Apart from when we’re filming on our farm, it’s not often I get to take my wife and children on location with me, but the trip to the shoot at Woodfest (www.woodfestwales.co.uk) was an exception.
As it was half term, we all bundled into the Land Rover and headed to North Wales. Arriving slightly jaded after an excitable night in a family hotel room, we were faced with a showground dedicated to the world of wood, timber sports, crafts and every tool you could think of.
Towering high above the exhibits was a 25m (80ft)-tall trunk. With an equally large gulp, I sensed what was to come later in the day.
At Countryfile, we film with animals and nature, and in the great outdoors at the mercy of the weather, so we often have to go with the flow, but as I found, filming timber sports is a different beast altogether. There are lots of different timber sport disciplines, but they usually involve chopping or sawing wood in the fastest time possible.
These testosterone-fuelled axe men were so fast, they barely gave our cameraman the chance to record this rawest of sports.
Next, we witnessed one of the most memorising art forms I’ve ever seen: chainsaw carving with a time limit of 30 minutes.
When the craftspeople got to work, there was no room for any retakes for the Countryfile crew, and it wasn’t long before bears, eagles and horses started to appear in front of our eyes. The whole family loved it and when the creations were auctioned off to the crowd, I couldn’t help myself bidding on the bear, while my wife bought the eagle and my son bagged a carving from Easter Island. Not to be left out, my daughter bought a wooden mushroom for her grandad.
The penultimate item on our filming schedule was the “optional” pole climb. Without my knowledge, it had been heavily advertised that I was climbing the 25m (80ft) pole at 4pm, so I was greeted by an expectant crowd. No pressure! The more I looked up, the higher it appeared, and it was only the fact that the racing lumberjacks had put bets on how long it would take me to get to the top that made me go for it.
I set off throwing the loop as fast as I could and digging in my toes, and went with the philosophy of just not stopping. A slip three-quarters of the way up took my breath away but again I thought “just keep going”. When I reached round and hit the button to stop the clock, the cocktail of height and the sheer exertion made me feel woozy as I swung suspended on the rope, high above the crowd below.
The fact that I just wanted it to be over as quickly as possible had driven me to a time that would have seen me win money in the final. I was delighted and having conquered my fear, may well now enter a few competitions!
Originally published in Issue 75 of Countryfile Magazine
Matt Baker is a British television presenter – when not on television, he spends his time outdoors.