When regular guests the Mason Mackenzie's asked if they could stay with us again, but this time do a bit of volunteering, we obviously said YES PLEASE! Read on below to find out just how their Vollie Hollie went.

We’re all going on a Vollie Holiday

An unusually balmy summer in July 2019, Comrie Croft, Perthshire, what has now become our sanctuary and quick get away, only a short drive from Glasgow we can be there in just over an hour… the wonders of Scotland and its many doorsteps.

Our first holiday this year was in Disneyland Paris with our family, it was thrilling and hectic. The next holiday was bound for a different kind of ride. Known as a “vollie” holiday it is where accommodation is provided in return for a few hours (in our case 4) of work each day, “giving something back” or saying thank you to somewhere we really cherish.

We have been visiting Comrie Croft for over 20 years, an ever evolving business and one we have enjoyed watching transform, whilst adhering to their values and not succumbing to the corporate pressure businesses often do. It wasn’t until I had bumped into someone at the croft last year that I realised volunteering was something they would welcome. We have always felt a sense of ownership at the site, whether we are camping, staying in a kata or in the hostel, we take pride in our surroundings and remain true to the ethos of the eco aspect of the entire site.

The decision to do a volunteering holiday was easy. I guess it was part curiosity, what goes on behind the scenes in the whole operation and how can we help? How can we make a difference, what expertise can we bring and how can we enhance the site and make it an experience that our kids will learn from. Things don’t just happen as if by magic, in stark contrast to the Disney holiday where the fake world is at its best, this is the real world, rough and ready and needing some hands on nurturing and tender care.

The site has a campsite, steading (hostel) and 7 katas (Nordic house). Each accommodation offers a different experience, depending on the weather a lot of the time. Once it rained for 72 hours non stop whilst camping in the high meadow, we persevered. It is that special. There are ample areas to cosy up indoors in the Tea Garden, should the weather really take its toll. We have been there often when the big barn (used for weddings and events) hosts a ceilidh or the World Cup (Football). A chance for the whole site to come together in celebration.

Upon arrival we are aware of an unusual number of people on site. The croft is hosting the Scottish 6 Days and is one of the official campsites. This is an orienteering event, which over the course of our time there we learned more and more about. Something new to try.

There are 4 of us in my family. My husband John, myself and my two sons, Leon (13) and Sebastian (7).

We are set to task, myself and my youngest grab a few litter pickers and set about the car park and campsite clearing any litter. Isn’t it amazing how many people just chuck stuff from their cars? Big stuff, cans, plastic bottles, random items left behind, cardboard boxes, socks, you name it. 


Whilst we are doing this my husband and son head for the hills they are usually riding on their mountain bikes. This is their chance to make some tracks of their own, mcleod trail tool ,spades and dumpers at the ready, the heavy grafting begins.

That evening saw us making sure our orienteers and campsite folks had clean toilets, you can imagine with orienteering the amount of extra mud from people looking to freshen up. We make sure there are clean floors and that the air smells fresh. There is a high spirit on site, people gearing themselves up for the day ahead. Food is of utmost importance, a lot of carb loading going on, a hungry bunch whose sole focus is to replace their energy stores. The trail is tough terrain from what we can gather.

The next few days sees the temperatures soar. The site is buzzing with the orienteers who have come from all over Europe to take part in what seems to be a pretty serious challenge. Each day we watched them return looking a little more broken than the day before. We were privy to the route each day as we shared many a fire with a lovely Spanish man, Daniel.

My next task was to meet the lovely Judith from Tomnaha Market Gardens who would brief me in the gardens and planters around the site. I am not particularly green fingered so took this opportunity to learn and hopefully bring back to my own garden. I weeded, dead headed, watered and generally spruced up the areas. All it took was someone to tell me what to do, I was a little nervous at first but soon took to it and braved the copious amount of nettle stings.


The rest of the week was spent weeding the paving in the back courtyard, a quiet part of the site, where I could really connect with the elements. My youngest mucked in as and when he could. We cut back some trees which he particularly enjoyed, loving working with the big snippers. As the week went on I upgraded from cotton gloves to garden gloves, having tried to pull a nettle out and sting my whole hand with a cotton glove, ooops!!!! My son also came a cropper, all spirit building!

This week saw millions of butterflies descending upon Scotland, something that occurs only every 10 years. It was very noticeable amongst the various types of bees which I don’t often see in my suburb of Glasgow. This may be due to the decline or just the fact that I am surrounded by a pollinator garden, lavender, fennel and plenty of wild flowers scattered. I learned that the herb fennel has small clusters of yellow flowers which can be used in cooking with a subtle liquorice flavour, as well as the delicate strands of the herb itself, similar to dill. I will definitely be taking this back to my garden at home, although I read it can crowd out native plant life. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-49243295


My husband and eldest son spent their time mostly on their beloved mountain bike tracks, mostly shifting mud, making the trails the best they can be, removing nettles and shaping and moulding the routes, no mean feat. Once they had downed tools they spent the evenings riding the tracks, although by day 4 exhaustion was setting in. It was a tough task but relished as they use the tracks 15 - 20 times a year at least, so a worthwhile payback.


I am particularly proud of my before and after shots of the areas I worked on, as the closest I have got to this kind of transformation is painting my home. It is extremely satisfying, addictive as once you start you can’t stop. I now understand my father and his hours on end in the garden. Working the land has something invigorating about it. My iWatch tracked 20,000 plus steps a day and 25 miles, a pretty impressive daily stat. It is hard to stick to 4 hours a day as you are used to doing more back home at the desk job, but this is a entirely different type of job, it is hard graft, you can only go for so long until you burn out. The crofters are all phenomenal, fit and healthy, always raring to go. They have a huge amount of resilience which we admired over the days as we became more and more fatigued.


Our week comes to a close. The team down tools every day at 11am for a coffee and natter. We join them to say our farewells, with a little sadness about returning to the city and the hustle bustle of life.

We get home and spend the next few days nursing aches and pains, all a little broken, but truly refreshed and happy to have learned a little more about what life entails on the croft. That aside as well as trail making and gardening, we learned a bit about orienteering, made a new Spanish friend who we hope to visit next year, and met a fellow Mason (my maiden name), hailing from New Zealand, who was visiting Comrie to visit the grave and home of her great, great, great, great grandparents.

We took so much away from our vollie holiday, a renewed love for our special place, a sense of belonging to this part of the world and all Scotland offers, and a feeling of worth having been so close to nature for a whole week. Rejuvenated and refreshed, full of clean fresh air and yet more memories to treasure.

We are looking at next years calendar, to see what week we can come back and thank Mother Nature for all she brings to us and of course to thank Comrie Croft for all she brings to all the families who visit. We hope to see some more families embracing the vollie holiday and taking their well deserved time out to care for the planet, she needs us now more than ever!

August 2019

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