Day 1: Whilst most of their classmates were probably still in bed, 12 excited pupils reported to the school on an inset day for 10:00am. Bags/suitcases were all packed, some felt the need to bring enough for a fortnight away not just 4 nights.
The pupils piled into the people carriers, girls in one and boys in the other. The journey down to Loch Eil (just outside Fort William) was hassle free and full of singing and laughter. We had a couple of stops along the way at Invermoriston and Fort Augustus for a toilet break and a visit to the shop.
We arrived at the Outward Bound Trust Centre in Loch Eil shortly after 1:00pm. The pupils were excited to head up to their newly refurbished dorms on the top floor of the house. 6 boys in one room and 6 girls in the other. The bags were thrown onto the beds and after agreeing who was on the top bunks they headed downstairs to meet our instructor Chris. We also met Robert from Whyte and Mackay. They have sponsored our week away and enabled us to give our pupils the amazing experience. Robert will be joining us for the entire week and he plans to get stuck into all the activities too.
Chris was very friendly and provided us a tour of the centre showing us all the important places and fire assembly point etc. They were told about the routine for meal times and that the whole group were to report at the same time and take responsibility for cleaning up the table etc once finished.
The afternoon saw the pupils take part in a few teamwork challenges that will hopefully get them communicating better and supporting one another as the week goes on. Task one was for them to stand in a bench and without steeping off try to arrange themselves in alphabetical order. Task 2 took us into the woods and involved a spiderweb. The challenge was to get the whole team through the web without touching it. The girls very quickly came up with a plan and organised the order in which the team was going through the web, well done to them all. Task 3 was the most enjoyable of all. Down to the Loch for a ‘jog and dip’. We set off from the centre at a brisk jog to get to the roadside. Chris gave us the option of crossing the road or to walk in the stream and through the tunnel underneath the road. Most of the group fancied the challenge of crouching/waddling through the tunnel. We were given buoyancy aids and introduced to Loch Eil. Waking down to the jetty Chris checked us all over to ensure the buoyancy aids were fitted correctly. The pupils were well aware that the water was going got be cold and at first they were apprehensive about jumping in. Kyle lead by example and jumped straight in after needing little to no persuasion. Once Kyle tested the water the rest were happy to go in for a ‘dunk’. A couple of the group didn’t quite fancy jumping in but were happy take Chris up on his offer of walking in from the shore. They waded in right up to their chests and also got a feel of how chilly the water actually was.
Back to the centre for a warm shower and get ready for dinner. We had a meal time of 6:05pm. There were some great options for mains and sides and even seconds/thirds for those that wanted.
In the evening we were all issued with walking boots and waterproofs for use throughout the week. We did a small activity in the dark that again focused on teamwork and communication . The activity was called ‘nightline’. The pupils were blindfolded and had to form a chain, one hand on the rope and the other on the shoulder of the person in front. Chris led the group around the centre making them negotiate certain obstacles such as steps, hills and fences.
We finished off our activities at 8:30pm and were offered a chance to grab a biscuit and hot chocolate at 9:10pm. The pupils then had a bit of free time to chill and get kit ready for tomorrow. All pupils were in their rooms by 10:00pm and the house rules state lights out at 10:30pm. Some were so excited to be sharing rooms with one another that the 10:30pm bed time proved difficult.
Day 2: 7:00am was the wake up call from the house staff. The girls were still fast asleep at this time but all the boys were up, dressed and raring to go. Everyone was down for breakfast at 8:00am and by the empty plates/bowls they all seemed to enjoy it.
The activities planned for today are gorge walking and canoeing. We all reported to the kit store at 9:00am to get issued equipment for the day. Squeezing into the very tight wetsuits was certainly difficult but they all managed it by helping one another.
A short minibus drive and we had arrived at the location for the gorge walk. Chris was joined today by Sarah, another instructor that will be with the group until Thursday. The pupils were led into the river and all had a great time working their way upstream under the guidance of Chris and Sarah. A few found it a little tricky under foot as some of the rocks were a little slippy. Others took to it like a duck to water and appeared to enjoy every minute, even jumping right in and completely submerging their head.
