Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hatfield Forest NT/ Woodlife Trails Weekend

I was lucky enough to attend the very first Hatfield forest wild camp that the National Trust organised a couple or so years ago. I had my two boys with me (no chance of the wife attending!) and it was overseen by JP and Pablo (Woodlife Trails) and as a one off, Brett and Les from Essex Wildcrafts. Whilst they did various demos and tracking walks the idea of the wild camp was for the attendees to do whatever they wanted since they were in a 1000 year old former hunting forest.

Fast forward to the end of August this year and I was due to attend with my boys again...they got what they thought was a better offer and I was attending on my own! I contacted Pablo to see if he'd like a hand setting up on the Friday and so we headed for the secluded site, I met assistant/ mentor Luke and we got the 'chute up in double quick time. I was trying out a new DD tarp and whoopee slings so I made my way to  suitable spot, got set up, then took it down and started again. I decided that the rain that was due necessitated me re-aligning the tarp and hammock to take advantage of more leafy glad I did.

Pablo asked me if I would be OK to show the other attendees, who we met later, where to go whilst he drove their kit round which I did. After a quick safety briefing they all set up and re-convened for tea. JP arrived later on and folk spent the evening around the fire after a quick Pablo led nocturnal walk before heading for their pits.

Almost predictably we awoke to rain, I was so comfy and only the need for the loo got me up. I did myself a cinnamon and dried fruit bannock and a mini man mountain breakfast in a zebra billy (the parchment paper was an attempt to make the  billy 'non-stick' and it sort of worked.


The rain only abated on one or two occasions so the chute bolt hole was most welcome and meant that activities could happen under it which both Pablo and JP did. One such activity was some basic carving (after another safety briefing). We managed to get out on a good  tracking walk in between showers. Lunch was a homemade Dutch oven stew followed by more chute time as the rain was at it's heaviest .

Tea was a curry meal which was an impulse purchase from Cotswold Outdoors which I made a curried 'naan' bannock to have with it...actually it needed it as the contents were nice but a little on the small side. We were given a sit spot talk before heading out after a smoke bath, I was repeatedly dripped on but succeeded in seeing several badgers as close as 15 feet or so-Great stuff.

After we all got back and settled by the fire before bed, Pablo leaned over and said that he and JP had spoken and wondered if I'd be interested in joining the Woodlife Trails' team of assistants...I was absolutely made up with this and despite the juggling of wife points and scouting it's an opportunity I'll try and maximise. It doesn't mean I'm getting carried away mind you, I know that it is a role to help them deliver courses but nevertheless, an opportunity to take.

Breakfast was a muesli with some foraged black and dewberries out of a crusader mug along with a 'bag' of percolated coffee which I purchased from Cotswold Outdoors (but I understand that Go Outdoors sell them too) which I highly recommend, as I do the Arla Lacto-free milk sachets as it tastes good in tea (I used to use Dairystix which packed flat but the producers went into administration).

As previously mentioned I used a newish DD Hammock tarp and whoopee slings for the first time. . Apparently the reason most tarps are 3m x 3m is that the material used to make them is 1.5m wide and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has wished they were a little longer as they finely adjust the position of their hammock! I'd considered getting a bespoke one made but the DD Tarp M sizing is more or less what my proposed bespoke one would have been, in length at least.

The dimensions are 3.5m x 2.4m which is a little more like the Aussie tarp that Mr Mears favours but that said it's about 3 times the cost and smaller. As you can see you lose 0.6m of width compared to a standard 3m x 3m but I still found the area very workable as a living space, especially as I elevated one side slightly with a couple of lengths of hazel.

When the downpour came on the Saturday the tarp performed with DDs usual efficiency but the extra 0.5m of hammock coverage made me feel well protected, the only thing that I'd say needs tweaking is the middle three loops on the ridge line are much larger than the two on the end and once you've got a couple of prussic tensioners in place the ridge line takes on a concave appearance. I've modified the loops with an overhand knot and I'll have to see if this holds next time out. 

As for the whoopee sling system...I'd always felt that they looked faffy but decided to take the plunge and try them out. I took Adrian Rose's advice and put a split ring on the loop as it could easily disappear into the main body of the loop if you pulled to much. Consequently I'm converted to the point where I wonder if DD Hammocks should sell their hammock with the choice of either whoopies or webbing. Nick from DD hammocks answered my ridge loop question via email which you may be interested in reading: 

Regarding the loop sizes you're not really missing a technical point. They are bigger because once the tarp is pegged out (in the middle), there is often more pressure on the middle points (if they are pegged downwards, straight to the ground) and so being a little longer prevents excess stress on them (as the middle of the tarp is likely to be slightly lower than the ends of the tarp). The middle loops are still very strong but not as super strong as the side attachment points are due to the placement on the tarp and use of re-inforcement patches at the sides (that makes it sound like the middle ones are weak but they certainly aren't and we do not hear of any weaknesses/ issues with them at all). If the middle sides of the tarp are not pegged at a steep angle to the ground the loops can sit a little loose.
The middle loops on all of our tarps are like this and as you mention its possible to tie a knot to make them shorter if required.

You can read Pablo's blog entry about this and other Woodlife Trails activities on the official website, and see the discussion about this weekend (along with a link to my Facebook photo gallery of it) here.

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