Fenland Bushcraft workshopTuesday, September 01, 2015
This weekend we got up to something completely different which I'm so excited to tell you about; a bushcraft workshop. What's that you say? Well, bushcraft skills are used to get by in the great outdoors without home comforts and mod cons. I didn't know exactly what to expect from our day course but I had visions of spending six hours on one of those bows trying to make fire – we've all seen it happen on those survival shows (it sometimes takes them days to make fire during which sanity is tested and physical exhaustion overwhelms. I wasn't sure this was how I wanted to spend my Sunday). Thankfully not the case. I suppose I thought we'd get a demonstration and some of us get to try things out. The group was made up of families; I think everyone bar C and I had kids with them and I was curious to see exactly how this was going to play out with what I assumed was quite a grown up context of activities.
Fenland Bushcraft is run by Andrew Callaghan who has a wealth of experience in bushcraft and survival skills to share. We congregated on the campsite before heading down to the woodlands and specially arranged area; there was a canopy shelter, and a campfire in the centre with logs to sit around. It immediately felt like we were going back to a wonderfully traditional sense of fun; giant kettles hanging over the fire and the wonderful wisp of smoke from the burning wood. Andrew talked us through the knives that are used during the workshop. The three in the range all looked a little bit mightier than I perhaps ought to be left in charge of. (Cue flashbacks of last year's incident when I accidentally cut my thumb trying to knife open a packet of chorizo before going all woozy on the floor). Andrew gave a demonstration on making tent pegs from scratch and explained what we were going to do ourselves and definitely made it look easy! There was a lot of emphasis on how to use the knives safely which reassured me greatly.
Although my first instinct was to hand the knife straight back to a responsible adult, another part of me really wanted to have a go. We had to go and find a suitable size branch to cut up which was harder than I thought it would be and then I got the fear a bit about sawing it with the really sharp looking saw. The good news is I still have every one of my fingers and not a drop of blood or tears were spilled on that day by me. There was only one plaster issued that I noticed for the rest of our group and that wasn't even knife related. We made our rudimentary tent pegs. Although mine is very much a novice effort I was smugly pleased with having completed it on my own. Deep in concentration and a safe distance away for others I didn't really take much notice of how the rest of the group was getting on other than to feel baffled at how smoothly it seemed to go.
The whole workshop seemed to be one of those rare opportunities for parents to work with their children on something; co-operating and exchanging ideas and feedback on a topic that neither was an authority. Spending time learning new skills and having fun outdoors without overbearing parental control; children were trusted to use the knives (albeit not the sharpest) but trusted with them nevertheless and shown how to use them safely. It was something I can honestly say I've not seen before.
We moved on to fire. Starting a fire. We were giving the Ferro rods and a cotton wool ball and shown how to get sparks to light our cotton wool. Of course C managed his no problem but it took me ages to get the knack, I squealed gleefully when mine caught light; a feeling no doubt our distant ancestors felt all those tens of thousands of years ago. They didn't have the luxury of cotton wool so natural tinder had to be sought; the fluff from thistles was amazing, they went up in a burst of flames double quick! (my picture is a blur) We used papery silver birch bark which worked well too, tried cow parsley seed heads but didn't manage to get them lit. It was brilliant fun scouring about for things to set light to before starting little fires back at the camp. Such old fashioned fun and the kids loved it of course.
We were given a demonstration of the bow method for lighting a fire (I think I sighed with relief I wasn't going to have to try it; the process was even more intensive than I originally thought). Great to see it with my own eyes. The kids were captivated.
Next up was how to put up a shelter. I think I just about grasped how to put up the ridge rope between trees and put up the tarp and secure it which was just as well because for our final task we were spilt into teams for the challenge of erecting a shelter, building a fire and boiling an egg.
This was fun and forced us to exchange ideas with the aim of working as a team. We must have learnt something as each team completed the activity successfully!
The day was a really relaxed one; no strict schedule, snack at your leisure, unlimited tea, coffee and squash, run around (kids too), just stick within the boundary. I was thankful for coffee. The workshop was held just outside Wisbech at The Secret Garden Touring Park which is a fabulous site from what we saw. Tidy, organised and yet with a delightful 'back to nature' camping experience; Lesley the owner was a lovely and helpful lady.
It was a great value day for all involved, plus everyone is invited to the beer and sausage tasting afterwards at the campsite which is really popular too. We had a brilliant day out; learning some new skills and whetting our appetite to do more. There are other courses run by Fenland Bushcraft which a whole range of things. I'd love to learn more and C likes the sound of the several day courses. My imagination is running riot with the idea of wild camping, it sounds like such a perfectly natural way to spend time outdoors. I would wholeheartedly recommend this workshop to parents who want to keep their kids entertained. It was absolutely smashing fun for everyone involved and all the kids were focussed on the tasks in hand (as well as enjoying a good bit of running around). Let's face it, how often do kids these days get to use knives and start fires? They clearly relished such a rarity of freedom and excitement while in a safe environment.
PS. I even wore a pair of those frighteningly practical trousers which unzip at the knee.