Over the last year or so I have found that my Bushcrafting has been taking a bit of a backseat to my other Adventure Training responsibilities so it was great to get back to some Bushcraft with fellow instructors from London Area Sea Cadets at one of our regular Multi Activity Staff Training (MAST) weekends.
It was a bit of CPD weekend for some and a bit of a new adventure for others. We took our time setting up camp on the Friday in the Mereworth Woods training area we had been given access to as the students were not due to join us until the Saturday morning – a kind of calm before the storm you could say.
The weather was on the whole kind to us with no major showers but the tarps were up just in case. Graham got his cuppa in bed that morning (being an officer and all that) and then modeled his Buffalo sleeping bag for us by the fire – I have no idea why the thing has a full face zip – weird 🙂
Along to help out and do some CPD were Dave, Alan, Charlie and Graham. The instructors from the Adventure Training team looking to learn the basics of Bushcraft were Ben, Lee, Sam and Gary. We like to run these Bushcraft courses from time to time to expand out Expedition Leaders skill set so that they can pass the knowledge onto their cadets.
Time for Tea
Before they were allowed to have a cuppa on the Saturday morning the students had to learn about lighting a fire. Off they went to learn about gathering dead standing wood, processing and grading it before learning to use firesteels – needless to say the tea and coffee was soon brewing.
Saw and Knife use
After their brew it was time to learn how to use saws and knives safely. Once the wood was gathered they learnt about safe knife cuts and battoning. I like teaching in this way as there is no need to get axes out (and we did not have time to cover them anyway). The students produced some strong tent pegs and looked at the techniques for making feather sticks for fire lighting.
Camp Set Up
One of the things I wanted the students to do over the weekend was to set up their own camp. They learnt some of the basic Bushcraft knots with Charlie and how to throw a line through the trees. Soon they had their parachute up and firewood collected. Once that was all done they spent time with Dave and Graham learning how to put hammocks and tarps up (no ground dwelling on this weekend).
A popular activity at cadet camps is Atlatl dart throwing so Dave and Alan spent a couple of hours with the students getting them to carve their own Atlatl throwers. All the skills that they had learnt in the morning with the saws and knives were used here with some finer knife cutting technique thrown in to get the points done.
As this was CPD time for the experienced instructors Dave went off earlier on the Saturday and experimented with Spruce roots as cordage. After digging up a little he split them down and removed the bark (with the forked stick) before using it to bind his demonstration Atlatl dart for his class. He also used Sweet Chestnut bark as a flight for his dart – worked perfectly well.
We had a nearby glade that was soon set up as arrange and the darts were soon pinging away. I have used Atlatls for years and shown hundreds of people how to use them – they never fail to intrigue people and offer hours of fun either in their construction or use.
While Dave and Graham ran the range I went back with Charlie and Alan to help gather the material for ponassing some fish. Dinner was to be Trout, Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs. As well as ponassing we wrapped and bound one Trout in Sweet Chestnut leaves (these were the biggest we could find) and its inner bark. The fish was then cooked over the open fire when the coals were nice and ready.
Alan ran our little galley and had the students helping him out on all the stages. It was not long before everything was cooked and even less time until everything was eaten.
We retired to the students parachute for the evening to watch the fireworks display – Sweet Chestnut wood sparks fantastically. Luckily we did not get one of the many thunderstorms we could hear nearby pass over us, so we remained dry while we watched the fireworks.
After a good nights sleep it was time for the breakfast feast. My wife Alison had made me up a pancake mix and Alan soon had the skillet working hard cooking pancakes (with a few rolls baking away on the side in the Dutch Oven). As well as pancakes we had the students cooking fresh sausage rolls over the fire (another great cadet pastime.
Straight after breakfast – out came my bow drill kit. This was not a full on bowdrill workshop but a taster to show how ‘assisted bowdrill‘ works. When we do this activity with cadets we always do it with the assistance of an instructor (or as a group of four or five) due to a lack of time usually. We used a couple of different methods and got good embers every time.
Grass Rope Making
In the Sea Cadets we work with ropes a lot (seamanship and all that) so I showed the guys how to make rope using grass. This is a fast rope making technique and we can create enough (with the right material) to make enough rope to do a seamanship class if needed (or just make earrings).
To finish Dave showed the students how to make some char cloth in a tin – we did not have time to finish it all off but they got the principles.
It was soon time to pack everything up and head home. Normally it is just the instructors that do most of this work so it was great to see all the students getting stuck in to put everything away in the correct manner so that it can be deployed quickly the next time we run a course.
It was great to be back out doing Bushcraft again and sharing knowledge on the subject. I hope some of the guys are with us in a few years helping to deliver this course as having a good understanding of Bushcraft really enhances their skill set for teaching cadets. I hope to be back running another course at MAST next year.
Ever lose the urge to do something? – well I did a couple of months ago and that was to whether or not carry on with writing up my little adventures.
I thought at first it was I because I needed to do something different but on reflection (over the Christmas period) I now know it was to do with stresses at work (Adventure Training is not my full time job).
Looking back on my pictures and videos of the year I realised how far behind I have gotten in updating this blog and – what I now refer to as my ‘Digital Diary’. Parts of this diary are instructional (The How To….. section) but the majority is a digital diary of what I get up to in my spare time.
So to catch up…………….
Last July (Yup I am that far behind) it was time to help out with our District Sea Cadet Adventure Training Competition. My good friend Dave Lewis set up the weekend on Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest and we were joined by a number of District staff. As you can see when it comes to these weekends we do not rough it – It takes years of training to remember to bring all these comforts 🙂
First thing Saturday morning the teams were up and away navigating their way around Ashdown Forest. We only had 3 teams enter this year due to a Sailing Regatta being run that weekend but they were still tested to the same high levels.
The cadets had to carry all their equipment for the whole weekend and as well as testing their navigation they had a number of leadership tasks to undertake as well.
As I said at the beginning it takes years of training to remember to bring along the right ‘comforts’ 😉 and this includes food. Alan, Dave and Charlie prepared some great food over the weekend for the staff – that roast was brilliant and I got a cracker of a Fire Face.
It was great wakening up in the morning in my hammock but it was soon time to crack on with the Sunday Stances. I had brought along some Atlatl’s and Dave brought along some Darts. These are great for testing out your marksmanship and easy to teach.
Other stances (in between the herds of wild horses) were the stalking game and the Seamanship stance. Both stances require high levels of team work in order to be completed successfully.
The weekend was soon over – City of London came 3rd, Haringey 2nd and the winners were Enfield unit – well done to everyone who took part.
It has been good re-starting my Digital Diary and I hope to get back in to making my videos some time soon.
Every now and then a nice little weekend comes along – this trip to Crowborough Army camp with the Sea Cadets was one of them (not often you can say that with Crowborough). My friends Dave and Alan Lewis had already set up camp when I pulled up ( I had been at Woodcraft School that day so was running late).
We had a group of 5 senior cadets and a party of Junior cadets to train in campcraft over the weekend.
There was other training going on in the camp but we were separate from all that in the woods. Along with us was Gary Brodie-Barratt who is under training for his Basic Expedition Leadership award. Under supervision from Dave, Gary led a lot of the classes covering subjects such as kit, clothing and tents.
While they were cracking on with these classes Alan and myself were preparing for an influx of Junior cadets later that afternoon. I did though get out with Dave and Gary when they set off to do some navigation.
Some of the cadets were learning map reading for the first time and some were on our intermediate course which focuses on compass work a lot more.
Everyone though gets to play with the bothy bag – this little bag is a real life saver when you are in very exposed conditions. The cadets learn how to use one in a safe and controlled manner so that if they ever need to use one for real they will know how to deploy it correctly.
After lunch the Juniors arrived and the peace and tranquillity of our camp was shattered 🙂 These Juniors are so keen to learn that it is a pleasure to teach them.
We got them fire lighting first and soon had sausages, bread and marshmallows on the go.
Later on I took them on a nature walk (with a little bit of navigation thrown in) down through the old World War 1 training trenches running beside the camp.
We had cracking weather all weekend, did not have to share the woodland with any other groups (always a bonus) and for once had plenty of staff on hand – all in all it made for Happy Campers.
