In this blog, we’re going to have a look at some of the things that change in our woods in autumn. As all skilled bushcraft practitioners know being in tune with nature is the key to improving one’s skill set. Every time we go out into the woods it is important to look around and take it all in, this blog will help you do just this by providing you with some autumn characteristics of UK woodlands to look out for.

 

Animal behaviour 

autumn in the UK woods


Autumn doesn’t just bring with it a change of colour in the leaves, it also brings a change in animal behaviours. Here are a few to look out for.

  • Birds
    Falling temperatures and declining availability of foods cause some species of birds to migrate throughout the autumn.  Keep an eye out for birds such as Swallows which migrate from Europe to Africa in the winter, returning to their feeding grounds in spring.  There are other less long-distance migrants, altitudinal migrants – those that migrant short distances from north to south – include Skylarks, Meadow pipits and Snow buntings.
    For more information see the RSPB’s website here.
  • Hedgehogs, dormice, and bats
    Hedgehogs, dormice, and bats consume large quantities of fruit, nuts, and insects in the run-up to winter in order to increase their proportions of body fat and prepare for their hibernation.
  • Deer and Boar
    For larger animals, such as deer and boar, autumn can be a busy time of the year. These animals are all seeking mates, so while it is a good time of the year to see them it is best to keep your distance.

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

 

Fungi 

Mushrooms in autumn in the UK woods


Autumn is a great time of year to spot fungi. Remember though, never eat anything that you have not 100% positively identified as safe. The kingdom of fungi is an enormous one, with over 15,000 species in the UK alone. The Woodland Trust outlines several of the most common types of fungi found in the UK,
here on their blog

 

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

 

Trees

Alder trees for bushcraft 

The UK woodland is a fantastic sight in autumn. The deciduous trees are losing their leaves and the woods are carpeted with an amazing array of colours. Identifying deciduous trees in autumn and winter is a key bushcraft skill that will help you with other bushcraft skills including friction fire lighting and shelter building.  The Woodland Trust has an introduction to identifying trees in the UK in autumn and winter in their blog here. 

 

LEARN FIRE LIGHTING, SHELTER BUILDING, AXE SKILLS AND MORE ON OUR WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

 

Kit 


Autumn is a fantastic time to get out into the woods and practice your bushcraft skills. We’ve listed some equipment below that might come in handy when practicing your autumn bushcraft.
Please note that aside from Bear Blades Wildway Bushcraft is not associated with any of the brands or pieces of equipment listed below – we don’t get anything extra if you choose to purchase one of these items!  

 

Further Reading 

Here are some other blog posts that might interest you. Use the arrows to navigate. 

In certain situations, the ability to source clean, drinkable, water from seawater is an essential survival skill. This blog looks at this vital coastal survival skill in more detail, as always feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most. While we don’t yet cover desalination on our current courses we do look at water sourcing and water purification on our weekend bushcraft course and our intermediate bushcraft course.

 

What is the problem with seawater?

Seawater into drinking water

‘Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink’ as the Ancient Mariner said, but what exactly is the problem with sea water? Basically, seawater contains salt and humans can only ingest so much salt. The salt content of seawater is much higher than what we can safely consume. Our kidneys have to produce urine that has a lower quantity of salt than salt water, therefore in order to get rid of the amount of salt consumed by drinking salt water we would need to urinate more than we drink. This would mean that we slowly dehydrate ourselves while becoming thirstier.

Removing salt from salt water

Seawater into drinking water
Removing salt, from salt or rather saline water, involves separating the salt particles from the water particles. The easiest way to do this in the field is through evaporation. This process involves heating the water in one container until steam forms and can be collected in another container. The easiest way to do this is to run a piece of tubing from the first container through which the steam condenses when entering, into the second container.

This may not always be practical though so be prepared to improvise the tubing with plastic sheeting angled so that it catches the steam from the first container and allows the water to run into the second.

 

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Weekend bushcraft courses UK Dorset Hampshire


Other considerations

Drinking water in the bush
Desalination is a complex and energy-intensive process. It can be difficult to get right and consumes fuel supplies. When looking for sources of water in coastal area desalination should be a last resort. Some other methods of gaining fresh water are outlined below.

