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.


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.


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.


Bread and Cheese

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


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.


Primrose nibbling

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


Sausage on a stick

Always puts a smile on their faces.



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


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.


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.


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.


Simple cooking

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


Advanced cadet cooking

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


Experiments in campfire pizza making

For puddings the favourite is chocolate oranges or chocolate bananas.


Cadet Cakes

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


Choclate melting tins

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

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.



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.


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).


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).


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).


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.


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.


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.



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.


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).


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.

Sea cadet instructors

Kevin’s HQ in the Fens


Lots of skills in shelter building


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)  😉


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.

me and Mors

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.



Bushcraft Days