Mi amigas…real outdoor women!

On an internet search for ‘outdoor women’ or ‘adventure women’ it would be easy to be a magpie to the glossy scenery of an Instagram shot with someone in shiny kit, posing during an ‘adventure’. To be a female adventurer might initially appear to involve a certain length of hair, a perfect (Pantone 2171c if you’re asking) shade of blue sky, a particular set of vital physical statistics, and most definitely a chunky beanie hat, probably bobbled. 

There is also a refreshing flush of what some of us might consider to be more realistic public figures in adventure and expeditions (and frankly I’m not too fussed whether they’re female, male or anything else as long as it’s genuine and inspiring). For me these might include people like Ann Daniels, Bruce Parry, and Felicity Aston, and for his committing expeditions (rather than his childrens’ TV) Steve Backshall.  Closer to achievable by ‘normal’ folk might be the gutsy but FUN FUN FUN exploits of Faye Shepherd and Anna McNuff (the latter’s book ‘The Pants of Perspective’ newly inspiring a movement of Adventure Queens – real women, sleeping in fields all over the place!). 

My close adventurey friends suggest an alternative image to the one provided by social media – between us we have everything from long blonde(ish) to short brown curly hair, unshaven legs (just me?) and sometimes other bits, are impressively curvy in all sorts of places, sometimes bespectacled, wearing non-matching clothing, mended, dirty and well worn kit, and are definitely out in all weathers whatever the glamour-scale. We’re all doing our outdoor thing in the name of our own mental and physical health, as part of our jobs or hobbies, and fitting it in with family life and the financial necessity of ‘other’ work, as well as spreading the word to anyone we can that outdoors is where the magic happens…I’ve written this in response to feeling very lucky to have these awesome women around me in my mid-40s. 

The amigas of the title remain nameless here, but I’m sure they (and others) might work out who is who if they read on – and maybe you’ll be thinking about the encouraging and inspiring people that you’re lucky enough to know in person as you read this.

Amigo A – I’ve known for two years – she was the first person to welcome me into our local bunch of sea swimmers, and has been a consistent presence through two summers and winters, swimming whatever the weather. Her catchphrase ‘you never regret a swim’, is often repeated, and never loses impact. She has inadvertently got me (willingly!) out of bed at 5.30am on many occasions in the time we’ve been friends – and I am not an early riser. Each time has been to meet on a street corner, and walk or share a lift to a swim – in the cold April sea for a sunrise breakfast, or to have a remote pool on the moor to ourselves before summer crowds arrive. Her adventurous spirit is infectious, and her disregard for conventional middle-aged behaviour gives huge encouragement for the next decade or two of my own life. She’s also super creative, a self-made artist, and very tech-savvy – we’ve had regular ‘beer mat life planning’ sessions, with plans for adventures, creative businesses and social events. These two years have brought me a life outside teaching, and she has been instrumental in that process – Thankyou!!

Amigo B I met nearly five years ago in a pub after a DofE event. She was a friend of a friend (Amiga C) – we had teaching in common, as well as a love of Dartmoor, the outdoors, and facilitating expeditions for young people in the British hills. There have since been shared laughs in bunkhouses (“It’s the three am side of half past-two!”), night navving, and much twittering. Since last autumn when she came on her first moonlit sea swim, we have got to know each other far more – mostly through the character-building (Type 2 fun) of winter skins swimming, and the consequent chilly changes on a windy sea front. We wild camped on Dartmoor back in February with Amiga D (see below), and there was muchos cackling, tent snacks and lots of talk about ablutions and being real outdoor women (we definitely are). I am in awe of her ability to keep on going when the poo hits the fan, and very glad that as well as outdoors we are now confirmed ‘kitchen table coffee and cake’ friends as well (if you don’t have one of those I suggest you sort that out asap).  

Amiga C is the other half of Amiga B…by that I mean they are two. This half of the pair is equally up for bunkhouse shenanigans, night nav exploits, alongside getting out in the hills with others young and older, for all the right reasons. She owns some impressively matchy outdoor clothing, and works very very hard with young people outdoors in various ways. 

