An exploration charity has chosen the mountains and glens of the Scottish Highlands over more exotic desert, jungle and polar locations overseas as a perfect destination for young adventurers to get their first taste of survival in the wilderness.
The British Exploring Society (BES), a youth development charity set up in 1932 by a member of Captain Scott’s final Antarctic expedition, is for the first time taking groups of young people to remote locations in the UK to learn outdoor skills, experience nature and build resilience.
Next year BES plans to take 160 youths aged between 16 and 24 to the Highlands on trips lasting up to 12 days.
A further 100 will go to customary destinations in the Indian Himalayas, Peruvian Amazon, Iceland and Finland.
Honor Wilson-Fletcher, BES chief executive, insists many of the most powerful experiences young people could hope for are available close to home.
“There is a kind of arms race in terms of appetite for ever more extraordinary experiences,” she said.
“As the world shrinks, the sense of wilderness changes. The idea of contemporary expeditions is not about pointing at things, shooting and stuffing them and bringing them back to the Natural History Museum.”
The expeditions are made up of a mixture of young people from a range of backgrounds and ethnic origins, many of them from deprived areas and inner cities.
Ms Wilson-Fletcher says wild camping in a remote part of Scotland offers many of the same experiences, challenges and excitement you would expect to find in more far-flung places abroad.
On top of worries about the carbon footprint involved in long-haul flights, she argues, the whole concept of remoteness has undergone a change.
“If your family history brings you together from 12 different parts of the globe, what is remote?” she said.
“We have had young people calling sheep a ‘cloud dog’. They have not cooked or eaten or peed outdoors, nor seen the night sky.
“If you have never seen the dark before, you might struggle to get out of your tent.
“If you unzip the tent and there appears to be nothing there, then a road 10 miles away is a meaningless concept.”
But she said anyone taking part in an expedition must do a digital detox and leave their mobile devices behind to truly get away from it all.
“Having your phone with you drags your front room, your work with you. That is not wilderness.”
Character and confidence development
The new expedition programme, UK Explorers, is being run in partnership with Scottish charity Venture Trust, which specialises in development for people struggling with issues such as unemployment, addiction, homelessness and involvement in the criminal justice system.
It offers participants the chance to explore the natural world and learn practical skills from expert leaders, expedition medics, scientists and adventure professionals.
It aims to build character and develop confidence, resilience and teamwork.
Several well-known figures have taken part in BES expeditions over the years, including author Roald Dahl, rower Alex Gregory, two-time Olympic gold medallist, and Tori James, who in 2007 at the age of 25 became the youngest woman to climb Everest.