Monday, 3 July 2017

Turning Day into Night.... Tales from the Hebridean Adventure Camp

Six nights in, it was a calm, contented evening at the Camp of the Shieling.  The old stones, tarpaulin and bracken providing shelter from the light breeze, and a fire flickered from the hearth.  Within the enclosure, the bracken clan laughed, told stories, shared solutions to natural mysteries and sang songs from the day whilst whittling their spoons and weaving cordage for fishing line from their foraged nettles.  (T)here, above the enclosure of the peat moss, It felt like home.
Suddenly a fisherman, clearly distressed, emerged at camp and cried out:

‘Help! the Pirates are coming into the bay; they’re going to destroy everything!’

The teen Bracken Clan rallied, donning camouflage and courage, and headed off in search of a solution to the fisherman's plight.

A tale of challenge, invisibility and the transformative art of hospitality ensued; as they sought the help of dead ancestors, woodland fairies and items from the landscape to complete their quest. By the end of the night, both heroes and foes were shaking hands and toasting health; as the larger clan danced around the fire.

‘We spent a long time getting into character, dressing up, drawing on tattoos and creating pirate personas.  As we waited for the kids to arrive, we floated around in our canoe, fully in character, singing pirate songs.  As soon as they arrived, the  action began, we jumped ashore and gave chase, their eyes lit up as the world of make believe became real and 3 swashbuckling pirates chased them through the bracken.  We caught up with them whilst they climbed a wall and excitement reached fever pitch.  The game had begun.’  [Joey aka Captain Blackbeard; Camas Volunteer] 

Dropping into natural time

Our week began with the group answering a Call to Adventure. Each inhabiting roles, we set off with the aim of a self reliant adventure into the unknown.  We practised routines of listening to the birds, paying attention to hazards and animal tracks and signs, shared skills of navigation, self care, and the art of staying warm and dry.

We skirted remnants of Atlantic rainforest and avoided being seen, shared wonder at lichens on ancient standing stones; passing old fortifications and shielings on deer paths.  It was nightfall by the time we struck camp, the rain cleared and a fire was struck; kindled from wild plants collected and dried on the move.

The next morning heralded a surprise, as the Bea Marie entered the Treagh Ghael Bay in Tieroagan.  The group boarded, and headed off into lumpy seas with the hallion raised.  Later they found shelter in nearby coves, cast lines and fished for their evening meal.  Later that day, as they rounded the point and entered Camas Tuath, the conch sounded to welcome their return and a great cheer erupted from the boat.  They had made their return.  Around the shieling fire that night, the young people revisited their intentions for the journey; and claimed their learning in both their journals and in a crafted hazel wand.

‘a crucial element to any expedition is nap time, and we were able to this in a beautiful remnant of Atlantic rainforest; the ancient hazel trees giving us shelter.  I love how the canopy of leaves can break up the light and as I lay back to appreciate this I thought about how we had all gotten there - scouting our way past houses without being noticed, stopping for flapjacks at a solitary standing stone.  I felt grateful to the young team for their infectious energy and enthusiasm for the trip and lucky to be having this adventure with them.’  
[Kat, Camas Volunteer]

Travels on dark feet and dark wings

Nature does not give her teachings away, wrapped in a processed bun and served on a plate.  Learning has to be earned, through being prepared to encounter an ordeal.  Experiencing cold, dark, soil on skin, hunger, midges, and being alone can provide powerful encounters with yourself.  The strategies and tools we use in response to these encounters can yield potent metaphors for the journey and direction the young people are moving towards with their life choices.

Placing their intention with conviction in the ground as they stepped over the threshold, they donned a black mask over their eyes.  Blindfolded now, they were led to their site where they would stay through the night.  Alert to the sights, sounds, nuance and timelessness of the landscapes.

Time passed, the sun set and rose again and in between, experiences were had.

The conch blew to signal the return and as they entered the red granite walls of Camas, their hands and face were wiped clean with warm water and sweet oils, as we welcomed these wild creatures, and their wide open senses of peace, calm and connection, back into our human community.  We were hungry for their stories...