Amiga D became a Faceplant friend just over a year ago, via the Devon Wild Swimming network. We finally met in early October 2016 (real faces!) at the WAEXPO after a flurry of messaging and trying to work out which of a few hundred outdoory women in a room the other one of us was. Since then we have done moonlit swims and wild camps, and an evening of expeditiony cud-chewing is in the planning. Her energy seems boundless – enthusiasm for outdoorsness, adventure and fun alongside genuine interest in others and what makes them tick makes for a magnetic combination in her personality.

Amiga E...a best buddy for the last 15 years…a free-spirited, low-impact living, creative soul, who is truly at her best outdoors and in particular with her own two young boys – fires on the beach, and moonlit camps on chilly autumn nights amongst the myriad things that they will thank her for when they’re older. Most recently she, Amiga B and I swam the Dart10k (not together but as it turned out only a few minutes apart), and on one chilly evening training swim discussed our impending ‘poo window’ and the need for its fine tuning for the day of the event. I’ve never had ‘poo window’ friends before, but am very very glad I do now. 

And Amiga F – slightly younger yes, outdoorsy in her work and play – often to be found in a boat of some kind, but equally at home in walking  boots and mucking about in a high moorland hostelry. She’s currently planning a mischevious outdoor shop trip for our first descent on her new living location…

Tomorrow I will be at WAEXPO 2017 with BCD and E – we’ll almost certainly be raising the average age a little, having a good cackle and a chat, as well reminding ourselves that being over 40-something and doing this adventure stuff has huge impact on our own lives as well as those of others around us.

Thankyou Amigas!


Tingleskin – and other new words for outdoor swimmers…


Tingleskin‘ came out of my head as I wrote a tweet a few weeks ago, about a particularly refreshing dawn sea swim. Over the past few weeks a few more descriptive words have played around in moments of swimmy relaxation. Enjoy, and do let me know your additions to the glossary…

Mingledip – a sort of less swimmy swim, where a few people bob up and down and have a chat, swapping chat buddies as the time (may only be 5 minutes) goes on.

Bimbleswim – a different sort of less swimmy swim, involving more bobbing and more chat, maybe just with two people.

Two people bimbleswimming. Well maybe mingledipping as I was there too…

Icymersion – the feeling of icy yet hot needles being prickled all over you as you take your first strokes in the winter sea. Interestingly the same prickly sting can be achieved by salt water swimming within 12 hours of shaving your legs…(a swimmy friend warned me, and I chose to ignore it, to my cost!).

Tingleskin – as a result of icymersion (specifically in salt water), and a brisk wind , tingleskin can be felt up to 10 hours after swimming. Some like it, some do not – the former often delay showering for a day in order to maximise the feeling (oh, just me?!).

Frozeytoes – Blue ones. Hours later. Sometimes white…and always hurty.

Left toes taking longer to come back, despite warm floor. Excuse the sandy toenail. 

Sandycrack – ‘crevice is a positively filthy word’ said Captain Melchett, and he was correct. Only sand is generally not filthy, just scratchy…

Soggytogs – the normal state of up to three lots of swim kit at a time in my house – either just washed, and drying properly, or hastily rinsed of salt and hung up in a vain attempt to be dryish before another swim later. Clammy cossie anyone?

Shiversnacks – cake, chocolate, biscuits, anything shary, sugary and squarey. (That’s basically a food poem right there!).

Porridge in a flask – not squarey, or sharey, but very warming…

Cheekyswigs – a couple of our local shoalers are often armed with small flasks of brandyesque concotions to add to flasked coffee. How civilised. (And slightly naughty at 10am on a Saturday morning).

If two swimmers get into the sea and no photos are taken, did the swim still happen?

