The Scottish Highlands, known for its mountainous terrain bound by run off streams and rivers meandering through the valleys, its a very sparsely populated part of the United Kingdom. Often identified as Whisky country with a reputation as having some of the best fly fishing in the world, as well as very popular with sport hunting and “getaway” rustic style country lodges. It offers travellers an amazing opportunity at its pristine beauty while at the same time a more challenging “off the beaten path” adventure. Bear Grylls’ Survival Academy(BGSA) provides a rare chance to the lucky but daring adventurous people who want to challenge themselves in a harsh unforgiven environment by living off the land in a survival type setting from Bear Grylls’ hand picked expert survivalists. The 6 day extreme survival course takes place in the Alladale Wilderness Reserve(57.8700 N, 4.6334 W) north of the city of Inverness in some of the most beautiful untouched remote isolated wilderness in the United Kingdom, if not all of Europe. A personal empowerment very challenging week in the Highlands living off the land, learning to survive using survival techniques, sleeping on the cold ground in the Scottish sodden autumn under make shift lean-to shelters, eating virtually nothing aside from what you can catch, trap or forage……WOW!! who wouldn’t want that??? . I had signed up for that and wouldn’t change a thing except to say I wish it was longer than 6 days. The spectacular beauty of this place while virtually being untouched by man in today’s world is so rare and often under-appreciated. If you truly love nature you will find the beauty in it anywhere but little did i know the scope of what I was about to venture out into was gonna be filled with such breathtaking views often only seen in pictures of magazines.
Travelling has always been a passion of mine and with so little time fighting the grind of everyday office life, the chance to experience this type of travel had sparked an interest in me that will remain until I’m no longer physically able. It offered the possibility of being witness to the amazement of the Scottish landscape and physical adventure travel that most vacations before this really hadn’t. Day excursions were usually the norm when it came to the “adventure” of time away from the daily work schedule, but without the feeling of accomplishment when away from the office it just didn’t feel like the vacations I really wanted or needed. As the opportunity presented itself I had decided to take the plunge and embark on this chance of a lifetime travel adventure that would see me going alone. Travelling alone as I soon found out is “soul therapy” as it creates an independence in a person like nothing else, complete self reliance. If chicken soup is good for the soul then splurging on an overseas wild adventure alone couldn’t hurt.!!?? I’ve realized you cant always wait for people in your life to accomplish the things you consider important and critical to your overall happiness. Travelling will push you away from your comfort zone and expand your mind but you need to experience cultures in a variety of locations for this to happen. This gives a person perspective in life and part of the beauty of visiting many different places. It’s hard to understand the world if you don’t see the world. Get out of your bubble and embrace it. Life is too short to wait for others to tag along, everyone has their owns dreams. Don’t tell people your dreams, show them!.
For good reason many areas of the Scottish Highlands are off-limits for the recreational vacationer. Vast expanses of the “true” highlands are protected wilderness areas, or privately owned reserves. Aggressive government programs have intervened to help manage and restore tree growth regeneration in the valleys to prevent soil degradation, as well as plans initiated to reintroduce native animals to the region, with goals of increasing biodiversity no longer present in the region. This project is currently the U.K’s largest rewilding population which includes introducing Wolves back into the region, which for the time being have been put on hold until further research can be conducted on the sustainability of the packs and their food sources. Some of the United Kingdoms rarest breeding pairs of Golden Eagles nest within the reserve creating joint projects monitoring their populations with very strict guidelines on the proximity people are allowed near their nesting sites. Less than 500 breeding pairs currently exist in all of Scotland, and most are carefully monitored and tagged for research. The privilege of experiencing travel to this area was not fully appreciated until weeks if not months after leaving Scotland. It’s become an honour and I feel extremely lucky that I had been there in that capacity.
Arriving in Inverness 3 days prior to the journey into the Highlands I wanted to have a few days to relax and enjoy this quaint little city and see what it had to offer. It was also suggested arriving a few days earlier to acclimatize to the unpredictable Scottish weather, as other team members would possibly arrive from very different climates and could result in being very uncomfortable if one had arrived and immediately had to deal with the elements. The expedition was gonna be difficult enough without the weather playing a bigger part than it already is and arriving early couldnt hurt. Coming from Canada with a very similar climate I didn’t expect the weather to be a major factor for myself but I wasn’t taken any chances.
Inverness is the main starting point for most boat tours along Loch Ness that search for the mythical sea creature Nessie of Scottish folklore. Most people come to the city for this reason as its a major tourist attraction for the region and i couldn’t venture this far north without doing this excursion and seeing for myself. A very enjoyable scenic 6 hour boat tour starting at the mouth of the River Ness it worked its way through Loch Dochfour all the way to Urquhart Castle ruins, one of the largest in term of area in all of Scotland. The medieval fortification strategically played a critical role in the Scottish wars of independence during the 14th century, following this period had been used as a royal castle. Sitting on a rocky peninsula headland considered to be one of the most beautiful pieces of land along Loch Ness, today it’s one of the most visited sites in all of Scotland.
Although I didn’t see Nessie, the boat tour and the few days spent around the city was the perfect prelude to the adventure travel that was ahead of me. Inverness had a charm only a small city can offer with unmatched hospitality and a neighborhood-like friendliness. From fine cuisine with gourmet menus’ to pub food and international themed restaurants, the city has it all and was a very warm welcoming place. It was the calm needed before the upcoming expected storm. This was time well spent and a great experience but I was anxious and ready for the real fun to begin.
To be Cont’d……