Over the last few years, there has been a push towards teaching Bushcraft, partly as a way to get back to learning about the natural world around us, but also for stag and hen do’s, birthday parties and team building events. Bushcraft is a great escape from the mad, mad, world most of us live in, and a few years back I trained as a Bushcraft Instructor. But before I did, I had to first learn it for myself.
If you don’t know, bushcraft is basically learning to survive and live in the wilds without the everyday trappings of life. This could be in a jungle, on a mountain top or on the coast. In the UK it usually means setting up camp near a water source, building a shelter and providing your own food and clean drinking water. It is different to survival training, where you are taught to use whatever you can find in order to survive. Bushcraft is where you use only the natural landscape around you. I went to my first class with my teenage boys.
After finishing work on a Friday night, packing the car and ferrying younger kids about, we had a 5 minute turn-around before we had to leave the house again. Finally, after almost throwing the satnav and the phones onto the M4, we managed to find the place. We were half an hour late.
Bushcraft courses are often held in ‘out-of-the-way’ places, on private land and away from main roads if possible, so you can really get back to nature. Therefore, they don’t necessarily have an address and can be difficult to find with an outdated sat-nav and a 3-year-old atlas of Great Britain. Good directions, plenty of time and extreme amounts of patience are therefore a must.
We had none of those things.
As we’re late, the instructors had already taken the rest of the group down to the camp site. We arrived in the dark to find an old farmer with a massive torch who showed us where to park and guided us down the hill through the mud. He chatted away genially as we lugged rucksacks through the quagmire, over stones and through pony guarded gates until we reached the first of our instructors.
He took our names, gave us the obligatory health questionnaires and briefed us on health and safety. Then he showed us to our camp site. Everyone is sitting under a massive tarpaulin next to a camp fire with a kettle on it. That’s a good sign. We were warmly welcomed by the other instructors and students alike. They seemed a friendly bunch, and after a brew and a chat we were asked to collect firewood.
Keep the home fires burning.
It’s useful to forage for firewood constantly. The welcoming heat and light from a fire is a godsend and keeping a pot / kettle of water on it for a brew is a must, especially on a cold and wet evening. The fire will provide you with food and drinking water as well as warmth and it’s also an amazing boost to morale if all else goes wrong.
After being introduced to the tools of our new trade, i.e. a knife and a saw, one of the first lessons we are given is designed to tune us in to what is going on around us. We were taken, in the dark, away from the camp and told to sit in the hedges at various points. Weird right? We sat there, in silence, for about 20 minutes watching, listening, smelling, feeling, tasting and becoming generally aware of our surroundings.
This was by far my most favourite part of the weekend and we practised it each evening at dusk. It is the most simple of things to try. You can’t move a muscle, you can’t make a sound and you can’t have any light. You need to become invisible. So you sit and you ‘hone-in’. It takes a few minutes for the wildlife around you to forget that you’re there, but gradually they start to re-emerge.
Afterwards you gather together and discuss what you noticed. The smell of the crushed bracken you were sitting on; the yip of a fox in the distance; a bug crawling across your hand; traffic on a road somewhere off over the hill; owl’s hooting in the woods behind; tiny sounds of scurrying in the undergrowth; the guy next to you breathing; and, best of all, the bat landing a foot in front of you, oblivious to your presence. Beautiful.
Then it was back to camp for a cuppa and, for one night only, we all sleep under the tarpaulin next to the fire. Tomorrow we’ll be building and sleeping in shelters of our own.