Survival skills weekends are growing in popularity. Steve Sill attempted to locate his inner Ray Mears for TNT…
Midway through a survival skills weekend and my 53rd fire-lighting attempt, I wonder what kind of people my ancestors were. Thieves or pillagers perhaps? Maybe they were related to one of the great Zippo dynasties, but I doubt they were survivalists.
We are deep(ish) in the leafy surrounds of Gower on the Welsh coast near Swansea and hunkering down for a warts-and-all weekend learning primitive skills.
My ‘intrepid’ companion Russ and I are rapidly discovering that surviving is a full-time job, although not quite the endurance test feared by horrified friends who thought we were heading for a Heart of Darkness-style nightmare.
An introduction to knives has given us some rudimentary skills for peg making but Ray Mears we are not. We try our hands at the infamous bow drill – a makeshift firelighter with a handmade bow, which, if used in a sawing motion correctly, creates friction, charcoal and fire.
Simple enough. Or so I think after our guide Scott’s demonstration. But I am hopeless at it, while Russ casually lights a spark like a man born in a cave, albeit one who refuses to leave home without a blow-up bed and PJs.
After gathering firewood, a job seemingly occupying most of primitive man’s TV-free life, we are ready for lunch.
To our dismay, the appetiser is mealworm surprise. Having failed with fire and feeling my manly veneer slipping, I chuck one in the pan. It tastes a little like chicken flavour crisps, and is packed with protein. One is enough.
Then, wood spits are contructed. As mackerel cooks, tea boils and hobnobs are eaten, Scott explains bushcraft. We learn the medicinal and nutritional qualities of the plants around us, make our own string from nettles and set traps for wildlife.
Survival breaks are growing in popularity, especially for stag weekends. Mears and Bear Grylls occupy God-like status in some circles and one obsessive even mortgaged his home for a skills weekend with Mears.
Some courses are a pure test of endurance, according to Scott, where the thrill is from surviving at the hands of a chickenhead-chomping former drill sergeant. He’s not into that: “No one learns when they’re tired and uncomfortable. Any fool can suffer.”
With this in mind, we set about building a rickety shelter from wood and leaves but we simply look at it and opt to sleep in hammocks.
The next day, after several hours of cursing, and with a little help, I finally create fire, feeling not unlike the first man might have done. So, more like Gloria Gaynor than Bush Tucker Man, we survive – with some new skills which may come in handy if the lights finally do go out in Britain soon.
Gower’s top attractions
Famed for its glorious scenery, unspoilt beaches and cute villages, the Gower Peninsula in Wales is an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Gower has a surfeit of pristine beaches, with Three Cliffs Bay often being hailed the area’s most beautiful, but it never gets too busy as it’s not that accessible. The beach is only reachable by walking a few miles from the village of Parkmill. During the hike, you will pass a golf course, the ruins of Pennard Castle and fields inhabited by wild ponies.
Meanwhile, Rhossili Bay offers the best surfing opportunities, with plenty of places in which to rent surfboards and take surf lessons.
WHEN TO GO: The bushcraft courses run all year round.
GETTING THERE: Take a National Express coach from London to Swansea, then take a taxi (10 minute ride).
GETTING AROUND: On foot for the course. Explore Gower by car. Hire a car at easycar.com/tntmagazine for a 5 per cent discount.
GOING OUT: A pint of beer is about £2.
ACCOMMODATION: Camping is included in the bushcraft package.
GET MORE INFO AT: shaggysheepwales.co.uk
» Steve Still was hosted by Shaggy Sheep Wales (07919 244549; shaggysheepwales.co.uk), which offers bushcraft, shooting, rafting, climbing and canoeing year-round, from £120, including all food, activities and camping.