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.

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Limbering up before archery

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

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Teach the adults first

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

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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.

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Then move on to the big boys

My kids love archery.

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Family archery

And so do my friends’ kids.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Woodland art

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fire stick art

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

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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.

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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).

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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 :-)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Learning the art of battoning

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bread and Cheese

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

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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.

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Primrose nibbling

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

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Sausage on a stick

Always puts a smile on their faces.

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Smile

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Simple cooking

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

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Advanced cadet cooking

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

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Experiments in campfire pizza making

For puddings the favourite is chocolate oranges or chocolate bananas.

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Cadet Cakes

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

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Choclate melting tins


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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Parabolic mirrors

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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Group bowdrill

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

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Happy fire faces

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Getting the basics

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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 .

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Set up

Makes for a great picture.

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Camp set up

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

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

Snug as a bug in a rug.

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Good morning world

Sometimes we experiment. This is a freestanding hammock stand.

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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

Kevin and Bushcraft in the Sea Cadets

Hi all,

My name is George Aitchison and Kevin has asked me to put up a post or two while he and Teres get to know their new baby daughter.

I was very pleased to hear the news yesterday of the birth of little Kelly. Congratulations to you all: I remember when my kids were born and how chuffed I felt.

I last posted for Kevin back in September of 2009. I am an outdoor pursuits instructor working with the Sea & Marine Cadets in the UK. My main passions in the area of outdoor instruction are bushcraft and mountaineering.

Kevin asked me to write a post about the blog I publish on my activities with the cadets (I have been a follower of Kevin’s blog since the beginning and it inspired me to create one of my own to show what we get up to, bushcraft-wise, in the Sea Cadets) but I thought it might be good to explain to you how my friendship with Kevin came about and how that has directly impacted on what we do today with the cadets.

I first met Kevin in 2005 at one of the BCUK Bushmoots where he was delivering classes on all the different ways of creating fire. Up to that point I had a general interest in bushcraft but was primarily focused on mountaineering.

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Good times

I have always been fascinated with the art of making fire (very few bushcrafters are not in my experience) and this was one of Kevin’s specialities. I sat in on Kevin’s courses on using firesteels and the bowdrill. It was on the bowdrill course that I helped out a young lass who was very keen but struggling (it was quite a large class) and afterwards Kevin pulled me aside to say thanks for helping and asked if I would work with him at the next Bushmoot.

I was chuffed to be asked as I was very new to this scene and agreed to help, but it was not until after I had watched Kevin delivering his other classes (such as plant ID and pigeon prep) that I really realized this was a guy I could work with (and more importantly learn from). I think it was when he showed us how to make small toy boats out of reed leaves that swung it (must be a Sea Cadet thing).

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In 2007 Kevin invited me and some fellow Sea Cadet instructors to his woods in the Fens for a weekend’s training. I was very keen to ‘sell’ this activity to my colleagues. Needless to say it was a complete success and thanks to this weekend I now have a great team of bushcraft-minded outdoor pursuit instructors in the Corps to work with.

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Kevin’s HQ in the Fens

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Lots of skills in shelter building

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And a great intro to plant ID and uses

I work a lot on military land, and one of the first things the MOD asks me when I book land to do a bushcraft course is what qualifications I hold in the subject. As I had worked with Kevin for a couple of years I felt I had gained enough experience to undertake an instructors’ course with Woodcraft School, and the knowledge I had gained from Kevin made my studies and assessments all the easier.

In the cadets we have run many courses now (including DofE bushcraft courses) for cadets and adults. One particularly memorable course in 2008 was at a site called Danemead (near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire) where Kevin came along to assist me. I advertised the course saying that Kevin would be coming along – Kevin’s quote in his blog about it was - “Advertised as “one of the UK’s leading bushcraft and outdoor skills instructors” I felt a little nervous on Saturday morning but thankfully I would be working with “one of the UK’s second-best bushcraft instructors”……… ;>)” - I wonder, now that as Kevin is living abroad, does he now think I am the best instructor left in the UK? (me doubts it somehow)  ;-)

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Chris (a Sea Cadet) under training with Kevin

Up until 2005 I liked to dabble in bushcraft but it was not until I was given the opportunity to work with Kevin that I saw myself as someone who could teach bushcraft to others. Working with Kevin at the Bushmoots and his site in the Fens in those early days gave me the confidence to explore bushcraft in more depth and pass that knowledge onto my cadets and adult colleagues.

One of the favourite pictures that I have of Kevin is the one I took of him and Mors Kochanski when Mors was over at the Bushmoot in 2008. Since then, as you know, Kevin went off to train with Mors and make a new life for himself and his family bushcrafting in Sweden.

One day I would love to take my kids over to Sweden to play and learn bushcraft with Kevin and his children.

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Mors and Kevin

Today in the cadets we are looking at the possibility of introducing an NCFE accredited bushcraft qualification for cadets that will map across to other qualifications such as the DofE and the BTEC qualification. That is for the future, but for now many of my cadets have had some great experiences in the world of bushcraft thanks to a chance encounter I had with Kevin many years ago.

