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For the first time this year, Upper Fifth pupils completing their Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award did their assessed expedition in the Lake District, an area previously used by the School only for seniors undertaking the Gold Award. In spite of the more challenging terrain, this year’s participants demonstrated real determination: fewer pupils than ever abandoned the expedition without completing it (only one in fact, owing to a minor mishap), while all groups finished the course.
Arriving in the Lake District on Monday 23 June in the evening, half the groups were set down at Braithwaite on the northern side of the Lakes, while the others set up their first camp on the edge of Lake Coniston, in the south. Over the next three days, the two sets of groups would walk routes roughly in opposite directions, crossing one another on the second day and finishing at the other starting point on the third. All groups, however, had planned their own routes, which included two nights en route. Some groups had to spend one of these nights on a wild campsite rather than a serviced one.
The three-day trek was the chance for the hikers to demonstrate their self-sufficiency to the mountain leaders assessing them. Dressed and equipped correctly, with copious supplies of dehydrated and long-life food from the outset, they spent up to eight hours each day navigating, walking and researching the environment. Even when they arrived at their campsite each evening, the day was not over: they still had to pitch their tents, cook their meal and prepare for the next day.
The pupils faced many tests in the course of each day: steep uphill walks in rocky terrain over various peaks; battling to avoid being bitten constantly by midges; and, avoiding some of the shallow swamps. Here, one boy was not entirely successful when, much to the amusement of his team mates, he found one of his legs submerged to his waist in the mud, after he lacked the energy to walk around a small bog.
Every group doing an expedition must do a project where they collect information from the local environment that they visit. The groups chose a variety of themes. As one example, some looked at litter left by visitors to the area. As another, some groups decided to investigate the wildlife. At the end of the second day, their assessors asked them to do a presentation on their findings up to that moment. The mountain leaders were struck by the originality of one group that delivered a presentation in the form of an a cappella song about wild animals in the area.
As the groups assembled at their final pick-up point on the last day, the mountain leaders praised their orienteering skills, especially those of the girls, who learnt so much from their mistakes on the first day and never made any errors thereafter. They also were impressed by the solidarity and cooperation between the boys in one particular group, who had no more than occasional contact with one another during a normal school day, but who learned to gel and give themselves valuable mutual support when having to work together as a team.
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