24 Venture Scouts from all over Scotland met at Dunblane on Saturday 8th April to have a Briefing Session on the forthcoming Moray Area Explorer Belt Expedition to the Rhone Alpes region of France. Ayrshire was represented by 5 Venture Scouts and 1 leader.
During the week-end, the teams had the opportunity to meet the leader team and pick up a lot of tips on First Aid, maps & routes, Projects, their log books which they require to keep and on the Saturday afternoon they took part in a mini- explorer belt through Dunblane and Bridge of Allan - just to give them a simple taster.
Saturday evening saw a masterpiece of a take-off of 'Who wants to be a Millionaire' with a powerpoint creation of 'Who wants an Explorer Belt'. This was followed by a Karaoke evening.
Sunday morning, Iain had they up bright and early with some exercises and a 'short' run - well he called it short! The sessions on fund raising, to help pay for the Expedition, and chats about the major project which each team has to chose and work on during the Expedition. They also have 12 minor projects to complete during the ten days.
The group leave Scotland on the 9th July, returning on the 29th.
The precise details of the Expedition are remaining under cover for the time being but a full programme has been arranged for the party en route to the Rhone Alpes where the 12 teams of two Venture Scouts will carry out their expedition for 10 days, meeting the local people and learning about the area, it's culture, industry etc..
The period after their walking will comprising of a rest days, following by interviews on the next day. A programme of activities is arranged for the next two days, before starting the journey home again.
The cost :- £450.00
It may seem a lot but it is a totally inclusive package from the pick-up points in various parts of Scotland until we arrive back in Scotland again. It includes all travel, apart from the walking aspect, food, and activities throughout the trip. The only additional cash is personal spending money.
Sunday 9th July - The tension builds for everyone concerned. The coach starts it's trip of winding it's way down through Scotland at 6 p.m, the last teams are picked up at Midnight.
Monday 10th July - Travelling through the night, a few people became aware of the coach pulling up at Alton Towers at 5am in the morning, but were somewhat confused when it took off again down the country roads - the story was there was a strike at Dover and we were trying to find out way to Hull. However after breakfast in a nearby town square, the coach returned to Alton and the secret was out - a day at Alton Towers.
8 am in the morning - would they survive the next 20 days? Well I guess if they can survive the Oblivion Ride the answer is Yes!
After Alton closed it was back to the coach and we headed south to Dover and an overnight ferry to Calais.
Tuesday 11th July - Arriving in Calais in the early hours of the morning the coach drove through France to our first night on the continent at Epernay, just north of Paris.
We stopped at a service station for Breakfast before continuing to Epernay and setting up camp.
After pitching the tents at the camp site, the group walked into town and visited the Moet Chandon Cellars where they had a guided tour of the establishment
and a sampling session.
The afternoon and evening was free to the town.
Wednesday 12th July - An early start for the drive south to Grenoble where the party spent the night at the Youth Hostel where they had dinner. After dinner, the kit inspection was carried out prior to the final briefing and the draw for the drop-off.
and the Kit Inspections!
Thursday 13th July - the day has arrived!
ready for the off !
Everyone on board the coach, and in tradition of the EB, curtains drawn on the coach so the participants could not see where they were passing through, the coach started off down into the Rhone Alpes Region of France.
First off the coach were Team Four handed their packed lunch, a bottle of water, and the ever important envelope containing maps, projects, a letter of introduction and an Emergency envelope which was sealed and contained instructions on what do in an emergency. There was also a letter giving the team instructions for the Expedition including a contact telephone number which had to be rung between certain hours on the third and seventh day. A final shake of hands from the leaders of the Expedition, and then the coach was off again leaving the team to determine where they were in France and to find the finish point on the map. There drop off point was Aspre s-Buech.
The coach continued it's route towards Avignon, dropping teams off periodically, Team 2 at Serries followed by Team 7 (Lagrand), Team 12 (Laragne-Monteglin), Team 1 (Sisteron), Team 6 (Chaton Arnoux), Team 3 (Pergrius), Team 10 (La Brillane), Team 11 (Voix), team 5 (Mane), Team 8 (Cereste) and finally Team 9 at Apt.
A separate page of pictures of each team as they were dropped off can be visited here or click on the appropriate picture above to go straight to it.
Having completed the drop off of the 12 teams, the leader team headed for Orange to pick up a hire car which would become one of two "Emergency" cars, there always being a team on call should an emergency arise with the teams. Then it was off the base camp in the town of Carpentras, not that the participants were aware of location of the leaders.
Over the next ten days the 12 teams had to walk the 160 kilometers and carry out the 1 major project of their choice and 10 or 11 minor projects chosen by their Unit Executive and of which the team had no knowledge.
The Ayrshire participants will be adding their experiences here eventually.
And what of the Leader team during these 10 days?