‘‘when they returned, I was struck by the powerful sense of quiet, contented calm they carried with them, alongside their sleeping bags.  Their faces, although  tired, radiated with a deep sense of achievement.  They had left camp the night before, led blindfolded to their individual spots, each with a clear intention for their solo journey.  Each and every one of them had survived the night, along with midges, frogs, creepy crawlies, cold, dirt, wilderness and their own thoughts for company.’  [Angela, Camas Volunteer]
Paying attention in nature offer means to track the inner as well as outer landscape and the young people examined any ruts in their own lifestyles ad their capacity for dealing with the unexpected..  Through journaling, and the Art of Questioning from their mentors at camp; each claimed something true about themselves.

‘Beyond survival, I sensed a significant shift.  Somewhere between dusk and dawn they had become ever so slightly different people, and I was lucky enough to witness their eyes now shining that little bit brighter.’ [Angela, Camas Volunteer]

Wrapping the bundle.

All heroic journeys involve a return.  For the final phase of the camp, we invited parents to join the Bracken Clan to have an embodied experience of what their children had been up to.  The young people spent the day teaching parents their crafts, how to make fire, how to pay attention and play games in the outdoors. 

The family camp was about what it feels like to integrate.  Ropes of connection to the environment, to others and to ourselves that were weaved during the week became stronger.  Sitting on the fishing net on the final evening, we emphasised that these ropes; so beautifully articulated by the young people in their presentations; can become strong baskets that contain life.  Deep connection, throughout so many societies in the world, is not found on an App, but experienced in community and facilitated by culture. 

The parents and young people spent time setting goals for themselves to strengthen their home community, strategized who would hold them accountable to their resolutions; and identified strands they wished to weave in to their lives when back at home.

‘In some ways, the whole week had been leading up to this time together, this opportunity to integrate the experiences of our week, and express to our guests what it was about this week that made it so special.  Even in the minutes leading up to the sharing time, the young people were hard at work preparing what would be said.  In hearing the young people share of their week at Camas, it showed the unique power of stories, and the ways that they can hold so much truth for both the storyteller and the listener.
Our stories reflect a piece of ourselves, in a way that often can’t be expressed through any other means. Not only did the young people have an opportunity to craft and create these stories, but they were also able to share them with the people who love and care for them most. I walked away from this time together feeling deeply grateful for the many different experiences held in that room, and with a renewed appreciation for the power of the stories that captured them. [Joel, Camas Volunteer]

If you would like to receive details of future Hebridean Adventure Camps, please email your interest to:

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Guest Blog- Ambleside crew in the house!

Second year Outdoor Education students from the University of Cumbria wended their way to and from Camas on a self directed journey, their module which formed the week had it's own trajectory which looked like an alive version of this:

Towards the end of the journey they were challenged to stay up all night exploring the theme of intent on a static solo experience, whilst team Camas tended a hearth for them from dusk until dawn, in a reoccupied shieling in the heart of the Ardfenaig township.

The next day, they blew our minds with some themed reflective presentations, based on their lived experience at Camas.  Here's a transcript one such group presentation on the theme of 'Challenge' in this weeks Guest Blog...


Challenge is used in outdoor education as a tool for personal development. This can be a physical, emotional, or mental challenge. Barnes and Sharpe (2004) say that “outdoor education heightens awareness and respect for ourselves often through the meeting of challenges in the natural environment”.

We are going to consider the different perceptions of the challenges that we have faced and explored through our time at Camas. Starting with a poem;

The Challenge of time.


Time is a challenge for me,
It’s taken me Camas to see,
How so often I rush,
With no time for hush,
How can that possibly be?

Time is a challenge for me,
Oh how I long to be free,
Of the ever repeating days,
And such linear ways,
Oh how can that possibly be?

Time is a challenge for me,
New sequences are the key,
For our true human self,
To come out from the shelf,
Oh how can this possibly be?

Time is a challenge for me,
To follow a new trajectory,
Instead of moving so fast,
And skimming the past,
Oh how can this possibly be?

Time is a challenge for me,
I can finally be free,
To spread from the pack,
And get back on track,
With what nature intends us to be.

-          Lucy Allan

This poem expresses how our everyday lives have drifted from “our species original intimacy with the natural world and from our uniquely individual natures”(Plotkin, 2008).

