A Rough Weekend in the Midlands and an Object Lesson in Interconnectedness

Last weekend I jumped in my Land Rover and braved the motorways to visit a great group of bushcraft enthusiasts in the Midlands.

The group are all active members of BushcraftUK and regularly get together at Rough Close Scout camp for social meets where they share skills and time in the woods together.

Rough Close BCUK Bushcraft Meeters Parachute
The group's main communal camp area set up at Rough Close. Photo: Steve Harral.

On waking up on Saturday, I have to say that I was stunned. There was a strange blue hue to the sky and everything was illuminated very brightly.

Not only had the group booked me to instruct them for the weekend, they also seemed to have booked perfect weather.

After a very damp April and early May, the sunshine was wonderful and we certainly made the most of our time in the woods over the course of two days.

I had visited the group last September and thoroughly enjoyed working with them – a very friendly, welcoming and genuine bunch of people. So when they suggested I came back again for another weekend, I was very happy to find some time in my diary.

Last time I visited we’d covered a broad range of skills including hand-drill, feathersticks, tree and plant identification, making fish-hooks from natural materials, as well as an evening talk on cold injuries and cold-climate clothing. Even though this seems a somewhat disparate syllabus, the advantage of a bespoke course like this is that people can be very specific about the areas they want to cover.

This past weekend was no exception – the guys suggested a range of skills they might like to address and in the run-up to the course we whittled it down into a workable programme that suited the entire group.

The main areas we agreed to cover were:


Tree and plant identification, tracking and natural navigation actually all fit together well. At the heart of each is keen observation of the natural world. This was a theme that I aimed to develop and highlight over the course of the weekend.

These subjects are also connected in various ways. For example, the more you know about local flora, the better you will be able to track in the environment; the better you understand how people find their way – as well as get lost – the better you can track people; the more you can recognise different trees and plants, as well as associate them with place, the more you have access to distinct woodland waymarks within an otherwise amorphous mass of tree-trunks and greenery.

Campfire Cookery

Another reason why I look forward to visiting this group is the standard of cuisine. A particular highlight of my first visit were Bodge’s Staffordshire oatcakes for breakfast. This time was no disappointment either.

Bodge cooking Staffordshire Oatcakes
Bodge cooking his famed oatcakes over the campfire. Photo: Steve Harral.

Day 1: Wild Foods and Tracking

Fuelled by oatcakes and coffee, we started on Saturday morning with a walk in the woods. We stopped to look at many plants, most of which were edible. Along the way there were many interesting conversations about plant uses, folklore, history and the countryside. I always learn something new when this occurs – there’s always someone who knows something you don’t.

Paul and the BCUK group discussing and tasting some wild food plants
The group discussing - and tasting - some wild food plants. Photo: Steve Harral.

On this walk we also came across various animal tracks, including badgers and muntjac. Many of these tracks were quite distinct in soil that had been rendered very damp by the recent rains. This provided a great opportunity to study the detail of the tracks.

Paul Kirtley and BCUK group looking at animal tracks
The group studying some animal tracks. Photo: Steve Harral.
Muntjac deer track
The small size and asymmetry make the track of a muntjac easy to recognise. Photo: Karl Webb.

Spending some time in the morning looking at tracks and sign led nicely into some systematic tracking training in the afternoon. After an introduction to some important concepts and considerations, we started with some straightforward tracking exercises.

As the group tuned in and gained confidence, I increased the difficulty of the exercises. One of the hurdles in teaching tracking to any group is getting them to mentally adjust to looking for the small details that are surely there but require concentration and focus to recognise.

BCUK Rough Close meeters undertaking a tracking training exercise
Learning to track properly requires a good deal of concentration. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

While there were some challenges, everyone did very well with their tracking on this first afternoon. The fact that this group all take a keen and regular interest in the nature around them certainly helped get up the learning curve relatively quickly.

That said, by early evening, everyone was quite drained and ready for a break. This came in the form of a great campfire atmosphere and a fantastic stew prepared by Bodge and Sally.

After dinner we had an informal and interesting discussion about how to approach organising overseas expeditions with lots of experience and points of view shared.

Day 2: Natural Navigation and Tracking

Day two saw us get going with some core concepts of natural navigation. First we discussed how people remain oriented and how they get lost.

Paul Kirtley teaching BushcraftUK group under parachute.
Covering some core concepts under the paracute before heading out into the field. Photo: Karl Webb.

This included a practical exercise where the challenge was to walk in a straight line across a grassy field. Blindfolded.

Everyone veered off either left or right, clearly illustrating how people walk in circles in the absence of some form of reference.

Blindfolded man walks in circle
The aim was to walk in a straight line while blindfolded. The target was the coniferous tree to the right of the picture. Photo: Steve Harral.

We then made an examination of key principles of navigation via sun, moon and stars. This included a bit of maths which boggled a few people’s minds. I’m sure, with time and a bit of reflection, it will all sink in!

After lunch we got stuck into more tracking exercises. Once the guys warmed up again, they were moving more quickly and with greater confidence than on day one. Then, with some extra processes for following the trail methodically, the individual tracking teams were able to cover more ground with increased speed.