  • Transpiration
    Water moves through plants, including coastal plants, from its roots through to its leaves, stems, and flowers where it evaporates. If the coastal area in which you are looking for water has a lot of vegetation or there is nearby vegetation inland then these plants are an excellent source of water. Simply throw a bag, such as a survival bag over the leaves of a nearby plant. Tie the bag off at the opening over the branch, then wait. In a few hours, the water from the plants should have evaporated and gathered in the bottom of the bag.
  • Search for other water sources
    Coastal areas have water running to them, through the form of rivers or streams. Finding where one of these water sources comes out and then tracing it back upstream will provide you with a source of freshwater. Be warned though that if you select water from a stream close to the beach then it is likely to be saline.

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What to expect on our bushcraft course 

Discover our weekend bushcraft course
On our weekend bushcraft course, we will introduce you to the principles of water filtration. Although we won’t introduce you to desalination we will show you how to source water and create a basic filter using natural materials.

We will also introduce you to the principles of shelter building, friction fire lighting, food preparation (fin, feather, and fur), knife skills, axe skills and many other bushcraft essentials. If you would like to develop your bushcraft skills further then our intermediate bushcraft course is for you. 

 

Click here to find out more about our intermediate bushcraft course. 

Kit mentions 

Here is a run through of some of our favourite kit, while we don’t use this for water purification we do take it out in the woods with us. 

 

LEARN HOW TO USE AN AXE, BUILD SHELTERS, LIGHT FIRES AND MORE ON OUR IOL ACCREDITED WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

Intermediate bushcraft course

Further reading 

Use the arrows below to navigate these related blogs.

 

LEARN HOW TO USE AN AXE, BUILD SHELTERS, LIGHT FIRES AND MORE ON OUR IOL ACCREDITED WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

We’ve just got back from another fantastic canoeing expedition along the river Spey in Scotland.

In case you don’t know, each year we offer a guided canoe and bushcraft expedition along the beautiful river Spey. Paddling from Loch Insch all the way down to Spey Bay and wild camping along the trail. We offer land-based bushcraft courses that paddlers can take part in, but everyone is also welcome to just sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  

These trips are always corkers and this year was no exception. Here’s a selection of photos, images, and thoughts from the trip…

 

Canoeing the Spey

Bush craft and canoeing

Hazel approves of the tarp set up.

Our 2018 river Spey canoeing expedition gets off to a strong start. Tarps are incredibly useful and light-weight bits of kit, we camped under them the whole way. You can read our review of the DD Tarp here, or learn about tarp set-ups here.

 

First fire of the trip

Bushcraft fire lighting on canoeing trip

First fire of the trip

 

There’s always something special about the first fire of the trip, even more so when it’s on the banks of the beautiful river Spey. Learn more about bushcraft and fire lighting in our blog posts here and here.

 

Last minute canoeing prep

Canoeing prep

Hazel helping out with some last minute canoeing prep.

Just double and triple checking everything before we set off on our fantastic adventure. Learn more about packing for a long distance canoeing trip here.

 

Morning brew

bushcraft and canoeing in Scotland

Can’t beat a morning brew.

It doesn’t get much better than the first brew of the morning, in a hammock, in Scotland.

Another day on the river

Canoeing preparation

Getting ready to hit the river

After cups of tea, it’s time to get on the river. Learn about navigating on Scotland’s rivers in this blog post here.

 

 

 

Brief pause

canoeing and bushcraft on the river spey scotland

Taking a little break

Just us and the river. You can’t beat it.

Stunning scenery

Stunning views from our bushcraft camp

Takes your breath away.

Stunning views canoeing in Scotland

And another shot

 

 

Navigation is essential

Canoeing and bushcraft navigtion

Hazel knows where she’ going.

Hazel leading the way.

 

Gearing up for some white water

 

This stretch of water is ‘affectionately’ known as ‘The Washing Machine’.

Relaxing on the river

Canoeing on the Spey

Gentle paddling

Some of the guys taking enjoying the river.

 

Dinner is served

Firepot Outdoor Food.

Delicious!

Firepot, who are in no way formally associated with Wildway Bushcraft, produce some fantastic stuff. You can find out all about them here.

The end of our epic trip

Canoeing into Spey bay

The end of our epic trip

Our epic trip ends in Spey bay. A fantastic expedition with a great group of people. If you’d like to reserve your place on our 2019 expedition click on the link below.

