Staff blog: Hill to Grill with Ullapool High School

Quinag Conservation Officer Romany Garnett and our partners CALLP help raise awareness about where food comes from

Hill to grill with don on quinag 2018 web detail

Crawling along on the cold, wet ground in late January with a group of high school children trying to dodge hailstone showers sounds problematic especially when trying to get as close as possible to a group of red deer. However this didn’t affect the feeling of excitement as we edged around the burn without being seen. The group of red deer looked unconcerned on the hill ahead - we crept closer keeping low for camouflage and whispering quietly.

We were here on day one - camera stalking for the Hill to Grill programme as part of the Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Partnership (CALLP) scheme’s Outdoor and Woodland Learning Project. The second year pupils from Ullapool High School took part in a three-day Hill to Grill programme that raises awareness about how food arrives on our plates the issues surrounding it.

Earlier on we crossed a burn in full spate, everyone helping each other across. They learnt tracking techniques like how to stay downwind from the deer to keep undetected and how to walk silently. Pupils also had a go at a compass exercise with maps and taking a bearing. The deer’s direction of travel was checked by looking at hoof marks in the soil and pupils had a chance to feel what it is like to get as close as possible to deer over rough, difficult terrain, without being seen, to take a picture. Crouching down to see if bog myrtle shoots growing were nibbled, they learnt about the impact deer have on the ground. Eventually the anticipation was too much for some who wanted to get that bit closer. It was a spectacular sight watching as the herd of stags suddenly took flight over the hill.

On day two pupils walked out on the hill to a recently culled deer and were given a chance to see the anatomy of the deer including parts of respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems with the removal of the gralloch. Back at Glencanisp Lodge pupils took part in the larder session with Assynt Foundation’s stalker John Venters and John Muir Trust’s Don O’ Driscoll for butchery in the larder. For this second year of the Hill to Grill programme, a foraging walk was added as an alternative, where tea was made from pine needles and rowan jelly was sampled along with hazelnuts, gorse flowers, sorrel and wild garlic. Towards the end of the day everyone got the chance to taste freshly barbequed venison burgers in a bun.

Back in the classroom for day three, the pupils prepared a venison-focused cooking challenge at Ullapool High School where a panel of judges awarded groups on presentation and product as well as taste.

The Hill to Grill programme is a truly collaborative project that drew on a wide range of local skills and expertise. The programme was led by education managers Fiona Saywell and Kat Martin, also involved were Assynt Foundation’s John Venters, Don O’ Driscoll and myself from the John Muir Trust, Highland Highlife Ranger Andy Summers , Michelle Henley from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Joe Land and Roz Summers.

The Outdoor and Woodland Learning project is being delivered by the Culag Community Woodland Trust and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Natural Heritage, Ernest Cook Trust and The Gannochy Trust.

Image, courtesy of CALLP / SWT, shows the Trust's Don O'Driscoll with Ullapool High School students.