Saturday, 16 May 2015

Bushcraft and Scouting

As a kid I absolutely loved being a cub and a scout, camping on a farm and having fires. I was therefore keen to help out as an adult as and when the chance arose. Once I was back in the fold having had kids, Ray Mears started doing his 'Tracks' five minute gems and I realised that I sort of had a title for all my hours spent not only in outdoor scouting but also whiled away on Skegness beach building dens and watching nature...In it's basic form it was bushcraft (although I like the title outdoor traditionalist).

I'll bet there's stacks of hobbyist bushcrafters who were also spurred on by Ray and his instruction videos and it was no different for me. Initially I taught myself (including a bowdrill ember on go four, and success on go five) and then latterly I attended courses, talks, shows and the like as well, making sure that I only took in quality instruction in the flesh, printed word and online. 

Some of the publications I've been lucky enough to be involved with.

Then the Scouting seemed to go hand in hand with my hobbyist bushcraft 'apprenticeship'. Before too long, and almost by accident, I found myself writing bushcraft articles for Scouting magazine (this is a typical article, edited onto the Scouting website) and then the long gone Cub supplement (this is a typical article and also featured pro scout Bushcraft & Survival Skills magazine editor Simon Ellar and Frontier Bushcraft founder Paul Kirtley). I must just mention two of the editors that I worked with, namely Matt Jones and Joly Braime who both outdoor folk and good eggs too.

 I also started the Bushcraft and Nature Social Group on Escouts and through my outdoorsy ramblings on there I was  lucky enough to be drafted in to help Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine's base at Gilwell 24. I also made this official Scout Association tarp knot video around this time. Before I go any further I probably need to add the usual line of 'These views are mine and are not necessarily the views of the Scout Association'.

Bear Grylls at Gilwell24

I helped them in covering Bear Grylls being invested as Chief Scout (taking over from former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan) and I'm glad I did because they had been given minimal instructions as to where to go and I managed to get them to the correct spot just in time to get partly set up and in situ for some pictures. I also got to meet him one to one. Bear can be divisive within the bushcraft community but he was a really decent bloke and has helped Scouting's profile build substantially so he's alright by me.

Mike Rushton from Tamarack Outdoors doing a spoon carving demo, and a small picture of me (within a Craghoppers advert) presenting Bear Grylls with a wild service wood whistle.

The magazine base was a one-off and almost predictably I was asked if I'd be interested in taking the reins of the embryonic bushcraft base and running it the next year. The three musketeers (Simon Moorhouse who now runs Wood Sage and Martin Slaughter, formerly of now defunct Bearclaw Bushcraft) and myself kicked it off and it has seen Mike Rushton from Tamarack and JP and Pablo from Woodlife Trails guest at later bases as well as receiving a a visit from Scouting Ambassador Ed Stafford. Latterly the bases have seen a rather fine 'remodelling' by IEAT. There are a smattering of Gilwell 24 pictures featured later on too.


Woodlife Trails's JP running through the bow drill with Scouting ambassador Ed Stafford.

Via the afore mentioned Escouts forum I asked  the United Kingdom Chief Commissioner Wayne Bulpitt about the Scout Shop stocking some more bushcrafty stuff, he put me in contact with the new head buyer to who I offered my suggestions and blimey, his bucket list was bigger than mine! The site has a steadily growing bushcraft  section and I'm pleased to say that I had a hand in getting several DD hammocks products listed on the site.

 Right hand side picture credit: Dale Collett

The most recent projects I've found myself involved in are contributing to, and persuading several professional bushcraft and outdoors instructors to chip in articles to the Outdoor Adventure Manual which they kindly did (Pablo, Paul Kirtley, Christian Fraser, Jon Mac, Tristan Gooley, Joe O'Leary, Jason IngamellsKevan Palmer and Dale Collett for the record), and helping with the  Victorinox sponsorship of the Scout Survival Skills badge for which Terry Longhurst (from IEAT) and I put in a shift.

 In the Summer of 2014 I was lucky enough to be asked by Woodlife Trails' co-directors Pablo and JP to help out  as a course assistant on their weekends in the 1000 acre Hatfield Forest.

No pressure demonstrating the bowdrill with the bow cordage loosening in front of nearly thirty Cubs!

With all that I've just mentioned earlier I mustn't forget to say that I'm also an Assistant Cub Scout Leader in the 'day job' (actually it's an unpaid role, the same as Chief Scout Bear Grylls) and you'll not be surprised to know that I always try and squeeze in bushcrafty/ outdoorsy stuff  in the week to week Cub Scout meetings and weekends. 

So am I a Scouting bushcrafter, or a bushcrafting Scouter?

