Reflecting on my Practice Gold Duke of Edinburgh

For my practice Gold Duke of Edinburgh expedition, I joined an open canoe expedition, which took place on the River Severn for four nights and five days and has to include a minimum of two nights wild camping. An ‘open’ expedition meant that I did my practice with people that I had never met before from different schools. There were seven of us in total; five boys from a school in Reading plus one girl from another school who I shared a canoe with. They had all done their practice gold DofE expedition a couple of weeks prior to this trip, so this was their assessed expedition.

The first day I underwent some basic canoe training. The instructor taught me some emergency strokes and what to do in quick flowing water. Later that evening I got to know the other members of the team and ensured I had everything I needed for the next four days.

The first official day of the practice expedition was character-building, to say the least. Not only did one of the canoes capsize fifteen minutes after we set out when one of the boys lost his glasses, but we encountered five logs blocking the entirety of the width of the river during. At one point we even thought we might need a helicopter to come and lift us out of the river due to the quickly flowing water and logs – before the trip we were unsure whether the trip would proceed due to heavy rain in Wales which meant the river was flowing very fast. We finally managed to precariously manoeuvre the canoes over the first log and got around the further four logs in an equally questionable manner. By 8:30 pm, we were cold, soaked to the skin from the incessant rain and 10km short of our planned campsite for the night, so we had to improvise and “wild camp” in a field, as it was starting to go dark. We were partially wild camping, so we had no access to toilets or showers, only running water to fill up our water bottles. I finally managed to eat my lunch at around 9:15 pm and fell asleep not too soon afterwards to try and recover my aching muscles.

Day 2 was a really long day, as we had to canoe the extra 10km that we did not manage to canoe the previous day, so that meant we had to canoe a grand total of 42km as well as having to carry our canoes around the Weir in the centre of Shrewsbury. At the Weir, we had to unknot all of the barrels from our canoe and place them on the footpath next to the river. Then we lifted the canoes out of the water and carried them and the barrels (separately as they were so heavy) about 100m to a point beneath the Weir where it was safe to reload the canoes and set off again. That evening we reached Atcham about 7:30 pm, where we set up at our wild camp, exhausted, for a second night – thankfully the weather had been much better today, sunny in fact, so everything was dry this evening which made a huge difference.

On the third day, we only had to canoe 20km. As this day was much shorter, and the weather as good, we were able to relax a bit more during the day and for the most part, just letting the current of the river carry us instead of paddling non-stop.  This was great as our muscles were sore and aching. We found a tennis ball in the morning floating down the river, which provided some much-needed entertainment as we all played catch between our canoes – good balance was very important! We arrived at the wild camp at 1:30 pm and so had the afternoon to relax.

The final day was a 26km paddle, including the rapids in Ironbridge. Despite the rapids only being very short, they were undeniably one of my favourite things about the entire trip. One of the canoes gained a couple of metres in height. Thankfully we managed to get some of the experience on video.

Over the course of the 5 days I would say that despite the challenges and hardship of the first couple of days, I did have a lot of fun and enjoyed the trip with my new friends. I also learnt some useful skills for my assessed expedition next year. For example, I have ideas as to what I can eat whilst on my assessed expedition; instead of the meals in bags that I took this time, I am going to take inspiration from Charlotte, the other girl, who was cooking pancakes for breakfast and delicious fresh curries for dinner. I also learnt how to do various types of knots such as a closed-hitch, and a rolling-hitch and the lads taught me some new card games.

I believe that Duke of Edinburgh opens up many avenues in life but also that you learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of – things that you can’t know until you push yourself.

From a personal perspective, I now know that I can quickly build good relationships and work as a team with people I have never met before; that I am much more resilient than I knew, and that I can persevere when faced with significant challenges, and that having a final goal helps keep you going when you might otherwise want to give up.

For anyone thinking about doing a Duke of Edinburgh Gold award, I would definitely recommend it. Yes, it is hard work, but you can build the skill, activity, and volunteering sections into your weekly schedule, and the expeditions are an amazing experience that leaves you with lifelong memories. You will learn new life- skills that will be useful in the workplace and find out about what you can be truly capable of.

Holly – 6.2