The Wildfitness team, lead by head coach Nala, was excited to start and so we gather at what Grant, one of the coaches, proudly claims is the only flat space on the entire reserve. Looking around, it is clear he has a point. I am intrigued by the contrast that the Scottish Highlands will provide to the white beaches of Zanzibar where I was, back in January. This place is in many ways wilder or at least a more challenging form of wild than the tropical Indian Ocean.
The diversity of activities packed into the weeklong retreat is astounding. The reserve is a playground of streams to cross, fields in which to play, gorges to hike and lochs to fish. We spent peaceful moments lying by streams in bright sunlight meditating on the sounds of the birds and running water. And then there were the more active moments such as the assault course that ran through the woods and consisted of various different challenges from tree climbing, vaulting, slack lining, gibboning, jumping and crawling. The infamous ‘lactic liftoff’ was doubly challenging for the hill that became our running track. We swam (extremely briefly) in a river during a hike and covered many miles on mountain bikes as well as on foot.
We were lucky enough to have Josh Valentine with us - a survival expert often seen leading Bear Grylls academies. He knows the reserve intimately and was able to show us a thing or two about the “what if” situations of survival that you hope never to get into. It was thanks to him that we ate lunch when our fishing abilities failed us and he was able to start a fire from scratch.
We also managed to get over to the West Coast for a day of fun. It was a bit like taking the kids to the seaside, we packed games and swimming kit and, after some barefoot running training and video analysis, we’re bouldering on the rocks of a beach that could have been transplanted from a Greek island. The sea was admittedly a little cooler but was warm enough to be described as ‘invigorating’. We then did a wild run across the cliffs, putting into practice some of our jumps, vaults and climbing.
Throughout the week our chef, Leslie, consistently astounded us. Aside from the trip to the seaside where we over indulged in local seafood, all meals were served in the grand dining hall of the main lodge and Leslie described each dish with mouth-watering eloquence. If I had to pick a culinary highlight, it would have to be the minced venison scotch egg that was cooked to perfection.
Alladale is not your typical private Scottish estate and this is not your typical retreat. The terrain is challenging, as can be the weather and, yes, we did experience some midges on the last day. This is not somewhere to top up your tan nor is it a place for you if you are worried about getting dirty, collecting some scrapes and bruises and chipping your nail polish. It is about getting back to the wild in a genuine, tangible way that tests your mental and physical abilities but where each challenge is short and there is a warm place by the fire in the lodge’s drawing room at the end of each day. By the end of the week I felt refreshed by the clean air and inspiring views, I felt a strength and resilience from the diversity of challenges and I felt invigorated by what I had learned. I hope to be back there soon.
The objectives of the reserve’s owner, Paul Lister, are to help ‘re-wild’ Scotland. Of all the places in which Wildfitness operates, this is, despite only being a short flight from London, our wildest.
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We write occasional pieces about our adventures, about our findings related to the Wildfitness approach, about food and we also invite others to contribute.