Okay so this is not strictly an archery related, actually it has very little to do with field archery at all, other than it takes place in woodland. This post is part review and part my thoughts following a bushcraft experience day I spent in sunny Wales. Yes, I did say sunny Wales before you wonder if your eyes are deceiving you. It was a warm, dry day spent in the woods with the experts from Original Outdoors (https://originaloutdoors.co.uk/ )
Some of you may know that I have for many years had an interest in bushcraft and associated skills. So, for a birthday gift Sharon bought me a bushcraft experience day. Now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial date and plans were put on hold for a few months. This meant it would be early August before I was able to journey up to Wales to attend the session.
The course was based in North Wales, not far from Ruthin, with the first challenge being finding the secluded spot where the instructors would meet you. We would then take off into the wooded hillside for a mile walk to what would be our base camp for the day. The woodland they have access to is a huge private wood, ideal for covering the variety of bushcraft topics they run courses on.
So, what does bushcraft mean to you?
This was one of the interesting questions we discussed with Richard our main instructor for the day, as we walked to base camp. Though along the way there were multiple stops to examine local edible flora or fauna, along identifying which trees make the best tinder, how tree sap can be used in fire lighting and more. Before I go any further though, I’d like to apologies to the lady who was the other instructor now, as though I spoke with you my memory for names is truly awful. I think her name was Amy but not 100% sure. Sorry I could blame my age but I’ve always been terrible with names.
Anyway, back to the question of what is bushcraft? We discussed how it varies depending on what you have read or where you might be in the world. What we in the UK think of as bushcraft skills might be considered basic skills in other areas of Europe. The thing is the subject is one that generates different views from people. Some see it as core survival skills, others see it as simply being resourceful in the countryside. Whatever your viewpoint I think the instructors on the course would be able to tailor something suitable for your needs.
From my perspective it is simply having some skills that make being out and about in woodland more enjoyable. I guess less survival skills and more outdoor skills in my view. I’ve also been interested in learning near forgotten skills whether those be bushcraft or others.
So back to the course. The first topic was that of fire lighting. Our instructor Richard took us through different fuels and ignition methods, along with the importance of preparation of the materials and surrounding area.
These are key principle of fire starting and important factors to consider, along with other less immediately obvious ones, such as location of fire with respect to tree roots if in woodland, what rocks might be in the surrounding area as some will explode when heated. There are a few YouTube videos I’ve seen of this happening. Along with the time spent in sourcing dry tinder and preparation of the materials you are going to use.
I made fire and yes, it’s harder than it looks.
There is something very satisfying about being able to make a fire with limited resources. Whether this be using a single match to start your log burner on a cold winters day or getting a campfire going, to while away the hours when camping with friends.
After the course I was thinking about what was covered and it brought back memories of childhood.
I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have used fire lighters to start a fire, whether this be in ours or my Mams wood burner, in one of our garden fire baskets or a campfire. It’s not meant to sound like me boasting, it’s just the way I way taught to start fires. I can still remember being about 4 or 5 years old and my Nan showing me how to use scrunched up newspaper and sticks to start the coal fire in our living room each morning for heating and hot water. Yes, I am that old thank you. Having said this lighting a fire without a match and in the middle of a wood is a whole different ball game to trying to light one in your own home.
I had lit fires using a ferrous rod and striker before but by striking it into cotton wood or mixed tinder bundles. I had never used birch bark as the fuel before and it took some perseverance and expert guidance, but after a few attempts I managed to ignite the bark and start the fire. If you check out their YouTube channel they have it listed as the six-bundle fire lay method. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQLeFTp6x9Y&feature=emb_title)
I was smiling to myself when doing this as the effort it initially took, is not always reflected accurately on different TV programs.
In addition to starting a fire you were instructed in how to safely extinguish the remains of the fire to ensure it was completely out and remove signs of the campfire.
Other topics we covered were the creation of simple string. Cordage is something all civilisations have always needed and we were able to try our hand at making string from stinging nettle stalks. This was something I was very curious about as I can recall my grandfather mentioning how they used to use nettle stems as string in the garden to tie up plants.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to cover friction fire lighting which was a shame, but there are only so many hours in a day. To be fair to the organisers, we were given the choice of whether to cover that or tips on axe / knife sharpening. As a group we opted to go for knife and axe sharpening.
We also did some simple wood carving for a pot hook. I have to say that brought back memories of my early teens when I would find a decent size stick and spend hours, removing the bark, smoothing the surface and use it as a walking stick. Even made a short one for my Nan who was too short to reach curtain and draw them easily. So, I made up a small stick long enough for her to reach the curtain and light enough so she didn’t struggle holding it.
Like most organisations these days they also have an Instagram @originaloutdoor They also have a podcast the Angry Badger which is quite entertaining to listen to, being available on Spotify and other platforms. As I said they have their own YouTube channel too (https://www.youtube.com/user/originaloutdoorvideo) .
I felt the small group size really helped with interaction, I know they were operating on reduced numbers due to COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of attendees.
Personally, I felt part of the enjoyment was confirming things I thought I knew, with the opportunity to just experiment and learn some new skills in an incredibly friendly and welcoming environment.
All in all, it proved to be a really good day. Thank you for a great birthday present, even if it was a few months late.
The best thing of the whole weekend though, wasn’t the course, but the opportunity to see my Mam for the first time in months due to the COVID-19 restrictions on travel in Wales.
Thanks for reading, stay safe.