It has been the fastest few months of my life, certainly some of the busiest and undoubtedly some of the best!
It seems a long time ago from when I first heard about the Nightwatch scheme; whilst in the Lakes on my Summer ML assessment chatting to the course director as a fellow candidate led us around Bowfell on a sunny March day two years ago. He asked me where I ideally saw my outdoor career in 10 years time and I was at a loss initially, whilst I knew at the time I wanted to be in the industry, I hadn't really considered the longer term until that point. We walked along in silence for a few minutes and after some time I concluded that adult based skills coaching at a high level would be my ideal. He described something called the Nightwatch scheme at Glenmore Lodge, and after a bit of chat I distinctly remember thinking at the time that it sounds perfect for me. 24 hours later and I received my 'sticker' confirming me as a mountain leader and I was on my way with my first 'big' outdoor qualification and another milestone on my journey towards the Lodge.
To try and maximise my opportunities to up-skill, get outdoors with like minded people, work towards my qualifications and gain access to kit; I enrolled on the Certificate of Physical Activity and Adventure Leadership at Perth College UHI. I actually had quite a fight to get on the course; my background at this point had been that I was running my own draught beer services company for a number of years and had previously completed university degrees up to masters level, so applying to a college course academically geared towards school leavers raised a few eyebrows! A long discussion with the course leader ensued, where he attempted to dissuade me from continuing with my application. I was undeterred.
I subsequently enrolled on the Advanced Certificate in Outdoor Leadership at West Highland College UHI (after a similar conversation with the course leader!) and moved to Fort William. Whilst there I submitted my first Nightwatch (unsuccessful) application for the 2013/14 intake. After taking on some telephone feedback from Nigel Williams (Head of Training), and with my range of qualifications broadened and instructional experience gained in the intervening year, I dusted off and updated the old application form for the 2014/15 intake.
On joining the Instructor Development Scheme (aka Nightwatch), the six of us were delighted and privileged (and quite relieved!) to join the scheme for its 31st year. Not least, due to the 4 day interview process; involving a day of maintenance, a day of paddlesport, a day on the mountain and a more standard interview at the end. With 13 interviewees and 6 spaces available the odds were good, however there was a very eclectic mix of abilities, experience and backgrounds and personalities amongst the candidates and distinctly remember that my confidence was not particularly high on the long drive back to Edinburgh!
So what do we do?! We will spend the year manning the reception desk in the evening and are the front line of the facilities and stores departments during the day and work on various projects in the office all on a rotational basis.
Much of the first month involved familiarisation and training on everything, from mountain rescue involvement to trailer driving and cherry pickers (with a reasonable amount of less fun stuff like van cleaning, rubbish crushing and office procedures!). Looking at our Facebook timelines our friends would be forgiven for thinking that we just live the high life and spend time having adventures but who wants to take (or look at?!) photos of sorting recycling or window cleaning!
The toughest task of the first month was definitely to self-plan our rota for the forthcoming year until Christmas. The issue is it involves a complex juggling of 6 people needing to fill certain shift patterns, whilst also accommodating everyone's course wishlist, taken from a brochure of around 250 courses to which we have (almost) unrestricted access! In saying that, we're unlikely to get much sympathy for this hardship!
Now I am a sworn in member of the Nightwatch, it's time to take the training wheels off and for the fun to really start!