Below are my favourite shots of the weekend (so want one of these blow up seats).
Maybe next year I will get one of these weekends again 🙂
As winters past have gone this last one here in the southern part of the UK has proved to a bit quiet on the snow front. However even though much of nature has been lying dormant there was still plenty to see and do here over the last few months.
The following ‘grouped’ pictures are some of the favourites I have taken (apart from one taken by my wife Alison) since last December. I have spent as much time as I could outdoors with my family however I feel that it could have been more (work has kept me away from home a lot recently). We are definitely a digital family however we try and balance all that screen time out with some quality dirt time.
I use a Nikon D3200 Digital camera and shoot in RAW format so that I can use Adobe Lightroom to its fullest. I like Lightroom as it allows me to extract from the images (I am still learning about all the settings on my camera) I take something closer to what I saw originally or in some cases something slightly enhanced.
The sunset below was certainly not as dark as that originally however Lightroom allowed me to produce this moodier shot. The blue skies in the bottom picture were like this on the day however the shot I took the blues were all washed out. With a few tweaks though it was looking good again.
The snowdrop and the forlorn looking hazelnut were both taken in mid winter but the wood anemone was shot just a few days ago. I included the wood anemone as it is one of the first woodland spring flowers to pop up and to say that winter is now over.
All beautiful in their own ways and all photographed in different weather conditions.
I took both these pictures with my Sony Z3 mobile phone as the weather conditions were to bad to bring out my Nikon. The top picture was a bit of an experiment with the guys lighting up the inside of our group parachute with their torches making it look like a downed UFO.
The bottom picture was taken inside a group parachute while we were huddled around the fire on a cold evening awaiting in anticipation for the feast to come being cooked by Dave.
Mountain time this winter was limited to only one weekend however it was one to remember. The wind and the rain was incessant however this did not dampen the spirits of any of the guys I was walking with – in fact they seemed to revel in all that rain (might be due to the fact we are all either Sea or Royal Marines Cadets instructors).
My daughter Catherine is a keen photographer and she really does think about what she wants to shoot and how to approach each shot.
The top picture was taken by my wife Alison and I like how it contrasts with the one I took of Catherine lining up for her shot.
I have been experimenting with low light level photography so I do not have to rely on using the flash all the time.
I have found that a great time for that is when there is a fire going. These two photographs were taken on cold winter nights however I have fond memories of both evenings. The young boys had a great time learning to light a fire and the slightly older boys had fun putting the world to right around their fire.
Still on the fire theme I have to mention ‘Fire Faces’. I have been photographing flames for years now looking for faces or figures in the flames. Two of my favourites this year were of the Roadrunner (top left) and a Dove (on the right).
My friend Fraser gets his face included as he always seems drawn to the fire when the camera comes out – kinda like a moth I suppose 😉
My last two pictures were taken just at the end of winter at the Vyne National Trust property in Hampshire. As many of the trees and flowers were dormant they set up a ‘Wild Wicker Trail’ in the grounds. There were plenty of wicker figures to spot including a heron, flowers and a fish however these two stood out for me – the Hawk and Mr Fox. Both beautifully crafted and positioned in the woodlands.
This last few days (been resting up with a torn calf muscle) I was thinking that I hadn’t gotten out as much as I would have liked this winter however after looking through my albums I must admit that when I did get out and about – they were good times.
At the beginning of February this year I drove down the A303 towards Dorset here in the UK in ever worsening weather conditions.
My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival had organised a meet up of some of the guys who help him out at various events throughout the year. By the time I got to his village the weather had deteriorated to storm conditions.
The pictures below show his parachute getting a right battering and even later on in the shelter of the parachute the airflow really helped shoot the flames of the fire up.
Before going to up to Fraser’s woodland location I met some of the the guys – Fraser, Steve, Si, Danny and Nick in the local pub to have a few beers (and to dry off from the drenching I got from walking from the car park to the pub).
Even though the weather conditions were still extremely poor when we got to Fraser’s woodland site we soon made ourselves comfortable. The food and mulled cider were soon on and I even managed to get a picture of the parachute looking like some sort of downed UFO.
