My D of E Experience – Part 2: Mountain Rescue Edition

Before you go on a DofE expedition, one of the key skills you have to learn is map-reading.

Learning how to map read is important because you are not allowed access to your smart phone during the expedition and if you get lost you can’t just Google Maps your way out of the situation.

In my opinion, giving a teenager a map and expecting them to know which direction to go in is a dubious concept. I didn’t even know who I was back then, let alone where I was going.

Despite this, I somehow managed to make it through my Bronze expedition without getting lost.

My Silver practice expedition, however, was a different story.

On the trip, I was in a group with three other girls; Emma, Anita and Nashwa.

The first two days of the expedition had gone quite well. We had not been chased by cows or any other types of agricultural livestock and I had only fallen head first into a bog once.

However, on the penultimate day, we were walking down a steep hill into a valley and, when we reached the bottom, it dawned upon us that we had absolutely no clue where we were.

We had been concentrating so hard on not decking it and sliding down the hill on our backsides, that we hadn’t really been concentrating on where we were going.

Now, the smartest thing to do at this point would have been to retrace our steps, walk back up the hill and try to get our bearings from a higher vantage point. But we’d already walked up several hills that day and, quite frankly, couldn’t be arsed walking back up another one.

We knew that when we had started descending, we had been going in the right direction so we assumed that if we carried on walking in that direction, we would eventually arrive somewhere vaguely near the campsite.

After around two hours of walking, the sky was getting a bit murky and we were becoming increasingly concerned. We were in a pretty remote area and hadn’t seen a road or village for several hours and there was nobody we could see to ask for help or directions.  

At the beginning of the expedition, we had been given an old brick phone to use in emergencies so we rang one of the teachers and told her that we were lost. She then replied with what remains to this day one of the most useless responses I have ever received:

Considering that the very nature of being lost means you tend to have no idea where you are, this question was pretty hard to answer.

We tried to describe our surroundings on the off-chance that this would help her to pinpoint our location.

However, it turned out that finding a location in the Peak District on the basis of that it had some trees and some grass was the equivalent of finding a specific place in the city with some cars, a lot of concrete and a few mad-looking pigeons.

Eventually, we gave our teacher the coordinates of our last checkpoint and she told us to stay where we were and set up camp.

She reassured us that we couldn’t have gone that far and told us that some of the expedition leaders had set out to look for us so we would probably be found by the end of the day.

Feeling somewhat reassured, we set up one of our tents and tried our best to relax and get some sleep.

However, when we woke up the next morning, we still hadn’t been found.

To make things worse, a thick layer of cloud had come down into the valley, restricting visibility and, for some reason, we no longer had any signal on our phone.

Logically, we should have known that teachers had a safeguarding responsibility not to leave any students stranded in some random remote area of the Lake District and remained calm.

However, as we were four teenagers, we immediately over-dramaticised the whole situation and freaked out.

After several minutes of catastrophising, we exhausted ourselves and stood looking at the cloud that created a slightly ethereal atmosphere around us.

‘Maybe we’ve died and gone to heaven,’ Emma said quietly.

‘No if this was heaven then there wouldn’t be so much sheep poo everywhere,’ I replied, more to reassure myself than anything else.

After a while, the cloud transformed into a fine drizzle and we decided to pack up our tent and gear and start walking in order to warm ourselves up.  

We set our compasses in the general direction we were supposed to be heading in but, other than that, we had absolutely no idea where we were going.

To make things worse, around twenty minutes into the walk we came across a sheep skull lying on a rock in a small stream. Of course, our brains immediately rocketed into over-analytic panic.  

After we had been walking for what seemed like an age, we finally came across a sheep shed which was extremely exciting as it was the first thing we had seen in over 24 hours that remotely resembled civilisation.

We rushed inside, relieved to have found some shelter from the rain that was slowly soaking through our waterproofs.

Once inside, we unpacked our rucksacks and got into our sleeping bags.

As it was the last day of our expedition, we were running low on supplies. In terms of food, we had half a packet of Tangfastics, a Cuppa Soup and two special K bars between us.

Assuming we were miles from civilisation, we immediately put a rationing system into place, reasoning that if we all limited ourselves to one Tangfastic a day, we would maybe be able to last for a week before we starved to death.

