Day the First
It was a lovely morning when I woke up around 0530. I lay there for a bit and then decided to make a move. I had a wipe wash with ‘water wipes’, it felt not completely clean but as much as I was going to get without warming a bucket of water and finding the shower. A decent second best.
I had already decided that a few items I’d brought would not be needed, and I was right didn’t miss them. I got up and walked back to the car. Along the way I woke up every pheasant in the area and frightened three deer. Being at one with the wildlife I was not. Dropped what I didn’t need got the tea loaf B had baked for us and headed back.
All the food was provided but being a fussy child and having a bad relationship with food (remember my increased outdoor activity is also for exercise and weightloss) I’d brought my own supplies. Breakfast provided was bread with peanut butter and nutella spreads, cereals with powdered milk just water to be added. My option of MOMA porridge oats and hot water was infinitely more appealing. I simply added hot water into the open packet rather than have to clean up any pots. Flavour was okay, nothing to write home about but better than powdered milk.
We slowly convened around the fire breakfasting, drinking tea/coffee and getting over dealing with strangers quite initmately first thing in the morning. More wood was obtained, showers were had, breakfast dealt with day one began. I then realised I’d lost my glasses whilst we were being shown the toilet and showers, poor organisation.
Our first bit of instruction was from Tom on knives. initially it was about knife safety, how to carry, how to hand it over to someone and the parts of the knife. Four of five of the guys had brought their own knife. There was a Ben Orford Woodlander, very nice knife, an Enzo, I liked the micarta handle, a self made Puuko (our Finn) nice, and a Wood Jewel (I think). All were okay to be used on the course. They issued us Mora Companion HD knife to use and keep. I decided not to bring any knife but learn how to use a Mora then work from there. The key message was if you are carrying a knife a serious first aid kit should also be carried. Not necessarily a couple of plasters or finger bandages, as I had, but something that could stop a serious bleed. I transferred my first aid kit from my RIBZ and carried it in a thigh pocket for the rest of the week. The 4” trauma bandage would do most jobs I thought and thankfully never needed to use it.
We were issued with a tool roll which had, firesteel, laplander saw, spoon knife, steel and flint. Mine didn’t have a fire steel and the spoon knife was left handed. I was happy to use my own kit for the week. Our first job appeared incredibly simple almost pointless right up to the point of when we started looking for suitable wood and started making tent pegs and a pot hanger. The cutting of both jobs demonstrated a number of cuts which in turn demonstrated different grips, safety points and got us used to holding and using the knife. We also used the laplander saw to take the sticks off the main tree. This approach was mirrored throughout the week. All that we learnt was the fundamentals, it was upon ourselves to become familiar as much as we could on the course and become better after the course. We enjoyed B’s cake at standeasy which went down well with all.
That all took us to lunch and it was a buffet lunch from a supermarket. It genuinely was a great lunch and lots of it. After lunch Steve gave us a great demo on shelter building using small sticks as a model, quite innovative really.
From there we were led up a track to the top of a small hill where the trees thinned out a bit. We divided up into groups and set ourselves off. I was in a group of four A – a young retiree GP, R – a GP and An – a business man. I it took us a while to find the right forked logs to create the A frame and a ridge pole to lock them in. From there we stacked wood against the ridge pole layering it until it was completely covered. We checked from the inside, the idea being that we shouldn’t see any light through it. It took us quite a while I was surprised how long it took and how much wood it took. We used whatever there was to hand, the best being limbs from recently felled trees still with the needles on them. Putting more wood on the outside of these really helped create a sound thatch.
The next part if we’d got to it would have been to make a bed of springy branches and then smaller twigs to lift us off the ground and provide us with a natural ‘sprung mattress’. Only one of the groups got to that stage.
The next demo was how to rig a tarp that’s why we needed tent pegs! We learnt the evenk hitch, it’s all in the hands, ridgeline tension knot and guyline hitch. I struggled with the tension knot so in true fashion if you can’t tie knots tie lots annd I got through the week. I did ask the instructors for further demos which they said they would but didn’t, at least to me. A little disappointing. We all were then issued a tarp, one of two types, the Aussie jellybean pattern hootchie and the Vihe Vaellus Eratoveri 2.9m x 2.9m (https://www.raymears.com/Bushcraft_Product/1168-Vihe-Vaellus-Eratoveri-Tarp/). I got one of the ‘VV’ tarps and whilst it was an okay tarp it was expensive for all it was. I quickly picked my pitch and got it rigged. It was only after I had it rigged I learnt that we were expected to sleep under it. I chose not to and slept in the tent that night. We ate late that night about 2000 – 2030. It was a great chilli made by Steve, I went back for seconds. It won’t be a weight loss week. I went back to my tent nearly falling asleep writing my journal.
Day the Second
I slept really well, I mean really well it was the best sleep in the tent ever and the best sleep I’d had in a long time. On getting up it was another wipe wash, not to be recommended as a staple way of hygiene but it sufficed.
The day started and the first instruction of the day was the bow drill. Tom set about making it from start to finish pointing out key details throughout. His instruction was very good I really enjoyed his approach. As he set about trying to start the fire he pointed out the technique and common failings. When he started trying to get an ember he failed unfortunately. It was a good demonstration in itself in that it’s a difficult thing to do and can’t be taken for granted.
