I have an open fire and spend my evenings tanning animal and fish skins, and carving wood
I live alone on the Isle of Skye in a tipi almost impossible to find without detailed directions. It might seem unusual for someone of 16, but I love my own company and Im passionate about preserving wild spaces. Igrew up with my mum, Ghillie, and older sister, Yazzie, in the wilds of the Cairngorms, in a remote and sometimes inaccessible home, using cross-country skis to haul food and supplies to the house.
Mum, acookbook writer, taught us about possible dangers and how to cope with them, then let us run wild from an early age. We also travelled abroad regularly, visiting remote tribes and cultures, where we lived for weeks as Mum studied food and recipes to write about. Ispent so much time with tribes who rely on the land that this became second nature to me. WhenI gained a place at the School of Adventure Studies on Skye last year, I decided to live in a tipi, practising what I preach.
I sleep on an ancient canvas campbed my grandfather gave me, with two old army blankets and some skins I tanned myself from roadkill for warmth. I have an openfire and spend my evenings tanning animal and fish skins, and carving wood. Istore clothes and books in an old metal trunk of my mums its covered in stickers fromher travels. I wash my clothes in the river and dry them in the wind or in the heat from the fire. Ihave a bush shower using water from the river.
I wake at 6am and get the fire on straight away using flints and steel. Theres usually a good bed of embers from the previous day, so the fire is soon blazing while Ihave cereal or bannock, which Ibake myself, for breakfast. I collect kindling for later in the day, then Iwash at the river. Sometimes I just jump in, especially when theres frost on the ground. When I rush back to the tipi, its like a sauna.
I get my backpack organised, including any food and kit I need forthe day, bank the fire (by covering it, which keeps it low, but alive) and walk 30 minutes to the school. There are 12 of us on the course, of all ages, and weve just finished mountaineering, focusing on practical navigation in the Red Cuillin. Were about to start whitewater kayaking.
Ive had a few hairy moments. Once I was on the hills when bad weather rolled in and I became disoriented, but thanks to Mums training, I knew to stay calm. My classmates and I recently had a two-day test on the Trotternish Ridge in horrible weather, with such awhiteout we could hardly see our feet as we pitched our tents. A few people were exhausted and had to be taken off the mountain by the leaders, but Ifeel comfortable in themountains and enjoyed the challenge, though Im aware of dangers and need to be prepared.
My friends used to love coming toour home and running wild with me, so they are used to the way Ilive. I hope some of them will visit me soon. People ask if I miss the internet, but I never used to use it much, or watch television. I am sociable, but I have always enjoyed my own company.
I use my mobile every few weeks to catch up with friends and my mum, who I usually see once a month when I go back to the Cairngorms. I work with a bushcraftexpert, Willow Lohr, teaching wild skills to others. I also visit a small tribe of bushmen in Namibia. We show each other our ancestral skills to keepthem alive.
What Im doing isnt for everyone, but it makes me happy. Id like to seemore people look after the land and not be scared of getting outside,getting wet, learning how to survive. Id like to learn western riding (horseriding like a cowboy), because my ambition is to run my own wilderness school, travelling onhorseback. When my studies are over, Ill move the tent back to Mums house and use it to tan skins. Until then, Im happiest sitting by the flickering fire, carving a spoon inperfect silence and watching thenorthern lights through the open tipi door.
As told to Joan McFadden.
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