10/12/2012
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Bushcraft camping: Getting started

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The key to bushcraft is having fun learning more about the countryside and it's a great way for families to share the experience.

Forget about wrestling grizzly bears and hacking down trees to build log cabins, bushcraft is about experiencing life outdoors at a more intimate level while learning how to tackle tasks and make things that our forebears did as the norm but that have been erased by our urban living.

Many years ago, I spent time in Europe learning survival skills. They seemed pretty irrelevant to my camping trips but some of what was learned then has stuck and forms an integral part of my adventures to this day.

Not trapping wild animals and evading capture, but how to read the lie of the land, light a fire, find wild foods and other practical skills that help to make camping more comfortable. More comfortable and more fun.

It's not all about having to learn skills to avoid trouble but more about adding extra dimensions of enjoyment to being outdoors. Rather like finding out what bird made that call or animal made the tracks you spot around your tent.

Sharing those skills, however poor, is an essential part of the fun. I once spent several hours with my young son building a fish trap from stones in Loch Mullardoch in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands.

It was actually a reservoir. By the morning, the trap lay bare in the sunshine as water had been released overnight, leaving it high and dry. Twenty years later, we still laugh about the anticipation that turned into disbelief.

So, what is bushcraft all about? Wikipedia, defines it as “about surviving and thriving in the natural environment, and the acquisition of ancient skills and knowledge to do so. Bushcraft skills include; firecraft, tracking, hunting, fishing, shelter building, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials, rope and twine-making, and many others.”

fire by frictionThey are all fascinating, more or less, though I've only ever caught one fish, but a couple are particularly useful. Foraging for wild food is something many of us would regard as normal; at its most basic, it's blackberry and mushroom picking. Getting a fire started by friction or flint, firesteel and tinder is a challenge and a delight when it works. With a little skill, it hurts nobody and does no damage, only connecting us with a very basic need for heat and light.

FIRE BY FRICTION

A mini-bow, notched board, spindle, top board and tinder are the basic elements needed to produce a spark and then a glowing ember that can be coaxed into flames when blown on held in dry grass. It's not as easy as reading 'how to' in a book or website and fanning the flames minutes later. The right wood, bone dry, is essential - cedar is good - as is plenty of time and patience if you're having a go yourself. On a course, with the help of an instructor and right materials, it's a doddle. It seems that most people burst out laughing when they start a fire without using a lighter or matches - and why not?

SHELTER BUILDING

Building dens is a childhood game that starts at home under tables and, if you're lucky, ends up in woodland. There's something very simple and satisfying about using your hands and maybe just a couple of tools, to use natural materials for a shelter that will turn wind and rain without needing a mortgage.

WOODCRAFT

Often used as an alternative term for the whole range of bushcraft skills and being aware of what is going on around you in the natural environment. More specifically, it has been used for making useful items out of raw materials. Fashioning simple items from fallen wood, such as small tables, back rests, boot, plate and mug racks, is an aspect that has more or less died out not least because it's hard to find places to camp that have natural resources to use. Making usable bowls, cups and spoons from wood can, at its simplest, take a few minutes with a sharp knife or many hours with specialist tools. Watching experienced hands and eyes turn a lump of wood into a useful, even beautiful, utensil is eye-opening. The latter falls more into the 'craft' category but is certainly a complementary aspect.

TOOL USEtool use

Knives, saws and axes are all tools commonly used in bushcraft. Used with great care and, if children are involved, under close supervision. Knives are an emotive issue these days and it doesn't pay to saunter down your local High Street with a survival knife strapped to your waist. Why would you? The point is, they're tools not toys or weapons and should be used in context - splitting or 'feathering' sticks for use as firelighters, for instance, or preparing food for cooking. Making your own knife gives a real sense of achievement; happily, there are many sources of knife 'kits' on the internet.

WILD FOODS

The countryside is awash with free food if you know where to look and when. At its simplest, it can mean picking berries to eat as dessert. With knowledge and experience, it's possible to prepare a full meal, especially by the coast, plus dressing and seasoning, all from the wild.

TRACKING

Undoubtedly, one of the least useful aspects of bushcraft in practical terms and also one of the most enjoyable. Frustrating at times, there is so much to learn that nobody can ever say they know it all. After picking up a few skills on a course, it can offer plenty of fun, especially when combined with navigating by compass. Think about it and make up your own outdoor skill games.

KNIFE SAFETY

  • Always cut away from yourself.
  • If you drop a knife, don't try to catch it; let it fall to the ground.
  • Don't throw a knife to anyone wanting to use it; put it down to be picked up by the other person.
  • Keep your knife folded or sheathed when not in use.
  • Keep your knife sharp; a sharp knife is much safer than a blunt knife as it can be used more more surely and with less force.
  • Never run holding a knife.

UK knife law - Sensible information and advice is available from The British Knife Collectors' Guild
Official information regarding the legal situation in England, Wales and N.orthern Ireland, as well as Scotland, can be found here. 


Finished reading?

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