A GROUP of Scouts have just returned from Russia where they received their Explorer Belts in Moscow’s Red Square.

They toured a country many of them had expected to be a cold place with little to offer but instead they experienced temperatures exceeding 38 degrees, met a descendant of Leo Tolstoy and camped out in a Russian Orthodox church.

The Scouts from Llangollen and Penycae were in Russia to complete the Explorer Belt, one of the highest awards for older members of the organisation that challenges them to explore a foreign country, complete a major project, and really find out how the place ticks by meeting as many people as possible.

The main project of the expedition was to help renovate an orphanage in the city of Tula, famed for being the centre of Kalashnikov rifle production. The Scouts painted the dull, tired stairwells and corridors to transform them into bright and airy places, massively improving the atmosphere of the building.

Other challenges given to the group were to visit a fire station, comparing their facilities with those back in the UK, visiting a sports facility and exploring the area using public transport. All of this was completed in one of the hottest summers Russia has experienced, combined with huge forest fires which had led to many deaths and brought large areas to a standstill.

Explorer Scout Gavin Scott, 17, said: “We visited a football stadium where we were allowed into the changing rooms, and also walked down the players’ tunnel to stand by the pitch. The team was called Arsenal, quite fitting considering Tula’s links to the Kalashnikov!

“While exploring the area we visited the estate of Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, and even got to meet his great great granddaughter.”

One part of the adventure that the Scouts will never forget was sleeping over in the church of the assumption of Mary. Suzie Gregory, 17, said: “There were huge paintings everywhere and it took me ages to get to sleep as I couldn’t stop looking at the roof which was covered in amazing paintings. It felt so wrong to be sleeping there but a huge honour.”

After touring Moscow the Scouts boarded a sleeper train to St Petersburgh where they had three days of sight-seeing, including a night time river trip to see all the bridges being raised to allow freight ships into the heart of the city and a day at the summer palace learning all about Russian history and the effect on the country of the Second World War .