1st Neck Point Venturer Scouts
UK Expedition, July 2018
The 1st Neck Point Venturer Scouts are a group of youth aged 14 – 18 registered with the Scouts Canada program on Vancouver Island. In 2016, the youth decided that they wanted to put together an expedition to the UK that would encompass many activities that they had been doing in Canada, with the ability to put into practice some of the skills that the youth had been learning over their many years in Scouting.
For almost two years, the youth were engaged in planning and preparing for their trip – both logistically and financially. We decided that we would travel for the first two weeks of July as many of our activities would be based around hikes, camping and outdoor activities that are much more fun when the sun is out! Each youth was charged with organising and planning for a particular element of the trip. This ranged from trip planning for an activity and included putting together a route plan, emergency plan, check-in procedures and a kit list for each participant. Our route was to take us from London, across Southern England, up through Wales, Northern England and the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and finally into Scotland.
The youth are all fit, young and eager outdoor people, and their plan included several large cave systems, mountain peaks and trails. We were going to pack in an enormous amount of activities into a two-week expedition that would create memories for the rest of their lives!
Our trip gradually took shape, following months and months of fundraising, purchase of equipment, sponsorship, and planning. On 29th June, 2018, 22 of us set off to Vancouver to start our epic journey.
We landed to sunny skies in Gatwick, London and headed via rental vans (that would later feel like home!) to Camp Gilwell, a scout camp in North London. We camped here for two nights, meeting with scout groups from the UK and spending the time sightseeing in London and adjusting our body clocks, ready for the adventure ahead. We travelled from Gilwell to Stonehenge and then the City of Bath, where after more sightseeing, we checked in at the Mendip Caving Club hut near Cheddar Gorge. The Mendips are an area of limestone and canyons in the west of England, close to the City of Bristol. The following morning, we teamed up with a local guiding outfit, split into two groups and went caving in two of the larger cave systems in the area. Our group has been caving together for many years and this was a great experience to take in a different caving location in a different type of limestone to what we are used to. After a fun-filled and educational day, we traveled on to a scout hut in Bristol where we were hosted by a local scout group. We had prepared a slideshow display of some of our activities in Canada to show to the scouts in the UK and our plan involved several stops along the way where we could meet with other groups and share our scouting experiences. The group allowed us to camp on their hut floor, resting and ready for another busy day. From Bristol we traveled across the Severn Bridge into Wales, visiting Raglan Castle before heading into Pencelli, a small village in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons. We were to stay here for two nights, hiking in the Sandstone Mountains of South Wales. The following morning we set off from the Storey Arms (named after a long-closed pub and now an Outdoor Education Centre), located in a pass where the main highway crosses the Beacons. For the first time in the trip it started raining, and we all kitted up for a wet hike! The Beacons are sandstone, and have gentle gradients that seem to go on forever! The hillsides are dotted with sheep that roam free and outcrops of rocks that jut proudly from the grassy tufts that cover the ground. Our first peak was Pen-Y-Fan, a large flat-topped outcrop of rock that stands 2,907 feet above sea level. From the top we could see several small villages dotted in the valleys, and a cwm (welsh glacial lake). The ridge path took us across to the peak of Corn Ddu (2,864 ft) and across to our third peak at Cribyn (2,608 ft). Our descent took us directly towards the village of Pencelli and in fading daylight, we descended off the mountain and through the valley back to our camp ground.
The following morning we headed by vans to the east of the Brecon Beacons, to Blaen-Y-Glyn, a small river with several waterfalls and plunge pools. Being the height of summer, the river level was low, but with enough water for us to don climbing helmets and head upstream, crossing plunge pools, jumping from rock to rock and climbing several waterfalls until we reached the headwater. Thoroughly wet and tired, we returned to the vans for dry clothing and drove a short distance to an abandoned Victorian Railway tunnel. The tunnel was built in the early 1900’s from local rock hewn from the mountain and curves 600 yards through the mountain to allow trains to run from the coalfields in the south. The tunnel is now disused and with a curve through the hillside, provides a great opportunity to walk, dragging a hand along the clammy wall, thick with soot as it winds through the mountain. Doing this with 22 people with no lights is an excellent adventure in itself as your mind plays tricks on you! Walking back with our headlamps on seemed much less scary than going in and showed us the immense height and scale of the tunnel.
Following a good meal and a full night’s sleep, we traveled north to the Snowdonia National Park, one of the most beautiful National Parks in the UK. We had planned to hike up onto the top of Mount Snowdon which is 3,560 feet high. We started our trip from the Llanberis pass and followed the Pyg Track to the summit of Mount Snowdon. As we started our hike, we were in bright sunshine and the temperature was in the high 20’s, approaching the summit we entered a layer of low cloud and the temperature dropped dramatically. By the time we reached the summit we were in thick cloud and visibility was very limited. Thankfully there is a café at the top of the mountain which provided us with a welcome drink and snack before we started our descent.
