BEAR GRYLLS SURVIVAL ISLAND
BEAR GRYLLS NORTHERN IRELAND
"When holding the knife, remember to avoid the triangle of death. If you don't, it'll probably get a bit messy quickly. And nobody likes cleaning up other people's mess. Especially when it's blood".
This should be interesting.
FOUR HOURS EARLIER...
The sun is shining, the weather is sweet, yeah.
Thursday morning, 8am and already there's a bit of heat about the day. As most road trips seem to start, we reward ourselves early-on with a breakfast pit stop - the new(ish) Applegreen at Lisburn being the eatery of choice on this occasion.
GREGGS to be precise.
Sausage rolls. Red sauce. Coffee. Really good coffee in fact. Here endeth the detailed food review.
40 minutes down the M1 and the sun is thankfully still shining.
We continue the route into Fermanagh towards Enniskillen, eventually taking the turn-off for Lisbellaw. We begin following the well-(brown)signed route to our final destination for two days of shenanigans...
...stopping for a quick hello to this inquisitive dude. I wonder is eeyaw'lways this friendly?
10 out of 10 for the pun, no?
HOLY SMOKES, IS THIS WHERE WE'RE STAYING?
Situated on the northern tip of Upper Lough Erne - which always confused me as a kid, seeing it beneath Lower Lough Erne on the map - Belle Isle is a 470-acre estate spread over eight picturesque islands. Inhabited since the 12th century, the estate today offers a wide range of attractive self-catering accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets....and as we would quickly find out, our home for the night was in the main castle. I'll say it again, holy smokes.
(You might also be familiar with the Belle Isle name in the same way I had heard of it before - for it's great Cookery School - another one for the list.)
Before checking-in, we have a quick dash around the outside of the castle to take in the stunning venue. If you follow NI Explorer on Instagram, you'll see the love for an old castle... the reason for the giddy excitement here.
...but eventually remembering that despite the luxurious surroundings, we were here for a slightly more challenging experience.
It wouldn't be that bad though, would it?
"IT MAY HURT A LITTLE"
Bags offloaded into our room (pics later), we head straight to the castle's Great Hall for a bite to eat and to meet the others who had signed up for this adventure.
As the sound of our excited-but-nervous chat grew, several stern-faced men then enter the room and suddenly the focus was on them. Them and their knives.
The Bear Grylls team quickly talked us through how Belle Isle Estate was now the official home of the Survival Academy in Northern Ireland - in particular one of its islands - where today we would be learning key survival skills as seen in Bear's recent TV series 'The Island'.
"Will we be eating bugs?" was the call in unison less than a second after the introduction finished with '...any questions?'.
The reply was simply a smile, a quick glance at the watch and sharp "Rendezvous, 10 minutes at the 4x4s".
TO 'THE ISLAND'
Offloading from the 4x4s, we were straight into kayaks with no detail on where we were going. Simply 'you'll know'.
Ten minutes of paddling later, an orange smoke signal bellowed from a nearby island to mark our docking point. From there, the BGSA team guided us to our camp for the day, a short walk into a forested area of the island.
Eventually we spot the smoky haze from the basecamp fire through the trees...
LET THE SURVIVING BEGIN
Over the next few hours the BGSA team provided a fun and unique experience designed around essential survival skills - both challenging and rewarding in equal measure - that included knife-handling, fire-lighting...
...essential shelter building...
...'concealment' (hiding to you and me - spot me in the second pic?)...
....a bit of axe-throwing, as you do...
...and yes, foraging and grizzly-eating of live worm-larvae things.
BACK TO THE KAYAKS
With the crunch of a small bug, it was back to base-camp for final debrief, reflection on the afternoon's achievements and to make our way back to the shore.
As you'll see from the pics above, the BGSA team were always close-by, making sure everyone was safe in all activities, from the provision of kayaking life jackets to keeping a watchful eye on anyone that was on the verge of a bug-eating panic.
That said, I do think they had some part to play when we discovered a number of the kayaks had been 'stolen' from our shoreline arrival point...
"You need to build a raft guys."
We made it! Well they made it. I was too busy taking pics that I missed out on volunteering to row our hand-made raft back.
Totally had faith it would float.
Back on dry land, after a quick (long) scrub the group enjoyed dinner, a few drinks (including the locally made Boatyard Gin) and plenty of laughs talking about the adventures earlier that afternoon.
Sleep came easily that night and breakfast was as tasty as dinner the night before. We had a final tour of the castle before making our way back through the sunny, beautiful Fermanagh countryside.
A massive thank you to the super-nice folk at Belle Isle Estate and the knowledgeable (and entertaining) Bear Grylls Survival Academy team for such an awesome two days.
The Survival Academy Island experience is perfect for group events, from corporate away days to birthday parties, hens and stags. They can even tailor the experience to the level of extreme-ness you prefer.
Click on the image below for further info:
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