Bushcraftage – Rocking & Rolling – Having fun

Can you remember the last time you rolled down a grassy slope?

I certainly can – I was about 45 at the time and even though I got bumped, bruised and a little bit dizzy I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am told I can appear to be grumpy a lot of the time (even though in my my mind I am happy, grumpy is just my default expression) but I really do like to have fun and better still I like to see the folk who are with me, wherever that may be, are having fun.

This is the last in the Bushcraftage series of posts I’ll be doing for Kevin so I thought I would finish with looking at some other fun bushcraft activities I like to run. We have looked at lots of fun activities including shelter, fire, food and using tools in this series so it would be good to look at those that do not necessarily fall into these categories.

Archery
An activity I try and run on all my courses is a bit of archery. I try and teach the skill to as many adult instructors as possible so that they can hopefully enthuse their cadets as well. On one memorable occasion Alan Lewis ran a session on Tai Chi before archery as a warm-up. It did the job: they had fun, got warmed up, and also focused their minds.

644331_10151404276359385_1407510360_n

Limbering up before archery

The adult instructors love a bit of archery just as much as the kids, maybe even more…

Archery 1

Teach the adults first

To begin with I try and introduce kids to archery using the lighter Father and Son bows.

Archery 2

Introduce the cadets to light bows

Eventually we get the bigger bows out for them. Archery seems to appeal to everyone: I never have anyone reluctant to have a go. My friend Charlie Brookes pictured here is very keen on archery and loves to teach it.

IMG_3383 - Copy

Then move on to the big boys

My kids love archery.

image

Family archery

And so do my friends’ kids.

image

Friends archery

Atlatl
I was introduced to the Atlatl quite by accident by Andrew Packer from Nomad Bushcraft. It was at the Wilderness Gathering 10 years ago when I was supposed to be doing a masterclass on a Survival bow. The instructor failed to turn up so Roger Harrington asked if I would like to do the Atlatl class. I’m so grateful that the instructor did not turn up that day because this is one activity that everyone loves, especially me.

???????????????????????????????

Atlatl – my favourite activity

The Atlatl is cheap to make and easy to use, but you can spend hours refining your technique and improving your aim and range. This is my friend Dave Lewis’s favorite bushcraft activity as he always seems to end up running it.

Atl 1 - Copy

Fantastic fun

Journey Sticks
Any walk in the woods can be turned into a story with the use of a Journey Stick.
My children have little walking sticks with elastic bands wrapped round them at intervals. As we wander they like to collect bits and bobs from the woods and attach them to the sticks with the elastic bands from top to bottom, as a visual record of the adventure. After the walk we use the sticks to talk about all the different things they came across on their walk. This is a fantastic activity for younger kids.

photo (10)

Journey Sticks

Blobsters
A couple of years ago I was introduced to building Blobsters  - little clay creatures – at the Wilderness Gathering by Chris Holland. Catherine and myself had a ball creating our little people and a world for them to live in. If you come across a good patch of clay dig some out and with the use of small twigs (in the clay) you can have hours of fun.

photo (11)

Blobster clay characters – Catherine’s Rhino and its house

Mat Making
Mat making is not just a chore you have to do in a survival situation, it is a great skill to learn, it is fun and it teaches good team work.

photo (4)

Mini mat making

It is great for all the family. This type of loom can be time consuming to set up but is well worth the effort as some great mats can be created with it.

IMG_2969

Mummy mat making

Woodland Art
Sadly, I cannot say that this is mine. One of the instructors at the BCUK Bushmoot this year produced this incredible piece of art from what he found in the woods and along the shoreline.

WP_20130811_088

Woodland art

Afterwards everyone was wandering around trying to avoid stepping on all the little masterpieces the children had created.

WP_20130811_086

The kids’ woodland art

Cordage
I can sit for hours of an evening making cordage. This picture shows some being made out of raffia, as I always keep a supply with me. Normally I get the kids to harvest nettles and make friendship bracelets out of its fibres.

DSC09485

Cordage making

Also at the Bushmoot I watched Perry Magee teach kids to make rope out of bundles of grass. Great for an impromptu tug of war.

image

Grass tug of war

Water Divining
Don’t ask me how it works but it does. I love to do a spot of water divining. I have successfully followed underground pipes and streams with two bits of coathanger wire, it’s quite astonishing.

image

Water Divining

Whimmy Diddle
A few years ago Mors Kochanski came over to the UK and one of the games he showed us was the Whimmy Diddle, a simple toy consisting of a notched stick with a propeller attached to its end and another for scraping. You can spend hours trying to figure out how it works but when you get it, and the propeller starts spinning, it is a ball.