104 pop can stoves and me leading a nettle cordage evening at Cubs 

To this end I have interspersed this blog page with a healthy amount of images of what I've done with the sections and Gilwell HQ projects I've been involved with, in fact I've had to leave a good amount of pictures out which is healthy. Typically we do things like debris shelter building, fire lighting, camp cooking, nettle cordage, knotting (positively modeled as opposed to 'If you aren't well behaved we'll get the knotting box out' type of thing), basic tracking games, elderflower and nettle cordial making, nature walks, paracord evenings, charcloth production and pop can stoves to name a few. All pictures are mine apart from those credited.  I also make no apology in ending the blog page with how you, fellow bushcrafter, can form a mutually beneficial link with a local Scout group to teach the youth and have the chance to teach/ practice too without becoming a full blown, week in week out Scouter.

 John Rhyder still from the Scouting centenary video extras and Pablo at my Cub pack.

Earlier I touched on a good sized group of outdoor individuals who chipped in with articles for the Outdoor Adventure Manual, well the list doesn't end there because the following have featured in Scouting magazine or on the Scouting blog, some more than once; Paul, Dale (article here), Perry McGee (article and a residency at the 2012 Essex Jamboree),  Jason Ingamells contributed a Dutch oven recipe article, Tristan interview and article, and Joe a  blog piece. 

Add in Scouting ambassador Ed Stafford, Bear, Roger Harrington (a Gilwell Reunion regular) and John Rhyder who did some how to videos for Scouting's centenary DVD (wasted hidden away on this for what it's worth). Even  Ray Mears has featured in Scouting magazine when he visited a scout camp to run through some skills before being presented with a Scout award (pages 30-33). Shark Tinderbox and Green Outdoors are also regular attendees at the Reunion too.

Whilst I genuinely appreciate the time that all the above have generously put into Scouting I would like to make a special mention to Paul Kirtley and Woodlife Trails. Paul has chipped in with several articles for Scouting magazine (like this example here) etc,and Woodlife Trails are now established as Gilwell 24 and Gilwell Reunion regulars which is great especially as the Reunion clashes with a an annual event and the team splits to do both. Oh, and Pablo kindly agreed to host a tracking evening for my Cub pack a while back.

A cheeky January overnighter at Gilwell before helping with a badge photoshoot the next day.

I've listed an impressive array of professional outdoor individuals that have been on board the Scouting bandwagon but I want to balance this up with a look at some Scouters who like to practice their skills in the outdoors in one way or another:

David McCrae-Stonewood SurvivalIan Cresswell-Lone Scout BushcraftMatt Batham and Barry Smith, current and former assistants at Frontier Bushcraft (the latter did a couple of magazine articles too, such as this one), Terry Longhurst-IEATSimon Moorhouse Wood SageJason Sears an instructor with Roger Harrington's Bison BushcraftJoseph Philbin works for Woodland WaysJon Taylor,  David WillisUrban Bushcraft and Big Man of the Woods. If you know of any other Scouter who should be on the list, please let me know.

As with the rest of the page there's plenty of links there to look up what they do in more detail. Leaders also have their own chatter section on the Bushcraft UK online forum which will give a flavour of what is happening with many leaders up and down the country.

Washing machine drum fire and a little Dutch oven and tripod action in our HQ fire pit.

I'm lucky, I'm a competent hobbyist bushcrafter who in Scouting terms has been in the right place at the right time and I've probably punched above my weight. Now if you are reading this with a decent level of basic bushcraft skills then yes I am trying to recruit you as an adult volunteer (different from a full blown warranted leader) wherever you are and yes, I'd suggest that that you will need some  skills if you wish to be a group's 'outdoor person'!! Please read on as there is no pressure bought to bear in this recruiting blog, after all I won't profit by any outcome, I just hope that the positives to at least make you think. 

Venison jerky and a honey stove session to take some photos Scouting magazine

The following is taken from the Scouting website's get involved page.

Do I really have the skills you need?

You don't have to be an adventurer like Bear Grylls to get involved with Scouting. Do you have first aid knowledge? Are you good with numbers? Handy in the kitchen? Or are you a DIY whizz? We all have useful skills and you can volunteer and help in many ways.

What if I don't have much spare time?

Volunteering with us is easy, fun and felxible-how much time you give is completely up to you. Whether you help out once a fortnight, month or term or just special events or camps, there is bound to be a role you can play, and no matter how you get involved, we'll make sure you are properly trained and supported.

What will I get out of volunteering?

As well as gaining externally recognised skills and having a brilliant time, Scouting also offers the chance to build on personal skills, like teamwork, confidence and leadership. A study found that over 90% of our volunteers believe that the skills and experiences they have gained through Scouting have been of relevance to their working or personal lives.

Are there any age restrictions on helping out?

As long as you are over 18, you can help out as an adult volunteer in Scouting. There is no upper age limit for adult volunteers. If you are aged between 14 to 18, there is the option of becoming a young leader.

