During the last week of March this year, 15 students and two officers from Bristol University Royal Naval Unit (one of fourteen such organisations or ‘URNU’s that the Royal Navy maintains across the UK) travelled the length of the country to Rothiemuchus Lodge, just outside Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, for a week of (in the jargon of the Armed Forces) ‘Adventure Training’, what is perhaps more commonly known as ‘outdoor activities’. Together with more students from the Oxford URNU, we were treated to five days of clambering up mountains, abseiling down river canyons and basking in the beautiful landscape of the Cairngorms National Park.
The Lodge itself, our accommodation for the week, is maintained solely for the use of Armed Forces personnel and reservists, mainly for the purposes of adventurous activities. We were entirely self-contained for the week, with all housekeeping and cooking done ourselves; luckily Oxford URNU brought a professional Navy caterer with them, so we were never short of fine cuisine. The Lodge was less than fifteen minutes drive into Aviemore, where our guides for the week were based.
The guides themselves were professional ‘outdoor instructors’, which is perhaps code for ‘adrenaline junkie’. On the first and second days of our week they took great pleasure in taking us ‘canyoning’ and ‘gorge-walking’, the basic idea behind both being to squeeze into two wetsuits (to prevent hypothermia, we were cheerful told) and negotiate our way down river gorges, which involved jumps, swims, abseils and natural slides. Zip-wiring was altogether drier, but no less exhilarating; the series of wires zigzagged across a wooded valley, and progressively got faster and longer, ending with a thirty second ride (which sounds short, but feels like an age while being buffeted by the breeze suspended forty feet above a churning river) with the most amazing views of the mountains. Hill-walking was just as it sounds; we were led along the stark and beautiful Lairig Ghru pass and within striking distance of the peak of Braeriach, the third highest mountain in Great Britain. While mountain biking we circumnavigated the local Loch Morlich and sped down old loggers’ paths; our final activity was a day’s canoeing, where we were faced with a sustained series of rapids… How enjoyable you found this was strictly proportional to how often you fell in.
Our aims for the week were simply to experience the broadest range of physical and mental challenges provided by the programme of activities, and to push ourselves, as individuals and as a team, to overcome them; and there were plenty. In addition, at the start of the week, many of the students from different Units were strangers to each other. For the activities we were scrambled into mixed groups, so this became part of the challenge: to develop a working group dynamic and a sense of teamwork amongst ourselves, which within a few days we undoubtedly achieved.
Each of us as individuals had our own personal trials to overcome throughout the week. For some, it was conquering a fear of heights while zip-wiring over deep mountain valleys; for some it was abseiling off precipices into an unseen pool of freezing water; for some it was dealing with the pure physical discomfort of mountain-bike saddles (which can be more serious than it sounds!) and for others it was the sheer physical stamina needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other on top of a windswept, snowy mountain. Each and every one of us was able to overcome these challenges, to face our fears and to learn something about ourselves over the week: those are the lessons that we will take away from our visit to Rothiemurchus.
Midshipman J Rencher