This weekend we were joined at our bushcraft school site near Ruthin for a two-day bushcraft skills course – we call it The Woodlander.
In previous years these courses have always been fully booked, or nearly so. We often receive bookings from groups who wish to attend a course together, and a group of 6 (hi folks!) were booked on to join a young couple… however, the group of 6 contacted our office two weeks before the course date and requested to move to our November course…
This left us in the slightly unusual situation of running a course for just two clients – with two instructors, myself and Wayne, that would be a ratio of 1:1. Well, there is a first time for everything I suppose and this was about to be our best instructor:client ratio ever!
As usual we met the clients in the nearest village – the last point of civilisation, as it were. A short drive away we turned into Clocaenog Forest, driving down unmetalled forest tracks and between towering Larch, Fir and Spruce. Our students – Ben and Claire – parked their car in the designated spot and we set off on foot to the camp.
I always prefer to approach our camp from the forest side – the journey of a kilometre or so gives me the opportunity to talk to students and find out what they want to get out of the course, what their experience of the outdoor environment is and hopefully a little about who they are. We begin with a short exercise on ‘tuning-in’ to the immediate environment – the wind in the trees, birdsong, the smell of woodsmoke from a distant campfire, where the sun is in the sky etc. After a bit of discussion on the importance of being part of the natural environment rather than just a visitor we went through a simple firelighting demo, including how to extinguish it and return the ground to its previous state before leaving.
Once we arrived at the camp we went through the basic skills covered over the weekend, focusing on the ‘Big 3’ – fire, shelter and water. This culminated in Ben and Claire constructing their shelter for the night from deadfall, leaf litter and some helpfully placed fallen trees. The day finished off with an evening spent carving spoons around the campfire and watching the sun creep down behind the forest canopy.
On Sunday we focused on more advanced skills such as making cordage, pot hangers, using tarps and hammocks and the one everybody wants to get right before they leave – the bow drill. This is one of my favourite parts of a course as it brings together several skills learnt throughout the course, including the less obvious ones such as perseverance! The long periods of sweat, frustration and failed attempts are always worth it when that first steady trickle of smoke rises up from the black powder under the hearth board and you can relax. A bit.
Both of us agreed that this was one of the most relaxed two-day bushcraft courses we had worked on. The small group numbers meant we could tailor each lesson to the experience and needs of the students, spending longer on a subject if needed or moving on quickly if they grasped a fundamental skill after a short period. I am not going to aim to run courses with such a low ratio in the future but it was a refreshing change to work with such a tiny group.