be coming back here to do that again! It did take a while to get to it but certainly was more exciting than walking along the top of Kinder Scout…

Walkign along the top of Kinder Scout. I love the views.

To break up the boredum, the Explorers did their usual “how many can we get on the boulder?” moments…

Standing on the boulder!

There were a lot of tired faces and sore feet when we got back. Overall it was easily 25K on the route, a welcomed evening of Spaghetti Bolognese and sleep was needed!

I can’t say more than just that I had a fantastic time, I think the Explorers did as well. They’ve decided they want to do a lot more scrambling in the future and more exploratory routes on harder ground. Once certificate comes through, a Scouting hillwalking permit is next and we can start planning to go elsewhere and further with them!

More photos can be seen on the Phoenix Archer ESU Facebook Page 

– Just Joanne

10. smotra (10th Serbian Jamboree)

I have just recently returned from a 10 day Scout Jamboree in Belgrade, Serbia. This is the 10th Jamboree for them, the 3rd for me and by far one of the most enjoyable I’ve been on.

Phoenix Archer Explorer Unit has been travelling to the Serbian Jamborees since the 7th in 2008(I think). I’ve been to the 8th (2011), 9th (2014) and now 10th (2018). I even have the passport stamps to prove it…


One thing that is enjoyable about the Jamborees is that they are in different locations each time. 2011 was Šabac, 2014 was Bela Crkva and 2014 was Ada Ciganlija in Belgrade.

Ada Ciganlija is a gorgeous place. It is a river island that has artificially been turned into a peninsula on the River Sava. A popular recreational area, you can partake in many outdoor activities there – swimming, kayaking/canoeing, high ropes, artificial climbing wall, volleyball, fishing, SUP, bike riding, skating – there’s even an option to bungee jump over the water!

The temperature all week was in the low thirties, around 33 degrees Celsius – so, combining that with the water, cold drinks, tasty food and beautiful views, one couldn’t complain!

Our flight transported the group into Belgrade late into the night, so after an hour’s bus journey we pitched our tents up in the dark and slept.


For those that don’t know or understand about a Scout Jamboree let me explain; Scout Jamborees have been around since the early 1900s (1920 to be precise in the UK, just learnt that!). They are defined as being “a large gathering of Scouts who rally at a national or international level”, usually a camp, but there are “Jamboree Days”, such as Jamboree on the Trail/Air(Internet) where Scouts, internationally, partake in one activity (hiking/amateur radio/web chatting) in their own group/county on a certain date or dates.

They are all good fun. Some countries only run one every few years (such as Serbia) whereas others, such as the UK or US, run several small ones annually around their countries. The idea is that groups from overseas join with that countries group/units and partake in a Scouting programme, usually with a shared purpose/theme, over a week or so together. The theme of the Serbian Jamboree was “Scouting for all“.


We also had ten Explorer Scouts out on their Explorer Belt Award visiting other towns and villages around Serbia to find out about the local culture and history of the county.


They spend 10 days exploring a minimum of 5 towns/villages whilst trying to complete 10 mini projects and a major one. The teams visited Novi Sad, Ruma, Bačka Palanka, Pančevo, Belgrade and Stara Pazova. I’m not convinced they explored Serbia to the best of their ability and they weren’t very forthcoming with information about its culture, nor did it seem like they spoke to many locals, but they are delivering their presentations in September at the district camp so they might have experienced more than they talked about in their debrief. It would be good to think they’ve appreciated this wonderful country and the heard the struggles of the locals, but we shall see!

Not to bore you with a day by day account of the ten days (I couldn’t if I tried, I’m not very good at remembering things), I will talk about the highlights and interesting things I found out though.

