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If you saw some of the tens of young people walking across the Sevenoaks district in reflective jackets this weekend, the chances are you caught a glimpse of ‘Winter Survival’, the toughest Scouting challenge in Kent!
Sevenoaks District played host to the annual event organised by Maidstone Scouts, which sees over 150 Explorer Scouts (aged 14-18) walking over 40 miles to complete a challenging route.
The event starts on Friday night, when teams across the County are phoned to give them the start point. This can be pretty much anywhere in Kent, but this year was Seal. On arrival, teams have their kit checked (to ensure no contraband items, but also to make sure they have the essentials) and are briefed before being sent out to find their first checkpoint. At each checkpoint, they are given the details for the next location, so good map-reading is essential. To make things interesting, a theme runs throughout – this year it was pirates. As teams pass through checkpoints, they pick up additional items and messages linked to the story line. Some teams even dressed for the part!
As if walking 40 miles in cold, dark conditions wasn’t bad enough, they also had to avoid ‘the opposition’, a team trying to slow their efforts. This year, playing the role of the ‘British Navy’ and ‘Customs’, the opposition sprung up on teams when they least expected it, reprimanding props and requiring tasks to be completed.
After the first 12 miles, traversing the North Downs, teams reached the night stop at a Scout HQ in Riverhead. Here they got a few hours “sleep” in a survival bag (a large, orange, plastic bag). The amount of sleep depended on the reliability of their navigation skills and how quickly they made the stop! Some teams didn’t arrive until 4am, so only snatched a couple of hours. Overnight, the temperature dropped to -4 degrees!
At sunrise Saturday morning, teams commenced on the hike, travelling out towards Edenbridge, before making their way back to the finish in Seal.
Seal Primary School became the control centre for the weekend, keeping in touch with checkpoints to monitor team progress. By Saturday night, it was buzzing with teams who had dropped out, but were glad to be getting a hot meal in the warmth.
Team Echo 2 made up of Elizabeth, Katy and William from Poseidon Explorer Scout Unit in Yalding, were the only team to complete the full 44 mile survival route, arriving back at 3am on Sunday morning, delighted with their achievement.
The overall winner is decided through a complex calculation of the completion times between checkpoints, with the winning team presented with the ‘Silver boot’ in April.
This is just one of the many adventurous activities run in Kent for young people – to find out more visit www.kentscouts.org.uk/explorers