Over the horizon they come, unmistakable even from miles away. About half a dozen of them in number, wearily they trudge, formless in shape. Individually as well as a group, they don’t walk in straight lines. Haphazard, forlorn, radiating uncertainty and reluctance, the DofE-ers approach.
The Duke of Edinburgh scheme is, no doubt, a good thing. Young people, generally of what we used to call sixth-form age, work towards bronze, silver and gold awards by completing tasks that help the community and environment. They also have to get fitter and develop new skills. And then there are the expeditions that they must undertake.
My eldest daughter’s odyssey got off to an inauspicious start when the team member in charge of navigation forgot the map. She had one job. There was a frantic phone-box call home – no mobiles allowed – and a fax machine in a Wiltshire post office was soon whirring away. The expedition was completed, and bronze awards bagged. My daughter swore blind she would not be bothering with the silver award – “rucksack too bloody heavy” – and she was good to her word. She didn’t.
It is significant that if you see a group of young people out walking together with packs on their backs, it will only ever be because they are “doing DofE”. I don’t have data to support this, but I do a lot of walking and every time I encounter such a group I ask, with cheery sympathy, “DofE?” They grunt in assertion. The less pissed-off ones manage a nod and, occasionally, a smile. The group I encountered on the Wales Coast Path last week looked very much as if they’d like to push me and my cheeriness off the edge of the cliff.
I live for the day when I ask the question and someone replies, without eye-rolling sarcasm, thus: “DofE? What’s that? Oh no, we’re out walking and camping for fun because we really love it.”