Camp Wilderness Family Day : Review

The lovely folks at Camp Wilderness and The Bushcraft Company invited us to a free taster day to learn all about what they offer at their summer camps. They’ll also be running more of the family days throughout the year. Oliver is still a bit young for their summer camps but he loves the outdoors, so does R. I tolerate the outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s sunny and warm I love being outside. In March? Not so much. But I went along to Camp Wilderness see what all the fuss is about. Besides, what else would we do to celebrate a whole week of marriage? This is how we got on.

 

Arrival

Well, after realising (the day before) that Hatfield Woods actually isn’t in Hatfield and accidentally driving past the track that takes us to the camp we eventually found ourselves in the right place – R loves driving (probably too fast) down a country lane! We parked up and were greeted by a chap named Kyle. He asked Oliver’s name, so Oliver obviously said “Peter Parker”. Kyle instantly engaged him and cut off a piece of string to make Oliver a ‘web’. He tied it around Oliver’s wrist and bundled it in his hand then told him to shoot his web. It was an instant hit. All day Oliver was checking his pocket to make sure he still had his web!

camp wilderness arrival Kyle giving Oliver spiderman webshooter

 

The site

Once we entered the Camp Wilderness site it was really easy to navigate – there were portaloos on the edge of the site, then further in was a kitchen. At the centre were 2 big tents, each of which had a fire in the middle. They were then surrounded by camping tents. When there’s a camp the staff sleep in the big tents around the fire and the kids sleep in the camping tents. All of them surround the larger tent, so that if anyone were to wake up in the night and need help they’d instantly walk toward where the staff are.

Bushcraft company tents pitched in the woods

Fire Safety

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking… an open fire?!?! There were loads of kids, some Oliver’s age (4) and younger and none of them went too close to it. One of the first things we were taught was fire safety. At first some of the kids (and parents) not wanting to get too close were throwing sticks on to the fire and they were instantly told how dangerous that is. It’s actually safer to get closer and place the stick on gently.

kids sitting close to the fire learning fire safety

During the session we were taught how to start fires and keep fires going. Most importantly we were taught how to do it all safely. From things like how to light a match to striking a flint away from you. Not to mention how to deal with the chemical reaction between potassium permanganate and glycerol as well as making a fire from it.  We also learned how to lay the sticks so that the fire wouldn’t be suffocated and therefore would keep it going for as long as possible.

 

Tribes

We were split in to groups, or ‘tribes’, given a leader. Our tribe leader was the fabulous Ruth. Then we had to come up with a name and make a flag from a pillow case and some coloured markers. As the grown ups were rubbish, one of Kerry at Blissful Domestication‘s daughters came up with ‘The Stags’. A far cry from the Stags R encountered just a few weeks before our wedding! We all drew around our hands because we aren’t very imaginative. The kids drew pictures, there was even a diplodocus on our flag! The process was fun and I can see how it will help kids bond and get their imaginations running. Throughout the day though, the families tended to stick together. Except Oliver, he’d just wander off anywhere, any time. Yep, we were the parents that just kept on losing their kid…

 

camp wilderness making tribe flag with all of the children getting involved

 

Food

We went in to the forest with Ruth and the tribe, found a suitable spot to make a fire and then gathered up all the different kinds of wood we would need. In to piles we collected kindling, finger sticks, thumb sticks and bigger thicker logs that would keep the fire burning. Once the fire was burning steadily we set up our ‘stove’ and cooked our lunch. I say ‘we’, R cooked food for the group. He’s always group chef, wherever we go. This was certainly no exception.

At the kitchen they prepared the rest of the food. So we trundled back to camp and got our burger buns, salad and fried potatoes (oh, and ketchup, obvs). We Then got back to our fires and ate burgers sitting on the dried leaves surrounded by forest. It was blissful. I had no idea that eating a burger in the middle of a forest could make you feel so good inside.

 

camp wilderness cooking burgers over an open wood fire made by ourselves in the woods

I ought to mention that throughout the day there was always water and fruit available. We also had plenty of cups of tea and there were biscuits too. I was clearly still in ‘wedding diet’ mode because I managed to steer clear of them. We happened to notice that there are several pizza ovens on site as well! Wood fired ones of course, so the children who go on camps have to make a fire to cook their pizzas.

At the end of the day just before it was time to pack up and go home we also toasted marshmallows over the base camp fires and given rice crispy squares and hot chocolate. Ladled in to plastic cups straight from a huge pot of course.