Camp life

The Jamboree was poorly attended this year compared to the others. They had planned for approximately 3,000 turning up but due to Serbian Scouting politics, only 800 (including foreigners) showed up. There were various reasons why we were told; Belgrade Scouts have an annual camp so didn’t want to attend this one as well; this Jamboree was too pricey for many; many groups travel across the border to the Macedonian Jamboree etc… The cost of this camp, excluding flights and insurance, was €90(?), which is very cheap for UK Scouts for 10 days (we did contribute more to cover equipment donations to the Serbians etc. £220 in total) but for Serbians it’s costly.

Entrance to subcamp 3.

But it was worth every penny I thought.

Scouts queueing for an activity in the city.

I did think it was a shame that more could not attend, for whatever reason, as I felt the programme, layout and information was well planned in comparison to the other Jamborees I’d been on. BRAVO to the organisers for doing such an excellent job!

Even though the weather was in the low thirties all week (which is HOT for UK people) there was some occasional rain… when it rains in Serbia IT RAINS. The thunderstorms are loud and unpredictable, but as soon as they arrive they are gone and it’s back to the hot weather again. I recorded a video to show what the rain is like (the video starts off with thunder!). I love it when it rains in Serbia; reminds me of the normal UK weather.

Once it had cleared, I was able to get back to the hammock to relax and read the research papers I was sent as prior reading for my course at uni in September…

Smartphones are wonderful for reading documents!

Some animals did wander on site. I thought I would include them as Serbians have an interesting relationship with stray dogs – it is illegal to harm or kill them under the Serbian Animal Welfare Law 2009/Serbian Criminal Law, Article 269 but it is horrific what some will do to them (graphic content on webpage) if they know they can get away with it – I saw a dog who was missing part of his tail, yet the bone was still sticking out, it didn’t look like the animal had it done professionally. Nearly every dog that came near us shied away from being touched, it was clear to see they haven’t had a friendly pat on their head often! Organised dogfights are commonplace and, sadly, the police turn a blind eye to it – the punishment of 6 months is not enough IMO.

Yet, on the other hand, I saw many Serbians with tea-cup sized dogs (Yorkies, Chihuahua, Maltese and other small dogs) dressed in dog clothing and being carried around by their owners. Many stary dogs looked well fed and Serbians seemed to ignore their presence without hostility. Conflicting.

This beautiful dog wandered on to our site, he didn’t stay long but reminded me of Bailey. I wish I could have taken him home. At night, many dogs – especially puppies, roamed the Ada area seeking food under the concealment of night time when fewer people were about…


Serbian Food

I’m a girl who’s not afraid to say she loves her food! Maybe I love it a bit too much at times! Haha. One of our hopes for this Jamboree was substantial meals; the Serbians have always been gracious hosts but they do like their cabbage! The food on the first Jamboree I visited in 2008 wasn’t much – it was my first introduction to a large hot lunch in the early afternoon and a very small dinner as the Serbians prefer to eat well during the daytime (when it’s hot!!), whereas us Brits do love a large hot dinner in early evening… anyway, the following Jamboree saw the money for the food go missing from a corrupt company so the organisers had to bring in another company at the last minute… the saving grace on that Jamboree were the burger bars around a lake nearby. I think on this Jamboree they wanted to make sure the foreigners (especially the fussy eaters) had access to alternative food if they didn’t like what the Serbians were providing so probably chose this location, especially for that reason!

So, with apparently nearly 70 outlets around the Lake, there were a lot of choices – burgers (Gurmanska pljeskavica – in the picture), kebabs, chips and my favourite – Palačinke! A crepe pancake with a filling, such as Nutella or Eurocrem, wrapped in a triangle shape. As the conversion rate was so low one of these would cost about 80p! A burger would cost around £1.60 depending on where you went – bargain!

I loved the food at this camp as each meal was different! Of course, some items, such as the yoghurt drink, was repeated but the whole meal wasn’t the same as the last; so we got to experience a lot of different meals and snacks the Serbians would also enjoy. If the organisers had intentionally planned this then BRAVO again – our young people enjoyed the anticipation of finding out what their next meal would consist of and several did want to try some of the ‘snacks’ again (they enjoyed the pizza margarita snack.

