It started as a cloudy and cool day with the promise of clear skies in the evening when I set out for Bradford on Avon. Our 2015 Duke of Edinburgh Award Bronze team were about to do their final assessed expedition from Avebury to Marlborough, through Savernake and ending at Great Bedwyn. I was picked up at Bradford on Avon by my driver and the teacher (we'll call her Mrs O) who will be taking over from me when I go to Exeter. It couldn't have been a different day to the start of the practice walk last half term. Then, we had heavy winds, my train was delayed and I was almost late for the start of the walk. This time, the air was still, the trains were perfectly on time and we arrived at Avebury just after 9am. The walk was scheduled to start at 10:30am.
So, armed with maps, route cards, charged phone, snacks, camping kit and my book, we started a day of supervising.
The walk, as I said, started in Avebury where the team walked through the stones and off onto the Marlborough Downs. I was hoping to take some time to do some photography at Avebury but we, instead, joined our assessor for some hot chocolate (or coffee, or tea) at the Avebury cafe. Maybe another day, I'll have some Avebury photos.
When the three of us were finished chatting and finished our respective drinks, we decided it was time to meet up with the team. Our assessor would meet them at the top of the huge hill they had to climb, we would meet them in Rockley after lunch. We parked the car at Rockley and took a walk along the path to find a good place to stop and wait.
While the team conquered the hill, walked through fields and ran from dancing bulls (their words, not mine), Mrs O and I sat on the side of the track and chatted. We watched the clouds clear, stopped a spider from climbing up my leg and chatted some more while taking in the beautiful fields and almost complete silence around us.
When the team finally arrived at our spot, they had not had lunch as planned and hastily discarded their heavy packs, swapped their feet for their bottoms, and tucked into whatever their parents had packed them for day 1 lunch.
The next point on the route we decided to meet them was at Marlborough Common, about an hour and a half's walk from their day 1 destination. So once again, Mrs O and I sat and waited for them to arrive. The team somehow took the wrong path around the golf course and common and in doing so added another hour onto their journey time. We met them at the campsite instead.
They were still in pretty good spirits when they arrived and after a good sit down, set up camp for the night. Mrs O swapped duties with an ex-pupil from the school, (we'll call him Mr J) and the assessor, once she had seen the team put up their tents and start cooking, left for her comfortable bed at home.
The field we camped in was surrounded on 3 sides by small paddocks with some pretty special-looking horses in. I think they knew they were photogenic and did their fair bit of posing when I pointed my camera at them.
But the horse that stole my attention and lens time the most, was this beautiful thoroughbred. When we arrived, it was in a skittish mood and wouldn't come near the fence. It chose instead to get rid of its energy by running.
And of course posing...
Lining the fence to the thoroughbred's paddock were these beautiful little flowers. I couldn't resist snapping a shot.
While the team cooked their pasta and cheese sauce over the trangias (away from their tents) I watched the martins playing around the buildings. Unfortunately my long lens isn't good enough to get any decent shots of them. Thankfully there was a cable above our cooking area and the martins liked to perch on it before flying off again. So I just had to wait.
And of course where there's a farm, there are farm cats. This one caught my attention because of its wide green eyes and very narrow black slitted pupils. A Sootica if ever I saw one. Sadly, being a farm cat, it wasn't very friendly.
We spent the remainder of the light playing piggy in the middle. 3 against 3, with two of the team as spectators. I think we all came away with a bruise or two and some twisted toes if we were barefoot. The night in a tent was more pleasant than the last time I slept in a tent but I still didn't sleep well and I woke up at 3am with my brain completely awake, as if some sort of alarm had gone off in it. So, giving up on just lying in my tiny 1 man tent, I decided to get up and wait for sunrise.
The thoroughbred horse had the same idea, it seemed and we spent a good couple of hours in each other's company. It was much more docile and friendly - probably expecting food!
The draught ponies were a bit jealous so I did go see them too.
And the sun finally rose to the chorus of blackbirds, robins, wrens, some other birds I couldn't identify and the lone, beautiful call of the cuckoo.
Once the team were up, had eaten and packed, they set off for Savernake Forest. With my new driver, Mr J, we set off for the first meeting point - the crossing with the A4. It took us probably about 15 or so minutes to find the right footpath the team would emerge from and we had a little adventure of our own, driving back and forth, stopping at the same layby, with it's huge potholes, 2 or 3 times before finally deciding it was the right place to stop. With the sound of birds in the trees of Savernake around us, and the thunder of cars only a metre away from us (some definitely going more than 60mph), we waited for the team to show up. We debated the pronunciation of Savernake amongst other things. Apparently it's pronounced Saver-nack (ignore the e). But then why does it have the e at the end? What other English words have e's at the end but don't use them in the grammatically correct way? Sigh. Why is English so complicated?!
Eventually the team arrived. Not too far off the time and we safely escorted them over the busy A-road and into Savernake. We met them again for lunch in the centre of the forest where 6 roads meet the original Roman road.
A spider lying in wait for some unsuspecting human to brush against the ferns...
And so to Great Bedwyn, the final stop on my final DofE expedition. Mr J and I searched a good 15 or 20 minutes for the Bedwyn Stone Museum that was written on the map but, although Great Bedwyn is not really that great, but a tiny little place, we could not find the Museum. So we contacted the team and told them to head for the church instead - much easier to find! Once we had parked near the church I realised we didn't have any phone signal. Not good if you've left a group of 6 14/15 year old's alone in the countryside... so I walked a little way down the path to find some signal. Success. But I couldn't stand there for hours waiting for texts that might not come. So we decided to move the car. And wherever we moved the car, the signal moved too. So we gave up trying to find it and just parked next to the church.
The church itself was open and we did a bit of exploring. A very interesting church with the tombs of a crusader knight and his son and a memorial to Edward Seymour, Father of Jane (Henry VIII's wife, not the actress). In the grave yard we were also informed of a Napoleonic Wars hero who apparently inspired CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower. Amazing what you find in tiny little English villages.
Another rare find in the village, well not so rare any more were a group of red kites. These rare birds of prey can usually only be found in parts of Wales and other such places where they've been successfully re-introduced. A few years ago, they re-introduced them in the Marlborough area and they've thrived. Instead of seeing the usual buzzards over farmland, all I spotted the entire two days were red kites. Sadly none of them flew low enough for a decent shot on my camera but I tried.
The team arrived in Bedwyn footsore and relieved at about 16:45. 45 minutes later than estimated from plans but still in very good time. They successfully completed their DofE Bronze Expedition and have a very proud leader. Although the planning of such an expedition can be a complete pain, the actual taking part is a pleasure (ignoring the non-existent sleep). I'm looking forward to having a car and the time and chance in my summer breaks to explore the English countryside a bit more but for now, I will be happy with the opportunities I have had.