Well, after 10 weeks of training and build up our 2 day Expedition finally arrived and it was dry….mostly.

After a final kit check and packing our lunches we set off in the YMCA mini bus pulling a trailer load of kayaks and canoes behind us. It was early afternoon when we set off along the canal headed North from Neath. Unlike previous Expeditions it was decided due to the early fading light to make a return trip as opposed to a journey this was so we could gauge our progress and return still in the light.

It took us a few hours to reach the lock gates, along the way we’d seen Buzzards, Swans and a few water birds. At one point our way had been blocked by a submerged log and we all teamed up to attach a rope to the obstacle and all paddle together to remove it. It certainly wasn’t easy but we managed it.

By the time we returned to our starting point the light was starting to fail. Perfect conditions for an autumn night walk.

Everyone was issued a head torch but asked not to turn them on. We peered into an absolutely pitch black forest and began walking into the night. It  surprised everyone just how much we could see and navigate in seemingly total darkness. Our stealth paid off and soon we were among the Owl calls just above our heads.

Once the moon came out we could see silver puddles and even moon shadows and it barely occurred to anyone to actually turn the lights on at all.

Finally we returned to our mini bus and within a short ride we were at the hall which was to be our resting place for the night.

Dinner was of course pizza and hot dogs and vegetarian options. Despite the excitement our day’s adventure was enough to guarantee everyone a good night sleep.

In the morning responsibility for making, serving and clearing up after breakfast fell to the children who in fairness did a brilliant job. We discussed our plans, packed our sleeping bags away and headed off for our last challenge.

There are plenty of magical and mythical stories surrounding Cilfrew. As we walked we talked about the ‘Marrying Trees’ and ‘The Couple who would never end their Journey’.

The walking was fairly arduous but we’d come prepared and marched on along steep, hidden paths crossing running streams and Fly Agaric circles as we went.

As we broke the tree tops everyone became aware of just how high we had climbed…. and we needed to get back down.

Helmets and harnesses on and the conversation became quieter as nerves kicked in. The challenge was to descend by abseiling the Green Gully to the base of the cliffs. Everyone encouraged everyone else until every one of us, even those who didn’t think they could do it arrived at the base of the cliffs.

Another hour of battling and descending through the forest litter, using ropes and improvised ladders and we found the path again.

By the time we had boarded our bus and had returned to our Boat House everyone was tired and bouncing in equal measures. Every single person had amazed themselves in what they had achieved.

Before we parted I asked them if, next year they would like me to make the Expedition easier and every young person to an individual chorused…No, make it harder!

So, looking forward to more adventures and, if you want it harder, harder it will be… don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And to everyone who part in this year’s projects where we provided over 300 youth activity and family places a very sincere and personal thank you.


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