Many meals did contain a lot of bread…

We also visited a couple of restaurants whilst exploring Belgrade. At one such restaurant, the Mala Gostionica, we wanted the Explorer Scouts to experience a traditional Serbian meal. So, out came the bread and salad (cabbage!!) followed by the plate of various meats for them to enjoy! This was followed by a type of doughnut cake with a walnut inside which was delicious – the name escapes me and I haven’t been able to find it online since sadly.

I found the prices very reasonable (conversion was great); as with any city the closer you are to attractions and the city centre the prices do increase but the food quality was always great…

Of course, no trip to Serbia would be complete without trying the Rakija (pronounced RA KEE YA)- a fruit brandy that’s popular in the Balkans. This is the national drink of Serbia and is generally homebrewed with an alcoholic content of about 50% (can be as high as 65%!) and comes in many flavours (i.e. what’s available to the Serbians to make it out of) – plum (Slivovica), grapes, apple, peach, fig, cherry…


As the households homebrew the stuff you’ll expect to be offered some – more so if you’re an adult male – at your meals. There is a joke that a Serbian breakfast is “Rakija, coffee and a cigarette”.  Serbians are well known for their hospitality and will keep giving you Rakija if you empty your glass… so to let them know you’re done just leaving some in the glass shows you’ve finished or they’ll keep magically producing bottles until their entire stores are finished with!

(They also have a “drink” called “Concrete“. It’s where you drink Rakija, then a pint of larger and repeat. Why is it called “Concrete” though? It’ll be where you’ll end up after a few of these…face first!)

Trips out and attractions

One thing I do enjoy about visiting other countries, and this may be very geeky of me, is using the public transport. I like to learn how another country runs theirs and I think it’s a good lesson for anyone to learn; this time we got to experience the trains and the buses (no trams, went on them last time). Since the last four years, the bus passes have gone contactless! Previously before you purchased a ticket at the kiosk on the corner (still do) and it’s ‘punched’ by a machine on the platform or on the bus… by now, you can buy either a day pass (290 dinars) and load it with a day’s unlimited travel (90 dinars approx 70p) for use around Belgrade; purchase a 90 minute journey pass from the driver (150 dinar approx £1.15) which, if you asked the driver for he’d always say “no ticket” and let you on without one; OR the last option was to buy a plastic card for 300 dinar (approx £2.30), which lasts 3 years and you can preload it with cash and use on the contactless machines on the bus. Simples.

At the start of the week, we couldn’t figure any of this out. When we spoke to Serbians they kept saying “no ticket”, Kiosk ladies and bus drivers shook their heads at us so we didn’t bother… we even got told by a Serbian waiter not to bother buying tickets after 7pm as the inspectors all clock off and go home then…! Terry lived in fear of getting caught, I scoffed at him until one of our Explorer Belt teams called up to say they’d been given a ticket for 2,000 dinars (approx £16) each… which turned out they’d been fined for not having a proper one (karma for not attempting to find out how to buy tickets in the first instance!)! So he made sure we all had enough and what happened on the way to the airport? We got asked to see our tickets! *Phew*

Reusable Belgrade bus pass.

The Serbian trains aren’t so complicated. They expected you to purchase a ticket before you board and you will definitely be checked whilst on the train! We planned to visit the Explorer Belt groups in Novi Sad and could have taken the bus but I wanted to show Kelvin, our district commissioner, the joys of the Serbian railways…

It all started easy enough from Beograd Centra station, the tickets were easy to purchase, the station air conditions and we got seats on the train… however, what Kelvin didn’t know was that there is what is called “Serbian time”. This differs from regular time, it’s where the Serbs will leave when they want! The train stopped on the tracks, the driver and train staff stepped out of the vehicle and decided to have a 15-minute smoking break on the train whilst the passengers sweated onboard. Once done, the train then moved closer towards its destination.

