BushcraftLab's friend & colleague Maddie Callaghan shares how she got involved in bush craft, and why it’s now a big part of her life and always will be
When I was 14 years old, I attended my very first bushcraft course. I was THAT girl who was prioritising her make up over anything, because how could I survive the outdoors without a full face of make up?! I was not looking forward to this excursion, but I wanted to make my Dad happy as he was excited for it. So, I decided, I would bite the bullet, keep my head down and the weekend would be over soon enough. It was a canoe and bushcraft course and I feel like everyone could feel my distaste for it, until we got into our canoes and laughed as people were getting stuck and struggling to manoeuvre through the water. That was until we, were getting stuck and struggling to manoeuvre through the water… Not as funny from the other side. For the first time, I was feeling calm. I struggled with anxiety for a long time as my Mum had a stroke a few years prior that took us all by surprise. I was always the loudest family member, and then I became the quiet, reserved one, but then within a few hours I was having the time of my life, laughing till my sides hurt and being absolutely blown away by the beauty of the Norfolk Broads. How did I live so close to somewhere that had so much to offer? I thought at that time you could only really see beautiful places like this abroad. I was talking to strangers about their canoe conundrums and sharing stories about how amazing it is to be outdoors.
After we arrived at the campsite, we set up our camp. Fair to say, I was expecting one of those glorious 1950s style campsites with lanterns lit up all around. I was not expecting a damp wooded area with a tarp over my head. Is that it? I had never been camping before, so I at least wanted a tent! Ridiculous! However, Dad was still smiling so I trundled on. It then came to get some dinner, I was learning ways to make a fire with wet wood, and it amazed me how quickly they could do it. I even found that I was relatively good at it. I made a feather stick and it was most likely the first time I held a knife that wasn’t in the kitchen. We had fish cooked over an open fire and I was absolutely famished. It was pretty burnt and was entirely black, but as I said I was very hungry and therefore, I ate it so quickly. I was hoping they would offer seconds. My dad collected my plate and asked where the rest was. Well I ate it, obviously. What I did NOT know was that it was not a usual fish fillet… it was a whole fish. That’s right, the head, eyes, bones… the lot. The army veteran who had served for 26 years, suddenly became very pale. I guess I got the strong stomach from my mother then?
On our second day I woke up with terribly sore muscles, but we were having so much fun I didn’t even notice. I was quite sad to depart and wish I could do another couple of days. I had gone from thinking it was going to be the most dreadful experience in my life, to changing my life completely. I suddenly became more confident in everything that I did. I began seeing my friends again and not feeling anxious about everything that I do. I joined the Air Training Corps. Something I would have never imagined myself doing, and from then on, my confidence just grew, all because I embraced the outdoors. It felt like a complete miracle, I never would have expected it and I really didn’t expect it from just spending a bit of time outdoors. It didn’t completely eradicate my anxiety, but I found my medicine, my cure.
A few years later I’m now an instructor working with my Dad in a new business called Echo Company, as well as attending university studying history and archaeology. We can teach outdoor skills and a variety of outdoor activities so that people can feel the way I did. They can escape their stressors from daily life, even if for a day and see what it means to truly be at ease. For me, there is nothing in the world more amazing than the outdoors and the benefits it can provide you with. It’s natural meditation, you don’t need the condescending voices telling you to breathe in and out and do yoga in some bizarre positions that only contortionists can do. Just GO OUTDOORS! Take a walk and listen to the sounds around you, the cars on the road, the couple next door arguing over opening a new milk when there’s already one open. Or go to a local park and hear the birds and dog walkers. Or, come visit Echo Company and try activities such as shooting, archery, bushcraft, laser pigeon shooting, axe throwing and much more.
If you don’t challenge yourself every now and then, you’ll never know how strong you really are.
A lot has changed for me, but if you’re wondering, I still am THAT girl who stuffs make up into her Bergen.