A stately home in rural Northumberland may not seem like the ideal place to double for the Amazon rainforest – but Richard Wood and his team got more realism than they bargained for.
The 47-year-old outdoor expert from Alnwick set up a jungle training course at Howick Hall, near Craster, to prepare for the rigours of a 2013 expedition to Ecuador and Trinidad.
Richard will lead a 14-strong team from a mixture of backgrounds, aged between 17 to 48, on Expedition Hidden Pathways, a geographical, historical and ecological expedition to the Amazon basin.
Their aim is to re-map traditional plantation routes which have returned to primary jungle. It will also put them in the habitat of the critically-endangered Pawi bird, from which they hope to gain discarded feather samples for DNA research at Chester University.
And the wash-out British summer couldn’t have been more appropriate in simulating the wet and humid conditions Richard and his fellow explorers will face during their adventure next Easter.
“When I told friends that I was going on a jungle training weekend in Northumberland they thought it was a bit of a crazy idea,” said Richard, who formerly taught at the Duchess’s Community High School. “I had to admit that they had a point.
“The wet weather helped to provide testing conditions, wading through mud and water in an effort to replicate the conditions in the rain forest as much as possible.
“As you would expect of our current summer, there was no great humidity or heat but, along with the high water levels, they were further challenged by building shelters and learning skills such as machete handling, how to put up your hammock and how to keep yourself healthy while soaking wet.”
Sleeping out overnight, they were also required to locate a number of hidden caches using the GPS handheld receivers, which will become a major part of their lives on the expedition.
Ecuador won’t be the first time that Richard has tackled extreme conditions.
A veteran of the Amazon, he has also solo-trekked unsupported for five weeks across the length of Namibia in West Africa and is a highly-experienced climber and mountaineer.
He also spent seven years as an RAF search and rescue pilot.
The team will be holding a Winter Ball at Alnwick Castle in November to help raise funds.
Further details on the team and activities can be found at www.hiddenpathways.org