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On the way back… the train decided to turn up 45 minutes late, in fact, it arrived the same time as the other train, due 2 hours earlier at the station, came in! The Serbians didn’t seem to mind, some even decided to sit on the edge of the platform and eat their dinner and take selfies… why rush?


Our return journey from Novi Sad, which was meant to be 2 hours, ended up being more like 3 (train driver smoking breaks); by hey-ho, with the errors in finding our way back on the buses, we eventually got back to camp 5 hours later! Haha.

After meeting with the Explorer Belt teams in Novi Sad and ensuring they are ok and still on track to achieve we visited the Petrovaradin Fortress (translated as “the town on the rock-firm as faith”) on the right bank of the Danube.
What is interesting and will make you look twice is that the minute and hour hand on the clock tower are reversed, with the small hand showing minutes, and the big hand showing hours! This was created this way so that fishermen on the river can see the time from a long distance but for others, it’s just confusing!


Novi Sad was a favourite place for the teams to visit and, due to the meetings, we didn’t get to spend much time here but have vowed to do so on our next visit.

Throughout the week we visited Belgrade for various sights as part of the Jamboree programme. The fortress and Kalemegdan park on the hill overseeing the Danube and Sava rivers, the botanical gardens, the souvenir markets outside the fortress, the modern shopping centres, the old streets with unique art for selling and various museums.

One of the museums we visited was the Nikola Tesla museum. I’m kicking myself as I had a video of me holding a fluorescent tube near the Tesla coil but somehow have managed to delete it (It was pretty cool)! Here’s a video of the coil in action (and surprisingly the same guide is still working there 3 years later!). Anyway, I would recommend people visit, I found it to be interesting… even, strangely, seeing his urn with his ashes in displayed in the museum; recently the activist group “Leave Tesla Alone” were trying to stop them being moved to the Church of St Sava, the resting place of many of Serbia’s national heroes (even more interesting article about “Satanic rituals” happening at his resting place!).

I have so much more I could write about Serbia. This just skims the information and experiences I’ve had whilst being in such a beautiful hospitable country.

It’s now been several days since the Jamboree and I do miss the easy life that I had whilst there; no worries or anything to do really! Now I’m back I’ve had many things to sort out for the upcoming couple of months and it’s been pretty hectic but the countdown has begun to the 11th Serbian Jamboree now… roll on 2021! Let’s see where life is at then!

Just Joanne

Shelving is fixed!

Only two more working days left, then I will have left a job I’ve been at for nearly eight years! Longest job yet (though it’s always felt like a new job each year with the number of changes the Senior Leadership Team make!!)!

I’ve been fortunate enough this week to have help in the form of, Shawnee (teacher) and Chris (technician) at work,  in fixing the missing shelves in the back of my van. These were very much needed to give protection to the battery and separate it from possible spills etc., and so I can have more space for clothing etc. The invertor has also been fixed in properly (I pleasantly surprised at how quiet it is when it is running)


Fixing in the shelves in the van.
The space at the side allows for a cable to run from the inverter to the ‘electronic shelf’.


The bottom shelf and middle will become clothing shelves, the second from the top will be an ‘electronic shelf’ where the main plugs go and the top top shelf… no idea yet. I still have a lot of thinking to do around storage and considerations on what I will be taking.

I have the opportunity to gain a Mountain Bike Instructor Level 2 Leadership award whilst at Uni but, somehow, I don’t think I can fit my mountain bike in the van with me. I believe the university has bike racks so it might be that the bike is taken up initially with me and left there…? Still pondering on that one.

Anyway, I also found the missing shelf so, that’s gone back in properly.


The missing door has been found and fixed.


I’m gearing up for the move. Still, lots to consider and do. I found a nifty laptop backpack in TK Maxx that’ll carry all that I’ll need


My new University bag…


And lastly, with the help of Maria as work, we spent a good couple of hours preparing, pinning and using the sewing machine to ‘finish’ the neckers on my camp blanket… I say ‘finish’ loosely as I have two more to go on there but they are coming to Serbia with me first. If you look at the picture you can see my mother’s beautiful attempts at the top, perfectly near and aligned, then’s there’s mine at the bottom! Cringing.