“Given that we as humans are as natural as anything else, what might these archetypal patterns, like the rhythm of the sun and earth, suggest about how human life is meant to unfold?” (Plotkin, 2008, pg. 14).

These natural patterns do have slight repetition, but not always the same each year. The shifting dance between nature and culture is one of the dynamics that makes us human. Yet, a lot of people have lost the balance and have become controlled by a linear time structure in our days. E.g. Getting up for work at 9am every day.  French politician, Henri Lefebrve, believes that the rhythms of our culture and society are unhealthy for us, and are oppressing us. We need to be freed!

Berry (1999) suggests this balance as the time development model. His point is that we must use both a familiar nature-rooted cycle, as well as allowing an evolutionary trajectory for our species to unfold. Which together he suggests creates a spiral progression between space and time.  After all we are mere dust in our planets exuberant evolution. Plotkin (2008) says 
“we will either become a life-enhancing element within the greater Earth community…or we will not”.
My challenge of time at Camas, has allowed me to embrace a more relaxed time structure, creating a better balance between my natural and cultural time pattern.

Going Without...

Challenge is needed for personal development and one of the challenges faced was that we had no electricity. Appliances and lighting that id usually take for granted at home we had to do without at camas. It was a new/different way of living which opened my eyes. This is something I will take back home with me as I won’t be using electricity just because it is there. As Greenaway (1990) says 
“new skills of any kind open up more choices and chances”,
Not using electricity as much, is a new skill for me and is defiantly as valuable as the other skills I learnt on the trip.

To me the outdoors is a place to be.

I would now like to explore how the absence of challenge can be what challenges your perceptions.
I have found that the stay at Camas has not necessarily been a place where I have faced and explored too many challenges. They have been present, but for me Camas has been a place that has allowed me to develop by finding a way to learn how to feel comfortable with what I may have already known about myself, and particularly about my preferred approach to outdoor education.

To me the outdoors is a place to be, and the act of being might itself be enough.

This in some ways reflects my background from friluftsliv in Norway. To those who are not familiar with friluftsliv I have condensed “visitnorway”’s definition of friluftsliv: 

“Friluftsliv means spending time outside and experiencing nature first-hand. It offers the possibility of recreation, rejuvenation and the benefits of increased physical activity and reduced stress levels through a connection with nature and quality time with friends and loved ones” (Johnston, 2015).

Since moving to England two years ago I have found myself introduced to a more activity centred approach to the outdoors.
One benefit to a residential is the opportunity to fully immerse yourself and give yourself time to consider an approach that might be new to you. The Camas approach to me seems quite similar in many ways to the friluftsliv approach, compared to what I have previously been introduced to in England. Immersion into the program here has helped me challenge and find peace with my personal preferred approach.

Wurdinger (REF) said something about a similar discovery:
“For some the challenges of everyday life might be enough to discover untapped potential. It is not necessary for people to overcome physical challenges to discover their inner strengths”.

As we have discussed, challenge is necessary for personal development. But, whilst challenges can be found in the outdoors, the outdoors can also be used to face and deal with inner challenges, not just physical. Colin Mortlock talks about his ‘journey inwards’ and how he used the outdoors as a facilitator for this journey, in his book ‘Beyond Adventure’.

The challenges you yourself are facing, will also change.

Camas didn’t provide me with the challenges I faced during my stay, rather I brought my challenges with me.

Camas, the incredible outdoor space that it is and the community I was able to be a part of, has allowed me and provided me with the opportunity to face and deal with my already existing challenges. I often find my mind is haunted by the big questions: what is the meaning of life? Etc. I arrived on Friday with my thoughts bogged down by these very questions, the questions I have come to reason with whilst being here.

The opportunity Camas has given me is one of freedom. The opportunity to be fully present and surrounded by the tranquillity of nature has allowed me to understand and accept that the answers to these questions are fluid and will change. Just like the challenges you yourself are facing, will also change. But right now, we are here, acknowledging our different challenges and this very moment and thanking them for allowing personal development to occur.

