Outdoor learning banner image

Maddie Callaghan By Maddie Callaghan

Maddie struggled with anxiety as a young girl. But one camping trip with her Dad changed that for life.

When I was 13 years old, I attended my very first bushcraft course. I was THAT girl who was prioritising her make up over anything, because how could I survive the outdoors without a full face of make up?! I was not looking forward to this excursion, but I wanted to make my Dad happy as he was incredibly excited for it. So, I decided I would bite the bullet, keep my head down and the weekend would be over soon enough.

It was a canoe and bushcraft course and I feel like everyone could sense my distaste for it, until we got into our canoes and laughed as people were getting stuck and struggling to manoeuvre through the water. That was until we were getting stuck and struggling to manoeuvre through the water… not as funny from the other side.

But for the first time, I was feeling calm

Maddie chopping wood
Maddie making a fire

I struggled with anxiety for a long time as my Mum had a stroke a few years prior that took us all by surprise. I was always the loudest family member, and then I became the quiet, reserved one. But then within a few hours I was having the time of my life, laughing until my sides hurt and being absolutely blown away by the beauty of the Norfolk Broads. How did I live so close to somewhere that had so much to offer? I thought at that time you could only really see beautiful places like this abroad. I was talking to strangers about their canoe conundrums and sharing stories about how amazing it is to be outdoors.

Maddie starting the fire for dinner
Eating blackened fish from the fire

After we arrived at the campsite, we set up our camp. Fair to say, I was expecting one of those glorious 1950's style campsites with lanterns lit up all around. I was not expecting a damp wooded area with a tarp over my head. Is that it? I had never been camping before, so I at least wanted a tent! Ridiculous! However, Dad was still smiling so I trundled on.

It then came to get some dinner, I was learning ways to make a fire with wet wood, and it amazed me how quickly they could do it. I even found that I was relatively good at it. I made a feather stick and it was most likely the first time I held a knife that wasn’t in the kitchen. We had fish cooked over an open fire and I was absolutely famished. It was pretty burnt and was entirely black, but as I said I was very hungry, so ate it quickly. Secretly, I was hoping they would offer seconds.

My dad collected my plate and asked where the rest was. Well I ate it, obviously. What I did NOT know was that it was not a usual fish fillet… it was a whole fish. That’s right, the head, eyes, bones… the lot. The army veteran who had served for 26 years, suddenly became very pale. I guess I got the strong stomach from my mother then?!

Maddie map reading

On our second day I woke up with terribly sore muscles, but we were having so much fun I didn’t even notice. I was quite sad to depart and wish I could do another couple of days. I had gone from thinking it was going to be the most dreadful experience in my life, to changing my life completely.

I suddenly became more confident in everything that I did. I began seeing my friends again and not feeling anxious about everything that I did. I joined the Air Training Corps. Something I would have never imagined myself doing, and from then on, my confidence just grew, all because I embraced the outdoors. It felt like a complete miracle, I never would have expected it and I really didn’t expect it from just spending a relatively small bit of time outdoors. It didn’t completely eradicate my anxiety, but I had found my medicine, my cure.

My confidence just grew, all because I embraced the outdoors

A few years later I’m now an instructor working with my Dad in a new business called Echo Company as well as attending university studying history and archaeology. I have also done a stint with Fenland Bushcraft and last year was employed as a Team Leader for the National Citizenship Service. I have had the pleasure of teaching people from all walks of life the benefits of being outside and learning new skills. You can learn all sorts of outdoor skills and there are a huge variety of outdoor activities to do and then you can feel the way I did. You can escape the stresses of daily life, even if it’s only for a day and see what it means to truly be at ease.

Maddie sleeping under the stars

For me, there is nothing in the world more amazing than the outdoors and the benefits it can provide you with. It’s natural meditation, you don’t need the condescending voices telling you to breathe in and out and do yoga in some bizarre positions that only contortionists can do.

Just #GetOutside!

Take a walk and listen to the sounds around you, the cars on the road, the couple next door arguing over opening a new milk when there’s already one open. Or go to a local park and hear the birds and dog walkers. Why not visit one of the outdoors skills/bushcraft companies near you, and try activities such as shooting, archery, bushcraft, laser pigeon shooting, axe throwing, navigation (map and compass/digital or natural) and much more.

You don’t have to climb a mountain or canoe white-water rapids to have an adventure. An adventure is what you decide it to be, just making sure it is outside is enough. If you don’t challenge yourself every now and then, you’ll never know how strong you really are.

A lot has changed for me, but if you’re wondering, I still am THAT girl who stuffs make up into her Bergen.

Published 06/02/2020

Maddie Callaghan By Maddie Callaghan


Maddie works for ECHO Company UK CIC who believe in Education, Community and Heritage Outdoors.