I was very slightly hesitant, in my new role as Academy Ranger here at West Exmoor, it was my first time hosting a big event and I really wanted everybody to have a lovely weekend. With 31 people and one dog expecting two days of camping and wild food foraging, I feel my anxiety was justified. Thankfully though I was working with a team of skilled hands from whom I could learn: our very own Ranger Dan Ford, whose ability to build a campfire is unrivalled in the South West; Patrick Watts-Mabbott from the National Park, who can concoct a feast from the most seemingly inedible root; and Carol Brunner, Heddon’s story teller extraordinaire.
We had a heady two days planned, full of bread making, marshmallows, campfire stories, mammal tracking and of course our food forage walk. Everybody arrived in good time and the first job was to get all the tents up, and wow did we have some crackers… the most impressive being this super bell tent, which was contrasted amusingly by Patrick’s hammock bivvi.
After setting up we all headed off around the valley to forage our feast. The first lesson of which was NEVER eat anything that you are not 120% sure of, take only a small amount and no digging up plant roots. Luckily we had Patrick to keep us on the straight and narrow, and he assured us that he hardly every poisoned anybody J We had barely gone 50 meters before finding our first tasty candidate, and in over an hour we had only ventured 500 meters from camp, despite having sampled a plethora of fungi, berries, leaves and flowers. It just shows you what treats are squirreled away right under your nose.
As we headed for home it was starting to get dark and tummies were ready for tea. Everybody cooked their own, but we all settled down together around the roaring camp-fire to make bread twists, toast marshmallows and listen to Carol’s camping tale as the night drew in.
Despite a rather chilly sleep everybody rose in the morning fresh faced and ready to feed. Soon sausages and eggs started to sizzle on the skillets around the fire, dissipating the cold morning air. I made some soda bread for everybody to sample and the children enjoyed toasting it over the flames.
Finally before we packed up to go, the group congregated for one last stroll down to the Heddon’s Mouth. It was a beautiful morning and it was heart warming to see all the family groups beaming as they picked their way down to the stony shore; playing together, chasing waves and rock pooling. The Heddon’s Mouth sung with their energy as it combined with the natural vitality that inhabits that place.
I felt slightly sad to wave everybody goodbye, but we all seemed to end the weekend with big grins – I surely had a great time. Thank you to everybody who attended and made this weekend so wonderful. Hopefully it will be the same again next year.
Josey Field, Academy Ranger West Exmoor