BOOK YOUR SPACE ON 2019’S TRIP NOW

 

Spring is in the air and nature is blooming. In this blog we’re going to take a look at five key trees for bushcraft in the UK. We’ll also cover some common bushcraft uses for these trees. As always, feel free to read the entire blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

Join our weekend bushcraft course and learn the art of fire lighting, shelter building, water sourcing and more.
Click here to learn more.  

Bushcraft and nature 

Trees for bushcraft


Unlike what is shown on some popular TV shows, bushcraft is not about overcoming or conquering nature; it is about living in harmony with it. Key to living in harmony with nature is understanding it, particularly when it comes to the trees around you. By knowing the names and uses for the trees which you come into contact with your time in the woods will be much more enjoyable and productive.

Silver Birch

Trees for bushcraft Silver Birch

One of the most useful trees when it comes to bushcraft the Silver Birch is easily identified by its white bark. Silver Birch often hybridises with the downy birch, the latter of which is, in terms of the UK, most commonly found in Scotland.

  • Bushcraft uses for the Silver Birch
    One of the most versatile trees in terms of bushcraft. The Silver Birch can be tapped for refreshment in early spring (for more information about tapping a silver birch read our blog here [link to: How to tap a Silver Birch]. The bark is also an excellent fire lighting resource, to learn more about using birch bark for fire lighting watch our video below.

  • Lighting a fire using birch bark

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Hazel

Hazel trees for bushcraft

 

Hazel is native to the UK, when it is not coppiced (as they often are) hazel can reach heights of 12 metres. In ancient mythology, a rod of hazel was used to protect against and ward off evil spirits.   Hazel is an incredibly springy wood and can easily be bent into a variety of shapes, which as we shall see, makes it excellent for bushcraft.

Alder

Alder trees for bushcraft

Alder is native to Britain although it is also found as far East as Siberia. Alder is known for its role in improving the fertility of the soil in which it grows. This is due to the bacterium found in the roots. This bacterium, Frankia Alni absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. The tree then provides sugars to the bacterium which it produces through photosynthesis.


Common Ash

Ash tree

The Common Ash, also known as the European Ash or simply the Ash is native throughout mainland Europe. When fully grown, Ash trees can grow to heights of 35 metres and live for around 400 years. Ash trees provide homes and/or food for a variety of species such as bullfinches, owls, redstarts as well as a variety of caterpillars and moths.

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Hawthorn
Hawthorn

Hawthorn is a native tree to the UK. The Hawthorn tree is also known as the May-tree, as it flowers in this month. For an interesting pub quiz fact, Hawthorn is the only tree in the UK to be named after the month in which in flowers

 

Join our weekend bushcraft course and learn the art of fire lighting, shelter building, water sourcing and more.
Click here to learn more.  

Key pieces of kit

Here are some pieces of kit that you might find useful when out and about in the woods.
Please note that, with the exception of Bear Blades and Bushcraft – A Family Guide: Fun and Adventure in the Great Outdoors, Wildway Bushcraft is not associated with any of the products or manufacturers listed below; we don’t get anything from them if you choose to buy anything.

  • Knives
    Bushcraft knives
    Wildway Bushcraft use Bear Blades.
    “Constructed from superb quality D2 steel this knife is ideal for bushcraft and wood crafting. Our most popular knife due to its versatility and functionality, suited to tough daily use in the woods.”
    http://bearblades.co.uk/ 
  • Bushcraft – A Family Guide: Fun and Adventure in the Great Outdoors
    bushcraft a family guide
    Whether it is a mini adventure into the woods and countryside, a camping trip or simply exploring your own back garden, it’s hard to get enough outdoors time, so what better way to do that than with the art of bushcraft? This beautifully illustrated book written by Wildway Bushcraft’s John Boe alongside Owen Senior, contains everything that both children and adults need to know to have fun and be safe in the outside world, including instructions on building shelters, foraging, tracking, tying knots, navigation and much more!Buy it on Amazon here 
  • Fallkniven DC4
    Fallkniven DC4
    This diamond/ceramic whetstone is perfect for use in the field.  
    https://www.fallkniven.com/en/knife/dc4/
  • Tarps
    DD Tarp and HammockHere at Wildway Bushcraft we’re big fans of DD Hammocks and regularly use their 3 x 3 tarp; here’s what DD has to say about it. “ DD Tarp 3×3 offers reliable protection wherever you go. Its 19 reinforced attachment points offer a huge number of setup options, and it’s the tarp of choice for bushcraft & survival schools, the military and countless wild campers worldwide!”
    https://www.ddhammocks.com/
  • Axe

