This is an amazing project and probably one of the best things I have ever done.
For a start, as a keen hiker, it is really nice to be able to pay something back and the project really does help to make the trails much easier for users as well as minimising the impacts on the surrounding landscape. The work is hard, and very physical, so I wouldn’t recommend it to those of a softer constitution. There is also a lot of walking, up-hill, as well as carrying heavy objects for long distances; but this only adds to the satisfaction.
At the grand old age of 35 I was one of the oldest participants during my placement, but older volunteers would still be most welcome. I was also one of the slowest participants during my stay but the team were always patient and didn’t make me feel like my contribution to the project was worth less.
You have to be happy camping, constantly moving your tent, only sleeping in your tent during your stay and comfortable using campsite showers and facilities. But in my opinion this is also one of the most rewarding aspects of the placement. The scenery is second to none, it’s simply beautiful; refreshing, breath-taking and exceedingly tranquil. Due to harsh winter conditions wildlife is few and far between, but botanically there some wonderful areas of alpine grasslands and volcanic heathland habitat.
The project is well organised with team leaders and different groups working on different projects, in different locations. All tools and safety training is provided, as well as guidance on how the work should be carried out. There is a great opportunity to learn new practical skills such as carpentry, earthworks and soft landscaping. The work is really rewarding and a real sense of achievement, team work and group satisfaction is achieved.
Outside of work time all food is provided and you certainly never go hungry! Three meals a day, with turns taken to cook and prepare the food. All main chores are shared amongst participants on a rota basis and really aren’t too onerous (much less than I would do at home), as well as being a good chance to get to know your team mates better too.
Camp spirit was always good. I really did make friends for life on this trip and one of things I valued most about the experience was living as a group of people and sharing life as a short lived ‘family’ with such like-minded people. Chas really does do a good job with participant selection, it was so inspiring to spend time with people that are constantly positive and have a very optimistic outlook on life. Weekends were always great fun, with great food and drink, bonfires by the river and great company. Weekend hikes are easy to organise if you have the energy and chilling out in camp can be a real luxury too.
Chas should be very very proud of everything this project achieves. The outcomes are clearly tangible and I think there must be few voluntary projects that are run so successfully. The work achieved is appreciated by all who use the trails, as well as the rangers in the area; but it also offers a unique opportunity for those seeking such an experience. It is a very popular placement for those still studying or just finished, but from a person who is well past this point I can honestly say it is an amazing chance to escape the day job, learn something new and experience a different way of living for a while. I would thoroughly recommend this project, and whilst 2 weeks may be more financially and responsibility achievable for some people I do feel you would slightly miss out on the real experience of the project gained from a longer stay.