Interview with Richard Prideaux from Original Outdoors
As part of the regular #RedMatter blogging challenges I am involved with, I decided to interview Richard Prideaux for this article. Richard is the leading instructor and business owner of Original Outdoors based in Denbighshire North Wales which specialise in outdoor training and activities. Richard is a fully qualified Mountain Leader with Mountain Rescue Service experience and an expert in the field of outdoors and bushcraft. He also lectures on wild food at Liverpool’s John Moore University.
I first met Richard during the #DAS25 bushcraft weekend where Original Outdoors were providing the instruction and support for their local friends at Denbigh Army Surplus. He seemed to be both an extremely nice person, but also a very knowledgeable and patient teacher in outdoor/bushcraft. So thought I would start by asking a bit about why he does what he does;
How did you get into the outdoors and especially bushcraft, and when did you decide to make it your profession ?
“My interest in doing things outdoors came from my family I suppose. Although we moved around a fair bit we either lived in the countryside or on the edge of small communities, and I was quite lucky that I was allowed out on my own to explore the surrounding fields and woods. For as long as I remember I have always felt more at home in woodland, which I blame on my mother (apparently midnight walks in the woods were her way of putting me back to sleep!).
I started doing more organised outdoor activities in the Air Cadets at school, and carried it on with trips to the mountains with friends once I had my first car. Although climbing and mountaineering was my first love, I have always been a fan of traditional crafts and outdoor skills, and started collecting books by people like Mors Kochanski and Ellsworth Jaeger.
From there I gradually got more interested in all things ‘outdoors’, joined the local mountain rescue team and started training to become an instructor. I never really intended for that to become my career, but once I passed my Mountain Leader award and started doing the odd bit of freelance work I knew that this was how I wanted to earn my living.
Original Outdoors was born a few years later, with the aim to deliver training and activities for all skill levels and covering all aspects of ‘wilderness skills’. I didn’t like the way that there was a schism between ‘mountains’ and ‘woodland’ activities. There were lots of companies running bushcraft courses based around Scandinavian and Canadian techniques, and even more teaching mountain navigation and similar courses. I wanted to bring something new – courses that were applicable to both environments, based on techniques relevant to the British ‘wilderness’, such as it is. We’re still in business, so there must be some interest in our way of doing things!”
What are your top 5 bits of kit to carry when in the wilds?
“This is a tough one – there are too many activities that I have specific kit for! However, in my experience, there are a few things that you should always consider carrying if you are going out for more than a couple of hours in the UK:
– Shelter. The fact you can get out of the wind and elements means you stop losing heat so quickly, you have space to think and you can start to solve whatever problem you have come across. Bothy bags are great as they come in different sizes and require minimal maintenance and can just live in your rucksack. That said, something like a polythene ‘survival’ bag or a tarp can work really well if you can make use of the terrain as well.- First Aid. I don’t take huge amounts of medical kit with me unless I am heading somewhere remote and inhospitable for extended periods of time, but I generally have some basic first aid kit with me for pretty much every activity I do. Having something to help stop a major bleed or to immobilise a broken limb can be as simple as an ambulance dressing and some duct tape, and a few plasters and wide non-adherent dressings can deal with most wounds you will come across. A few more specialist items have found their way into my rucksack based on what I saw in my time in Mountain Rescue, but generally my first aid kits are so light and simple that I can always take them with me. Like everything, if you are carrying kit you should know how to use it so I strongly urge everybody to take part in some sort of first aid course.
– Lighting. Looking at the statistics for Mountain Rescue you would assume that a lot of people are completely surprised by the fact the sun sets every single day and if you wait long enough it will get dark… Modern head torches using LEDs are lightweight, reliable and inexpensive. There is no excuse not to carry one, and being able to see the ground under your feet makes the difference between a late finish and a search and rescue mission being launched.
– Map (ideally with compass!). A growing number of people are relying entirely on their smartphones to navigate by, a strategy that works as long as the battery lasts. In the UK we are very fortunate to have possibly the finest topographical maps in the world, they don’t require batteries, they still work if you drop them on a rock and they don’t cost £300… I see people who rely heavily on GPS devices, which is fine as long as there is the relevant map somewhere in their rucksack, hopefully coupled with a compass and the knowledge to use them properly.
