Exercise is good, they said. Go get some fresh air in nature and make some new experiences, they said. Truth be told, I got all of that. But what to do when your legs call it a day without permission and turn into useless jelly, they didn't say!

 

I guess there's no need to mention that hiking for about 15km in total through the rainy northern English countryside is no picnic for untrained legs like mine. But well, the things you do to get your Duke of Edinburgh Award!

In case you don't know what the Duke of Edinburgh Award is about, let me give you a quick explanation.
It’s an internationally recognised award for all 14- 24-year-olds to participate in, regardless of their cultural or financial background or physical abilities. It consists of three stages (bronze, silver and gold), all with the aim to challenge the young people personally, encouraging them to find and improve their strengths and abilities and therefore making them committed and responsible citizens of the world. And as not all learning happens in class rooms, DofE tries to fulfil this goal through four practical sections: Service, skills, physical recreation and most importantly for this post, an adventurous journey (Would you like to find out more about the DofE? Take a look at their website).

 

As Space2 is an officially recognised organisation to do DofE Awards with, they regularly organise camping trips falling under the category of adventurous journeys which meet the different criteria for all three stages. And since I began my bronze stage some weeks ago, I joined my very first DofE Expedition, too!

Unfortunately, I had to start it off by being at Space2 at 10am on a Saturday morning. After a very sleepless night. You can imagine how euphoric my group and I were to sort out our tents and food supplies which we would have to carry in our gigantic backpacks for the entire time hiking. Exactly, our euphoria was about as shallow as the big dark circles under my eyes. But that’s nothing a hot coffee and a nice sarnie couldn’t fix! Then, with my group and me more or less awake and our gear sorted, we were ready to depart for Broomley Grange, the campsite where we would spend the weekend for our DofE Expedition.

 

My trusted friend, the English weather, was once again not in the mood to mime the people pleaser, though. Don't be fooled by the photo up there, that's from the second day (It just makes for a way nicer thumbnail than a grey cloudy sky)! I mean, yes, the sun did show its face every now and then, but unfortunately paired with a constant misty drizzle. And whoever paid attention in school will know that this lovely combination makes for a great deal of humidity, which leaves you with two options during your hike: Staying shielded from the rain under your jacket but sweating like a pig, or taking it off and being cool but possibly dying of pneumonia with the rain and the wind and all … I decided to play safe and embrace my inner pig, by the way.

But weirdly, I was in a great mood despite all of that. For one because it was the first time since I moved to Newcastle that I got out of the city and saw the countryside – Which was truly beautiful, especially in the brief moments when the sun did show its face. But also because of the company I had. Jonny and John, two staff members and our group leaders, constantly had some banter going on with Leslie, another volunteer (please read: ‘Jonny and John united against Leslie and teased him nonstop’). Also part of our group were two young people from Space2, that is Robert aka ‘Tank’ (who blessed us with the running gag ‘Joe the Boat’, thank God) and John Lee (Seriously, what is it with all the Johns and Jonnies here in England?), plus two fellow EVS volunteers who had arrived a week before, Daniel from Austria and Rosy from France.

All in all, our first 10km-hike was good fun, although by the time we got back to the campsite our feet were soaking wet from wandering through knee-deep grass, our backs aching from the heavy backpacks and my hair a frizzy mess of tangled curls. Any bird would have been proud to call my head its nest, I tell ya.

We were all looking forward to getting some rest. But nope, we had to put up the tents we had been carrying in our backpacks first! But I actually didn’t even mind that much. Maybe because the two boxes of Jaffa Cakes I had (yes, two full boxes. I’m living life on the edge, I know) immediately kicked in and gave me a massive sugar high or something. We managed to erect our tents rather quickly without incidents - I’m glad to confirm that I didn’t impale anyone with tent poles or pinned my feet to the ground with herrings inspite of my delirious state.

 

So now there was time for us to finally rest. Except that we didn’t even want to rest anymore. In fact, we imbeciles came up with the glorious idea to have football match. And it really was fun! Although I am about as good in controlling a ball with my feet as an elephant is good in doing crochet, my team somehow won 10:7, if I remember correctly. And I scored six of them. Okay, only because my teammates took pity on me and always passed me the ball whenever we were close to the goal and the other team’s defence couldn’t be bothered to do anything against it, but you dare taking that small moment of glory away from me!

 

After that match we were all totally knackered. We couldn’t even find the strength to walk back to the common room of the campsite, we just collapsed on the wet grass and spent a good 20 minutes lying there like stranded whales. But eventually, the prospect of relaxing on comfortable sofas did motivate us enough to go back to the common room to chat a little before cooking dinner on the camping cookers (Random side note: I have never seen a larger amount of sausages and bacon being diminished in just two days, and I am German). We spent the rest of the night talking, playing some games ('Werewolf' was quite a popular one, although I somehow managed to mess up the game every time I tried to be game master) and listening to Jonny’s famous ghost stories. We were initially supposed to have a campfire, too, but having fires was banned from the campsite as a group visiting before us apparently had somehow managed to set the woods on fire … How the hell did they manage to set fire to wet trees in a rainy place like this?!

 

But even without the campfire, our first night camping was fantastic. In fact, it was so good that we stayed up until 2:30am before going to sleep in our tents. On our very uncomfortable sleeping mats. To be then woken up by the noises of a very unamused Leslie at 9am the next morning, as Tank and John had played a prank on him. But when in doubt, just stuff their faces with some more bacon and sausages for breakfast and the problem is solved!

And surprisingly, the weather was for once stunning enough to cheer up everyone in our group, even the grumpy Leslie. Blue sky, puffy white clouds here and there

and plenty of warm sunshine. A good reason to be stoked for the next hike, especially because we knew it was going to be only half as long as the one the day before. We took down our tents in the blink of an eye and departed for our last hike. Unfortunately, we enjoyed the sunshine so much and had so many breaks along the way, that we had to rush through the last section of the route following a little stream, according to Jonny the most beautiful part of the hike. But we definitely weren’t going to miss our lift back to the city – The prospect of a warm shower and a comfy bed was just way too luring!

We returned to Space2, unloaded our gear and left for our homes, all in a rather zombie-like state. I can hardly remember having a shower and getting into bed, but I know that I must have collapsed into my bed at some point around 6pm. And I stayed there contentedly in the most blissful deep sleep imaginable for the next 13 hours straight. Until my alarm mercilessly pulled me out of said bliss at 7am the next morning! I didn’t have to go to work, luckily Jonny gave us volunteers two days off to compensate that we had to work on the weekend. And others wisely use these days to actually recover from the camping ordeal, I guess. Except that I am not wise in the slightest, apparently. Nope, stupid me had promised my friend Claire to go on a day trip to York with her …

 

But that’s a story for another day, because we'd have one long hell of a blog post otherwise! Congrats if you made it this far, you truly deserve some Jaffa Cakes - Except that they're all gone now because yet another box fell prey to me while I was writing this ... Oops!

Stay up date with Lena's year at SPACE2... by reading her blog which she updates monthly.