The challenges and joys of Outdoor learning in the North West highlands.
It can be challenging matching the weather with a suitable location and delivering the theme that schools are currently working on – here’s why? We had an interesting time last week at the Outdoor and Woodland Learning Project here in the CALL corner of the North West Highlands. Working with Achiltibuie Nursery and Primary Schools on their woodland life cycles topic, a session was planned in Culag Woods, Lochinver. Culag Woods is a small 40 hectare (100 acre) mixed woodland which is managed by the local community for amenity, education and conservation purposes. Its varied species of trees, beach areas, network of paths and interesting features, such as a dragon egg, giant spiders and a slug makes it a fun and ideal location to run outdoor learning sessions. But the current weather patterns tried to do their best to disrupt our day!
Last Monday the forecast was for rain from 10am to 2pm, exactly the time we were planning to be in the woodland, so we headed out all kitted up in full waterproofs, woolly hats and wellies (#scotlandinjune). The winds were light though and from the west, so the east side of the woodland could offer some shelter from the rain. But light winds in damp conditions mean …….MIDGES! So we persevered, learning about things that are made from trees, a surprising amount…….books, rayon, varnish, egg cartons, rubber gloves, ice cream thickener, toilet paper, shampoo. Then looking at the different species of native trees to be found…….birch, rowan, hazel, scots pine, alder. But after a while the only way to keep the midges away was to head over to the west side to hunt for a bit of a breeze. The White Shore is the go-to beach in the woodland, it has a westerly aspect and catches any breeze if it’s about. It’s also a great place for learning about campfires and having a swing in one of the makeshift fishing net hammocks. Vickii, our Volunteer Coordinator, was assisting the OWL project that day and she kept the wee campfire going in quite heavy rain, allowing enough marshmallows to be toasted to keep up morale and enough smoke to keep the midges at bay, temporarily at least. As the time drew near to head back for the bus home, the rain was coming down quite heavily, so we headed up and over the hill via the View Point Path. Through the trees heavily laden with the rain and everyone already wet, a great game of shake the tree was had on the return journey. Then a quick stop at the top to play the giant noughts and crosses game, an off-piste section through the summit bog and down through the heavily mossy eastern slopes brought us back to the bus on time.
Four days later the second part planned was a tree planting session in Coigach, where the pupils would be creating their own woodland for the future. But the weather wasn’t playing the game again! Instead of heavy rain and midges the forecast was for a beautiful sunny and breezy day with temperatures in the high 20’s…….absolutely the wrong planting weather for the trees and pupils. So an alternative plan was drawn up and with buckets and spades in hand, suncream, shorts and sun hats on we headed off to the beach at Achnahaird to compare beaches, create sand sculptures, (see our FB post ……….) and have a picnic. Well it was very close to the end of term and I think everyone deserved a bit of beach fun in the sun after our soggy, cold day in the woods.
Two very different but equally enjoyable days of outdoor learning that keep our team on their toes with organisational, logistical and activity conundrums……never a dull moment even in the seasonally inclement weather this summer.