The Courier and Advertiser - 02.03.67
My Classroom covers the Highlands
The writer, Hamish Brown, who has travelled and climbed in over 30 countries, is well known as a lecturer and writer and for the past six years has been leader in expeditions work at Braehead School, in Fife.
I went to Braehead merely as a temporary measure. I had been an assistant in a Paisley parish for two years and was looking around to see where next.
Youth work I wanted. Youth work I found.
My classroom soon became the length and breadth of the Highlands, my curriculum determined by party, locality and weather.
If we found a dead deer it was dissected; biology.
Before sailing to Iona and Mull, stores were dealt with by the boys; arithmetic.
Reports were sent home to the weekly "Braehead News"; English.
The glens and bens were explored; geography, geology, botany . . . Fun though this work has been, slight thought will also realise its tremendous demands, mentally and physically.
No wonder I have collected a few gray hairs!
I began teaching English but soon found myself seconded to outdoor activities.
"Mountaineering" in fact, using the word in its widest sense.
It was thought crazy to take young teenagers to the mountains. "They'll break their necks!" Yet in six years the tally proved one broken shoulder (falling of a swing!) and on broken toe (mine – stubbed on a boulder while paddling!)
Expeditions are tough and demanding but there is the underlying "respite from pressure", to quote the headmaster, RF. Mackenzie.
The tradition that has been built up is unique.
It is too valuable to lose.
The list of things done is remarkable.
The school has been on many of the 3000ft. mountains in Scotland, has pioneered new climbs, visited unusual places like Rumm, taken part in TV programs, rock climbed in many areas, ski-ed and canoed across Rannoch Moor.
It has had long days like the complete traverse of the Mamores (15 peaks in a day), has helped in rescue, slept in snow caves, made interesting botanical and geological collections, and produced some excellent mountaineers.
Yet we may be cut off at the roots.
It is planned to amalgamate Braehead with the local High School in the streamroller comprehensive scheme.
The headmaster has slowly built up a highly-qualified staff from all over Britain, who specially came to this one school.
They will scatter again if it closes and one of the few places engaged in vital experimental work will be gone.
It is too valuable to loose.
Those who have seen art exhibitions, heard concerts, seen dramatic performances, will know how different the Braehead approach is.
It is fun.
Shocking? But why not?
"Education I preparation for life, not the mere absorbing of endless facts."
It is laughable to hear the experts coming out with these sort of remarks – for we knew it, and applied it, long ago.
Five years ago the school was given a shooting lodge (Inverlair) near Fort William.
It took four years of arguing and committees before the county agreed to our using it as an outdoor centre.
On the heels of the go-ahead came plans to close the school.
For six years, from bothies and tents, from cottages, ay, and caves, we have run our expeditions program on a shoestring.
For six years I have lived with young teenagers.
There is little I do not know about them now.
The concentrated study only possible by taking small units within one school would be lost in any bitter scheme.
The mountaineering bodies have been much more interested.
Since its inception I have been on the Scottish Mountain Leadership Training Board, and writing and lecturing demands have steadily increased.
After a thousand days camping and climbing I suppose we should be different.
And we are.
The clean air of the Highlands comes back to school and helps blow away a few cobwebs there.
There is less risk of climbing after lead on a roof when there is the chance of climbing in Glencoe instead.
We largely have the teenagers we deserve, after all.
If the school does close it will be sad, but it will not be the end personally, for many of my former pupils are now tried and trusty climbing friends, fellow members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, partners, too, on Alpine ascents.
It you had forecast that six years ago, when I first went to Braehead, I would have laughed.
But it proves our contentions over and over again and vindicates all we have tried to do educationally.
These lads are not only ready for anyone's world, there to be accepted as equals, as friends.
Six years ago it was a very timorous party who set off for the mountains
Yet the highest percentage of all those who have kept up contact comes from that first party.
In borrowed gear, living in tents or youth hostels, they began to learn the craft of mountaineering which covers everything the mountains offer as well as the physical fun we bring to them.
When we have joint trips with Marlborough or Eton it is to the boys of Braehead the questions are directed and answered: "What is that flower?" "Why does the valley curve like that?"
The boys who enjoyed it joined the Braehead, Fife, Mountaineering Club – there for pupils, former pupils, staff and friends of the school.
The club itself has now grown up and is affiliated to the Association of Scottish Climbing Clubs.
This is too valuable to lose as well.
Better than all my words, let the photographs show some of the aspects of the outdoor activity of Braehead, of these pupils who are receiving an all-round education which is unique in Scotland.
Look closely at their faces.
There read their hearts, and I am sure you, too, would agree – this is something too valuable to lose.