At the beginning of the year we decided that we’d have a go at a taster course in something we’ve never done before. With that in mind we mulled over a few options, ultimately deciding to have a go at a bushcraft weekend. Mad? Maybe. But it certainly met the remit of being something adventurous that’s for sure.
We booked the course with Woodland Ways, choosing their Bushcraft weekend course.
After packing up work for the day on the Friday we loaded up the car and headed up the motorway to the course location: Catton Hall Estate, in Derbyshire.
We had a pretty good drive up, arriving in plenty of time for the meet-up with the course instructors, so with some time to kill we drove into Walton-on-Trent (just up the road from where the course was going to be held) to look for a pub for a sit down and a little drink.
As luck would have it we found the White Swan which, as luck would have it, was open – hurrah!
We chilled out for a bit over a nice pint and then headed off to the meet-up point in plenty of time to make sure that we weren’t late.
When we got there a car full of lads was waiting by the closed gate and shortly other cars began to arrive, just in time for the instructors to make an appearance. We waited around for one guy who was “fashionably” late and then we headed off up the track to make our way to our home for the weekend: a camp in the middle of the woods.
After some instructions on how to use the fire utensils – mainly how to get the kettle on/off without losing your skin! – and a cuppa, we were shown how to handle our knives, something we’d be dependent on throughout the weekend.
Next we were shown how to make our shelter for the night. This was to be made from a ground sheet lashed between two trees, pegged down using sticks. Nothing too complicated and it didn’t take long for us to find a good spot and to get it set up, although I think we were a little concerned that the stick “pegs” weren’t going to hold very well…only time would tell!
Shelters up, it was time to sort out dinner for the night. For the meat eaters this was going to be wood pigeon which we were going to have to prepare ourselves, removing the breast meat as efficiently as possible, which as it happens didn’t involve using a knife at all! Not wanting to go into the [what some would call gory] details, a nice bowl of breast meat was collected and cooked up into a stew over the fire.
Dinner scoffed (veggie stew for Shelli) and a little chat around the fire, it was time to hit the sack.
All in all a pretty good start to the weekend.
Photos From Day 1
The weather over night took an unexpected turn with thunder, lightning and lots of rain. As you can imagine, being under a sheet for the night meant not a lot of sleep was had! This was mainly down to the thunder and lightning as I’m pleased to say the sheet held up to very well indeed, keeping us and our kit dry all night – whoop!
After breakfast (porridge) we were shown how to make our a different kind of shelter. No sheets or bungees with this one. Just logs, branches and lots of natural covering (old Christmas trees) to give us some waterproofing. Well, that was the theory anyway.
Having been shown the basics we were let loose to try and make our own shelters, dismantling our nice, dry, groundsheet shelters to make way for the new and improved(?!) shelter for the coming night.
This wasn’t exactly complicated work but it took a while to drag all of the trees and cut off the branches to lay over our structure. I’m pleased to say that we worked well as a team and we were ahead of everyone by the time we were called together to get lunch prepared.
After pigeon the day before, lunch was trout, something we all had a go at preparing. It was interesting filleting our fish, removing all of the bones in one go with our thumb!
Once prepared we put them round the fire to cook and I have to say that they tasted amazing!
Lunch done, we all headed off for a walk to talk about different plants and their uses. It was all really interesting, especially learning that the best thing for a stinging nettle sting is in fact another stinging nettle, if you can believe that? By scrunching it up and rubbing it on the sting it stops the irritation completely. Who knew?!
The guys from Woodland Ways also showed us some methods of finding our way without a compass, figuring out where north was using the sun and also using star constellations.
After that we were shown how to start fires using various methods, ultimately leading to us all trying to make fire using a bow. We both failed – I know, rubbish – but it was great to see how it could be done and I’m sure with more practice we’d get it.
While we were going through that we had a surprise visit by some Maasai who were over in the UK visiting. It was amazing to meet them and have our photo taken with them. They all took an interest in what we were doing, watching some of us attempt to make fire – no pressure!
Dinner was rabbit, again prepared by the group. There weren’t as many rabbits so not everyone got to have a go at preparing it unfortunately. This was cooked up in another stew which was very tasty indeed. We certainly weren’t going hungry that was for sure!
After dinner we all sat round the fire for a bit and then headed off to our shelters for the night. Some of the group clearly didn’t have much confidence in their shelters as they’d slung their ground sheets over the top of them.
Not us! We were happy with what we’d done so we left it and had our fingers crossed that the weather from the night before didn’t return! At the end of the day, this was one of the main parts of the weekend, building your shelter from natural materials and sleeping under it, and we didn’t want to cheat.
It was snug once we’d gotten inside it but it was certainly cosy.
Photos From Day 2
I’m pleased to say that the weather was a lot kinder to us for our final night in the woods. No rain. No thunder. And definitely no lightning! Hurrah!
The shelter held up really well though and we both managed to get a half decent night’s sleep after the night before.
Breakfast was damper bread, a simple bread cooked over the embers of the camp fire.
We had a choice of things to add to the bread base to liven it up a bit. Unsurprisingly the chocolate bits went down well with everyone!
The bread was pretty good and certainly did a job at filling us up that’s for sure. It’s definitely something we’ll have to try with the girls some time.
After breakfast we had a talk about how to clean water supplies using different methods and after that we had a talk about animal trapping, showing us legal and illegal traps and methods. It’s not something that I can ever see us doing but it was surprising how mad the rules around the traps were!
Shelters dismantled and gear packed up, it was time to say goodbye and head home.
It was a great weekend and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend others going on a course like this. The guys from Woodland Ways were a good laugh and extremely knowledgeable; they made the weekend a huge success!