Although it was nice to be out of the rain, the fact that we were no longer walking gave our minds space to ruminate and it wasn’t long before our thoughts started to spiral.

We continued on this train for several minutes, digging ourselves deeper into a pit of hyperbolic despair until:

We all fell silent, somewhat consoled by this thought.

We had been sitting in the shed for around 30 minutes when Nashwa noticed that a bar of signal had returned to the phone and we briefly considered calling our mums with our last words.

Then, worried that this oasis of signal would be temporary state of affairs, we thought it was best to try and call for help. We decided to bypass ringing the teachers and go straight for the big guns and call Mountain Rescue.

When Mountain Rescue picked up the phone, it turned out that they were already looking for us. They’d been contacted by our teachers and had already been out searching for several hours.  

Once we hung up the phone, we were beside ourselves with relief and excitement. Everything was fine! The teachers hadn’t left us for dead and Mountain Rescue were out looking for us! We were saved!

Then a disturbing thought started to dawn on us. If Mountain Rescue had been out looking for us for hours, why hadn’t they found us yet? Were we so lost that we couldn’t be found even by Mountain Rescue? Had we accidentally walked through a wardrobe and had ended in some Narnia-like alternate universe?

Over the course of the next hour, Nashwa called Mountain Rescue several times for reassurance. Eventually, it got to the point where the operator didn’t even bother asking who was on the end of the line and just simply said the words ‘Is this Nashwa again?’ whenever he picked up the phone.

Around two hours after our initial phone call, we heard the sound of an engine. Assuming that Mountain Rescue had finally arrived to rescue us, we ran estatically out of the shed, unaware that the person who was approaching the shed was in fact just a farmer on a quadbike.

Imagine if you will, that you are a farmer going about his business in the peace and quiet of the English countryside when suddenly four semi-traumatised girls gone feral burst out of your shed manically blowing their whistles and yelling ‘Mountain Rescue’ at you.

Needless to say, the poor farmer dude crapped himself.

‘It’s me, Nashwa!’ Nashwa yelled in his face, obviously still convinced that he was part of the search team. We all waited for him to react but he just started at us, completely bewildered.

‘It’s Nashwa,’ Emma shouted, pointing at Nashwa only to be met with more confused silence.

‘Nashwa,’ I added unhelpfully.

A pause.

‘Wait are you not Mountain Rescue?’ Anita asked.

‘No. I’m just a farmer. I live in the house just down there.’

We stared at him disbelievingly. ‘There’s a house here?’

‘Yes, it’s only a two minute walk away. You’ll be able to see it when the cloud lifts.’

We stared at him and then we stared at each other, trying to process the fact that we had been sitting in a cold windswept shed for hours, convinced that we were miles from civilisation and beyond hope of rescue when, in fact, civilisation had only been 500 metres away all along.

I reckon that the Duke of Edinburgh would have been proud of us…

To read Part 1 of my DofE experience, click here. If you enjoyed this post, feel free to visit the ‘All Blog Posts’ tab at the top of the page for more. For more blog posts and drawings, you can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook .

My D of E Experience

A couple of days after Prince Philip died, I received an email from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award asking me to contribute any memories I had of completing the award to an online forum.

Thinking back, the expeditions immediately stood out to me as the most memorable part of my D of E experience.

For those who don’t know, the D of E is an award created by Prince Philip and is designed to help young people develop skills that will benefit them in their adult life.

As part of completing each level of the award (Bronze, Silver and Gold), participants are required to go on an expedition.

This expedition takes the form of a multi-day hike and is designed to help participants develop resilience and self-reliance by taking them out of their comfort zone.

During the day, you walk through the countryside in a group of 4-6 people, carrying your cooking and sleeping equipment with you, and, at night, you set up your tents and camp.

Now, this may sound like quite a fun experience; an opportunity to make new friends and immerse yourself in nature. And it could well be if it weren’t for the fact that the majority of D of E expeditions are conducted in some of the wettest, most windswept locations in the UK, such as the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.

Camping in the Lake District is less about roasting marshmallows under the stars and more about trying desperately to get your tiny stove to light under a massive pissing rain cloud.

As a result of the weather, you tend to spend the majority of your time on a D of E expedition in a state of perpetual dampness.

It is virtually impossible to keep all your stuff dry.

