Back in May I spent a weekend in the woods of Surrey with a few friends on a Wild Retreat. I have been meaning to write a post on it ever since but just have not had time. Anyway I still don't really have the time to write a long post so here are a few words with some photos to bulk it out.
The idea of a wild retreat is to allow you to spend a weekend living very simply in the woods without modern conveniences or luxuries. It's not a survival weekend. You don't hunt your food or track wild animals you simply spend time relaxing, cooking over the fire, partaking in a few activities and allowing yourself to live life at a far slower pace than usual.
We arrived at the site late Friday afternoon. We left the cars near the road and set off on a short 10 minute walk into the woods with all our stuff for the weekend. The area where we were to be based was all set up for us and looked far more comfortable than any of us were expecting.
When we arrived at the site we had about 2 hours of light left so got straight down to sorting out the sleeping arrangements. We each had a choice of a hammock and tarp or to have a tent. We all chose the hammock option and were shown the four knots we would need to make the whole thing work then sent into the woods to find a sleeping place.
I found a area I really liked and got my hammock set up without to much fuss only to realise that the trees I had chosen were actually a little to close together to stretch the tarp to its fullest. However rather than take it all down I improvised a little and turned the end of the tarp into a wind break for one end of my sleeping area.
Once we had all got our sleeping arrangements sorted we gathered around the fire while the evening meal was cooked.
The first night in the hammock was pretty cold and I ended up putting on every item of clothing I had taken with me but the hammock was actually very comfortable. There was some pretty loud snoring going on in those woods which would have frightened off any wildlife foolish enough to wander into the area. We also found we were within earshot of a monastery where the monks had decided they should each ring the monastery bell as they went to pray at 3am.
One of the key things with living in the woods is to make sure you always have fire. Starting a fire can be quite hard work and it's far easier to make sure the fire you have does not go out rather than having to start again. This means regular trips away from the site to find fire wood and making sure the wood pile stays stocked.
Once wood had been collected it was time to boil the kettle. At home that means flipping the switch. In the woods that meant getting some dry kindling and using a stick from the fire to light the fire in the bottom on of a kelly kettle. All sounds easy but there was a bit of a knack to it and many an hour was spent over the weekend trying to master it.
With the kettle on it was time for breakfast, getting all the stuff from the the make shift kitchen.
we cooked eggs and toast on the fire
before sitting round the table for a very leisurely breakfast.
With breakfast out of the way we spent some time just chilling out before undertaking the first activity of the day. Over the weekend there were several activities and basically you just chose which ever one you wanted during each activity session. For my first session I chose archery.
After a couple of hours of shooting arrows it was back to the camp area for slow paced lunch and then into activity session two where I tried some geocaching. There were quite a few geocaches near our site and we spent quite a few hours out and about around the countryside. It just so happened that we also passed a few pubs on route and felt it would be very rude to walk by without frequenting them.
At the end of the afternoon we all found our way back to camp and just spent time hanging out.
before cooking a sausage stew supper over the fire. With supper out the way a few hours were spent telling stories of our day and how manly each of us had been before we retired to our hammocks shattered from spending a day outside instead of in the office.
Far more sleep was had with the second night in the hammock as I started by putting all my clothes on to keep warm and used ear plugs to protect myself from the monks and the snoring.
Sunday started by once again lighting the kettles and then partaking of a light breakfast
before spending the morning doing some bush craft. Basically we used knives to make mallets and pegs.
We also learnt how to make fire when no matches or lighter were available.
At the end of the morning we ate lunch together before breaking down camp and heading back to the cars for the three hour drive home. Every one of us was in agreement that the weekend had been a great experience and a fun time. We had all enjoyed taking life at a slower pace, learning to do new things and getting to know each other better.
The Mens Room
On returning home into the loving arms of our wives the first question was "but what about toilets?". Well that was easy as it's not particularly difficult to find a tree when you are in the woods. However in the interest of camp hygiene the Wild Retreat team had built a new composting toilet of which I have the honour of being able to claim to be the very first person to use it.
The strange thing about a composting toilet is you cannot pee in it. It must not get to wet or it won't compost. It became a bit of a joke that the only place in the camp you were not allowed to pee was in the toilet.