When you've just started your final year at school, there's quite a lot going on; preparing to send off a UCAS form, studying and revising as much as possible, working to earn some money, learning to drive etc.
So with all that going on, imagine spending a weekend walking around navigating all day, sometimes in the dark, learning to lead others and sleeping in a tent. It's not your average weekend for a group of teenagers. But for six girls from Manchester High School for Girls it was more like an average weekend, thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. After completing their Gold Award (the highest of the three levels) the previous academic year, they loved it so much they wanted to do more! Fortunately for them, their teacher Steve Holmes suggested the Lowland Leader award.
Sam: "We'd all done Gold [DofE] and we really enjoyed it. And we kept asking: "can we do something else and can we come on DofE expeditions next year?""
Zoe: "I've seen quite a lot of people, just a bit older than us, doing this sort of thing in their gap year or during the summer and thought, maybe that could be an option. So this will give me the ability to do something like that."
The girls, along with their teachers Judith Parker and Steve Holmes, travelled to Cannock Chase one Saturday morning for a weekend packed full of training on being an effective Lowland Leader. The day started with a discussion about the purpose of the award and the qualities of an effective walking leader, followed by navigation skills and discussions about plant life, "mainly fungi" Mr Holmes explained, which appears to have been "a theme of the weekend."
The Lowland Leader award was launched by Mountain Training (the awarding body) last year and is designed for people who want to lead others in lowland terrain (fields, woodland, coastal paths etc.). It is open to people aged at least 17 and ideal for those looking for the next step after completing the Duke of Edinburgh's award. This training course was run by Paul Smith at Cannock Chase in the West Midlands (visit the Facebook page of Rock and Water Adventures to find out more: www.facebook.com/rockandwateradventures), with support from Mr Holmes. The course covered all aspects of walking leadership including group management, navigation, route planning, equipment, hazards and emergency procedures as well as access and conservation.
Evidently the girls' Gold DofE experience paid dividends and the girls found the navigation training relatively straightforward. A session on navigating in the dark took place before dinner, thanks to the time of year and limited daylight hours, and introduced some new skills to the team. When asked about their favourite part of the course, night nav was the first thing they mentioned:
Zoe and Eve : "Night navigation, because it was something we hadn't done before. There are quite a lot of similarities between the Lowland Leader Award and DofE. But there's also other stuff you don't think about, you're just on a different end of it so it's a different perspective."
Harriet: "We didn't do much first aid but that sort of area's quite interesting."
Sam: "It's quite nice to see the other side of DofE as well, what the teachers have to cope with."
As every good walker knows, planning your next food stop can be highly motivating and for this particular group, the thought of sitting in a pub eating pie and chips after an evening of wandering around in the dark was getting them through. Possibly one of the girls' biggest planning mistakes throughout the whole weekend was not making a reservation for the aforementioned pub. There was no room at the inn and they had to settle for fish and chips instead, such are the trials and tribulations of a sunny weekend in the West Midlands.
Sunday morning started with breakfast, which didn't consist of typical camping fodder.
Harriet: "I normally take a tube of pate with me but we didn't have any at home so I had to go to the supermarket but they didn't have any so I just saw the [smoked] salmon there and it was on offer."
Mr Holmes: "Harriet was stood there eating salmon while Hollie was there eating last night's chips."
After further questioning it became apparent that the girls were quite happy to innovate when it came to camping food.
Eve: "We found olives in a bag, which is a new thing, and also that squashed juice you can get, that's really good."
The rest of the day included more navigation, this time using fields as well as more open land, and discussions about other aspects of the syllabus; crossing fields containing crops or cattle, incident management, group control, the law, paperwork and route planning. After sleeping all the way back to Manchester and spending a few weeks back at school, the group seemed confident and comfortable with what they'd achieved so far.
Eve: "It [the course] was easier than we thought it was going to be. I think we forgot what lowland was. I think the most upsetting thing was that the pub was full so we couldn't have pie and had to have fish and chips instead."
Mr Holmes wrote a report for the Head of the school: "The 6 girls were an absolute credit to the school. Their behaviour was exemplary, and their campcraft put others on the site to shame! Paul was highly impressed with the standard of the girls (and JP!), being bowled over when the girls started a heated discussion over the various geographical features, and with their level of enthusiasm to learn about the flora and fauna of the area."
Key Facts about the Lowland Leader:
- The scheme consists of a training course, a consolidation period and an assessment
- It is open to anyone aged 17 or over (although you need to be 18 before attending an assessment)
- You should have an interest in leading groups in lowland countryside
- You need to register on the scheme with Mountain Training (who are the awarding body) before attending a training course
- Prior to training you must have recorded a minimum of 10 varied walks in lowland terrain where the use of a map is required (this is easily obtainable by anyone involved in the DofE scheme, especially those who progress to Silver or Gold level, making it an ideal next step)
For more information visit www.mountain-training.org