As previously explained in an older post, it was time to undertake the second stage of my further bushcraft instructor training which involves a 5 night bushcraft course in Scotland, which I had been looking forward to for some time now.
I arrived at Loch Hoon on Sunday evening to a moonlit night with snow underfoot and the promise of sub zero temperatures overnight (at least its not raining I thought). After quick introductions it was off to put up the tarp, a welcome brew and then a bit of socialising around the fire to round the night off before retiring for the night.
We were divided into groups of three and my companions for the week were Matt and Josef who I got to know well by the end of course. Our first task was to find a suitable location for a base camp, get a fire going and start to build a shelter from natural materials (our choice was a tepee). My task was to light the fire which proved to be extremely challenging given the wet conditions and after several failed attempts the ‘grey cells’ kicked in and I split the logs to get to the dry wood and made some feather sticks, which I ignited using maya wood and we had a fire.
During this time, Matt and Josef had been busy felling trees for the shelter and were relieved to find the fire was up and running, tea was on the go and lunch had arrived (trout & pitta bread). The afternoon passed much in the same way and we were really looking forward to dinner (dove and pasta) before turning in for the night under the tarps as the shelter needed more work before being habitable. However, we were presented with one last task for the evening which was to prepare charcloth to light the fire with tomorrow, which we completed with ease.
Alas, the fire had gone out overnight but this time we were prepared as the night before we had collected and dried grass for tinder, prepared and dried some feather sticks and split some logs all of which were carefully protected from the elements. Matt opted for fire duty, which was re-lit using a flint & steel and the charcloth we had made the night before. With breakfast over, it was all hands on deck to thatch our shelter and prepare the sleeping platforms. Matt and Josef opted to gather thatch so it was my job to prepare the sleeping platforms and tend the fire, at least for morning. Lunch was simple fair of pigeon and noodles which was heartily eaten by all.
The afternoon and followed much in the same way but this time with Josef and I collecting the thatch while Matt tendered the fire and prepared dinner, which was to be a squirrel stew. For those who have never tried squirrel its fiddly to clean & skin, has a small amount of meat and tastes like chicken. Later that evening we took part in an interactive workshop on how to skin and prepare deer. As a follow up to this exercise we were asked to prepare some jerky for eating later in the week. We still had a little work to do on the shelter but we all decided that it was time to spend the night in our shelter with a nice fire to keep us warm and dry out the clothing.
Despite our best efforts the weather defeated us and we awoke to find the fire well and truly out and we spent what felt an age getting it going again as it started to rain. Eventually, the fire came to life and we made that welcome first brew of the day! By now we had worked out a routine for the day. Tend fire, collect wood and water, work on shelter interspersed with bouts of cooking and warming up by the fire. By now our shelter was more or less watertight so we could relax a little and put more effort into the planned workshops (fire by friction, basket making and spoon carving).
Our workshop for Thursday afternoon was basket making and we were taught how to make a fish trap, unfortunately, the cold caught up with me during the workshop and I opted to give that one a miss for a while until I warmed up a little. With the workshop over, it was back to the task of making dinner which was a venison stew washed down with loads of tea. Later that evening we were presented with our second workshop which was spoon carving and were presented with a log on which to practice our craft.
Once the daily chores had been done tender fire, collect and treat water, gather fire wood and the workshops we were left largely to our own devices which allowed us to visit the other camps and see how they had approached setting up camp so to speak. As the weather improved, our hosts for the course advised that they would like us to sleep in the shelters without a sleeping bag as a final test (if we wanted to of course). Most folk took up the challenge and ended up looking like the ‘Michelin Man’ with all the additional clothing worn! It was little chilly up one point but we all managed the task and took turns to tend the fore through the night.
Josef and Matt had kindly given me the late morning shift and and were greeted with a hot brew when they awoke which was greatly appreciated. As we emerged from the shelter we found that the rain had stopped and the sun paid us a visit as if to say well done on completing the course. After breakfast, it was time to pack up and put out the fires (it was amazing to see how far down the heat penetrated into the soil). Then after a debrief it was time to depart and look forward to a warm shower after 5 days of living in the woods.
Reflecting on the Course
Its been a while since I was in Scotland and I have used this time to reflect on what I learnt while living in the woods. A few key messages that were reinforced for me were:
a) Be prepared – have things ready for when you need them;
b) If the fires burning – boil water to make a brew;
c) Food is cooked in he outdoors when its done (it takes more time than you think); and
d) A sense of humour is priceless.
Overall, a great course, which has had an impact on me in more ways than I anticipated and I look forward to moving on the next section of my training and realising some of the personal ambitions arising from the course.