DUKE OF EDINBURGH’S AWARD SCHEME - SILVER PRACTICE EXPEDITION
OCTOBER 6-8TH 2016
All excited about the three days of adventure ahead of us, we in class 10 at Drumduan School leaped out of the van to unload the canoes, one of which we had spent a year building, and our kit.
Four of us were doing our silver practice expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and had chosen to explore the Assynt area of North West Scotland.
The sky was perfectly clear, the air crisp but warm, the wind though was deceptively strong as my friend and I found out when our canoe was blown into a sandy bank on Loch Veyatie!
We continued up a more sheltered section of the loch towards where the portage would begin, to find a good camping site. The question arose: would you pitch a tent on flat but slightly boggy ground, or sloping but drier ground? So much time was spent debating this dilemma that it was going dark, only one tent was up and we were starving! This combination and the fact we only had one torch was the reason that the four of us were huddled in a two man tent alternately stabbing at a whole cooked chicken with camp cutlery (mainly spoons!)
By the second night we were more organised. After the long portage (two kilometres of dragging a canoe through a bog needs a lot of gumption to make it efficient) it was a relief to be able to canoe to our spacious island, with plenty of time until dark. The island is situated in the middle of the picturesque Loch Sionasgaig, and proved irresistible to two of the group who went for a swim - I hear that the water was cold!
As it grew dark we lay around the campfire and listened to the water lapping, the trees sighing and the stags bellowing in that way that you only hear in true wilderness. The night sky was perfect and each star glistened like the early morning light on frost; crisp, cold and clear. In a pause in the conversation, each noise took on a sinister guise, the moaning of trees becoming murmuring people, the lapping water becoming someone wading towards our peninsula. Isn’t it strange that in these circumstances when fear replaces logic, it is other people that we fear? Or the spirits of… Our self exaggerated fear was that someone was stealing our canoes! All proved to be well after a quick check!
We’d done almost as much carrying the canoes as we had paddled them so we decided to continue to Loch na Dail. What we didn’t know was that this group of lochs were joined by a series of waterfalls so more portaging ensued as well as a small accidental descent down a waterfall for my friend and I!
As our journey finished with a refreshing swim in celebration, we realised this was just the practice. Where could we go for our qualifying venture?
On reflection I find it remarkable that our expedition was completed without us seeing a single person outside of our school group. That this is possible in a busy nation where there are 259 people per square kilometre on average amazes me, and makes me glad that we still have wild spaces to retreat to, to care for and to protect.
Written by Nell Bond.
Illustrations by Hannah Lockey.
Footnote by Krzysztof-
While camping on the island in the loch, Tam learned that dry-fungi growing on the trunk of a birch tree could be used as a ‘portable ember’ for carrying fire - potentially for days. As Mike Smith and I packed our tents on our side of the island, there appeared through the trees a Canadian canoe paddled by Hannah and Tam. A plume of white smoke drifted from the inside of the canoe like some ancient Celtic ritual. Tam managed to keep the ember mushroom glowing for many hours until their canoe unfortunately swooshed down a weir, taking in a wave of water. Tam had shown us all that it was very possible to transport fire!