He gave it a break and we went off to find some standing dead wood for the hearth and the drill. I chose birch which was a bit of a pain due to the knots but I got them made. The bearing block was also birch but green wood. The majority of the a’noon was spent carving the pieces it took some time and my hands were sore by the end of it. I got the bits together and set myself off. It did not go well, the technique is all not to mention the core strength. Tom did come back and work on the bowdrill demo gaining an ember and getting it to a flame with dry ferns. There are so many factors affecting it, perserverance obviously counts as much as technique.
Taking a break Dave then took us through how to do a fire lay. Gather matchstick sized twigs, two large handfuls, pencil sized twigs, sticks and Bob is in fact your mothers brother (as he is). In order to light the fire he started it with scraped birch bark ignited with a fire steel. It was an excellent demo and that was it for the evening.
Instead of prepared dinner we were given the makings for a beef stew along with small individual billy cans. We were to sleep under our tarps and cook our dinner over the group fire. We cut our veg down at the loch and had another added to our number. AM, wife of R joined the crew and we remained in that grouping through the week. We then headed back up to the tarps with water, the makings of our dinner and picked wood up along the way.
I took it upon myself to start the fire using the birch bark I’d brought with me. It took a while and I found it quite frustrating, I don’t think I scraped enough of the the birch bark. As we were going at it some of the team gathered their kit from their tents whilst we lit the fire, gathered wood and started on dinner. I got in A’s way as she browned the meat and onions using the butter left from the cake from B the day before. We then divided it all up into the individual billys each of us added the veg we wanted and put them beside the fire to cook. ‘Ah, the pot hangers’. I didn’t trust the pot hanger I had made earlier but one or two of the team used theirs. As all the water had to be brought to a rolling boil to purify it we had to bring water up with us and sort it out there. My canteens came into their own from this point. I brought my kit up the hill and laid it out, my sleeping bag in my bivy, bergen, daysack etc.
By the time I was sorted dinner was ready. It was lovely but missed salt. Still and all it was tasty enough and was enjoyed by all. We sat around our group fires and chatted. We even, in true campfire tradition, had a sing song led by R. It was genuinely a lovely evening.
Day the Third
I woke the next morning after a pretty poor nights sleep my fault I should have changed my pitch area. I woke deliberately very early and I decided to go for it and have a shower as I got up I realised I hadn’t seen my firesteel after lighting the fire. I lit the main fire using a lighter, sssshhhh, and put the bucket on to warm the water. I filled the shower and I have to say it was pants. It was a sea to summit one and I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead I poured the water over me soaped up and then rinsed off with the rest of the bucket. Not as planned but easier. It felt so good putting on clean clothes and smelling of something other than woodsmoke.
The firesteel loss annoyed me incredibly and I felt a real dick. First my glasses then my firesteel, key bits of kit I’d be lost without. I dropped dirty clothes off in car, clean clothes and ‘new’ fire steel from car and ensured I had all the porridge because it was a far better breakfast. MOMA oats are a great way to have hot porridge for breakfast, I hadn’t used them before but I will be using them in the future. I headed back up to the group fire and tarps to look for my firesteel no joy, I was genuinely gutted. We had an hour of bow drill practice, progress was made and powder was created. I also learnt of the loosening effect of the bowdrill practice and I set off with the toilet tin at a quick march and a flashing amber caption. We then went back up the hill and Tom showed how we left no trace fires and set about clearing our own. I had a look for my firesteel forlornly amongst the ashes, nothing. Which may be a bonus, it did illustrate my poor admin and I felt it throughout the week. I cannot account for it, I’m usually quite good at getting my SIOS. I was very surprised how hot the ground under the fire was. We used all the water, five billy’s to douse it thankfully one of the group had enough water in a bottle to wash hands on completion.
I was starting to get a little irate at the vagueness of the days plans. I’m not at the extent that I need an hourly schedule but just a plan of what we’re doing for the day. It felt like displacement of expectations. Like a training exercise in basic military training where you’re deliberately told nothing in order to test reactions and help identify leaders and demonstrate how to organise yourself and others. It was not what i expected from the course and mentioned it to Steve later in the week. He said it’s just how they run the course and always have. He said it was so we, the course attendees, weren’t messed around with things changing due to weather or the trainers taking advantage of an opportunity. I felt it detracted from the course. We had a blackboard at the parachute I would have liked a ‘today we’re aiming for…..bowdrill, firelay, shelter, cooking all subject to change’. Basic stuff, unfortunately it irritated me for the rest of the week. I also eventually noted that I was quite dehydrated so started knocking back water as much as I could. Having to boil the water was a pain but iterated the importance of good organisation.
We gathered under the parachute again and Tom demonstrated how to carve a spoon. Again he showed us how to do it from start to finish.
He was good and achieved much just using his knife. We then set off to find a suitable piece of wood to split and start on spoons. It took me a while as I was quite grumpy not knowing what was going on and being dehydrated. I did eventually find a bit with a nice curve and set to starting a spoon. We got rough shapes out of the wood then issued food individually. We were to pack a bag with all that was needed and we were to be ready to move camp. Much running about finding shit to insert in ones sock.
Part 3 the last bit later.