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

Beach Day and South West Scout Summit 2018

I really should put more effort into my blog titles…

This weekend saw the South West Scout Summit 2018 happen. As you might have read from a previous post I’ve been in Scouting a while and this year was invited, as a Local Training Manager, to attend the South West Summit to find out about the 2018-2023 strategic plan for Scouting and the change of logo!


New Scouting logo, replaces the 2008 ‘swish’ logo with a more modern, website friendly one.


Our South West Regional Commissioner, Hamish Stout, welcomed us to the event and our guest speaker was the Chief Commissioner England, Alex Peace-Gadsby, who was sat at the same table I was and was just lovely and friendly.


Our programme for the day. 



Scouters from all the counties and districts in the South West.


There was a lot of good reflection points over the weekend – the role of the leader being the factor in why a young person would stay or choose to leave Scouting – opened up a lot of discussions. An influential, exciting and engaging leader enhances the Scouting experience for the young person and encourages more memberships!


We split into groups for three twenty minutes sessions. Our first was the focus on the Quality Programme Checkers and why they aren’t be utilised within Scouting as effectively as they should be and how to get people using them to review their programmes.


Another session was looking at running district workshops to inspire and help adult leaders learn new skills – one particular workshop was a game one – getting adults learning new games to keep the young people interested and enthused… so, a district youth commissioner showed us all how to play Extreme Rock, Paper, Scissors.

The group splits into two, faces each other across a line, they have to decide as a group whether or not to select Rock, Paper or Scissors and once decided have the use their bodies to be the object. On the count of three the groups will ‘be‘ the object, if they are defeated they must run to the back of the room on their side without getting caught –  if caught they join the other team and the round starts again until only one person is left (or the group get rowdy or bored). As you can see from this photo I was having a fun time… haha.


Making my ‘scissor’ motion whilst pulling a face.


After the workshops and a good lunch, it was on to a discussion about inspiring adults, ensuring they are enjoying volunteering (“Tasks not titles as a way to increase the number of adults”) and how to help support them then on to youth involvement and looking at the different generational needs and expectations and how to encourage more young people to join Scouting. A lot of good points were raised. Lastly, we had a look at the strategy and spoke together as a county about the development plan focusing on some key areas.


Then it was home time as soon as it had begun. Today (15th May) is the launch of the new Scouting logo and the branding – there will be a few changes over the next couple of years as the association works towards its 2023 vision – 50,000 more young people in Scouting, 10,000 adult leaders and 5,000 young leaders. To quote them:

“By 2023 we will have prepared more young people with skills for life, supported by amazing leaders delivering an inspiring programme.

We will be growing, more inclusive, shaped by young people and making a bigger impact in our communities.”

So I look forward to being a part of that and supporting their vision.


I had been watching surfline web cameras all week at the beaches so suggested to Terry early on in the month that he pack the van camper and pick me up from the Summit and we head straight to the beach! #microadventure weekend! He agreed and drove to collect me with Bailey in the van and headed toward Putsborough Beach in North Devon.

The journey took less than expected and when we arrived we paid to keep the van camper overnight on the hard standing above the car park overlooking the beach and the sea.

It was gloomy when we turned up. The rain was hammering down and we did wonder what the next day would be like…


Bailey wishing he could go outside and run about in the rain.

Still, we wanted to be by the sea. I haven’t been to the sea for months and I was missing it. There’s something very calming yet exciting about seeing and hearing the waves. I spent ages watching this view from the van until the rain stopped and we went for a wander.

We did question when we turned up why they didn’t allow vans/cars to spend overnight in the car park until later on when about 30 cars turned up and the night fishermen/women got out and wandered down to the sea with their kit – I don’t know how late they stayed out for, I was in bed by 11pm, but they were still fishing… it was fascinating to watch them. I’ve never seen night time sea fishing before and researching into it sounds interesting – fishermen can catch cod, whiting, pouting, dogfish, bass, conger eels and many others from the sea and the best times to fish are between 8pm and 3am with high water before midnight. Who knew? (clearly, sea fishermen/women!)

