Travel: UK: I'm a lumberjack with inner calm

Labouring in the wilds of Tayside may not sound like fun but the fresh air and beautiful scenery are a real tonic.

Like its strung-out sister stress, the cherished state of relaxation has a tendency to arrive unannounced. So it was that half-way through a week's manual labour in the foothills of the Scottish highlands I gazed at the fingers of my left hand and was surprised to see lengths of white nail which had grown in place of the usual chewed stumps.

Cheaper than therapy, healthier than a health farm - there's a lot to be said for a National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp Holiday. Volunteers between 17 and 70 are eligible to pay good money for some hard labour. The age-range on our group spanned 40 years, and the experience varied widely - it included two Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme participants, a former teacher, a prospective lecturer and a computer flooring installer.

The work which was required in the Pass of Killiecrankie was hard and Thistle Camps are a contradictory experience. Projects take place in beautiful areas of Scotland such as Glencoe, Arran and Kintail, but the labour itself is hard; physical exertion is strenuous, but the end result is an inner calm. There are few better feelings after a hard day's work in the bracing outdoors than a hot shower followed by a cold beer with Miles Davis trumpeting from the stereo.

Work for the week was split between two historic sites owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland; the Pass of Killiecrankie, just south of Blair Atholl, and the landscaped environs of the Hermitage, just outside Dunkeld. The steep gorge of Killiecrankie owes its narrowness to geology - a sparkling grey mica-schist rock stranded with bands of quartzite which defeated the ice-age glaciers - and was the scene of the battle of 1689 in which the Jacobites defeated the government forces of William III, marching up the gorge from Perth.

In the shaded pass, afternoon strollers trooped past, hopping over the gaping hole we had dug into the footpath in an effort to install a new drain. The day-tripping tourists probably thought we were serving some sort of community service order as picks were swung and shovels pushed with weary grunts.

It's the constructive anarchy that was so appealing. The liberating feeling of throwing around gravel, of excavating a perfectly sound looking footpath until it was instead a heap of rubble, of standing thigh deep in a pool of mud. Never before have I opened the floodgates of a dam draining a pond and, to be frank, being that dirty in public gave me a child-like thrill.

Most satisfying of all was felling trees, the ultimate in rural vandalism. Stunning auburn-leaved beech line both sides of the pass and the sight of such species being unceremoniously terminated worried passers by, many of whom stopped to ask for an explanation.

Thousands of years ago much of Perthshire, like the rest of Scotland, was covered in woodland' less than one per cent of this remains.

Neither beech nor sycamore is a native species and both are very invasive, casting heavy shade that kills ground flora as well as native trees. The idea in woods such as Killiecrankie, designated a site of special scientific interest, is to preserve Scotland's natural woodlands.

As another mighty beech hit the deck it was comforting to be able to quote some statistics. Oak trees can support 284 insect species, willows and birch only slighter fewer. Beech trees sustain just 64, sycamores less than half that number of species.

Steve, a ranger, taught us how to fell properly. The idea is to saw a large notch, known as a bird's mouth, into one side of the trunk. This dictates the direction of the fall and is critical; get it wrong and you have a tree in limbo caught in the branches of its surviving neighbours. Most satisfying of all you get to put your hands on hips and cry "timber" as the tree descends with a crack and a crash. The take-as-you-find domestic arrangement is not to everyone's liking. Our home for the week was in a Boys' Brigade club where sleeping quarters consisted of male and female dormitories. Meals are prepared by the volunteers The only money needed is of the beer variety.

We explored the surrounding region on a day off, a lovely area which even inspired a decent line from the poet William McGonagall, a man famed for the epic dreadfulness of his verse. From the summit of Ben Vrackie ("speckled hill" in Gaelic) there was a long view down to the "beautiful, silvery Tay" as it winds towards the poet's home town of Dundee, and north to the highlands across Loch Rannoch.

On the fast train back to London, I spent the journey cleaning my new white fingernails before watching the sun set with a dreamy grin, one which only began to fade somewhere around Milton Keynes.

Thistle Camps run from late March to early November. Prices range from pounds 35 (pounds 20 concs) for a one-week camp, to pounds 90 (pounds 75 concs) for the three- week camp to Fair Isle. All food, accommodation and equipment is provided as well as some transport. For a copy of the 1999 programme, send an A4 SAE to Thistle Camps, National Trust For Scotland, 5 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4DU

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Arts and Entertainment
Ella Henderson's first studio album has gone straight to the top of the charts
music
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Life and Style
fashion
News
Paul Nuttall, left, is seen as one of Ukip's key weapons in selling the party to the North of England
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
Arts and Entertainment
artKaren Wright tours the fair and wishes she had £11m to spare
News
i100
Life and Style
Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh been invited to take part in Women Fashion Power, a new exhibition that celebrates the way women's fashion has changed in relation to their growing power and equality over the past 150 years
fashionKirsty and Camila swap secrets about how to dress for success
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

    £60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

    Year 5/6 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Permanent Year 6 TeacherThe job:This...

    KS1 & KS2 Teachers

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: KS1+KS2 Teachers required ASAP for l...

    Year 2 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 2 Teacher The position is to wo...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past