I'm actually very late blogging this, but thanks to deadlines and parties etc....
In my other life, as a busy mum, I have spent many many years helping out on school visits. I have been on coach trips, and museum visits, and visited gardens and tried to prevent small children drowning when they do pond dipping. Most of the time, I've vaguely enjoyed myself but come back with a huge headache and even huger respect for teachers who have to deal with small people ALL the time. But I have to say, the majority of trips have felt more like a dutiful chore then anything else.
However, three weeks, ago, I helped out on the best school trip ever. Our very enthusiastic new head, had the bright idea of taking Year 5 on a long walk in the country, including camping in teepees on Box Hill. His reasoning being that a) it's cheap (school trips get ever more pricey) b) given that we're surrounded by hills it seemed like a good idea to take the children up some and c) for a lot of children, this might be their first experience of going on a walk like this.
For my children who have been dragged to school every day almost as soon as they can walk, and made to go on "boring" walks in the countryside in all weathers (though funnily enough when we go to Shropshire, and climb proper hills they seem to like that more), walking holds no particular fear, though they might moan about it, so no 4 was quite intrigued by the idea. And as I love walking, and am already a huge fan of the Surrey Hills, I jumped at the chance to help out.
When the idea was first mooted, way back in April, of course we were in the middle of the wettest drought on record. And we all fondly imagined that by June, we'd be having better weather. Wrong... The day before the Walk, it rained so heavily the tepee camping had to be abandoned. We were all fully expecting the walk to be abandoned too, but luckily new head is made of sterner stuff, so we all met in a damp and muddy car park in the middle of nowhere. I really have no idea where it was, as I was taken there, without a very good map. All I know was it was a long long way from civilsation.
It took a while to assemble the whole party together - there were 56 kids in total, and along with the requisite number of teachers, several parents came to help out. But eventually we were off, across a busy road, and into a very muddy wood. This was where it became quickly evident some kids weren't brilliantly equipped for the weather, having thin trainers, that squelched alarmingly in the mud. I spent the first half an hour with a couple of little girls who'd never done anything like this before, and were simultaneously stunned and enthralled by the mud. In the meantime there was lots of squealing and yelling as feet were getting stuck and trousers getting muddy (including my daughter, who DESPITE me sending her in waterproof trousers, took them off as soon as we arrived as they looked naff), hilariously most of the moaning and screaming seeming to come from the boys. Boys, not liking mud? Whatever is the world coming too.
My companions soon got in the swing, to the point that one of them told me it was the most amazing thing she'd ever done - I asked her again at the end if it was still amazing. She said yes, but she was very tired...
Fortunately the first part of the walk was under shelter, as it rained continuously, and when we eventually got out into the open along the North Downs Way where we should have had stunning views of Leith Hill and Dorking, all we could see was cloud covered hills. By this time we'd been walking over an hour, and it was time for our first stop at Ranmore Common. Here we were met with an enthusiastic party led by a roving teacher and several mums who had come supplied with cake, biscuits and drinks. By now it was raining really heavily, so naturally the boys decided to have water fights with their water bottles.As you do...
Starting off again, was the only point in the whole day where I heard any moaning. The kids all had a backpack to share with a friend containing a small snack. Despite the fact that said snack was for emergencies, and they'd JUST had a snack, the lot I was with when we started again all wanted to dig into their emergency supplies. I gave up suggesting they wait till later in the end... No one was listening to me anyway. (I'd clearly make a GREAT teacher.) Another problem emerged in the shape of several of the girls becoming quite desperate for the loo. Funnily enough, none of them took up my suggestion to use the bushes, but luckily we weren't too far from Denbies (which in case you don't know it, is a vineyard in Dorking, as featured in this year's Apprentice, as half the children were quick to tell me). Well I say not too far, HT's cheery ten minutes, did turn into about twenty, but we made it in the end. Fortunately Denbies are used to walkers, and didn't seem to mind the onslaught from so many muddy children.
Then it was back up the hill to walk through the Denbies estate and restrain the boys who were starting to stick fight from accidentally hitting the vines. Having said that, I think it was a particular joy on the day to see the boys being allowed to be boys for a change - something the constraints of the National Curriculum often prevents from happening. There was much mud slinging, and play fighting, and they seemed to be having a ball (though I'd say the girls interestingly were nearer the front most of the time and moaned less when they were tired).
As we got towards lunchtime, we had a major road to cross, in the shape of the A24, opposite Box Hill. Being a very busy dual carriageway, this is not especially pedestrian friendly, but luckily there is an underground passage which takes you safely under the road. Hurrah. It was only when we approached the tunnel it became evident there was a problem. Thanks to torrential rain the day before, the River Mole had burst its banks and flooded the tunnel. And we all had to walk through it...I have to say, I thought this was quite entertaining, especially as I ended up standing in the middle of the tunnel cheering on slightly squeamish children (luckily I WAS wearing waterproof trousers, and my walking boots held out enough for me not to be too squelchy). It was slightly unfortunate that we had to have lunch at that point, as it took longer for feet to dry off, but it was a very funny moment in a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Lunch over, we set off up Box Hill, heading for the zig zag where the Olympics road race is taking place in a few weeks time. As has been the case for some months now, Box Hill is full of energetic people cycling up and down it, and they were probably somewhat bemused to be cheered on by a bunch of enthusiastic children when we reached the top and had a breather. It was still grey and miserable, but fortunately the rain held off, and we were (I thought) heading for the home straight. I roughly knew where the camp site was as eldest has been there several times for DofE training, but it was a lot further then I had thought. I like walking, and I love walking up Box Hill, but I can tell you it was a tough tough walk. And the majority of the kids did it. By the end the boys were bursting into song (mostly rude it has to be said) and in the main, apart from the odd, my feet ache, no one moaned at all.
By the time we reached High Ashurst at around 4.30 (having set off at 10 am), we'd covered roughly 8 miles of quite rugged terrain. The kids were exhausted, slightly stunned, but I think quite rightly, very proud of their achievement. I've only ever walked two miles, one boy said to me in awe. I don't think he could quite believe that he'd walked that far and was still standing.
It was a brilliant brilliant day. I really enjoyed spending it with such an enthusiastic and energetic group of kids - my friend from the beginning, who'd started so uncertain was running by the end, and having a ball. Yes, they were exhausted, and even more so the next day, when they arrived back at school, having walked a further six or seven miles, but I think it will be a trip that will stay long in their memories. It certainly will in mine. It was a fantastic achievement for a bunch of nine and ten year olds to walk so far, and without too much fuss, and I was proud to be part of it, and even prouder of them. So a big thank you to the school and especially the head for organising it. It was quite simply, the best school trip I've ever helped out on. I'm only sorry, as no 4 is leaving next year, I won't get the opportunity to do it again...