Easter weekend saw us out on the official training weekend for the expedition. It was run to mimic the actual Belt – we would be dropped off in a random location, be given a target location to get to while walking a minimum of 55km (this time over 2 and a half days) and complete a number of projects along the way as we’ll have to do in Germany in the summer.
The weekend kicked off with us meeting in Aughrim Street Scout Den in Dublin for half 8 in the evening on Thursday. Fionn was driving from Waterford after doing a sailing instructor course while Cathal came up from Galway to meet there. Rovers being Rovers, there were about 6 people there for half 8 and the rest trickled in over the next hour or so. We used this opportunity to get some well needed food as Fionn was exhausted after rushing off the water in Waterford to get to Dublin in time! The local Chinese proved to much nicer this time than the visit we paid it in January on our trip to Rover Focus (The National Rover Forum) so we filled up nicely before sitting down for a while.
They started off out session with an icebreaker – the toaster game. There was a load of bread, a variety of spreads ranging from toast-friendly nutella to not so toast-friendly pickles and mint sauce, and the toaster of course. The game worked by starting with two slices of bread in the toaster while everyone went around the circle telling an interesting fact about themselves until the toast popped. The team then had to eat the toast with a spread chosen at the discretion of the previous team (the first team were given the standard butter to go with) and the game would go on. We had only met some of our fellow Belters that night so we undoubtedly got to know them a bit better – also learning some horrific tales about people liking Lyons Tea over Barrys. It was a good way to get the night started anyway, they then talked to us briefly about the weekend, codes of conduct and other things that I can’t remember. They gave us the criteria document which we later learned would be very important for the whole event. I do remember doing some Tai Chi with Father Dave Kennelly and somehow all of this went on until after 12 when we’d be getting up at 5am. Off to bed, or rather the floor it was then for a terrible night’s sleep – nothing better to get us ready for the long day ahead of us!
What seemed like not long enough later, the bell rang out to make sure anyone who nodded off was now fully awake. 5am it was and there was plenty of fumbling as people started the stuff their sleeping bags away and make final preparations the day ahead. They had some breakfast bars but we settled for toast, eating 12 or so slices between us – no porridge available at 5am unfortunately. We soon left the Den at Aughrim street and started walking. We still had no clue at this point where we were going for the weekend but rumours of Limerick or Cork were floating around. With Fionn having the car in Dublin for us to travel back with on Monday, we hoped in one way that it wouldn’t be too far away as Limerick was much closer to Galway than it would have been to travel back to Dublin and back to Galway again. Anyways, we soon arrived at Heuston station and all was finally revealed.
This year, they decided to let everyone make their own way to the drop off point by public transport so after a few quick photos, they gave each team two envelopes. The first would contain our drop off instructions and the second would contain the instruction about the rest of the weekend which could only be opened once we arrived at the specified point. We would be heading on the 39A bus to Ongar Road leaving from Ashton Quay to start our journey so we left and headed out. We soon learned that Dublin buses only take change and not notes so after a quick visit to the nearby garage, we were on our way. Fionn started to doze so it was up to Cathal to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We honestly weren’t sure where exactly we were going but we made it to the last stop on Ongar road and took the all important photo of the unopened envelope.
The envelope was soon opened and we sat down to take a look at what would be required of us for the weekend. We were given a map, food budget of €20, instructions for the weekend including the project details and 2 tea bags and cappuccino sachets, not too much in all! Our destination would be Dalgan park outside Navan, which was well less than the required 55km walking distance away. We decided to plan a route via Trim to get the distance in and in a hope with that helping us to complete some of the projects. Which brings us on to the fun part – projects! We were a bit unsure as to what to expect here but it was very simply laid out for us.
There were 3 compulsory projects and then some optional ones of which we had to do two. The first compulsory project was based around the marriage referendum. We’d have to ask people for their opinions on it, why would they vote yes or no and why it would be important to vote. We were appropriately warned on the sensitivity of some people on the matter so this was something we’d have to keep in mind for the weekend. The second compulsory project was to bring back an edible surprise for the basecamp staff and the third compulsory project was to acquire a hen’s egg by lunchtime on Saturday and bring it back to basecamp in one piece for Sunday and tell its tale from the weekend.
The first optional project we chose to do was based on the folklore in the area. We would have to investigate the folklore by talking to different people and seeing how tales may compare to those we might have heard ourselves. The second project we chose to do was on sport in the area – how diverse it was and how it was important to the community and how involved young people were in it. The other two projects were on tidy towns and the commuter belt area but we chose not to do those ones. Either way there was plenty to think about for us over the next 2 days!
After settling all of this it was well time to start walking. It was hard to know exactly where we were but after some wandering around, we found a sign for Clonee so we decided to follow that to get out of main city and on the road properly as the map was generally pretty confusing for the city.
Luck struck us as we happened upon a Lidl in Clonee and we stocked up on food for the day there very cheaply. After a little bit more walking it was time for some proper breakfast so we stopped, got the stove out and cooked up some porridge for ourselves just outside Dunboyne at a bench we found there. Feeling much better we set off walking again.
