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Buschraft workshops ©GTS Photography

Bushcraft in The Brecks

Suffolk is a county known and loved for its ruralness, its areas of outstanding natural beauty and unspoilt heritage coastline. People visit for many reasons, one of which is to escape the hubbub of busy city life; to slow down, relax and recharge their batteries. Back to Wilderness Buschraft Workshops ©GTS Photography
Back to Wilderness Buschraft Workshops ©GTS Photography
With the fast pace at which we tend to live our lives, it is perhaps not surprising that many people feel they are losing touch with nature. In a recent study carried out on behalf of Jordans Farm Partnership, 13% of British residents said they had not visited the countryside in the past two years, one in three of those surveyed could not identify an English oak tree and 17% had never seen a toad in real life. Thetford forest Suffolk (c) euphro
Thetford forest Suffolk (c) euphro

This is something Ray Chin, who runs Back to Wilderness a company teaching bushcraft and wilderness survival skills, wants to change. “Everywhere we look there’s huge focus on environmental issues and the global affects, but unless given the opportunity to take a step back to see the wood for the trees, people will never connect with it” he says.

“Learning skills like these, can help people understand what’s right in front of them. The more we understand, the more inclined we are to be responsible and care a little more about what’s really important.”

Ray has always had an affinity with the natural world and even as a young child he would happily sit in his back garden, quietly observing the wildlife around him. “I’d find myself fascinated with how everything seem to just know where to live, what to eat and how to stay alive” he remembers.

Sunrise in the Brecks ©Back to Wilderness
Sunrise in the Brecks ©Back to Wilderness

Teaching wilderness survival skills is not his first career however. After many years of working in IT, his family rekindled his love of nature. “One Christmas they bought me a Survival School weekend course as a present. Taking part on that course took me right back to my earliest years, almost as if someone had hit the reset button. That was it, my interest was reignited with a passion.”

Now a certified Bushcraft, Survival and Wilderness Living instructor, Ray runs regular workshops at Brandon Country Park and High Lodge in Thetford Forest in the Brecks, and elsewhere across East Anglia.

Wilderness survivial skills workshops ©GTS Photography
Wilderness survivial skills workshops ©GTS Photography

The Brecks has the largest lowland pine forest in Britain which, combined with beautiful scenery and abundance of natural resources, makes Suffolk an excellent location for learning these skills. The workshops are an opportunity for people to take a complete break from their normal routine.

As Ray says, “with very little phone reception on these courses, most people seem to enjoy the natural detachment from the tendency to reach for technology for answers and provisions - there is no app for that! This allows them space mentally, to gain a realisation that almost everything they would need to survive, is all around them.”

Thetford Forest in the Brecks, Suffolk ©Back to Wilderness
Thetford Forest in the Brecks, Suffolk ©Back to Wilderness

“All kinds of people take part on the courses I run” he continues, “from children to retired grandparents; mums, dads, entire families, schools, people from the corporate world, architects - anyone and everyone with a natural curiosity.”

Part of the enjoyment for Ray in teaching these skills is seeing the pride and sense of achievement in peoples' eyes when they put their new-found skills, such as making a fire, into practice, “it's as if deep down something very primeval has reconnected with nature” he says, “suddenly it’s not just rubbing two sticks together, it’s evolution.”

Setting up camp ©Back to Wilderness
Setting up camp ©Back to Wilderness
In 2015 Ray decided to test himself. Under the guidance of the specialist tour company Bushmasters, he headed out into the Guyana jungle in South America to put all his survival skills into practise. Out went the health and safety rulebook, and instead Ray relied on his instincts and training to help him survive in a landscape he had never experienced before.

“Guyana was a trip of a lifetime” he says, “I just woke up one day and knew it was something I needed to do, so I did it. I went for two reasons: to experience life outside of the modern bubble-wrap we surround ourselves with, and also to test myself mentally, physically and physiologically. I wanted to understand a little more about what I was made of deep down.”

He spent time with the indigenous Makushi people and observed how they naturally embrace and respect their surroundings, seeing it as a vital resource to sustain their life. The experience had a profound effect on Ray. “I came back having found that little boy in the garden again, watching and observing to learn and understand. How did they [the Makushi] know where to live, what to eat and how to stay alive? I guess I found myself without really knowing I’d become lost.”

Ray Chin - Back to Wilderness ©GTS Photography

And the most important skill Ray teaches his students? “I’d say that the most important skill they can learn is to slow down and actually see what they are looking at. If you can’t see what you are looking at, you will never find the food you need, the source of water, the right material to make a fire....a valuable life skill in my book.”

If you fancy combining a wilderness survival skills workshop with a short break to the Brecks, read our itinerary 48 Hours in Suffolk: Food and Adventure in The Brecks.

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