Covering both coast and valleys, Bridgend County offers a diverse offering for explorers. From foraging along the coast to wild garlic hunting in the woods, we spoke with Sasha Ufnowska from Wild Spirit Wales to learn about Bridgend County's wonderfully wild side. Here's what we learned…
Could you tell us a bit about Wild Spirit Bushcraft and how it all started?
I do bushcraft, foraging and woodland skills in Merthyr Mawr. We're located just above the sand dunes and about twenty minutes from the coast. I took over the business about 8 years ago from my friend who is now in the Swedish mountains doing a similar thing. He may well have Sweden but I think I got the better end of the deal!
Why is Bridgend such a good location for foraging?
It's the combination of coast and woodland which make it great. January and February are the most difficult times to forage in the woods but you'll always find something on the coast. You can also find something pretty much all year round. In the summer everything is green and there are fresh new flavours, but at the moment we've got buds coming up for wild garlic and small scarlet elf cup mushrooms. The combination of those two together is just amazing!
What courses can visitors try when they visit you?
As well as our coastal and woodland forages we offer an intro to bushcraft course where you'll learn about fire lighting, shelter building and water purification - all the basics you need to enjoy yourself outdoors! On our two day courses you'll build your shelter and sleep in it too and 3 or four day courses will involve pit cooking and game preparation.
So what food can we find when foraging in the area?
It depends on the location. In Merthyr Mawr, we'll identify a lot of the plant species. There's a lot more greenery and plant growth in Merthyr Mawr whereas in Rest Bay it's more rock pooling. You'll find all sorts along our coast from seaweeds to shellfish and prawns. We always find something to cook up afterwards.
During our woodland forage we'll gather our ingredients in the morning and cook it all up for lunch and pudding. It could be a soup or a risotto and we'll add things like flower and rice. I like to think of foraging as an addition to your every day meal rather than 'what you live on today'. I'm not an advocate of starvation and hard lined survival. I'd rather introduce it little by little and let people have some fun with it!
Is there anything dangerous you might find when foraging in Bridgend County?
There are quite a few poisonous things but under a dozen really nasty plants. Hemlock for example is from the carrot family, but if you eat the roots of hemlock you will die. Fortunately we don't have any animals that will kill us. The bonus is no snakes, scorpions, wolves or tigers in Bridgend!
What are your top tips for people looking to get outdoors in Bridgend County?
I'm a big advocate of people giving it a go, but if you're going to do things like foraging it's important to learn how to forage safely and sustainability first. One of the biggest problems we have is people leaving a mess when they camp, so I'd suggest getting some information and permission before you set off. Most people don't mind if you've asked!
Lastly, why would you recommend Bridgend for an outdoorsy escape?
It's that combination of being on the coast and in the valleys. We're also so accessible on the M4 corridor for everyone from Brighton, London and Kent to Bristol and Newport. But not enough people know about Bridgend. People zoom on by to Tenby or go on a city break. We need to slow people down and make them realise The Brecon Beacons aren't the only place in the countryside.
Coastal foraging is available June, September and November. Find Wild Spirit Bushcraft on Facebook, Instagram adn Twitter: @bushcraftwales