Monday, 29 July 2013

Duke of Edinburgh Award

In the Easter holidays about sixty members of our school set out on an expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, otherwise known as D of E. I was in a group of seven, and we begun our journey in high spirits. We had completed our practice expedition in October, and now we were undertaking the real expedition. On the practice I borrowed my mother’s shoes and, unfortunately, they were too small – by the end of the first day of hiking I had Hematoma under my big toe. Hematoma/Haematoma is an accumulation of blood in a certain place, like a bruise, but it hurts a lot more! And so on top of the mountain I had to cut my toenails using one of the teacher’s penknives. Then proceeded one of the most horrible experiences of my life: the school doctor had to drill a hole through my toenail (sorry to be so graphic) so that the blood could squirt out. To make matters worse, I still had to finish the walk in excruciating pain.

I knew not to make the same mistake at Easter, so the week before the expedition I bought myself some new hiking shoes, and I was determined that they would not be too small. And so, in my new boots and in the cold weather, we set out on the first day of our D of E hike. We had to walk about 23 kilometres each day for three days – that amounts to about 70 kilometres with no day between to rest. And there was me thinking Bronze D of E (only 13 kilometres for two days) was hard! All of the other hikers that we passed were very kind and indeed many stopped to chat to us. One man, I remember, asked where we were staying. When we told him, he began to giggle: it was only then that we discovered the weather forecast. A huge dump of snow was forecasted that night, and it was to fall right where our campsite was!

And as we settled down for the night in our tents, we prayed that it would not snow and that we would stay warm. However alas! It was not so. I was awoken in the night by the shouts of one of my teachers:
“Is everybody okay? Who’s in here? Are you alright?”
“Y-y-y-yes sir-r-r-r” I replied, shivering.
He had been rung in the night by one of the girl’s tents requesting that he pick them up and ‘save them’. The girls were taken to sleep in the toilets, which were somewhat warmer, and typically, all the boys pretended not to be cold, so that no one person would be branded a coward. And so we soldiered on through the night, shivering and burying ourselves in our sleeping bags.

As I pulled down the zipper of my tent, I saw to my horror that my backpack had been entombed under piles of snow, even though it was under part of the tent! Eager to see the mark left by the snow, I crawled out of my tent and couldn’t believe my eyes. A carpet of snow had encompassed everything in site, and there was no inch left uncovered. A few minutes after I had arisen some teachers arrived, ordering us to pack up the girl’s tents and bags – they had failed their expedition. In the blistering cold, with no gloves, this was indeed a horrible experience. The metal poles of the tents stuck to my fingers and froze my skin! On top of this, we had to pack up our own tents and bags in anticipation of our day’s walk.

However, just as we were preparing to set off, our assessor broke the news to us: our expedition had to be called off. It was not safe to make us walk during the blizzard, and there was no other way we could complete it. And so we had endured an entire day of hiking for nothing. Not only that, but we had also completed 30 hours of Volunteering, amongst other things, just to have failed our award – it had all been wasted!

But it was not all bad! Luckily our teachers were able to organise a second internally assessed expedition at the beginning of the summer holidays. Although I had to sacrifice 3 days of my holiday, I thought it was worth it, rather than all my hard work having gone to waste. Nevertheless, we still lost one of the members of our group who wasn’t eager to go on another expedition, which was a very traumatic experience for us all.

And so again we set off, after we had completed our GCSEs and were starting to relax for summer. However I never fully relaxed until the expedition was over as it was looming over me for the first week of summer. In slightly less high spirits our expedition begun, and let me just say that for me, my spirits did not improve. In fact they steadily plummeted throughout the walk. On the first day I managed to twist my right ankle while stumbling through a quarry while my entire group were about a hundred metres ahead of me.

On the second day things went from bad to worse. As I mentioned earlier, because I was so determined not to get Hematoma this time, I bought extra large boots – what a mistake! Within the first hour of the second day I had the biggest and most excruciating blisters on both of my feet that I had ever seen. We stopped for a ‘blister inspection’ on Mycock Lane (I know: very witty), and mine were definitely the biggest, and I proceeded to cover them in an abundance of Compeed, God’s blessing to men (with blisters).

It then became almost unbearable to walk, and so I devised a way to travel the distance in the least amount of pain: this was only possible if I steadily jogged without lifting my feet very high from the ground, so that each step was very light. However as you can guess this was very tiring, and made almost impossible by my twisted ankle. My group seemed to find my plight exceedingly hilarious, making the experience all the more horrific.

At the end of the second day I also somehow managed to damage my knee in some way (I’m not sure how) which made it much more uncomfortable to walk. And as we settled down at our campsite for our second night we met some other groups from a different school, and when we asked them how far they had to walk we were outraged. They only had to walk 15 kilometres! This is because the actual requirement for the Silver Award is about six hours of walking per day – there is no set distance! This really aggravated our entire group because we had to suffer an extra eight kilometres every day because our school are really pushy. However not all was bad: the other school gave us lots of their food because they ‘felt sorry for us’.

However the two injuries to my legs, along with my blisters, were not my only problems. By the end of the second day I had tremendously painful chafing on the inside of my legs. This made any sort of walking impossible, and I ended up being laughed at by everybody I passed because I was forced to waddle like a penguin, with my legs wide apart. Therefore I decided to retire early, and lay in my tent while my group watched the football.

The final day was absolute hell. I spent almost all the day stumbling along behind my group while they shouted ‘Hurry up!’ over and over. At many points I thought, and so did they, that I would not make it. I contemplated ringing the teacher and telling him that I could walk no further, for fear of permanently damaging either my feet or my legs. Nonetheless I reached the end just as it began to pour with rain, and to my great pleasure, was provided with a box of fish and chips. We still had to wait a couple of hours for one of the groups who had gotten terribly lost, and had taken an hour or so detour.

I find it rather ironic how three of my life’s most unpleasant experiences (Hematoma, sleeping in a blizzard and chafing/blisters) all took place on my Silver D of E expeditions, and yet I still very much enjoyed them. And although the walking was somewhat traumatic I still relished the experience and look forward to Gold! And despite losing a few days of my holiday, I’m glad I have now completed the Award. However, a month on, my blisters have yet to heal, and I was unable to walk for about a week after the expedition.


  1. Where were the expeditions? You haven't said!

    Spare a thought for myself and my father. We're walking 175 miles next week!

  2. Ahh they were in the Peak District - can't remember exactly where! Oh my that is a long way!