The scout section were up early (relative to most teenagers) on Saturday morning to meet up in Turvey woods for a 24 Hour Backwoods Challenge.
We have been working on our backwoods skills over the past 3 weeks at our Thursday night meetings and it was now time to put these skills to the test.
Sean had bought the food and Brendan had brought the gear. It was all loaded and taken to the site as the scouts walked the 20 mins or so to the woods from the car park.
We had 3 new scouts who joined us form cubs and 6 scouts who were brand new to scouting. This was going to be a baptism of fire (pun intended). They might have expected a nice easy introduction in warm, water-proof tents, or maybe a hostel with gas cookers and central heating, but instead they were going to be sleeping under sheets of plastic out in the woods. The idea was that our older, more experienced scouts would be able to assist the newer scouts and show them the skills they needed in order to stay dry, warm and safe.
Our 4 patrols split up and began to look for a suitable site for a small 2 person bivvy. Bivvy is short for Bivouac. It only needed to small and simple as per Stage 1 of the Adventure Skills, and 2 patrols did this, but the other two went way over engineered and needed to be brought back a bit. While they were doing this, Bugsy and Fiona got the fire going. They also had the Rugby match on, but we just had to turn it off.
We took a break to have some lunch, but then got straight back into it. Each patrol had to light a fire and use it to make bread twists. Finding dry firewood on a wet day can be a challenge, but not if you know where to look. There was plenty of it about and Brendan even showed them how to find some "standing dead wood" which is always great. The scouts gathered their Matchstick, Pencil, Thumb to get their fires going and then added large logs to burn down to embers to cook their bread twists over. While one patrol member mixed the dough, the rest peeled the bark off sticks that were just the right length and thickness to make the twists on. Bugsy had left us earlier in the day, but thankfully we were joined by Sue. She's a new scouter and this was going to be her first outdoor experience with us as well.
The rain had more or less stopped by now, which was a let up. Some of the bread was ok, but some needed a bit more work. The fires needed to be hotter and managed better to ensure they stayed hot enough for cooking on. It's all a learning curve though.
By 5:30 Fiona was heading off with some of the scouts who, unfortunately due to other commitments, could not stay over for the night. Dinner was the next order of the day. Again, one member from each patrol was selected to start prep and cooking on the larger fire that the leaders had. The rest of the scouts split into two patrols - boys and girls - to put up larger tarps as bivvys for them all to sleep in. As usual, the girls put the boys to shame and had theirs set up in no time at all. They were all going to be well packed in like sardines to help keep them warm.
Dinner did take a while, as it does when you are cooking for 20 people on an open fire. We were having chicken parcels with peppers, mushrooms, and onions along with cheesy baked potatoes.
The Kelly Kettle was used to heat up the water for wash-ups and, of course, coffee for Sue. Everybody tucked in as soon as it was ready. It was such a clear night that at about 10pm we left the woods to get a clear look at the night sky above us. Part of the more advanced stages of Backwoods is navigation by the stars. Brendan showed us how to find the North Star (Polaris) by using both the Ursa Major and Casiopia constellations. Once we had found Polaris, we were able to find North and then obviously work out the other cardinal navigation points. It's such a simple skill that will hopefully stay with the scouts for a long time.
A clear night means a cold night so we returned to the fire to get warmed up. We all sat by the fire telling stories and the most excellent jokes and riddles. Brendan kept everyone entertained with his "Dad Jokes". Some of them, only Sue was able to get as they were as old as the hills with pop culture references from the 80's. Poor Sean was as bewildered as the scouts. Ah the innocence of youth. There is no better time to make new friends than when sitting around a campfire. The bonus of activities like these is that as well as learning new skills and pushing your comfort zones, scouts and scouters get to know each other better and build trust and relationships.
By midnight it was time to head for bed. The chatting continued for a while, but eventually died down as the scouts drifted off to sleep.
Sue was first up the next morning. Eager to get going (away from Sean's SNORING). She got the fire going as we were supposed to be cooking breakfast on it. Brendan was up next and got the Kelly Kettle going for the all important hot water for morning coffee. He also took pure delight in waking the scouts. It was 7:30 and still dark. Again, one from each patrol was on cooking duty while the rest of the scouts packed up their personal gear and took down the tarps. Unfortunately, Jack was left in charge of the sausages and well, let's just say, cremated was a word used to describe them when they came off the fire. There was plenty of fruit and chocolate digestives left over though so they were eaten with gusto.
We packed up all the kit and placed it carefully and strategically (NOT) in Brendan's car. We covered over where our fires had been and swept the area for any litter or rubbish. We wanted to Leave No Trace that we had been there. It is one of the principles that we operate by.
We walked up to the car park and were there just after 10 am. There was a minor incident with a rubbish bag bursting as it was carried out, but thanks to Andrea, one of our Cub Scouters and parent of a scout, who was there to collect, it was cleared up and every scrap of burnt sausage was removed.
Overall, it was a great activity and a huge challenge for any of the new scouts who probably never did anything like this before so the scouters just want to say ...................