Friday, 15 May 2015

My Silver DofE Expedition 2015

Over the Easter holidays I (along with 5 other school friends) embarked on our Silver DofE Expedition which was taking place in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. 

The Brecon Beacons is a very harsh environment, with exposure to wind, rain and sun due to the high altitudes. The Army and the SAS often use the Brecon Beacons as a training ground. Here is an extract I got off the internet about the military's relationship with the national park. 

"The Brecon Beacons, particularly around Pen y Fan, are a popular training area for members of the UK armed forces. The Army’s Infantry School is located at Brecon, and the Special Air Service (SAS) use the area to test the fitness of applicants. In July 2013 two members of the Territorial Army died from overheating on a hot summer day while marching 14 miles for an SAS selection exercise. An army captain had been found dead on Corn Du earlier in the year after training in freezing weather for the SAS."

Guess which mountains we summited? Both Pen y Fan (886m) and Corn Du (873m), along with Cribyn (795m) and Fan y Big (719m). In total we walked just over 60km in three days. However the weather was on our side which was a real help. There was one point though when we were walking along a precariously narrow mountain ridge that the strong winds weren't appreciated! It wasn't the winds that were dangerous exactly; It was the occasional sudden lack of wind which made you trip (due to the fact that we were leaning into the wind by a fair few degrees!) 

The path which meandered along the mountain tops seem endless, with every step feeling pointless knowing you've got to make thousands more. With every peak we summited came two more to go. One step forward, two steps back! Even though it was exhausting, the abundance of wildlife really encouraged me to continue, as I never knew what I would see over the next peak. Would it be a red kite or a buzzard? A puddle full with frogspawn or a lizard in a brook?

Along the mountain ridge we saw tonnes of tadpoles in the puddles alongside the track. In every puddle there must have been thousands of the little things, mainly accumulating around the edges. As for them the puddle was a vast ocean and the shallow bays were the safest place to be! I asked on twitter what type of tadpoles these were. But unfortunately I hadn't got close enough images…after all we still had miles left to go until the sun set!

Once we had reached the summit the views were absolutely stunning. With hard work comes great rewards! Previous to this photo (above) being taken we had spent about three hours walking up an eternally steep path, with rocks crumbling beneath our feet and falling to their doom down the practically vertical "path". I was surprised about the number of people walking on these tracks (including very young children), however they weren't carrying their food, clothing, shelter, cooking equipment and water on their backs! Never-the-less it was great to see so many people out enjoying the natural world!

The wildlife in the Brecon Beacons was incredible. During our three day/ 2 night expedition I saw bats, swallows & house martins, chaffinches, a common lizard, 4 buzzards, a grey heron, a red kite from literally metres away and lots of corvids! As I didn't have many opportunities to stop for photographs I took a notepad with me and recorded the species I'd seen at the end of each day. By the end I had seen 77 individuals (18 species in total). I was really pleased with this result. It wasn't only the animals themselves I saw, I also encountered footprints, heard lots of birdsong, and found evidence of birds of prey...

We hiked through lots of different habitats, including moorlands, woodlands, waterways, farmland and small villages. I was disturbed by the amount of deforestation however. But there was also an equal amount of reforestation about so that was great to see. You have to remember that wood is such a great material as when harvested properly (like it was in the Brecon Beacons) it can be completely renewable, whilst still absorbing Carbon Dioxide and provide homes for wildlife of all sorts.

After four days pretty much outside 24/7 I couldn't wait to get home and have a bath! It was a very memorable expedition and I am already looking forward to the qualifier at the beginning of the summer...