By Shahab Mossavat – 10th April 2014
When I am in London, it is almost as though nature has rejected me; for having cast myself in to a concrete straitjacket.
This morning for the first time I don’t feel achy. It’s as though I have broken through some indiscernible barrier, and my body has given up on complaining. There may be hell to pay later, but for the moment, I am happy that when we go gorging today up the waterfall, my body will serve me well.
Also today we will be concentrating on the John Muir Awards. This is an additional part of the Outward Bound Experience that both Phoenix and the mentors are having. It is named after the Scottish-born Nineteenth Century explorer and conservationist, who emigrated to the United States, where he became a backwoodsman; instrumental in the foundation of the National Park System there. I have already been making observation about pollution in the Lake District National Park, as part of my award, which is designed to heighten awareness about the challenges confronting large ecosystems.
However, I am running a little late and it is time to leave for the gorge at Boredale Beck. Kevin drives the minibus along the narrow, winding single track roads at what feels like breakneck speed, probably accentuated by the sheer drops on either side. When Kyah realises how much of a precipice we are on she gets a bit jittery. Arriving at the gorge we are all kitted up, and we leave our packs by the side of a wall by the stream where the waterfall we are about to climb, empties out.
Karim one of the Phoenix students, who has a knack of understating his ambitions, points to a tree about a quarter of the way up, and says that he hopes we will make it that far.
Ten minutes into our ascent and Karim’s tree is already behind us. We are making great progress, and now Karim’s ambition is to make it all the way to the top. Suddenly all of us are acting as a team, and for the first time, I think we really are the Arkless Crew. Everyone here feels familiar and close. Young Al-Amin (his name means the trustworthy in Arabic) is the rock; an assured leader without bluster; tall Omar, a gentle giant, who listens and absorbs everything; the ever-smiling Mustapha is an affable chap, always looking to please; long and lanky Mussi, who tells us every day he is going to die, but seems to arrive home fresher than everyone else.
We climb and climb, and Uisdean sets a good pace, pegging ropes where the climb would otherwise be too challenging. I climb up ahead with him, and get myself into the best vantage points from which to observe and photograph Arkless ascending.
On the trek down the hillside adjacent to the waterfall, there is such a sense of elation among us.
The afternoon comes too quickly, and for the first time, I start to think about the journey back to the city. The consolation of seeing my lovely family again is massive, because otherwise, I would never really want to go back. It’s such an infectiously romantic place. By being here you totally understand Wordsworth when he calls it ‘the most loveliest spot than man hath found’. You start to imagine what it would take to give it all up and move here, forever.
As we walk through Hallinhag Wood once again, Uisdean picks up dried branches, and sets about whittling them into mementos for every single person. Having already given me his fantastic carved hazelwood spoon, he now presents me with a full set of cutlery by adding a brilliant cherrywood knife and a two-pronged fork. These are treasured possessions, which will be given a special home.
Meanwhile Henry leads us deeper into the woods, where we find a small copse filled with dozens of copper beech saplings. These are the bad guys; an invasive species which requires checking. We set about our de-rooting task with gusto, and within half-an-hour more than two dozen trees have met their fate. We discover a two-year old tree, about seven feet in height, and after fifteen minutes of struggle and cutting away at its thick, deep roots, and with eight of us pulling with all our strength manage to haul it out of the ground. This is obviously not the most practical use of our time, but it surely feels good to conquer something, and as a team it brings us closer together.
After a final hot chocolate session, we complete our John Muir conservation work by making observations about the rural environment. I decide to concentrate on man’s impact upon the wilderness, and soon discover a campsite with all sorts of litter left behind. Some non-biodegradable plastics can linger in the earth for a thousand years, debris which if eaten by birds or small mammals could cause them to choke or become poisoned. Living in the disposable age, throwing away things glibly is too easily done. Therefore I am making the conscious decision that if I find rubbish in any natural habitat I will pick it up, take it away, and dispose of it, properly. That is my promise from today.
We head home for the last time, and now my heart is heavy. I look around the woods, one last time, and I look at my companions and try to retain an image of being here, and the peace, I feel at this moment.
Back at the centre, I contact the hospital for an update on Craig, and unfortunately it’s not good news. Craig will be staying in hospital overnight, again. I will call once more in the morning, hoping he might be discharged in time to travel back to London with me in the afternoon.
We have just had our dinner, and are on our way to the campfire; a final ritual gathering of Arkless and Muir around a big log fire, toasting marshmallows and sharing stories. Everyone is in good spirits, as they talk about what they have seen and what they are looking forward to doing when they get home. Reihana’s plan to go to KFC gets a big roar of approval. So much for Jamie Oliver and his healthy school meals 🙂
The group gathers in the dining room, where I have prepared a final evening quiz. They all moan about how much they hate quizzes, and how boring they are, but once we get going, their competitiveness takes over and they all get into it. I tell them to divide into four groups of five, and its interesting to note that even though they have spent a week in different groups, people from Arkless and Muir go back to their older affiliations, and that each team contains a mixture of both.
To the teams I add one adult each; the two teachers from Phoenix Ryan Bernard and Jess Lachete; and the two Night Duty Instructors, Nicki and Sam.
Sam’s team emerge triumphant but by the merest margin of just half-a-point.
What a day that was. It seems that just when you think you can’t possibly top it, the next day becomes still more memorable. I am physically shattered. My bed calls.