    Gransfor Bruks Small Forset Axe

    Copyright Gransfor Bruks


    John Boe, owner and founder of Wildway Bushcraft use the Gransfors Bruk Small Forset Axe which weighs in at only 900 gram (2lbs) and is small enough to fit in a rucksack whilst still being powerful enough to do most jobs.   https://www.gransforsbruk.com/en/product/gransfors-small-forest-axe/

Further reading

Read more about the topics covered in this blog via the links below:

 

Join our weekend bushcraft course and learn the art of fire lighting, shelter building, water sourcing and more.
Click here to learn more.  

Spring is a great time to refresh your bushcraft skills and despite the recent cold snap, Spring is very much on its way.  With nature bursting into life once more and the days growing longer it is time to dust off your kit, or put away your winter kit (!) and brush-up on some bushcraft essentials. With that in mind here are some key bushcraft skills that you can brush up on.

As always, feel free to skip to the section that interests you the most or read the whole blog. 

Bushcraft skills refresh your bushcraft skills with WIldway bushcraft

Tarp setups

Warmer weather brings with it the time for tarps and bivvy bags. Lightweight and easy to set-up tarps and bivvy bags give you the chance to sleep in places that you wouldn’t be able to pitch a tent. The fact that they’re lightweight also means that you can cover further distances when out walking.

 

Learn more about tarp set-ups for solo campers and couples in our blog here.

 

Tarp set-ups, how to set up a tarp from Wildway Bushcraft

What to look for when buying a tarp

Tarps are generally pretty tough and versatile. You can’t go far wrong with most of the major brands or with an ex-army surplus. For more detail though we have got a little buyer’s guide below. 

Choosing the correct size of tarp 

When choosing a tarp for camping it is best to look for one that is the correct size for your needs. A 3 x 3 tarp will be perfectly sufficient for one person and, with the right set-up and a bit of cozying up, suitable for two.  For those camping in larger groups, it is worth considering whether you would be better off getting several smaller tarps rather than one large one. 

Choose one with multiple attachment points

Generally speaking, the more attachment points on the tarp the more versatile your set-up. The DD 3×3 tarp has, for example, 19 attachment points. 

Our review of the DD 3 x 3 Tarp  

The guys at Wildway Bushcraft have been using the DD 3×3 Tarp for a while now and I thought I would let you know our thoughts. The tarp has been used in all weather conditions throughout the year for all of our bushcraft courses in Dorset and Hampshire and we are very impressed.” 

Read our full review of the DD 3 x 3 Tarp here.  

Knife Sharpening

Refresh your bushcraft skills with Wildway Bushcraft

 

Spring is not only the perfect time to hone your bushcraft skills, it is also the perfect time to hone your tools.

Here at Wildway Bushcraft, we’re not too hung-up on knives. We know that some people get very attached to them but to us, they are tools; and like the rest of our tools, we want our knives to perform to the highest possible standard.

Learn more about knife sharpening, shelter building, foraging and
more in our
weekend bushcraft course.

What kit do you need for sharpening your knife?

Aside from your knife (obviously), there are just a few items that you need to get it razor sharp. If you’re sharpening indoors then a good set of water stones are perfect for the job.  If you’re out in the field then a simple sharpener such as the DC 4 from Fallkniven will do the job just fine.

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How to sharpen a bushcraft knife  

The video below was part of our Facebook live series if you want to have a say in the videos we put out then join our Facebook group

Watch our video on how to sharpen a knife here

Posted by Wildway Bushcraft on Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Looking after your axe

Looking after your axe bushcraft skills from Wildway Bushcraft

An axe is one of the most useful pieces of bushcraft kit that you can have with you; possibly even more useful than a knife (depending on the situation).

Spring is the perfect time to work on your axe skills.  A high level of axe skills will make a lot of other bushcraft skills easier – shelter building, fire lighting and even spoon carving.  

