I’ll admit it. I was nervous about turning up at a boot camp in the wet weather, especially one in the hills so close to the sea at Bamburgh.
As I pulled up, I thought about what I was letting myself in for. An hour later, sodden and aching but feeling more energetic than on most weekends, I could barely summon a thought as I went off on another lap, trying to find my inner army cadet.
For those of us who hadn’t put ourselves through circuit training since school, this was a revelation.
We knew that something good must be going on, because as we were all preparing ourselves for the circuit, it became apparent that several people were making a return visit.
This is mainly because this isn’t a ‘boot camp’ in the traditional military, Dirty Dozen kind of way. As organiser Caroline Smith told me: “You don’t have to have any activities you don’t want. It’s about getting people into the open air and engaging with the outdoors.
“The atmosphere is massively important. We are open to all, absolutely anybody. It’s not exclusive in the least.”
So this camp is more about coaxing than forcing, and there would be no sergeant-major types bawling us out at every step. Thankfully.
It was a comforting thought as we looked out at the bleak ‘spring’ weather on the exposed hilltop.
Thankfully, the horizontal rain died away, and the group, around 30 of us, took to the exercise course.
This had something for everyone. You want to go on a lung-busting run through the puddles (we all got to enjoy the puddles)?
You got it. Want to work your abs? You could: do some push-ups off these tractor tyres. Want to play army, run through tyres, and crawl under camouflage netting? Get your GI face on and go for it.
Weirdly, after more than a few circuits, lots of us were more proud than usual of getting through one of what we had thought the easiest exercise: walking along a long narrow log can get very difficult when you’re finding it hard to breathe, and you’re carrying a lot of extra weight as rainwater in all of your clothes, and your mind is turning towards lunchtime...
After we were finally allowed to rest, and had warmed down properly, we were treated to a mid-morning snack, of energy-boosting flapjack, nuts and grapes.
Then it was time for a more sedate exercise – archery. This brought out the competitive nature in some of the campers, as we divided into teams. One of the oldest ways of hunting was made pretty difficult by the conditions, with the wind coming off the sea and taking our arrows with it.
That’s what we blamed our misses on, anyway! Even the fancy grips and sights that are fixed to modern bows (some even have a little ‘holder’ to guide the arrow) didn’t seem to help that much.
There were plenty of hits, though, and the very youngest seemed to have the best hand-eye co-ordination, being rewarded with the ‘pop’ of balloons pinned up on the targets, and Robin Hood hats to boot.
Coming indoors again for lunch, we really got a feel of the family atmosphere that Caroline and Dan are trying to create.
Some campers milled about the large kitchen with their lunch of soup and oatmeal biscuits, warming themselves by the aga, chatting and comparing how revitalised they were by the morning session.
Others compared how far they had come to try the open day – while plenty were local, there were visitors from as far away as Sheffield and even London, who seemed exhilarated to be out on the Northumbrian coast.
Several campers drifted through to the back room of what used to be a holiday cottage, now owned by Northern Bootcamp. There, they found a large fire to toast their feet, and caught up with their partners and children, including Caroline’s daughter Fearne. She came along to watch, but stayed playing inside rather than out.
Leanne Smith and her crew kept everything ticking over indoors.
There is a real homely feel to the whole operation. Husband and wife Caroline and Dan Smith share the job of cajoling and encouraging boot campers around the various courses. It came as a surprise to learn that Caroline hadn’t always been running around in the mud and rain.
“I used to be an economist in London,” she told me. “Then I went to New Zealand, and got into outdoor things like this.”
Dan was in the army. This probably explains why all the exercises appeared to be so effortless for him. He was breezing through them while simultaneously motivating everyone else.
It probably also explains how he can fire everyone up with enough enthusiasm to head back out into the weather for an afternoon of orienteering. As he’s been telling us all day, you have to “leave it all out there...”