The Ochil Tower School students preparing for their West Highland Way challenge in Glendevon. Photo: ©Neil Snellgrove/Ochil Tower School

The Ochil Tower School students preparing for their West Highland Way challenge in Glendevon. Photo: ©Neil Snellgrove/Ochil Tower School

A group of teenagers with special needs is tackling the West Highland Way to raise cash for a conservation charity.

The seven, aged between 15 and 17, are students at the Ochil Tower School in Auchterarder, and have conditions ranging from autism to Tourette Syndrome.

Five of the youngsters will walk the whole 154km (96-mile) route from Milngavie to Fort William, with the two others supporting the team, along with five teachers and assistants. They will raise funds for the John Muir Trust by taking part in the walk.

The group set off on Monday and expects to take nine days to complete the route, staying in youth hostels, bunkhouses and wigwams.

They have been training since September last year by walking weekly in locations including the Ochils and the Lomond Hills.

Neil Snellgrove, a teacher at Ochil Tower School, who is leading the walk said: “We have had a great time preparing for this challenge by gradually building up the distance we’ve walked.

“Recently we discovered the Cateran Trail and have had our ‘dress rehearsal’ on that trail. One week we walked from Enochdhu to the Spittal of Glenshee in deep snow and a white-out. It was challenging but the children coped with it very well.

“These are young people who have not responded well to traditional education. Preparing for the walk is helping them learn to take responsibility, both for their gear and for themselves, which gives them a real boost.

“There are huge benefits for mental health to be had from being in the outdoors. As well as the sense of peace and quiet you encounter, it builds up resilience and increases self-esteem.”

The group decided to support the trust which cares for some of Scotland’s wild areas. Mr Snellgrove explained: “We chose to raise money for the John Muir Trust because the West Highland Way passes through many of Scotland’s most amazing wild places and finishes at Ben Nevis, which is looked after by the Trust.”

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