???????????????????????????????

Whimmy Diddle anyone?

Air Art
Long before there were sparklers there were… sticks. Put a kid near a fire, give them a stick and it will not be long before they have an ember glowing nicely on the end of it. Perfect for some air art, or just writing your name.

image

Fire stick art

Pioneering
Little projects such as ladder building make for good teamwork.

???????????????????????????????

Pioneering

Stalking games
There are many stalking games you can play. All are great for making people aware of all their senses: generally we make far too much noise when moving through the woods and the point of these games is to heighten our awareness of the world around us.

Stalking 1

Stalking games

This game I call the Fox Stalk (no idea if this is the correct name for it). My other favourites are the Drum Stalk (participants are blindfolded and the only guide to the finish is the beat of a drum) and the Water Carry Ambush (participants stalk through an area of woodland carrying a full cup of water and if they make a noise, blindfolded attackers will shoot water at them to try and make them spill the cup).

image

Fox Stalk

Free Fun
The best fun is usually free: just getting out there and enjoying yourself – maybe it’s time to find yourself a nice grassy slope :-)

photo (1)

Whatever you do do not forget the simple things

There as so many more games I could talk about but I’d better leave that to the professionals – I have put some links below to books on bushcraft activities that I like if you want to find out more.

I have had fun writing the Bushcraftage series of posts for Kevin, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I think that the theme of teaching children bushcraft in this series is particularly appropriate given the fact that Kevin is on a bit of paternity leave getting to know little Kelly.

Cheers

George

Bushcraft Days

Links

I love my World – Chris Holland

Sharing Nature With Children – Joseph Cornell

I Love Dirt – Jennifer Ward

Go Wild – Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield

Nature Detectives

Woodland Trust – Resources for Teachers

The Whimmy Diddle

Bushcraft Days – Memorable Meals

I have started on my Bushcraft Days blog to write a few posts on some of the memorable meals I have had while out bushcrafting.

imageimageMy second post on the subject of memorable meals was titled ‘Before and After’. In it I tried to show different foods, cooking methods and how the foods looked before and after they were cooked. I did not go into any great detail but just let the pictures speak for themselves.

There will be some more posts on this subject in the future.

 

I hope you enjoy it? I know I enjoyed eating it all.

Link to the post – Bushcraft Days Memorable Meals – Before and After

Cheers

George
Bushcraft Days

Bushcraftage – Tools

Kids run around, kids make noise, kids do not pay attention – right? Not when it comes to using tools on one of our bushcraft courses.

I find that many of our cadets get so excited on some activities it is hard to get their attention to show them how to move on in the activity, but when using a tool (particularly knives and saws) this is almost never the case.

Many cadets like to come on a course as they know they may be given the chance to carve something. They know from the start that if they pay attention they will get to use them, but if they do not pay close attention they will not get that chance – they will get a bit of time out instead.

IMG_1340_zps063f9ecc

Paying attention

Before starting any classes on using tools we always talk about the law here in the UK. A good article on this can be found over on the bushcraft forum BCUK. I have put a link to this at the end of the article.

I also cover First Aid at the beginning, pointing out where on the body cuts commonly occur and what to do if someone cuts themselves. Also the importance of getting into the habit of always carrying a First Aid kit if you are using tools such as knives, saws and axes.

We will discuss the ‘Blood Bubble’: the area around you that if you stretched your arm out while holding a knife you would puncture someone.
Also we will discuss the ‘Triangle of Death’: the area from knee to crotch back to other knee when you’re sitting down. As the femoral artery runs down your thigh, any cuts in this triangle are potentially very dangerous. See the article on my Bushcraft Days site on knife safety tips for more information (link at the bottom of the page).

Before picking up any tools I like to show cadets that they do not always need a knife, saw or axe to chop up wood. A good natural vice can be found where two trees are close together. This picture shows some Junior Sea Cadets helping me to snap some wood. This piece of wood was particularly dry so even though it was large we were able to snap it fairly easily, up to a certain point. The stump area was later sawn through. The cadets are taught to use this technique and they learn that if they have to put excessive force into the snap they should leave that piece of wood in a pile to be sawn through later. Also they are told to keep an eye on the bark of the tree they are using as a vice so they do not damage it.

???????????????????????????????

Your hands make the perfect tool

I like to give a demonstration of what they will be undertaking in the next few minutes. In this picture we have moved onto battoning techniques.