We may have met by a tunnel…

We may have walked onto the beach…

We may have chatted, and got changed slowly…

We may have remarked on a lack of motivation…

We may have walked into the waves, wincing…

We may have said “just a quick dip”… 

We may have done several head-up-breaststroke ‘lengths’ of the beach (well, part of it!)…

We may have stayed in a few minutes too long because it was actually rather wonderful… 

We may have warmed up a bit, with hot blackcurrant, and sea glass hunting…

We may have warmed up some more, with a hot pasty and a cup of tea… 

But there are no photos, so it may not have happened at all… 

DofE Diamond Challenge – Residential DONE! 5 days of new experiences… 

My DofE Diamond Challenge has been a long slow burner…as HRH himself says, a DofE award is a ‘do-it-yourself tool kit for life’. And this year’s life has been different to any other in my adulthood, in large part due to deciding to do this year long replay of my own Gold Award, first completed 25 years ago. This week I’ll round up my year of Diamond Challenge with a blog post for each section of the award that I’ve re-completed.

  • Wed – Skill
  • Thursday – Volunteering and Physical
  • Today – Residential (this one!) and Expedition

The Gold Residential. Five days, four nights, away from home, new experiences. I know the flow chart off by heart. And after a very busy expedition year with my own DofEers, my heart told me that my family would not be happy if I went jollying off for another five days AND nights…so my plan for this section was to dilute the residential into a family friendly set of resi-day-ntials. Five exciting activities, all very different, and all to be done this autumn…

Day 1. Sept 10th – BDMLR Marine Medic Training, Living Coasts, Devon.

I did not even know that this was a ‘thing’ until April this year, after a talk on seals by Sue Sayer, of Cornwall Seals. I booked onto this day and did not know what to expect. It was fun, interesting and practical, with short lectures in the morning, and outdoor (in the water) exercises in the afternoon, with the experienced trainers leading us through various techniques to be used with ill or stranded marine mammals. Since the course I am now on the volunteer medic database, so occasionally receive texts about strandings that need attending to, and in November there was a dolphin that required monitoring, handily on my day off and before the school run!

Water filled model of Common Dolphin – learning techniques for keeping cool/hydrated and not damaging skin, whilst checking for signs of ill health and lifting to refloat. Learning to re-orientate and turn a life-sized (and weight!) pilot whale, using inflatable boom and sling. Towel used to secure medic from teeth of seal pup (model!). We learnt the technique to keep our fingers safe whilst checking teeth/gums etc. for signs of health. Dolphin that we monitored in Torbay Harbour in late November, having qualified as a BDMLR Marine Medic. It was not seen again after dark that day, and was not reported as stranded elsewhere. Hopefully a happy ending…


Day 2. Sept 25th – Seashore Foraging, East Prawle, Devon.

Not much to report, and hardly any pictures. But it definitely did happen! I had a book about eating seaweed, and some friends wanted to go and find some, so we spent a lovely day on a windy shore, and found a more diverse selection of creatures than I have ever seen there – we chose not to eat most of them, and so crispy seaweed it was for tea!

In which I and a few intrepid wannabe foragers went on a bimble to here…and met a real forager on the beach. 
And I went home with a large handful of this – which was utterly yummy when quickly fried – crispy seaweed! 


Day 3. October 4th – Mountain Training Association, Transformational Leadership Workshop, Mill on the Brue, Somerset.

This was an MTA CPD day, which looked interesting, for my role as DofE Leader at school, and also as I am taking 25 students and 3 other staff on a 3.5 week expedition to Peru next year. Dr Samantha McElligot led us through reflection on our own leadership style, case studies, and practical tools for thinking about and applying the theoretical model to teams of our own. I came away from this day really fired up about putting things into our Peru training, and for the staff involved with DofE at school. Highly recommended!


4. October 8th – WAEXPO (Womens’ Adventure EXPO), @Bristol, Bristol. 

I went to the first WAEXPO in 2015, on a whim, and it was a really great day. So when this year’s popped up on Twitter, I had it in my diary and booked up. It was bigger and brighter for 2016, and to top it off Anna McNuff was MCing (I think this stands for Motivational Chat?!)

What a day – Sarah Outen‘ s talk, Jo Bradshaw‘s workshop and of course Anna were my highlights. As well as finally meeting Bel Dixon in one of those Facebook messenger “what do you look like?” moments, whilst standing metres apart! The room was buzzing with women of all ages, and a few guys. The photo below has context – asked to capture our ‘best EXPO moment’ and tweet it, I woman-handled Anna into the loos in a recreation of our first meeting the year before -and won! (It must be said that we had had a few chats on Twitter before meeting in 2015!).