We followed the busy road for a little bit as along the hard shoulders and such – these roads weren’t built for walking along! Just before the toll by the turn for Ratoath along in the M3 we crossed over to the R154 to head for Trim. As per the road signs (more on the the unreliability of those later!) it was 25km to Trim. It was about 11am at that point so with a good days walking ahead we cracked on.
The next spot we hit was a small place called Batterstown, which didn’t consist of much a (closed) pub and a garage. It did have an interesting monument of some dogs I think and a bench where we stopped for something small to eat and a drink. Then it was back on the road again and we walked for most of the day. We came across a house with an “Eggs for sale” sign and thought of delicous omelettes with cheese for lunch but unfortunately no was at home so we had to settle for half a baguette each with chorizo and cheese by a roundabout at the turn for Dunshaughlin onto the R125 – which in hindsight wasn’t bad either! After that it was on again as there was still plenty of walking for doing.
We didn’t have any more major stops that day as we just kept walking as there wasn’t a lot of people or things around to get on with our projects. We passed roadsigns that had an increase in distance even though we were moving closer to Trim and also ones that definitely didn’t change as much as they were supposed to – the unreliability of Irish road signs was well established was well established for us by Friday evening.
We didn’t come across too many other notable things during the day. We did come across a painted Defender and a woman who offered us a lift because of how tired she said we looked (we had to thank her and move on as lifts are big no no as part of the challenge) but other than that we walked until we finally hit the outskirts of Trim.
It was about 5pm at this point and was well time to find somewhere to stay. I can understand why they say the first time you walk up to a door and ask to camp is actually pretty intimidating but thankfully it all worked out for us. We didn’t get somewhere on the first door but he referred us to the farmer who owned the field right beside his house – Tommy who lived a few doors down. Thanking the man who was amazed we had walked from Dublin that day we left for Tommy’s house. Tommy turned out to be a lovely man anyways and while we got some possibly disapproving looks from his wife, he had no problem in letting us camp in the field.
We were soon setup in the field with a new setup with the tarp with plenty of room for the two of us. Dinner was cous cous and fried chorizo – very tasty after the long day with both us getting cranky and tired. Then it was time for bed – by 8pm when it was still bright outside. We may have been quite close to the road but we were soon fast asleep after the day (and night) behind us.
12 hours later it was time to get up and start walking again. Porridge again for breakfast and then on the road into Trim (after Fionn stopped to go and pet the horses). We planned to get a good part of the projects done in Trim as we figured there would be plenty of people to talk to and so on. We stopped at a ruined priory outside the town – The Priory of St. John the Baptist for a look and managed to get a reasonable photo of us in a tower taken on a timer. On we went anyways and not long after we got into Trim we were called over by a man walking his dog.
Turns out he was an ex-scout who had actually been on the Explorer Belt himself back in the 90s to Brittany – what were the odds? We had a good conversation about the Belt in general while his mad dog (apparently she had once taken down a pigeon flying above her) ran all around us. The one story that really stuck is how they started on Bastille Day in France, partied for two days and then started walking on his Belt – not something he would recommend as they were walking 30 miles a day it seems then to catch up! Anyways, he tried to call the group leader in Trim a call but couldn’t get through at the time so he gave us his number and told him to call if we were looking for somewhere for later. We thanked him for calling us over and went on.
We continued onto the castle in Trim to get started on the folklore project and met with one of the staff there who we started chatting to about the castle and the local area. He wasn’t from the immediate area himself so told us we should talk to one of other guides and also offered us a chance to take the tour. Not knowing when else we would be in Trim we obliged to take a spot on the 2pm tour also in the hope to learn some more about the heritage. We had some time to kill so we went around the town, acquired some eggs for the project and for lunch (omelettes at last!) and also talked to a few people in cafés and shops about the marriage referendum and sport in the area. We also met with one of the local kayaking instructors at a centre by the Boyne and had a nice chat with him how different sports had sprung up in the are over the past number of years an also how the attitude towards sport and being active was better than ever.
It was soon time for the tour and we were back at the castle and also met one of the other teams passing through the town – back out the road we had come up. The tour was well worth the time as we got inside the keep of the castle and learned all about the history of the castle – which is preserved as a ruin. It gave us more of an insight into the day to day life of a castle and not just the lovely fantasy we always hear about. We also got some more info on some of the local folk tales. By the time we were finished there, the day was slipping past so it was back on the road out of Trim for us (stopping at the Lidl for a top up of food to see us through the weekend). We stopped to cook up the omelettes for lunch on the edge of the road towards Dunderry (to the north of Trim) and this was well enjoyed.
While sitting there, a jeep pulled up beside us and 3 men got out. Turns out it was the man walking the dog that morning, having found the group leader they had been driving around looking for us! It was great to meet them and even better when we found out there were scouts camping over near a place called Bective from Navan and that we were more than welcome to stay with them. Needless to say we were delighted to have secured a place for the night and were more than thankful to them for coming looking for us. The group leader’s son had also come along who was going to the World Scout Jamboree in Japan this summer so Fionn gave him some badges from Galway.
