Every summer thousands of young people across the country undertake self-sufficient journeys carrying all their own equipment and food. Why, and what do they get out of it? To find out, DofE Supervisor Lucy Wallace had a chat with successful Gold participants at the end of their final expedition.
What is The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award?
Known as the “DofE”, it began in 1956 when Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, set up the Award programme as a pathway for young people to develop their personal skills. There are three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold, and at each level, four sections that must be completed to gain the award. These sections are, Volunteering, Physical, Skills and Expedition. (At Gold there is a fifth, Residential section). The amount of time you must spend on each section increases from Bronze through to Gold. Here, we take a closer look at the Expedition Section.
Should you do it for your CV? Well yes… and no…
Reasons for taking on a DofE Award should be personal. It’s a voluntary programme, which helps you to develop skills and resilience, broadening your horizons, and yes, that looks good on a CV. However, there is a lot more to it than that for most participants. It’s a chance to get out and do something different and fun with your friends, discover your limits and hidden strengths and have an adventure that you will always remember.
Scott, age 17:
It looks good on your CV, but my mum did her Gold DofE when she was younger, and I think I wanted to repeat what my mum had done! Its definitely really good experience because its tough mentally, physically, and just working with other people and struggling along… trying to work together and just pushing you to some of your limits. I enjoyed being with people and getting really close to people that you’d think you wouldn’t be good friends with. Sharing just even 4 days, it doesn’t seem that long, but you spend so much time with each other that you get so much closer.
Sujeet, age 17:
I think I actually enjoyed the hiking part of DofE! I like that it is about something different from just living in a city. It’s so satisfying to know that you can keep yourself sustained… and good to know that you can live independently. Just enjoy it especially if you’re not from somewhere that is like this…
Muaad, age 17:
I wanted to go camping with my friends! That’s exactly why I did it, I’m just telling the truth! (Laughs) The skill part is quite enjoyable because I’m learning how to play the keyboard. So that’s something new, Volunteering, obviously will help me out when I apply for things such as jobs and uni, and the sport thing, that’s just going to keep me fit you get me? (More laughs)
The DofE Expedition
The great thing about a DofE expedition is that it is very much a team effort. Groups of young people aged between 14 and 24, take on a practice expedition together, followed by a final expedition, which is assessed by a DofE Accredited Assessor. Expedition length depends on the level that the group is at: from two days for Bronze, to four days and three nights at Gold. By progressing through the awards you develop the skills and knowledge to not only cope, but also to thrive! There are tons of different ways to make the journey, whether by bike, canoe or on foot and the award is adaptable to accommodate young people of all abilities. With careful planning, the expedition doesn’t even have to take place in the UK. Practice expeditions are an opportunity for experienced adult supervisors to train and support the teams, teaching essential skills such as navigation and camp-craft, all the while encouraging an attitude of self-reliance. To ensure that the spirit of the award is met, there are 20 conditions that the candidates stick to, for example avoiding motorised transport. On the final qualifying expedition, adults remotely supervise the journey (teams may only see us once a day but we are on hand if needed). The experience should be one of freedom and independence. The assessor will meet the group on their journey and check that the conditions are being met to sign off the expedition as a successful pass. Hooray!
The Expedition Aim
The expedition aim links us back to the Duke’s original intention for the award, as a means for young people to develop and learn knew skills. These days, expedition aims vary from scientific explorations on route, to video diaries, to inspired creative projects, each with some form of presentation at the completion of the expedition. As someone who has seen a lot of these, I can verify that the more creative and unusual the better, from my perspective! One of my favourites was a barber’s shop quintet who wrote a hilarious song about their journey and performed it at the end. However, it’s not about me, clearly, so I encourage teams to pick a project that suits their skills and the terrain that they will be moving through. Don’t treat this bit as an afterthought, as it’s this aspect of the expedition that will give you a lasting legacy and something to look back on (with hopefully happy memories).
Highs and Lows
The DofE expedition is a time of big contrasts. From hiking up a steep hill, to kicking back and enjoying a well-earned view with your friends, you will create memories and experiences that you can draw on in future.
