Shae is a super talented journalist with a huge passion for active travel and outdoor adventures. Shae loves a challenge - in October 2022, she joined HAGGiS Adventures on our volunteer tour to the Isle of Skye, where she documented the trip together with April Bright, one of her best backpacking travel mate.
Written by Shae Maclean from her trip in October 2022
Have you ever wondered how you give back to the places you visit when you are travelling? I asked myself the same question and found a volunteer holiday is a perfect way to achieve this.
Unfortunately, tourism can create environmental problems in beautiful locations, such as erosion, pollution and trampling. I wanted to be a part of the solution, and leave behind a positive impact.
I had never tried a volunteer holiday, but I love helping my community back in Australia. Why not do the same in another part of the world? Scotland’s obvious natural beauty, live-music culture and extensive history makes it an appealing destination - and it also ticked the boxes for opportunities for volunteering too.
A friend who had been to Scotland before highly recommended travelling with HAGGiS Adventures, for excellent value for money and great guides. In October 2022, HAGGiS launched a new tour, the Wild Skye Volunteer Adventure tour. The focus of this tour is to help transform the Tormore Forest (roughly an hour's drive south of Portree by car) through tree planting, path and step building and weed eradication. In between, there is still plenty of time to discover and learn about the Isle of Skye and its surroundings and even sneak in a dram of Scotch whiskey.
Who knew tree planting in Scotland could be so much fun?
Tormore Forest and the Sleat Community Trust
The beautiful Sleat Peninsula (also nicknamed the ‘Garden of Skye’) is where I spent all my volunteering time. It is to be one of the best-kept secrets in the United Kingdom. The township's focus on sustainability and community made it the perfect place for volunteer travel. The Sleat Peninsula has a high involvement in environmental preservation, with over 70 per cent of the residents being members of the Sleat Community Trust.
The Sleat Community Trust purchased the Tormore Forest in 2011 intending to protect it. Since then, they've installed a community hydro, fenced the entire forest to keep out deer and cleared foreign trees to make room for tree planting native ones.
Wood chips from sycamore trees in the forest are used to heat the local swimming pool and Gaelic school via their boiler systems. Sustainability at its finest.
With HAGGiS Adventures, one of our tasks was to remove invasive plants such as bracken and brambles and replace them by planting native trees like silver birch and oak through tree planting. Tree planting is a great way to provide habitats for vital birds and other wildlife and reduce unnecessary water consumption. Once established, native trees require less water because they are able to withstand the weather conditions where they naturally grow.
It has been reported that tourists can use up to 2000 litres of water a day during their travels so this is a novel way of balancing out the usage.
Limiting water wastage helps to maintain peat, an organic plant-material that is said to hold at least 140 years of Scotland’s greenhouse emissions and is commonly found in the Tomore Forest. We spent parts of our days creating paths around the forest to decrease the amount of trampling and in return preserve this essential plant.
The bonus of all of this is that when I come back, I’ll be able to see the progress of Tomore Forest (and, of course, the wee oak tree that I planted).
A good guide will make sure you learn something valuable each day.
Duffy was our hilarious bus driver, who taught me most of what I know about Scottish history. Each bus ride was filled with the telling of many Scottish tales as we drove through the beautiful mountains and past tens of thousands of year-old Lochs (unfortunately missed Ol’ Nessie this time). Duffy is a walking, talking fact book with answers to any question about the Isle of Skye and most of Scotland. His passion for Scotland’s history and fairytales made the entire experience.
He told us the tale of Dunscaith Castle, built in the 13th or 14th century, now ruins we were lucky enough to explore. Parts of the castle’s curtain wall still survive on the cliff edge but most of the inner buildings have gone. Legend has it that this fortress was home to a Scottish warrior woman named Scathach who taught others the arts of combat. A truly magical place.
I loved how this holiday experience was oriented around volunteer work, but we had the opportunity to see the rest of Skye as well. This made this experience so special and we were looked after every step of the way.
Forming a meaningful connection to Scotland
The Gaelic language was once widely spoken throughout Scotland but is now only spoken by 1.1% of the population, which makes it endangered. Visiting the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Gaelic school was the most authentic Scottish experience and a real favourite. During the Wild Skye Volunteer Adventure tour we were lucky enough to see what it was all about.
Gaelic was banned in the 17th century, but schools like Sabhal Mor Ostaig are dedicated to teaching this beautiful songlike native language. We spent the afternoon here with fluent speakers of Gaelic and learned the language’s foundations and history. The day ended with a special song from one of the teachers.
I felt so lucky to be a part of this.
Was it a success?
To say this trip was a success was a complete understatement. There’s an indescribable feeling you get from volunteering and to have spent it in such a beautiful part of the world is so rewarding. My goal was to leave the Isle of Skye in a better way than I had found it and I'm grateful I can say I did exactly that. Through mingling with the locals and the rest of the volunteers I even made some lifelong friends that I continued to travel with after the tour.
Joining the Wild Skye Volunteer Adventure completely took the hassle out of trying to organise volunteer work and gave me a nice break from the decision-making side of travelling.
I think It's essential to see places in a way that matters to the local people and environment so having a positive impact on the community in my short time in Scotland made the volunteering completely worth it. Thank you, HAGGiS Adventures for taking me on this experience I will never forget!