After a long day hiking, we continued traveling to a local scout hut, where we spent the night checking our gear, getting cleaned up and preparing for the next few days adventure. We traveled north the following morning, stopping at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach which is one of the largest fairground attractions in the UK. Although this wasn’t a hike or outdoor activity, it was a great opportunity for us to burn off some steam and have a few hours of fun, taking in the rollercoaster and other amusements in the resort. After a fish and chip dinner on the seafront, we traveled north to the Great Lodge campground which is a large scouting camp next to Lake Windemere in the Lake District National Park. This was to be our basecamp for the next two or three days while we adventured in the vicinity. The following morning after a really good night sleep and great breakfast, we split into two groups. One group went sailing on Lake Windemere, and the other group headed into the Yorkshire Dales for a day of caving. The sailing went really well, with instructors from the campground showing us how to handle the sailing dinghies and showing us how to change direction and read the wind. Several of us capsized! It was immense fun and created huge memories for us to take forward! The cavers traveled to the Yorkshire Dales and descended into the Long Churn cave system which winds itself down the back of Ingleborough one of the largest hills in the Dale‘s, and into Alum Pot which is a large open pothole that sinks deep into the ground. We reconvened at the campground that evening and shared our stories with each other. The following day we all set off on a hike to the top of Scafell Pike which is one of the largest peaks in the Lake District National Park. The hiking here was completely different from the hiking we had done previously, with much steeper terrain, fewer trails to follow, and lots of loose rock. Our ascent took us from the valley bottom, climbing up the valley into steeper terrain. Reaching the ridge path, the landscape changed from grass-covered rocks to a barren and rock-strewn landscape. We climbed into a thin cloud to the peak at 3,209 ft. As one of the three peaks challenge, Scafell Pike was a busy mountain to be on. We were accompanied by several hikers in different levels of attire, from the well-prepared with day sack and proper hiking boots, to jean-clad youth with runners. Thankfully all of our group were prepared for both the terrain and weather; carrying food, additional clothing and safety gear in case the weather turned.
Following our last night at Great Lodge, we traveled north once again, leaving England and heading into Scotland. We were on our way to Edinburgh, stopping on the way to take in some of the sights in Dumfries and Galloway and even stopping at a Scottish Castle for a cream tea! Edinburgh is a fine city, with impressive architecture and of course, Edinburgh Castle dominating the skyline. We were welcomed by a scout group who entertained us by providing a guided hike through Cramond Beach and the River Almond. We walked well into the dusk and even stopped outside J.K Rowling’s house for photos (author of the Harry Potter series). The following day, a couple of the Venturer Scouts from the Edinburgh group led us into the City for a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, with some locations dating back as far as the 1630s. This was a great experience for all of us as we got to take in the dramatic architecture and history of the City. That evening we traveled to our final campground, nestled in the foothills of Ben Nevis. Our goal the following day was an early start, followed by the ascent of Ben Nevis at 4,411 ft.
Ben Nevis is also part of the three peaks challenge, and although a busy mountain in terms of hikers, it offers a great combination of gradual walking trail, maintained trails and footpaths, steep uneven ground and open scree. We set off at 7 am, heading for the trailhead. The weather on this way was poor, with low cloud and drizzle. The forecast showed the barometer lifting and expecting clear spells in the afternoon. After carefully consulting our options, we decided that an ascent was manageable and we split into several small hiking groups, with check-in points along the trail. As we started our descent, the trail changed from grassland into maintained paths. On popular hiking trails in the UK, it is common to see maintained trails that direct the flow of foot traffic to prevent erosion of the mountainside. On Ben Nevis, the maintained trails and paths are good and well defined, more so than the soft sandstone and shallow paths on the Brecon Beacons, where many years of hikers have widened the trails to bare soil and rock, sometimes in excess of tens of meters. Our trail followed several switchbacks. We were able to follow our progress on the OS Maps we were carrying, using map and compass for navigation to understand where we were in relation to the peak. With low cloud cover, visibility was limited with the occasional clear break as clouds scudded by. We arrived at the summit shortly after 11 am. The summit is marked with a very large cairn mound, large enough we were able to all congregate for a summit photo! After a rest and lunch, we started our descent in groups. The hard ground made the descent difficult as the rocks were slippery from the morning cloud, and the ground was continuously dropping and uneven. As we came off the summit, the cloud lifted and we were able to see where we were in relation to the peaks and valleys surrounding us. We were met with a fabulous view of the area, including a large lake that we had walked around without seeing on the ascent, and our small campground dotted way in the distance! Ben Nevis was the last of our mountain hikes and represented the end of our adventure activities. From now on we were heading back down through Scotland and England towards London and Gatwick Airport. We dropped some youth off on the way to meet their parents who had traveled to the UK to meet them for ongoing trips through Scotland and Europe.
The UK Expedition was spread over 2 weeks. In that time, we traveled the width and length of England, Wales, and Scotland, went caving in two areas of England, climbed 5 major peaks, visited several cities and scout groups along the way and forged relationships with many youth from the UK Scouting movement. The trip provided us with memories that we will always cherish, friendships that are now much stronger, and the knowledge that through hard work and planning, we are able to bring together our skills to create an experience that will never be forgotten.