Gilwell is my favorite part of Wood Badge

I stood there on the side of a rocky camp road, in between a dentist and a real estate agent. We were just three of the 48 men and women standing in a silent line. Then there was a horn blast in the distance. And we started filing into a small field (I believe it was an archery range at one point) with a rustic wooden sign that said Gilwell.

As we filled in, followed our den chiefs and formed 3/4 of a perfect square, with the senior staff of Wood Badge course n2-388-14 making the final side. While all us participants were eager and excited, we took a cue from the staff that this was a place of reverence. The fun of wood badge would be mostly past the little trail that led into Gilwell Field.

The field which symbolically represents Gilwell Park in the UK where the first wood badge course was given nearly 100 years ago by Lord Baden Powell himself. This place was to be treated as if it were Gilwell itself. And for many of us, the field that was our Gilwell will always hold a place in our hearts.

Little did I know the scope of what the next three days (and another three days) would hold for me and the rest of Pack 1. The fun and commaradire of each of those days would be different and have different challenges. But the one constant was each day we met at Gilwell. I know that we were usually on the field for only 20 minutes or so, but there was a timelessness about it. No one was worried about getting their tickets approved. Or checking on the their work email. Or anything like that. Everyone, staff included were totally present in the moment. It was quiet and you could hear whoever was speaking clearly and heard his or her words. The moment was theirs.

Spoiler alert wood badgers soon graduate to Troop 1. The main voice we heard during these gatherings was that of the Senior Patrol Leader. He was in charge of Troop 1. It was his job to get several dozen adult to get into the mindset of Boy Scouts and really enjoy the program. Because if you have scouters who are not playing along. The whole thing doesn't work. And with the exception of the first Gilwell gathering, the SPL leads the troop in “the song.” I will admit, I love the song. Yes it's odd and goofy. But once it's in your head it is there forever, in a good way. Driving home from the first weekend I found myself singing the song. It takes a special kind of person to be a SPL for a wood badge course, and Fred (my SPL) was (and is) that kind of person. You always had to be on and positive, even though like all the participants you are tired, are thinking of things away from camp and trying to keep a super tight schedule as close to on schedule as humanly possible.

Our course director, like any good scoutmaster did very little speaking. But near the end of each Gilwell he would give his Scoutmasters Minute. Scott, an actual Director, gave these impassioned scoutmaster's minutes mixing in what we had already seen with a preview of what we would be seeing. His tone was warm but stoic, just imagine what a scoutmaster in a Norman Rockwell painting would sound like.

These gatherings were an idealized version of an opening to any scout meeting. I've never been to a scout opening so formal. But that is what makes it so special. Yes there is some fun had on Gilwell, when the symbols of the program and service patrols are exchanged. There is some merriment, and guess what the song is fun.

After I took the course and earned my beads, I was asked to staff the course two more times And each of those courses were different and special in their own way. But the one consistent thing about them was Gilwell. And even though torrential rain forced Gilwell to be held indoors twice on the last course I staffed, Even though I saw the countless hours of work it took to make Gilwell gatherings (particularly the first one) seem both perfect and  natural. It was still my favorite part.

Yes I liked the games, the campfires, the presentations, the hanging out and meeting new people, and very drowsy late night staff meetings. But to me nothing else is as good as lining up and walking onto a field in Upstate New York or New Jersey that becomes transformed (at least temporarily) to a field outside of London.

When the last day of my course ended and as I walked off Gilwell for the last time. I paused I knew that I would never be back at my Gilwell.

If you haven’t taken Woodbadge, it's something you should do not just for your scouts but for yourself. Follow this link to find a course taking place near you. And if you are in the New York tri-State area I cannot recommend taking Course N2-388-18 at Durland Scout Camp in Putnam Valley NY. My old SPL Fred is taking the reigns as course director.


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