In­spired by a bru­tal chal­lenge of hu­man strength and spirit, cel­e­brated ad­ven­turer John Ridg­way and his fam­ily cre­ated an or­gan­i­sa­tion to bring young­sters out­doors for the hol­i­day of a life­time, finds Mairi Fraser

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Ridg­way Ad­ven­tures chal­lenge kids in Cape Wrath

If you’re look­ing to be pushed be­yond your phys­i­cal and men­tal lim­its, I’ve got just the place for you. Set just a few miles south of Suther­land’s in­fa­mous Cape Wrath, Ridg­way Ad­ven­ture has been set­ting guests almighty chal­lenges for the last fifty years. Far more than just a jolly in the great out­doors, Ridg­way Ad­ven­ture’s cour­ses re­volve around gru­elling tasks, de­signed to test all el­e­ments of fit­ness and men­tal strength – and there’s cer­tainly no short­age of peo­ple will­ing to sign up.

As I ar­rived on the shores of the At­lantic-fed

Loch a’ Chadh-Fi, which lies north of Suther­land’s Lax­ford Bridge and south of Rhiconich, I was greeted by the cen­tre’s direc­tor, Rebecca Ridg­way. ‘Ah, you’ll have to take the high-tide route,’ she says.

A valu­able les­son learned, I thought – make sure you get your ar­rival time cor­rect. To my cost, my tar­di­ness meant that the shore­line track was im­pass­able. The only op­tion that re­mained was Plan B – a tough, steep climb through thigh-high heather and across slip­pery rocks.

Five decades ago, Rebecca’s mother and father, John and Marie-Chris­tine, flew over the Ard­more Penin­sula, fell in love with the mag­nif­i­cent land­scape and set up an ad­ven­ture school, putting the nat­u­ral ter­rain to good use.

Two years pre­vi­ously, in 1966, John Ridg­way and his friend, Borderer Chay Blyth – both sol­diers in the Para­chute Reg­i­ment – rowed across the North At­lantic in a 20-foot open dory called English Rose III. The bru­tal chal­lenge – with just a com­pass, four oars, a small horn, a set of oil­skins and some curry sauce for com­pany – was sur­mounted in 93 days, se­cur­ing both men a place in the record books.

‘What was it that led me to row across the North At­lantic?’ asks John. ‘I wanted to test my­self; to es­tab­lish my own qual­i­ties in the face of the sever­est chal­lenge I could de­vise.’ Af­ter un­der­tak­ing the back­break­ing task of row­ing two hours on, two hours off, across the At­lantic, his epic ad­ven­ture had a pro­found im­pact on his life. ‘I found my­self deeply im­pressed by the per­ma­nence and the sim­plic­ity of the chal­lenge posed by sea and sky,’ he says. ‘So I re­solved that I would try and share with oth­ers both my view of the world and the sat­is­fac­tion that such ex­pe­ri­ences have brought me.’

And with that, Ridg­way Ad­ven­ture was born.

To­day, John is no longer di­rectly in­volved with the day-to-day run­ning of the cen­tre, in­stead he and Marie-Chris­tine live in their croft over­look­ing the mag­nif­i­cent bay at Ard­more. Rebecca – her­self a record-breaker hav­ing been the first wo­man to kayak round Cape Horn – now runs the cen­tre. The fam­ily have now hosted over 20,000 chil­dren over their fifty years of busi­ness.

‘We want guests to leave us hav­ing achieved more than they thought pos­si­ble,’ says Rebecca. ‘We’re all about in­still­ing a sense of as­pi­ra­tion.’ Like the bar­na­cles on the bot­tom of the cen­tre’s pow­er­ful rigid in­flat­able boats, John’s orig­i­nal

‘We want guests to leave us hav­ing achieved more than they thought pos­si­ble’

ethos of ‘pos­i­tive think­ing, self-re­liance and leav­ing peo­ple and places bet­ter than you find them,’ still holds firm.

