When you see groups of young people with vibrant backpacks trudging through fields with compasses and maps hanging around their necks, it can mean only one thing. It’s the Duke of Edinburgh season.
Popular in many schools, this scheme is a chance for young people to venture out of their bedrooms and spend 3-6 months volunteering, completing physical activity and perfecting a skill of their choosing, culminating in the final expedition - a 10-to-20 mile hike through the Great British countryside.
The other day, I received an email from the organisation, congratulating me on successfully completing the Bronze award. Immediately, I began to remind myself of that turbulent weekend.
I’m not a huge fan of walking. Camping certainly isn’t my thing either. Yet still my naive 14-year-old self picked up a form, filled in each section and handed it back the next day, ready for a great six months to improve character and to give my CV that special touch.
My activities mainly went without cause for complaint, and in June we were ready for our practice expedition.
I stumbled up to my group that Sunday morning, with the immense rucksack on my back, stuffed with roll-mats that didn’t soften the bumps, waterproof covers to protect from the rain that never came, and a bumper carton of long-life milk for emergency cereal. We were prepared for every occasion, but luckily the weather stayed consistent. It was forever grey.
We set off and proudly trekked through the town centre, blinding people with our fluorescent orange rucksack covers. The novelty soon wore off, and our legs were begging us to stop.
My excitement at having a disposable camera with 27 shots was not shared with the rest of the group, but I still insisted on documenting our journey - from getting lost in the deepest depths of Hardwick Heath, to having a fierce row about team motivation in the middle of a forest.
There were points where quitting seemed the only way to go, but we carried on and eventually got to our campsite where we skilfully erected our tent after a few attempts and collapses. It was as homely as you could possibly wish - a lantern hanging from the ceiling, illuminating the beautiful square metre I was to share with two other students. My lucky draw was a nasally-congested snorer and a sleep talker who warned me from the middle of her sleep that the tent was rotting.
We cooked a hearty meal of cup-a-soup on the little gas trangea and sat in a circle reflecting on the expedition. The night soon crept up on us, and before we knew it, we had packed away, and limped the last seven miles, fresh blisters reminding us of the tumultuous day before.
Eventually we reached the finish-line. I took a celebratory photo of everyone sitting on the side of the road as we waited expectantly for our ride home. The consensus was that it wasn’t our favourite way to spend the weekend. But my character did develop.
-- Lucy Cooper is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds