Skilling up in the New Forest

Recently I have been reading a lot on social media about how kids and adults seemingly do not interact enough with nature. This is now the fourth year I have written about our annual trip to the New Forest so I would like to say that whoever writes these general stories has never been out with the Sea Cadets. We immerse both our cadets and staff in nature, so much so that they keep coming back for more. This is the story of just one of the many expeditions we run throughout the year.

This particular expedition is arranged each year so that we can skill up our cadets and staff in Adventurous Training (AT) activities and also to support the annual HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre church in the New Forest.

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The Crew

The weekend is organised by Chief Petty Officer Paul Townsend (City of London Sea Cadets) and we have cadets and staff attending both from London and Southern areas.

Our aim is to immerse everyone fully in nature as well as teaching them the traditional AT activities such as map reading, compass work and camping. This weekend saw the cadets finding the skeleton of a fox, observing pond life and scrambling all over the woods.

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Relaxing and Exploring

We have various groups set up over the weekend focusing on different skills. There was a group for the Juniors, various groups for the older cadets and a Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) group out as well.

I took out a group with Paul, Jess and some of the older cadets, The cadets were looking to gain various camping tickets and Jess was under training for her Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) award. This requires her to have a high level of navigation skill however it also requires he to have the skill to pass that knowledge onto others.

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Map and Compass work

Now it is not all hard work and no play by any means. Soon the cadets were flying through the puddles and we took time to rest up on the Saturday afternoon at the hotel near Beauly Rd station. On the way back to the campsite at Ferny Crofts the way got pretty boggy so it was fun watching the cadets trying to keep there feet dry. They soon learnt how to select a good route along the way.

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Fun for all ages

Evening activities involved the usual football, netball and run out games before it was marshmallow time.

We had enough wood this year for the cadets to have their own fire and soon it was sparking away merrily.

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Woodland TV

On the Sunday morning a group of cadets go off to the remembrance service at Boldre church while the rest of us get on with the mornings activities.

Simon was thankfully with us again this year and ran the galley in the roundhouse. He certainly can make some great meals with very little in the way of ingredients. The Juniors meanwhile cracked on with firelighting with Charlie and cooking with Chrissie. I enjoyed some giant toasted chocolate marshmallows however the orange cakes were left in the embers for a little too long I think 🙂

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Sunday Morning Feast

The rest of the staff and the older cadets cracked on with lots of classes. This allowed the trainee instructors like Sarah, Jess and James to gain some valuable time teaching AT skills while training up for their BEL award.

Classes included tent pitching, first aid, bag packing, cooking and compass work. I did not see much of the DofE team as they were out on their expedition on both days however reports back were that they all successfully completed the weekend.

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Adventure Training classes

While all this was going on on the Sunday morning the group at Boldre church put on a fine parade and learnt a bit more about HMS Hood. In all my years going to the New Forest for this trip I have never managed once to get to the parade – mind you that would involve me putting a uniform on 😉

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2016 HMS Hood Remembrance Service

As I get older the years seem to pass quicker however each year has been packed full of fun. I am looking forward to many more years of visiting the New Forest and passing on my knowledge of nature to others so that they can continue this skilling up cycle.

Cheers

George

Previous years in the New Forest

2013 – Adventures in the New Forest – To play and learn

2014 – New Forest – Our annual pilgrimage to remember HMS Hood

2015 – New Forest Adventures

Life & Death with a Touch of Decay

Sometimes when I review photographs I have taken on trips a pattern or a theme starts to emerge. On my recent trip to the New Forest here in the UK with the Sea Cadets one of life and death with a touch of decay thrown in for good measure started to appear.

Take for example in the two pictures below. The cadets are sitting in the shade by a pond in the top picture with all the late spring growth going on around them. While in the bottom picture in amongst all the new iris shoots the bracket fungus on the alder trunk is slowly doing its bit for the cycle of life breaking down wood fibres into sugars. Two lovely pictures but ones I could too easily have overlooked.

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Water life

While the cadets were getting to grips with the art of map reading in various huddles, around them nature was getting on with its business. A rather forlorn looking spiders web seemed to be full of leaf shoot casings and the roots of some trees seemed to be tying themselves into some weird knots. Quite beautiful to see however I only spotted them when I stepped back to photograph the cadets.

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Stopping places

My friend Charlie spotted this little rabbit skull by the side of the pond you saw in the first picture. It was such a delicate little thing and we could so easily have trod on it. I have no idea how it died – maybe it was a fox……………………….

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Death – the prey

Well we found the fox – well, we found a fox :-). One of my cadets spotted some bones in the undergrowth and after a little bit of exploration we put together pretty much all of the skeleton.

The skull still had some of the fur and whiskers still attached to it so I assumed that it had not long since died. The cadets I was with were mostly city kids so they were very excited to find the fox. They wanted to take the skeleton back with us but I did not feel that that was right to do so we left ‘Foxy’ to be discovered by some other woodland adventurers.