Looking after your axe

Perfecting your axe skills begins with knowing how to look after your axe. A properly looked after axe will not only last you years but will also be easier to use; like a knife, a blunt axe is more dangerous than a sharp axe. For more information on how to look after you axe see our blog post here

Video – splitting birch

Having honed your axe it’s time to put it to the test. In the video below Wildway Bushcraft show how to split a birch with control and precision.

Control splitting birch. Very satisfying!

Posted by Wildway Bushcraft on Saturday, 3 June 2017

Foraging in spring in the UK

Nettles (Urtica dioica) wild bushcraft food in the UK

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Spring in the UK is the perfect time to refresh your foraging, plant and tree identification skills. Remember though that the golden rule of foraging is to never take more than you need and to respect the environment.  

Learn more about knife sharpening, shelter building, foraging and
more in our
weekend bushcraft course.

 

Learn more about foraging in the spring in the UK in our blog posts here.  


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Key pieces of kit

Here are a few pieces of kit that we mentioned on this blog. Have a look below and feel free to buy them via the links below. Keep in mind that, with the exception of Bear Blades,  Wildway Bushcraft is not associated with any of the products or manufacturers listed below; we don’t get anything from them if you choose to buy anything.

Knives

Refresh your bushcraft skills with Wildway Bushcraft

Wildway Bushcraft use Bear Blades.
“Constructed from superb quality D2 steel this knife is ideal for bushcraft and wood crafting. Our most popular knife due to its versatility and functionality, suited to tough daily use in the woods.”
http://bearblades.co.uk/ 

Fallkniven DC4

DC4

This diamond/ceramic whetstone is perfect for use in the field.  
https://www.fallkniven.com/en/knife/dc4/ 

Axe

Gransfor Bruks Small Forset Axe

Copyright Gransfor Bruks

John Boe, owner, and founder of Wildway Bushcraft use the Gransfors Bruk Small ForestAxe which weighs in at only 900 gram (2lbs) and is small enough to fit in a rucksack whilst still being powerful enough to do most jobs.

Hem

Tarp

Copyright DD Hammocks

For an entry level bushcraft tarp we recommend the DD 3 X 3 tarp.
https://www.ddhammocks.com/ 

Further reading

Click on the arrows below to see more blog posts that will be of interest.

Tarp set-ups

Tarp set-ups, how to set up a tarp from Wildway Bushcraft

Top tips for tarp set-ups.

Look after your axe

Looking after your axe bushcraft skills from Wildway Bushcraft

How to look after your bushcraft axe.

Foraging in the UK

Foraging in the UK

Foraging in the UK.

Learn more about knife sharpening, shelter building, foraging and
more in our
weekend bushcraft course.


 

Other bushcraft courses

Click on the title of the slides below to see our other fantastic courses.

 

 

Walking at night is a wonderful experience, particularly if there’s a full moon. The landscape takes on a very different context and what was once familiar becomes unknown again. To fully enjoy walking at night though you need to be able to navigate at night, and navigate well; marshes, edges, streams and other features may not be visible until you’ve sunk in, fallen off or fell in them. On a less romantic note, the ability to navigate at night can also save you from making navigational errors in poor visibility.

In this blog, we introduce you to some of the skills needed to navigate at night. As always, please feel free to read the whole blog or to skip to the relevant section. 

It goes without saying that if you’re going to be practicing these techniques them practice them somewhere that you can get home safely from – you don’t want to be calling out the mountain rescue.

Navigating at night – considerations

When going out in the woods or the hills you must always be prepared for the conditions that you might face. You must also be carrying the relevant equipment for your chosen activity. So before we begin…

Headtorches

Night time navigation, or in fact any type of navigation must begin with preparation. Aside from the obvious map and compass this preparation must also include a headtorch and spare batteries, and you know where they say the best place is to store spare batteries? In a spare headtorch.  It should really go without saying that you must also bring the standard kit – warm clothes, waterproofs, emergency bivvy bag, whistle, water, spare clothes, etc.

Why not join our Facebook group Wildway Bushcraft – Bushcraft tips and advice, where you can ask any questions that you might have about bushcraft and meet like-minded people. Click here to join our Facebook group

Compasses

Obviously, bring a compass. But it’s worth investing in one with a luminous dial, this will make picking out accurate bearings that much easier. The Silva Expedition 4 is an affordable compass from a trusted brand that boasts this feature. They can be picked up from the OS for about £30 – see here

Map cases 

Again, obviously bring one, but if you can bring one with a matt finish. The reason for this is that if you bring a map case without a matte finish then the light will bounce off it; making it very hard to see what is going on.