Once again I was left to travel home with a slight sense of ‘did that just really happen?’.  A totally fab day, and I will absolutely be there next year too.

5. November 26th – Plankton and Printmaking, art/science workshop at The Marine Biological Association, Plymouth. 

And finally…plankton and art. Surely a winning combination for a biology loving craftster such as myself. And it was. As a busy busy mum, wife, teacher, DofE leader and everything else, to be gifted the day to go and do this was utterly wonderful. A small group of us learnt how to draw observationally, rather than with expectation. We spent time looking at plankton from all over the world down very large microscopes in a very smart lab. Debby Mason, printmaker and our artistic teacher for the day, showed us how to make simple line drawings of our chosen plankton, then turn them into simple lino-style prints in the afternoon. Wonderful stuff, which has led me to draw more in the last month than I have in the past twenty years.

We began the day by doing some observational drawing, which I’ve done more of since the workshop. Very relaxing! We used proper BIG microscopes (bigger than I’m used to at school). A selection of plankton was transformed into images by the group.My barnacle larva print!

DofE Diamond Challenge – Physical DONE! 12 months of Swim swim swimming… 

My DofE Diamond Challenge has been a long slow burner…as HRH himself says, a DofE award is a ‘do-it-yourself tool kit for life’. And this year’s life has been different to any other in my adulthood, in large part due to deciding to do this year long replay of my own Gold Award, first completed 25 years ago. 

This week I’ll round up my year of Diamond Challenge with a blog post for each section of the award that I’ve re-completed. 

  • Wed – Skill
  • Today – Volunteering and Physical (this one!)
  • Friday – Residential and Expedition 

Physical – a year of swimming – 12 photos chosen from hundreds…one photo per month in chronological order. I have also spent some time in chlorinated pools (eeeurgh) bettering my stroke (ie. learning how to front crawl gracefully), with the wonderful Kari, who has completed her own Diamond Challenge this year. Watch a little film about her here.

  • Yes it is cold
  • Yes I do it all year
  • No I do not wear a wetsuit. Well, I did once, for the mile swim in Torbay, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

There have been long walks with multiple swims, swims by waterfalls, swims in the dark, swims with the moon, swims in silly hats, swims to wash off the day, swims to sort out thoughts, swims to explore caves, and swims where it is more about the cake, just a little bit.

In reality the swimming year cannot be scaled down. It has had the biggest impact on my life of anything since getting married and having children. It’s not just physical fitness so much as all round good feeling, and that is from a combination of the cold water, the salt (or the peat!), the fresh air, the friends and the being outdoors.

More swimming! Thankyou to anyone who has been a swim buddy this year.  


DofE Diamond Challenge – Expedition DONE! 4 days on hot Dartmoor – with COWS… 

My DofE Diamond Challenge has been a long slow burner…as HRH himself says, a DofE award is a ‘do-it-yourself tool kit for life’. And this year’s life has been different to any other in my adulthood, in large part due to deciding to do this year long replay of my own Gold Award, first completed 25 years ago. 

This week I’ll round up my year of Diamond Challenge with a blog post for each section of the award that I’ve re-completed. 

Expedition – practice and preparation
I nominally went through the expedition training framework three times between January and April, so completing my ‘training’! In addition, my DofE colleague at school signed off my practice as ‘complete’ after a total of 12 nights camping, with much walking and other skills shown over the course of our DofE expedition delivery in 2016.

So all I needed was a plan, some kit and a team.

The plan – after some dithering in the early summer, I picked a date, and sketched out a plan on the fab Viewranger app. Approximately 65km, to be covered on foot over 4 days and 3 nights. I booked my campsites, and published my route plan to friends – hoping for a rolling ‘team’ who might join me for a few hours, or overnight. The plan came together, and the forecast was GOOD! Kit was packed, food was scaled down to less than I remember eating 25 years ago, and I was ready for the off…

Day 1 – The team assembled at Dartmeet for an early breakfast start. I had applied for special measures variation to my 20 conditions, and so due to the impending terrain travelled with just swim stuff, food and emergency kit for the first 6km of the day. We had long planned this ‘swimble’ from Dartmeet to Newbridge, and the river was in good state – there was water, but not too much, and there was a path, but not too slidey.