Ridg­way of­fers chil­dren the chance to ex­plore the wilder­ness, giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to do all the stuff kids should be do­ing. Elec­tronic de­vices, even if there was the re­motest hint of sig­nal, are banned. Life here fo­cuses en­tirely on learn­ing, hav­ing fun and chal­leng­ing your­self. And there ap­pears to be no short­age of young­sters up for a chal­lenge, with a steady stream com­ing to the cen­tre from across Europe and the UK – many of whose par­ents were bit­ten by the Ard­more bug decades be­fore.

‘We be­lieve any­one can do any­thing if they put their mind to it,’ shouts Rebecca, as we bump across the loch to check out some in­trepid young kayak­ers out dodg­ing mus­sel beds and sea ot­ters. The idea that teenagers th­ese days spend too much time in front of a screen may be true, but they’ve cer­tainly not lost their ap­petite for ad­ven­ture, given half a chance.

Cer­tainly, the non-ne­go­tiable pre-break­fast dip in the sea, or the com­pul­sory night on ‘Sur­vival Is­land’ – with just a bunch of win­kles for din­ner and a small piece of tar­pau­lin for shel­ter – are not for the faint-hearted. But it is the draw of the un­ex­pected that keeps peo­ple com­ing back for more.

Bel­haven Hill prep school come ev­ery year. I in­ter­rupted 13-year-old Char­lie, who was busy whit­tling out some hazel pegs, an es­sen­tial for a firm canopy and a good night’s sleep. ‘It’s all about the per­sonal chal­lenge,’ he says. ‘We climbed Arkle, a moun­tain, yes­ter­day. The ridge was pretty fright­en­ing but I’m so glad I man­aged it.’

An­other pupil, Sam, was de­lighted at hav­ing con­quered the art

of cap­siz­ing a kayak. ‘All done with a smile,’ he adds.

Girls don’t seem put off by the hefty de­mands ei­ther. Char­lotte de­scribes the cen­tre as ‘se­ri­ously ru­ral’, but says it’s a unique place to ‘learn about your­self and your friends’.

In­dia was a lit­tle more anx­ious about be­ing ‘cast away’ on an is­land for the night, but came back smil­ing and ready for more, although she might not seek out limpets on the menu in fu­ture.

Weather in this part of the world can change rapidly, so there’s no for­mal pro­gramme and a flex­i­ble ap­proach is adopted for the ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, teams Blue Moons, Red Snap­pers and Blue Whales still have daily clean­ing and cook­ing chores to com­plete. Would you lay ta­bles and take out the bins at home, I asked? ‘Not re­ally,’ one sheep­ish lad ad­mits, ‘but it’s all made so much fun here that you don’t re­ally mind do­ing any­thing.’

A mod­ern-day Swal­lows and Ama­zons? I’d say. Throw­ing to­gether a nifty clove hitch, check­ing out lob­ster-filled creels and spend­ing the night on a de­serted is­land – who needs gad­gets when you have all that en­ter­tain­ment?

The tide was out when we left, the pre­vi­ously sub­merged shore­line track invit­ing us to progress. Here, Mother Na­ture is in charge. ‘Guests are on a jour­ney through the week,’ says Rebecca.

And what an ad­ven­ture that jour­ney is...

Main im­age: Dis­cov­er­ing the view at the top makes the climb worth­while. Left to right: Learn­ing to cook out­doors is a key part of the ex­pe­ri­ence; sea kayak­ing gets a big thumbs up; kids can achieve things they didn’t think pos­si­ble.

‘The non-ne­go­tiable pre-break­fast dip is not for the faint-hearted

Tak­ing a mo­ment to soak in those glo­ri­ous views; mak­ing a splash in Loch A Chadh Fi; a spot of rock climb­ing is on the agenda; learn­ing to light fires for cook­ing with flint and steel is an es­sen­tial skill on ‘sur­vival is­land’. Clock­wise from top left:

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