By Em Bell
When you say yes more… alot, you can run into problems.
One being that I suddenly realised I had signed up to spend 2-4 months on a tiny boat with three guys I’d never met before.
But then again, last year I ended up saying yes to flying to America and spending two months with 7 people I had never met before. Stand-up paddle boarding 1001 miles, which I had never tried before. And supporting a ginger swimmer without my glasses, which I had left at home.
So finding myself in an odd situation was nothing new.
This summer I am set to support Sean Conway as he attempts to become the first person to ever swim Lands End to John O’Groats. Yes I know.
And last week, Basic Bushcraft run by an absolute dude called Anthony and side kick Ant (it is confusing), offered us a two day course in the woods of the north to teach us basic survival while bonding at the same time.
After a pretty big weekend, I set my alarm for 4am and whizzed up to Bolton. Somehow I managed to go onto the M6 toll road the wrong way. I turned around. Paid twice. And finally made it. A worrying start for the crew captain.
In the car park of the Blackdog Pub in Belmont Village, near Bolton, we all embraced. How romantic. The first meeting. I felt like I was going on a blind date. With three lads. Which is even scarier after 5 hours of driving first thing on a Monday morning. And while on a date you can walk out and never see them again, we were about to spend 2-4 months together. In the British ocean. On a tiny boat.
We then got our packs on and were led by tattoo-covered hero Anthony into the woods. Never to be seen again. Ok that’s a bit dramatic.
So in the words of Bushcraft. They offer survival and bushcraft training from one day to week-long courses. You can make one to one, group or corporate bookings. The courses are all about learning to live with nature and understanding what the wilderness can offer you. They attempt to get you away from the city and back to basics, while providing essential versatile skills that can be used in times of crisis and need or on a weekend camping trip.
After some tea and chats, we got to work. And boy was there a lot to learn. To start we learnt to make fire with wood and flints. Jez was very determined to nail the fire making. And he did. Of course he did. Haven’t you heard, he’s got hands like sails.
What else did we do?
Gutted trout. Bones and all in one swoop. Made proper cooking utensils out of wood. Cooked trout on the fire we had made and ate it off logs.
Ate nettles, clovers, roots. Sean was a bit obsessed with the clovers. Oh and the roots. Set traps for rabbits and squirrels. Built our home for the night.
Learnt how to make an oven out of bowls on a fire. Baked bread in the wood. Ate stew, bread and oat pudding for supper. Slept outside. With the fire burning.
I shared the information that I sleep talk, sleep walk and inappropriately hug. Not ideal for sharing confined spaces. At least I kept to my mat this night. Owen said everyone was snoring except me. I think he was being polite.
The next day we collected water, boiled water, made smoke signals, handmade the tools for building fires, took down our home and asked all the questions we thought we might need to ask.
Bushcraft can prepare you for anything. They do courses where a bag is put over your head and they play white noise in your ear for hours. They make you strip down and take everything off you except a knife and some rice and leave you to survive. You can learn to build rafts.
These are real-life Bear Grylls. And whether you are looking to escape the city or learn some important skills, this is the perfect getaway. Back to basics. And boy do you appreciate that first burger and comfy pillow once you are back. I know it was only 24 hours. But the smell of the five of us after that was enough. I practically turned into the hobbit I am likened to.
We definitely bonded. And we feel one step more prepared for the immense challenge we are going on THIS weekend. Bring on Swimming Britain. And thank you Basic Bushcraft. You are the gods of the woods.