After 6.7km of narrow, sometimes precipitous paths, 5 swims including an ‘extreme bidet’ and some waterfall action we emerged happy at Newbridge. You can see/read a bit more on the Ape blog here.

Here I shouldered my full pack and began the uphill trudge to camp 1. This was my first stretch alone, and after the buzz of the day with the Apes, Barney, Ron, Jackie, Mark and Allan it was odd to be chuffing up through the woods, hearing the slightest rustle (deer?) and every woohoo of an owl as the dusk approached. Camp was familiar, having used the small field many times with my own groups –  and I had a camp-mate as Mark had decided to stay out and sleep in his van.


Day 2 – The morning’s team was just me, as Mark had to get back to work for a bit. I left camp on time at 0730, and made my way towards Widecombe, where I had a loose arrangement to meet Ron (who I’d met the first time yesterday on the swimble). After a short rest under the large tree on the green he arrived and was ready to go. The top of Hameldown was shrouded in mist so we opted for a valley route towards Natsworthy. As we went up on to the ridge towards Grimspound the mist cleared, and Ron was rewarded with purple and yellow heather as far as the eye could see – and the air was thick with the smell of honey. Ron decided to head back over the top, and so I went on to the Two Moors Way towards the Warren House, with sunshine warming my head. I saw no-one and nothing, until the drop down towards the main road,at which point I realised that I was under surveillance from behind a thick ginger fringe. Walking purposefully but not in a panicky way (really!) the Warren house and then Runnage appeared over various horizons. This was a day of noticing the small things, and having photographed a micro-granite landscape, a fab lichen and a lovely beetle, I was very pleased to find myself a whole (dead) adder! Hastily texting a friend who I knew was collecting skins for a project, I got a sandwich bag (can never be short of one) out and then texted her again, as it was well beyond smelly…

Fun and games in a quiet Runnage camp – a beautiful warm evening, with beautifully low midge count. Jackie and Mark had come to camp on this evening, and as they ate their fresh and hearty food, and I tucked into Ainsley Harriot risotto, they suggested a post-prandial walk along the edge of the forest. We ended up popping in to the trees for an atmospheric wander as the sun went down, complete with close up buzzard encounter including a dive bomb moment!


Day 3 – a day that started with blue skies, and just got hotter, and hotter…I walked into Postbridge alone, well, until I got chatting to a mum with an off road buggy – we talked about running, the moor, farming, allsorts. After a welcome loo stop and a look for a tree that I planted as a Bronze back in 1988 (found it!), Mark and I strode out up the wide track through Bellever Forest. The dry dust gave a feeling of walking abroad, in Spain perhaps – not often a feeling had on Dartmoor. Bellever Tor rewarded us with 360 degree views, and a small breeze, on which a hundred black flies were playing around the well-kept trig point. Mark diverted back along the Dart and I was alone again, heading for Dunnabridge Pound.

At this point there may have been a small cow-related diversion, involving some scrambling through gorse, and swearing. But there are no pictures, so it probably didn’t happen.

HRH DofE Bear was stripped right off, and as we got to Huccaby Bridge we found a small pool away from the million grockles squeezed in at the bridge,  and wallowed for half an hour. What a relief! After lunch the next hill seemed almost do-able (by this time it was approaching 28c and there was little shade) but I still found myself stopping under every little tree for a few minutes, to cool down before the next leg. Holne Moor was looking absolutely perfect, and the view down into the Dart gorge showed the route from Day 1 amongst the trees. After another hour of hot hot trekking I dropped down into Michelcombe, to camp in the shade off the edge of the moor. The campsite was haphazard but friendly, and shortly after I’d pitched my friend Leon arrived, to stay the night and walk the last day across the south moor with me. Leon has just completed his own Diamond Challenge, running 1000 miles this year – epic! 

