Since leaving uni I’ve gone on to do some freelance work and I’ve had the most fascinating time so far.
First up, a DofE Bronze Qualifier in the Surrey Hills – can you run a DofE exped so close to London? It appears you can! It was good fun but hard work (at times). The Approved Activity Provider (AAP) I work for use trains to access local areas for their expeditions, thusly reducing the carbon footprint and teaching independent travel to the young people, however, you end up walking pretty much the same route as the young people as there is only one care between eight teams… so my feet were pretty sore after this one!
Then this week I have been in a very sunny Devon in Exmoor National Park for NCS. This was my first as a walk leader for young people outside of a DofE/Cadets/Scouting/Guiding scheme and it was by far the most varied of experiences I’ve ever had.
As part of their activity week, the young people all had to participate in a hike exploring the local area. As Lynmouth was within a reasonable walking distance along the South West Coastal Path from the campsite, this seemed like the obvious choice for city kids to visit a coastal town and see some pretty views along the way, simple right? Hmm…
To begin with, with camps of this size, rumours get around quickly. The biggest of the week was ticks and lyme disease…
During the previous week several ticks were taken off young people, which was understandable as they had been camping in an old sheep field and walking in areas where wild ponies roam, but as with things of this nature rumours get wildly exaggerated and suddenly they became the focus of the walks… “Will we get any?” “Are we walking through areas where we can get them?” “Will I die from Lyme Disease?” And with things of this nature, people only tend to hear what they want to hear… so, overall, the general concensus was a) everyone was going to get a tick and b) everyone was going to get Lyme Disease!
Another rumour went like this…
Team Leader: “I’ve been told that this walk is 9 miles long.”
Me: “Nah, more like 6-7 miles depending on where we walk.”
TL: “Wow… 9 miles. “
Yes, there was a route that was extended for the more fit and able however, the groups I had had a lot of medical and physical issues so I went on shortened 6-7 mile routes and even doing this caused a few grumbles… for you see, some young people don’t get outside often… but still, they kept thinking I was taking them on a 9 miler so, in the end, I didn’t disagree – some thought it was great, some thought I was as mean as an army officer making them “do all that work for no reason” (true quote.) and that was just the team leaders! 🤔
I have found, from young people actually interested in the outdoors, that medical issues are never usually the focus nor excuse for doing something yet for those unfamiliar with walking often their information was quickly described to me before I even asked! I had one group who almost seemed to be in competition with each other to list their ailments and who was struggling the most… funnily enough, none of these discussions happened on the gradial descent into the town, just on the hilly uphill bits on the walk home! 🤔
AND, the amount of “I’ve got a long term bone/joint/medical issue but I haven’t declared it on my medical form…” conversations as well were usually responded with something like: “If I had known, I could have adjusted the route or made alternatives for you so you wouldn’t be suffering right now, unfortunately you chose to tell me in the middle of a woodland walk, not before it, where we can’t easily leave and we’ve still got to go uphill to the nearest road…” 🤔
I also found, no matter how much I described the route and provided choices, none seemed to be able to ‘picture’ the route. Their lack of experience meant they focused on words like “short” and “slog” rather than “sharp”, “steep” and “gradual” which, combined with the inexperience of pacing, made managing the groups complex. The majority decided short (with steepness) was better that long (with gradial ascent) to be their choice… it was also very sweet when they found out the trig point was 302m above sea level, they were pleased to have walked up to that height and many thought it was really high (would loved to have taken them on Snowdon)…
And the last thing that I noticed was interesting… was the fact the majority just weren’t interested in the countryside. The majority just showed no inclination to ask questions really. We visited a trig point, talked about coastal geology and marine life, visited a church and talked about religion, saw exmoor ponies, saw dolphins, old second world war defense atilary, flora and fauna, geocaching, land use, the National Trust and what they do for the environment and other various bits and pieces… the last group I had just wanted to walk the route as fast as possible so they could go back to their tents and play on their phones! The second group of the week was my fav, the team leader was really engaging with them and allowed me to talk a lot about the countryside, chipping in with additional facts and the kids responded well!
So it has been an interesting week in regards to taking out young people out on the South West Coast. I do it all again in a week or so!
Anyway, here’s some pretty pictures…