Deirdre Reynolds has always appreciated the finer things in life. So how would she manage at Bear Grylls’ newly-launched survival academy in County Kildare?
What happens when you drop a bunch of D4 ’meeja’ types into the Kildare jungle armed with just a knife and an empty water bottle? Tears, tantrums, and sheer terror — and that was just me.
Bear Grylls world-renowned Survival Academy has just launched at Carton House in Maynooth.
And I was among the (un)lucky group of print and tv journalists invited to try it out first before it’s unleashed on an unsuspecting public today. As the world’s most recognisable face of survival, adventurer Grylls is famous for plunging out of planes, drinking his own pee and eating a moose’s heart — among other things — on shows such as Man vs Wild and Escape From Hell.
Meanwhile, back in the leafy southside suburbs, I’m better known for barely being able to start a fire with Zip firelighters and struggling to survive past midday without a skinny cappuccino.
Being the mollycoddled hack that I am, when an invite to take part in “the ultimate survival challenge” pinged into my inbox, I figured it would involve faffing around with some ropes and twigs, before retreating to the spa to get over the stress of having to leave the Big Smoke in the first place.
I certainly didn’t expect it to entrail — sorry, I mean ‘entail’ — skinning a dead rabbit, dangling perilously over a river on a rope or bouncing about mercilessly in a 4x4.
Then again, the former British army soldier isn’t exactly known for wrapping celebrities — or Z-listers, for that matter — up in cotton wool.
Under Grylls’ tutelage, Oscar winner, Kate Winslet has rappelled face-first down the side of a mountain, Channing Tatum has beheaded a rattlesnake and US President Barack Obama has gnawed on bloody salmon left over by an actual bear.
Speaking about his upcoming appearance on Running Wild with Bear Grylls, which is set to air on NBC later this year, Obama said: “As president, I am in what’s called ‘the bubble’ and the Secret Service makes sure that I’m always out of danger – which I very much appreciate – but it can be a little confining.
“Every once in a while, if I do something unexpected, the phrase we use is that, ‘The bear is loose’ so to be with Bear in the woods, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
A half-day survival course (€75 per person), including basic self-rescue and navigation skills, and a overnight survival course (€275 per person), including more advanced shelter building and rope skills, are just two of the packages being offered by Bear Grylls Survival Academy Ireland, run by outdoor adventure company Xtreme.ie at the 1,100-acre parkland estate.
Given that I had barely managed to follow the signposts to the four-star property just off the M4, I wasn’t feeling too confident when our manly instructors — hand-picked by Bear himself — revealed our first task was to follow simple directions using a wristwatch as a compass.
So I was pretty pleased with myself when our team somehow managed to calculate the position of the sun in the sky and the direction of the wind to navigate due west to our destination, where we discovered a stash of such well-known survival tools as, eh, tampons?
All was revealed when it came to our next challenge to build a potentially life-saving campfire.
Apparently the cotton lady things, along with dried leaves and tiny twigs, are perfect for sparking a blaze when you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Although I’ve seen candle flames more impressive than the depressed-looking ember that I ignited using my Bear Grylls-branded knife with a built-in striker notch and rod.
With the camp fire blazing — OK, smouldering then — grub was soon up; quite literally, as instructor Will next showed us how to forage under rocks and logs for mealworms, which he claimed contain pound for pound more protein than a steak, .
Although technically larvae as opposed to a fully-fledged animal, I played the vegetarian card to avoid biting into one of the baby beetles, which another more intrepid reporter described as having a “nutty” quality.
Needless to say, when it came to learning how to skin and gut a dead rabbit with your bare hands, together with two equally queasy female reporters, I resorted to feebly plucking blueberries from a nearby bush instead. By now, my chances of ever actually surviving in the wild were starting to look about as good as the bunny’s.
One thing I learned during my day as a doomsday prepper is that time isn’t on your side in the wild — so you better make damn sure someone else is.
Pulling together, it took our team of four people almost an hour to build a makeshift hut that could barely withstand a bucket of water — let alone a torrential night in the wilderness.
Huddled inside, however, the concept of personal space a distant memory, we felt optimistic that at least some of us would still be alive in the morning, should disaster ever strike.
Paraphrasing Bear’s all-important ‘Rule of Three’, instructor Josh Valentine — who jetted in from the US especially for the occasion — reckons you can survive three weeks without food and three days without water, but only about three minutes with the wrong attitude.
“One of the most interesting things about the wild is that it reveals who people really are, whether they want [it] to or not,” he told me. “GPS and all these things are amazing, but nothing can really replace the skill of being able to find your way without a map or forage for food in the wild.
“Ultimately, it boils down to your attitude and your will to live.”
Dangling face-down over a river as I attempted to ‘commando crawl’ along a rope to the other side without falling in, it’s a mantra I soon became intimately familiar with.
Of course, there was little point attempting to stay dry as survival school ended with a freezing cold ‘river run’.
“Bear’s intention is to get more people out into the wild,” continued Josh. “And I think Ireland is a great location for his Survival Academy.
“Fire-building, navigating, and rope work obviously take practise. In the end though, it’s not about what’s in your backpack, it’s about what’s in your heart.”
Headed back to the concrete jungle, complete with a broken nail and rope-burnt bits, I switched on the car radio only to hear Beyonce warbling about being a ‘Survivor’. And while I’m not sure if the same can be said for me, at least if I ever find myself lost in Longford or famished in Fermanagh, I know I can grin and Bear it. n See beargryllssurvivalacademy.ie or cartonhouse.com for more
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved