Castaway skills, Gower

Learn to live like Robinson Crusoe on a wild and lovely stretch of Gower coastline

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Most of us have dreamt, at some point or another, of being shipwrecked on some sun-kissed beach, living off fresh fish and coconut milk. But is the castaway experience really that simple and romantic?

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Decked head-to-toe in splash-proof gear, I boarded the good ship Sea Serpent in Mumbles near Swansea and set off for the unknown. We hurtled around this historic stretch of coastline, passing Culver Hole and Paviland Cave, where the skeletal
remains of the oldest known ceremonial burial in Western Europe was found.

We then navigated around Worm’s Head – a breeding ground for kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots. I even saw a grey seal’s shiny head bob about in the surf, before it dived to catch a morning snack. As we turned back towards the mainland coast, I imagined the rumbles of a dark storm, threatening to overturn my intrepid vessel. My ‘shipwreck’ was surely imminent.

The Sea Serpent abandoned me knee-deep in water on the shores of Three Cliffs Bay and my rescuer came in the form of Andrew Price, founder of Dryad Bushcraft. There was no time to waste as he led me over dunes and saltmarsh, where we found a healthy bed of sea purslane, a salty green shrub that Andrew assured me tastes great with fish.

Walking up the estuary, we came across gorse flower, which has a delicious coconut and almond flavour, and ‘bread and cheese’ hawthorn. It’s so named because you can eat the flower sandwiched between the leaves to stave off hunger pangs.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, we took cover in woodland at the head of the estuary and foraged for wild parsley, wood sorrel and meadowsweet – a natural antiseptic.

Finding shelter

We stopped for shelter and a brief rest in Cat Hole Cave, once occupied by Stone Age hunters and used as a burial place during the Bronze Age. We stumbled across a geocache – a container that’s part of a treasure hunt using GPS – hanging over the cave entrance, so Andrew carved a tiny whistle from a sycamore twig and placed it in the cache.

A cave provides handy shelter from the elements, but what if there are none around? Depending on the weather, building a shelter may be your first priority if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness. We set aside our foraging baskets and got to work in the woodlands of Parc Le Breos, cutting and arranging hazel and sycamore poles in a triangular formation, and covering it over with dry dead leaves. A nearby cuckoo applauded our efforts.

The shelter looked sturdy and cosy, but tonight my bed would be a hammock hung between two ash trees. After stringing this up, Andrew showed me how to light a fire, using a bow drill made of hazel and dried grass.

He made it look so easy. By the time I’d gotten the hand of placing the drill in the bow I was red in the face and muttering expletives. “We get that a lot,” Andrew reassured me. “It takes patience to light your first fire.”

Time for tea

Our camp looked very homely with the fire lit and large log seats placed around it. “I could get used to this,” I thought, as I perched on a log and sipped on nettle tea. But our stomachs were gurgling, so Andrew had me roll up my sleeves and gut a trout (usually we would have foraged for mussels, but the tide was in), before skewering it on sycamore sticks and cooking it over the fire, along with some bannock (flat bread), potatoes and the sea purslane.

We ate our delicious dinner on burdock leaves, using handmade hazel tweezers to pick at the fish. Spoon carving and nettle cordage were next on the wilderness skills agenda – I had a go at braiding myself a nettle cord bracelet, but Andrew’s dexterous weaving put my efforts to shame.

The stars were out as we set off for a short walk up Cefn Bryn overlooking Oxwich Bay, and Andrew showed me how to find north using Cassiopeia (an off-kilter w-shaped constellation) as a starting point for finding Polaris (the North Star). Soon I was ready to climb in my surprisingly comfortable hammock and be serenaded to sleep by an owl.

When morning came I felt so lucky to wake up to a woodland dawn chorus, and witness ferns unravelling and chiffchaffs hopping from branch to branch.

Useful Information

How to get there
To get to Mumbles, exit the M4 at junction 45, and take the A465 signposted Merthyr Tydfil, Neath and Mumbles.

Find out more
Dryad Bushcraft
01792 547213
www.dryadbushcraft.co.uk

Gower Coast Adventures
07866 250440
www.gowercoastadventures.co.uk

Dryad runs the Castaway Experience in collaboration with Gower Coast Adventures. Adults £190. Under 16s £160. Cost is less for group bookings of 8-12 participants. Gower Coast Adventures runs separate round trips starting at £24 for adults.

Eat
Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour
01792 702265
www.joes-icecream.co.uk
A well-deserved indulgent treat after all those healthy foraged leaves and flowers.

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Stay
Parc-Le-Breos
Guest House
Parkmill SA3 1HU
01792 371636
www.parc-le-breos.co.uk
If a night in a hammock simply isn’t for you, this family-run B&B will provide all the home comforts you need.