Scots teenagers swap Arctic expedition for longboat challenge due to Covid-19

A group of adventurous Scots school pupils will swap sledges and snowshoes for oars and a wooden longboat after their planned expedition to the Arctic was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd May 2021, 7:02 pm

The 14 youngsters had been training hard for the icy challenge with Scottish exploration charity Polar Academy.

But restrictions on travel mean the team, from Bell Baxter High School in Cupar, Fife, has had to stay at home.

However, with a true spirit of resilience, they refused to be beaten and have come up with a new test of their endurance that can take place in Scotland.

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A group of 14 teenagers from Bell Baxter High School in Fife are undertaking a rowing challenge in a traditional Scottish longboat after the Arctic expedition they trained for through the Scottish charity Polar Academy was put on hold due to Covid-19

The teenagers, all aged between 15 and 17, are setting out to paddle up the Great Glen in a traditional wooden birlinn – the Scottish equivalent of a Viking longboat.

They will be the first group of under-18s to ever attempt the feat.

The 60-mile trip, from Fort William to Inverness, is expected to take five days to complete in the 30ft-long hand-made craft.

They will have no mechanical instruments on board, so all navigation will be done using age-old methods.

The voyage, which launches on 23 June, will see teams of eight rowers taking turns to power the boat.

The second stage of the expedition involves a 40-mile hike ovrr three days, camping for two nights along the way, followed by a helicopter ride back to Fife.

Craig Mathieson, Polar Academy founder and trainer, said: “These kids have been through real adversity with everything that has gone on, but I’m so proud of the team they have become.

“Due to Covid-19 this group has had so many ups and downs and to finally have a tangible expedition for them is brilliant.

“This trip presents an amazing opportunity to undertake a voyage like no other that will make Scottish history come to life.

“The challenge is daunting and will test each one of our young people, but I have full faith that if they pull together as a team it’ll be plain sailing.”

Bell Baxter pupil Eve Gill, aged 16, is one of the students taking part.

“At the start we were just scared individuals,” she said.

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“The Polar Academy has changed me and my friends into stronger, more confident people.

“Now we get to celebrate that growth by going on a trip with each other as a team.”

The birlinn, named Orcuan, is being lent to the Polar Academy by the Glasgow-based Galgael Trust.

It was built in 2001 to an ancient Scottish prototype and is used to offer training to Scottish communities.

The Gehan Macleod, from Galgael Trust, said: “Building Orcuan was something of a wild journey into the unknown for us nearly 20 years ago, and we’re delighted that she’ll now take a group of young people on their own journeys of discovery through the amazing work of the Polar Academy.

“Rites of passage have always been an important dimension in our work and I’ve no doubt the voyage will provide them with just that.”

Polar Academy is run entirely on fund-raising and donations.

Mr Mathieson added: “As ever we are reliant on the magnificent supporters of the Polar Academy to make these life-changing trips possible.

“I would encourage any businesses or individuals to come forward to help us do more.”

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