Companionship, adventure and hope: A week of tree planting in Glen Affric

16th September 2016, by Heather Beaton

Heather Beaton, Conservation Week leader for Trees for Life, shares her most recent experience with a group of volunteers in Glen Affric: a week of solitude, companionship, adventure and hope.

I have just returned from my first Trees for Life Conservation Week in Glen Affric. And what a week it was: a week of solitude, companionship, adventure and hope. A week away from civilisation and creature comforts which challenged in ways beyond the obvious. A huge element of the week was about stepping out of the comfort zone and the safety net of the modern world: staying in the Athnamulloch cottage meant no phones, no internet, no external support or help at all*. Electricity was limited: there were lights, but that was it. No hot water, no fridge, no central heating… no electrical midge zapper.

But we survived, and some would say that we flourished. Apparent difficulties became the strengths of the week. We had no shower, and we became rather smelly, however when given the choice the group decided not to travel out to the nearest village to have a shower at the campsite, all instead taking the opportunity to wash in the nearby burn or river. Not one of us regretted that cold wash, and actually, if any of the others feel like me: washing out of doors in the wild water suited the situation we were in perfectly.

September in the Highlands is many things, not least of which is very changeable weather, and this week we had it all. Within our group, we learned what weather can mean and every morning we prayed for the wind that would keep the midgies away. As the week went on, and spending the day outside changed our priorities we became more sensitive to the weather, to the extremes that changed the skies and the mood of the mountains around us. Question: do you prefer heavy rain with wind or dry and still? The unanimous answer? Wet and windy, for nothing is worse than the midgies!

Lacking internet, we became our own entertainment. We had the weather to read, the mountains to watch, wildlife to dream of, exciting conservation activities to discuss and plan for, and all this helped warm lively minds and create interesting conversations. We had poetry, we had music, we had story-telling and we had laughter – lots and lots of laughter. The bog became a daily challenge, with dramatic slides and falls: dry feet became something to dream of, and yet through all this laughter still prevailed.

And for me, personal highlights? Collecting water each morning and breathing in the clean air. Brushing my teeth in the darkness each night, and watching the incredible stars as I did so. And I also particularly enjoyed being part of the group. Forming connections, building stories, drinking whisky and finding the hope that’s within us all.

A chilly home is not a happy home, but lacking a button to create heat we needed fire. And to have that, we needed to firstly chop logs to get kindling, lay the fire, nurture it into life, and remember to keep feeding it all night long to keep it (and us) happy. There’s a new kind of pleasure to be found from this simple living, and a new kind of connection to be had with folks when sharing these activities. And this week brought new meaning to Henry Ford’s quote “chop your own wood and it will warm you twice” for we were warmed thrice; once with the planting, once with the chopping and then again with the burning.

And for me, personal highlights? Collecting water each morning and breathing in the clean air. Brushing my teeth in the darkness each night, and watching the incredible stars as I did so. And I also particularly enjoyed being part of the group. Forming connections, building stories, drinking whisky and finding the hope that’s within us all.  

That was my experience of Athnamulloch cottage. It was a wonderful week and I can’t wait until I can do it again. I can highly recommend visiting the cottage for a week: there’s a forest waiting in them far hills, and it just needs you to help it reach its full potential. Can you step up to the tree planting challenge?  

*We did have a satellite phone for emergency use, so we weren’t abandoned to our fates…

Read more from Heather on her blog: heatherybean.blogspot.co.uk

 

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