Once the gorge walking was finished we jumped back in the minibus and back to return the wet kit and head for a warm shower. A little bit of down time along with a packed lunch was next. After batteries were recharged we got ready for canoeing.
Lots of fun was had on the Loch. Even those that had initial fears got into a boat eventually. Lots of great teamwork was displayed throughout. The South Lodge pupils were certainly pros. They put this down to the many Fridays they spent on Loch Ness during P7. We did have one pair capsize their canoe, Robert and Stephen. This did not put Stephen off in the slightest, once ashore he got straight back into another canoe and joined in the fun. Whilst on the water the pupils got a welcome view of a passing steam train.
Day 3: Today we are getting ready to set off on our expedition and overnight camping. Thankfully the group aren’t so tired this morning as they all went straight to sleep last night.
At 9:00am Chris have the group a brief outline of the next 32 hours. The drizzle this morning has dampened the mood of the group but it should pass as we get out on the ground. We spent the morning getting all our equipment issued and packing our bags. The checking and folding of tents was certainly a challenge but hopefully they’ll all be pros at folding bedsheets once back home.
We loaded up the trailer and we’re all set to go by 11:30am. After a 30 minute bus journey we arrived at the drop off point. Fortunately for us the drizzle had stopped and we were blessed with blue sky and sunshine. The walk itself was very scenic and Chris provided a little geography/history lesson about evolution. After a few miles a few within the group started to feel the burn in their legs and were complaining of sore feet. Fortunately for the group the end campsite was not too far away. Amy kept the group on the right track and even have a few of the younger ones a lesson on navigation and reading a map. We arrived at the campsite for 3:30pm and received a demonstration on how to put the tents up. The group were quick to work and had to use some of their problem solving and teamwork skills to see who could get the best looking tent.
Day 4: The group didn’t get the normal 7:00am wake up call this morning. They were allowed to stay in their sleeping bags a little longer. Marcel and Stephen were the first up and closely followed by everyone else.
Our instructors Chris and Sarah assembled the stoves and began to boil the water for breakfast. The group quickly started to repack their bags and dismantle their tests. Although it hadn’t rained through the night there was a mist/fog that meant the tents were damp, certainly needed hung up when we return to the centre.
The pupils were given a number of options for breakfast but every single person opted for breakfast biscuits. The group had spotted the minibus in the distance and knew that there would be no more walking today, hooray!
We loaded up the trailer and headed for Loch Eil. The whole group were absolutely fantastic when it came to returning and accounting for all stores. 4 set to work packing the tents away, 4 washing the stoves/mugs etc and the other 4 hanging the bags and sleeping bags etc in the kit room. We were done in double quick time and it was then a race upstairs to hit the showers.
After a quick bite to eat for lunch we had a short session in the classroom. The instructors asked the pupils to evaluate their feelings about the challenges they faced on the expedition. On the whole the group felt a sense of pride after completing the expedition.
In the afternoon session we did some of the on site activities such as the climbing wall and create stack. There was some healthy competition between the group as to which team could build the tallest tower.
After dinner the group headed down to the Loch side for one final time for a campfire and toasted marshmallows.
Day 5: It was back to the 7:00am wake up call this morning. The group were quick to get up and ready and started to pack their bags for going home. Before breakfast the beds needed striped, bins empty and floor hoovered, it was all hands on deck. The girls certainly appeared to be more organised than the boys when I first checked the rooms.
Chris gave the group a choice of 2 activities today. It was either bouldering or a visit the The Glenfinnan Viaduct (made famous through featuring in a number of Harry Potter movies). It was a unanimous decision for Glenfinnan.
The group returned to the centre for lunch and the final debrief from Chris. Every pupil was also presented with a certificate to reward their hard work and effort for completing the course. Mrs Brown arrived with the second people carrier and by 12:30pm we were loaded up and started the journey home.
The trip contained many highs and best moments for all involved. Again the school would like to thank Whyte and Mackay for sponsoring our week. We’d also like to thank all the staff at Loch Eil Outward Bound for a fantastic week.