Finland Challenge Success for Explorer Scouts

16 October 2015

A group of Lowestoft Explorer Scouts have just completed a ten-day expedition in Finland as part of the Explorer Belt Award – one of the highest achievements in scouting.

The Explorer Belt is awarded for achieving an international challenge that promotes both adventure and self-reliance. 

The group of five 16 – 17 year olds from the Lowestoft area were twins Jack and Harry Adams, Bethany Farnell, Daniel Jackson, and Jack Stanton.

They were part of a 17 strong team of other Explorer scouts from Suffolk who travelled to Finland accompanied by six leaders including Alfie Green from Lowestoft.

The expedition had been two years in the planning and the preparation included the group going on a number of training camps in Boxford, Suffolk, London, North Norfolk and in the Kielder Forest. Here they learnt the skills that they would need for the expedition such as what food to buy and how to cook it, the equipment that they would need, basic first-aid, route planning, navigation and how to work effectively as a group. They also learnt about the Finnish language, equipping themselves with phrase books and writing questions on card to help them when they met Finnish people.

But perhaps the toughest task they were faced beforehand was to raise £1400 each to pay for the expedition. The group organised bag packing at supermarkets, car washing and a treasure map game to raise some of the funds and were grateful to businesses and donations that helped them to achieve the total needed.

Flying out in mid August from Heathrow, the scouts’ challenge started as soon as they arrived at Helsinki airport. At the terminal they were given an envelope that contained some money and the name of their first campsite but it did not tell them where it was or how to get there.

They were left to search out the Tourist Information Centre where they were grateful to meet English-speaking assistants who printed out maps and bus and train timetables for them.

With each carrying a large and small rucksack containing a tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment and clothing for ten days, they boarded a shuttle bus before transferring to a train and then hiking to the first campsite – in the grounds of the headquarters of a Helsinki scout group.

Each day they were set a new challenge and these included asking Finnish people what they thought about British tourists, asking them about the climate and their views on climate change, studying local architecture, following a Finnish family in a supermarket to record their shopping habits and undertaking conservation work in a National Park.

As well as staying in the grounds of a scout group headquarters they also camped in some wild areas. The expedition took the group from Helsinki to the towns of Rauma, Naantali, Nagu and to the Nuuksio National Park.

The group hiked 10km to meet some Finnish scouts at their HQ by an estuary and were rewarded with a relaxing sauna and swim. They enjoyed some unusual local sausages cooked by their hosts before having a singsong – despite some language difficulties.

They were grateful that the weather remained dry for their visit although it was hot when they were walking and carrying their kit.

Perhaps their most memorable campsite was in the National Park where there was no electricity or running water but there was a compost toilet in a wooden shed and a log fire sauna!

In this woodland setting they worked under the direction of park wardens to re-gravel footpaths and to prune trees to improve the site for tourism.

Their final hike was over an 11km distance and took them to the Haltia Centre restaurant in the National Park where the expedition ended and where they were treated to a buffet meal. This was also the point at which some of the party were able to make contact with home to find out their GCSE exam results, just as some of the other participants had done with their AS results in the previous week.

During the following two days, the explorers were given time for ‘Rest & Recuperation’ in and around Helsinki, visiting museums, the markets and nearby islands. They were also treated to meals where they were given some final flavours of Finland; they were treated to local delicacies including reindeer meat (which they reported tasted just like steak)!

Speaking on behalf of the group Bethany Farnell said that they had all thoroughly enjoyed the expedition and had shown how they could be independent by budgeting (in Euros) and planning where and how to get around. With a daily allowance of seven Euros per person per day they were surprised just how expensive everything seemed in Finland. 

Their impression of the Finnish people was that they were polite -and enjoyed cycling. They were amazed that there were so many bikes everywhere and care had to be taken to avoid any collisions.

They noted that the locals ate a lot of fish, particularly salmon, that public transport was also used to deliver parcels and that coaches had mobile phone chargers built in – something that the group found a great asset. 

Lowestoft Scouts District Commissioner, Mel Buck, said, “I am really proud of what the group has achieved. This challenge has enabled the youngsters to put into practice everything they have learnt over the years whist in Beavers, Cubs and then into Scouts. It has given them a taste of independence and is a great experience on which to build for the future.

Mr Buck added, “This expedition has been a challenge of a lifetime for the group and has given them a real understanding of Finland and its people, culture and way of life.”

They each kept a diary and they will present their experiences to the rest of the Explorer Belt team, other Explorers, leaders, family, and those who helped with fundraising. This will take place at 1st Oulton Broad HQ on 25 October – when they will also each be presented with the coveted ‘Explorer Belt’.

 

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