Friday, 21 November 2014

Guest interview: “I ate a worm!”

I talk to Charlie, 14, who did a 24-hour survival course at Bear Gryll's Academy in the Brecon Beacons, with his dad.

So, let’s get this straight. Did you really eat a worm?
Yes. I ate a mealworm. I didn’t want to but everyone else did it and the instructor said, “Go on, it’s protein,” and stuff. You had to crunch it between your teeth to kill it – then I just swallowed it really quickly. I refused to eat an earthworm though. They showed us how to prepare it, like how to squeeze out the black gunk inside first. My dad ate one.
How many people were there in the group?
Eight. Four parents, four kids – two Year 6 boys, one Year 10 girl and me.
What were the instructors like?
They were very approachable. Two of them had worked in the army so they were like, “Come on, do this, do that ...” They kept saying at the start, “This weekend isn’t going to be easy.”

You didn’t just get worms to eat though, right?
No. We had chicken and vegetable stew for our main meal. I usually wouldn’t eat that either! I’m not a big fan of stew – but when you’re really hungry, anything tastes good.

Did you kill the chicken first?!
No, but we learnt how to set traps and snares to catch animals like rabbits and foxes, using sticks and rope and brass wire. One type was made by bending a branch down from a tree – it hangs the animal.
Another type used a stone as a weight – the stone comes down on the animal.
Did it seem cruel?
I did think about that ... We didn’t go back the next day and see if we’d caught anything.

Where did you sleep?
We built two 4-man shelters with sticks and leaves and rope and one waterproof sheet. It was hard to get the design right because there was a slope and rocks in the ground. They gave us a self-inflating mattress and a sleeping bag so I was warm. And we were lucky – it didn’t rain. I woke up on and off though. I suppose I got about 6 hours sleep – they woke us up at 6.30.
Did you learn how to make fire?
Yes, all the different ways you can do it. They gave us a bunch of stuff: flint and steel, chemicals, batteries – you rub the positive and negative sides together and rub with wire wool. Then we walked up to the top of the hill where it was wet and boggy. Our challenge was to make a distress fire in these conditions.

So you never got cold and wet and miserable?
I did! One of the last things we had to do was walk through a waterfall so we could walk behind it – it was really strong, pounding down on me, and freezing. Then we had to jump into the pool below and swim across it in all our stuff – jeans, socks, jumper, backpack. It was about 3 degrees.
What other survival skills did you cover over the 24 hours?
Rope-crossings, abseiling (without a safety harness – just a rope connected to a tree at the top), knot-tying, foraging for plants you can eat or use as antiseptics, like there’s this type of clover with heart-shaped leaves that tasted like apple skin, and a mushroom – you can’t eat it but you can use its skin as a plaster and it helps the wound heal. And we learnt how to make a stretcher out of long sticks and jumpers and carried someone about 100 metres to a place where a helicopter could land.
What did you like the best?
Actually, the star-watching – like how to find the north star, and other groups of stars.

And what was the worst bit?
Swimming in freezing water at 9.30 in the morning! I hate being cold and wet. But that’s what the whole experience was about. Life and death. You might have to do this stuff in a survival situation.
There are five Bear Gryll's Survival Academies in the UK and four in the U.S. Visit the website here.

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