As somebody who was born and brought up in the countryside, I should be used to rural ways. But maybe I’ve been suburbanised over the years. I’m now part of the consumer society where foraging for food means driving to the nearest supermarket, cooking over an open fire only happens at back garden barbecues and meat comes ready packaged in cellophane.
But I’ve just been taken back to a simpler time and it was a real eye-opener. I’d made a pact with a friend – he would come with me to the British Grand Prix to experience it for the first time if I went with him on something called the Wilderness Gathering, where lots of Ray Mears types meet to talk about bushcraft and survival in the wild.
That’s how I came to be trying to put up a tent in the pouring rain in woodland in Wiltshire. Fortunately my friend is well versed in the ways of sleeping under the stars and we’d soon set up camp, complete with tarpaulins for shelter and a fire made from wood found in the forest. There’s something very satisfying about watching the logs slowly burn as darkness falls.
During the day there were lots of demonstrations, from picking and cooking wild flowers and plants to axemanship and the art of using a bow drill to start a fire when you’ve got no matches.
One aspect of the event I found refreshing was the lack of suffocating ‘elf and safety’ rules – you know, the sort of nannying officialdom that would seek to wrap us all up in cotton wool on the assumption that we’re too stupid to look after ourselves.
Here people were left to chop wood, build open fires and even carry knives for purposes ranging from sharpening a stick to skinning and gutting a deer.
These were predominantly country people, meeting up with those of a like mind and all a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and its often petty regulations and restrictions.
That knowledge of nature and our place in it should never be lost. Besides, when consumerism breaks down and we’re all left to fend for ourselves, I’d much rather be with somebody who knows how to catch my next meal.