Thank God it's Friday

27th May 2005 at 01:00

The start of a week-long geography field trip in Derbyshire. The weathermen are forecasting a cold patch and wintry showers. Judging by the size and shape of the students' luggage, they've packed enough for four seasons in one day, plus a night out down the disco. If the weathermen are right and we are snowed in for days, at least we won't starve. There can't be any Pot Noodles, biscuits, cakes or sweets left on Newmarket shelves.


The weathermen are spot on. We wake to a winter wonderland. No time to stand and stare, however, we have a river to measure. Dressed for the Arctic (well done teachers, for bringing plenty of spare hats, gloves, coats, scarves and boots - "no I don't think you'll be warm enough in that crop top") we hike up to the river's source. I act as a human shield for those now thoroughly fed up with the unrelenting snowball onslaught. But it isn't the snowballs that have caused a change in mood: there's no reception for mobile phones.


A taste of the city and urban studies in Sheffield. The students' only grumble is that people won't answer their questionnaires. As we drive back to the hostel, snow begins to fall more heavily and the gritters are out.

Ahead there's a long line of stationary tail lights and cars are turning round. "It's been like this for two hours," we are told. We too turn around and now need to find an alternative route home. The students rise to the challenge and put their survival skills (mobiles) into action. They're not simply toys for texting, I discover, but also a compass and route finder.

One student has stored observations from the morning's drive on his, and we now use these to navigate back.


The minibus has been abandoned at the bottom of the YHA's steep, winding driveway. Notices apologise for the "imaginative" menu; the delivery vans are unable to get to us. Today's aims - to measure vegetation cover (under snow), footpath erosion (under snow), and infiltrating rates (under snow) - need to be modified. We walk instead to the next village to "assess its tourist facilities". The cafe owner can't quite believe his eyes when 33 tourists walk in to order steaming cups of tea. In the afternoon we form cross-curricular links with design and technology by building snowmen.


What goes up must come down, only without the aid of the minibus this time.

Suitcases on wheels are tricky when they're pulled downhill over icy cattle grids. The regional news claims this has been the worst snow in Derbyshire for 10 years. It's the most snow the students have seen in their lifetime.

We got most of the "geography" done but have gained far more than data for coursework. We've worked as a team, used our initiative and discovered talents we didn't know we had. Now that's what field trips are about. I'm sure the singing at the back of the bus is louder than on the way here.

Alison Roberts teaches geography at Newmarket upper school, Newmarket, Suffolk. If you have a diary you would like to share (of no more than 520 words), write to TES Friday, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX or email We pay for every article we publish

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