Scouts walk 200km to gain Explorer Belts

Scouts walk 200km to gain Explorer Belts

8 August 2018

IMAGINE being left somewhere in a foreign country with only a map and a ruck sack with the task of walking 200 kilometres in 10 days.

That was the challenge facing Downpatrick Scout leaders Erin Fitzsimons and Aaron Smith as they aimed to win the highest accolade a scout can achieve.

For the first time in Downpatrick Scout Group history, the leaders were awarded their Explorer Belt on July 15.

The pair were one of seven other teams, one other from Northern Ireland and the rest from southern Ireland, who successfully completed the challenge.

For lifelong scout and Venture leader Aaron (25) from the Ardglass Road and section leader 24 year-old Erin from the Saul Road area, the 10 days were the hardest and the best of their lives to day.

“No-one else from Downpatrick Scouts has ever achieved the Explorer Belt so we are delighted to have been able to do so,” said Erin, a Masters student. 

“Since we have been home and shown our belts off to the younger scouts and shown them all we had to do, we are sure there will be both belts achieved for the company.”

Erin explained that the challenge for the scouts was partly a physical challenge, as well as a planning and budgeting challenge, along with social engagement along the way.

“We basically had to plot our way 200 kilometres across Germany to the Netherlands walking the majority of the way with a small allowance to pay for an extra 90km of travel on public transport.

“The two of us were ped off at a random location, which happened to be in Dusseldorf and given ‘the envelope’ which contained details of where base camp is, our budget for food and essentials, our transport budget, log and project books and map,” she explained.

“We had to ask people each day if we could pitch our tent before we could make camp and, of course, not speaking the language made things extra difficult.”

Although supplied with a burner phone for emergency contact, Aaron and Erin had no smart phones and were cut off from the digital world.

The pair would set off each morning around 6.30am and walk until 4pm each day, making their own food and completing various tasks set for each day.

Erin admitted that at one point she burst into tears as her feet were so sore.

“There was one day that really hit me as I had about nine blisters on my feet and I just sat down at the edge of the road, took off my trainers and socks and burst out crying, only then to burst out laughing at my crying.

“There was another bad day where we literally had to knock on 30 doors before someone would allow us to set up camp. On average, it was about 10 doors before we got their agreement,” she said.

“We struck it really lucky one night and met a lovely couple who took us in, made us dinner with desert, allowed us to shower and sleep in beds and made us breakfast the next morning. It was fantastic”.

Aaron, who works for the National Trust in Castleward and Erin managed to walk into the Scout camp outside the seaside camp in Zandvoort, Amsterdam in the Netherlands by the allotted deadline on 4.59pm on July 15.