Tracking Training on Bushcraft UK Weekend
Working in pairs or small teams, the group learned how to follow tracks methodically. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

By the end of the afternoon, eyes were starting to get a little sore and brains a little fuzzy but everyone had again done very well. With a long drive home still ahead for some of the participants, we called it a day with everyone feeling like they had gained new insight into the world of tracking.

It was also clear how knowledge of local flora and fauna, plants, trees and navigation fitted alongside in this mosaic of more advanced outdoor skills.

It certainly wasn’t all serious, though. There was plenty of banter and laughter over the course of the whole weekend and the group were, as always, a pleasure to work with.

Paul and the BCUK group all laughing
There was much banter and laughter. Photo: Sally Nowill-King

I’ve already been asked for some more dates to go back again and I shall very much look forward to it. This was another great couple of days in the woods and everyone had a great time. What with the food, weather and the company, it was anything but a rough weekend. Roll on the next one!


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Paul Kirtley is owner 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 as well as for various publications including Bushcraft & Survival Skills Magazine.

30 Responses

  1. Steve Harral

    That’s a really great write up Paul of what was a really enjoyable and instructive weekend. Thanks once again for coming up to share your skills and knowledge with us.

    We’ll look forward to you joining us again soon πŸ™‚

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks. Glad you liked the write up. It was certainly worth sharing with people.

      I look forward to seeing you all again before too long πŸ™‚



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    • joseph harvey

      I’m from Banbury, whereabouts is it that you all meet up? would love to join you all as i’m interested in speaking to some like minded people who could teach me a thing or ten:) if its a private group then no worries. thanks ……joe

  2. John Fenna

    A great write-up of a great weekend!
    Thank you for coming up to us – I hope to be able to enjoy another of your courses in the future πŸ™‚

    • Paul Kirtley

      Thanks John! It was a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to more chat and stories around the campfire next time we get the opportunity.

      All the best,


  3. Chad

    Thanks again for a brilliant weekend Paul. Both times at RC have been great with different skills involved, a third would be truely awesome!

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hey Chad, glad to hear you enjoyed it so much. Let’s try to make it a hat-trick. In the meantime, keep practicing those tracking skills… πŸ™‚

      All the best,


  4. Karl

    It was a pleasure to have met and learnt from you Paul. Thanks again to all involved in Facilitating this weekend.

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Karl,

      My pleasure Karl. Good to meet you mate and thanks for the use of the photos. I look forward to seeing you on a future weekend.



  5. Pete

    Thanks very much for coming up Paul. It was a great weekend and I learnt a lot. Great write up. And we all had a great time. Can not wait for the next one πŸ™‚

    • Paul Kirtley

      Thanks to all of you for the hospitality. Glad to hear that you got a lot out of the two days of training and you enjoyed the write-up.

      Will be speaking to Steve about more dates, so keep your eye out…. πŸ™‚



  6. Tank

    Great write up, the RC meet is full of great guys always willing to share skills and knowledge. Keep up the good work Paul.

  7. Rolly

    A good review of the weekend Paul , thanks very much for sharing your broad spectrum of knowledge with us , it certainly makes for a very enjoyable weekend .
    Cheers Rolly

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Rolly,

      Thanks for popping over and leaving a comment. It was great to see you again and I really enjoyed watching you guys get so immersed in the tracking training.

      Looking forward to the next time.



  8. Paul Adamson

    I really like the last picture, Johns enjoyment makes me laugh all the more.
    Thanks again for the weekend, and I look forward to joining you next year for a week of tracking.

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Paul,

      πŸ™‚ I love the laughter too – both when I’m there and looking back at the photos.

      Thanks for being there – it was really good to meet and chat with you.

      Looking forwards to seeing you in the woods before too long and definitely for some more tracking.

      All the best,


  9. Bodge

    I really enjoyed reading this article Paul, it was like being there again. I hope to make the next one.
    All the best


    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Bodge,

      Thanks, I enjoyed putting the article together – almost like writing a diary.

      I hope you make the next one too; I might have to charge more if I don’t get one of your breakfasts as part-payment! πŸ˜‰

      All the best,


  10. Windy

    Having met John Fenna and Steve Harral last week I bet this was fun.


  11. Mark Johnson

    Ive just stumbled across this article after reading most of your blogs most of today! Only just found your site and Im very glad I did!
    Looking forward to reading more as your post them, thank you for taking the time to write so much.
    Im very keen on joining this group, Im based in Shropshire, and would love to meet up and share some dirt time with those who can show me a thing or two!
    Thank you

    • Paul Kirtley

      Hi Mark,

      Welcome and thanks for your comment. I’m glad to hear that these articles have provided you with a worthwhile distraction today πŸ˜‰

      We’ll do our best to keep writing and publishing interesting material…

      As for the Rough Close meeters, you’ll be able to get in touch with them via the Midlands section of the BushcraftUK forum.

      If you have any difficulty speaking to the right people, let me know.

      Keep in touch and I hope to meet you in the Midlands at some point!

      Warm regards,


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