Meaning Of Loaf

       Taking the easy road through life

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A week in the wild

Because it's another quiet week with not much happening, I've decided to go back through the mists of time, and recount some tales of the past, which have helped to shape me into the suave, intelligent, handsome man I am today. So today, we're taking a trip back to September 2005...

[Cue smoke and harpsichord music]

A recent health kick had prompted me to take up a lot of outdoor activity, mainly walking, and on occasion, a little camping. I'd happily walk around 15 miles over the hills and felt great for it. It was also around this time I saw several Ray Mears shows on bushcraft, and was quite taken by the idea of living the outdoors life for real; making fire, building a shelter and surviving with little more than a knife and the clothes on my back. After a bit of searching, I found a company called Woodsmoke, who ran bushcraft training courses, which sounded ideal, and without too much thought, had signed myself up for the 6 day Woodlander course.

The time came round, and I was packed and ready to go, and here I found my first mistake. Although I was going to be out in the wild, I found myself unable to go without packing a few of the home comforts, such as the iPod, emergency snack foods, and a whole host of toiletries. A mistake which I soon realised when I had to walk more than 10 minutes with all of this in the backpack, in addition to the essentials.

When I arrived, I met with the organisers, and was taken to the site, a 2000 acre woodland area in the Lake District, where we set up our tents and settled in (we were not expected to build shelters on the first night!). First order of the evening, was showing us around the campsite and where to find the facilities, where we were introduced to the bathroom. After a couple of minutes walk away from the campsite, we came to a secluded area, with trees and bushes hiding one side of the clearing, and were told we were now in the bathroom. I looked around, but couldn't see anything apart from a shovel and a 6ft trench. Then it all became apparent. Now, I must say, I was a little apprehensive about squatting / balancing over a trench to do the business, but once you've got the hang of it, it's not half bad! Plus you get a lovely view out across the hillside while you're taking care of things, and as long as you shovel some dirt over afterwards, there really was no smell. The only other issue was that you had to put any waste paper into a paper bag, which was then thrown on the campfire to dispose of it. It was important that you made sure you didn't need to go when everyone else was cooking round the campfire.

Despite the intital shock, and sitting there thinking "what the hell have I got myself into??", once we were all sat around a roaring campfire with soup and a hot cup of tea, I started to get into the swing of things, and managed to sleep remarkably well on the first night.

The next morning, we were given our knives, and started gathering dry grass and wood bark that would be good for starting our own fires, as well as learning to identify some of the basic plants and trees around us. Our first attempt as fire was very simple; using a firesteel to create sparks and get a small fire going, and I've learnt that the fluff from thistles is excellent for getting things started; just a couple of sparks and it's up in flames.

The following day we moved onto learning how to make rope from stinging nettles, and learnt the first valuable lesson; the teachers are cruel. He demonstrated how you simply pick a nettle by the base, and in one swift movement, run your hand up the stem, stripping off all the leaves. It was not until after we'd tried this and had red swollen hands that he pointed out it may take a bit of practice, and we'd probably sting ourselves to hell the first few times. Thanks. The nettles really did make a good string, once stripped, beaten, separated and bound into a twine. Great if you have 2 hours free to make 10 inches of string.

At this point we also starting learning how to make fire by using a bow drill; which consisted of a bow, used to spin piece of wood on top of a softer piece of wood, which created a tinder from the friction. This was one thing I really did get the hang of, managing to get fire in just a few minutes, and there really is nothing more satisfying that getting a fire going from nothing more than rubbing wood, definitely something very primeval about it!

By midway through the week, we'd all began to notice our odour, since trying to wash under a dribble of cold water in late September really didn't encourage us to wash all that thoroughly. For the first couple of days, it felt unpleasant, but then after that, we just reached this state where we were comfortable with it all, or just went beyond caring, not sure which. On the positive side, this did ensure having a section to ourselves on the train journey back home.

WARNING: Vegetarians may not want to read the next part, go have a cup of tea, come back in a bit, I don't want lots of hate mail for this!

So, the next part of the course was making our own food, and since we didn't want to live on leaves and berries, it was time to bring out the meat. Of course, this meat was still in it's unprocessed form. Thankfully, the killing part had already been taken care of (that only happens on the advanced course), but we were presented with fish and a rabbit to prepare. The fish was not too bad, and really wasn't too much different than something you'd buy in the shop, apart from still having a head, tail, and a lot of gunk in the middle, so a few minutes with the knife and it was sizzling away by the fire nicely. The rabbit was more of a challenge. "Just cut round the neck, twist it a couple of times, and it will come off. Don't blunt the knife by cutting through the bone" we were told. Of course, I had the damn Exorcist bunny. I must have twisted that thing about twenty times and it wouldn't come off. Thankfully one of the others helped with a tug-o-war on the hapless animal, and I was pretty much sorted. Well, apart from the other part: "Just push you fingers up though the diaphragm and pull everything out". Possibly the grossest thing I've done to date. On the last night we were also treated to squirrel, which if you get the chance, is delicious!!

Ok, the vegetarians can come back now.

Then there were the ticks. Now I've never experienced ticks before, and wasn't too worried about them, but really, I must have been a prime target for them! I was picking off about ten per night, and some in the most unpleasant of places!

Finally, we put together our shelters, and surprised ourselves by making something that we could actually sleep in. Here is me, modelling my lovely single room apartment with a view:

So, despite some rather basic living conditions, smelling like a tramp, and the ticks, it was a great week away. Even one year on I can still remember how make fire with sticks, rope from nettles, and set a whole load of animal traps. As for the more advanced course, I'm not sure. I've been told you go out with just a knife and some string, eat what you catch or pick, and live entirely in your own shelter, which is just a little too far from the comforts for me at the moment, but perhaps a couple more years and who knows!


  • So, what does squirrel taste like? If you say chicken, I'll be very disappointed!

    By Anonymous Leano, at 9:48 pm  

  • Closer to rabbit I'd say. Still not seeing it in the high street butchers though.

    By Blogger Matt, at 1:46 pm  

  • Enjoying a squirrel sandwich while picking ticks off my ball bag doesn't sound like a good time, but I do like the not showering part.

    By Blogger NAME: Dr. Kenneth Noisewater, at 3:31 pm  

  • I'm with Dr. Ken on this one. My idea of "roughing it" is the Howard Johnsons. But I must say I am truly impressed. What were your emergency snacks that you packed? Hopefully some donuts, cheetos, twix bars and stuff.

    By Blogger [Cherry] Ride, at 9:27 pm  

  • What a manly outing! The vegetarian warning is much appreciated. I could never do a trip like that unless the rope you made had some nutritional value to it.

    By Blogger classyandfancy, at 4:57 pm  

  • wow, i hope if ever stuck on a desert island your they're too! impressive.

    By Blogger darci ann, at 8:09 am  

  • Well, the emergency snacks were; several mars bars, a pack of chocolate digestives, and several packs of scampi fries. Perfect for any trip in the wild.

    I guess you could try chewing on nettle rope if you get desperate, although if you want a veggie option, thistle tastes just like celery when you strip it down!

    Strangely, ever since this trip, people seem nervous whenever I suggest a BBQ at mine.

    By Blogger Matt, at 9:26 pm  

  • Oh, I don't know. I was actually a little disappointed that you didn't bring any squirrel to that "meats of the world" BBQ back in the summer!

    By Anonymous leano, at 6:57 pm  

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