One of Ely’s Air Cadet’s, Cadet Sergeant Joe Harris, has been in The Lake District “Going for Gold”, his Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award that is. Unusually though Joe has completed his expedition section of his award on horseback.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme has been running for over 62 years in The United Kingdom and has seen hundreds of thousand of young people aged 14-25 achieve Bronze Silver or Gold awards. Each award has four sections but the Gold award has five:

Physical Achievement
Voluntary Community Work
Skills and Interests
Residential Projects

Joe has already achieved his Bronze and Silver Duke of Edinburgh Awards at 1094 (City of Ely) Squadron, Royal Air Force Air Cadets (RAFAC), but Gold is different,

Gold is a more personal journey of self development and requires true grit and determination and taking the bit firmly between your teeth. After Bronze and Silver expeditions on foot with his fellow cadets, Joe followed his Squadron DofE officer’s advice in stepping outside the RAFAC as much as possible for as many of his Gold Award Sections as he could and it’s certainly been challenging but rewarding.

Never one to rein in his ambitions, planning such an expedition was no spur of the moment decision for Joe. Here Sergeant Harris describes in his own words what he’s been up to.

“That was one amazing week away! I Passed my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Expedition!

I have been travelling by horseback and camping through the wild country around the Windermere and Coniston lakes area in the Lake District National Park over the past five days.

It was a very challenging week but I was well prepared having completed my practice horseback expedition in similar wild countryside. I’ve been studying formal qualifications in equine care at college and of course having regular horse riding lessons but it was the skills I learned as an Air Cadet that really helped not just me getting though this expedition but also the rest of my group who were all from school DofE groups from around the UK.

Typically my days consisted of getting up about 06:00. riding approx 25km a day, in all weathers and terrain including mountains and heavy thunder storms.

You have a lot more things to think about on a horseback expedition, a lot more than you might think. Not only do you have to navigate, map read and take compass bearings in all weathers on the back of a horse but of course you have to remain stable and control the horse whilst at the same time ensure their footing is sound as one wrong move on a mountainside track could be extremely serious.

As well as camping over four nights and feeding ourselves we also had to feed and water and take care of our horses.

I cannot thank my horse Jigsaw enough. I made some amazing new friends for life and I had the experience of a lifetime spending time with such great people and such majestic animals in some of the most beautiful countryside our nation has to offer. “

Once a cadet completes the Gold Award they, and their parents, are invited by Buckingham Palace to an audience with the Duke to receive the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award in person so Joe will be keeping a keen eye on the post and looking out for his letter addressed to Harris from the Palace.