The Mountain Cafe, Aviemore, April 28
This is just an initial reflection on a series of interviews carried out the past couple of months. It's too early in the piece for it to amount to more than a collection of first impressions, ideas for future directions, pleas for help and general jottings at the moment; and while it concerns a project I've got quite excited about and I've loved doing the fieldwork for, I really should just mull it over for a few months in order to decide where it's going and decide what use I can make, if any, of the data gathered thus far. I probably shouldn't be even trying to turn it into a paper right now, but I don't think it's entirely without merit and hopefully it will stimulate some discussion.
At the moment, the project's not progressed beyond this series of preliminary interviews that have been concerned with establishing what issues there are, if any, and thus trying to determine how to take the research forward. That initial part has been funded by the Carnegie Trust, a wonderfully arcane Scottish funding body (they just send a cheque, no questions asked) which kindly provided the sum of 770 [pounds sterling]--which has been enough to cover my expenses in carrying out seven unstructured interviews with the people who own or manage adventure activities centres in the far North of Scotland. None of the interview sites have been further south than Aviemore, some of them have been out on the islands and, on occasion, it's taken two days to get there and back for the purpose of doing a one-hour interview. Actually, make that three days in the case of one of the island trips, when Caledonian MacBrayne decided to cancel the ferry services because of a wee bit breeze. That was when I decided it was time to buy a laptop, so having finally embraced all the modern technology that the new millennium has to offer, I'm typing this in a cafe in Aviemore ("the best panini's in the Highands") after finishing one last interview in the Cairngorms and cycling back in the snow to await the afternoon train.
The remoteness of the locations--both here and in South Africa has been a key aspect of the funding bids and underpins the thinking behind the whole enterprise. These are the places where, to quote one of the interviewees, "our strength is our location, and our weakness is our location". The strength, of course, is in the beauty of the landscape and the challenges presented by an environment that attracts climbers, walkers, mountain bikers and sundry outdoor enthusiasts of all standards from the world over--people whose contribution to the economy of the region is so important because there's not many ways of earning a living up here beyond tourism. The drawback is that you can't get here from the big population centres of central Scotland, participate for a reasonable period in an activity and then travel back in the same day, which is a particular consideration when your main market lies in schools groups--a sector where both the time and the money to take part in outdoor activities are increasingly scarce thanks to every-declining education budgets and an ever-expanding curriculum. Apparently there are secondary schools in Scotland where the children spend an average of less than one minute a week in off-site activities. In Orkney it's nearly five hours a week. Now, there are all sorts of reasons for that, and given that not all of these centres offer accommodation (most of them are non-residential both by preference and by necessity), their attractiveness to schools and other groups from...