REVIEW: A weekend adventure in the Forest of Dean with Forest Bushcraft
The rendezvous point was SO 570129, adjacent to Christchurch Campsite at Berry Hill, near Coleford in the Forest of Dean. I had decided to escape the bright lights of Cheltenham (and the wife and kids) for a weekend of outdoor adventure with Forest Bushcraft.
Scott, my walking and camping buddy for many years accompanied me, and after a 45 minute journey we arrived at the designated meeting place – it was cold, damp and really quite uninviting, but we were committed. One other guy, a Welshman called Chris was already waiting. Mark, the founder and boss of Forest Bushcraft arrived in a Landrover and before long we were making our way into the midst of the Forest for our weekend in the ‘wild’.
After parking up we had a short, two-minute walk to our new home for the rest of the weekend. Already set up were a couple of tarps covering a log fire, benches (bushcraft made), a big kettle already steaming away, and Paul and Kerm, who were our instructors along with Mark for the weekend.
After introductions and a welcoming hot drink, safety procedures, and how to use the ‘tools of the trade’ – bushcraft knife and saw, we started our forest adventure in bushcraft and survival.
Our first task was to make a hammer type tool without which we couldn’t really proceed to the next level of making a ‘pot hanger’. All three of us trainees set about the challenges, with all three completing the tasks with great satisfaction, thanks to the expert instruction from the ‘Pros’.
Shelter building was next, a very important part of survival – shelter is vital to avoid the big killer, hypothermia. We started with various techniques using tarps, but the biggest challenge was to create the shelter we were going to sleep in that night, using only natural materials from the forest only. I knew that it was going to be dry, but I also knew it was going to be very, very cold too!
Throughout the afternoon and while collecting building materials we were continually taught survival techniques and information about the ‘vert and the venison’ (vegetation and wildlife) from three very passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable instructors.
Whilst us bushcraft students prepared the finishing touches to our nights dwelling, a hearty chicken casserole was being cooked in one huge pot. It tasted as good as it smelt and after we all chatted and joked around the campfire. I thought it was a good time to inform my fellow campers that I was sometimes prone to snoring. “Be it at your peril, as the local wild boar may think it’s a mating call”, retorted the instructors. That night, although warm and comfy, I slept with one eye open and my mouth firmly shut!
With a great nights sleep, the best I’ve had for ages (obviously my snoring didn’t prevail), I awoke to the most amazing dawn chorus. Being first up, I re-ignited the fire that had gone out during the night – not with a flint or firebow, but with a lighter I smuggled in!
Breakfast consisted of our own-made damp-bread and raisin patties cooked on a grill over the fire and powder-mix pancakes and honey – great sustenance for the day ahead.
Woodcraft was next on the agenda. The task, to make a spoon out of a birch branch. I enjoyed this immensely as I’m normally pretty useless with my hands, either normally breaking something or usually having to throw away the end result. With a knife, saw, hatchet, crook knife and a lot of patience, I was actually quite pleased with the way the spoon was shaping up – I ran out of time but decided there and then I had to purchase the tools (available from www.forest-bushcraft.co.uk) to finish off at some time in the future.
Next up was lunch – delicious butternut squash soup and bread – a wholesome meal indeed. Following this was the practice of fire making. Paul and Kerm demonstrated the various techniques, tools and materials needed for this must-know part of survival. From batteries to carbonised denim there were numerous ways in which to make a spark, maintain the ember and convert into a fire. We all had a go ourselves and with delight we succeeded without burning the camp down.
Time was flying by and by mid-afternoon we were foraging. Paul was a walking encyclopaedia and talked excitedly about determining which trees were which, and flowers, bulbs and berries to eat or not to eat. I think we would have gone on well into the night, as every step we took Paul was keen to share his knowledge of the fauna around.
Our bushcraft weekend came to an end at 5pm and we all helped pack up and bid farewell to each other.
You may not come out of this inspiring experience as the next Ray Mears or Bruce Parry but you would have benefited from excellent advice on the art of bushcraft and survival, with a widened knowledge of the natural world, and a wonderful feeling of fulfilment. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a challenge and appreciates that there is more to life than pushing a mouse around, staring at a monitor and talking work, work, work – well that’s my story anyhow.
With so many work-life balance companies offering remedies and solutions to maximise, fulfil and make your life an achievable and resolute way to overcome work, home and everyday problems (normally at extortionate prices), a weekend with Forest Bushcraft is a fresh, enjoyable and affordable alternative. Back to basics and at one with nature.
I’d like to thank Mark, Paul and Kerm who helped make my weekend an engaging and fun experience. Mark was my hero for lending me his bivvy, but they were all stars! Also thanks to Scott and Chris for company – did I snore while you were fighting off wild boar all night?
19 April 2012
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