In Bushcraft course: part one I described my first evening in the woods and going to bed in a hammock. This is what happened next.
Bushcraft course: part two
I’m comfortable and cosy in my woodland hammock and I fall asleep easily. But two hours later my bladder wakes me up. The night air feels cold on my face and I can hear raindrops pattering on the tarpaulin above my head. I need to get out of the hammock, put on my trousers, boots, coat and head torch and find my way to the toilet shelter in the dark. The problem is that I only managed to get into my hammock with my friend Anne’s help. If I get out I don’t think that I’ll be able get back in again on my own. And then I’d have nowhere to sleep. The woods are silent and, as far as I can tell, everyone else is asleep so I’m on my own. It’s very dark and very cold in the woods but it’s warm and comfortable where I am, snuggled up in my sleeping bag. I weigh up my options: to go to the loo and risk having nowhere to sleep – or not. I decide to stay where I am and hold on until dawn. I spend the rest of the night dozing and waking and dozing and waking and thinking about my bladder.
It’s November and I’m on a Jack Raven bushcraft course in Kent in Southeast England with a group of friends. It’s my first experience of sleeping outside and, apart from my bladder, it’s much better than I’d expected.
When daylight comes at about 7am I extract myself gingerly from my snuggly nest of bedding, get down from the hammock and put on the layers of clothing which I’d taken off the night before. I’m pleased to find that my clothes and kit are dry despite the rain during the night. I head for the toilet shelter. The woodland is quiet in the pale morning light and nobody else seems to be awake. As I look around our camp in daylight for the first time I’m surprised by how close our hammocks and tents are to each other and to the yurt and kitchen. We arrived here in the dark the evening before and were given a torchlit tour of the site by bushcraft leader Gary Johnston. I found it hard to get my bearings in the dark.
I go to wash my hands and get a cup of cold water so that I can clean my teeth. Gary appears and lights the fire in the parachute tent. I go to sit on a log by the fire and wait for the water to boil in the pot above it so that I can have a hot drink. My fellow campers slowly appear and at 8 o’clock Gary’s partner Nicola calls us all to breakfast: she’s made porridge for us.
After breakfast we move to another parachute tent nearby and Gary teaches us about lighting fires. We sit on logs in a semi-circle around him and learn how to light a match and keep it alight, even if it’s windy. I’m fascinated by the different fire-lighting methods which Gary shows us including fire strikers, parabolic mirrors and wire wool – I didn’t know that if you touch wire wool with a battery it catches light. My favourite trick involves coating cotton wool balls with Vaseline to use as firelighters: Vaseline contains petrol and so is flammable. The session is very hands-on and Gary encourages us all to try out each of the methods which he demonstrates.
After a tea break our next lesson is wood carving, and this turns out to be my favourite part of the weekend. Gary starts off by laying down some ground rules: ‘Rule number one when handling knives is don’t stab yourself. Rule number two is don’t stab anyone else.’ He tells us to think about our ‘blood circle’ by holding our knives and stretching out our arms: there should be nobody within that distance of us while we’re using our knives. He then gives each of us a sheathed knife to use for the duration of the weekend course. We spread out so that we’re a safe distance from each other. We learn how to use a pruning saw to cut a length of hazel branch safely and then split the length of branch using a knife and a wooden ‘hammer’. Once we have a split section of wood we draw the shape of a rounded spreading knife onto it with a pencil. We then use our knives to carve the shape out of the wood, Gary and his patient assistant Bob teach us various carving techniques as we go along. I’ve never done anything like this before and my clumsy carving skills frustrate me but I find that I really enjoy the process of creating something from wood and I’m disappointed when it’s time to stop.
The morning has whizzed by and I’m surprised that it’s already lunchtime. Nicola has rustled up some bread rolls and things to put in them so that we can make up our own lunch. I opt for egg and tomato and find a cosy chair in the yurt by the wood burner to sit and eat.
After lunch Gary leads us through the woods to an area where there are some debris shelters made of leaves and branches. He explains how they are made and we all work to pile leaves onto one which needs some attention. Gary says that some campers do sleep in these shelters and find them cosy. I can’t imagine ever sleeping in any of them and am very happy when Gary says that if he were stranded in the woods he wouldn’t waste energy building a shelter. He says that he’d sit at the base of a tree and try to get off the ground by using something like a piece of wood instead.
It’s starting to get dark and we head back to camp for tea and biscuits. The others in my group are staying at the site for another night and day but I have to go home that evening to look after my kids because my husband is leaving for India first thing in the morning. When I hand back my knife to Gary and say goodbye to the group I’m surprised to find that I’m actually disappointed to be going home early. I’d expected to be desperate to get back to some home comforts but in fact I want to stay for a second night and learn more about woodcarving and bushcraft the next day. I definitely enjoyed my first bushcraft experience.
Jack Raven Bushcraft offers a range of courses for adults as well as some for families with children. I went on a two-day bushcraft course which costs £180 per person including meals, activities and a hammock or tent to sleep in.
Thank you very much to Mountain Warehouse who kindly provided me with some of my bushcraft kit: a very warm sleeping bag, a comfortable sleeping mat, a useful head torch some cosy fleece-lined walking trousers and 15 metres of parachute cord.