Nineteen sixth form cadets from Oakham School Combined Cadet Force (CCF) are in the Telemark region of southern Norway undertaking their assessed Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition.
The actual four-day DofE expedition is across part of the Hardangervidda (Hardanger Plateau) 100 miles west of Oslo and will see the cadets covering approximately 25 km each day across this beautiful national park area which is larger than Cambridgeshire!
As is traditional with CCF DofE expeditions here at Oakham School, the expedition also includes elements of military history and 'battlefield touring'. The theme this year is the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ so the cadets are following the route taken by the small group of British-trained Norwegian Commandos who parachuted onto the plateau in late 1942 in what was then Nazi-occupied Norway before surviving the harsh winter and carrying out their attacks in early 1943. Working for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) the target for ‘Operation Gunnerside’ was the heavy water plant at Vermork which at the time was producing heavy water for the Nazi atomic weapons programme. This daring raid was successful and after the war it was described as the most successful act of sabotage of World War 2.
23 August 2017
After a relaxing night in the comfort of the hostel in Rjukan and a large breakfast, we moved on up the valley to the museum, which is housed in the former hydro-electric power station and stands behind the site of the heavy water plant attacked in February 1943. Under a cloud-free sky, we had a short reflection near the 'Heroes of Telemarking' memorial before exploring the museum which included an exhibition on the attack.
We then headed down the valley to the train ferry dock at Mæl to carry out some community work. With the two train ferries part of the UNESCO world heritage site, we offered the museum some man power to do a few tasks on the ferry 'Storegut' before heading off to Oslo. We had a short stop on the way at the memorial remembering the train ferry 'Hydro' which was sunk in November 1943 with the heavy water stocks on board.
Once we arrived in Oslo, we headed for the camp site at Ekeberg - only a stone's throw from the centre of Oslo, where there is a magnificent view over the city. After a visit to the 'Golden Arches' the group were in good spirits as we all returned and settled down for a good night's rest.
Day 8 will be free time in Oslo and plans are well under way to explore the city in groups!
22 August 2017
Day 6 was successful in that all teams successfully completed their trek! The weather was much better with sunshine to greet the teams as they arrived at the top of the Krossonbanen.
Team 1 finished first having walked until 2100 the previous day to reduce their last day's walking. Team 3 arrived next just after lunchtime although we had to travel out to get team 2 who had gone a slightly different route than that planned!
Once teams 1 and 3 had made their way down the Krossobanen and been reunited with team 2, we made our way to the hostel in the middle of Rjukan. The sight of beds and showers after 4 days of walking around was welcome for them all! After a wash and brush up, Des - their assessor - confirmed that they had all passed! We then headed out to the Kino Kafe just over the road for an end of expedition meal before retiring to bed, tired but satisfied.
Des left very early on Day 7 to return to the UK and his next adventure training job. Once again, it has been a pleasure to work with him and we are very grateful to 299 (Para) Squadron Royal Engineers for allowing him to come out and assess our expedition once again.
19 August 2017
All three teams made good progress today on their first full day of walking; the weather was mixed with rain and drizzle as well as sunny spells.
Team 1 didn't quite make their first night's camping area close to Rauhelleren hut, so their day 2 was a little longer than planned. Still they made good progress arriving at Mårbu hut at around 1830 hrs. The main hut was full but they still got a bed in the overflow hut so had a comfy bed with duvet!
Team 2 walked south towards Kalhovd hut and arrived there around 1700; all were in good spirits and quickly sorted themselves out before cooking dinner and settling into bed.
Team 3 made great progress coming across from Solheimstulen and arrived at Mårbu hut at around 1730, checking in quickly before finding the showers and cooking dinner.
18 August 2017
The day started off wet thanks to a band of rain, though it passed quickly. All teams were ready for the off and we left the camp site at around 9am for the journey to the various start points on the Hardangervidda. Both buses were quiet, all the cadets no doubt mindful of the efforts ahead.
Teams 1 and 3 were dropped at the car park at Aan and walked from there accompanied by a member of staff to check their navigation skills and general progress. Team 2 started at the dam and walked around Sønstevatn for the first part.
Content after a couple of hours, the shadowing staff dropped back and returned, leaving the cadets to continue to their first camp sites.
The forecast for day two is decent and hopefully everyone will be in their stride. All teams are planning to have their mountain hut night on night 2 (Saturday).
17 August 2017
Today we ventured into the centre of Rjukan to go shopping. With 4 days of trekking ahead, the job of purchasing provisions was a little harder with unfamiliar brands and types of food, but everyone coped very well!
Next, the cadets had some preparation time to sort out their kit and to stow the shopping. After lunch, we headed out for a short acclimatisation walk to stretch the legs and to check the kit; it also gave the cadets a chance to have a chat with Des, their assessor. We drove to the bottom of the Krossobanen, an aerial tramway in Rjukan and took the cable car to the edge of the Hardanger Plateau. We then followed the zig-zag path up the valley side that runs under the cable car - the very path used by the 'Heroes of Telemark' in 1943 to escape from the valley after attacking the heavy water facility. Sadly, the good weather didn't last and the sunshine turned to drizzle, which then turned to heavy rain, though not before we enjoyed the view down the valley to the town.
After descending it was back to the campsite to have dinner, to mark maps and generally relax and prepare before tomorrow's big day - the start of the assessed expedition!
16 August 2017
After an early start from school and a short flight, the cadets met up at Oslo airport with the two staff who had driven across from the UK via The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden with the main kit and equipment. With a quick stop on the way at the 'Golden Arches' for a well-deserved feed, we then set course for Rjukan in the Telemark Region of Norway, and we were rewarded with ever more spectacular views of the Norway as we progressed.
We arrived at the campsite in Rjukan just before 7 in the evening and quickly set up the tents before getting dinner on. The cadets also got the chance to meet Des, their DofE Assessor, after dinner. As a highly experienced assessor and Army AT instructor, it is him they will be working to impress over the next few days!
With darkness quickly falling at the bottom of the steep-sided valley that Rjukan sits in, and with the temperature dropping, it was soon time for bed.
Day 2 brings shopping and the important acclimatisation walk.