Still, I’m pleased as punch with it. It has ten years worth of memories from various camp and events on it with space for more… I still have about fifty badges to sew on…


My camp blanket with neckers from Serbia, Iceland, Switzerland and Ireland as well as UK camps.


Now long now until our Serbian adventure! Our contingent kit has arrived in its bright red glory! The badge has been sewn on to the uniform and… well, we’re just about ready to go.


My various pin badges from various camps and the Jamboree badge.


I hope it all goes well for the Explorer Belt participants, the weather whilst we’re out there looks to be a mix of rain and high humidity, but they should be ok as long as they are sensible.

I’m glad I have this in my calendar so soon after finishing work as it’s nice to have something to look forward to. I was recently asked to describe my holidays in the recent years in an interview, I faltered when giving my response when I realised that my ‘holidays’ aren’t your typical family-type-relaxation-ones but days spent helping others achieve various awards, such as the DofE or Explorer Belt, I don’t think, at this stage in my life, I would know how to have those family-type-relaxation-ones!

The bright red tomato kit.

Still, it’s all enjoyable. Only a few more ‘get-ups’ then we’ll be on our way across Europe to the land of ‘new beginnings


Just Joanne

Caving fun!

I am someone that would happily try anything once (and usually is it only once!) and one thing I have never properly tried was caving. Not the walk-down-steps,-admire-the-view-wide-caverns-show-cave type caving, but the you’ll-slip-slide-crawl-and-squeeze-yourself-into-tight-spaces caving.

So, the opportunity arose this weekend with the Phoenix Archer Explorer Scout Unit and I thought “now, rather than never“… as previously, I’ve always said never. The idea of tight spaces, chest compressing squeezing and that no-way-out feeling has never sounded fun to me. Never,never, never.

I blame The Descent as well. That movie gave me nightmares. (I was reassured that nothing more sinister than bats dwelled in this cave. No vampires either. Yay!)

The cave we visited is a popular beginner’s cave called Goatchurch Cavern (ST 47585823) on the edge of Burrington Combe in the limestone of the Mendip Hills, in Somerset, England.

The cave is approximately 750 metres (2,500 ft) long and reaches a depth of 55 m (180 ft) and an interesting passage at it’s “end”, which I will explain later.

This cave has an interesting history, the Victorians, in the early 1900s, tried to turn it into a show cave and as you enter you can see where they started to cut steps into the rock and install iron handrails but abandoned the idea for unknown reasons.

The journey from Swindon is easy and quick, only 1 hour and 20 minutes (traffic depending). When we got there we used the nearby free carpark and geared up in a boiler suit, helmet and waist belt and made our way to the entrance.

John talking about the cave before the entrance.

There are two entrances to this cave (which is reassuring to the oh-my-what-if-the-entrance-closes-up worrier in me) and we went via the most common (and signposted) main entrance. A quick slide down (I slid but cavers don’t usually at this point. I just like sliding down things) and we were in the first part.

Sliding down!

The rock here is limestone and, because it’s a popular cave, is highly polished and slippery in places making traction hard at first until you adjust to foot placement (or are on a flat bit).

Our instructors took us down the Giant Stairs, where you have to slide down a bit, avoid sliding down IN A HOLE, turn yourself around and climb down (fun!) – then we went along to the “Bloody Tight/Superman Squeeze” (where you have to put one arm forward to squeeze through the short passage) where you can squeeze through or walk around it (guess what I did…).

Here’s a video of one of our Explorer Scouts squeezing himself out the end bit:

Into the Boulder Chamber area – apparently, pretty much every cave has a ‘boulder chamber’, often a large chamber with large rocks caused by a ceiling collapse; this one was fun to explore (just avoid any holes in the floor!) and look at the interesting rock formations. Cavers have found inscribed marks on the walls… “Three finely cut marks were uncovered, resembling the letter W with a patina darker than in nearby graffiti dated 1704. These have been identified as ritual protection marks, possibly dating from the period 1550 to 1750. The term ritual protection mark was preferred to the description “witch marksWikipedia, 2018 (possibly to stop the witches from dwelling in the caves?)

