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This term has obviously been very different from any that have gone before, but Rev Blair spoke recently at Senior Assembly on the theme of “doing what you can do”. It is easy to focus on the things we cannot do at present, but equally there are things which we can do- perhaps things which we have not done before- and the unprecedented number of people in the Pentland Hills recently is testament to this! 

Merchiston Castle School pupils camping in the school grounds

This term has therefore been pleasingly busy for the Outdoor Education Department. We began by catching up with postponed Duke of Edinburgh expeditions from last school year: Silver and Gold Practice Expeditions went out to Peebleshire and the Megget Hills respectively during the first half of term and then progressed to their Qualifying Expeditions at the end of the half-term holiday, walking from Gladhouse Reservoir in Midlothian to Hopes Reservoir in the Lammermuirs, via Innerleithen and Bowland. In these times we all have to be ready to adapt our normal practice and, with residential trips not currently possible, the camping element of the expeditions happened on the school grounds, with teams being bussed out each day to their routes. 
 
Our Bronze DofE Training and Qualifying Expedition also took place in the first half of term, with the whole of Chalmers East completing their qualification in fine style despite enduring the wettest day on record in the UK since records began! 
 

Merchiston Castle School pupils coasteering swimming in the sea at Dunbar coast

Our new cohorts are now signed up and have begun this year’s training: 23 Silver participants and 18 Gold are the highest numbers we have seen for some years and we can add the whole of Chalmers West to this number as they will be completing their Bronze Expedition next April. 

Once DofE catch-ups were complete, we turned our attention to other Outdoor Education opportunities. Chalmers West boarders enjoyed a day of hill walking in the Ochil Hills and a day of Mountain Biking at Glentress. Chalmers East boarders spent a muddy but fun afternoon mountain biking in the Pentland Hills and also a chilly and salty couple of hours Coasteering at Dunbar (kindly arranged by Mr Greenwood). 
 

Merchiston Castle School pupils with mountain bikes at Glentress

Rogerson boarders are heading out mountain biking at Glentress this weekend and Laidlaw boys did the same a couple of weeks ago, throwing themselves down the red runs and developing some impressive skills in the process!
 
In another exciting development, we recently commissioned a cartographer to map the Merchiston grounds so that we can set up our own orienteering course. This will be a particularly useful resource for teaching map and compass navigation within the context of our Duke of Edinburgh training, but we also envisage it being used by the PE and Geography departments as well as all of the boarding Houses. Courses can be adapted to suit different ages and levels of experience and checkpoints can also be made to include clues to a puzzle, quotations from a book, lines from a song, etc. and can have a different theme every time the boys do it. 
We will round things off with 40 of our new Gold and Silver DofE boys heading out into the Pentlands on the last Sunday of term for a full day’s navigation training, getting them ready for their (hopefully-Covid-free) expeditions next Easter and summer.
Look out for more exciting Outdoor Education news next term!
 

Danny Rowlands, Head of Outdoor Education