WP_20131027_013

All prepped for class – Demonstration mode

All my classes start with some basic and safe cuts. The link to the Knife Safety Tips post at the bottom of the page goes into more details on each type of cut.

Knife 1

Start with the basic cuts

I like to make sure we have plenty of instructors around to keep an eye on the spacing between cadets, ensuring they respect the Blood Bubble.

WP_20131027_025

Good spacing – The Blood Bubble

Once they have had a practice, I get them to try working to each side to find which suits them best.

WP_20131027_023

Working safely to the side

It is good to make use of your surroundings. Sometimes you see people using their knee as a support for the back of the knife but a small tree works a treat as well.

Knife 5

A tree can be useful and a nice safe cut

After trying out different knife cuts (also including the chest lever, fine cuts and using the shoulder), they are taught to batton so that they can split wood without the use of an axe.

Knife 2

Learning the art of battoning

Wherever possible I will get the cadets to use a small saw like the Laplander.

Coppicing 1

Learning a bit of Coppicing

Ensuring the hand holding the wood cannot be cut by the saw is a must. I have had a few saw cuts in my time and they are quite jagged and painful.

Saw 1

Safely cutting up firewood

The cadets who produced these butter knives learnt all the different types of cuts and also to batton. They took them home to give to their parents.

Carving 2

Finished Butter knives by the 10 and 11 year olds

When I have a little more time and just a few cadets we can go on to more advanced techniques such as carving spoons. I must admit this does not happen often enough for me and this activity is usually reserved for my courses teaching Sea Cadet instructors.

Carving 1

Confident Cadets Carving

The aim of these classes is to get the cadets to respect the tools they use, understand what they are designed for and to manage for themselves the risks that come with using them. These skills are, I feel, lacking a great deal in the youth of today, not through any fault of their own but because they so rarely are given the chance to learn what I was taught as a young boy.

I hope you can see now why the cadets for once do not run around, make a noise and do pay attention when it comes to classes using tools.

My last post in this Bushcraftage series will be on the other activities we do, including archery, atlatls and stalking games.

Cheers

George

Links

Bushcraft Days

BCUK article on knife law in the UK

Bushcraft Days How To….Knife Safety Tips

Building a Father and Son Bow

Kevin asked me to share with you one or two articles from my Bushcraft Days site.

image

Father & Son bow in action

I thought that a good one to start with is my How To…. Step by Step guide to building Father and Son bow.

The name ‘Father and Son’ I think is fairly modern but other names for this type of bow I have come across are the Penobscot or Wabanaki bow.

If you are competent using a knife and saw then this type of bow should take no more than an hour or two to construct.

Select the link below and have a look.

Cheers

George

Bushcraftage – Food

My friend Dave Lewis has a pet hate – Pot Noodles. I can vouch for the fact that they can be drop kicked quite a distance ;-).

Food is a subject that is very close to my heart. I cannot call myself any sort of chef but I am more than capable of cooking in a variety of methods while outdoors. Thankfully though, I do have a number of friends in the world of bushcraft who are chefs and so I regularly eat like a King when out and about (have a look at my blog page on Memorable Meals). The downside to creating outdoor feasts is the time it takes to prepare them. When you have a dozen kids to teach over a weekend with lots of activities to cover, too few staff and little money to spare (welcome to the world of the Sea Cadets), then you need to think out of the box a bit more. I would love to always get the kids to prepare fresh foodstuffs and cook it themselves, for example ponnassing fish. This takes time and it’s not always possible, but when we can do it, the bushcraft experience gained is well worth it.

image

The ideal

The reality much of the time is quite different. With time constraints and limited fresh food available then just heating your food over the fire may be the limit of your bushcraft culinary experience.

image

The reality

Thankfully most kids are more interested in lighting fires than cooking the perfect bushcraft meal.

I personally try to walk a middle path here making do with what I have (is that not what a lot of bushcraft is about?) and give the best bushcraft food experience I can.

Before we light fires and cook food I love to head out for a mooch, either to teach navigation or to do a bit of tracking. Along the way we will introduce the cadets to some of the foodstuffs they can forage. I love to see the looks on kids faces as I pinch off a piece of nettle leaf and munch on it. The thought of eating anything in the wild is alien to many people these days. It is not long though before most of them are trying some foraged food.