There was a lot of tighter smaller routes to squeeze down, which I did enjoy as they weren’t constricting and you had to think about your foot and hand placement – definitely a mental challenge. There’s something fun about sliding/pushing yourself down somewhere small and putting all of your limbs on any available surface!

Going down, down, deeper and down…
Explorer Scout receiving expert instruction from John on foot placement.

In the complex network of dry passages of this cave, one notable passage is a thin phreatic tube known as ‘The Drainpipe’ right at the “end” of the cave. This is a long tight wriggle through 30 ft (9 m – though some say 12m) of a passageway (after a hairpin bend) that is only practically navigable whilst travelling forwards and ends up in a small blind-ending boulder chamber; the only way out is to turn around and go back through again – all on your hands and knees – easy for little ones, not so for bigger people!

Our Explorers gave it a go, but I wasn’t in the mood to squeeze through this passage, again tight spaces make me nervous. One day I might give it a go… (Nah!)

Explorers watching and waiting as others came out of the Drainpipe entrance.

The thing about going down in a cave means you have to come up again! By this point, you’re feeling a tad tired so a chocolate break is needed and we enjoyed ours back in the wet chamber (that was dry). Well deserved, and we were going to need the energy for the next bit…

Next up was the “Coffin Lid” – this is a smoothed slope with a low roof above you; you have to grip both sides and, also using your feet, pull/push yourself up against it. It is lovingly named “Coffin Lid” as it does indeed resemble a coffin lid! I’d like to give this one a go again -both going up it and down – it was hard to do but so interesting and fun to shimmy up (James did help me this time, but next time…) Kudos to James for supporting my fat arse on this bit!

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We didn’t get a picture of the coffin lid, so I’ve borrowed one from Twitter.

Back climbing up through the chamber, through the boulder maze, through the maze and out of the entrance – hardwearing on your knees and elbows.

This cave was a good fun couple of hours of exploration, which I imagine, will be even more fun again on the next visit as there are still more areas to explore and things to try either again, or new. I didn’t feel concerned about the darkness; I kept switching off my head torch as I like the dark and, by the time we got to the bottom my fears about blind carnivorous creatures using echolocation to hunt us was gone (there were lots of little kids in the passages, they would have been victims first…)

I only found one (two, if you include the Coffin Lid) major difficult bit for myself, which was through the maze heading up and back out, as my large hips (read: fat arse) made it difficult for me to switch feet on a foothold in a tight space and push myself up – this did take a while! Other than that, I found the sliding parts the best fun, clambering over boulders and going down into the cave was exciting, however, overall I still prefer to have ‘space’ around me (and to be attached to a rope)!

Muddy fun!

So I’m left with a nice collection of bruises on my knees and elbows (yes, my legs are as pale as a ghost and very light compared to my arms that actually get to see the sun) but I don’t feel sore at all (yet!).

Pale legs show bruises well.

I’m glad I gave this a go, I have been on previous trips to these caves with Scouts but never ventured beyond the minibus. I would happily go down this cave again and look to do another, though I won’t be rushing out to buy the kit anytime soon… I prefer seeing the sky above me. Although, Swildon’s Hole sounds interesting…

Just Joanne

Bank Holiday Weekend (Wales again!)

Another weekend and another DofE expedition in Wales – this time the Silver DofE group was being assessed (with one member completing it for her Scout Diamond Award).

Their start point was Newcourt farm campsite, Felindre (SO195368). We love this place, and the owner has always been welcoming and accommodating.

