Bear Grylls Family Survival Course
Could you or your family survive in a wild place? For how long? The Bear Grylls Survival Academy aims to pass on the skills you may need if you are stranded in the wilderness. We attended a half day taster course in Snowdonia together and found that whilst ‘self rescue’ is the thing, more than little bonding goes on too. Although it does come with a health warning; ‘It may hurt a little…’ Well. that’s what you should expect from a family survival course, isn’t it?
Bear Grylls brings Survival Academy to Wales
I am sitting on a log scraping flint against steel and catching sparks in a cotton wool ball. A couple of seconds later and I have miraculously created fire. Perhaps I am Gandalf? I look around and confirm I have wandered into a Lord of the Rings roleplay group. On many of the other log toadstools are gangly blokes who have clearly been growing their beards for some time for this very moment. I briefly worry their vast sideburns might catch fire. But Russell our instructor doesn’t seem perturbed.
“Come on Dragon Breath get some air under those flames.” he shouts.
Dragon Breath is not knowingly undernamed. He has lungs like bellows. But then he is excited. This is a stag party and he is the stag; his last weekend of surviving all on his own. He puffs and blows and soon we have created a fire strong enough to signal to a passing plane. Not that there is a passing plane. Because we are in the depths of a forest in Snowdonia. Sadly in this afternoon’s fictional scenario we were the ones on the plane. And it has crashed. In Cabin Wood. We must work hard and prioritise to stay alive. There’s an acronym to help us. Thankfully a board has crashed too. To help us remember this acronym: Please Remember What’s First. Unfortunately it isn’t a camp chair, air bed or BBQ.
Remember – Rescue
First – Food
By learning about priorities and then acting on them, we will, in theory, skill ourselves up for the wild and how to cope with being on our own in it. By the end of the three hour course we will learn how to find food, make shelter, dig for water, and escape from Cabin Woods on an assault course through nature. All this on a January day in Wales on stomachs lined only with one dried mealworm and half a Twix. And with a bear chasing us.
Only kidding about the bear. He’s not chasing us. He’s the one that we have come to learn from.
Surviving hurts…a little
‘This will hurt a little’ is the unusually honest marketing tag, splashed across the leaflets along with the larger than life, mud spattered celebrity face. Or should that be ‘global brand?’ Bear Grylls is the Jeremy Clarkson of the survival world. He’s currently the most recognisable face of survival (sorry Ray Mears) and spreads himself pretty much everywhere; from TV shows like The Island, to the Bear Grylls Ultimate Multi-Tool on Amazon. Wherever you live, he may have been helicoptered in to a forest near you; his survival academy franchises are spreading across the world like…well like a fire lit with a piece of wire wool and the PP9 battery from the kids’ nightlight.
Before the visit, I wonder if the education should begin at home. My kids must be the only ones in the UK unaware of The Bear as we don’t have a TV and he doesn’t offer cheats for gaming on You Tube. I mention this to my brother who e-mails a rescue plan. “I am no huge Bear fan but simply showing them some of his stuff from the early days when he really was breaking new ground in adventure would be cool. It must be on YouTube. Anyone who gives themselves a dirty water enema on a raft the size of a single bed to be able to hydrate can’t be all bad.”
Lordy, an enema out of dirty water? Surely that would hurt a LOT!
Follow The Bear
As it turns out, you don’t need to know much about Bear Grylls before attending his Survival Academy. You learn everything you need on this giant natural TV set. Anyway with so many academies across the world, from the UAE (the courses are run in the desert) to the USA, I’d be surprised if The Bear has actually visited half of them himself.
Of course The Bear’s philosophy, experience and learning do underpin everything. Be prepared. Be prepared and then some. Prioritise your actions and act quickly to save yourself. Know what you can salvage from your surroundings if you get caught out. Be strong. Be determined. Understand the natural world and use it to save yourself. ‘Self rescue’ is a word that comes up frequently during our three hour course. And it’s actually quite an empowering idea, especially when your most likely rescuer otherwise is Dragon-Breath.
What is a Bear Grylls Survival Academy?
Our experience takes place at Dragon Raiders Activity Park, just outside Criccieth on Snowdonia’s Lleyn peninsular. In Scotland you can do a 24 hour family course, or even a five day full on ‘island’ assault. But here, in thickly forested woods, the session is more of a taster. It begins with a crash course in bushcraft. How a burnt out car can provide materials to keep you warm and dry. How to trap live animals using only sticks and twine. How to recognise a deadly berry from a potential salad ingredient. We learn how to make a shelter in ten minutes from sticks and leaves. We learn where the best grubs hang out. And I learn that if a bird is circling over my head it probably means that I am dinner. “Survival isn’t pretty,” our instructor Russell reminds me before inviting me to find out just how unpretty it can be.
The rest of the afternoon is a man made assault course that I must get to the end of. Without anyone else’s help. Except my own. Remember that self rescue thing? Well this is where the theory is put into practice. When I see Cameron dropping to his stomach and crawling under a web of tree branches ahead of me I know that the moment has arrived when it may hurt.
Assault on the senses
And yes it does. A little. I am crawling through mud. I’ve never been this close to mud before. The overwhelming sensations are cold and wet. But once I am covered in it and it fills my nostrils, there is nothing left to be afraid of. And so it goes on. The minute we are comfortable with one scenario or element the pressure is turned up. I am propelling myself along a river on a rope. I am running and running over tree roots and logs. And someone is shouting at me to run faster. I am ducking under trees, adrenaline fuelling me, branches felling me. I am hauling myself over giant logs. I am running in a river and every so often the floor drops away and I am belly flopping into the river. I am regaining my balance and being shouted at to run again. And I don’t mind. In fact strangely I am enjoying it. I haven’t seen the kids in ages. But the great thing about this ‘self rescue’ lark is that for these three hours they are not my problem.
End of the assault
It is 5 pm. I am freezing but I have the kind of warm fuzzy feeling that comes from achieving and surviving and self rescuing. And the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from something being over. We are gathering for a group shot pretending to be bears. Rrrraaaar! We are clutching muddy certificates with ‘that face’ beaming out. Dragon Breath and his mates are off to put out the fire with a few beers. I feel almost fond of him and wish him luck at surviving marriage; a whole different assault course.
And then we are alone in the dark. Not hurting. Not even a little. But we do have to find dinner.
There are Bear Grylls Survival Academies throughout the UK, from the Scottish Highlands to the Surrey Hills. Courses run from an afternoon to a week, depending on how extreme you want to get. As mentioned there are courses throughout the world including USA and Dubai.
We attended ours at Dragon Raiders Activity Park in Criccieth in Snowdonia, North Wales. The centre started running the Survival Academy courses last April and two more experiences are being added this summer. One is a sleepover where you can sleep in your makeshift shelter, and skin and cook your own prey for dinner. The second is a more extreme option involving being helicoptered onto Snowdon before having to make your own way back down.
Children over the age of eight and families are welcome on the half day taster course. Ring first if you want to check if you or the kids will be suited to (or fit enough) for the adventure. In off peak times you will need to ring in advance and book a place.
Bring a change of clothes and appropriate footwear. You will need it. Goggles and helmets are provided. You will need them too.
Get yourself ready to survive
If you want to kit yourself out to survive, check out our post on 10 Outdoor Survival Essentials. You may also find some of these products from Amazon helpful.
Disclosure Note: We attended the Bear Grylls Survival Course with the help of Visit Wales. However the opinion, experience, dunking and hurting was all our own. Thanks also to Jeremy Head for some of the images and permission to use them here.