Wednesday, 21 December 2016

With a Few Good Friends and a Stick or Two - Explorer Belt, France 2016

Hi folks, sorry I haven't posted in a while.

As you may or may not know, I am a keen member of Network, the section of The Scout Association for 18-25 year olds. As part of this I am involved in helping the Lendiniae Explorer Scouts. An award able to be achieved in Explorers and Network is the Explorer Belt. For our Explorer Belt, we planned to travel to the Poitiers region of France, East of Tourist destination La Rochelle, and walk around the region and discovering the French language, culture and cuisine.

We set of from Yeovil and drove past my hometown of Southampton, down to the ferry terminal in Newhaven, in East Sussex, for the ferry to France. The ferry takes 5 hours and arrives in Dieppe on the northern coast of France. While on the upper deck of the ferry a moth landed on me, which I was able to identify as a Silver Y moth. It was then a 6 hour drive to our final destination at La Grimaudiere.

The teams, one junior team and one senior team arrived and we unloaded the vehicles and pitched tents and planned what we would do for the rest of the evening. Dinner was cooked before we met some local scout leaders, traded scarves and planned some accommodation for future nights on our expedition. We then got some sleep before our first day of hiking.

Our first day of hiking saw us walk from Quincay, where we were dropped off by our Explorer Leaders, to Beruges. For our first night sleep on the hike we came across a scout campsite, which turned out to be the same campsite we would be going to for a subcamp of the Roverway Event in France. On the way, I did a bit of navigating, and took the team to a town in a different direction to the way we were hoping to go. I was sacked and never did any navigating again. At the scout campsite we helped load the bin lorry with quite a few bin bags and helped carry a fridge across the site. This ticked off one of ten mini projects, helping the local community. We set up camp, cooked dinner and took a stroll along a stream to Beruges and had a look around but the museum was closed.

The next day we awoke, striked tents, had breakfast and got underway early in order to avoid the vicious midday sun. We walked from the campsite to Saint Benoit where we were met by Sylvian and taken to a horse sanctuary to camp a for the night. That night we  pitched tents, cooked dinner and played some games that my team-mates learned at the World Scout Jamboree last summer in Japan. 

The following day we walked from St Benoit to the outskirts of Poitiers where we took the bus to the city centre. There we had a look around at the buildings, and navigated the city using Pokemon Go. We went in several churches, including a massive cathedral which is difficult to get in one photo. We wrote in the visitor book in the cathedral. We also found the Mairie (Mayor's office), Law Courts and Post Office. At the train station we were collected by the leaders and taken to the Roverway event at Boussais. Before then, while we waited to rendezvous with the leaders, one of my team-mates were able to take over the PokeGym at the train station.

At the Roverway event we met up with Scouts from all over Europe, with delegates from Norway, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Britain and of course from the home nation of this Roverway Event, France. There we learned about French sign language and learnt games from the French and the Norwegians and taught a game to the Norwegians. We ate some local food and chatted to the international scouts and gained some important links. We ate some French cheesecake made from goat's cheese called 'tourteau fromage' which was really nice. We also learned the scout promise in another language; French!

The next morning we woke up, had breakfast and left for our next destination called Charasse. We walked to Charasse really quickly so we decided to keep on walking to get to a campsite in Saint-Georges-Les-Baillargeaux, which is linked to the Futuroscope tourist attraction and, most importantly, has a swimming pool and showers. On the way we passed through a village called Le Peu, which we all giggled at. That night, after watching the sun set over the horizon, we decided to walk into the neighbouring town and check out a glowing orb. We then walked to a KFC. On the way we saw Asia, or at least a restaurant called Asia.

At KFC, we walked in to be greeted by a woman on the counter who spoke very good English. She told us that the counter is closed so asked us to go through the drive-thru. As we had no car we walked through it. Yes you did read that right. We walked through the KFC drive-thru at midnight. We sat outside and ate our food before heading back to the campsite. We got back to the campsite at 1am.