We love this site for a variety of reasons, for one, it’s dedicated to the DofE so there has been a lot of considerations as to what DofE groups/leaders would want to have to help them with their expeditions – dedicated DofE wifi, a large foul weather shelter for preparation, cooking and eating, classroom upstairs and leaders/staff toilet and shower. For another reason, it’s a good location for participants to walk into the mountains and there’s a lot of access points for supervisors/assesses to find them if needs be. And lastly, we’ve always had a warm welcome here and love chatting with the owner about the area and various changes to the DofE Award. I highly encourage others to use this site for their DofE expeditions (as well as public camping). I know we’ll be back again.

Setting up the tin tent for the first night.
The DofE cooking area is fantastic.
Morning Sunrise at Newcourt farm.
DofE Eddie the Teddy gives a wave at the campsite.

After seeing the participants leave and head off into the hillside we left the car behind and took the camper to the parking spot near first meeting point, Hay Bluff (SO 244 366) trig point, to meet up with them.

Twmpa in the background.
Black mountain ponies like to block the path.

We were up at the trig for quite some time, the group struggled a bit with the first part being so steep and within a forest in the heat… it was just a lot to begin with. Terry spent much of his time on his drone, I took panoramic shots on my phone and we both ate lunch… the Bailey become the hero of the day!


View from Hay Bluff


My bottle of water rolled all the way down the side of the hill and he decided to chase it all the way down trying to catch it! I wished we’d filmed it, as it was rather funny (but also scary and heart stopped to see him go after it without pausing) and once he’d caught up with it he found it was too big for him to comfortably hold in his mouth; but, if you know Bailey like we do, he’s one determined dog when he wants to be and it took a while but he carried it straight back up the hill to us where we rewarded him with a drink of water from it and cuddles.

Hay Bluff trig point. SO 244 366

Eventually, the group came, we sorted out kit, said our goodbyes and headed off to find that night’s campsite and get sorted for that. Their route would take them along Offa’s Dyke Pass, pass Black Darren and down to the campsite so they’d completed the hardest part of the day when we left them – it was just an easy ridge walk then downhill from here.

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1:50K overview of part of route they walked. OS Maps
Campsite rules.

The Llanthony Priory campsite is very basic – a small field with a tap at the top and some recycling bins – yet it is very popular with DofE groups, small campers etc and, at £3 per head, is a bargain. The toilets are in the car park but aren’t owned by the campsite owner so aren’t cleaned often (bring your own loo roll)… still, looking around the priory at dusk is a must as it’s beautiful.

(Try the cellar bar here as well!)

The priory, a great place to visit.

There is a great little pub nearby called The Half Moon Inn which served up a very tasty venison burger at a reasonable cost of £9.95. Interesting history to the place, when the Grwyne Fawr reservoir (located just over the hill) was being built the Half Moon Inn was the ‘local’ for the workers (‘Navvies’). The reservoir was the site of the murder in 1136 of the Norman Marcher Lord Richard de Clare, 1st Earl of Hertford, by the Welsh under Iorwerth ab Owain and his brother Morgan, grandsons of Caradog ap Gruffydd. This resulted in a period of conflict between the Welsh and English in South Wales.

Didn’t manage to eat a meal here last time we came, glad we did this time.

On a stomach full of delicious-burger-delightedness we rested in the camper watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. before falling into a nice warm sleep…

Terry’s choice of entertainment.

Woke to a gorgeous camper view the following morning. I’ve developed a love for sitting/lie-ing with the side door open whilst reading and it was interesting to watch people walk past, make eye contact, then they quickly walk on with head down/looking away, not sure what they’ve probably just seen – lol (a blurry eyed, bedraggled horrible looking creature no doubt!)

The early morning sun was warm.

Bailey likes to people watch from the doorway as well…

Bailey, people watching.

The participants, sore their excursion yesterday and raw from sunburn, began the day with determination to get their biggest challenge [of this day] out of the way quickly – a steep hill walk to get to the top of the ridge on the opposite side of the valley.

