Food & Drink

Table Talk: An interview with Thom Hunt of 7th Rise

We talk to Thom Hunt of 7th Rise about his wild food weekends that get back to nature.

Set on the banks of the river Fal in Cornwall, in fourteen acres of ancient woodland, stands a remote cottage, accessible only by boat or a ten-minute walk from the road, where Thom Hunt (of Channel 4’s popular Three Hungry Boys series) is leading a quiet revolution to put members of the public back in touch with the wild.

His business, 7th Rise, which he runs from the cottage, offers day, night and weekend courses offering a rare chance for tech-tired, city-weary modern punters to switch off, get back to nature and enjoy the good life – with foraging, hunting, fishing, butchery, bushcraft and traditional outdoor cooking all part of the unique “wild food” experience. We caught up with Thom to find out more.

I got into wild food and foraging on my grandparents’ farm in Lancashire, where it was a very outdoorsy life. I’d forage for field mushrooms with my granny, or we’d make a soup for lunch. I shot my first rabbit on the farm when I was about twelve or thirteen and, again, that went into the pot with Granny’s help.

Wild food is a very guilt free way of eating... In this modern world, we beat ourselves up about what we eat – there’s always a carbon footprint, or food miles to think about - but wild food is just right there and it’s got a lovely level of virtue to it.

I first had the idea for 7th Rise... after our Three Hungry Boys Series came out. We were just three regular lads that got swept up in a fairly strange TV situation, but I realised that it was an opportunity and it was one I wanted to take. It finally came to fruition a year and a half ago, when I found the venue on the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall.

Being diagnosed with colon cancer aged 27 was... a fantastic experience. I don’t mean that flippantly - I’m one of the lucky ones that made it to the other side – but when you survive an experience like that, it re-orders your priorities and allows you to see the world in a slightly different way.

I’m not anti-tech, but I’m very pro-nature... I think the important thing is to find out where the benefits and the costs are in each and find a balance. If you’re emailing clients at 8.30pm on a Saturday night, then something is wrong, but that’s not the device’s fault. It’s why we do something called a digital detox here. Our aim is to show people that their identity doesn’t exist through their phone or Facebook profile and that technology needs to be managed.

Just by virtue of being a human being, people get the wild... I’m currently leaning over the window in the kitchen where I get one bar of signal, watching a squirrel hopping around. We have a pet shrew and a pet robin, seals come up the creek sometimes, and there are deer that come by. But I don’t have to sell a good view or swans swimming up the river as nice things.

People do and learn all sorts of things on one of our weekends... Our Woodland Weekender course covers foraging, Canadian canoeing, knife skills or butchery, a shooting competition and a bushcraft session including everything from starting a fire and understanding different tree types to axe-use, wood whittling and basic shelter building.

We encourage people to get involved with the cooking... We’ve got some really interesting tips that people love to learn and use a lot of traditional techniques. The simplicity of starting a fire, catching and butchering a rabbit and turning it into a burger all by yourself gives a level of satisfaction that can only be found with wild food.

We get a lot of stag dos and birthday dos... The stag dos obviously aren’t the traditional “let’s go to the city and get wasted” – it’s more of a male bonding session that allows them to be isolated and catch up. Sure, we have a few beers around the fire, but it’s about more than that.

We do have girls coming down too... When it comes to butchery, the girls have got a habit of really cracking on and being quite good at it, but the guys can be a little bit squeamish, which I always find quite amusing.

It’s my personal, and our business, philosophy to exceed expectations… Being able to surprise people with some really unusual facts about the wild or take them wild swimming at night when the bioluminescence comes out is something that I love.

Over the next few years, our goals are to… find and establish three to five other venues across the UK and find a way to integrate the wild into our more technology-based life. It would be great to get a Forest School system into the national curriculum so that we could get kids out of the classroom and learning a bit more about the wild. We’re heavily behind Europe on this and it’s something that 7th Rise, with its growing community, could help to figure out on a national scale.

7th RISE COURSES

The Weekender, £249. Cost includes all activities, ingredients, accommodation, equipment and refreshments for the duration of your stay. Find out more and book online http://www.7thrise.co.uk/The-Weekender

Bespoke Experiences are priced upon request depending on the activities and skills chosen and are available for both one day and overnight courses. Find out more and book online http://www.7thrise.co.uk/Bespoke-Experiences

Group bookings are available for up to 12 people.

Emily Jenkinson

April 2014