I have worked in the field of environmental education for over 25 years and have a particular interest in how people can reconnect with their cultural and natural heritage through first-hand, outdoor experiences which are both interdisciplinary and intergenerational. In my current role as Education Officer with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, I have been exploring the use of story and journey to design projects where learners of all ages can encounter geography in new ways. In 2013, I ran an exciting initiative called Stories in the Land: on the tracks of the Highland drovers, which encouraged people to become collectors, creators and tellers of old and new stories inspired by the epic travels of the Scottish drovers. This included a five day walking journey between Dalwhinnie and Fort William, called the Bedrock Walk, where a very mixed group of artists and scientists investigated the links between drove routes, geology and landscape. During that week, geologist Simon Cuthbert, opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at the landscape, and it is from this journey that the seeds of the Betsey project were born.
It all began to take shape last August, after a mobile phone conversation between Simon and me. I was on board the sailing boat Leader, anchored off the Isle of Jura, and Simon (I discovered later) was on Sri Lanka. I’ve been connected with Leader since 1986 and have been on board regularly over the years, but that’s another story! I was so excited by the geology while anchored off Jura, that I texted Simon to suggest we should plan some sort of geological project which would be a follow up to the Bedrock Walk, but instead of travelling on land, take a journey by sea – the ‘Bedrock Boat’, if you like. Simon immediately replied: “Ahhh, that would be Hugh Miller and Cruise of the Betsey.” We both had very fleeting mobile reception so I heard no more and was intrigued. What was Simon was talking about? When I got home later that week, I was able to do some detailed research and in the process discovered the existence of the charity ‘Friends of Hugh Miller. It became clear that the Cruise of the Betsey is a wonderful story about an amazing journey, and offers the possibility of exploring some fabulous old maps and charts – I was hooked! Since that time my admiration for Hugh Miller has grown, and I am looking forward to learning more about this remarkable Scot, in the company of the equally remarkable Betsey crew in 2014. It’s interesting to contemplate that our crew of 15 for the journey in September represents the skills, knowledge and interests of just one man!