Off to Strathyre to meet Jack Black – and what an experience! Old soldier, survival expert, conservationist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, politician, Forest Ranger…and producer of a rather fine nettle tea.
The latest in a long family line of outdoor types (Jack’s great grandpa, grandpa and father were all park rangers), Jack’s passion for the natural world began early as he explored the wild mountains and rivers of the Trossachs with his father. Naturally he was a boy scout, and as an adult he spent 27 years in the army, much of that time as a survival trainer for soldiers in arctic and desert terrains.
Jack’s wild life
Jack is a Strathyre man through and through but his fascinating career has taken him to almost every far-flung corner of the world. He has climbed Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro and Ben Nevis, worked as a wildlife ranger in Kenya, ferried Chinese refugees through the mountains into Nepal and escaped from a bear in Canada. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Jack is one of those people who can’t sit still, whose enthusiasm spills over into everything he does – including that nettle tea, which is surprisingly soothing. As a survival expert, Jack has lived off the land and has a recipe to turn the tea into soup: “Dig up some wild garlic, add wild mushrooms and rabbit, and it’s as fine a soup as you’ll ever taste.”
Jack’s passions: countryside and community
One of Jack’s passions is to open up the countryside and forests to the local community. He is fiercely proud of this landscape and its people and knows something of the therapeutic powers of escaping to nature, “As a soldier, I experienced things that have left lasting emotional scars. A huge part of my recovery has been the joy of embracing nature. I now work on community projects to bring those benefits to others.” The most recent, in collaboration with the Callander Youth Project, is Nature’s Corner in Callander town, a bird feeding station and bug hotel, which encourages young people to take an interest in the natural world.
...fiercely proud of this landscape and its people and knows something of the therapeutic powers of escaping to nature.
The work Jack is doing with the Callander Youth Project is just one of the many charitable activities with which he is involved; in fact he has raised over £1m for charity, over the years. This year he was honoured to be one of the baton carriers in the Queen’s Baton Relay for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where he was also a “Clyde-sider” providing first aid services across the venues.
Jack’s passions and charitable work have led to meetings and awards at the highest level, “I had a very interesting conversation with Prince Charles recently at the WW1 Veterans’ memorial service in Glasgow cathedral. He is a thoughtful person and was very interested in our community projects.”
Jack at Strathyre
To our great delight, Jack has now decided to become a Forest Ranger at Strathyre and that nettle tea is just one of his little “extras.” He brings with him such a wealth of experience that his Forest Ranger activities are not to be missed. His passions, as you will find out when you go out with him, include explaining the geology of the Trossachs landscape (“these mountains were once higher than the Himalayas”), outdoor survival and the flora and fauna of the local area, “I’m working on opening up some new nature walks at the moment, and building bird hides so that guests can watch our Golden Eagles, Ospreys, Buzzards and Harriers.”
Jack Black is truly a force of nature, and has to be met to be fully appreciated. We ran out of time eventually, as his next Woodland Walk was upon him. We were left reeling, wanting to know more about the passing references he had made to the 2 day canoe treks he leads, his recent foray into politics - running as an independent on a conservation and community platform, and Jack’s Salad Bar -his own unique take on forest survival and foraging.
But he was already striding across the Forest Retreat, offering the nettle tea to his next set of forest explorers. I hope they were ready for it – and him.
You can meet Jack yourself when you stay with us at Strathyre. He runs a number of Forest Ranger activities, is the quizmaster at the weekly quiz and will always find time to answer pretty much any question you have about the local area, from where to spot the pine martens to which pub serves the best pint.