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Death – the predator

The trees themselves were painting a beautiful picture in this cycle of life. We came across some pretty massive artists fungus (top left below) that really stood out against the skyline when you looked up from under it.

There is a certain spot I pass most times when I visit the New Forest where there are a number of holly trees (bottom left). For some reason the forest ponies like to gnaw at the bark. They leave some great markings on the trunk and I love to get the cadets guessing what causes this strange site.

Lastly we spotted this strange tree (bottom right) we dubbed it the Easter Island tree due to its likeness to the statues found there. These growths known as burls/burrs are caused by the tree trying to protect itself from some sort of infection (if I remember my university courses correctly). My bushcrafting friends know they can make for some quite exquisite bowls.

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Tree life

Last but not least are these two little critters. The toad below was spotted by the cadets and he tried very hard to pretend he was invisible. The cadets and myself lay down to observe him when we realised he was not running away. After a few minutes we left him in peace to get on with his business (I say ‘he’ but have no idea if that is correct).

A last little visitor to our camp (you can see the camp chair legs) was this little Chaffinch (bottom picture). She was not bothered by us as she searched our fireside for some morsels. I was quite content to just sit and watch her potter about while I put my feet up.

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Critters

I never set out to write this blog based on this them of life, death and decay but I was sure glad I spotted it.

Cheers

George

New Forest – Our annual pilgrimage to remember HMS Hood

May brings about City of London Sea Cadets annual pilgrimage to the New Forest to remember the 1,415 crew members of the mighty Battlecruiser HMS Hood who lost their lives on the 24th of May 1941 and also to provide a range of adventurous activities for our cadets to try out in the beautiful countryside.

Our campsite was in the large Scouting site of Ferny Crofts in the New Forest.

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HMS Hood Remembrance Service

This year we had a number of cadets from visiting units of ages ranging from 10 to 17. They were split into a class for the Juniors (10 & 11 year olds), a course on basic campcraft and one on more advanced skills. This weekend was also a chance for us to let the younger members of staff have a go at teaching outdoor skills to the cadets and which I was very happy to see worked out very well. We laid on a variety of classes including navigation rucksack packing, first aid, outdoor clothing, cooking and conservation.

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Outdoor classes

For the Juniors the Saturday morning included a class on responsible firelighting. This was run by Charlie who is a fire fighter in his day-to day-life and is always keen to show the cadets how to light and manage fires in a fun but safe manner. Charlie had them using modern and traditional firesteels, and also had the cadets assisting him in creating fire by friction using the bowdrill method.

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Bushcraft classes

Soon it was time to head out and about. The day was very hot so I made the decision to try and keep to the woods as much as possible. Even though it was hot, the ground in many areas was saturated, making for wet feet for some.

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Out and about in the New Forest

Along the way we would stop to have an impromptu classes on navigation, conservation, first aid or leadership. As far as I am concerned this is the best type of classroom.

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Classes on the go

A nice spot for us to stop for a restful break is the hotel near the Beaulieu Railway station. The cadets can relax or run around the small play park for a while while the staff can plan the evening’s activities. it is around this time that Simon heads off to prepare a great meal for everyone in the Roundhouse at our camp.

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Rest and excellent food

After all the learning it is time to play and relax. The kids and staff all took part in the the tug of war and the volleyball games.

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Fun and fitness

Someone managed to get hold of the water cannons I had brought along for bushcraft games and put them to good use in the evening as well.

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Pure fun

After dark we had the usual marshmallows around the fire and I lit a couple of my Scandanavian candles. Dave though had brought along his laptop and small projector. he put a film on (Brave, I think) and projected it onto the inside of the parachute. The whole set up could not be filmed because of the dark and the smoke from the fire but it did work and kept everyone happy.

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Nightlife

As my wife Alison was also away that weekend I took my two kids (Catherine and Finlay) along with me. They got on really well with all the cadets and Finlay managed to sleep all weekend in a hammock for the first time. Not bad for a six year old.

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Sleepy mornings

As part of their Green Module the cadets learnt how to cook over an open fire on the Sunday morning and I was happy to sample the fare.

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Campfire classes

We try and set up lots of events on the Sunday morning, some to really test the cadets and some to just have fun just like they are having on the Atlatl range.

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Atlatl fun

Over the weekend one of the cadets turned 18 and so became a member of staff. We managed to get some cakes and candles together for a good old Happy Birthday sing a long.

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Birthday celebrations

I have been experimenting with video over the last few months so managed to put a short piece together of the weekend.

While we were running around the woods on the Sunday morning Paul. Andy and some of the older cadets attended the HMS Hood Remembrance ceremony at Boldre church. In all my years attending this event (since 1999) I have never gotten to the church; I’m always left behind in the woods 😉 These are official City of London Sea Cadet pictures.

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Remembrance

As usual I am looking forward to my trip to the New Forest next year. I also made a small video of what my kids got up to over the weekend.

Cheers George