The view from our camper on the hardstanding.

It was such a delight to wander along the beach, watch the fishermen, theorise why they do it, watch the sun setting and return to a very mild night – so mild I could sit with the side door open in my sleeping bag and watch the surf. Bliss.



Panoramic view of the beach before sunset.


Unfortunately, my iPod died and when I found out Terry had forgotten to pack my electronic equipment so did my ability to take photos; but this turned out to be a good thing as more time was spent ‘in the moment‘ this weekend than staring at a screen.

Terry did have his drone though and caught some amazing shots with it.


Walking along the beach in the early morning.


We decided to get up early and walk along the beach after a quick breakfast and we made the right choice – we had it practically to ourselves for over an hour so used the drone without worry.

We’ve been to this beach several times before; Putsborough Sands is the southern part of Woolacombe Sands. It is a sandy beach with some rock pools, protected by Baggy point from the prevailing southwesterly winds and above the beach is a small caravan site, beach shop and the cleanest toilets you’ll ever use. Dogs are allowed on this beach (though not all of it) all year round.




The beach is huge and Baggy Point is in the background (good Geocaching route around the point).


After an hour or so of walking on the beach and playing with the drone and Bailey, we moved the van camper so the rear doors faced the beach from the car park so we could relax and watch the surf and surfers.

The rest of the day was spent with the body boards in the sea (this time Bailey didn’t want to get on a board with us which was a shame as I was hoping he’ll learn to be comfortable on a board), sunbathing, eating, drinking and relaxing before deciding to head home in the late afternoon. Just perfect. I didn’t even mind the sunburnt red face the next day. So worth it.

I’m planning on going back to the beach – this time with my ‘shorty’ wetsuit in warmer weather (Terry forgot to pack my new wetsuit, so had to use my itchy old one) – might check out another beach or return to this one as we love it so much. For now, I have these videos to keep watching…

– Just Joanne

A whole lotta DofE…

It’s that time of year again – Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expedition season has begun! I like this time of year, the flowers are starting to bloom again, the leaves are growing back, the grass is greener and we’re finally starting to see some more sun! Yesss. This means 1,000s of young people aged 14-24years old are planning walking routes, trying on and purchasing walking kit and getting outside, exploring and having fun adventures!

DofE Part 1:

So first up this season was a Silver practise for Explorer Scouts in the FForest Fawr/Black Mountains area starting at Abercraf. Time to dust off the walking kit and put it to use again…

This weekend’s kit.

My Kit consisted of:

Even Bailey has his own walking equipment:

Bailey’s kit.

We decided, after this foray into wild country, that we will find a harness that has pockets so Bailey can carry some of his own kit with him when we go out walking…(he’s going to hate us!)

Leaving the cars in a layby we set off from the Show caves in Abercraf to the hillside. We’ve often used this place as a starting point/campsite for expeditions etc but have never been inside the caves… one day we will do something about that!

I love this area. It has been previously used by the army due to the number of shake holes in this area (not sure if they still use it) for navigation practice so makes it ideal for getting DofE participants to think seriously about navigation – there are also so many false paths, interesting contours and changes in ground vegetation which do offer a good learning challenge. Just looking at part of the Ordnance Survey map covering the area will explain what I mean>>

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I use OS Get-a-map for route planning etc. It’s amazing! Highly recommend it.
Tracks on the hillside. Such a beautiful fun area to explore.

After a day teaching navigation to the group, they found a spot that was one of the nicest wild camping spots I’ve stayed in – near a stream, protected from the wind, discreet and had fantastic views. My idea of heaven.

Wild camping spot for the night.
Testing out the Brukit
Filtering water using Steripen filter. Glad I’m getting opportunities to use this – it pen itself wasn’t cheap but was useful in Nepal.
Time for a quick selfie of Terry and myself.
The morning view of Terry talking to Bailey whilst breakfast is ‘cooking’.

