Bushcraft Basics Course Report, March 2015
At this time of year it is just one ‘first of the year…’ after another for us. Last week was the first Basic Navigation Course of 2015, and this weekend was the first time we erected our parachute shelter and lit a fire in the 90-acre mixed woodland we use for our bushcraft, foraging and other outdoor courses in North Wales. It was for our Bushcraft Basics course, a one-day bushcraft and woodland wilderness skills course in Denbighshire.
We began the day under clouds and light patchy rain, and the group were glad to head into the forest along the main track, handrailing the Afon Clywedog as it drops and tumbles through the limestone gorge which borders our ‘site’. As we walked we talked about some of the trees and plants we could make practical use of, some factors that we should consider when choosing a safe water source, and the limitations of various water filters – which was helped by one of the group being an engineer for a water authority who could provide some industry-specific information to my general advice!
From here we climbed up to the upper level of the woods, following a narrow ledge through the woods as we climbed, with Western Hemlock Spruce and Beech woodland either side. After a quick pause to examine some natural tinder sources (Honeysuckle and Silver Birch) we continued along the forest ride, heading for our camp amongst another stand of Western Hemlock Spruce.
Here we gathered under the shelter of an army-surplus parachute for the first of several firelighting demos. I tend to place the emphasis on learning how to properly build and maintain a fire from foraged wood, regardless of the source. No matter how proficient you are with birch bark and a ferrocerium rod or a bowdrill, your efforts are all for nothing if you cannot properly arrange your tinder and fuel to turn that ember or small flame into a fire. After this demo the group split into pairs to go and try it for themselves, with some coaching from myself. Within twenty minutes or so everybody had a fire lit and were more confident in their skills.
Following a few more workshop sessions we began to cook lunch together as a group – a very simple menu of rice, chorizo and some bread, but welcoming and filling enough in a cold Welsh wind! Next up was shelter building, looking at modern shelters like Gore-Tex bivvy bags and tarpaulins, then the principles of making an effective shelter from natural materials. The group was split into two halves, one tackling a lean-to shelter, the other a kennel-type leaf litter shelter. Both have their merits, both have their limitations, but they are an excellent way of showing a variety of techniques, from shelter design and orientation to improvised cordage and construction efficiency. As the groups worked, the rain turned to sleet and managing their body temperatures became a real, rather than notional, exercise.
The final workshop sessions looked at cutting tools, their care and sharpening methods, and a few ways of making that initial heat, that first spark, flame or ember they would need to light that fire.
For our first UK bushcraft course of the year it was more than a success – a group made up of people from mixed backgrounds and experience coming together to perform complicated tasks in a potentially difficult environment. In one day we cannot possibly cover every single thing that I would want to pass on to a group about camping and living in woodland like this, but hopefully we can pass on more than enough to be useful, and inspire the group to carry on and develop their own personal skills.