By Tamara Jewell and Tom Simpson
Gatwick Greenspace Partnership
Despite the unpredictable August weather, eight teenagers opted to spend a week of their summer holidays in the wilds of Tilgate Forest mastering important survival skills, learning about local wildlife and, hopefully, forging a pathway to nature connectedness which will continue throughout their lives.
Spending four days in the woods with the same group of young people was new experience to the Gatwick Greenspace team too, but we are thrilled to report it was a positive experience for all.
Day 1: The group arrived and began to set up camp, selecting a location away from footpaths, prevailing winds and Tilgate’s dog walkers. We learned how to identify silver birch because the tree’s flammable twigs and bark are important for any good fire. A mature birch tree was at the heart of our camp, sparking friendships as the group exchanged stories while gathering fuel.
“I liked having a camp that felt like it was our own creation and I liked making new friends”
Day 2: As we began to find our feet we relaxed into our environment whilst embarking on various meditative activities. Tuning into our senses, we channelled our ancestors’ tracking techniques to observe wildlife in the woods.
“I liked spending time over one thing like whittling.”
“I liked making nettle twine.”
Day 3: By now our job was done. The group effortlessly set up camp, lit the fire and continued their own projects without any instruction required. It was a real pleasure to see a group of teenagers, away from screens, so happily engrossed in traditional activities. Macramé, the art of knotting string into patterns, was particularly popular and we used this technique to make storm lanterns in preparation for the following evening.
Day 4: The culmination of our week in the woods put all our skills to the test. After harvesting vegetables from the wildlife garden, and foraging blackberries from Tilgate Park, we cooked up a feast of stew and bannock on the campfire before dusk. Our evening was spent listening to the sounds of Sopranos - not just the campfire songs, but the amazing variety of nocturnal wildlife which is always there if you dare to take a wild wander.
“It was great! I liked the skills we used to help us in our future life. We saw Adders and Grass snakes. Also we learnt knots to help set up the camp. Whittling was a great experience. The staff were amazing and there was a fire every day. It was incredible and I would totally recommend it to anyone.”