We set off across the Cairngorms National Park on a cool and cloudy day in early October. This is the kind of weather that gives Scotland its moody reputation. Our destination is Glen Dye Cabins and Cottages, 15,000 acres of rolling hills and purple moorland nestled south of Banchory, on the east coast of Aberdeenshire. After a drive through some of Scotland’s finest countryside, the dense romantic forest around us parts to reveal the Glen Dye offices.
Glen Dye has been in the family of the current owners, Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, for almost 200 years. After giving up their life in London for the promise of a country idyll at the end of the last millennium, they set about transforming the estate. The buildings showed their age, and life was tough, but in 2018, the hard work was rewarded – Glen Dye opened its doors to the world. Snug in an area with limited phone signal, this is a beautiful place to disconnect from technology and instead reconnect with nature.
The team didn’t slow down just because they were open at last. 2022 saw a Bed & Breakfast – the Coach House – and a School of Wild Wellness and Bushcraft open their doors. It is the latter we are here to experience today. The Glen Dye philosophy is to get their guests outdoors, learning new skills, challenging themselves and having fun. The School of Wild Wellness and Bushcraft is the perfect path to fruition.
Resident instructors Stu, Pip and Annie are on-hand to offer classes in bushcraft, wild swimming and much more at the School of Wild Wellness And Bushcraft in Glem Dye.
We are here to join Bushcraft: Axes, knives, saws, fire lighting and more with Stu Wright. A former instructor in the Army, Stu now uses his skills, coupled with his love of the outdoors, to run inspiring, accessible classes at Glen Dye.
“Spend time outdoors at the wilderness camp, relax and be immersed in nature. Learn how to use axes, knives and saws properly whilst crafting your very own mallet to take home, then learn how to create fire using neither matches nor lighters. The session is a chance to slow down and learn whilst in the natural environment”.
Glen Dye’s description of the activity accurately describes our next 3 hours. Yet it is also a severe understatement of the laughter-filled, profoundly educational experience we are about to embark on.
We start in the hub of the estate, a sprawl of converted farm buildings boasting a shop, offices, and a number of their accommodations. Stu strides up to meet us, followed closely by his bounding chocolate spaniel. It is instantly apparent that we are in good hands. A short walk takes our group down a quiet country lane and then onto a farm track. Soon, we turn into a lush green field, brighter for the fat droplets of rain which have begun to cascade from the thick clouds above us. Stu leads us through a cheery shuffle of conversation as we travel, and morale is high in our small group.
It is not long before we cross into the edge of an ancient forest. Here, we enter Stu’s wild camp, a small gathering of three tarpaulins that offer shelter above a warm, crackling fire in a large fire pit. Over this fire pit, Stu heats water for an endless stream of pine needle tea, foraged locally. Around the fire and across the camp under another tarp, various upturned logs serve as workbenches. Stu offers soft seat pads to turn the smaller logs into seats.
As we hang up coats to dry by the fire, conversation flows freely amidst the group. Stu joins in, answering questions and sharing in the laughter. It is not long before our apprehension at the day’s activities has ebbed away. As an instructor, Stu is excellent at steering the conversation and reading the group. Without interrupting our chatter, he guides us to the other side of the forest camp. Soon, we are his willing guests on this journey into nature.
Our first mission will be to carve a mallet from branches collected from the woodland around us. We work in pairs to cut the branches to size using small saws. Many of our group have never used a saw before, but Stu takes the time to ensure we feel confident. Having a partner to steady the wood is surprisingly comforting.
After cutting off a piece of wood, we head to an available tree stump and begin shaping our handle using a craftsman knife and a spare wood baton. This takes some practice, and our work is accompanied by plenty of joyous laughter.
Patience proves she is indeed a virtue as a handle shape soon begins to emerge. Using the same knife, we smooth the edges of the handle and shave away the bark from the head of our mallets.
Throughout all of this, Stu remains on hand to offer advice and support, reassuring those who are taking a bit longer and helping the more proficient to progress.
Having armed ourselves for our next camping trip on firm ground, it is time to learn to light our own fires. We start by making feather sticks. These are small batons of wood, shaved to produce a cloud of softly curling kindling. Flint and steel help us ignite our tiny inferno, which is quickly transferred to the safety of the large fire pit.
After all of the group is comfortable with this skill, Stu introduces us to char cloth, and we are guided through using this to light a generous handful of hay. Some of our group are more skilled here than others. Stu is very patient, carefully guiding everyone through the process until they succeed.
Three hours of class fly by. It is all-too-soon time to retrace our steps back to the Glen Dye estate office and begin our journey home, our souls full, our minds at peace, and our hands proudly clutching a slightly wonky mallet.
Scotland offers some of the last great wildernesses in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Glen Dye is one such gem. Rediscover the tranquillity of nature and the joy of the great outdoors on a bespoke adventure holiday in Scotland. Let us help you create an unique and unforgettable adventure.