November 21, 2023

Rowing Towards Resilience: A Summer Tale of Canoes, Campfires, and Courage

Nine Young Adventurers Conquer Fears on a Life-Changing Canoe Journey - Discover Their Inspiring Story!

Over the summer holidays we had the privilege of taking nine of our young people on the trip of a lifetime, thanks to our David Bell Adventure Bursary. Over the course of the spring term, we had identified a group of individuals who had made real progress, showed engagement and improved their behaviour over the year, then invited them on a two-day canoe expedition down the River Wye.


Young people came from across Bristol and Cardiff, so a preliminary team-building day was held in July to allow us all to get to know each other ahead of what was to be quite a daunting thing for some – staying away from home and camping in tipi tents! Trip leader Emily Rowntree shares her reflections:

Pick ups on Day 1 were full of anticipation and enthusiasm and the tunes blared on our road trip over to Monmouth. Once there, we met our wonderful instructors from ‘Adventure River’ as we had a briefing on the trip. Loaded up with snacks and kit, we headed onto canoes for our first day of paddling, a 7km adventure from Biblins to Monmouth! One student has been so wary of water that she almost didn’t come; with support from her peers she got into the boat to the sound of applause. Though it was physically and emotionally challenging for us all to work as a team and paddle together, there was lots of laughter, splashing and a few happily accidental swims before we finally arrived at our campsite for the evening.

The campsite was the perfect setting for the evening: six tipi tents arranged in a circle around a large fire pit area. Some students sat chatting in the communal tent, whilst others did most of the cooking, played football or helped light the fire. We were treated to some amazing food from the local butchers and sat around the fire eating together as the sun cast its final rays over the fields. Later, we were joined by our CEO Neil and the bursary’s namesake David Bell, along with his wife, Susan. David shared some stories around the campfire about his time as Neil’s scout leader which garnered many an insight into Neil’s teenage years and a lot of laughs from the students! Medals and personalised certificates were handed to each student, applauded for their achievements whilst they each paused for a photograph. As the evening wound on, we gathered around the fire to drink hot chocolate, toast marshmallows, whittle sticks and play many a round of Wink Murder.

We woke the next day to some typical British drizzle, fought off with a strong cup of tea under the canopy whilst one of the students whipped up some bacon and sausage butties. The lack of sleep and the miserable weather led to a somewhat groggy start to the day but the students kitted up in their waterproofs nonetheless and took to their trusty canoes. Engagement was mixed in the morning, with students understandably lacking in energy and stamina. We stopped in a little eddy in the river to boost ourselves with leftover sausages then pushed on, noticing kingfishers and leaping salmon along the way. As we finished our 6km for that day, there was a definite sense of satisfaction and achievement in the group, with one student summing up the trip as simply, ‘rewarding’. Another was capturing photos of the nature around him, commenting on how peaceful it made him feel.

It was in many ways a challenging trip, but one in which we overcame. The young people faced their anxieties of being away from home, being out of their usual routine and building relationships with new people. As staff, we were pushed to the limits of our own energy and managing group dynamics, but were left feeling incredibly proud to have completed the trip. Sure, there were tricky times and moments for reflection, but we felt full-hearted as a team from going the extra mile and daring to do something with these young people that many wouldn’t.

We piled onto the minibus with soggy clothes and weary limbs, but smiles on our faces and memories to last a lifetime.

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Cumberland Basin


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