One of my favourites is to eat Hawthorn leaves and buds in the early spring. The Hawthorn is also named the ‘Bread and Cheese’ tree because of this delicacy. The picture says it all.

image

Bread and Cheese

The lovely fresh taste of a Spring Beech leaf. Another favourite.

image

Beautiful Beech

A nibble on a Primrose leaf. I make sure we identify this plant to the cadets where they can also see a Foxglove (not edible) as they can be similar when not in flower.

image

Primrose nibbling

Back at camp a firm favourite is to sit around a fire with your mates and chat while you cook a sausage.

image

Sausage on a stick

Always puts a smile on their faces.

image

Smile

Wherever possible we will get the cadets to make up some bread mix and cook some twizzle stick bread.

image

twizzle anyone

When time is of the essence (too many other activities to do), thankfully we have a large Muurrika to cook a lot of food fast.

image

Fast Food – Bushcraft style

We also have a large cooking rack with a tripod that is good for cooking for many people. This set up was donated to the Sea Cadets by my friend Mark Beer.

image

Camp Kitchen

A simple system cadets can set up themselves is to drive four stakes (green wood) into the ground and use them as a platform to cook on.

image

Simple cooking

On more advanced courses the cadets will cook in different ways.

image

Advanced cadet cooking

A recent experiment was to bake pizza under a fire tray. It worked a treat.

image

Experiments in campfire pizza making

For puddings the favourite is chocolate oranges or chocolate bananas.

image

Cadet Cakes

Melting chocolate is always a chore that is over-subscribed.

image

Choclate melting tins


And lastly you must never forget the ‘Must Have Marshmallows’
image

The all important mallows

I like to think our cadets are fed well on bushcraft courses. They have fun but their traditional comfort zones are extended every time they come out.

The next Bushcraftage will be on some of the knife skills the cadets and instructors are taught.

Cheers

George

Bushcraft Days

Bushcraftage – Fire

Whenever bushcrafters get together sooner or later the talk always turns to the subjects of fire and food. I believe that there is something in all of us that loves to look into the flames of a fire, especially when we have a full tummy. When you have prepped a fire, lit it, managed it and cooked your food over it you always want to sit down and stare into the heart of this woodland TV.

This post will focus on the activities we undertake in the art of fire making.

Relaxing 2

Woodland TV

I work with many children from London and this experience is so rarely these days given to them. Our cadets generally experience sitting around a campfire when they come camping with us for the first time. They have to learn to cook their food on stoves first and the only food that they may get to cook over the fire to begin with are marshmallows. It is at these times we talk about their highs, lows and learns of the day they have just had. Afterwards I like to steer the conversation onto the subject of bushcraft and what possibilities are available to them in the Sea Cadets.

IMG_2771

Flamer – a bit more tuition required

On a bushcraft course I will try and give the cadets a number of experiences of lighting a fire. I always ask them though at the beginning of their first lesson on lighting a fire the following question:

“What is the first thing you need before lighting your fire?”

After much humming and haaahing and answers such as water, first aid, wood and paper I give them a clue by asking “Who owns the land we are on?”

Very quickly they answer the first question with “Permission”.

Some may say I am being a bit over zealous on the health and safety angle but it is the first question I ask and the last point I recap on at the end of the lesson.

Usually we start with firesteels and different types of tinders (man-made and natural).

DSC06486

Firesteel class

With the younger ones we talk about creating Fairy Lights. Once they realise that they can create a stream of sparks from the firesteel without hurting themselves there is no stopping them.

Firesteel 2a

Fairy Lights

Weather permitting I have always found the sun to be a popular tool, focusing its power with the use of parabolic mirrors and magnifying glasses.

???????????????????????????????

Parabolic mirrors

???????????????????????????????

Magnifying glasses

Whenever we are out and about foraging or doing navigation I will get the cadets to forage for tinder. Thankfully where we operate Birch bark is always plentiful.

Birch collection

Foraging for tinder

Cadets are taught to ‘build’ their fires. I like to use parts of the body to relate scale to the cadets when collecting tinder and kindling. Tinder needs to be as fine as their hair (scraped birch bark, honeysuckle bark, Usnea, Common Reed heads etc), kindling of various sizes which should be no bigger than their pinkie (as long as it snaps easily), wood no thicker than their thumb to help the fire sustain (again it should snap easily) and finally cooking wood, which should be no thicker than their wrist (it should be able to be sawn easily).

WP_20130831_028

Sawing ‘cooking wood’

Here the cadets are being tested in lighting their fire to a point where it is self sustaining and the flames can burn through a piece of cord (thanks to Charlie Brookes for this idea).

