Often when entering competitions of any kind, small schools are at a disadvantage, especially if needing to collect a number of tokens. Schools with only a few pupils may only have enough for a CD whilst larger schools can purchase a computer.
In 1999, however, those at Torridon Primary were able to turn their relative isolation and small number to their advantage to eventually win the 'World’s Biggest School Trip Ever' and an all-expenses paid trip to Disney World in Florida.
“Here, have you entered that competition yet?” Maggie had asked the headteacher Anne, pausing the hoover to chat as she cleaned the classroom at the end of the day. The Daily Record newspaper was running a competition to gather tokens each day, with the prize for the school collecting the most being to travel to Disney World and stay in the Magic Kingdom in Florida.
With only four pupils there didn’t seem much hope of that. The shop in Torridon didn’t even sell newspapers. A dozen large cardboard boxes arrived in the post with instructions to place them in our nearest supermarket, hospital or factory where tokens could be collected. Well, our nearest were about 60 to 90 miles away.
However there was one glimmer of hope. If you collected tokens in an unusual way you could win £500. We may not have a factory but we did have a mountain, the mighty Liathach, looking down over the school. A plot was hatched, a collection box laminated to be watertight and with the help of the local youth warden, a member of the Torridon & Kinlochewe Mountain Rescue Team, it was placed on a cairn at the top of our mountain at Mullach an Rathain. We sent a postcard to the paper. We might not have collected the highest amount of vouchers but we had the highest collection box in Scotland. An X marked the location of the school and then the top of Liathach and we asked any mountaineers to bring their tokens and deposit them in the box at the top of the mountain.
The idea caught the imagination and we were delighted when a photographer and crew turned up in Torridon with a large cheque for £500 and a Mickey Mouse soft toy. Such celebrations! A photo of the headteacher Anne, the four pupils and, of course, Mickey appeared in the paper telling the story and, from then on, each day the post would arrive with envelopes of tokens sent to us from all across Britain. Some felt sorry for us being so small in number, others had attended a small school themselves whilst others were Munro baggers or knew Torridon and the West Coast well. The girls wrote back thanking them. Soon we were having to ask parents to come in after school to help stick the paper tokens on collection cards in time for the deadline.
Then came the news- a phone call to say that Torridon were among the eleven finalist schools and asking us to go down to Glasgow to attend the prizegiving ceremony where the winning school would be announced. There was great excitement as the whole school caught the Glasgow train from Inverness. On the way we were joined by our local MP Charles Kennedy who was appearing on Question Time on TV that night but gave up time to leave his first class seat and sit in our carriage, having visited the school on a number of occasions. Such a jolly atmosphere and journey. We made it to Glasgow, meeting up with other schools.
At the prizegiving it was announced that Torridon was the overall winning school. The girls were stunned. Not only did we win a trip to Florida but £10,000 with it. Even better, as Torridon had so few pupils and it was billed as the World’s Biggest School Trip ever, the organisers had decided that all other top ten schools would be able to travel too- a magical dream coming true as all 208 schoolchildren had their wish granted. A total of 1654 schools had taken part, collecting more than 211 million tokens. When the Torridon total was divided, our pupils had 16,719 tokens each.
And so in was that in the summer of 1999, school staff, pupils and their families all got to travel down to Prestwick Airport and fly out to Florida. The hotel in the Magic Kingdom had a Toy Story theme with a giant model of Woody and Buzz Lightyear by the door. We enjoyed the pool in the Florida sunshine. Small buses transported us around the Magic Kingdom and the evening sky would fill with firework displays. We came home bringing a Minnie Mouse toy to match Mickey waiting for us in Torridon.
An amazing time was had bt I think we were all happy to be back in Torridon after our adventure. The money enabled many more family outings along with the purchase of a new school computer and musical keyboard. Donations were made to various charities including Wish Upon a Star, folowing which we received a certificate stating there was now a new star in the sky named the Torridon Star. Altogether a great and unexpected adventure across the Atlantic Ocean all thanks to some creative thinking- not only out of the box but right up our magnificent mountain.
As told by Anne MacRae, former headteacher of Torridon Primary School
More information on visiting the area can be found here.