I’m lucky enough that through running a dance company (Ceroc Devon) I can effectively pick and chose which freelance work I want to take on.
Thanks to Adelong Outdoor Education and the wonderful Charlie I was lucky enough to spend a fortnight in Alladale Wilderness Reserve with 12-15 year olds running journey based week long expeditions wild camping in the valley. Thrown in among the hill walking, archery and gorge walking is a whole host of ecology activities including looking at wildlife, peat bog surveying, plant surveying, seeking out badger holes, putting out wildlife camera traps and tree planting.
Alladale Wilderness Reserve is a pretty special place. Brought by a man called Paul Lister, he has the long term vision of re-wilding apex predators like wolves, bears, wild boar and bison into the remote reserve. He has already successful done this in a section of forest which he owns in Romania. He wants the original flora and fauna to return to valley after the tree covering was flattened in favor of grazing land.
The week long programme throws the adolescents in at the deep end, and the learning curve is a steep one. They come from the comforts of toilets and kettles to pooping on the floor and picking it up and having to start fires to boil water for a cuppa. They sleep in tents, and on the last night bivi out under tarps. They quickly learn that although filling your wellies up and jumping in the river on the first night is fun, it leaves you with soaking footwear for the next 5 days. The group are split into teams, each with specific jobs, the programme looks at making the group self sufficient, to the point where the leaders can step back and watch them thrive. If no one in the group can be bothered to make a fire, collect water, or make shelter then no one gets hot water, dinner or a good nights sleep.
The Alladale Wilderness Reserve really is wild…for several reasons..
1) It’s location. Access is on Land Rover and foot only. There is no signal except on some of the highest summits. If someone where to break a leg on gorge walking you’d be left either using the sat-phone to call for a landrover or hitting the emergency beacon which alerts rescue services immediately. Also a blessing, the children who are normally so glued to screens where forced to play…like children. Evenings where spent whittling spoons, making fires and playing man hunt.
2) The variety and abundance of flora and fauna and how easy it is to spot (or hear). Eagle’s, Cuckoo’s, Snipe’s, Dippers, Peregrine Falcons, Deer, Pine Martins, Badgers, a suspect Otter, Frog’s, Toad’s, Adders, Newt’s, a rouge Racoon (or 2), Hare’s, Orchids, Sundew, Butterwort, Birch, Pine, a whole host of moss, pixie cup and devils match stick lichen are all common place and easy to track down. By the end of the week, we all wanted to hunt down and silence the god damn Cuckoo’s though.
3) The landscape is what I imagine when you say Scotland. A classic glacial U-shaped valley with a meandering, winding river in the bottom, steep sides of heather and birch trees up to rounded and rocky tops, hanging valleys with streams cascading down waterfalls, 7000 year old peat bogs and breath taking views.
Personally a much more satisfying, if exhausting, week. A breath of fresh air from the usual quick 2 or 3 hours sessions twice daily which can become stagnant and repetitive at the best of times. Going on a journey, a proper wild experience is much more satisfying work.
10 days and counting until my next 3 week block of work on Hoy, Orkney 🙂