So last week, Mike (one of the other Directors of DA) and I went and spent 3 days with Woodland Ways Bushcraft and Survival at their site in deepest darkest Oxfordshire. The purpose of the course was to build on pre-existing skills and knowledge so that in the near future we can complete the IOL (Institute of Outdoor Learning) Bushcraft Competency Certificate.

I have to say, the 3 days we spent with Ian, the Instructor was awesome!! I thought that I was passionate about the outdoors, this guy, took it to the next level! He had been on Wilderness Survival trips that included kayaking along the Yukon, trekking across the Sahara, and also pulling expedition sleds through Sweden at -25 degrees!!

On the first morning, and this is going to sound a bit geeky,  we learned about the properties of different species of trees, including Sycamore containing anti-bacterial properties, Willow containing a natural version of Aspirin and how to extract Maple sap from a Field Maple tree!! (Please do not try these at home, and always consult a professional beforehand!)

The afternoon was spent discussing knife and saw cutting techniques and also how to build a small fire (not like the big campfires I’m used to building with the Scouts!) to cook a small pot of water on and how to clear it way, leaving no trace. I also learnt that it is meant to be good luck to scatter the “dog ends” of the fire in the 4 primary points of the Compass, another nice little anecdote to finish the session on.

When this was completed, we spent the late afternoon/evening looking at fire lighting techniques and an in-depth lesson from the “Bow Drill Master” on how to light a fire using a Bow Drill and tinder bundle. This Guy Ian must have some sort of super-hero power as he made it look so easy and got a flame so quickly. I knew that there would be a struggle the next day when I tried. The evening was spent discussing the laws around blades and sharp instruments sat around the fire with the other 4 participants and learning about their interests in Bushcraft.

The next morning I arose to a Roe Deer standing no more than 15 feet away from me feeding on the plant life around and I was able to appreciate just what a wonderful range of wildlife we have here in the UK.

After breakfast, we set about building thermal “A” Frame shelters and learnt about the insulating properties they have and how in a survival situation they are important. Not only from a shelter and protection point of view but from a morale point also as even in a survival situation, it is important to have somewhere you can call “Home.”

After lunch, we looked at water purification and filtration techniques and just how many there are!! It seems water collecting in the desert is fraught with danger as Ian explained how Camel Spiders and Scorpions love people collecting water as they provide shade for them to hide under! Thank goodness we only have to deal with slugs and worms in this Country!

When we learnt how to gather water safely, we went on a ramble to gather natural tinder and nettles to make cordage from that evening, and when we returned from the walk, we looked at natural navigation using Sun sticks, watches, and the moon/stars. This was of particular interest to me as I love all things to do with space and the greater beyond.

That night we sat around the fire making this cordage from nettles and I have to say, some of the efforts from the group were amazing! Mine was not so great, but at least I had learnt the techniques and could implement it.

The final morning we went out to collect the materials to make our own bow drill set from Natural resources and the challenge was to light our own fire using it. We scoured the woods and came back with some Hazel for the drills, Ivy, and Willow for the baseboards, Willow and Hazel for the bows and some Oak and Hawthorne for the Bearing Block. One of the group was so good with his nettle cordage, he was able to use it on his bow!!  After constructing and whittling these lumps of wood down to the tools we would use, it was down to us to try and create fire. 2 of the group were successful, but us mere mortals didn’t produce an ember, unfortunately.

To sum it up though, this course was fantastic. I can’t recommend Ian and the Woodland Ways team enough, I learnt so much and will now be working on developing my skills so that I can pass this on to our Apprentices as part of our Master Class offer. My Course report states “Has a good level of skills but can always look to improve”. I guess this is true in most things for all of us and was a good exercise for me to complete as I strive to get better each and every day.

Till next time,