Last week, several teams from Explorer Units across North London District headed up to the River Wye to complete the expeditions for their Duke of Edinburgh Awards. One Wild Wolf group, made up of Ellie, Carina, Dearbhla and Zuzanna, have written about their Gold expedition:
We arrived at Scout Park, bright and early, on Saturday morning, lugging our ridiculously impractical barrels behind us, frantically reassuring ourselves that we were, in fact, ready for a week of canoeing.
Our team ended up driving to Shooter’s Hill, in South-East London, to pick up a trailer of canoes from Severndroog ESU. We then embarked on a sightseeing tour of London, in an attempt to make our way back across London to the M40. Having boarded the Woolwich Ferry, driven along Tower Bridge, and passed Buckingham Palace (all while posting the mandatory photos on Twitter), we finally reached our destination, and were able to properly start our journey to Ross-on-Wye.
Four hours later, we still had all the canoes (much to general relief) and had arrived at Ross-on-Wye’s huge Morrison’s. Here we were entrusted with our food money for the week, and told to buy all the provisions for our expedition. We wandered around the supermarket, stocking up on food from the ‘Saver’s’ range, and despairing about how badly the shop was organised. (I mean seriously, who puts magazines next to fruit & veg?) As a result, all our shopping took quite a while, and our trailer of canoes caused just a little bit of disruption in the car park.
Having filled our food barrel with all the essentials (Twirl Bites, carrots, Uncle Ben’s rice etc…), we set off again, and drove to our campsite on the banks of the River Wye.
Once our tents were set up, there was nothing left to do, besides whip out the Trangias and cook up some pesto pasta (It’s DofE. Of course we had pasta.)
The next day, Sunday, both WWESU Gold teams headed out on a day trip, canoeing down the river from Kerne Bridge. We did some technique practice, in which Marlon demonstrated the perfect way to unintentionally go the wrong way round an island. After that display, we continued paddling downstream.
Eventually, we reached the Symonds Yat rapids, having had lunch, and proceeded to practise some manoeuvres in this more challenging environment. Ferry gliding and eddying are all very well, but we all agreed the true entertainment came when Tilly and Simpson capsized spectacularly.
Once we finished at Symonds Yat, we continued on downriver and were soon at Biblins, much wetter than when we started, but feeling more confident in our canoeing abilities.
The next day, Monday, was the starting day for the other WWESU Gold team, and they left with early morning faces looming out of the minibus windows. We decided that another day of practice wouldn’t hurt, and so headed back to Symonds Yat, with Marlon.
The team promptly approached Symonds Yat, a grade 2 rapid. So, how did we do? Pretty decent, if I say so myself. Well, decent if you ignore the fabulous canoeing roll (capsize…) performed by Zuza and Dearbhla. It would have been fine, until you take into account how difficult it is to swim with a paddle in one hand and a canoe in the other. After being hauled to shore by Marlon, we portaged our canoes to the start of the rapids and did it all over again (without the capsizing this time…).
After repeatedly ferry gliding and eddying (like pros), we decided to treat ourselves to a hearty meal. The Radical Pink Lady Boyz (as we dubbed ourselves) then found a fancy looking hotel and restaurant by the side of the river. Despite being rather soggy, we were still allowed to enter, and ordered cream teas for five. They were served as we discussed, in true WWESU fashion, whether it was cream and then jam or jam and then cream. I’ll save you the embarrassment, it’s cream first, not jam. NEVER JAM. The tea was entertainment enough, but as a bonus we had Ellie crying her eyes out. We hadn’t even started our expedition and she had had enough (that was a joke, a terrible one. Ellie was crying with happiness, and the pure bliss of mountains of cream.) This wasn’t the last cream tea of the week, but that’s a story for later on… We promptly left after stealing the sugar sachets and some packets of butter (well, we had paid for them), for use with our rather basic camp meals. Our expedition was due to start the next day and we decided that it was a good idea to get some sleep, so headed off to bed pretty early.
Tuesday was the first day of our expedition. With fresh enthusiasm we got up at 6:30 to take down camp and sort everything out. This was followed by a discussion of kit and route with Julian before we loaded the minibus with canoes and headed off for the hour and a half long journey. Upon arriving at Glasbury, we met our assessor, Mike, and got our kit and canoes down to the riverside.
Our first day of canoeing had amazing weather and sooooooo much sun cream was applied (especially by Carina). We got excited by the much-anticipated rapids and were quite disappointed when they were just waves. We also planned our outfits for the final day and sang for the first time – something that we kept up throughout the next few days. It was a really good set up for the days ahead and we discovered how much faster we went compared to our practice expedition on the Thames.
