During the month of June 2019, Coetir Anian held two Wild Camps for teenagers on our beautiful site at Bwlch Corog. Students from Crickhowell High School and Llanidloes High School attended a week of outdoor activities which were facilitated by Jane Robertson and Caspar Brown, experts in Stone Age Living.
The camps were specifically designed to offer young people the chance to have a deep and rewarding experience of being close to nature, learning new skills and building self-confidence. No mobile phones or any other digital technologies were permitted during the week and there was a strong focus on mindfulness and well-being.
On arrival the first task for students was to put their tents up. Following lunch round the campfire, they went on an orientation walk around the site to explore the different habitats. This included a river walk up a gorge. They walked IN the river which was for many students the highlight of their week! After supper around the fire, Jane and Caspar spoke to the students about life in the Stone Age and demonstrated the tools and clothes that would have been used.
Day two was fire day. The students were shown different natural materials to use for tinder and then took part in a ‘one match challenge’. Working in pairs, each pair was given one match and some tinder. They were asked to imagine they were cold and wet, out on a mountain and in desperate need of warmth and food. There was just one match so this would be their only chance of a fire. The challenge was to light a fire and keep it going for 3 minutes. Out of the two school groups, only one pair managed to complete the challenge.
The groups then progressed to using flint and steel and all pairs successfully managed to light a fire using this method before then learning to make fire by friction. This is a highly skilled craft and all the students were on a very steep learning curve. It was good to see their determination, resilience and total engagement with the task. Although many students didn’t manage to make fire using this method, all of them learnt a lot and showed a new-found respect for fire.
In the evening, the groups were treated to a story-telling session round the campfire, led by Milly Jackdaw.
Day three was foraging day. We went for a walk, foraged for food and finished with wild swimming in a local river. The two groups responded very differently to this day. One group really enjoyed the physical aspect of the day (the walking and swimming) whilst the other group really responded to foraging, gorging themselves on bilberries and collecting wild plants for making pesto for our evening meal. On our return to camp the students learnt to gut and fillet trout which was then cooked over the campfire. What a feast!
Day four was crafts day. After harvesting suitable greenwood on-site, one group learnt to carve spoons whilst the other group made butter knives. In the evening everyone was given bivvy bags and we had ‘the big group sleep-out’ under the stars, a magical experience.
Day five was time for reflection. Each student found an individual, quiet spot to write a letter to their ‘future self’ in which they were encouraged to write about their feelings and what they had learnt about themselves as well as new skills over the week. These were posted to them the following year, hopefully encouraging them as they continue their life-journey.
Camp was taken down and goodbyes said. In the closing circle around the fire one student said, “Thank you for my first camping experience. Thank you for the songs and for teaching me that if I’m depressed, to go to nature and the woods and they will help me.”
In feedback from the school staff it was commented that “the focus on mindfulness activities and back to nature was great to re-connect the young people with the outdoors away from technology” and “the location of the site was brilliant.”
Other feedback from the staff shows the value of this experience:
The students embraced the experience fully and as the week went by we saw some fantastic changes. The students laughed, cried and supported each other. They worked as a team looking after the fire, preparing meals, helping secure the tents. They engaged with staff and loved learning about the environment they were in and appreciating the importance of the diversity and preserving the natural habitat.
The students ate well, appreciated the ‘time around the fire’ chatting and sharing stories. One student expressed, ‘This is what family really means.’
By the end of the week the students were a ‘tribe’; they had recognised their own strengths and weakness and shared the camp work accordingly. We saw minor disputes resolved amongst themselves, we saw sad faces when it was time to leave, we saw happy children away from social media, we saw children sharing personal battles and being supported by peers.
By taking the students out of a school environment staff saw a different child. These relationships continued beyond the camp and to this day we still chat about the camp and the students who attended have the confidence to approach the school staff if they have any issues in school.
This is a project that all students across Wales need to experience. Just having a week away from mobiles had a profound impact on their wellbeing and we have seen relationships develop and that old fashioned skill of ‘talking’ develop.
Finally all parents were very supportive and grateful that their children had the opportunity to experience the ‘Wildcamp’.
The camp was full of new experiences and personal challenges for the young people, which they embraced and enjoyed. Their written feedback reflected their sense of overcoming challenges, having fun, gratitude and sadness when it was time to leave. One student summed it up: “I feel at home here. I REALLY LIKE IT!”
We agree with the sentiment that all young people need to have this experience. The connection with nature and with each other is a re-connection with real life. We look forward to welcoming more youths for Wild Camps at Bwlch Corog. Our plan is to hold six of these each year. The four planned for May and June 2020 were cancelled due to the pandemic lockdown, and it seems unlikely that the two planned for September will be able to take place. So we might well be looking ahead to 2021 for the next camps.