Team Tree Huggers
Charlotte, age 17:
I feel like I’ve accomplished something, I actually enjoyed it! I didn’t like it in the moment, but when you look back at it, you don’t really realise how much power you have until you do it. I carried a tent on my back for days going up and down these hills! It’s more enjoyable when the weather is nice as well. If its bad weather then its awful.
Erin, age 16:
My friends pure pressured me in to doing it! I found out that you can go straight to gold, so I didn’t have an excuse not to. I’ve got a sense of accomplishment. Tired but accomplished. I’ve done it!
Rebecca, age 16:
It’s funny when people fall over, as long as no one’s hurt! The best bit was at camp. Every night when you see everyone again, everyone is happy. When you finish a day and you are all just sitting around.
Sally, age 17:
My advice would be to get fit, because it’s awful when you’re not fit! Bring dry socks. Don’t bring stuff you don’t need, so don’t bring shower stuff. Bring blister plasters! Bring loads of them. Definitely bring flip-flops or a change of shoes for camp because that’s amazing when you change out of your boots, that’s the best feeling ever. And make sure you have someone you kind of like in your group because otherwise it’s awful for four days and you’ll die! (Laughs)
Equipment, packing and food…
As you prepare for your first expedition, the DofE kit list can seem quite overwhelming and it is tempting to cut corners. The knack to packing, is bringing lots of the right stuff and not too much of the wrong stuff. Washing is overrated, and you may not even have access to showers, so you don’t need lots of toiletries, and nobody cares if you smell a bit. However, warm and dry clothes to change in to at bedtime are something that you will really appreciate, and waterproof jacket and trousers are essential. Sometimes it can be hard to visualise just how cold and wet you can be living outside for two or more days, until you’ve been there. The good news is that many quality brands produce a range of budget expedition kit that is ideal for DofE. Even so, it can add up, so its often worth looking for castoffs of things like rucksacks and sleeping bags from older siblings and friends, and you can share the love by selling on your gear once you have finished with it.
When it comes to food, DofE exped time is one of those rare occasions when it is completely acceptable to snack all day on sweets and goodies that you know you normally should go easy on! Conversely, meat products are definitely not recommended, as fresh food is heavy and doesn’t keep without a fridge. Bacon and sausages may be delicious, but for the inexperienced camp chef, can make a nightmare mess of camping pots and pans. It’s worth avoiding heavy tins too, as weight for weight, dried food is the most efficient source of calories. It is possible to buy convenient pre-made camping meals, but noodles, couscous and pasta are less expensive and easier to prepare in a group. Keep an eye on how many calories you are eating because when you live and exercise outdoors, you need a lot more energy than you normally would at home.
Secrets of Success
Top tips for absolutely smashing the DofE expedition from those in the know!
Gordon, age 17:
Think about the clothes that you bring, like you convince yourself that you don’t need to change clothes as much so, maybe you can save space or weight. The phrase my dad taught me was a “heads down bum up approach” Just kind of getting on with stuff. That’s really it!
Heather and Zara, age 16:
H: Bring enough scran! And sing! Sing songs to keep you motivated!
Z: I forgot a lot of my kit. I lost the list! Just remember to pack everything you need especially waterproofs because it rains quite a bit.
Brad, age 17:
Try and pack as light as you can and only pack what you really need, but bring food because even if you are bored you’ll eat. Just bring loads of food!
Vivian, age 16:
Don’t take it too seriously! It should at the end of the day be quite fun… and probably over-pack socks and food.
Eesha and Rabeel, age 16:
R: Pack so little! Live without things. I mean you‘re going to be stinky anyway there’s no point in having five t-shirts. I brought one and I brought another one and I never used it. You get too lazy to even… (Laughs).
E: My advice is just do DofE… Just go for it! If I can do it you can do it too! Its true!
Lucy Wallace: As a DofE supervisor and assessor, I’m privileged to witness the remarkable journeys that young people complete for the Expedition section of their Award programme. It is genuinely, the best job in the world. I’d like to say a special thank you to the young people of Mearns Castle High, Tatra and Arran 2018 Gold Expeditions, who helped me write this piece, and to Adventure Expeditions, the DofE Approved Activity Provider, who work in partnership with Mearns Castle High to deliver their DofE expeditions. For more info visit: https://adventure-expeditions.net/