Our man takes on the Bear Grylls Survival Academy
Four miles of trekking across hilly woodlands, one freezing river run, one pathetic, half-lit camp fire, a few exhausting navigational team-building exercises, one delicious rabbit, two surprisingly tasty maggots, a not-so-waterproof shelter, a 4x4 experience that petrified me and one five-star hotel in Kildare.
Just think Bear Grylls, but without the urine drinking and parachuting out of a helicopter.
Since 2000, the rich and famous have been using Maynooth’s Carton House to unwind and relax in the opulent surroundings, but this week I was invited to see the other side of the 45-acre estate.
It’s the side that has been taken over by the celebrity survival expert Bear Grylls to host his brand-new Irish company and which gives us mere mortals a chance to channel our inner caveman and fend for ourselves.
From the moment I arrived and was greeted in the hotel ballroom, I knew I was out of my depth. Wearing all the wrong clothes and thinking I was doing a bootcamp-type day out, my preconceptions soon evaporated when I was told to dispose of all valuables and I was handed a huge knife, a helmet, a life jacket and a spoon.
After a 10-minute briefing from a series of commando-type men who had flown in from England and the US, I was then shown a brief video message from Bear Grylls himself, who apologised for not making the launch day and finished with the words:“It may hurt”.
Do you know what? The cocky, poo-eating survivalist was right.
Surprisingly tasty maggots
Fast forward just 30 minutes and I am covered in mud, aching in places on my body I didn’t know existed and wandering around a forest looking for a ‘secret package’ (that turned out to be a bag of tampons).
From the very beginning it is clear that all of the courses run by The Bear Grylls Survival Academy and Xtreme.ie at Carton House are geared towards team-building, corporate affairs. Prices start from €75 per person, with the more adventurous opting for three to five-day courses that can cost hundreds of euro.
Stag parties are also going to lap up the short four-hour version, but at the moment the franchise is aimed at corporate group bookings.
If you are doing the five-hour or the five-day version you will learn a huge amount. Put it this way, if there was to be an apocalypse in the morning I’m pretty sure I could survive longer than most people now.
I know how to build a fire (as long as there are tampons nearby), I know how to find north and south without a compass and I am a self-proclaimed amateur genius at building shelters.
In order to save time the organisers had already killed a delicious rabbit – but that was where the help ended. I had to gut it, take out the heart, liver and kidneys before skinning it, dicing it and cooking it. It wasn’t pleasant at times, but if you take on a course like this you should know that you have to kill in order to eat. And it was delicious.
After lunch, the team took me off for a few rope climbs across the river. Unfortunately, having the balance and co-ordination of a pregnant giraffe I was never going to fare so well at this – but it was still a lot of fun and great preparation for the aforementioned apocalypse.
Not as much fun, though, as the 4x4 off-road drive that requires you to wear a helmet the whole time as you bounce around the seat belt-less Land Rover for 15 adrenalin-fuelled minutes.
The big finish is where I finally get to put on the life jacket and have a nice relaxing soak in the freezing river.
Daragh takes a 'relaxing' dip
You are never in any danger on the day-long version that I took part in. The leaders are fully trained and have travelled the world to take part in further training across a variety of different terrains and emergency situations.
They know how to save you if there is a problem, but they also want to let you learn and try different experiences. So, it is almost like they are not there for most of the time.
Bear Grylls was right in that welcome video. It hurt. A lot. But I walked (okay maybe it was a limp) away feeling great about the day, raving about it to anyone who would listen to me and feeling proud I survived.