20131006_132109

Building your fire

Another skill that we teach is that of the group bowdrill. To teach a cadet to create a fire on their own using a bowdrill is quite a feat, although certainly possible if you have the time. As we never have enough time and also because I personally feel that the art of using a bowdrill is communal activity, I prefer to use the group bowdrill method. I like to have two cadets holding a large bearing block and two cadets using the bow. Not only does this create good team work, you are (with good supervision) guaranteed a higher success rate.

Bowdrill 7

Group bowdrill

Whatever way you create a fire it always leads to happy fire faces.

DSC08478

Happy fire faces

Fire face 3

Happy fire faces

Depending on the time available, I like to get the cadets to construct a flaming candle. I have heard them referred to as both Swedish and Finnish candles. Swedish is the more common term but they are also known as Finnish candles because soldiers in the Finnish/Russian war in the winter of 1939/40 used this method for cooking. I like the fact you can boil a kettle on one of these candles and you only need an axe to make one.

DSC06443

Swedish/Finnish fire experiments

With all these methods, teaching them in a safe and fun manner is paramount. Cadets are taught to respect their environment: to forage from a wide area and always to put out a fire thoroughly so as to leave no trace that the fire had ever been there.

The next instalment of the Bushcraftage series will be on some of the foodstuffs the cadets cook over their fires.

Cheers

George

Bushcraft Days

Bushcraftage – Shelter

Following on from my last post about what we get up to in the Sea Cadets with bushcraft I thought I might go into a bit more detail on some of the areas we cover.

I tend to cover all the basics with the cadets and staff, such as shelter, fire, food, tools and games. Sounds a bit like the survival basics of shelter, water fire and food I know. I have though learned from looking at my pictures that I do not cover the skill of water purification too much with cadets – must be because it rains a lot here :-)

This post focuses on areas we teach the cadets on how to set up some form of shelter.

When I started teaching cadets, campcraft was all about setting up tents, and at most showing cadets all the different types of tent. I felt it could encompass so much more than this, so started to teach cadets about some of the shelters I’d built as a child. One of the things that most struck me about working with Sea Cadets was that they were always taught and shown how sailors slept in hammocks on board ship: to me it was a logical step from this to introducing them to hammocks in the woods. I had never slept in a hammock before I joined the Sea Cadets, but now I will do anything to avoid sleeping on the ground (unless it is on a spruce bough bed).

Shelter 5

A happy result

I always like to teach using only positives. We discuss the need for shelter and look at the resources available to us then I ask the cadets to build something in groups. After they have built their shelters all the cadets discuss each others’ shelters, but they are only allowed to give positive feedback. From these positive learnings we set them off again to build another shelter and I always find the differences amazing.

DSC07582

Getting the basics

Shelter 1

Snuggled without a fire

Weather permitting, I will offer cadets the chance to sleep in a shelter that I think is of a good enough standard. I do love to listen to them in the morning telling their friends of all the noises they heard in the night. If the weather is too bad (for example, heavy rain) the cadets don’t sleep in the shelter but I leave some pots in there instead to see if they leak, and to prove how good they can be.

Shelter 2

Snuggled with a fire

When we set up camp I like to get the cadets involved as much as possible and one of the tasks that I find a chore but the cadets love is to help put up the parachute under which we have our group fire. It can be fun getting the line up into the trees:

DSC07552

Mereworth missile on an extension pole

It is a good leadership task to set them and after it is set up I find they do appreciate sitting under the chute more.

Parachute 2

Good teamwork

All the cadets who come on a bushcraft course now know we have hammocks they can use. Some have even bought their own which is great to see. It was with a heavy heart three weeks ago I had to tell the cadets on a course I was running that because of the high winds that weekend they would not be offered the chance to sleep in hammocks. Sometimes you have to make decisions that not everybody is happy with but luckily that is rare. When they do get the chance I always have more volunteers than hammocks (I have fifteen now).

They have to set up their own hammocks under supervision .

Hammock 1

Set up

Makes for a great picture.

???????????????????????????????

Camp set up

Quite a few cadets really dislike sleeping in tents now – I wonder why :-)

???????????????????????????????

Hammock or the ground – Which is best – hmmmmmm!!!!

Snug as a bug in a rug.

Hammock 2

Good morning world

Sometimes we experiment. This is a freestanding hammock stand.

DSC06010

No trees

We have to raise funds for all the equipment we buy as the Sea Cadets are a registered charity. I ran a charity bushcraft course last year that helped to pay for some of these hammocks. Also I received an award from the Jack Petchey Foundation that went towards the equipment we use.

Once you’ve sorted your shelter, you need a good cup of tea: the next blog will cover what happens when cadets start to play with fire.

Cheers

George

Bushcraft Days