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1:50k overview of the route. OS Maps

Our agreed meeting point was situated in a lovely forest area which we explored and I got my camera out to try and capture the vibrant green of the trees and plants.

Another photo to add to my ‘waymarker’ collection.
Spring is here!

The thing that people often don’t realise about the DofE expedition is that, sometimes, there can be a lot of downtime depending on how self-sufficient the group is. When a group is well prepared and confident in their navigation the leaders tend not to worry as much; in fact, they might even manage to get in an afternoon nap…


… that includes their pets as well! Bailey did not wake despite leaving tempting cake in front of his nose…

Bailey was shattered, the heat and all the running about took it out of him.

This group was good and exactly where they were meant to be and when their route card said they would be. “The first day is the worst day” is my motto as the participant’s anxiety, worries, fitness etc can sometimes hinder them but by the second I’ve found they usually have found their ‘stride’ and by the third… well, it’s always the fastest they’ve walked all weekend!

The last overnight camp for these guys was a wild camp by the reservoir. This is a favourite spot of ours and we spent 2018 New Years here wild camping and waking up in the snow.

Valley of the river Grwyne Fawr

Three red kites flew overhead as we walked to the area to meet with them at their site. They are easily spotted with the red of underbelly, slender wings and forked tail soaring above overhead.

Red kites, an estimated more than 1,600 pairs, and growing are said to fly in the mountains thanks to a breeding campaign to keep their numbers strong.

Silently soaring on fingered wings
Twisting and turning and using the breeze
Gliding above us he sees many things
Side-slipping, diving and dipping with ease
His beady eyes pick out his prey
Above the ridge he starts to hover
Making minor adjustments for the wind on his way
He swoops on his victim without any bother
The vale of Cwmystwyth is far down below
Splendidly glowing in the late evening sun
The red kite spins and puts on a show
He really knows how to have some fun
He’s the red kite, the colour of Wales
The path of his flight writes a song in the skies
The Welsh Dragon’s tongue is in the fork of his tail
Power and beauty clash as he flies

Red Kite poem by Sunnetra Basu
The reservoir was such a deep blue colour and the sun glinted off the surface. Just beautiful.
Participant’s walking to their final campsite.
Bailey having a play on the grass.


We ate dinner at a favourite pub of ours, The Skirrid Inn, reputed to be one of the oldest pubs in Wales standing for over 900 years. The name of the Inn is from the Welsh word for Shiver – Ysgyryd – which is also the name of a mountain nearby called Skirrid Fawr. It has been said that over 2,000 years ago, in the hours after the Crucifixion of Jesus, the mountain itself showed its anger, shuddering, shivering and breaking into two creating the “the Great Shiver” or Ysgyryd Fawr & “the Little Shiver” or Ysgyryd Fach.

A great pub to drink in.

Inside the pub, there is a noose on the stairway leading to the bedrooms upstairs. In its past, it was both courtroom & an execution place with its’ own oak hanging beam. The criminal would be tried upstairs, and if found guilty, would be hung by a noose in the basement. Ghosts have been reportedly seen in the building and it is listed as one of Britains’ Most Haunted Pubs. They do make a good beef burger here as well.

Beef burger, with onion rings. They sure do like their onion rings in Wales!

Our morning view wasn’t as lovely as the previous’ day view had been and, because Terry wanted to see the participants off early from their campsite in the morning headed out early and I snoozed some more before heading back to Newcourt farm to wait and complete some work that was needing to be done this weekend…


Terry did get a great shot of them on his drone whilst they walked their route towards their finishing point.

When it had finished there was nothing left to do but head home! They were all immensely proud of their achievement but also tired, sore and sunburnt. I’m sure they will all sleep well tonight!

So I visited old ‘haunts’ this weekend and I suspect, though not too sure as haven’t seen the routes yet, that when I’m back here in a couple of weekends with the DofE school group I’ll probably see the same sites again (although, won’t be in my camper this time sadly!). Not complaining though- I can’t get enough of this place!

Just Joanne