'Guidling light' leaves unit after 39 years

Caroline Ashby, centre, is presented with a retirement gift by fellow leaders Barbara Bellis, left, and Sally Dance

Caroline Ashby, centre, is presented with a retirement gift by fellow leaders Barbara Bellis, left, and Sally Dance

First published in Abingdon Herald Series: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

SHE has camped with thousands and cooked for hundreds, but after 39 years one of Oxfordshire’s longest-serving Guide leaders is moving on.

Caroline Ashby, from Southmoor, now hopes to contribute a lifetime of outdoor cooking experience to the adult guiding Trefoil Guild.

The 63-year-old had been planning to spend her last night at Southmoor Guides last month presenting three of her girls with the highest award in guiding, the Baden-Powell Challenge badge.

Instead she herself was honoured by friends and fellow leaders at a surprise party.

Mrs Ashby said: “I was very surprised. I think everybody in the world knew apart from me. I sort of fell into guiding, but when you take the girls camping and you see them develop, it is rewarding.”

Mrs Ashby started her guiding career aged seven, as a Brownie in Chipping Norton where she grew up. She became Guide leader for the Chipping Norton unit in 1973.

She married her husband Ian in 1978 and they moved to Southmoor.

After their wedding she gave up scouting for six months, but “felt like something was missing” and returned to the fold at the Southmoor unit.

She became unit leader of 1st Southmoor Guides in 1985 and has been doing it since.

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She said: “At Guide camp the girls have to do real jobs and it helps them develop as individuals.

“A couple of years ago we had a girl who really did not want to do canoeing, but one of the leaders persuaded her and in the end she was really grateful.”

Now she has trained a protégé, Sally Dance, to take on her role.

Mrs Dance, 44, said: “If you cut Caroline in half she would say ‘girl guiding’ all the way down the middle.

“She always has a smile on her face. If she is out with the girls and something needs to happen she will always find a nice young man to help get it done.”

Mrs Ashby said among her favourite memories were the international Folly Guide camp held at Faringdon house in 1995.

At the Quest 2010 camp, held at the European School at Culham, Mrs Ashby cooked all the meals and snacks for 136 campers for a week – over an open fire.

Mr Ashby, 63, said: “I think she is wonderful, but then she is my wife.”

Their son David, now at the University of Winchester, has been involved with the Guide and Scouting movement since birth, and is carrying on the tradition. He now runs the eighth Winchester Scout unit.

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