A Dutch oven lid stir fry and a couple of ponassed trout at my Scout HQ

So from the above passages off the website you can see how easy it would be to go down occasionally and do an evening or turn up for a Saturday afternoon of a camp to do fire lighting, shelter building, a nature ramble, backwoods cooking (if you did the last one, please tell the leaders that it's not backwards cooking which some think it's called...).
Map of groups close by in any given UK search

...There is a group locator on the previously mentioned get involved page to find out which groups are near you, this might be especially useful if you live in a more rural setting. Now from this point you can use this locator to contact the group and maybe ask what sort of outdoor activities they do, and indeed what land is available around the HQ property or further afield (a local farm for example which my Scouting district has for certain events and camps). You could also arrange a visit to the group HQs to see for yourself and get a feel for the place or indeed drive past them and just have a look first.

Two man debris shelter build in around an hour. Many hands...

As an example, my group  not only has a fire pit and large field available, but it also, rather fortuitously, backs onto a large wood (the shelter pictured above was built in it).There will also be campsites available to each and every group too and in my area I have Danemead and Harmergreen Wood to name but two. I've picked these two because they are woods in which you camp and are perfect for bushcrafting activities with the former being suggested by myself for an Outdoor Adventure Manual photoshoot, with two shots from the photoshoot below...

Hertfordshire's full campsite list is here which also includes sites in the Staffordshire Peak District, Wales and Scotland!

 Danemead photoshoot for the Outdoor adventure Manual (left hand side photo credit: Tudor photography).

I've had a scope through the newly updated badge requirements and these are the main areas that a bushcrafter adult volunteer may be able to help with on an occasional basis...


Camp craft activity badge, hikes away staged badge and nights away staged badge


Outdoors challenge award badge, backwoods cooking activity badge, naturalist activity badge, pioneer activity badge, hikes away staged badge and nights away staged badge


Outdoor challenge award, hikes away staged badge, nights away staged badgecamper activity badge, naturalist activity badge and survival skills activity badge


Camper activity badge, naturalist activity badge, survival skills activity badgehikes away staged badge and nights away staged badge

You'll notice that I've started the above badge requirements with the Beaver Scout section (which starts at 6 years old). there are those in Scouting that think it's a mistake to teach kids too much too soon...Think of it as teaching them progressively rather than teaching too soon and I believe that you get a more rounded child in the older sections. The fact that there's a camp craft badge available for them to do vindicates this for me.

A tweet making reference to a Scouting magazine article I did and the results of a paracord evening.

There is another thing that leaders who hold a warrant (a 'full blown' leader as opposed to an adult volunteer) have, and I've thought long and hard about putting this in the blog. Warranted leaders get a plastic warrant card and it can be used at several outlets to get kit discounts (10%-20% that I know of) that the Scout Association have sorted out, with many other outlets running discount schemes if you can prove that you are a leader which can be useful for both the individual, section or group. I have decided to stick this information on the blog because I am after all, doing a blog about potential adults coming into Scouting so I decided it warranted (no pun intended) inclusion. I have however, not listed any details of who and what. Remember this is for uniformed leaders.

A Gilwell 24 bushcraft base with a high visitor count and making charcloth with the Cubs.

Now a little way into this blog page I have included a couple of pictures of me demonstrating the bowdrill at a cub evening and not surprisingly it really held the Cub's attention, in fact when we let them loose practicing lighting basic fire lays with a single match I noticed that one of the cubs had started to make a fire from friction kit himself, it wasn't even near to being fit for purpose but this small moment pretty much helped to sum up why I do Scouting; I like the giving back bit, I like what the movement stands for and see my participation as a hobby rather than a chore, but knowing that in the short space of time that I used the bowdrill I not only gave my kudos level with the Cubs a shot in the arm but I'd had an instant, visible and positive effect on one of them.

The impromptu 'bowdrill' set made by a Cub, and Laurie shaking JP's hand after a successful bowdrill session.

I'm going to finish with a mention of something that paid back a dyed in the wool senior Scouter who was 'paid back' by a non-scouter. JP did a bowdrill session with a senior Scouter (who had met Baden-Powell, Scouting's founder) at the Gilwell Reunion called Laurie. He was 89 at the time and not in the best physical condition but he had been shown the bowdrill in his younger days and not mastered it. JP isn't involved in Scouting (but is part of the pro Scouting Woodlife Trails as mentioned earlier) but he helped Laurie to crack it. If you don't do anything else, please set aside three minutes to watch the video as it is lifting.

This was similar  feeling to the bowdrill moment I had, and what you can get from showing the young ones stuff, special stuff...You don't know any special stuff? you'd be surprised how even basic bushcraft skills bring a smile to a face and the trade off is that you have time and space to practice your skills...


  1. Wow you've done a fair bit then for scouting.
    Great stuff though I am definitely my groups "outdoor person" and even help out at other groups regularly too, I've done three or more evenings a week before and three is not uncommon.

  2. Yes I've got a few miles on the clock! The outdoor person is the very thing that I was trying to encourage bushcrafters to be although I know that you are fully uniformed.