Woodlife Trails ran a 'wild camp' this weekend on behalf of the National Trust who maintain the 1049 acre, 1000 year old Hatfield Forest where their courses are run. The camp was pitched on Friday evening and I headed out in the early morning on Saturday to go and help them for the weekend. For a variety of reasons I hadn't been out and about with them so I was looking forward to catching up.
This shot across a ride is just before the area where the camp is and the long shadows show how early it was. It was cool but not cold and it was going to be a sunny day although there was a localised biblical rain warning over the area for Saturday!
I'd come prepared to light the fire but it had already been done and provided and excellent opportunity to capture a rather fine smoky canopy I slowly started to meet the clients and crew before getting a brew and sorting out the woodpile without further ado.
Now the wild camps aren't advertised through the Woodlife Trails website but the National Trusts one and basically it's sold as a chance to spend time in the forest with the team simply overseeing them. However JP, Pablo and the team are very giving of their time and experience and whilst the pace is a laid back one it really does seem at times like a bushcraft beginners course because the families are given so much more than fresh air and a basic woodland camp. Pablo started them all off with a detailed look at knife usage and safety for any potential future weekend usage. I also pleased to see that one family had been on this weekend before which speaks volumes.
Whilst Pablo was doing that JP briefed the diploma students on their weekend task and sent them off to start sorting it. The promise of a sunny day had been confirmed by this stage of the morning.
JP then showed the clients a whole range of firelighting techniques which all came from that rather voluminous brown bag in front of him. I'd sourced some peeling clematis bark to buff up for Sunday's fire and the children on the course did similar having seen me do it which was nice.
And shortly afterwards the clients and diploma students went onto one of the rides and spent time in the sun working on projects, there were times when wherever you looked everyone was actively doing something.
All the time JP and Pablo were on hand to keep and eye and offer advice. See what I mean about it looking like a bushcraft beginners course?
The project the diploma students had been set was to construct a working bowdrill set. For the record they used hazel for the drill and willow for the baseboard. Also for the record all the students achieved an viable ember under JP's watchful eye. whilst this was going on I showed the children on the weekend how to make nettle cordage and got shown another load of partially buffed clematis bark.
A break in proceedings gave me the chance to knock up a tarp tent for the night near a badger's sett, see how to make one here. Straight after I'd got my bedding sorted for the night I headed out with a trail camera to set it up near a convergence of five paths and rides to see what I could capture in the night.
As with most folk who like the outdoors I do enjoy cooking food over a fire and as usual made sure that I didn't go hungry in the night. Not a single morsel of this tea lasted any length of time or lived to tell the tale.
Pablo asked me after tea to take the kids out for a tracking game, it was the one where the participants have to grab keys silently without being rumbled by the blindfolded individual. I briefly explained about slowing down and the consequences of not doing so when tracking and it was quite a challenge to get the kids to not quickly grab the keys and run as opposed to slow and silent. Still, they asked to play two rounds so must have enjoyed it. You can see from the picture above that I added a crinkly crunchy zip lock bag from my pocket (which had the buffed clematis in) to enhance the pointer's chances. They also asked me to have a go with the blindfold and initially I said no because I thought they'd just run away and leave me stood pointing on the ride!
After a brief social around the fire I headed for the sack with the view to getting up early to re-start the fire. I had a quick bimble first and came face to face with a fallow doe which was a pleasant start. when I went to the fire pit I noticed a viable fire dog or two and criss crossed the kindling over it, shoved the much talked about clematis bundle under the kindling apex and blew it to flame.
Predictably the kettle went on and I don't often help on a Woodlife Trails course without knocking up a bannock or two and this weekend was no exception. I was rather pleased with these two actually, I used a little rising agent and they had sultanas and vanilla sugar in.
After a leisurely start to Sunday morning the clients struck camp after breakfast and whilst the localised biblical rain threat had passed without incident the day before, there was heavy rain forecast later. The clients were going to finish with the camp by going on an extended bimble to see what flora, fauna and sign they could find on the way. Before that they participated in a quiz to see what they'd remembered from the weekend and the only team without children got tougher questions, don't know how that happened...Well I do actually.
The gap between quiz and bimble was used to strike the base camp and return the site to as it was. It goes without saying that a is preferable to take a chute down dry.
After a glorious weekend I have a slight suspicion that some of the weekend's attendees were a little demob happy as the chute came down!
So with everyone's geared packed and the base camp all tidied away I took the chance to get a quick shot of the crew and clients togther...
...And one of just the crew. As well as having copious amounts of sun and fresh air the clients really did have a memorable and full weekend of hands on stuff which, as previously stated, Woodlife Trails aren't obliged to deliver but still do to enhance the experience.
Now that just about wraps up the weekend but there is the small matter of the trail cam footage. I baited the trap with peanuts and knew the next morning that I'd had some business because every last peanut had been consumed. Surprisingly there was no badger footage, which the peanuts were primarily for, but it looks like a fox hoovered them all up (which I've seen on trail cam footage before). I'm guessing that the 'tracer round' in the first two pictures may be a bat (or possibly a bug) due to there being a lot of activity when I positioned the trail cam and it appears on a lot of the hundred or so recorded images, of which around sixty featured nature.
And me coming to retrieve the trail camera on the Sunday morning. The ride diagonally over my left hand shoulder is where the base camp is so it's not like I've walked miles into the middle of nowhere to get this footage and it shows why courses like the Immersion weekend are so popular. I've added more trail cam pictures on a separate page here.