The next day, wasn’t as glorious as the first weather wise sadly, but we made the best of it by some more navigation then popping into Craig-y-Nos Country park for Welsh cakes and tea before moving on to explore the waterfalls nearby at Bro’r Sgydau .

Craig-y-Nos Country park.



DofE Part 2:

The following weekend (this weekend) saw me travel to Windsor to the headquarters of the DofE Award at Gulliver House on the train (great, easy and quick links from Swindon with GWR trains) to attend an orientation course for National Operating Authorities (such as Scouts, Girl Guides etc) to be able to deliver the Introduction to the Award, Supervisor and Assessor courses for volunteers.



Now I don’t mind doing these kinds of things – I always find some use out of them and I found a lot of useful stuff from this course (and it was very well delivered) however I’d been helping run these courses when I was working as a DofE Development worker for Wiltshire Council before they closed the service so it was already all familiar so did wonder why they couldn’t accept previous experience…

Anyway, the bunch of adults we had from Scouting and other national authorities were brilliant and helped make the day really enjoyable. I picked up a lot of information about how the DofE is delivered and managed in other counties and whilst it is not my role within Wiltshire Scouts it did give me pause for thought and considerations for delivery of the award within our district.

Great packs full of training materials for the courses.
New resources to use!

After the course had finished, it was back on the training and straight out to the countryside for a Scout Bronze DofE assessed expedition in Oxfordshire around the Ridgeway area in the lovely sunshine!

Uffington White Horse on the approach from the road.

There were two groups this time, a group from the Sea Scout Explorer Unit, Poisedon ESU, and one from a land-based group, Phoenix Archer ESU (and all Young Leaders at a Highworth Cub pack). When I arrived at Britchcombe Farm campsite (expensive but a fav) they were just putting up their tents and starting their dinner so I caught up with the day’s events about team’s getting lost within the first hour, the banter and the lastest toy that Terry had purchased (a drone…)

That evening, upon hearing that there would be thunder and lightning, we ventured up to Uffington Hill to watch ‘nature’s fireworks‘ in the skies and we weren’t disappointed! A very dramatic and colourful sunset followed by bursts of sheet lightning and fork lightning over Swindon in the distance. Only the threat of rain prompted us to go to bed.

Dramatic skies from Uffington Hill. Views like this explain why I love being outside.

And oh my did it rain! The thunder and lightning moved above us and the skies opened and it poured and poured throughout the night. I opted to sleep in the car, rather than a tent, with Bailey as sleeping in the car is cosy and warm (he’s like a hot water bottle) and I generally get a good night’s sleep.

Bailey was up and alert in the morning when the sun started to peek out over the trees at the campsite.

Bailey alert at 6am in the morning.
Glorious sun rise.

Then it was just a case of waiting for the groups to wake, cook their breakfast and pack up. Our first checkpoint was Wayland’s Smithy where we played with the drone before a mass horde of Cub Scouts turned up so decided to move on to the next place to meet the young people.

DofE Teddy enjoying the sunshine at the Smithy.

The groups weren’t a concern this time, they navigated themselves to where they were meant to be without any issue today and went home happy knowing they’ve passed this section of their award. We grabbed a couple of Subways and headed home to put the tents out to dry, wash the kit and put it away ready for the next outing.

Next up is the Silver assessed expedition and I believe I have signed up to help on the school’s expedition at some point in the future but these are the only DofE I’m doing this year – I counted the number of expeditions I was Supervisor/Assessor/Leader on whilst at Wilts Council amounted to approximately 22 within the space of two years (during expedition season of March to October excluding August) and not counting weekends helping run training and day hikes… I do miss it sometimes but it’s nicer running/being on expeditions where you’ve gotten to know the young people beforehand – more so Scouting ones as they have fewer worries and concerns about camping/navigation etc due to prior experience.

First, before them, we have a Scout Wales hiking weekend in the Brecons for Jamboree on the Trail (can’t do it on usual date) which I am very much looking forward to.

Just won’t be putting any personal kit away as it won’t be long before it’ll be used again!

Just Joanne