Day 4 – we made an early start, leaving camp at 7am to get ahead of the heat – and a longish day planned, over the south moor to the finish. We saw no-one and I mean no-one, for the first 5 hours. After a long pull up from Scorriton, the open moor looked stunning, and some ponies posed for Instagram before we descended into the deeper south moor. A large caterpillar blocked our way, mumbling something about ‘none shall pass’, but we laughed in the face of danger and stepped over it. The clapper bridge stood firm over the upper reaches of the Avon, and we stopped for snacks and contemplation – how long the bridge had been there before our time, and how long it would be there after we had departed this earth. 

Up onto the plain of the south moor, just south of Redlake, a mountain biker broke the unpeopled peace, but soon disappeared. The horizon stretched into Cornwall, and as we moved south on the Puffing Billy track Plymouth Sound and the South Hams came into view. 

It was around here that my feet really started to complain. The heat of the past three days combined with the hard track meant that the pads on my soles were compacted and sore. A brief paddle at Left Lake relieved it temporarily, and then onwards. The end was in sight, and only cows could spoil it – and they did. A great big herd of polo cows (Banded Galloways) right across the track pushed my bovine tolerance over the edge, and we dropped down to Harford Gate to the Lane into Ivybridge. My route finished in Leon’s back garden, with a bucket of cold water for the feet, and some fizzy wine for the head! 

My Gold Expedition in 1991 was in the French Pyrenees. These four days on Dartmoor were as hot (in places), and as tiring as I remember, but every bit as satisfying for the achievement of the journey. My aim was to photograph the little things, which I did, as you can see in amongst the bigger scenes in the photo blocks. 

Huge Thankyou to all involved – Carl, Kate, Jackie, Barney, Mark, Allan and Ron on Day 1. Jackie and Mark on Day 2/3. And Leon on Day 3/4, without whom I would probably still be wibbling about cows and stuck out on the moor. 

DofE Diamond Challenge – Volunteering DONE! 12 months (more!) of DofE Leadership… 

My DofE Diamond Challenge has been a long slow burner…as HRH himself says, a DofE award is a ‘do-it-yourself tool kit for life’. And this year’s life has been different to any other in my adulthood, in large part due to deciding to do this year long replay of my own Gold Award, first completed 25 years ago. This week I’ll round up my year of Diamond Challenge with a blog post for each section of the award that I’ve re-completed. 

  • Wed – Skill
  • Today – Volunteering (this one!) and Physical
  • Friday – Residential and Expedition

This post has the potential to come across as moany. It is not at all – if I can help it there is not going to be a time when I do not voluntarily give a large part of my life to doing this. It is however a long list of big jobs that are looming for 2017 as well…and hopefully many more years to come. I hope that if there are any readers out there who are in a position where they are to support someone doing what I do, on any scale at all, that this list might help them to understand why the leaders of DofE are so so important to the young people who can do their award as a result of the leaders’ motivation. It is not really possible to document everything in the role, but I do know that anyone who actually does it will be able to spot the many holes in my list…

List of DofE activities undertaken as a Leader/Assessor in 2016…below are events on my calendar from the year, and so of course in between these is all the ‘normal’ weekly admin – visits to Bronze groups, chasing route cards, meeting Golds, booking campsites, completing green forms, Evolve forms and risk assessments, and ensuring that eDofE is kept up to date. As well as answering many ‘out of hours’ emails from participants, about their sections, eDofE, their assessor reports.

