Building somewhere in the middle of nowhere
You may well over the past few years, have heard or read me referring to the woodland site just outside Portree where I work as A.C.E Base, you may not have. A.C.E Base is my office, my passion, my life’s work in the sense that I have spent three years building it to the stage it is at now and the previous 30 years getting ready to take it to that stage in the first place, not always intentionally.
At the same time as being exactly what I believed and wanted my target sports premises to be, In reality I have made it up entirely as I went along and had a lot of luck, good and bad, and a lot of help
The site is a direct reflection of its environment, a wild, wooded Scottish hillside alongside the Dubh Lon (The Burn of the Blackbird as I understand it) and of the circumstances of the builder. Obviously it is important to mention the canvas I had to begin with, a simple, modest but high quality paintball centre utilising just a shipping container and a woodland. Since that point it has taken many forms, each more refined than the last but not quite as finished as the next.
My joinery skills leave a lot to be desired, had the budget and timescale both been significantly more generous the build may have skipped a few steps to A.C.E Base MK6 but as it happened the hammer had to be put down periodically to pick up the axe, earn some money with paying visitors in order to buy the next batch of nails or a new hammer to replace the one I lost when I put it down last.
A.C.E Base is also partly (not a small part either) a publicly funded project, not financially but in kindness, in time and in favors and materials. Only today I was doing the local architects office a huge favour in removing all the woodchip from their newly landscaped, treeless grounds, this favour was extremely beneficial to me as the combination of highland weather and lots of foot traffic makes for a soggy archery range! I have been well known in the area for such generosity and have such removed plenty of scrap wood, furniture from unwanted piles all over the island.
All of these factors soon began giving the location a certain vibe. A veritable pick n mix of pieces making a whole, an upcycled outdoor adventure centre. This has become the vibe we have continued to embrace. It is not always the easiest or quickest route to the end goal but it is fun and we make friends in the process.
Another thing that is not always easy is making a cuppa and charging an Airsoft battery without that magic plug in the wall. In fact its bloody difficult, and less fun, but very very rewarding. I could not say exactly why but when starting off at the site a mains electrical connection did not even cross my mind. A small but powerful solar panel had happened to dislodge itself from its lofty perch on the side of a well known lighthouse and exchange itself with a rusty clay trap from my shed in a mutually agreeable arrangement. The day I was able to charge my mobile phone from sunlight via the panel, a 12 volt car battery and an inverter set the future for the site with a very modern lightbulb moment.
The power requirements for A.C.E are tenfold that first phone top up. More visitors, more experiences offerings, more equipment means more power. In stages a water wheel (homemade) a wind turbine (Taiwanese made) and several interconnected solar panels (various countries of origin, plus the lighthouse original) keep the lights on and emails pinging in. The site 3 years on now contains the sir Gareth Southgate Suite (office,former portacabin) The Claudio Ranieri Lounge (kit room, Blue Shipping container) and the research and development wing (green container, former cow feed store, also a shipping container) as well as four purpose built shooting shelters and an airsoft clubhouse.Amongst all that development, it is a working, flushing loo that is the most important achievement) Quite the Shanty town (Planning are aware)
I first realised that a place made of scrap with not a utility on site can do something when the Portree primary students chose to come on their summer school trip and not so much as look at an axe or a bow (a challenge for 25 sub 10 year olds) instead choosing to tour the site, make upcycled bird boxes, take part in a renewable energy quiz and make electricity by hand with our wind turbine motor. It was some day! Outwith one of days such as that we regularly send groups (families, stags and hens, honeymoon couples) away with lifelong memories and new found skills
It has to be said that none of this would be possible if was not for mountains of help and support and patience I have received from my wife, my family, friends, the project has literally taken over my life over the past years. The latest addition to that list are the feline/canine/human caretaker/night watchman four piece, Mouse, Blaze, Steve and Laoch (mentioned in order of their position in the food chain ) who stay at A.C.E Base and keep it all under control and add their own chaos into the mix.
So add a celebrity Dog Duo,a cat called mouse and their owner (more about them in a future blog) to a magical woodland, recycled self sustaining adventure centre and a view to die for and I guess you really have got somewhere in the middle of nowhere (Portree is definitely somewhere but we are technically out of town)
Why not come and see for yourself sometime, it is like a trip to the dump but with coffee and axes
See you at A.C.E Base soon I hope
Matt and the A.C.E team