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Why a whittling weekend in the woods is this year’s spring break

Travelling
Long read

Nikki Yoxall

14 March 2018

Forget the pretentiousness of forest bathing and put a weekend in the woods to good use, learning or re-learning essential survival skills, from making fire to open air cooking and whittling spoons. Nikki Yoxall spends a couple of nights glamping on a women only retreat and finds that the whole process helps set the reset button.

Inhaling deeply, holding my favourite grey beanie hat in front of my face, I draw the smell of woodsmoke into my lungs, its scent pulling me back to the re-wild retreat, to the fire and the woods.

It takes me back to the spot under the trees, the dappled sunlight flickering across the faces of the assembled women, where small talk was not required and acceptance was immediate. To the spot where we made fire, wooden spoons and friendships.

The Rewild Retreat promises a weekend of gourmet glamping and bushcraft, and it certainly delivers. 

Rewild Weekend glamping retreat for women

Settle in with a cuppa from a open fire, nothing tastes better

Set in the beautiful and atmospheric surroundings of Tintern in the Wye Valley, the two day course sets out to 'ease you into the great outdoors. Regardless of whether you are a seasoned mountain lass or a complete newbie to the woods, this weekend has something to offer all.

Being eased into the great outdoors is not just about acclimatising city folk to ‘roughing it’, anyone can be eased into a state of peace and relaxation through the gentle crackle of a cooking fire and generous helpings of wholesome vegetarian food.

A warm welcome on Friday evening was immediately offered, alongside a cup of tea, the water being boiled in a soot covered copper kettle deeply bedded into the embers of the fire. As everyone arrived over the course of an hour, depositing their bags in the squat yet graceful lotus belle tents, we were all drawn to the simple benches placed around the central cooking fire, to introduce ourselves and chat. 

"I draw the smell of woodsmoke into my lungs, its scent pulling me back to the re-wild retreat, to the fire and the woods"

As the darkness drew in around us, and the bottles of red wine we had all brought along were opened and enjoyed, our hosts Jackie and Emma gave an overview of the weekend whilst serving up a delicious spicy black bean and butternut stew with hasselback sweet potatoes (the crunchy and slightly charred edges were divine).

As the fire crackled on and some of our number foraged apples in the darkness from the nearby trees, we mixed cinnamon and sugar in readiness for a sweet treat. Cooking apples directly in the ashes, then scraping off the peel to reveal fluffy steaming centres,  rolling them in the spiced sugar and caramelising them over the flames allowed us to indulge our inner child and sink into autumnal nostalgia for bonfires, fireworks and burnt tongues. 

The first evening’s gourmet delights set a high standard for the weekend that was met meal after meal, with sweetcorn chowder, smoked eggs, roasted vegetables and Dutch oven banana cake all making star turns over the weekend.

Heading to bed in the darkness, sharing a tent with women who no longer felt like strangers, our easing into the outdoors was well under way. With a promise of tea and breakfast by the fire on waking, sleep came quickly, on soft mattresses under cosy blankets and duvets.

The morning light showed off the tent in all its quirky beauty, with bunting above our heads, mixed and matched rugs, cushions and blankets, and a posy of wild flowers sitting atop an old pirate’s chest. 

The day started slowly, and as all of the best days in the woods and fields, time became irrelevant. 

As our focus and attention was pulled to drinking tea, watching the flames, mixing ingredients for waffles and talking about plans for the day, it didn’t matter what the time was or where it was going, all that mattered was a mindful practice of satisfying needs, leaving behind the busy-ness of day to day life and savouring the smells and tastes of a woodland fire breakfast. 

After eating our full, the teaching part of the weekend began proper, as we explored firelighting techniques and worked in pairs to create sparks and light tinder. Working together to collect kindling, separating it out into piles, then clasping one each, taking it in turns to lay our piles on the fire felt strangely ritualistic but this approach to fire building actually allows for better control and management of a fire, rather than the traditional pyramid or wigwam.

Rewild Weekend in Wales for women
“The day started slowly, and as all of the best days in the woods and fields, time became irrelevant”

Jackie, the founder of Go Wild Education, talked at length about the origins of the weekend, how in its fourth year it is now a key feature of the Go Wild Education year and one that Jackie loves to deliver personally. 

For some of the participants, this is also an annual pilgrimage into the woods, an opportunity to relax, unwind and be themselves as women and not only wives and mothers. The female only aspect of the retreat is important to Jackie, who feels that there is less pressure on women to try fire building, knife skills and outdoor cooking when men aren’t present.

Her experience of years of delivery and training shows patterns that when men are engaging in those activities in a mixed sex group, women tend to step back. 

Rewild Weekend for women in wales

Part of the Rewild retreat was learning how to whittle wood and carve spoons

Here women are given the space to re-engage with pursuits that for millennia have always been female tasks, until in more recent years, with the advent of BBQs and SAS bushcraft manuals, they have been claimed by men, who see cooking on fire as their own.

An afternoon of whittling awaited us, selecting branches, trimming them down and using saws and knives to shape spoons. 

We were all entirely engrossed, and it is absolutely true that to make a spoon, all you need to do is carve away the parts that aren’t spoon. The range of utensils that took shape were as individual and intricate as the women that carved them. 

Rewild Weekend for wome nin Wales

A delicious looking fire cooked banana cake awaits the wood whittlers

As the dark crept in and we could no longer see to whittle, we moved on to sampling botanical gins, sipping our own cocktails and settling in for a soak in the wood fired hot tub under the stars.

Sunday brought shelter building and a walk along the Wye Valley, a quiet sense of calm and peaceful purpose as our spoons took a final sanding and waxing with the homemade wax provided in goody bags.

For any women who want to retreat from day to day life and engage with nature, this rewild retreat certainly delivers, with wonderfully knowledgeable hosts and a stunning setting, it is certainly a weekend you won’t forget in a hurry.

Fancy a weekend like this? There are Rewild Retreats on 22-24 June and 21-23 September.

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