Fire by hand drill

Fire by hand drill

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Backwoodsman course review by E .Short

Getting crafty in the bush
Trying to explain to people who aren't particularly interested in outdoor pursuits why Bushcraft is something they should consider is frustrating.
If you are visiting this site, the chances are you will recognise what I am talking about.
"Why would you want to go out into the forest and do things like that?" they may ask, and perhaps they are right.
Are we mad to enjoy a pastime such as this? Possibly. But hooked we are, and once the bug has bitten the next logical step is to improve your knowledge.
That's the position I found myself in earlier this year and having dipped my toe into the world of living off the land via the television and books, it was time to get stuck in for real by taking a course.
After looking around the Internet and sounding out a few people in the know, myself and a friend decided to make our way to Glasgow and the Backwoods Survival School run by Patrick McGlinchey.
Patrick runs a variety of courses but the basic introduction is called the 'Backwoodsman', and costs £130 for a weekend.
So at the start of August we found ourselves parked in a pub car park on the edge of Glasgow awaiting our host.
Before long we were joined by 12 other bushcraft wannabes and Mark, who would be one of our instructors for the weekend.
From there we drove to a local farm, parked the cars and began our one-mile trek into the woods.
The instruction began from the start, and almost immediately we were foraging in the hedgerows for provisions that would be needed later. So with pockets full of rosehip and various types of braken which we were assured would come in handy later, we made our way to a clearing where we met up with Patrick and the other instructors.
After introductions Patrick discussed what we would be learning. He told us he was not a fan of the term bushcraft, preferring to brand what he teaches as 'survival skills' and before long we were disappearing off into the woods looking for fuel for the fire.
An hour later we had the fire on the go and with food in our bellies we were off to spend the first night under tarpaulins, on the forest floor.
Saturday morning soon arrived and then the real fun began. Laden down with full packs we headed off with some of the instructors for a walk where we would be shown what plants are useful and what to stay away from.
The instructors were helpful and said they understood that we would not remember everything, instead advising us to go home and research five items at a time, and only learn new ones when we felt we understood the previous.
One way in which Patrick's course differs from traditional bushcraft skills courses is that the core skills taught are supplemented by other expertise you wouldn't normally cover, such as how to abseil safely with just a rope should you have to overcome a steep slope without climbing experience.
However after the abseiling and a bit more foraging, that afternoon we went to tackle that old bushcraft standard - the bow drill.
Throughout the previous 18 hours the importance of fire was constantly reinforced so we got stuck in with earnest. I probably don't have to tell you how difficult it is to get first time, but after an hour of perseverance most people had created fire. It is hard to describe the sense of accomplishment you fell when you see the first lick of flame and feel the burning of your hands as you blow into the ball of kindling and watch it first smoke, and then ignite.
If fire and water are the two most important elements to source in a survival situation, then food follows very close behind.
Patrick doesn't pull any punches when it comes to grub and while you don't have to trap or kill your meals, you are presented with them as nature intended – covered in fur and feathers and full of the their major organs.
To be fair to the whole group, everyone mucked in and got to grips with butchering the fish and fowl we were presented with. Trout, rabbit, woodpigeon and hare were distributed and after some pointers, we set to butchering our dinner. So there was no starvation, but what we did learn was how much time is spent getting your next meal in a survival situation – essentially all your time.
Day two ended with the group split in two to build shelters that we were to sleep in that night. Despite warning us against competing, what only ten minutes ago had been a homogenous group of 12 soon became two groups who on more than a few occasions were glancing over their shoulders to find out how 'they' we getting on.
However both shelters were great and provided more than enough protection for a good night's sleep for everyone.
The highlight of day three was another deviation from the standard bushcraft menu – how to complete a safe river crossing. This was our final challenge and involved getting wet but everyone was game and completed the task without any incident. It was a fantastic thing to learn (really) and opened your eyes to risks you would never have considered before.
Trudging back to the cars there was no doubt that you had accomplished something, and despite the wet clothing and mile long trek everyone appeared to be in fine form.
As with anything like this, the group makes it, and while our gang was somewhat bigger than Patrick normally takes for the Backwoodsman course, almost always there were enough instructors on hand to answer any questions and give support when needed.
The range of people interested in learning bushcraft shows the wider impact it is having in our rediscovery of the natural world around us.
From those who were bought the weekend as a present, to wild fishermen who wanted to learn skills that would allow them to stay out on expeditions longer – the reasons for learning that weekend were diverse.
Patrick himself couldn't be nicer, and is genuinely interested in everyone. A self confessed 'hairy arsed jock' who isn't into the more existential aspects of living of the land like some gurus out there, he nonetheless has a benevolent schoolmasters approach to the subject and is always ready to put into context everything you are learning. It is no surprise that he is BBC Scotland's go-to-guy for all things outdoors.
"Knowledge is rewarded on this course" was an oft-heard phrase, and everyone was encouraged to pitch in with their ideas on things – be they wildly inaccurate or bang on the money.
Having discussed the weekend a number of times with my friend we are both in agreement that it was well worth the trek to Scotland, and have already vowed to return next year to take part in the Beachcomber Course.

Please note I have only covered a fraction of the skills taught for reasons of space. For a full list of what is taught visit
www.backwoodsurvival.co.uk
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