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.