Belfast Telegraph

Bear Grylls Island Northern Ireland: It may hurt a little, but the smiles will heal it

Belfast Telegraph reporter Jonny Bell travelled to Fermanagh for a Bear Grylls experience first... and came back a different man

By Jonny Bell

Sitting on the banks of the Erne, Belle Isle Estate boasts some of the most impressive scenery you could find in Northern Ireland, and now one dark secret. It's island.

On a bright day with the sun splitting the sky, I trekked to Fermanagh with a touch of trepidation and well below the speed limit.

In a Northern Ireland first the estate is now home to the Bear Grylls Survival Academy and on arrival I was greeted by three shiny Land Rovers bearing the famous face of Mr Grylls and the slogan "It may hurt a little".

There was still time to turn back, but I entered the castle.

Inside it was nervous smiles and people lingering over lunch a little longer than what they should. The one question, dominating, but in hushed tones, was: "What's on the island."

Then we were given the run down on what was ahead by Will, or  'Baby Bear', so called for his likeness to the survivalist.

A lot of fun, maybe a bit of a test and all in good humour, he told us.

While Bear - the world's number on survivalist - was not there in the flesh, he was there in spirit with all those taking us on our adventure hand-picked by Bear himself and trained under his watchful eye. Operated on a cost-price basis all profits from the events go to Bear's chosen charities.

More nervous chit-chat and questions over this island before it was into those Land Rovers - the ones that referred to the pain - and off to the beach.

"Can you all swim," was the first question 'Baby Bear' asked of the group expertly deemed to number between seven and 20 in the event of a rescue.

Then instruction on our state of awareness. Pairing up we had to try and slap each others limbs, to help get the focus required for what lay ahead.

And then it was into the kayak.

For a leisurely paddle, soon the winds rolling off the banks of the lough battered our little two-seater and we assembled a few hundred yards out in the river, only to be told the island was in the other direction.

Not long later we landed and it was a short trek to the camp fire where Heath laid out the tools of survival. The essentials were explained to us: How to handle a big knife, the uses a folding saw can have and how to light a fire.

All came with a warning on the 'blood bubble' and the triangle of death - what not to do with the big knife.

For the afternoon we were instructed on scout-style tracking, building shelters and making tea - the best tea you could imagine over a fire set and lit by the handbook of the supreme survivalist and on a Kelly Kettle - which must be one of the best Irish inventions going. Then some military-grade hide and seek, which I will forever carry a regret. Essentially I didn't give myself enough time.

Much fun was had until Will came out with a handful of grubs. Pound-for-pound more protein than a steak, we were told, but I know what I'd rather have.

After some axe throwing it was off to the camp fire for venison sausages, produce of the estate.

And then as the cold from our water adventures set in we were ready for a return to the hotel for a much-needed bath and for some the night's celebrations that lay ahead.

Only one challenge sat before us.

During our time away, the kayak thief had arrived at the beach, meaning we had to build out own raft to make the - I'll say it - perilous journey back to base.

After a lot of struggle, sawing, breaking of twigs and a little blood what lay before us was a work of beauty. Maybe not on a par with Harland and Wolff's finest, but our own little miracle - but would it float and would it last the journey was the question.

What followed was epic. In my mind there was climatic, orchestral music each and every time the paddles hit the water. "Heave", went the cry - admittedly from myself - as we four souls; Lord Jamie Hamilton, Chris Scott and Michael Dalton crested the waves and inched our way back to the beach.

And we made it!

A journey that will live long in the memory, that will always put a smile on my face. I sailed a raft - partially built by my own hands across Lough Erne (albeit probably the shortest part).

Belle Isle Castle and Private Island is exclusively hosting the Bear Grylls Island Survival Academy in conjunction with Xtreme.ie. Designed for team building corporate events or group outings, packages are tailored for each outing. Four hours on the island with come in at around £160.

Belle Isle is a 470-acre estate spread over eight islands. It has been inhabited since the 12th century, and was bought by the Duke of Abercorn in 1991, whose son Lord Hamilton is working on transforming into one of Northern Ireland's must-visit tourist destinations.

My group, I'm sure, enjoyed the luxury of the rooms and the subsequent night's meal and revellery  enjoyment with a dose of gin - while my stay could only extend to a much-needed shower before the long drive home. I was baked, exhausted but smiling and yes, hurting, but just a little.

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