Cheers,

George

Bushcraft Days

Claire Brimson – guest blogger

I am a student nurse from Wales, UK studying on an exchange program in Oulu University Hospital Finland and also teach outdoor education including wilderness survival and bushcraft skills.  Whilst over in Finland, I wanted to travel, particularly into the outback areas and hopefully meet some like-minded people over here, so into the internet search engine I plugged ‘bushcraft finland/sweden’ and eventually turned up a guy based in Northern Sweden!  Checking him out, I realised he was also on the Bush craft forum, so I emailed him asking if he fancied meeting a ‘like-minded person’; never expecting a reply, I left it.  However, a few days later, there it was, an email from Kevin, and so internet action began and I fixed dates up to go across to meet the family in Nattavarraby, unsure of what exactly I was going to find and/or do when I got there!

My journey went from Oulu by train to Kemi, then bus to Tornio (Finnish boarder), hop across the bridge into Haparander (Swedish boarder), then bus to Hakkas

where Kevin’s partner picked me up where we drove through beautiful scenery not so dissimilar to that of the Boreal forests of Northern Canada and Alaskan tundra.  The whole journey took almost 12 hours of travelling.  My accommodation was in a cabin surrounded by spruce, birch and pine trees with reindeer moss and lingonberry tufts growing, birds singing and full daylight at night; a moose hide was airing drying on the old barn, whilst cut moose antler was sat on the cabin steps having obviously been used for making tools etc by the man himself.  It was beautiful and tranquil and I could understand why someone wanted to live out here.

The following day, I was taken up to the local meeting place (Byastagan) where local women were making a speciality flat bread – delicious, so we purchased some although I would have quite happily sat and eaten it all with blueberry and lingonberry jam alongside (where was the jam!!!).  We then headed up to the old school where visitors stay in log cabins – warm, bathroom facilities, tv and internet, all for 50 euros per night equates to a bargain! You certainly would not get that in the UK in surroundings of peaceful tranquility and enclosed by old forests over-looking the local village of Nattavarraby!

We then collect stuff to make birch bark container’s and headed back down to Kevin’s cabin and his house where I set to work making my pot.  I have made these before out of Cherry bark and Ash, however, I found the birch easy to work with and it was nice to use sinew.

Later that day, we went to Gallivare, the local town where there is a Sami craft shop selling some of Kevin’s work he has done.  The town is part of the Iron Ore Mine which is the major employer, along with the local Hospital for these town’s people, some of which are Sami folk.  On the way back, we passed reindeer and moose

with a lot of deforestation occurring; whilst the evening saw me re-inacting my youth by herding reindeer into a compound ready for tagging – an activity that is not really open for outsiders let alone women to be involved in!

Saturday saw us all heading out to the cabin in the middle of nowhere – and it really is miles from anything, but sat by a lake

surrounded by swamp marshes, pine, birch, spruce, juniper, lingon bushes.  Moose, bear and other animals live here and their prints show it along with their poo; here I finished my birch pot, adding lichens for traditional decoration.

Nattavarraby is beautiful, an island surrounded by a single river which breaks and re-joins downstream.  It is inhabited by both Swedish people traditional Sami.

There is much wildlife including beaver,

hare (white in the winter), reindeer, moose, many different birds and flora and fauna; a walk out into the back yard or through the forest with Kevin and he tells you every bird call or plant and its uses traditional uses.  If you want to learn to make fire, cook over an open fire, make your own plates, kusa, spatula, spoon, bowels, weave baskets, learn wildlife, see beaver, moose, bear or reindeer, or learn about plants etc, this is the place to come as he has an amazing amount of knowledge and his love of allowing and wanting you to learn and experience this is immense.  Kevin is patient, with a heart of gold and will always try to bring the best out in everything and everyone he meets; the person or people he is with he wants them to experience the best he and they can achieve and this will be done together.  He also is fluent in Swedish.  However, behind all of this in Kevin, is a good partner, and that is what he has.

I truly encourage anyone to visit Nattavarraby and to stay with the family – you will receive a very warm welcome and nothing is ever too hard for them for to do for you.  If I can travel 12 hours on a student budget then I challenge those of you who have never been to Nattavarraby to go there, and those of you who have said you will, to go there as well.  A place you will want to revisit again and again and a man who has a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight.

Lapland Spring 2009

As you may have guessed I have been in Lapland again for three weeks.  The ability to schedule posts to appear and having Jeremy as a guest blogger have filled my absence.  Many thanks to Jeremy for some very interesting and informative posts.  I hope he will be providing more soon :>)

I will be writing about my trip as soon as, and when I can but please be patient as I have some health issues and have to undergo some tests in hospital over the next few days.

I also took a video camera with me this time, and will again in the autumn with the intention of making a film about the nature and people of the area.  I just need to find someone to help me edit it all together!!

Here’s a picture to give a feel of what’s to come…

sunset