Well Having established there base in Carpentras, we devised a duty rota as there had to be at least three people available at any point of time to respond should there be a need to. Whilst 'off-duty' the leaders were free to roaming the area and do all the tourist things that one does. We also took Colin under our wing and gave him a rest from the driving, although it must be said Colin pulled his weight around the jobs to be done around the base, as well as polishing his coach.
A number of the leaders went off over night to visit the finishing point to check it out, whilst other settle for a day tour down to Marseilles and the small French holiday resort of Cassis, outside Marseilles before heading north again to the village Gordes for a meal before back to base.
Each car and base were always in contact by telephone. there being at least one mobile telephone with each car at all times.
Whether it was being bored or feeling constructive we will never know, but one half of the squad set about building a make-shift swimming pool
(perhaps a small stretch of the imagination, but one could lie in it as was proven.
and of course there was all the post walking activities to sort out and menus to be fixed, food to be bought.
We also made contact with a neighbour, Michael, who visited us regularly, as did the local Scout Leader. Michael was a great help in helping trim back some of the branches on the road way up to the Scout Site as they were scratching the coach badly.
Saturday 22nd July - The final day of the walk - the finish point Vallon Pont D'Arc in the Ardeche Gorge. The teams had to camp at least 10 kilometers from the finishing point on the Friday night. The leader team set off from the base in the morning arriving at the finishing point ready to relieve the teams of their log and project books and emergency envelopes as they arrived at the finish point.
The Finishing Point
One by one the teams arrived - some by a rather novel way - they had been relaxing on another beach, and brought all their gear by canoes underneath the Arc.
Click on any picture to take you to a larger image.
The stories and experiences started to pour out as they all met up again - this was to continue for the next few days as well.
Sunday 23rd July - An early start for a few of the party - an opportunity to watch the sun rise from the top of Mont Ventoux . Michael, the local neighbour arrived at 5.30 a.m. with a car, and using the hired car a party 8 went for the experience. Mont Ventoux is 1912 metres above sea level and the view is stunning, especially as the sun rises and the place becomes alive for another day. However it was extremely cold that morning, the wind chill factor was enormous.
Now it was the Leader Team that was put under pressure - each one of the six leaders set about reading each of the teams diaries and project books, jotting down points that they would ask for clarification on during the team interviews the next day. It was a grueling day and whilst they read and read, the Venture Scouts relaxed on the camp site or walked down to explorer the town.
Monday 24th July - Time for the interviews, each team was subjected to 3 20 minute interviews, covering
Then the Leader Team went into deliberation - who should they recommend to be awarded the belt - another grueling task, taking into account the information that each team had gathered, and how it had been gathered - by talking to the French people etc. The results would bring tears to some and elation to others - not all would make the grade in the opinion of the leader team - however the final decision lies with the teams Unit Executive. And that decision is also based on a presentation that each team is required to make..
Following the announcement of the recommendations from the Leader Team, the group walked into Carpentras for a formal dinner in a local restaurant followed by some partying back at the camp site into the early morning.
Tuesday 25th July - An activity and shopping day - the group split into two parties, one going sight seeing/shopping in Avignon whilst the other half went canoeing and at lunch time the groups swapped over. Tuesday was evening was a relatively quiet evening until the rain started around 9 p.m. - and boy did it rain, with thunder and lightning. The camp site soon turned into a river and many of the tents were water logged with the sheer volume of water that was falling. One leader actually described his tent as a water bed - the water was trapped between the inner ground sheet and the outer. That night many people abandoned their tent in favour of the hall - even though by eleven p.m. the rain had stopped again and the stars were visible.
Wednesday 26th July - The last day in Carpentras and as such a lot of work needed to be done to tidy the site and clean up all the facilities. The normal practise with the Moray Belt was to have another formal dinner on the last night at base, but in this instance it was decided to hold a formal luncheon, in Uniform.
By that time most of the work had been completed, and the intention was to spend the late afternoon and evening in Avignon where there was a Millennium Festival - rather similar to the Edinburgh Festival at home. The big difference was the evening warmth, sitting outside in the streets with a refreshment watching the antics of the numerous street performers.
Thursday 27th July - An early start heading for Metz where we were going to spend the evening on a camp site and visit the city. However the latter was not to happen due to the extremely heavy traffic on the roads - it was 9pm before we arrived in Metz, 3 hours behind schedule. Fortunately the campsite, which closed at 8pm were very understanding and made arrangement for us to met on arrival and taken to our site - which happened to be the kiddies playground. Time to pitch the tents and get the stoves going to make an evening meal.
Friday 28th July - The final leg across France to Calais and an early evening ferry to Dover and then the long haul back through England and into Scotland dropping the participants off at the various points starting at Lockerbie at around 2.30 a.m. on the Saturday morning.
What next - well it's back to the teams to polish up their material and then make their presentations - which will effectively be a mini re-union for all on the Expedition as well as invited guests, parents and members of their own Unit.
Interested in the Explorer Belt? You can read all about it at Explorer Scout Badges and The Explorer Belt .
Author :- Bob McIntyre