Even if you don’t have the misfortune of full-on falling into a river, the rain find will most likely find a way of seeping into your backpack, even if you’ve triple lined it with bin bags.  

Setting up a tent in the rain without getting the inner lining wet is also extremely tricky.

If it happens to be windy as well, the canvas will flap about all over the place, sometimes attempting to fly away from you, sometimes blowing directly into you and smothering you whilst you walk around like some soggy tent zombie trying to free yourself.

Of course, trying to build a tent in freezing cold sideways rain is far from ideal. However, pointing this out to your expedition supervisor is basically an exercise in futility.

If you do happen to complain about the situation to a teacher, they will most likely look down at you from the warmth of their heated minibus and say something along the lines of:

After this, they will probably leave you to your own devices, saying that they’re going to get an ‘early night’ which, for those uninitiated with the D of E, is teacher code for ‘going down the pub’.

Because of the high levels of rain, the ground that you walk on during a D of E expedition tends to be quite soggy and uneven.

Occasionally, you get the luxury of walking along a well-defined path but more often you end up having to navigate open fields, rocky hillsides and full-on bogs.

In addition, to this you are also carrying a heavy backpack with all your stuff in which really messes with your centre of gravity.

I discovered this on my very first Bronze practice expedition when my group were walking across a boggy field.

Around a quarter of the way across the field, I put my foot down, assuming that the ground below it was solid, only to feel my leg suddenly sink into a concealed pool of muddy water.

I pitched forward and landed face first in the bog.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been able to get back up again quite easily.

However, because I had all my belongings for the weekend strapped to my back, I found myself pinned down with my cheek pressed into the bog, unable to move.

In a dubious display of D of E team-working spirit, the rest of my group laughed hysterically at me for at least a minute before helping me up.

The fact that the majority of D of E expeditions are based in the British countryside also means that participants tend to come face to face with some of the UK’s most dangerous animals, including sheep, horses, midges and, the most fearsome of all, cows.  

Before starting my D of E, I was not particularly afraid of cows. However, before starting our Bronze expedition, we were all given a lecture on the dangers of cows by a gruff CCF man who was supervising our trip.

At this point, some of the boys burst into laughter. Meanwhile, I was sat a few metres away, imagining a cow moving in for the kill whilst the Jaws music played ominously in the background.

Two days later, I encountered some cows in the flesh. They were standing in a field that my group needed to walk across to stay on route. We decided to walk around the edge of the field in order to keep distance between us and the cows.

Initially, this tactic worked quite well. The cows barely noticed our presence until one of the straps on my backpack became snagged on a tree branch.

I reached around and tugged at the strap in order to release it. When it came loose, the tree branch snapped backwards loudly, drawing the attention of the cow closest to me in my direction.

I turned around the cow’s gaze met mine.

I’m not sure if my life flashed before my eyes but, if it did, I was too scared to notice.

There I was, participating in an award that was supposed to help me develop skills that would set me up for the rest of my life and now it seemed the rest of my life was going to be non-existent because I was going to get sat on by a cow.

The last thing I was going to see before I died was a cow’s arse.

Needless to say, I panicked. I tried to throw myself over the stone wall that lined the field but the weight of the bag on my back meant that I did not get as much height as I had originally intended.

As a result, I ended up doing some weird chest bump with the wall before falling backwards onto my backpack. After spending a few moments waving my limbs about like some sort of upended tortoise, I managed to roll over and get back on my feet.  

The cow watched all of this nonchalantly and then, obviously deciding that I was too much of an idiot to be a threat, it went back to chewing grass whilst I hurried to catch up with the rest of the group.

That night I lay wide-eyed in my tent, hyper-alert to every noise that sounded outside the tent, convinced Cowzilla was out on the prowl.

Contrary to expectations, coming face to face with a cow was not the scariest experience I endured on my D of E award.

Instead, this award goes to an incident involving a bit of dodgy map reading and an encounter with Mountain Rescue. But that’s a story for another time… (and by ‘another time’, I mean whenever I get round to writing a post about it).

I’m not sure exactly what I was supposed to take away from my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. I think Prince Philip intended for young people to develop as people by taking part in them and, if developing a lifelong phobia of cows counts as character growth, I guess it’s mission accomplished.

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