Every September for the last 5 years many of the ladies of Bramley, Hampshire have come together for a very special race. It’s called Iron Mum and these ladies train very hard throughout the months leading up to it. Many will have started for the first that year having not trained in any way for years (or never) and in a matter of a few short months are running, cycling and sprinting in this race. My wife Alison is one of the organisers and for the first few years she had me out on the route doing marshalling. Thankfully that came to an end two years ago when I was redeployed to the fun day, and now I get to play at bushcraft while the ladies are out running. Catch is though, I have to help about 20+ kids (and the occasional mum or dad as well) achieve an ember using a bowdrill. Luckily for me I enjoy the whole fire-making business.
The day for me starts early as I have to set up my bushcraft area and help with setting up the race. Normally I start about 6am setting up my tipi as a focal point for the bushcraft. I have the fire area set up near the tipi and an Atlatl range set up behind it.
Inside my tipi hanging on a rope from the centre pole is a Burdock hanger for my jacket and bits and bobs. I will be posting a How To…. on these hangers shortly.
One of the main things I have to prepare are the drill pieces for the bowdrill. I will go through quite a few before the day is out.
Once everything is set up it is good to get a brew on. I like to use the Kelly Kettle for this as the fire area is self contained. Also it is good for these kind of shows as people can learn some basic fire starting skills using one. In this picture though is Tom Gilbert (a fellow member of BCUK) who was perfectly capable of getting the Kelly going and a brew on.
Last year I got my first customers even before the race started. I try and explain all the different parts but sometimes the queue is too big or the kids just have that look in their eye that says ‘Just get on with it!’.
To give that feeling of teamwork (and maximise the number of kids having a shot) I try to get them to double up with me. The need to master the bowdrill solo only starts to take hold in the teenage years, so all the kids I work with are usually very happy to work as part of a team in firemaking.
My son Finlay though was very insistent on just the two of us having a go. Thankfully the day was warm, the wind was gentle and steady and I had plenty of dry timber, so we got lots of embers really quickly.
The kids were pretty enthralled with seeing a glowing ember and were really protective of what they had just created. The wind was just strong enough to be helpful with the embryonic ember’s start in life but potentially strong enough to immediately blow it apart if it was not protected. Kind of a Catch 22 situation, but the kids managed to protect their embers until they were strong enough to pop into a tinder bundle.
Each ember produced a nice bundle of flame. With these tinder bundles I generally hold them unless the kids are really keen to do so. I then get all the kids to queue up behind my shoulder and take turns blowing it into flame.
While all this was going on, the stance next to me was doing a bit of hay bale throwing. Never tried this before and only got it about half as far as the winner (must be a knack thing, obviously). The kids shied away from this one so my friend Michael and myself took turns throwing the bale with any of the kids who wanted a go. Turned out to be a hit after that. (Michael though had done his shoulder in earlier so when his good wife Helen found out what he had been up to there were a few choice words said) 😉
The other activity I offer is an Atlatl range. It is very small but it has a good turnover of kids. Michael is quite happy to run this stand for me (thanks mate). I have a range of different Atlatls for the kids to use so that even 3 year olds can use them. We give each of the kids a bit of tuition to begin with before letting them loose with what is basically a spear-chucking device.
The range is strictly controlled with a clear target and launch area.
After a few tries most of the kids can get the dart into the roped off area. There is something fundamentally satisfying about throwing an Atlatl dart and I find whoever picks one up and uses it gets the same satisfaction. Must be something imprinted into our genetic makeup (like watching the flames in a campfire).
After the race (I saw nothing of it to tell the truth) those volunteers who had helped out at all 5 races received a lovely gift of an engraved metal wine stopper.
I thought I would finish on this picture: my wife Alison saw it and asked, ‘Where does your beard end?’ 😉