– Appropriate footwear. There aren’t many ways of enjoying the outdoors where you won’t be wearing a shoe or boot of some kind at one point or another. My gear cupboard sports about a dozen different pairs of footwear, from B3 mountaineering boots for winter climbing to neoprene booties for surfing and everything in between. Trainers are often completely useless for walking on steep muddy slopes, cycling shoes are great for cycling but not so good if you have to push a mangled MTB wheel back to the car through a forest and walking boots are difficult to swim in. It’s horses for courses, but choosing the best footwear for your adventure might save your ankle, if not your life…”
I know you are quite an expert on foraging, so I was wondering what is your ultimate wild edible ?
“Can I have two? Wild food is all about following the seasons and making use of what is available at the time. In early Summer you find a long-stemmed plant with white candy-floss flowering heads growing in abundance along roadsides – Meadowsweet. If you find the right one the flavour is something between banana and Nutella and you can use it for flavouring desserts, but the traditional use is with alcohol in flavouring mead and clarifying ales.
The second one is a small, black/blue berry that grows on acidic soil and can be found all over the upland of the UK – Bilberries. They are a bit of a faff to pick to be honest, and you have to get there before the birds do but they are little bombs of flavour, complete with a juice that stains your mouth! If you can pick enough without eating them then they work well in pies and sauces, and can be used to infuse spirits to capture the taste of Summer and preserve it for the Winter months.”
What is your favourite food to cook over an open fire ?
“I love cooking over a fire – but it takes a bit of practice! Meat roasted on the bone (squirrel or rabbit works well for an authentic foraged meal!), but does kind of dominate the cooking area. Fish are another good one, as there are so many ways of cooking them. Brown Trout stuffed with Common Sorrel and then steamed in newspaper in the embers makes the most of the flesh on the bones and leaves no litter or washing up to do!”
Where is your absolute favourite wild place on earth ?
“I suspect that if ask me this question every couple of years for the rest of my life I will give you a different answer… There is so much to see out there in the world, and I have only seen a tiny fraction of what I hope to experience. In the U.K. we don’t pay enough attention to the hidden gems in our own landscape – we have mountains, forests and coastlines that you explore every weekend and not get bored. If I were to have a weekend of solitude in the wilds of the U.K. I would choose somewhere like the Hebrides or the North West Highlands, or even somewhere closer to home like the Rhinogs. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of spending the week in the Julian Alps in Slovenia and I have been itching to get back and explore the forests and remote corners there ever since.”
Any recommendations for those new to the outdoors and bushcraft in particular ?
“Yes – don’t just listen to one source of information! When I started to learn about outdoor skills I had more experienced family to talk to and a library of books to refer to. A lot of novice outdoor enthusiasts these days get their information entirely from the internet – and there is a lot of, well, duff information out there! Anybody can post a ‘how-to’ article that contains false, or misleading information without any way for the unwary newcomer to know if it is information worth listening to. I would suggest that they go and find some books on the subject, speak to a few people who are still learning but are a little bit further along than you and to just take your time. There are plenty of way to enjoy the outdoors – you don’t have to climb Snowdon on your first day!”
Are you a Ray Mears, Les Stroud, Cody Lundin or Dave Canterbury kinda guy ? (feel free to suggest others, and sorry for the choices!)
“Like the internet, the world of television survival programming has encouraged a huge number of people to get into the outdoors and have their own adventures. And as with the internet, the quality and reliability of the information that is portrayed varies… The way television programmes are made does make it difficult to film the content without certain elements being ‘staged’, but this isn’t made clear to the viewer. I like the Les Stroud shows, and I grew up watching repeats of ‘The Bush Tucker Man’, Les Hiddins. I’ve always tried to work things out for myself and come up with my own techniques and teaching methods, but I have to say that a lot of the knowledge that I have acquired elsewhere has come from 50-100 yr old books on ‘campcraft’, and talking to older country workers like gamekeepers and carpenters. There is a long history of these skills being shared that existed before TV survival experts came on to the scene, you just need to look a little more carefully for that information.”
If you were a super hero, what special powers would you have ?
“Tea-Man. I would have the ability to create a warm cup of white tea (one sugar) just when I wanted it, in all conditions. This would prevent me from faffing about with filling a flask in the morning, or breaking off from what I am doing to boil water. I love tea, but I hate having to stop and a make the tea!”
– So thanks to Richard Prideaux for taking the time to answer my questions.
You can check out Original Outdoors via their website, or Twitter, and would highly recommend Richard and his team for outdoor instruction and training.
– All images via Original Outdoors