We slept and then walked to a place called Champ De Gain via a supermarket to buy some more food. At Champ De Gain there was a playing park, which we played at, including our Explorer Leader. That afternoon were collected and brought back to the campsite at La Grimaudiere. We spent that night sleeping in an old style patrol tent; because why not?

We were in La Grimaudiere for what is known as 'Vide Grenier', and is a market that is held in the village. One of our explorer leaders thought it would be a good idea to give us 5 euros to buy something to sell for a profit. Instead, we bought kids tricycles and rode them down a steep road in the village. When we showed our purchases to our leaders they were slightly bemused but found it a bit funny which was nice. As for the locals, they gave us some very strange looks. I managed to pick up a nice multi-tool for €1. Absolute bargain in my opinion. That afternoon one of the local scout groups took the whole group rafting, which involved raft wars and stealing paddles. Back at the campsite, with the other group, we turned benches upside down to form a 'benchfort', which amused the leaders upon their discovery.

On Day 7, we were dropped off at the supermarket at Saint-Georges-Les-Baillargeaux and walked to a campsite at a lake at St Cyr. On the way we found a sign which had 'Dorset, England' on, so we had a selfie with it. We went on pedalos on the lake and then had a drink before I went and explored the local nature reserve while the rest of my team went back on the pedalos. I had a lifer in the form of Turtle Dove (sadly not a British record so doesn't count on my UK life list) and saw .

Day 8 consisted of walking from St Cyr to a small village called Thure, near the town of Chatellerault, which we popped into. Chatellerault is a quiet and quaint french town on the Vienne river. It has a nice bridge, two beautiful churches and a museum. That evening at the campsite for the night we hatched a crazy but yet genius plan. Walking at night. How hard can it be?

We set off on our wild plan to a, avoid the sun, and b, surprise the leaders. We went to bed at 8pm an woke up at 1am, struck camp and left at 2am. We walked under the stars, along the roads to La Grimaudeire, for all or a whopping 25 miles. On the way we stopped for breakfast (supernoodles and wraps) by a 'Mairie' in a town, and walked past some hot air balloons taking off. Sunrise was absolutely glorious that morning. We walked some more until we reached the house of the father of our Explorer Leader at La Grimaudiere at 12:30pm. For the last two day's walking I used some walking poles (hence the "stick or two" in the title of this blog post), which helped me complete our hike for the day a lot faster than it would normally take me. We really surprised our leaders when we knocked on the door asking for our water to be refilled. That night, a local scout leader took my group, and our explorer leaders to go see a gig by a band called Pony Pony Run Run. We all have never heard of them even though they were quite big in France. The gig happened at St Cyr, the very same place where we were a few days ago. The gig was awesome, and was made better when one of our explorer leaders let whatever hair he has left down. We made the agreement that if he didn't mosh, we didn't walk the following day.

Our last day of walking was a simple stroll along the river with the other group of explorers. This gave me the opportunity to look at the wildlife. I saw some western demoiselles and lots of butterflies which was nice.

The journey home was smooth, and we had a few hours in Dieppe so we went to the beach, where I tried to take a picture of a cool little stack of pebbles that I constructed complete with the sunset over the channel behind it. on the drive back through England, one Explorer Leader took a small detour through Brighton.

All in all, I had a fantastic time with my friends learning lots and discovering another country whilst having lots of fun. I would definitely do it again without any hesitation what-so-ever. Huge thanks goes to my team-mates for putting up with me for nearly two weeks and a huge thanks to the leaders for initiating the plans and helping us all the way from planning to completing our expeditions. Also thanks to the contacts and scout leaders for welcoming us so warmly and helping us on our expeditions.

As my favourite YouTuber, Ben Brown, says:
"Work hard, be nice to each other, and try not to get lost or killed" - Ben Brown, 2016

Bye for now!

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Me birding in Bristol

Me birding in Bristol
Me birding in Bristol