YOUNG adventurers spent a year honouring the spirit of their district's most famous scout.

The seven scouts from the Wantage area learned navigation and first aid, then spent days hiking across mountains and rugged terrain in memory of Stuart Rae.

At the end of it all, one of the youngsters said it was the hardest thing he had ever done.

Captain Rae, who served with the King Alfred District Scouts, went on to explore mountains, deserts and rainforest with the Royal Marines, but was killed in action aged 24.

For the past 46 years, the KAs district have honoured his heroic spirit with the Stuart Rae Challenge.

This year, George Gillott and Reuben White from 1st King Alfred scout group and Matthew Burbidge, Christopher Ions, Ellie McGuigan, Toby Sellwood and William Thorne from 1st Watchfield and Shrivenham group, took on the challenge.

They started training at the beginning of the year, learning navigation and emergency first aid, and having to achieve scout badges along the way.

In July they had to pass a navigation and safety exam before setting off on an 11-day hike across Snowdonia and the Black Mountains.

In September they took on their final challenge – a two-day expedition through the Elan Valley in mid-Wales, completely unaccompanied.

Scout leader Anna Harris said: "Over the weekend they backpacked independently across wild and rugged terrain for 30km and nearly 1,000m of ascent.

"The weather was extremely wet this year: the paths were frequently more like streams and visibility was poor.

"This challenge is not easy, nor is it meant to be."

However, the navigation training paid off and scouts completed the expedition.

Ms Harris added: "All this was achieved in good cheer – incredible considering they are all barely 14 years old."

The final part of the challenge, however, was the presentation evening which for some was the most challenging task.

In front of an audience of parents, grandparents, scout leaders and local dignitaries including Wantage Mayor Steve Trinder, who was a Stuart Rae Challenger when he was a scout in Wantage, the scouts had to give a presentation on everything they had learnt.

From scouting, officials included District Commissioner David Walsh, who completed the Stuart Rae Challenge as a scout, and District President Patrick O’Leary.

Most daunting of all, perhaps, the challenge award is presented each year by Stuart Rae's sister Liz Keevill.

Thankfully, Ms Harris said: "Everyone was thoroughly entertained by the scouts' personal accounts of their year."

George Gillott, 14, summed up the experience for many by saying: "It’s been the hardest thing I’ve endured, but an experience I will never forget."


The Stuart Rae Challenge was initiated 46 years ago to celebrate the life of former Wantage scout Stuart Rae (1947 – 1971).

During his time as a scout, he developed a love for climbing and mountaineering. Later, in the army, he sought adventure on mountains and in jungles and deserts.

In 1969 he climbed Mount Cook in New Zealand, and in 1970 he went to India as a member of a British services mountaineering team.

He was one of just two members of the team to climb the previously-unclimbed Himalayan peak Menthosa (6,440m).

In 1971, aged 24, Cpt Rae was killed in action whilst on special duty with the forces of Muscat and Oman.