Berry, T. (1999) The Great Work: Our way into the future (New York: Bell Tower) pp. 162 – 63 and 198-99.
Plotkin, B. (2008) Nature and the Human Soul. California: New World Library
Greenaway, R. (1990) More than activities. 1st ed. Glasgow: The save the children fund.
Johnston, S (2015) ‘Stark correlations between the changes within Norwegian friluftsliv and British outdoor practice’. Horizons. (70) Summer. PP. 8-11.ent

Mortlock, C. 2001. Beyond Adventure: An Inner Journey. Cumbria: Cicerone Press.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

And we're back!

As we share our final days together with our Garden Week guests here at Camas, it seems valuable to take a step back and reflect on our previous two weeks of Staff Training. What seems like ages ago, five new volunteers arrived at the end of the track, unsure of what lay ahead, but also carrying hope and excitement for the joys and challenges of the upcoming season. These five new faces added to the six already here, and suddenly we had ourselves a brand new community.

The first few days were jam-packed with learning and adventure, as we learned and re-learned the subtle nuances of leading the various outdoor activities offered here at Camas. This was followed by some key first aid training, lest anything go horribly wrong during any of said activities.

This set the stage for another week further of bonding and growing together as a community, while we absorbed some of the finer ins and outs of life at Camas. Of course, we couldn’t take ourselves too seriously, and made sure to include time to practice our wild camping skills relax at Knockvologan Beach, stranding ourselves on an island while blissfully unaware of the rising tide. And who could forget our informative session on the daily life of Camas, brought to us by the hip-hop stylings of the one and only MC Ab McFab.

But far more than the training, learning, and unexpected celebrity guest appearances, I’m struck by the people who made this time all that it was. We have an incredible team supporting each other here, showing a willingness to be vulnerable, put themselves out there, and give what it takes to make this season a success. We’re also deeply grateful for the many people who made the long journey down the track to give their time to support our training: for our guest instructors Kenny, George, and Chris, and for our wonderful cooks Rachel, Kathy, Jonny, Roz, Bex, and Jean. Each one not only contributed their time, energies, and wisdom, but also gave of themselves as a gift and welcomed addition to our community.

Now that our time of training has come to a close, we can only hope and pray that it’s been enough to prepare us for all that is to come. Time will tell, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this team will be ready to meet every challenge head on, together, as the Camas staff of 2017.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Wave Goodbye & Say Hello

As we prepare to say hello to a new wave of volunteers, i wanted to publicly express a last wave of gratitude for the team of 2016.  They gave so much & it's worth celebrating...

Slow down & Hurry Up!

Some years ago a mentor said some words to me that spoke to my need for anchoring and connecting amidst a collective, hyper modern, hyper-speed; capital driven collision course. He said:

‘The most radical thing we can do is slow down and build relationships with each other’

These words, simple on the surface; sink deep like a tenacious taproot into the subterranean subsoil of the soul.

In many respects, the operation at Camas Tuath has been fast paced, so the emphasis on slowing down during the high season has at times seemed absurd! Sixteen hour days for twenty eight weeks! Slow down? You’ve got to be kidding me…


As a resident at Camas Tuath, it was an honour to spend seven months of 2016 collaboratively working such a group of volunteers as have lived at the centre. On seeing them, a mentor of mine, an indigenous man of the semi nomadic Nevi Wesh peoples; remarked on a summer visit to Camas:

‘Look at these people! they’re faces are all glowing with health and wellbeing’.

This is by cultural and natural design; the ergonomic confines of the bay lends itself to a DIY culture where we have been FREE to exercise our gifts and exorcise our schist! The volunteers have not just smashed it; they have rebuilt awesomeness from the foundations up.

At times, it has been joyous to see them shining- and awash with creativity and energy; meeting the tasks of hand from dawn to dusk with vitality and humour. Gifts emerging from their insides; and when they connected on a human to human level, it had a discernible effect on the young people in their care. Big style.

It's been at its height when the young peoples curiosity has led the content of the curriculum.

‘At one end of the continuum is this little arrowhead called curiosity, right? & if you follow the shaft of the arrow back towards the individual who fired it, & more & more of those arrows go out, & that string gets thicker & thicker, your at Passion. So enough curiosity fed and supported will turn into passion for that individual…These are words to live by.’
[Jon Young]

Carrying Fire.

