A summer of adventure in the Scottish Highlands

By British Exploring Society,
charity update

Fresh from the field, having accompanied our talented Leaders on expedition, two members of HQ staff who took part in Hartz Scottish Explorers 2021 reflect on their own experiences.

It was a clear summers evening in the Scottish Highlands. After a 12km walk in from basecamp, five Leaders and sixteen Young Explorers were nestled into the Lairig Leacach Bothy in the Grey Corries; relaxing, playing cards, making hot drinks and getting to know each other.

I was speaking to a few young people by the door who, on day 4, had already formed a tight bond and were explaining what each of their team members brought to the table. Amongst them were water collectors, experts at erecting tents, and positive motivators. One of them told me about how another Young Explorer in their team had made friendship bracelets in British Exploring Society branded colours of red, blue, and green for each member of their Fire and went onto explain what this symbolised for them:

“When we wear them, we are all individuals but when we wear them together and stand in a circle, we are all British Exploring Society.”

I’m still reflecting now on what an incredibly special week it has been. As Senior Recruitment & Engagement Coordinator for British Exploring Society, my job is to support young people through the application process to join us on expedition. It was so very special to welcome 130 young people over the course of the summer into the outdoors again but to also join 34 young people on their adventure as they journeyed to Spean Bridge to experience the magic and impact that the outdoors can have on an individual. For some, it was the first time they had seen the mountains. For others, the first time to sleep in a tent and spend a night in the wild. For a lot of them, it was a much-needed escape from the stresses of day-to-day life.

As part of the 12-day expedition, we headed off into the Grey Corries for a 3-day adventure. It was incredible to see the young people’s view of the outdoors and interest in the environment shift from day 1 to even day 5. Day by day, retaining information about the plants that surrounded them and starting to engage and ask questions about the geology and landscape that made up the region of Lochaber that we were exploring. These young people loaded up their heavy expedition rucksacks, many for the first time ever, and trudged through some of Scotland’s finest conditions; wind, rain, midges, downright ‘blowin’ a hoolie’ on the tops, and still came out smiling and joking in the end over a hot chocolate.

It was an absolute pleasure to show our Young Explorers the beauty of the Scottish Highlands and to pass on my love for nature and the outdoors to the next generation. I am feeling privileged and grateful to have been a part of the Hartz Scottish Explorers expedition and to work alongside some amazing volunteer Leaders.

Written by Holly Burns, Senior Recruitment & Engagement Coordinator at British Exploring Society

What a week that was.

I am totally in awe of the young people we work with.

I, like most of the Young Explorers I had the pleasure of spending a week exploring the Highlands with, had never experienced the benefits of freedom of the outdoors quite like that before. I have always valued the calm and connection that time in nature provides me with.

Like many of us, I was grateful for the heightened sense of freedom it brought during a strange period of lockdowns. An expedition experience really is unique though. It’s like nothing I have ever experienced before. Totally emerged in the essence of ‘wild’, embracing the strangers with whom you share this profound, weird, stinky, experience with is epic.

When I joined British Exploring Society last Autumn, I listened to our President, Marvin Rees, reflect on his expedition experience in Svalbard. He spoke about the significance he felt when he realised just how vast the world was – how a new sense of the scale of the world around us brings us to life in a totally unique way.

A year later, seeing just that first-hand was a real privilege. Watching Young Explorers pause, eyes lit, as they reach the top of a long hill climb doesn’t get old.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough… but the continued resilience that the young people demonstrated, with the support of such talented, inspiring Leaders, made me feel like I could keep going. Our role as staff members is to model behaviour but, honestly, the Young Explorers modelled behaviour for me too. They gave me hugely positive experiences to take away.

The immense resilience, teamwork and good humour they demonstrated through some seriously challenging experiences were impressive. Patiently walking their struggling Fire-mate as we meandered through the hills of Glen Nevis and got battered by the rain and winds. Being ‘shook’ the first-time some of them saw sheep and cows in real life. Trying to find simple ways to eat and drink through mosquito nets. Sharing their gratitude for the opportunity to think and reflect as we trekked through single-file paths for miles. Laughing and wincing as we slid our feet back into soggy boots and socks after finally getting dry and warm. The first time someone openly shared they were off for a poo-with-a-view and we knew from there the team bond was changed forever. Imitating each other’s accents and learning lingo from across the UK. Crying over insects in tents one day, and being brave enough to carry them out themselves another. I could go on.

They took it all in their stride. Sometimes it took a while to get there, a lot of encouragement, and some snack trading… But those brave young people continually proved to themselves that they could just keep going, and that is transformational. I’m feeling quite transformed by just that myself.

Witnessing young people from a range of backgrounds, who have been starved of opportunities for the past 20 months, join together to explore the great outdoors with the guidance of their Leaders was magical.

Thank you to each and every one of you for your continued support in making such magic possible. I know how grateful the young people I shared a week in the Highlands with are and can’t wait to share more of their stories with you.

Written by Amy Leigh-Hatton, Fundraising Officer at British Exploring Society