We stopped for lunch in an eddy behind a tree, where there seemed to be a knocking noise on the bottom of the canoe. This prompted us to assume someone was dying (they weren’t!) and many jokes were made. Turns out it was just a branch, but hey, that’s a lot less interesting. The rest of the afternoon carried on fairly uneventfully, as we went over Monnington Falls, quite possibly the least exciting falls ever, and stopped for a Twirl Bite break next to some cows. As the campsite for that night came into view, there was a lot of debate as to whether it was the right one, until we spotted Mike standing on the bank. Having speedily set up camp, we made dinner: Mac’n’Cheese with tuna, which was amazingly good. Soon enough the farmer came to collect his money and we ended up having a conversation about politics with him, which was interesting, to say the least. Once he had left, we decided to call it a night and head to bed, ending the first day.
On Wednesday, we left our campsite as the singular other person there woke up, and sang our way downstream. It was our longest day, canoeing 28 miles, but we were still way ahead of schedule. We managed to find enough energy in us to have a good ol’ fashioned DofE gossip as we drifted past many trees, fields and fishermen. Dearbhla found her religious side, as she renamed our squeaky rubber chickens Jesus and Mary. Songs were reinvented and the time seemed to fly by.
Before long we were at Tresseck Farm campsite, where we had to drag the canoes up a very steep slope with a dirty pool of water at the bottom, which smelled like dead fish. We all ended up falling in and getting very muddy (apart from Carina who managed to stay clean somehow). Our camp was in the empty side of the field and so we became very territorial of our field, later judging the other people who arrived with a pop up tent. Dinner was Uncle Ben’s rice with sweet chilli sauce, which soon became a staple for every meal – including Dearbhla’s hot chocolate. We played a game of cheat (Ellie won!), had a quick yoga session, and headed to bed at 9pm. This became slightly embarrassing as Julian then arrived to talk to the silver team who were staying on the same camp and we were falling asleep.Once he had left, we soon fell asleep in preparation for the next day.
Thursday started the same as the first two days, with a 6am start, even on our shortest day. Trying not to wake up the entire campsite, we had hot chocolate (this time without the sweet chilli) and the most amazing chocolate waffles – probably the only thing we bought that wasn’t Morrison’s own brand. After a quick slip’N’slide which ended with Dearbhla and the canoe in the dirty dead fish swamp, we set off for day three of our expedition. Our first few miles were song filled (can you see a pattern?) and cheery until the rain set in, at which point we played eye-spy for half an hour before realising that the entire River Wye valley looks pretty much the same – once we’d exhausted ‘tree’, ‘river’ and ‘rain’, we gave up.
We had a short break in Ross-on-Wye where we interrupted a very romantic date and Dearbhla managed to knock two paintings off of the wall of the cafe on her way to their toilet. After taking several selfies with the rubber chickens, we continued on our merry way. As we glided angelically down the river, we were overtaken by several hire canoes with screaming children. Five minutes later we realised just how embarrassing this was and proceeded to race past, showing off our superior canoeing skills.
Eventually we arrived at the YHA and set up camp. Once we got the tents up, the rain started again and so our amazing tarp-putting-up skills were put to the test (our tarp was great). Upon realising there was a REAL toilet and HOT shower we all rejoiced, before ultimately deciding to not shower (to much effort…). Dinner was tinned spaghetti bolognese with pretzel sticks and chocolate digestives for dessert. Sadly the nearest toilets were portaloos, but, in Carina’s words, they were “the classiest portaloos to ever exist” and she “only counted one bug in the entire thing” – a novelty for us. We easily decided that it was super late (by this we mean 9:30pm) and that we should definitely head off to bed – our last night of the expedition!
Friday was the last day of our expedition. With the now routine procedure, we woke up at 6am, had breakfast and took the tents down before getting our canoes ready for the last time. We couldn’t believe we’d be done by the end of the day, and each of us was looking forward to the cream teas we promised ourselves- especially Dearbhla, who had not stopped talking about it since Monday.
The river was quite high when we approached the rapids at Symonds Yat. To be fair, if we didn’t know they were there, we’d probably crash into the rocks. However, we successfully managed to get through, fully expecting to see Marlon trying to photograph us, but he wasn’t there. Even as we passed the base campsite at Biblins, singing our new and improved version of ‘In The Jungle’, we heard no cheers of good luck but instead received a confused wave from Tilly. Disappointed with the reaction – or lack of one – we took off our hand-made flower crowns and continued our journey down the river.
Eventually, we reached the take out spot in Brockweir. We were asked to take out the canoes in the midst of a muddy bank that would try to swallow your shoes if you stood in one place for longer than five seconds. After struggling to push and pull the canoes up a practically vertical hill, we finally realised we finished our expedition!
The only thing left to do was to load everything onto the trailer and naturally, have cream teas. We went down to an old railway station which was turned into a cafe/souvenir shop where we treated ourselves to some scones and tea, and even got matching bracelets (because come on, squad goals). We were still full of energy as we arrived back at Biblins and took a refreshing shower after having a debrief with Marlon about our expedition. Luckily everything had gone extremely well – better than everyone had expected, to be honest – and with that in mind, we got ready for a great BBQ to end the week.