Now returned to home environment, or pursuing further adventures; I originally wrote these words as an email to volunteers, to celebrate the culture we created together.  It holds true, we experienced a place where a positive group culture that emphasizes intimacy with nature, intimacy with each other, intimacy with one self and intimacy with the creative force that moves through all things.

I also recognized that there can sometimes be a heap of cognitive dissonance that emerges; when you try to integrate all those felt values in your body and mind; with the type of culture society at large emphasizes. I want to re-emphasize a need to carve out the time to slow down and build relationships! Being awesome and cool comes with responsibilities. 

Check THIS out: In Last Child in the Woods’, Richard Louv notes:

“During my research for this book, i was encouraged to find that many people now of college (sic) age- those who belong to the first generation to grow up in a largely denatured environment- have tasted just enough nature to intuitively understand just what they have missed. This yearning is a source of power. These young people resist the rapid slide from the real to the virtual, from the mountains to the Matrix. They do not intend to be the last children in the woods.”

The above quote was written in 2008, placing the ‘college age’ kids now in their late twenties. Never has there been a more necessary time to introduce mentoring to our lives.

To the small tribe of 20-somethings who assembled for the task and I will name you here: Joshua, Mairead, Cormac, Aaron, Jonathon, Rachel and subsequently, Hattie, Davie, Jo & Kat.  Do you intend to be the last children in the woods?  If not you, liie all the generations that pass through Camas, your gonna have to wing it wowed and clear…

Ring the Anchor!

It is my contention that you dear reader, of this generation of superhero(ine)s deserve support, from a diverse source of anchoring relationships from various life-stages, if you are to succeed in mentoring the generation below you.

The realization that people needs resourcing comes with a personal charge: if we are to be strategic and wise enough to realize just how much a tide needs turning; then we 'old-folks' in our 30’s, 40’s & 50’s, need to seek out anchoring relationships & model connective practices ourselves.

Remember, if we want to be gnarled, wise old elders before we become ancestors, then it’s important that we periodically seek out support from our anchors to help answer that all important  fourth tier question: ‘what is this teaching me about myself?’

It’s not that age presupposes exponential wisdom- like a weird linear hierarchy. Rather that, generally, people in different life stages have something vital and valuable to offer each other. Anchors listen deeply; something emerges.

A transitioning reflection.

Here at Camas, behind the scenes of twenty eight consecutive residential weeks, we were involved in various experiential learning and mentoring processes ourselves, including:

* Developing small group facilitation skills including holding space for ‘story of day’ and reflections.
* Skills in peacemaking and resolving conflicts.
* Engaging in and facilitating the core routines of nature connection.
* Developing naturalist awareness skills and technical competence in adventurous activities.
* Building relationships with each other.
* Managing personal areas of responsibility and undertaking household chores such as cooking and cleaning for large groups.
* Moving towards personal goals, actualizing some; and celebrating achievements.
* Tools, including how to process and tend grief and process grievances.
[By the way, though employment is not the endgame- for me at least- these experiences, carefully articulated; are valuable indicators of competencies at interview.]

Making an inventory of significant turning points in each of these areas over your time at Camas would give a firm foundation for visioning what you’d like to carry forward or leave behind.

Go well gang of 2016…. & all the best…   Hello gang of 2017....


May you have the grace and wisdom
To act kindly, learning
To distinguish between what is
Personal and what is not.
May you be hospitable to criticism.
May you never put yourself at the centre of things.
May you act not from arrogance but out of service.
May you work on yourself,
Building up and refining the ways of your mind.
May those who work for you know
You see and respect them.
May you learn to cultivate the art of presence
In order to engage with those who meet you.
When someone fails or dissapoints you,
May the graciousness with which you engage
Be their stairway to renewal and refinement.
May you treasure the gifts of the mind
Through reading and creative thinking
So that you continue as a servant of the frontier
Where the new will draw it’s enrichment from the old,
And you never become a functionary.
May you know the wisdom of deep listening,
The healing of wholesome words,
The encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
The decorum of held dignity,
The springtime edge of the bleak question.
May you have a mind that loves frontiers
So that you can evoke the bright fields
That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.
May you have good friends
To mirror your blind spots.
May leadership be for you
A true adventure of growth.

John o’ Donohue

1 Louv, R Last Child in the Woods.
2 Louv, R Last child in the woods