A Private Course for BushcraftUK Group

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.

Rough Close Weekend Group
Members of the group and Paul Kirtley.

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.

Plant and tree identification walk
We started by exploring the woods looking for useful trees and plants. Photo: Martin Smith.

There were various levels of knowledge within the group and we found lots of interest to look at and talk about.

Paul Kirtley showing plant.
We found lots of interest to look at and discuss. Photo: Steve Harral.

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.

Collecting Roots.
Collecting shallow roots. Photo: Steve Harral.

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.

Group sitting in shelter, splitting roots
Sitting around the campfire, splitting roots. Photo: Martin Smith.

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

Salmon trolling hooks
Salmon trolling hooks, made with split spruce/pine root. Photo: Gary Waidson.

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.

Making feather-sticks
Making feather-sticks from split dead-standing wood. Photo: Steve Harral.

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.

Cooking with Dutch Ovens
Martin's masterwork of camp cookery revealed. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

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.

Making withies
Paul demonstrating making withies. Photo: Steve Harral.

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.

Paul Kirtley Hand-Drill Demo
Demonstrating the hand-drill technique of friction fire-lighting. Photo: Gary Waidson.

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.

Stages of hand-drill fire-lighting
Creating an ember with hand-drill, transferred to my bundle of shredded bark fibres and blown into flame. Photos: Steve Harral.

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.

Members of the group using hand-drills
Members of the group getting to grips with the technique. Photos: Paul Kirtley and Steve Harral.
Success with hand-drill
Success! Roly's determination paid off. Photos: Gary Waidson.

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 info@frontierbushcraft.com

You can read more about this course in Steve’s write-up of the weekend on the BushcraftUK forums here.

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Paul Kirtley is Founder and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog. He is the author of Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft, as well as having contributed to several other books. Paul has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. He is also a Canoe Leader, British Canoeing Level 3 Canoe Coach and UK Summer Mountain Leader.

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3 Responses

  1. Mark
    | Reply

    If anyone has a ‘bucket list’ or wish list ; a day with Paul ‘out in the woods’ has got to be on it ! You will be very hard pushed to find a better practitioner or instructor in the Uk. Watch this space…………

  2. Gary Waidson (Wayland)
    | Reply

    I would just like to say that this weekend was one of the highlights of a challenging year for me.

    If anyone is hesitating about doing a course with Frontier Bushcraft I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

    Paul has that rare gift of combining superb knowledge with an easy going teaching ability.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Wayland

      Great to hear from you. It was a great weekend and a highlight of my year too.

      Thanks for your kind words. They are very much appreciated.

      I hope we manage to catch up again before too long.

      All the best


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