A GROUP of Scouts successfully came through the toughest outdoor challenge of their lives on an expedition to Eastern Europe.
The 15 young people from Morpeth and Ponteland had to deal with searing heat during a major 10-day trek in the Ukraine to achieve the Scouting Explorer Belt award.
But they have no regrets and enjoyed their stay, which also included seeing some impressive sights, learning about the local culture and mixing with their Ukrainian counterparts.
The contingent walked an average of 10km a day during the trek phase of the 16-day trip to the Crimea region of the country.
Morpeth Explorer Scout Daniel Harper, 16, said: “The temperature was regularly in the mid to high 30s (degrees centigrade) and one morning it was up to 42, so it was really tough walking conditions for us.
“We all felt the heat at times, but we made sure that we looked out for each other and we carried salt water to give to anyone who was really struggling. It wasn’t nice, but it was very effective.
“The trek really tested our ability to work as a team, especially when we had to go up hills and canyons, and we all felt very proud when we completed it.”
Andrew Templey, 17, added that the experience meant the expedition to the Yorkshire Dales by the group soon after their return to England was less daunting. This was among the tasks to complete for their Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award.
The Scouts were taken to a nuclear submarine base that was operational until 1993, a set of caves and the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Greek port city of Chersonesos, founded in the 5th century BC, among other interesting locations.
They attended a memorial service which honoured those from Crimea who have lost their lives in battle.
They also got to go into Yalta – the main tourist area in the region.
They were given some challenges to find specific places and items, which enabled them to interact with local residents using the basic Ukrainian and Russian phrases they had learned before coming over.
Chris Rich, 17, said: “This area of Ukraine has many fascinating parts to it and we saw some amazing things, for example real life objects were carefully positioned in front of a painting showing a scene from the Crimean War to make the painting come to life as part of one big artwork.
“It is a young nation and so the people are really embedded in their Soviet history. We saw a number of statues, including some that were bigger than the Statue of Liberty.
“There was an Orthodox church round every other corner in the city and we were shocked by how cheap everything was compared to back home.”
The explorers were able to spend a lot of time talking to the Ukranian scouts, who spoke very good English, to compare and contrast their cultures and many of them stayed with a host family for a couple of days.
Matt Aldridge, 17, said: “The Ukraine scouts were very welcoming and friendly, although they were really into their campfire songs and none of us were allowed to go back to our tents until we had done them all.
“They didn’t mind carrying potatoes and kilos of salt and sugar on the trek, which was very impressive. One of them even bought a cabbage from a shop along the way to help make a kind of stew for dinner, which completely took us by surprise.”
Part of the Scouting Explorer Belt criteria involves doing presentations about their expedition and family and friends will be watching tomorrow when they discuss it at a big regional scouting event in Newcastle.
Daniel Smith, 16, said: “It was a fantastic experience and I really enjoyed seeing a different culture.”
• Anyone who would like to volunteer some time to help organise activities for young people can get more information from the Castle Morpeth Scouts website – www.castlemorpethscouts.org.uk – or call 07982 495577.