 

Putting the fires out

Obviously we didn’t leave our fires going, we had to put them out. Our tribe leader offered to do that for us, but Oliver wanted to get stuck in. They poured a jerry can full of water over the fire and had to mix it together with the mud from around the edge to cool it all down. Once it was cooled all of the ash was scooped up and thrown out in to the woods in all different directions to scatter the fire remains. We also threw all of the unused wood out in to the forest too and covered the fire site with dried leaves. By the time we were finished you couldn’t tell that we had even been there.

camp wilderness putting out the fire using hands to mix the water in

 

Camouflage

It wouldn’t be bushcraft if you didn’t learn how to camouflage yourself and cover your entire face in camo paint. Of course I was terrible at being camouflage because I still have bright red hair and bright blue glasses (which also reflect light!). After camouflaging ourselves we then played a huge game of hide and seek. It was every man, woman and child for themselves. I was quickly seen, unsurprisingly.

 

playing hide and seek with bright blue hoodie and glasses and bright red hair

Animal Traps

I’ve left this bit til last because I’m not really sure what I’m going to write. Harry (who is an ecologist), our group leader showed us lots of different kinds of traps. He explained how they worked and used sticks to orchestrate what happens to your prey. This is where vegetarians and vegans would call me a hypocrite. I really hated it and it made me feel sick. I was quite surprised by how I felt about it, particularly as Oliver knows where his food comes from. He knows beef is cow, that pork, bacon and ham are pigs and lamb is sheep etc etc. In fact all of the kids seemed fine by it. But I felt really squeamish. Then again, I am one of those people who is constantly thinking about becoming vegetarian. (FYI they had veggie burgers available for vegetarians).

It was quite interesting and obviously a skill you’d need to survive in the wild if you were doing your Bear Grylls thing.

 

What Oliver Thought

Well it’s safe to say that the whole of Camp Wilderness was a hit. There were tears when we left. He thought Kyle was super awesome, Ruth was amazing and Harry was really interesting. What’s more he was asleep before we had even driven away – it was that tiring. He was also really upset that he’s not old enough to go on the camps. The starting age for those camps is age 6. Oliver really cannot wait to go back to Camp Wilderness.

What we thought

R was in his element. He loves the outdoors! He got stuck in to everything (except the hot chocolate. I married a weirdo who doesn’t like hot chocolate, I’m still baffled by it). When we left he was talking about how great it was. He’d happily go back and is quite disappointed they don’t do camps for adults. If the Bushcraft Company want to expand I’m in no doubt they’d be very successful at branching out in to stag parties for the outdoorsy types.

As for me, I thought it was great fun. As I’ve said the only thing I wasn’t sure about was the animal trapping. The rest of it was so much fun and I learned a lot. I still don’t think I’d ever camp overnight, but for a day out it was pretty good! I definitely learned to trust Oliver’s instincts with fire more and that he’s actually more capable of a lot more things than I thought. The team were absolutely incredible. I’d definitely have no issues sending Oliver to Camp Wilderness when he’s old enough. And I’m a suffocating ‘wont-let-anyone-babysit-my-not-so-much-a-baby-anymore-baby’ kind of parent. I also may have already looked on amazon for camo paint…

 

Here are some more photos from our day at Camp Wilderness

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We were invited to a free family day by the lovely people at Camp Wilderness, all words and experiences are my own and there was no payment for this blog post

 

 

When Health and Safety goes completely INSANE – Hotel ibis Review

As I have mentioned previously my career was in Hospitality, hotels mainly although I had worked in bars etc but I have worked in varying levels of hotels in this country and a 4* hotel in Dublin.  I worked in a branded chain limited service hotel before I gave up work to become a stay at home mum.  Limited service basically means they don’t provide the ‘full service’ you would expect from bigger, posher hotels.  So our dinner service was basic, our staffing as minimal as possible and the rooms more basic than you’d get at hotels of a higher standard.  I really enjoyed it because everyone did everything, I was a duty manager but I’d be doing reception, bar, washing up, cooking, carrying plates and doing accounts and reservations – even housekeeping if really needed.  One of the great things about working somewhere like that is that everything is different and you don’t really get a chance to be fed up and you encounter so many different people and so many different challenges.  But to excel in these circumstances you have to really care about your job and be great with customers, if you’re having a bad day you suck it up and get on with it because there’s no hiding away in the back.

So here’s the point of where I’m going with this – at the weekend we went back to my home city of Lincoln to visit family and friends before Christmas.  We organised a weekend to go at the same time as another friend who needed to go before Christmas which just so happened to be the weekend of Remembrance Sunday a few days after bonfire night so the city was busy, as a result we ended up staying in a hotel out of town that neither of us had ever stayed in before.  It’s part of a chain – the Accor group, which my partner worked for during his placement year for uni – and hated – but the budget version, hotel ibis.  We chose it because it had rooms available at a price that wasn’t ridiculous, well I suppose you get what you pay for….

