"Camping, in January, in the Forest of Dean?"
The very suggestion raised some eyebrows, not to mention comments about our sanity but we wanted to get out into nature, try out our new tents, knives and cooking gear and after all, if we are going to baulk at a bit of cold weather, we aren't really putting our all into it, are we?
We were lucky to have been given open access to a plot of land in the heart of the forest, to make our plans for the coming year, steel ourselves for the rough weather and make some videos about our new kit.
The drive took us about three hours and we eventually pulled up around 9pm on Friday night. Darkness had already fully arrived and the whole place was bathed in bright, white moonlight. The full moon wouldn't arrive until the Saturday but the glow was strong enough to cast long shadows across the monochrome landscape and make eerie faces out of the trees.
Pitching the tents was a relatively easy affair, but the darkness deprived us of the chance to make a video. We'll post one up later as a full review but for now its enough to say that after much research, balancing quality with budget, we have opted for the Vango Tempest 200, 2-person tent, which provided good shelter and ample space for our gear. Though it was a cold night, we managed to stay relatively warm and woke around six-thirty the next morning, hungry and ready for adventure.
Adrian being the camp cook, rustled us up a breakfast of sausage, beans and pitta bread, using his newly acquired multi-fuel cooker, which you can see reviewed here [AWAITING LINK]. After cleaning up we headed off into the forest for a poke around to find some good sites for this year's work with the men's groups. We had heard that there were some old coal mines up the hill so we headed in that general direction. The ground was very muddy and the going was a struggle in places, but there were plenty of felled trees to use as grab-handles and before long we had reached the top of a peak, overlooking a deep valley. Following a thin mud track, littered with pieces of coal and red-stained stone, we eventually cam across a dense forest of pine trees.
In the gung-ho fashion I have come to expect from him, Ady romped off into the undergrowth, something akin to Aragorn striding into Fanghorn, looking for lost Hobbits. My cries of "You know there are wild boar in there right?" fell on the deaf ears of a man on a mission. By the time I had warned "make lots of noise so they hear you coming", "Don't stray off the path incase you stand on one", and "look at the size of this boar poo", Ady was already out of earshot.
Ignoring so many alarm bells going off in my head, I followed and immediately stumbled across a track that might as well have had a road sign saying 'wild boar highway'. The undergrowth was flattened, there were clear imprints of hoofs in the mud, fresh dung here and there and coarse hair snagged on trees. The tracks were unmistakably those of boar; several by the look of it and some almost as big as my hand! Ade was on a crusade to find some good bivouacking spots, keen to get right up close and personal with nature and had, by this time truly vanished. I did see him striding about a few times, looking like a bigfoot that had a Mountain Warehouse card, but for now I was resigned to seeing him on the other side of the forest.
Before going on this trip I did some reading-up on wild boar so I knew what to expect and how to behave if I did actually find myself staring down a snarling, angry were-pig. It turns out that they aren't actually the vicious man-hunters that fable would have us believe. Sure, if it comes to a you or it situation, chances are you will come off worst but the truth of the matter is that wild boar rarely attack humans and nearly all the reports of attacks relate to un-leashed dogs chasing them into the forest and the boar simply defending itself. You can get some very useful information about interactions with wild boar from the British Wild Boar website http://www.britishwildboar.org.uk and you’ll probably be surprised at what you find behind the hype. They certainly aren’t to be feared, just treated with the same healthy respect that any 30mph 300lb razor-tusked animal should be.
Boar are, by comparison to many wild animals, highly intelligent and their social behaviour demonstrates this. For centuries, man has hunted them for food and sport, even to the point of extinction in the UK. From as far back as the 17th century, attempts have been made to be re-introduce them, but they were not officially recognised by DEFRA as breeding populations until 1998! So quite rightly wild boar are wary of humans and will, for the most part, actively avoid you. That is provided that they know you are there and this is why it is important to be loud when walking through their territory, so they hear you coming. Sing, talk loudly, whistle a tune and just let them know you’re coming and you’ll probably never actually see one up close. The biggest danger they pose is when they are taken unawares, sleeping in the undergrowth, and are startled. They are nocturnal animals and so when you are out tramping about, they are quietly snoozing so watch your footing and try to stick to a path, what there may be of one.
The other danger presents itself between February and May, when Sows are protecting their litter. If you come across one of these then you are more likely to be confronted. Usually the sow will make posturing noises and try to stare you down. If you make it clear that you are not a threat and back away then it will end for the better, but if the sow does feel threatened then she will most likely charge at you, stopping short, just to send you a message.
As with all wild animals, just remember that you are in their world and you have to modify your behaviour if you want to stay safe. Enjoy the moment and the thrill of seeing the animal in its natural habitat. It’s a gift!
As for me, I can’t wait to go back and see if I can catch a glimpse of a boar. I did hear a grunt when I was in the woods, which suggests I was a bit too close for comfort, but I didn’t see anything. I kept heading back to the main path and that was as close as my encounter came.
I must remember to see if I can find Ady when I go back too!