Last weekend I headed north to run a private course for a group of bushcraft enthusiasts. The group are all active members of BushcraftUK and meet regularly to camp out and share skills. The venue of the course was the group’s usual camping ground, a wooded Scout campsite close to Coventry.
I was contacted earlier in the summer by Steve, one of the members of the group, who asked if I could attend their meet and teach some skills. I was very interested and over the weeks that followed, the group came up with a wish-list of skills they wanted to learn or refresh.
The course started on Saturday morning and we began by exploring the woods, looking for useful plants and trees and any wild edibles that we could spot.
There were various levels of knowledge within the group and we found lots of interest to look at and talk about.
One of the skills that people wanted to cover was using various parts of coniferous trees to make salmon trolling hooks as were used by natives of the American north-west coast. This requires use of spruce/pine roots and this small project is a good way to learn about the properties of this very useful natural resource.
The idea is to carve the body of the hook and then attach a barb to the body using a split root as the binding. So once the roots had been collected, we had to prepare them by removing their outer covering and then splitting them.
After preparing the roots, we were able to assemble the hooks. This is a little fiddly but everyone in the group got there in the end and the results were some very nice looking hooks. It’s testament to this groups enthusiasm to make a really good job of their bushcraft that they made such good hooks on their first attempt
Some of the guys wanted to improve their fire-lighting skills, with a particular question about fail-safe methods in damp conditions. We found some dead-standing timber and brought it back to camp. I made some feather-sticks with some tips and suggestions for refining their existing technique. The guys who wanted to practice then set about making some for themselves.
This took us up until dinner time. The guys had quite the professional camp kitchen set up and had cooked a fantastic meal in their Dutch Ovens. The lamb was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious. Martin is definitely a master of the camp oven.
After dinner we sat around the campfire and I did a talk on cold weather clothing, something the group had specifically requested. This was very well received and generated an interesting discussion.
On the second day we headed out into the woods again to explore a different area to the first day. We also needed to collect some more materials for making a different fish hook to the one we made on the first day. Some members of the group wanted to practice making withies so we took this opportunity as there was lots of hazel growing in the area.
After completing our second hook design, we turned to more advanced fire-lighting techniques. The group have experience of the bow-drill method of fire-lighting and we had decided to examine the hand-drill method on this course. During our walk in the morning we had collected the bark of honeysuckle with the intention of using this to take our hand-drill embers to flame. There had been heavy rain overnight so much of the material we collected was damp. This then became a valuable exercise in getting the bark dry for the afternoon’s fire-ligting activities.
I had brought some pre-prepared hand-drills with me and I started with a discussion of the materials and method followed by a demonstration of the technique.
It was then the turn of the group to have a go. There were some valiant efforts and some clear success. Everyone enjoyed the process of learning a new skill.
The members of the group are a capable and committed bunch. It was nice to work with a group who are already knowledgeable and have the right mentality to do things well. We were able to get straight into things without having to address the basics. We covered a lot in a relatively short space of time and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The group were extremely welcoming and made me feel at home even though I was the outsider. I am very much looking forward to the next opportunity to work with them.
If you would like to arrange a similar course of private tuition, covering a bespoke skill-set, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more about this course in Steve’s write-up of the weekend on the BushcraftUK forums here.
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