When we checked in we were in good spirits, the hotel was 5 mins from my friend’s house where we were spending Saturday and next door to a pub and a Frankie & Benny’s and down the road was Damon’s (an American restaurant), we got to the room and the cot we requested was made up with a sheet and a pillow with an extra towel but no blanket, but that wasn’t a huge problem as we figured we could go to get one later.  Our friends were still on a mammoth road trip from Manchester so we decided to go get dinner and meet them later.  When they arrived there was no cot in the room (despite me requesting one), they were handed one with no offer to put it up, so we tackled the cot – it took 3 of us and a lot of pulling and tugging on the cot to get it to stay up and then one slight nudge and one side fell – not what you want when the occupant is to be a 14 week old baby!!  They weren’t given any bedding but decided to ask later because they were really hungry, we all headed over to the pub nearby and when they ordered dinner we ordered desserts.  We were all in great spirits heading back to the hotel when we stopped to ask at the reception for bedding – this is where the horror story begins!

The lady at the reception desk told us ‘it’s against health and safety to provide cot bedding’ and told us no we couldn’t have it.  I said it was ridiculous and that it doesn’t say anything about that on the website and that it was completely unacceptable that one cot was made up and the other wasn’t.  The lady was really rude towards us and eventually said “you can have it if you accept responsibility, do you want it?” … well, yes, that is why we asked in the first place!  I asked her if it was completely out of the question to get a sheet to cover my 2 year old son and she laughed at me.  Physically laughed at me.  Didn’t even say yes or no, just laughed.  My friends were actually jaw droppingly gobsmacked at her attitude, and I couldn’t help but think how I would have stepped in and reprimanded her if I were the manager on duty, but he just stood back and watched.  When I complained about this to the manager on duty at check out she told me that it was correct they wouldn’t normally provide bedding, but ‘when you book over the phone you’re given the option to take responsibility for it’, but we didn’t book over the phone, we booked online, which said NOTHING about cot bedding.  Luckily my friends had blankets with them for their baby, but for Oliver, well, he ended up sleeping in our bed (I won’t go in to how uncomfortable their pillows were and how tired I was by the end of the weekend).

 

How our bed looked in the morning…

What’s worse was the General Manager’s response to my complaint.

 

  • Firstly, I am shocked that a housekeeper needs to be trained to lower her standards, usually it’s the opposite way around!
  • Secondly, “she apologised if you felt she was rude, she did not mean to” – if someone who laughs in your face when you ask for a cover for your child doesn’t think it rude then she either needs some very rigorous training or she needs another job!!
  • Thirdly, the last paragraph is clearly a template and judging by his response to my issues I don’t really feel like my feedback is ‘invaluable’.
  • Finally, this has clearly been written without any thought and probably took a whole 2 minutes to type – my partner even commented that it looked like a child had written it!

So I replied, saying that I didn’t want to stay there again but thanks for the offer.  I also asked if the ‘health and safety’ issue was a brand standard, if I were to choose an ibis elsewhere would I be expected to provide my own bedding?  The response I got was just that it is against their health and safety policy for them to provide bedding.  I replied again clarifying, but I’m still waiting on a response on that but I’m not holding my breath.  He did however offer me a refund of 50% of one night’s stay.  Which wasn’t at all what I was after, I wanted him to acknowledge the ridiculousness of his health and safety policy and that the attitude of his staff is unacceptable, but I didn’t really get that.  I got a cut and paste answer.  Obviously I wrote a review on Trip Advisor, you can read my full review here.

 

I commented to my partner that ‘hospitality people are the worst customers’, but he responded with ‘or the best…’ and elaborated that during our stay we visited Frankie & Benny’s nearby 3 times – once for dinner and twice for breakfast.  Each time we tipped well, noticed how friendly the staff were and I in fact left a glowing review for them on trip advisor.  We were patient when food was slow to come out because they were so busy, we were happy to wait when we couldn’t be seated straight away (we noticed it was shift changeover) and were generally very happy, relaxed and understanding.  We could have let the troubles within the hotel bother us, but we didn’t, we understood what it’s like to be in the position of the people serving us – which is what made it even more unacceptable to be treated the way we were by the hotel.

 

I have never experienced somewhere that doesn’t provide bedding for all of their guests.  So we will be going back to our old faithful friend – The Holiday Inn Express next time – and you get a free breakfast there!!

 

 

Have you ever had a bad experience in a hotel?  Has your perception of good and bad changed since you became a parent?  Or maybe you’ve had a great experience – please do let me know and give me tips on where to look!  I read a blog somewhere about The Grove in Watford which sounds amazing – I only wish it wasn’t down the road so I had an excuse to stay!!