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84 miles with Southgate School

Being one of the early adopters of outdoor education, Southgate School knows a thing or two about what makes a good outdoor experience. They combine multi-day challenge expeditions with school-based activities and a comprehensive DofE Award scheme, and over the last 20 years, these experiences have been incredibly successful in supporting their students through their academic and personal development.

Based near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, the school caters for young people aged 4-16 who have a range of learning and physical disabilities. YHA has supported their residentials for a number of years, working with the school to make sure their experience is tailored to the students’ needs and that they’re having the best possible time. This year they stayed at two of our properties on their epic journey from one end of Hadrian’s Wall to the other. This is their story…

Our epic Hadrian’s Wall adventure

Challenging disability through adventure is a great way to develop self-belief, teamwork skills and an awareness of the world around us. This is an essential element of our curriculum. Being outdoors gives our Southgate youngsters the opportunity to discover their potential, interact socially and learn so many valuable new skills.

This is the third year we have walked the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall, 84 miles from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. It is one amazing challenge and an experience our students will never forget.


School children on a YHA Break

Training for this epic expedition began in April, with four full day practice walks in the wild wind and rain in the windswept and boggy moorland on Marsden Moor, Dovestones. Encouraging the group to look out for and wait for each other were crucial elements of training.

Whilst away we had an opportunity to develop independence skills. Staff thoroughly enjoyed watching the pupils blossom, and we smiled at how they would take on new responsibilities without realising, helping each other over styles or streams. It is also good for the pupils to see that we get tired as we share the daily challenges with them, which helps build our relationship with them.

Wednesday 15th May – 22,000 steps / 8 miles

The day before our expedition pupils went to visit the Brindon Addy Farm Shop and Bolster Moor to collect freshly donated baked pies and chocolate goodies to help fuel our epic adventure. We were soon on our way to Wallsend with enough pork pies to sink a small ship!

The group were full of energy and set quite a fast pace. In total the group walked 8 miles, after which we were picked up and taken to our first hostel, YHA Ninebanks, our home for the next two nights.

Thursday 16th May – 28,400 / 10 miles

After a lovely breakfast we drove back to our previous finish point. We set off towards Heddon-on-the-Wall, walking near the River Tyne for about 6 miles. We then stopped for lunch at a country park and filled our water bottles. Afterwards we carried on following the Tyne, but it was hard walking and we were all getting tired and grumpy. Luckily we had a snack box filled with cakes, biscuits and buns which had been donated by various people. The sugar fuelled us and we made amazing progress, even walking part of the following days’ route, an extra 3 miles!

Friday 17th May – 24,169 / 9 miles

After another hearty breakfast we packed up and said goodbye to YHA Ninebanks. We started our walk where we had finished the previous day and continued walking along the old Military Road. We walked through lots of yellow fields and the sun was shining. We finished our walk at Halton Shields and travelled a short distance to our new stunning and modern accommodation, YHA The Sill at Hadrian’s Wall. This was our home for the next seven days.

Saturday 18th May – 30,819 / 10 miles

We began day four back at Halton Shields. Shortly after beginning our walk we had a surprise visit from our Head Teacher Paul and his daughter Ella, who had come to join us for the weekend. The pupils really enjoyed seeing him in a different environment and it was a great boost to them.

Sunday 19th May – 23,913 / 8 miles

School children climbing hills

By this time our morning routine consisted of breakfast and a visit from the ‘Blister Prevention Team’, aka Tracey and Debs, who were very good at ensuring the pupil’s feet were in good shape for the challenging walk ahead.

Day 5 was by far the most beautiful and iconic part of the walk but also the most physically challenging due to the nature of the hilly landscape. This was one of our most technical days with steep scrambles down the hillsides, but the group showed no fear and did us proud. Even after a long, hard day’s walk, the pupils still had bags of energy, so we took them out for an evening walk. We walked up two hills to see a Trig Point and an old Celtic stone cross.

Monday 20th May – 21,201 / 8.6 miles

We made an early start heading over to Cawfield Quarry, another high-level route. We walked past Thirlwall Castle and then enjoyed a spot of lunch in a lovely alpine meadow. We pushed over a stunning iron bridge across the River Irthing, where we met up with Northumberland National Park Ranger Shaun, who kindly gave the pupils an Acorn Plaque each as a souvenir. Back at the YHA we visited the maps, where two of the pupils were inspired to buy their own maps, the first time ever they have shown an interest in map reading.

Tuesday 21st May – 26,704 / 10miles

By this time the group was taking no time at all to work together. They were aware of each other’s needs and were constantly on the lookout for ways in which they could help each other out, little things like holding gates open and carrying each other’s rucksacks. We pushed through Newtown with stunning views of the Lake District fells in the distance and finished the day ahead of schedule at Old Wall. After much anticipation, we eventually saw the North Star appear. Then it was time to head back to the YHA ready for a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday 22nd May – 27,518 / 10 miles

We started the beautiful sunny day back at Old Wall and proceeded through Linstock. We followed the banks of the River Eden which runs alongside Carlisle, where we met up with the Northumberland Nation Park Ranger again. We pressed on through the sunny fields in good spirits as the groups knew that we were reducing tomorrow’s slog. Some of the group found today rather difficult as they became increasingly tired and aching due to the constant exercise, but the group’s levels of fitness had improved drastically which made us very proud.

Thursday 23rd May – 31,849 / 11 miles

School group playing in a field

The last and final day of our epic 84-mile expedition. The group were all in good spirits knowing the end was in sight, yet anxious as they knew that it was going to be another very long day. We started our route at Grinsdale and walked through to Beaumont, then continued through to Burgh by Sands and Longburgh. We spotted the sea and decided to stop and have our lunch before the long slog on the coastal road along the estuary. We could clearly see the pupils were desperate to finish, with frequent cries of ‘Are we nearly there yet?!’. But eventually we completed our journey.

It’s hard to imagine that we have walked from one end of the country to the other. This is certainly an unforgettable experience that the pupils will treasure for the rest of their lives. It’s amazing to think that in the practice walks the pupils were individuals and now they are a team! They have grown new friendships, lasting memories and hopefully a new passion for the great outdoors.

Challenging disability through outdoor adventure, achieving personal goals, and they all contributed to an amazing week full of fun, laughter and great pride.

Over the course of 10 days we walked 236,573 steps over 84 miles, found 29 Geocaches and the staff consumed 240 Yorkshire tea bags.

To find out about how YHA can give your class the experience of a lifetime, visit our Groups website or call 0800 0195 465.

Written by Jo Avery

Jo works in YHA's communications team, writing about travel and adventures for all. She loves curling up with a good book and a large mug of tea, ambling through wheat fields in Derbyshire with her family and dog and holidaying beside the seaside.

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Education84 miles with Southgate School