Jacquie Hargreaves from Vandyke Upper School in Leighton Buzzard won £1,500 after being crowned the School Trip Champion last year. She reports back on what they did with the prize money.
At 3pm on a cold and drizzly Sunday 44 students and staff left Vandyke Upper School in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, for a once in a lifetime trip to Sri Lanka.
After 14 hours of travelling we arrived to what can only be described as a riot of sights, sounds, smells and colours. The temperature was 37 degrees and rising! We were met by our guide who proved to be the most knowledgeable person I think the students had ever met.
During our 10 day tour we stayed in five hotels and managed to travel from one end of this amazing country to the other. We visited so many places it’s hard to pick out just a few. Some of the highlights included visiting five world heritage sites, including a very hot and steep climb up Sigiriya Rock or the Lion Rock as it’s known locally, a visit to a primate conservation project where we had the opportunity to just sit and be with three different species of monkeys watching them interact with each other and us, it was fascinating.
We also spent time with some of Sri Lanka’s amazing elephants. Some students got the opportunity to feed them and then we watched them bathe in the river, an experience that all of us will remember for ever. The group also visited a tea plantation, enjoyed a train ride through the mountains of Bandarawela and spent a very wet afternoon and evening on a very bumpy but amazing Jeep Safari in the Yala National Park!
Perhaps the most memorable part of the trip for us all was a visit to a small village and Buddhist Temple in the high hills. During the visit the staff and students took part in a traditional ceremonial welcome blessing which involved a parade of all of us carrying offerings to the temple followed by a blessing from the simple monk where all of us practiced meditation and had a personal blessing and the receiving of a holy cord to bring us luck. This was a really moving experience for all concerned and was followed by a simple tea put on for us by the monk in his home.
Relax and recharge
After the excitement of eight days of travelling we spent the last two days in an amazing hotel on the beach where all involved had the chance to relax, swim and recharge our batteries in temperatures topping 40 degrees before our long journey home.
Teacher Jacqui Hargreaves described the trip to Sri Lanka as "life-changing".
Sri Lanka is truly one of the most amazing, friendly and beautiful countries any of us has ever visited and we are already planning our next Vandyke trip to this magical country!
The students we took on this trip came from a wide and very varied range of backgrounds with some of them never having travelled aboard before. They and their families had all spent 18 months saving hard to go on this amazing, and for some, life-changing trip so for me to be able to provide them with so many experiences was a real privilege.
Winning the School Trip Champion Award and its associated prize money allowed me to supplement an amazing early morning additional trip. The whole group were able to go whale watching and dolphin spotting in Marissa an experience we would not have been otherwise able to do and one the students will treasure forever.
All our thanks go to School Travel Organiser for making this very special day possible.
This year's award
Voting is now open for the winner of the 2018 School Trip Champion Award, which comes with a prize of £1,500 to spend towards a school trip.
To find out who the finalists are and vote for your winner go to: www.schooltravelorganiser.com/champion
The winner, with the most votes, will be revealed at this year's School Travel Awards ceremony on Friday 16th November at the Royal Garden Hotel in London.
For more information about the awards, and how to get tickets, go to: www.schooltravelorganiser.com/awards
Main image: The students on the trip were immersed in a number of cultural experiences during the tour of Sri Lanka.