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For the first time this year, the School decided to take pupils preparing for their Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award further afield than previously for their first expedition. Instead of driving them to the Sussex Downs, the practice expedition took place in Hampshire. Despite a very busy and exhausting Spring Term, on Thursday 3 April, only the day after breaking up for the holidays, the pupils involved boarded two coaches bound for the New Forest, accompanied by five members of staff. The 92 Upper Fifth taking part were nonetheless full of energy for the trip.
The three days that followed were a valuable practical learning experience and the culmination of several weeks of planning. Back in October, pupils had organised themselves into their groups. Over the course of two terms, members of each group had had to cooperate with one another in drawing up their expedition routes, planning their meals and assembling their kit in the weekly sessions. By the second morning of their stay, there was already a clear difference between those groups who had carefully planned their itinerary and those who had not fully thought it through. All groups, however, eventually managed to organise themselves, gathering their belongings and then heading off into the forest for roughly a 20-km walk.
From the outset of the expedition, the pupils received considerable support both from their teachers and the trained mountain leaders hired by the School. On arriving at the Foxlease campsite near Lyndhurst, each group was warmly greeted by the mountain leader who would work closely with them over the three days to ensure they developed the necessary skills to pass their assessed expedition. On the first morning, too, each mountain leader gave their group a safety briefing and route check, before pupils quickly disappeared in various directions. On that first day, they completed their own planned 10 km circuit, returning to the base at Foxlease to set up camp for the evening and to receive practical help with their campcraft skills.
The following day, pupils were to follow their routes to various wild campsites, with a maximum of two groups camping at each location. Throughout that second day, St John's staff set off on foot, on bicycle or in minibuses to intercept as many groups as possible, relieved to find them generally in good spirits. At the end of the day, the teachers caught up with all groups again as they delivered water to each wild campsite and exchanged words with the mountain leaders.
On the third and final day, all groups demonstrated just how well they had learnt their orienteering skills. Their planned routes involved walking another 20 km back to the base at Foxlease, with the motivation that the first six groups to return could board the first coach. The encouragement turned out to be superfluous, as even the last groups came back long before either coach arrived. Importantly, no groups needed any assistance from the minibus team to find their way back. Already at the end of the second day, the mountain leaders had been very impressed with the pupils’ motivation and teamwork skills. On the final day they were once more very complimentary of the pupils on the whole. Miss Finnegan, who organised the trip, thought that the pupils as a cohort dealt with the challenges they faced extremely well. She added, ‘The success of this practice expedition bodes well for the real test in June, when they will be undertaking their assessed expedition in the Lake District.’
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