Last July I found myself helping out with a Sea Cadet Gold Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition in the Brecon Beacons of South Wales.
I was asked to attend in a safety role as a Mountain Leader but soon ended up doing safety and training as we had a shortage of instructors. The expedition was over five days and we had one team along for training and two other teams doing their assessed expeditions. All the participants were from the Sea and Royal Marine Cadets (including both cadets and younger staff in the teams). The participants were from London Area and Southern Area Sea Cadets.
I joined the expedition at the end of the first day at Dan yr Ogof campsite. The staff and cadets under training were camping there but the assessed teams camped elsewhere remotely. I soon had my hammock stand set up and turned around to see my neighbours were some pigs. At least they were better company than the midgies.
My first morning was a bit of a damp affair but the bacon sandwiches soon made up for that. I was joined by my friends Alan and Dave Lewis, John Kelly, Chris Bonfield and met for the first time Paul Kelly. Paul also holds a Mountain Leader qualification which proved invaluable over the expedition.
I took a little bit of video after my first night in my recently modified hammock stand. I had a great sleep and it was nice to get away from the mossies.
I took out a team who were training for a future expedition. It was made up of Jess, Maisie, Rosie and Tara. Tara and Jess are also working towards their Level 2 Assisting Basic Leadership award with me so this trip proved great experience for them.
In the role of safety officer I normally like to get up very high in the hills to observe the assessed teams remotely. My team was dropped off at Tyle Gawr at the foot of Fan Nedd. The day was blustery but at this point the visibility was clear. We were soon slowly picking our way up the side of Fan Nedd, discussing all the factors of good route selection on a steep slope.
The spirits of this team were high and they did not let the wind or the rain get them down at any time (which makes my job far easier).
After doing a fair bit of map work, where they had to continually identify where they were, we soon spotted the first of the assessed teams on the hills. Also while we were ascending Fan Nedd we were passed by many troops heavily laden down with heavy kit. They seemed to reach some point then turn around and run off down the hill. I said to the team that we would do the same and received an incredulous look from them – we did it anyway and it only took 15 minutes to descend half way down Fan Nedd to the minibuses.
Along the way we did a spot of foraging for bilberries and did a fair bit of wild flower spotting. I will do a separate post on all the wildflowers we came across later.
The weather soon closed in but we were still able to navigate easily over very rough ground (with limited use of maps or compasses) and keep an eye on the other teams remotely; thankfully though when we were lower down the visibility was much clearer.
After ensuring that all the assessed teams had descended off the Beacons Way to Blaenglyn Farm campsite, I took my team to recce the steep slope at Craig Cerrig Gleisiad as this had been discussed as a possible point to ascend into the hills the next day. It soon became apparent that,thanks to the recent heavy rain, the steep grassy slopes would be too much of a challenge for the teams the next day. At least the team had a good time practising their route selection skills again as they descended this steep slope to the camp site.
After the end of a long hard day all the tents, tarps and hammocks were soon up. Those on the expedition stayed at Blaenglyn Farm campsite while all the staff stayed at Grawen campsite.
Day two started and finished with excellent weather. The teams were bussed to a new start point just at Twyn Garreg – wen. This day was to be much lower down but the ground was very treacherous with tufty grass before descending into the woods then climbing up onto Cadair Fawr and then to Grawen
Dave and I spent the morning observing the teams and met them only a couple of times in the day. The training team also spent the day by themselves following the route. With so few landmarks on the open moorland the day was a good test of the teams’ navigation skills.
Along the way I came across this group of ponies with a number of foals grazing on the hillside. The teams did not all get to the summit of Cadair Fawr (due to a few minor aches and sprains) but did spend the whole day navigating as much of the route as possible.
The last day was spent navigating from Pont Sarn to Talybont dam. I found a spot halfway along the route to wait out the teams passing through at Buarth y Caerau. It was a long wait and I only saw two teams all day. The third team went slightly off track but got to the end on time anyway.
I spent my time watching wildlife (spooked a heron) and taking pictures of wild flowers.
All the teams reached the dam safely and on time. There was a few aches and pains (including the staff) but an over-riding sense of achievement amongst everyone.
After a good clean up it was time for one more picture and the long trip home.
I made a small video of the whole trip.
I hope that this is the start of many more Gold DofE expeditions in the Sea Cadet Corps and look forward to helping out on them in the future.