An Adventure of a Lifetime – 6th Form Leavers’ Camp 2019

By Andy Robertson

‘This is so cool!’ exclaimed Henri as yet another seal head bobbed up in front of our sea kayaks.  Behind us, a string of brightly coloured boats delicately danced on the waves as they made their way to the shore and the waiting minibus.  This was Day 7 of the Ardvreck 6th Form Leavers’ Camp and the adventure was still far from over.  Over the previous few days, this group of 18, 12 and 13 year olds had taken part in a plethora of challenges, forming a strong team bond in the process and making memories that would stand them in good stead at whatever senior school they chose to attend after their time at Ardvreck.

The whole adventure began on Friday the 7th of June, immediately after completing their final Common Entrance examination.  The group gathered and were issued with the custom made t-shirts they had designed to mark the occasion.  Sleeping bags, tents, food and equipment of all shapes and sizes were loaded into the van, the mobile pizza oven was hitched up and we were off, waved into the distance by Mrs Kinge, our Headmistress, as we left the safety of Ardvreck’s grounds.  Destination – Loch Tay where we would stay for two nights and complete our first challenge – The Ardvreck Mini-Quadrathalon.  This began the next morning with a swim around a buoy in the icy waters of Loch Tay. 

Next came the long ascent of Meall nan Tarmachan, a Munro of considerable stature overshadowing the Loch.  After running back down the aforementioned mountain, the group headed to Killin where they were met by a fleet of bikes.  Mr Banks then led them along the shore of the Loch as far as Ardreonaig where they switched to two person kayaks and paddled their way back to base and the waiting marquee.  The weather was mostly kind but a menacingly dark cloud approached during the kayaking, soaking us to the bone before we could get to shore.  This was all part of the fun and the fish and chips tasted better than ever that evening!

The next day, we moved camp to Caolasnacon, a very special and picturesque campsite, midway between Kinlochleven and Ballachulish on the west coast.  Here, Miss Francis taught the group about foraging and honed their shelter building skills with Mr Jeffers, visiting from Glenalmond College. 

Monday began with bacon rolls and a trip to the amazing Via Feratta in Kinlochleven.  This is hard to describe in adequate detail but basically involves scaling a sheer cliff face, right next to an enormous waterfall, using a series of metal rungs and wooden platforms to balance your way above a dizzying drop.  The children were incredible and flew up the wall, helping anyone that needed it and offering shouts of encouragement at regular intervals.  We then jumped into the bus for the short drive to Inchree where a roaring barbeque awaited.  We suited up in some thick wetsuits for canyoning.  The stifling, uphill, neoprene-clad walk was more than worthwhile and the cool water of the river soon cooled us back down.  From here, we slid, jumped, swam and dropped our way down an amazing gorge.  Many of the group also braved the final leap of faith from a high (c.10m) jump into deep pool at the end of the canyon.

After such a crazy Monday, Tuesday was a little more relaxed with a walk up to the Lost Valley in Glencoe.  We had a scenic picnic, scrambled on the rocks and learned about the history of the area.  Some of the children even wanted to swim in the sea on our return.  

Wednesday morning involved some frantic packing as we prepared ourselves for the overnight sea kayaking and survival expedition. We jammed as much food, sleeping gear, spare clothes and equipment into our dry bags as we could, loaded them into our sea kayaks and paddled off into the bay.  We followed the coast west, stopping to explore Prince Charlie’s Cave on route.  Eventually, we arrived at our home for the night – a secluded bay in, what felt like, the proverbial middle of no-where.  Here, the children divided into groups of 3, took their gear and found a place to set up a shelter.  We cooked beans and sausages (playing the new camp game of ‘Sausage Roulette’ with the super-spicy tin!) on the campfire, before retiring for the night.  The group performed admirably, apart from the 3 boys who decided to sleep on a massive slope and had to climb back up several times through the night!

This all leads on the morning with the seals where we began this tale.  As was mentioned, the adventure wasn’t yet over as, once we unpacked our kayaks and wolfed down a packed lunch, we made our way straight to the River Garry for some white water rafting.  Smiles were as plentiful as the splashes and once we’d had one run down the river, it seemed like a great idea to walk back up and do it all again.  We even swam across the fast flowing current to get there.  It was 18 tired but content faces that surrounded me as we sat for our final celebratory meal in Fort William that evening.  We were joined by Mrs Kinge who was able to bring us down to Earth by sharing those Common Entrance results and passing on the good news that each person had made it into the school of their choice.  My only concern is – how will they top this experience when they get there?!

Many thanks go to Mr Banks, Mrs Deacon, Mr Jeffers and Miss Francis who all assisted me in the running of the camp.  Special mention should also be made to David and Jo Fox-Pitt who put us up and helped to run the mini-quadrathalon on the first weekend.  Also, many thanks to Caolasnacon campsite, Vertical Descents, Rockhopper Sea-kayaking and Wheels Cycling Centre for providing activites, equipment and a place to stay.