  • January – Gold training – 48 hours in a bunkhouse with 34 Golds, covering the training syllabus for expeditions.
  • Feb – Silver training and preparation – 2 days, 30 Silvers, one day out on the moor and one in school, training, route planning and preparation.
  • March – Bronze training day and prep – 100 Bronzes in 16 teams. Also Gold practice expedition – 3 days and nights under canvas on a cold wet moor.
  • April – Admin month – much chasing of route cards for completion, other sections to be signed off for Bronzes
  • May – Bronze practice weekends – 2 x 2 days out in South Devon, checkpointing Bronzes, with all the usual shenanigans of the first time out… plus a very special Buckingham Palace Gold Award Presentation!
  • June – Bronze Assessed weekends – 2 x 2 days out on the edge of Dartmoor, 50+ Bronzes each time, with 10 staff and vehicles to sort as well. To top off June, Silver practice for three days at the end!
  • July – Gold expedition week – 7 days away in Wales, one of the most stunning weeks we have ever had – mixed weather, 5 great teams and superb staff!
  • August – some time off...that average of an hour a week, remember?!
  • Sept – Silver expedition preparation, bronze completion chasing, and a 3 day PHSG assessment (two Silver teams from another school).
  • Oct – Silver assessed – 3 days, 5 teams, AAP staff and me on Dartmoor. A good one!
  • Nov – new Golds and Silvers enrol, Bronze finishers mounting up, Torbay Leaders meeting organised, SW Managers’ meet, Palace GAP to surprise some Golds that I have not seen for a year!
  • Dec – Silver finishers being chased, new Golds underway, planning a Torbay presentation evening…

Here are some photos of the best expedition bits…



DofE Diamond Challenge – Skill DONE! 12 months of crochet and making… 

My DofE Diamond Challenge has been a long slow burner…as HRH himself says, a DofE award is a ‘do-it-yourself tool kit for life’. And this year’s life has been different to any other in my adulthood, in large part due to deciding to do this year long replay of my own Gold Award, first completed 25 years ago. 

This week I’ll round up my year of Diamond Challenge with a blog post for each section of the award that I’ve re-completed. 

  • Wed – Skill
  • Thursday – Volunteering and Physical
  • Friday – Residential and Expedition 

Between now and Saturday I’ll do a minimum of one hour of crochet. My last hour towards the SKILL section. 12 months of crochet mainly, with a few felting attempts thrown in. I taught myself from YouTube videos a couple of years ago, and progressed from granny squares and circles, to hats and scarves but no further. So this year I’ve tried to develop stitch knowledge, pattern use and (the ultimate goal of any crafter!) actually finishing one of the many WIPs (work-in-progress) that inhabit tabletops and baskets in most rooms of our house. I have easily spent an hour a week, often more – especially if I include looking at the online inspiration-fest that is Pinterest.

Reflection – Crochet is the perfect activity for a few minutes or a few hours of getting away from it all. I love the creativity that I can have with it (never managed to get anywhere near this with that awful thing called knitting!), and the easily coverable blemishes. I can take it on holiday, on DofE expeditions (much mickey taking there), on the school run, and do it in bed! The felting is a great process, a bit like pottery in that I am not sure what it’ll actually look like until it is felted and dried. It takes longer and more kitchen table time, but is worth the effort in the end.

I shall be continuing crochet (even on DofE expeds!) and doing more felting. I am hoping to try some weaving this coming year as well. My main aim is to finish some more things…

Thankyou to anyone who has inspired me with patterns, projects and enthusiasm for what I have (sometimes) produced! 

Here are some examples of things I have made (or at least started…)

1. Basket bag – made from Nutscene garden twine and recycled leather handles. Pattern from my head after looking at many pictures – hooking that twine really toughened up my fingers! Used all the time.2. Ripple blanket (Attic 24 pattern) – long rows, my favourite colours – WIP3. Wavy cushion – pattern combined from various on the internet – WIP4. Moomin – pattern from a magazine. Got SO fed up with white yarn looking grubby and having to wash my hands every half an hour. Will come back to it. No pic – too white!

5. Lacy scarf – started a year ago. Got too long in the middle, so frogged it all back two weeks ago, and looking for another pattern. 6. Fingerless mitts – made from Lily Warne Dartmoor yarn in Bellever Blue, Bovey Blue and Dartmoor Green. A finished item, in use after chilly swims! 7. Some granny squares for a blanket made by lots of people for a friend who was ill…8. A couple of hats from chunky yarn9. And most recently a quick Yoda hat for a brand new nephew! 

10. Other – all felting projects

Felted bowls – wanted to do this for ages so just went for it. Will definitely be making more of these, I love them!

Felted cushion cover – copied/inspired by an online image – yet to become a cushion…Felt pod – not sure of purpose but one day I will make more and they will be joined into a thingy…

Loved my year of crochet, and not stopping now!  


