What is it with us and minibuses?

What is it with Hatters weekends away and minibuses refusing to start? This is becoming as inevitable as climbing into my sleeping bag to find some fruit at the bottom of it. This weekend, we stayed at the 1st Stokenchurch HQ, a lovely building with everything that an Explorer Unit might need from showers to space hoppers. The explorers walked from here to Mill End and then then a little way along the Thames Path before being collected and taken back to base for dinner on the Saturday but that was only part of the tale.

On Friday night, there was a ‘no sleepover’ feel to trip with some snacks and films – we even lay in until nine o’clock. Dave ran a ‘Module 32A’ workshop so that one more Explorer could be authorised to use the whisk and as punishment for hiding the whisk, Rachel will not be allowed to become a qualified whisker until a much later date. After a full English breakfast the Explorers prepared themselves for a long day of walking in some pretty horrible conditions.

Drizzle turned to rain and with a chilling wind thrown in, we were surprised to find so many smiling faces when we collected them and feeling a little guilty, the leaders didn’t make them cook their own dinner. Instead, Rachel, Dave, Brian and Michael stepped up and it was only a little too much S Club 7 that finally drove Michael and Brain from the kitchen. Meanwhile, the Explorers were once again enjoying the space hoppers… Things went awry in the morning after breakfast.

On Sunday at around 10.15, we left for home and the fun started at around 10.30. With almost everyone in the blue bus, Brian, the equipment and me were in the white bus and we decided to fill it with diesel a minute or so into the journey. After filling up, we couldn’t start the bus so heroically, the blue bus returned without any Explorers actually noticing that it had turned around. We spent twenty minutes trying to jump start the bus before Jack started directing traffic and we had several attempts at a bump start, the last of which included most of us (less photographer) in florescent jackets pushing the bus down the A40.

Brian pulled in after this latest attempt and noticed a recovery vehicle parked just down the road. So, I put on my most pathetic of faces, straightened up my scarf and picked up my wallet. The very kind man gave us a short, fast tow to bump the minibus into life and an hour and a half after setting off, we were into the second mile of our journey.

I would be lying if I claimed that the weekend had gone entirely to plan but the Explorers will certainly have a story or two to tell. Thanks go to Brian for lending us a hand over the weekend, the 22nd for lending us a bus, the 1st Stokenchurch for their great facility and the anonymous recovery person who is hopefully sitting somewhere enjoying a few quick pints on us.

Hatters Conservationists

A small group of us spent the morning at Coppetts Wood on Sunday helping Ollie and his team to clear the Hatters Meadow. Coppetts Wood and Glebelands local Nature Reserve was once part of Finchley Wood and famous for its use by Highwaymen but is now a Site of Borough Importance for Conservation and the conservation is managed by our friend, Ollie Natelson, and The Coppetts Wood Conservationists who volunteer there on Sunday mornings.

Fortunately, the highwaymen are long gone and we weren’t reliant on a shear wielding Giselle to protect us (I should point out that Giselle was wielding her shear in a perfectly safe manor with all of the correct clothing and not running) and it was just a 3 hour shift in glorious sunshine with a couple of snack breaks thrown in.

The Hatters Meadow goes back to the first visit from the Hatters to help Ollie in 2008 and due to the early efforts to clear the area and cut down the trees that were starving the area of light, every spring the meadow flourishes with wild flowers. This however, relies on some more work on the site every autumn.

On Sunday, the work consisted of clearing the bramble and nettles – expertly performed by Gideon, Adam, Sarah and Giselle throughout the morning while Rory walked backwards and forwards to Tesco (an equally important job). Dave performed wonderfully in his role as chief photographer and ‘faffer’ while Steve and Drea got stuck in and covered in seeds.

Overall, the morning was a success, right until somebody dropped my sandwich in the mud. We’ll be back again to see the fruits of our labour in spring.

Night Hike

The highlight for 22 explorers this half term has been our Night Hike in September. It was the story of two teams, two routes, two new torches, two pies and two hours’ sleep (for those lucky enough to get it).

We met at the 6th Southgate HQ. The Explorers were briefed and planned a route to walk from Waterfall Road to Tolmers Campsite in Cuffley (specifically, without the use of the very handy train line from Palmers Green). The two groups came up with different routes and after they were reminded of the rules, the law, and after a quick equipment check they were off.

They completed the walk overnight and in good time. Both set off at about quarter to ten and the first group made it back after two and second after three. It was a little wet when they set off but for the most part, enjoyed a good walk in good weather for a September night. They arrived back looking like they needed a well-earned rest…how wrong we were.

Upon arrival, there were hot drinks available and then we made them all a sausage sandwich and allowed them to tuck into the crisps and fruit that we had provided as well as copious quantity of sugar that they brought along. That is where it all went wrong. A sugar overload led to a night of jumping up and down on mattresses and not getting the rest that we hoped for.

Finally, some of them got a few hours of sleep before a full English breakfast and a minion assisted clean up.

Holland ’15

Buitenzorg, Baarn (Netherlands)

As last minute Summer Camps go, it wasn’t too bad (OK, understatement, we had a brilliant time).

There was a little discontent at 5am on departure day because the Explorers hadn’t seen 5am before, but after a short drive and a long ferry journey to Holland, the atmosphere improved and the tone for a wonderful trip was set; the unit made camp efficiently in the glorious sunshine which we enjoyed almost all week.

On Monday, the unit were eased into camp with a lot of free time, a quick clean of the site toilets, pioneering, exploring of the site and surroundings and the explorers also enjoyed a rare lay in. On Tuesday, the group were split in two; half travelling to Duinrell Theme Park and the other enjoying a sedate (wet) start but then a stunning afternoon of sunshine at the local outdoor swimming pool.

Wednesday saw the two groups stay apart for a hike through the Dutch countryside meeting conveniently at the middle, in a small village famous for having little but four amazing pancake houses. Having been treated to some pancakes, the two parties carried on and met us back at the campsite for dinner. On Wednesday night, the unit attended the site’s international campfire and we played host on several occasions to Irish, Danish or German Scouts (plus the not so international Leeds and Sheffield groups).

On the Wednesday, the Unit’s leader team and some of the Explorers were treated to a seminar on using the new unit whisks and as a result have qualified for ‘Module 32A Advanced Whisking with EU Compliance and Dutch Bylaws’. It was a very thorough module and the explorers were pretty shocked at how seriously the leader team took the training. The outcome was some pink, yellow and brown industrial sludge/angle delight type ‘food’ for pudding.

The amazing weather of Wednesday carried on through Thursday for the reverse of what the two groups had done on Tuesday and it stayed with us for a sweltering day in Amsterdam on Friday. The explorers had a chance to explore the city and to buy presents… and then we spent some time on a floating greenhouse seeing Amsterdam from the canals before a quick ice cream on our way back to the station.

The sun was still beaming on Saturday so we started slowly, took advantage of the weather and returned to the outdoor pool before an evening of pizza, campfire sketches and songs. On Sunday morning, before departing, Sarah and Dave were both invested in front of the main buildings on site and once I had emptied my tent of the fruit and vegetables placed there by a rogue Tigger, it was time to go.

It was a great week, only let down on this occasion by the fact that it couldn’t be two!