At long last the world is opening again and we are gradually being allowed to return to the countryside and get back out into nature. I have always felt a strong affinity with the outdoors and have always loved all things beyond the classroom. At School, I was passionate about my sport and took part in everything, but specialised in rugby, rowing, and athletics. I was extremely fortunate to be at a lovely school nestled on the banks of the river Thames, with the river and nature on my doorstep.
As well as sport, I quickly became involved with DofE and CCF at school. Luckily, we were able to do both, and I managed to complete my Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards, as well as being an under officer in the CCF. In addition to several expeditions with the School, I also joined the Expedition Society, and we would head off most weekends and during school holidays to the Lakes, The Isle of Skye and many other places around England, Scotland and Wales, to walk and climb and push boundaries beyond our comfort zones.
I have always had a real kinship with those extra trips, and I was so grateful for the staff who gave up their weekends to take us out on some pretty hairy trips, looking back on it now as a teacher! I remember canoeing trips down the Thames, the three Peaks challenge (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pyke, and Snowdon in under 24 hours), bagging many peaks and just having the most wonderful time. On leaving school, I spent one year at Pickering College in Canada as a Junior Master, where I taught PE and Geography, learnt how to ice skate, and play ice Hockey, reinforcing my love of the countryside. I would spend my weekends and holidays walking trails in the Rockies and camping out in the most awe-inspiring places, taking care not to be eaten by bears!
My schooldays and my year in Canada sparked a fire inside me to spend more time in the outdoors and I continued my passion for walking and the outdoors by joining the Expedition Society at Exeter University, traveling the length and breadth of the English countryside most weekends. I would often return to my old school and help with DofE training and expeditions, as well as CCF camps. Why do I love the mountains? For me, it is partly the challenge, the physicality of a large hill is uncompromising and simple, you climb it, or you don’t, but also their beauty, the solitude, the unknown paths. Being outdoors is a safe comfy place for me, free of judgement and criticism. I love the physical exhaustion of walking, getting lost in nature, but hopefully not getting lost geographically!
After Exeter, I taught at Verulam School in St Albans where I taught PE and ran the DofE Programme. I joined Alleyn’s in September 1999 to run the DofE programme and the school Field Centre in Buxton. For the past 22 years, I have adored my job and now it is my turn to inspire our pupils with nature and share with them all the wonderful experiences that I had when I was their age.
With the prospect of lockdown rules easing and some warmer weather on the way, it has never been more important to reconnect with nature and rural areas. Lockdown has shown us all the value of staying fit and healthy and, over the past twelve months, many of us have developed an appreciation for what is on our doorstep. As well as being involved in DofE, I have enjoyed taking annual trips to Buxton for our year 7 pupils over the past two decades to walk, climb, abseil, and cave. I have accompanied pupils to the summit of countless mountains, in this country and abroad, something I also enjoyed myself in my youth before teaching.
I am passionate about the DofE Award and I have relished every second delivering this at Alleyn’s. For me, DofE is a very special scheme, and the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh this year really highlighted what a distinguished man he was and the important work that he did throughout his long lifetime. Without his insight and desire for innovation and challenge, school children today would not benefit from the opportunity to push those boundaries beyond their comfort zone. I always say in my presentation to the parents that it is about finding the right balance between moving beyond one’s comfort zone and the fear of going too far, the intoxicating balance, and getting lost in exactly the right place; this is where, as I refer to it “where the magic happens”.
I have been involved with DofE for the last 34 years, both as a participant and as a DofE Manager, and I have been extremely fortunate to have met the Duke of Edinburgh on several occasions. The DofE Award Scheme teaches young people so much: Self-belief and self-confidence; A sense of identity; Initiative, and a sense of responsibility; A real awareness of their strengths, new talents and abilities; An ability to plan and use time effectively; Learning from, and giving to, others in the community; Forming new friendships; Problem solving, presentation and communication skills; Leadership and teamwork. It has been a real pleasure to guide so many young people through the Scheme at Alleyn’s and every aspect of the Award has shaped and moulded their lives and made a significant difference.
I look forward to the time when I can take my own boys up a mountain and enjoy camping trips together, when I can show them the beauty of nature, away from what they know close to home. I hope to be doing what I am doing at Alleyn’s for many years to come; every day, every trip, every expedition is a new experience for me and the pupils and nothing brings more reward than witnessing them find ‘the magic’. I really hope that, if you are reading this and considering doing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, I might have convinced you to throw yourself into it; I promise you will not regret it. I would like to end here with a few of my favourite quotes:
“Life's a bit like mountaineering – never look down.” – Edmund Hillary.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir
“You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you.” – John Muir
“After a day's walk everything has twice its usual value.” – George Macauley Trevelyan
“Walks. The body advances, while the mind flutters around it like a bird.” – Jules Renard
"Walking is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things. It is the one way of freedom. If you go to a place on anything but your own feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside.” – Elizabeth von Arnim.
Alleyn’s Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Manager