#DofE Diamond Challenge Weeks 12-16 – What’s your challenge?

Another month has flown by…and two things have become clear (not only the water).

  1. Short impressive feats of endurance (classic ‘challenges’) seem very newsworthy.
  2. Long-lived (one year) challenges involving stuff that people do day to day seem less newsworthy (hence perhaps my blogging slipping from weekly to roughly monthly).

Is there any less challenge in long, ‘chipping away at it’ type challenges? Who is the challenge for? Does any of it matter?

When the #DiamondChallenge was first advertised and I decided on what I would do, it was with excitement and anticipation. I had no desire to bungee jump, run a marathon, or make a fool of myself on a stage, and needed something that would fit in with a very busy life. I wanted to support DofE yes, but at the time it was more of a chance to re-live a bit (and very influential and fun bit) of my youth, by working through a whole Gold DofE programme, or as near to as I could given my adult circumstances (mum of two smallish folk, ageing parents to help out, teaching in school, running a big DofE centre – no glam excuses here, just normal life as I appear to have crafted it, or it me, over the last twenty years).

I chose activities for my Physical, Skill and Volunteering that I was already doing, or wanted to develop – I often advise my DofE participants to do this in one or two sections if they can in order to reduce the need for busying their lives any more than our education system already does, and to allow them to organise the credit they will gain for maintaining current interests as part of their normal, positive lives. The essence (guiding principles) of DofE ie. ‘non-competitive’, ‘achievable by all’ and ‘achievement focused’ amongst others, are the reason why the DofE was the thing that I latched onto at 14, having been a serial last-pick at netball, weedy, non-sportyish, nerdy girl for all of my school life.

Many of the DofE Diamond Challenges are one off events – the launch consisted of some celebrities on a mobile climbing wall in Convent Garden, and there are many people running half marathons, 10/5kms, triathlons, Iron Mans and similar. My super friend /swimming guru Kari Furre will be swimming the length of Lake Windermere in July. I am very proud to say that a chat (over a Halloween glass of wine and dark October sea swim) led to her coming back to DofE having been awarded her Gold in 1969, and I honestly hope that I am still involved with DofE that many years after my Gold (er, 1991…that means I’m aiming for some sort of endurance swim in about 2038 then). Looking forward to living it up with her at the Buckingham Palace Gold Presentation next month!

On the non-physical side some are learning to play an instrument (a certain CEO among them!), perform open-mike stand-up comedy (you know who you are!), cooking weekly, or hosting big events. Some of these examples, although not seemingly as dare-devilish, or adrenaline seeking, would have me and many others quaking in their boots, or struggling with the regular effort needed.

Whether the challenge is a short run, a long walk, an excruciating public performance (on a personal level, hopefully not for the audience), or results in a nice cake, ultimately the challenge will benefit young people doing their DofE – funds raised will stay in the region in which they are raised, and go toward provision of the award for disadvantaged young people.  But in addition to that, the challenge will have given focus to the person completing it. DofE is ‘a do-it-yourself toolkit for growing up‘, in the words of HRH. To me the DofE #DiamondChallenge is an essential tool in achieving a little bit of personal balance, with purpose in life, whether it be for a day, an hour or the whole year – all the challenges are different, but have been chosen because they mean something to the participant.

I will not receive my Diamond pin until after the end of 2016 – when my #DofEChallenge is completed after a year of chipping away at the hour a week of physical activity (happily, I am managing a lot more than this), alongside an hour of Skill (much hooky action in my crochet bag), and the endless cycle of volunteering that is being a DofE Leader (just finished tonight’s adminathon). It is likely that my challenge will receive the most attention from friends and family when I get on to the expedition, and spend 4 days mooching with purpose on Dartmoor, hopefully with a team of friends of similar ilk to enjoy the experience.  I suppose for many a long walk, with camping, heavy rucksack and no showers seems like a ‘proper’ challenge, whereas crocheting some hats and jumping into the sea every week to swim might appear dull, monotonous or just an excuse for fun.

What’s your challenge?!


Clear water and blue sky above this sea swim