Pick your times

If you’re just getting used to navigating at night then starting off as soon as sunsets in the middle of winter might not be the best idea. It’s going to be very dark, for a very long time, and cold and, let’s face it – probably wet. Rather, why not set off in the milder months a few hours before sunset? This will enable you to get some night time practice in but, should you get lost also mean that you only have a few hours to wait it out before daybreak.  

Bushcraft is about more than survival, it’s about being comfortable in nature, working with nature.
Join us on a weekend course to learn natural navigation, fire lighting, shelter building and more.
Click here to book your spot. 

 

Navigating at night – key skills 

Navigating at night means getting your skills really up to scratch, this is the difference between thinking one can do it and knowing one can do it. We’re not going to touch on compass bearings and the like in this post (for more information on finding north, natural navigation, etc. see our blog posts here and here. What we will focus on though are some key skills navigation skills that will come in extra handy at nighttime.  

Aiming off

Aiming off is, at its most basic, using one easily findable feature as a guide to a smaller, harder to find feature. It works when the smaller feature is located along a large linear feature such as a river.

Aiming off – an example 

Rather than taking a compass bearing from your location to a shelter and then trying to walk on that bearing until you reach it you ‘aim off’. That is you identify an easier to find linear feature, on which the river lies, say a river. You then take a compass bearing from your location to a point on the river, say 200 meters away from the shelter. You then walk on the bearing until you hit the river, knowing that when you do you have to turn, say right, then walk along it until you hit the shelter. 

Aiming off a useful technique for navigating at night

Handrailing

Handrailing is very similar to aiming off. It involves navigating to a feature which is easy to follow to your intended location. Even though handrailing might make your route longer it will, in the long run and especially at night, make navigation easier. You can handrail to handrail multiple times before you reach your intended destination.
 

Handrailing – an example

You know that the bothy is along the course of a river, prior to the river and next to your location is the edge of a forest. You use the forest as a handrail to the river, having reached the river you then use it as a handrail to the bothy. 

Another example

Navigating at night use handrailing to help

Attack points

Attack points are features that are close to your intended destination but much easier to find. There can be several attack points in a navigational stretch. Attack points can also be used to lead you to handrails or prior to aiming off.

Attack points – an example

Say that there is a large boulder formation next to your destination. To use this an attack point you would aim for the feature, this would then take you closer to your intended destination. In reality, you are likely to use several attack points, breaking the route up into smaller, more manageable ‘legs’. This is a particularly effective technique for night time navigation.

Another example

Attack points for navigating at night

 

Catching Features

‘Catching’ is a technique that can, and should, be used with all of the techniques described above. A catching feature is a previously identified feature which lets you know you’ve overshot your objective. Any catching feature that you identify shouldn’t be too far from your intended destination. 

Catching features – an example

You identify that while aiming off the river that 50 metres past the bothy, close to the river bank are the ruins of an old house. By noting this information you know that, as you’re following the river, if you hit the ruins you’ve gone too far. Depending on your skill level catching features don’t need to be so pronounced. They can be as simple as a downward slope after a period of traveling uphill.

Another example

Catching features for navigating at night

Keep a tick list

Not a physical one as such, but a mental tick list of all the features that you should encounter on your route. Make this tick list for each leg of your route, for example, after 50 metres I should cross a small stream, 100 metres and I should be on a downward slope of about 10 degrees, 125 metres I go past the ruins of an old house, 200 metres and I hit the first attack point, or identified feature for this leg of the route. If you fail to tick off any of these features as you progress stop and orientate yourself. 

Don’t panic 

Dad’s Army impersonations aside, it is vitally important that you don’t panic. Panic causes one to make rushed decisions without carefully considering their actions. It is no different when navigating. If you feel that you are ‘temporarily disoriented’ then stop. Look around you and see what you can identify and how that correlates to the map (it’s very easy to make the map fit anything that you see if you’re panicked).

