Duke of Edinburgh Gold Expedition

2nd May 2023
BY Alexandra Bunn-Livingstone, Sixth Form Pupil

The Expedition

During the Easter Break, two teams, including our team of 7 College pupils, headed to the Brecon Beacons for our Duke of Edinburgh Gold Practice Expedition. With close-to freezing and rainy weather we departed from Winchester to a Black Mountains Campsite to begin our 5-day, 4-night adventure.

Over the next three days, we would trek 62 km carrying all of our gear with us in large rucksacks (up to 10 kg each), including tents, sleeping bags, clothes, stove, and food. We learned skills such as map and compass reading, as well as how to mark out our route each day on the map. We hiked up and down mountains on mostly unmarked trails through brush, across streams, up steep slopes, and across rocky terrain.

We hiked 8-9 hours a day, and other than the first day, without adult supervision. It was quite onerous and exhausting! We had to scale and descend different mountains every day, rarely on flat terrain with clear trails. For about a quarter of the journey, we were walking on steep, narrow switchback inclines next to ravines with little to no trail at all. There was also periods where we were on clear paths with small inclines or declines.

The rest of the time was a mix of walking up steep streams (60 degree incline), and forests (50 degree incline), or up rocky hills, across bogs with mud 6-7 inches deep and shallow water, and across pastures and hills. At various points, we had to jog down steep rocky paths to make up time.

The distance, conditions, and physical effort made each day a real challenge. The campsites we stayed at ranged from standard to rudimentary—one had a long walk to an abandoned pub bathroom, no showers, and other people grilling steak outside their luxury camper van, while we ate chopped hot dogs and beans.

The Challenges  

The challenges we faced were many. Different members of the team were able to go at different paces, depending on their fitness level, meaning it was a challenge to keep the team together, but still reach the destination in good time. The terrain was extremely demanding—“hiking” does not quite describe it—it was definitely a trek.

Food could only be prepared on a travel stove, which greatly limited our selection and the weather made the journey more treacherous at times. The biggest challenge was the physically demanding nature of the trip with the backpack, distance, terrain balanced against the time pressure we had to reach the final destination. This required a high degree of stamina—both mental and physical to complete each day and the overall task.

The Highlights

The views across the Brecon Beacons were strikingly beautiful. I loved seeing the wild ponies and hiking through pastures with grazing sheep. The camping aspect of the trip was also enjoyable — the simplicity of sleeping outside in nature, birdsong all day, soaring pine trees, and being in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was unique. The unspoiled nature of the area was an inspiration for continuing to work towards sustainability on the planet.

The Duke of Edinburgh Gold practice expedition is a colossal challenge — that is the attraction — pushing oneself far beyond the comfort zone. It provides a means to test oneself in a number of ways. Yet, completing such a challenging expedition would not have been possible without teamwork, and the accomplishment of all finishing together was the ultimate reward.

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