I had a group of young adults from SiMY Community Development out for their first taste of wild camping in the Queen Elizabeth forest park near Aberfoyle. The idea behind the trip was to give them a chance to carry an expedition weight rucksack for a while, set up their tent, cook a meal for themselves and generally look after themselves for the night.
The youth campsites are sited just beyond the car park at Milton, and offer a great situation for this kind of trip; it’s a basic site which is a step up for camping on a managed site with toilets and so on, but is still easy to bail out from if the weather gets bad or people are struggling to cope. Most of the sites have a set ‘fire pit’ area where you can build a small bonfire, and Ingrid and I were able to demonstrate our bushcraft skills by lighting a cosy fire using dried lichen collected from nearby trees. It also gives an opportunity to chat about why we don’t tend to light fires on camping trips elsewhere, and other topics such as the importance of dead wood to the forest environment.
A rainy night meant a lot of the young people woke up a bit damp and bleary eyed, so on this occasion we opted to cut short the planned navigation session on day 2. I like to emphasise that involvement in DofE activities is voluntary, so when groups start to find training sessions becoming a bit of a grind, I think it’s important to be open to adjusting plans in this way to ensure that the experience doesn’t become a barrier to future participation; at the end of the day, we’re trying to get young people to “fall in love with nature”, so knowing when to call it a day is an important skill for any informal educator.