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School trips in the Cairngorms

Filed in Blog by on 27th June 2018 • views: 758

School Trips to Outdoor Centres in Scotland

For my third visit of the season to Craggan Outdoors, I was watching the team in action as they hosted a group of local schoolchildren who have been staying on-site for the last several days. Taking in eight of the 24 activities offered by the Centre, it’s an intense opportunity to test themselves in unfamiliar settings and doing sports they may never have experienced before. As their school term draws to a close, this is a chance for the kids to have some fun, but also to embrace the opportunity for growth as they deal with an extended stay away from home and in the grip of the natural playground that is the Cairngorms.

outdoor centres scotland school trips

Handling a 50+ group of very excited Primary 7 kids for an outdoor education residential week is no easy task and, while everything I’d seen from the Craggan Outdoors team thus-far filled me with confidence, I knew this would be one of their most challenging periods of the year. It’s a brilliant age to be. Before all the horrors of teenagerdom come along and with the imminent promise of high school just around the corner. I remember it well and the period between ages 10 and 13 were probably my happiest as a child. When all I did was live outside, coming back home only when it got too dark to see the ball and with barely a worry in the world. Times are changed now of course and with increasingly protected upbringings and the rise of digital gaming, mine was maybe the last generation to enjoy that total freedom. Making it all the more important that centres like Craggan Outdoors continue to provide a safe and structured environment for youngsters to still be able to engage in sports and active learning.

kayaking outdoor centres scotland

The visit is very much part of the day-to-day Curriculum for Excellence for these kids, and the accompanying staff were emphatic on the importance of weeks like this in giving their kids team-working and resilience skills that can’t necessarily be delivered in a classroom. On completion the kids will have the opportunity to reflect on their week and, speaking from personal experience having done something similar at that age, it’s unlikely to be something they ever forget. What a privilege for me, then, to have the chance to observe this first-hand.

The Activities

As I joined up with the group on the Wednesday of their week, I was observing sessions of four of the eight activities, which as well as those that I’ll talk about, were gorge walking, mountain biking, raft building and rock climbing. The schedule is a diverse and carefully tailored programme, designed especially for them, based on the school’s requirements, educational objectives and budget. Craggan Outdoors has the bases covered from this perspective, and I’ve long-since established that it’s the breadth of their activities that make them so appealing to lovers of the outdoors. For my part, I tagged along as a spectator for these:

Kayaking is enormous fun for people of all ages and I’ve been fortunate to have had plenty of splashes through the travel blogging work that I do. There’s a sense of freedom and adrenaline that clashes perfectly with the relaxing, drifting sensation that makes the whole thing incredibly appealing. At Craggan Outdoors their activities lochen is a safe place for beginners to cruise about at their own pace and is ideal for even large groups of kids to kayak together. The group’s instructor Ashley particularly loves this stuff, you can tell, and with his years of experience working at Craggan Outdoors he’s got a way of cranking up the excitement level for the kids. It’s a great practical introduction to watersports but is also riotously fun when games are involved and the clear enjoyment was very infectious. Oh to go back in time…..

school trips cairngorms

Bushcraft is one of those things that feels pretty vital in a youngster’s development. Our connection to the natural world and basic survival skills and awareness-raising is so alarmingly easy to lose sight of. How to start a fire was inevitably part of the course but just as important was the need to be aware of nearby wildlife and flora and fauna. How to handle a tick bite, how to grab a nettle without being stung in order to brew up some nettle tea, and how to navigate without technological assistance are just some of the things that the kids are taught. A terrific accompaniment to the high-adrenaline stuff going on simultaneously, I watch on as the kids are thoughtfully engrossed in this vital element of the human relationship with the land.

bushcraft cairngorms scotland

High Ropes brings memories hurtling back of assault courses and endless hours of childhood fun with friends and classmates. The kind of stuff that school trips are made for. Testing climbing skills, perceptions with height and trust in others, this requires individual strength of mind and, quite often, dealing with fears and areas of trepidation. While everyone is obviously secured by harness and under constant supervision, the various elements of the high ropes do require mental fortitude to overcome. Several of the kids were noticeably scared by the heights involved and it was genuinely moving watching how much vocal support their classmates were roaring up behind them. Everyone gave it a real go and – although not all made it to the highest rungs – nobody left without pushing themselves further than their natural inclination. From this observer’s point of view, it was all very heartwarming.

outdoor school trips scotland

Archery is another of those activities requiring training of the mind. Some will surprise themselves by displaying an immediate, natural ability while others will always struggle to get their head around it. The kids are provided with all the necessary protective gear and – even with the best intentions – it brings out that competitive streak that just can’t be helped. Very much a time for individual focus and concentration, there is not much more satisfying than a successful hit on the board. Alas, it’s never as easy as Robin Hood makes it look….

archery school trips outdoor centres scotland

So how did the team get on?

I visited towards the end of the April to June season for school group visits, at a time when perhaps the Craggan Outdoors team would be at their weariest. Every step of the way though, the guys looked naturally at ease with every bit of it. They want the kids to have fun and to reach new goals, they give them every encouragement and support to expand their limits and they ensure that everyone gets involved. Intense school trips like these cause anxieties for kids, parents and teachers alike and the challenge is significant. But the team handled them masterfully.

No two kids are the same. Some are confident and fearless. Others shy and cautious. Some have particular needs and learning difficulties. But the atmosphere throughout my day here was one of inclusion and fun. Everyone cheered on their classmates and gave bundles of encouragement to those that needed that little push. And no-one missed out on the fun. One of the kids wasn’t comfortable in a kayak – the shape and confines of this odd-looking thing didn’t agree with her. The solution was simple and out came a canoe that could be controlled by two people, with much greater freedom to move. Without a second thought, the guys had solutions. No-one had to sit it out and, while some will always enjoy some activities more than others, every single child was involved and got something out of it. An impressive outcome indeed!

Neil Robertson is a travel blogger, broadcaster and marketer who spends his time finding the best bits around his home country of Scotland, in his guise as Travels with a Kilt. Particularly fond of the outdoors and history, he can generally be found up a Munro, poking around ruins or chasing his drone around a loch. This year he will be working closely with Craggan Outdoors as they progress through the various stages of the tourism season – with plenty of sporty participation from their outdoor activity centre activities along the way. You can follow his adventures both on this site and over on his Scotland travel blog.

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