19 July 2023

Resilience, being one of the three Birkonian 'R's', has been much in demand this academic year. The 2022 Gold qualifying expedition postponed from the end of the summer term, eventually set off for South Wales on the eve of the Michaelmas half term.

By Mr Hill

Almost immediately the weather began to look ugly and day one on the Monmouth and Brecon Canal ended in storm conditions and gathering darkness. It was touch and go whether we would continue, but resilience was shown by our small team of upper sixth paddlers and the show went on. Fortunately, conditions improved and, in the end, they had a very pleasant journey by Stand Up Paddleboard to Pontepool, despite intermittent heavy showers. One of the highlights of the trip was the 343m long Ashford tunnel, which has no tow path. A member of staff had to be posted at the far end to ensure that no canal boats were coming in the opposite direction and head torches had to be used by the paddlers. At least they did not have to 'leg' their craft through the tunnel in the manner of the nineteenth century bargees, by lying on their backs and bracing their legs against the roof of the tunnel!

In the end, we decided that the Canadian canoe was a better craft for Gold expeditions and so the Gold training programme of 2023 began with a training session on the River Dee with Mr Robinson. Many thanks to Birkenhead Sea Scouts and Mr Stuart Stobbs of Apache Canoes on Wellington Rd for the loan of craft and trailer. The practice expedition was carried out on the River Derwent in Cumbria and included a visit to two lakes - Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite - strung together by the Middle Derwent. The expedition continued on the Lower Derwent and ended up at Cockermouth - not very far from the Irish Sea. Battling the headwinds on the two lakes was a stern challenge to our paddlers, but the qualifying expedition has faced difficulties of quite a different sort. June was the hottest on record and water levels are very low. To avoid a canoe dragging expedition instead of a canoeing expedition, the venue has had to be moved to Windermere and Ullswater with a day of walking between the two. 

 This year's Bronze expeditions involved nearly every student in Year 10 - around 80 Birkonians altogether. Thirteen different groups took the now very well used route from Llangollen across the Eglwyseg Screes to World's End and on to Llandegla. After a night's camp they followed the ridge of the Clwyddian Hills along the Offa's Dyke path to Bwlch Penbarras.  Heat was a concern with the groups drinking the jerry cans dry at the checkpoints but the following week the rain returned and we had to get up and strike camp in the wet - never a very pleasant experience. But then, providentially, the rain stopped and the rest of the journey passed off smoothly. 

The Silver Award Students had some very cold days on the northern part of the Clwyddian range at Easter, including a visit to Moel Famau - the highest point on the ridge - and are off to Limestone country for their qualifying expedition shortly. I have every confidence in the resilience of this group of twelve students, whose navigation and camp craft have come on considerably, and I wish them 'bon voyage' and 'bon courage' as they complete their expedition section in North Yorkshire. 

A group of seven Sixth Form students recently completed their Gold Duke of Edinburgh expedition in the Lake District over four days and three nights. They covered 68km in total in a hybrid expedition of Canadian canoeing and walking near Ulster, Windermere and down the River Derwent. We’re so proud of the perseverance and resilience they demonstrated throughout.


Many thanks to all my colleagues who have assisted with the DofE expeditions this year and to Mrs Fiona Jenner, one of our parents, who has joined the leadership team. Grateful thanks also go to the team of outside instructors who help us to run the expeditions, some of many years standing. 
Parents, do encourage your sons and daughters to complete the other sections of the Award - Volunteering, Skill and Physical. The sooner they can get their Assessors' reports in, the sooner we can sign the sections off and give them their awards and the recognition they deserve for all the many activities in which they have taken part.