At this point it was well later in the day so we tidied up and kept going on to Dunderry. It was a lovely day so we didn’t mind walking. On getting into Dunderry we were stopped by another car pulling in. This time it was also an ex leader, who we later learned was the ex group leader and also one of the founding members of the same group (Trim Scouts) as the guys who we had met at lunch time. He had seen us walking earlier but couldn’t stop right then but then came back to look for us. We thought this was very nice of him and he told us all about his grandson who was also travelling to Japan for the World Scout Jamboree this summer. We had another lovely chat about the Explorer Belt, Scouts and some life tips in general really. Of course, he too offered us a lift but obviously we couldn’t accept this time either so we just had to say goodbye, thank him for his time and keep walking. If there was one moment, we carry away from the weekend it was this stop.
Anyways, it was onwards through Robinstown for us to the main road and to the site where we would meet the guys from Trim. As we arrived, it turned out that another one of the teams (from Dublin) had encountered the leaders too so they would be staying with us as well. We had a bit of a walk into the site through the forest but soon we heard the sound of what was more than just a few scouts. It was practically a whole troop camp for them – Beavers, Cubs and Scouts. There was a lot of energy in that field without any doubt. We met the leaders from 15th Meath, Navan (or 2nd Navan as they’re also known as I think) and managed to get some roast potatoes off them along with some tea. We had a chat for a while and then went to set up our camp and cook the dinner. It was mince and pasta with tomato sauce – pasta bolognese in a way I suppose – for dinner and there was plenty to fill us up after a smaller dinner the night before. The scouts were having a campfire but we had logs and projects to write up so we missed that and ended up going to bed pretty soon after that.
We were up about half 7 for Easter Sunday and got on with cooking up the porridge and getting tidied up for the day ahead. We spent a while talking to the leaders about our different projects and also learned about a supposed long lost tunnel that went from the estate over to the nearby abbey. Much and all as we wanted to go and look for it ourselves, we had to get back on the road for the final 10km or so walk up to the finishing point at Dalgan Park. We did however manage to get some autographs and a selfie with the scouts who were out practicing for their first shield competition this year.
We left the site taking the road towards Bective town while also stopping for a look around Bective Abbey. We then took the road north before turning east again to head to our last stop for the weekend : The Hill of Tara. Ideally we had hoped to stop here for a bit and develop our folklore project but this idea went out the window as we were running short on time. We did stop for a quick photo and then kept motoring on. Feet were getting a bit sore and Cathal had changed his socks that morning leading to that feeling of blisters starting to form but we were soon back on the main road – the R147 and heading towards Navan. It was straight to Dalgan park at this stage and it was just after 1pm as we turned into the park.
Check in was between 12.30 and 1.30 so we were tight on time as we crossed the park and rapidly finished the logs and projects and did up the final budgets to make it into check in just by the skin of our teeth. Next time (Germany) we’ll definitely be leaving more time but it was a relief to be back and finished at that stage. There was food for everyone – a fine spread of soup and sandwiches so needless to say it was nice to sit down and rest for a little while.
We later went out and set up the tarp for the final night outside the building we were using. On that note, it was fair to say most people definitely thought we totally mad to be using a tarp instead of a tent, and to be honest we probably were. We’ll hopefully get a post up about the tarp and why we’ve been using it sometime over the next few weeks as well as more posts on the gear we’re bringing but in short it did hold up well over the weekend and didn’t feel very cramped like a small 2 man tent might. It’s true that it didn’t rain much over the weekend but there was some heavy dewfall which deposited to a certain extent inside the tarp as well but it was very manageable. More on it again anyways – but we were warned about looking into using nets for the summer to keep our flying friends at bay which is something we will be looking in to!
The rest of our Easter Sunday was spent at talks about different things relevant to the Belt – the all important criteria, a short presentation on German life and the language and on other things as well – the main thing is always the criteria though. And research, we need to do that too. We also had a bit of a mock assessment where we met with two people who had read over our logs and projects and gave us some feedback on them so we’d get a better idea for the real deal during the summer.
We had Dinner and then came along with the showing of the mildly infamous “Explorer Belt Film” made on the expedition in Italy a number of years ago. This was a time when Ventures (16 – 18 year olds) could do the Belt so there were some fairly “dramatic” scenes as we’ll say of younger teenagers having some great and some not so great times travelling through the heat. Whatever could be learned, it certain we’ll all have some tales to tell when we get back to base camp after 10 days having a walk around Germany.
There wasn’t a huge amount more to the weekend. We sat around on Saturday night, met a few more people to talk about gear and log books and then went to bed after throwing tennis balls and Easter eggs around the room for a while. Monday morning saw a big fry, a talk on the code of conduct for the event and then a final few words before we all packed up and left for Dublin again on the bus and then to Galway once we picked up the car.
It was a great weekend overall and although we were pretty shattered going home, there were valuable lessons learned (eat when you’re hungry!). It was great to meet the rest of the teams too. One fact that did stand out above all: It’s definitely going to be some adventure in Germany!
Some more photos from the weekend can be found here: Click Here