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.
Helping me on the weekend were Dave Lewis and Charlie Brookes (and at different times Christine Weston and Emma Deasy).
The weekend’s weather was pretty poor to say the least with a lot of rain and some quite high winds.
The high winds were a concern for me so I told the cadets that sleeping in hammocks over the weekend was not an option. A few were upset but soon got on with things. The cadets ended up sleeping in their tents in the grounds of the main camp nowhere near any trees.
They had to set up the main tarps to work under, after a bit of instruction on knots they were left to their own devices and managed to get two big tarps up by themselves.
Once the tarps were up the cadets had to collect dry wood from the surrounding area. As it had been raining heavily there was very little in the way of dry wood lying around so we taught them how to identify dead standing wood. Thankfully the woodland had been coppiced in the past and left untouched for many years so there were plenty of dead standing coppice poles in the area.
Once all the wood had been collected and graded it was time to play with some firesteels.
(NB The light levels in the woodland were poor and I only had my phone camera to hand so some of the pictures have been brightened slightly or have had the colours in them deepened slightly.)
Once they got the hang of lighting char cloth the cadets experimented with other tinders such as pampas grass and birch bark.
Everything was very damp but the cadets persevered and eventually had two good fires going to get a hot brew on. As we were running the course in the woodland within the grounds of the camp all the cadets were being fed from the main camp galley. This freed us up to concentrate on different bushcraft activities without having to worry about getting food cooked over the open fires.
One of these activities was to introduce the cadets to a bit of safe knife use. After discussing safety issues and the legalities of using a knife, the cadets learnt how to carve themselves a small wedge. I like this simple activity as it involves using a variety of carving techniques.
The cadets practised cutting techniques safely, making cuts away from themselves and in front of them or off to the side. We spent a good hour trying out different cuts and everyone managed to finish their wedges.
The wedges were needed because the next lesson was about battoning – where you use your knife more like an axe to split small logs. I did a demonstration to the class showing the whole process and then we split into two groups to let the cadets have a go themselves.
I find battoning is best done kneeling down and with the use of a stump on which to rest the piece of wood that needs to be split.
The knife is positioned on top of the piece of wood at 90 degrees to the body and the back of the blade is struck with the ‘hammer’ (a small but weighty stick) so that the edge of the blade is driven into the wood. I published an article on knife safety last year that covers battoning in more detail.
Here you can see that the knives have been driven well into the wood and the wedges are now being used to widen the split further.
The cadets got the hang of it pretty quickly and were soon splitting the wood down.
Here the knife has been removed and the cadets are using the stump to help drive the wedge into the wood to split it.
Later that afternoon we started on two shelters. Normally I would ask for volunteers to try and sleep out in them but due to the high winds I did not offer the cadets the option this time. The weather was quite cold, but this activity kept them moving and warm.
It was not until well after dark that I called a halt to the shelter building but they did a good job and worked well together.
Even though the weather was not kind to them and we worked them hard there was still time to play and chill out around the fire with a marshmallow or two.
We stayed a couple of hours around the fire before sending the cadets back to the main camp and getting our own heads down. All the instructors stayed in the woods with our hammocks and it was a slightly ‘swaying’ night to say the least with lots of creaking from the trees above us.
Charlie had a brew on first thing and also showed the cadets how to use the Kelly Kettles safely.
There was time for a couple of posed pictures in front of the shelters before the cadets dismantled them both and scattered the debris back around the site so as to leave no trace of them. Apart from becoming unstable if left up, shelters tend to attract rodents to the site (since it’s not just humans who seek shelter) – so down they came.
For the next couple of hours it was time for Atlatls, bows and stalking games.
Once the cadets got their eye in some had pretty good groupings.
Even the staff managed to get a shoot in 🙂
Even though the cadets did not get to use the hammocks and tarps this time we did get some out for them to try.
The final part of the weekend was to return the campsite to the condition we found it in, if not better. This was the easy part of the weekend as the teams were now working well together and everything was stripped down and packed away quickly.
I hope to run one or two more bushcraft courses for the cadets this year and give them the chance to sleep out in a hammock.
Even though the weather was against us this time the cadets knuckled down, worked hard, had great fun and made things comfy for themselves – that’s bushcrafting for you.
Back in early September of 2013 my good friend Dave Lewis invited me over to Danemead Scout Camp to help work with some cadets from the North London Enfield Sea Cadet unit that he was planning to put forward as a team for the London Area Sea Cadet Chosin Cup competition in October.
I had worked with the team earlier in June focussing on their navigation skills so this time the focus was team working. The Chosin Cup marks highly on good team working and we both felt that Enfield had a very good chance of winning. As well as the teamwork we wanted to give the cadets some time to relax and enjoy the outdoors in a way that they would not normally have the opportunity to.
As part of the team working training I briefed the cadets that I wanted them to set up their own group tarp, fire and individual hammocks. They had learnt many of the necessary skills before so they just needed a little refresher on bushcraft knots and off they went.
The white platform the cadet is standing on is actually one of my archery targets made by Mark Gater of G-Outdoor. An excellent bit of kit that has many uses other than just a target. I did a review of the G-Tuff Field target on Bushcraft UK back in 2011.
Now a recurring theme of the weekend was the lack of time I got to sit on my EDC hammock chair. I love this chair so I was a little upset at its overuse by others 😉
The cadets were also taught how to use Laplander saws safely so they could prep their own fire for the evening: the wood slightly propped up and sawn off to the side with the arm supporting the branch crossed over the top of the blade.
The cadets needed no help getting the fire going with firesteels as they had done this many times before, and then it was time for a well-earned rest.
On the Saturday after noon we had a visit from our friends Jim and Maria Stilgoe with their sons David and James. I had never met baby James before so it was nice to do so out in the woods. David on the other hand is not one to sit around for long and was soon off exploring and had a great time with Jim shooting the Father and Son bow.
After a bit of shooting David needed a bit of a rest and soon found his first hammock – ‘And the little one said roll over’ comes to mind here 🙂
As I was saying earlier I did not get much of a chance to use my own hammock chair. It makes a perfect seat for mother and baby I think.
Camping would not be camping without a toasted marshmallow or two. And the occasional cremated one.
That evening around the fire the cadets had made I got some cracking Fire Faces.
After a good night’s sleep (we were only out for one night) it was time to crack on with more activities.
The focus on the Sunday was to improve the communication between the team members when doing tasks. Here the cadets are working together to set up a river crossing activity by manoeuvering a log to act as one of the make-believe river banks.
I taught them a new way to create an emergency stretcher from a single piece of rope (not the usual Mountain Leader version).
At break time you can guess I was still minus a hammock.
Dave set up the river-crossing activity and talked the cadets through what he wanted. They set up an excellent crossing and soon all were over the other side.
To finish off we got the Atlatls out and had a ping. It is good for the cadets to practise this as it is a standard test at the Chosin Cup now. I took a short video of the cadets using the Atlatl that weekend.
The best thing about the EDC hammock is that it has a zip. Somehow the cadets found this rather fun. I had given up now on ever getting a seat 🙂
I had a great time over the whole weekend as all the staff and cadets knew what they were doing, they wanted to be there and the weather was perfect. You do not get that too often when teaching outdoor education so it is one weekend I remember fondly – apart from the hammock stealing!!!