We were joined later in the evening by Tom who is one of the other Coastal Survival instructors. He had cycled his way through the storm to get to us but seemed happy to be out there in the wild conditions (I think that it is a pre-requisite of any outdoors pursuit instructor to show they can be comfortable outdoors whatever the weather throws at them).
Due to the high winds the flames of the fire kept shooting up, so as usual I had my camera out grabbing some shots of fire faces and figures in the flames. If you look closely you will see a few faces. I can also see a deer and a water buffalo in the left hand picture below.
We spent the evening listening to the wind, catching up on the year gone by and planning trips for the coming months. Around about 10pm the wind dropped sufficiently I felt it safe enough to venture out and put my own hammock and tarp up.
I slept for a full ten hours that night and woke the next morning feeling calm and refreshed. The guys already had the kettle on the go so all I needed to do was fill my cup and wait for my breakfast from Fraser.
One thing about working with Fraser is that you never go hungry and I will never get in the way of an expert chef wanting to cook me breakfast :-).
As part of our bed and board for the night we agreed to get out and collect some of the brash wood Fraser had stored around his woodland to replace the wood we had used the night before.
We said goodbye to Tom at this stage before stringing up the brash wood to take back to camp.
Once the chores were done I set off on my own to see what flora and fauna were about that morning. Little Tinker always makes for a great shot but I soon found an excellent badger print in the damp ground.
I spooked a deer on my travels through the wood but managed to get one decent long range shot of her as she ran across a field.
Even though this was early February there was a dash of colour about with the plants.
The teasel was looking particularly majestic with new seeds sprouting within the previous years seed head. I spotted a number of primroses for the first time this year at Fraser’s and the lesser celandines were sunning themselves nicely.
Finally I spotted an elder tree covered in some lovely looking jelly fungus.
It was soon time to head home again however the drive back was a delight due to feeling refreshed and the sun was out 🙂
Thanks to Fraser for hosting us for the weekend and the rest of the guys for being such good company.
I can only publish a few pictures due to the Scout policy on this and must apologise about the quality of the pictures as I had left the focus on manual instead of auto.
I set up a scenario where the Beavers were lost in the woods and in trying to find out where they were, they found a ‘supposed’ aircraft crash site. Everything they found at the site such as a discarded parachute was put to use.
In no time they had the chute up to offer them some protection from the sun.
Once the chute was up the Beavers went out to collect wood and tinder for their fire (all strategically placed for speed as we only had an hour and a half for the whole event).
The Beavers lit the fires (we made two) using firesteels and we set up a cooking rig to boil water in a couple of kettles (a brew for the staff).
I had set up a load of hammocks around the crash site for the Beavers to try out. I took ten at a time on the firelighting while the other ten were told to conserve their energy and rest up in the hammocks. I had no arguments on this from any of them.
Once the fires were going we set off to do two other activities. I asked Amber (aka Kiwi) if she could run a drum stalk. This is where the Beavers are blindfolded and they have to walk towards the sound of the drum and touch the drummers forehead. All the Beavers managed this. It is a good game for teaching them the importance of using all their senses and not just their sight.
The other activity was the Atlatl. They had a great time pinging Atlatl darts down the range to finish off.
I had a great time with this event and by the smiles on the Beavers faces afterwards I think they did too.
Day 10 of the 30 day Challenge found me in the military training area around Aldershot. I will write an in depth report on the weekend later but as this was where I was interacting with nature last Friday so I thought I would write up a little on what I got up to.
I had taken the day off work to prepare for a bushcraft course I was helping to run with the Royal Marines Cadets. As the advance party it was our job to set the camp up so it was mostly putting up tarps, a parachute and doing all the other chores needed to run a camp.
As I wanted to give the cadets a good bushcraft experience once the main HQ area was set up we spent the rest off the evening until the cadets turned up putting up 12 hammocks and tarps. This is not easy to do with only a few of you (thanks Dave and Charlie) so I was glad to see the last one finally up.
The cadets turned up in the evening and some slept in the hammocks and some in bivi bags on the ground. The plan was then to allow them to swap over on Saturday night.
I finished the evening chatting with the guys around the campfire planning for the next day.