A stay and a skill - learn something new in 2017
What’s your new years resolution for 2017? Why not learn a brand new skill in the great outdoors? These brilliant courses combine tutorship in everything from river swimming to flint knapping with a stay in the prettiest pockets of the British countryside. Picked by Sian Lewis
1. Try river swimming at Burdock Vean, Cornwall
It’s never too late to learn to swim, and the charming Budock Vean Hotel on Cornwall’s fabled Helford river is the perfect place to take to the water. Coach Len Hatcher will start you off in the pool before taking you out to explore the Helford’s creeks and coves. The next step is a dip in the crystal clear water of Cornwall’s rugged coastline - guaranteed to make you fall in love with outdoor swimming. After splashing about, warm up by the fire at the cosy Budock Vean, set in acres of sub-tropical gardens. This is the perfect course to book if you’d like to give wild swimming a try but need a little confidence boost first.
Swimming coaching costs £30 per person per hour.
2. Be a farmer for a day at Dartington Hall, Devon
Ever wanted to quit the rat race and escape to a country farm? Dartington Hall let you join farmers Jon and Lynne Perkin and their gorgeous goat and Jersey dairy herds at Old Parsonage Farm, a favourite with Matt Baker, who filmed here in 2016. Wake up in the heart of this lovely estate as painfully early as a real farmer for the first milking session of the day, followed by feeding, watering and bedding up the animals, moving herds and trying out fencing and hedge laying. Top tip - visit in spring for the chance to cuddle new lambs. Tired farm hands can then relax in one of Dartington Hall’s 50 sumptuous bedrooms.
A farming day costs £180 per person, including accommodation
3. Skin and butcher a deer with Land and Wave, Dorset
What skills do you have for a possible zombie apocalypse? Land and Wave's instructors will add at least one to your list. If the closest you've come to meat prep is a chicken breast on a supermarket shelf, Deer in a Day will open your eyes to the reality of meat butchery. Learn how to skin, prepare and cook an entire deer, then head indoors for a venison feast by the fire. Not one for veggies, perhaps, but perfect for cooks.
Deer in a day costs £120, or £180 with accommodation in a local B&B.
4. Make a wooden chair with Big Tree Society, Scottish Borders
Like the idea of creating a thing of beauty with your own fair hands? The Big Tree Society will teach you to magically transform wood into useful objects ranging from cooking spoons and stools to fully-formed chairs. Eoin Cox and his team focus on making the process fun for all the participants who visit their forest site from far and wide - you're likely to go away hooked on carpentry. There isn’t on-site accommodation but the pretty wild wood camping site of Ruberslaw is nearby.
Woodworking courses cost from £70
5. Learn to make bread with Manna from Devon, Devon
Manna from Devon are into local grub, and it doesn't get more homemade than fresh bread rising in your own oven. Pro baker David will have you kneading up a storm - you can learn how to make flatbreads, focaccia or sourdough, with a break for a tasty homemade lunch. Then stay at Manna's cute B&B and spend the rest of the weekend exploring the gorgeous countryside around the River Dart.
One day classes cost £150, not including accommodation.
6. Cook on the beach with The Fat Hen, Cornwall
The Fat Hen's foraging courses have become a firm favourite amongst foodies, and there's no better recipe for a happy sunny day than learning to cook up a crab feast on the beach. Meet local fisherman on the sand to buy the pick of the morning's catch, then forage for the rest of your ingredients and cook over a roaring fire. The Fat Hen boasts its own lovely cottage, the Old Wash House, which might tempt you to stay for a little while longer to explore the Cornish coast.
Crab on the beach costs £40, not including accommodation
7. Learn to make wine with Denbies Estate, Surrey
Ever dreamed of life running a sun-soaked Italian vineyard? You can get pretty close to the fantasy at Denbies, home to 265 acres of sweeping vines. Take their cheese and wine making course and you'll spend the morning at Norbuy Blue Dairy, followed by an afternoon with an expert wine maker learning the secrets of vintners (and tasting a lot of Denbies' finest creations, of course). Then sleep off all that vino at the estate's pretty farmhouse, tucked away amongst the vines.
A cheese and wine making day costs £89.50, not including accommodation.
8. Go foraging with Thyme, Cotswolds
There's nothing more satisfying than food for free, but foraging can seem a little scary if you've never been scavenging in hedgerows before. Enter Thyme, a cookery school in the heart of the Cotswolds on a mission to spread the joy of locally picked produce. Wild food expert Claudio Bincoletto will take you beyond the kitchen garden and into the water meadows to seek out the ingredients for lunch, teaching you the essentials of sustainable foraging and how to identify safe flora before cooking your bounty on an open fire. You can stay at the school's luxe boutique hotel for the full-on weekend-in-the-Cotswolds experience.
Foraging days cost £145, not including accommodation.
9. Learn flint knapping and arrow making with Drayad Bushcraft, Swansea
Get in touch with your inner Stone Age cave dweller at Dryad Bushcraft, on the beautiful Gower peninsula. You'll learn how to knap a flint into a sharp weapon and use your new tool to make a bow and arrow, then try tanning leather to make soft buckskin and practise primitive hunting techniques. Would-be cavemen can then camp overnight on site - just watch out for sabre-toothed tigers.
The Primitive Living Skills course costs £190
10. Learn the basics of pottery with Vinegar Hill, New Forest
If you've got a long weekend and a desire to scratch that creative itch, sign up for one of Vinegar Hill's three-day pottery classes. You'll learn to throw pots on a wheel as well as shaping clay by hand, with plenty of cake and a hearty lunch as a reward for your efforts. You can take your fired creations home with you, too. There are two comfy B&B rooms at the school, and the pony-filled wilds of the New Forest are on your doorstep.
Pottery classes cost £100 per day, not including accommodation.
By Sian Lewis
Sian Lewis is an award-winning outdoors and travel writer and blogger who focuses on sharing beginner-friendly adventures in the wildest corners of Britain.