Give yourself a break

If you do find yourself disorientated and temporarily mislaid (rarely is anyone ever truly lost) the pause. It’s always a good idea to carry a bothy shelter. These are small temporary group shelters which are very simple to use, Terra Nova do a pretty good range. Get the group inside, brew up a cup of tea and give yourself time to think about the situation. Ask, what was the last feature you passed? How far away was it? Asking yourself or the group these questions can help bring about a sense of calm and clarity to the situation.  

Next week

Next week we’ll be looking at foraging in the UK, what to expect and where to get started.

Join us for a weekend bushcraft course.
Learn all about natural navigation, water sourcing, fire lighting, shelter building and much, much more.

Click here to book your spot.

 

River navigation can be difficult. It’s often hard to see what is around you, due to your low-down position, and hard to place exactly where you are due to limited forward visibility. But knowing where you are on the river is a key canoeing skill. It enables you to judge your time and distance, pick out (then find) a good camping spot and make sure that you don’t miss a good pub.  

Join us on our Swedish canoe expedition for a true trip through the wilderness.
Click here for more information. 

In this blog we’re going to look at how you can tell where you are on the river, how to navigate and how to use your map on the river. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the part that interests you the most. 

Remember though, canoeing is also about enjoyment, keep an eye on where you are but be sure to take in the scenery as well.

Why not join our Facebook group Wildway Bushcraft – Bushcraft tips and advice, where you can ask any questions that you might have about bushcraft and meet like-minded people. Click here to join our Facebook group.

The importance of knowing where you are 

Canoeing rivers such as the Wye, particularly in the summertime, may mean that you might never really need to work to ascertain your location if in any doubt you can simply ask one of the many passing canoeists, riverside anglers or pop into the pub just to check. However, if out in the wilds of Scotland or crossing the remote Swedish wilderness then knowing where you are is important; particularly if someone has an accident or you need to find a pre-arranged campsite in poor visibility. Read on to learn some basic techniques for finding out where you are when on the river.  

Navigating on the river

 

Judging paddling speed

Speed is, as every school child will remember, distance/time. So in order to judge your speed on the river, you need to establish how long it takes you to do a set distance, for example, a mile. In order to get a realistic average, you will need to record this over several miles. After you’ve done this you’ll have an idea of how long it takes you to canoe a certain distance, therefore you can estimate how long your trip will take you, so sit back and enjoy the river.

Of course, being able to judge your speed means knowing where you are. Read on to find out more.

Finding where you are on the river

Assuming you’ve basic navigational skills then finding your way on the river is a pretty simple task; it just involves a little bit of readjustment. Note that, in this blog post we are looking at navigation on the UK’s inland waterways – we’ll look at extended open water crossings another day. 

Navigating on the river

Use your bearings

Bearings are your friend. If you know which way you’re heading when you begin your journey then as the river bends, so will your heading. It is then a matter of lining up your new position, in relation to north, with a part of the river on the map that corresponds to that bearing. For example, if the river heads south then bends east, your compass will show that when you begin your heading (south) then when the compass turns to show you’re heading east – you’ll know you’re on the easterly bend of the river.

Look to the landscape

Use the features visible from the water in the same way that you would if you were walking. What can you see from the river that corresponds to what you can see on the map? Woods, forests, bends in the river can all help you to work out where you are on the river

Look at the river

Certain river features, such as narrowing channels and large bends will also be identifiable on the map; helping you to pinpoint exactly where you are.  

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canoe the river spey

Use a GPS

GPS technology, although still expensive, is more accessible than it was a few years ago. As a result more and more people who enjoy the outdoors are using them. Though you should always carry (and know how to use) a map and compass as well as a GPS the latter can be invaluable in pinpointing your position. A number of specialist GPS systems are available that are designed for kayaking/canoeing.

Planning a multi-day canoe trip? Read our blog ‘Packing for a long canoe triphere.

Use local knowledge

Local knowledge goes a long way. Before the start of your trip ask canoeing locals, or those outside the are returning from a trip about any particular water features that you need to look out for. This will not only help you to plot your position on a river where the surrounding terrain may be quite featureless; it will also help you to avoid any potential hazards. 

Use attack points

You might not always know exactly where you are, but knowing pretty much where you are is a good starting point. Provided that you stick to the main river and not go up any tributaries (unless of course, that’s your plan) it’s pretty hard to go wrong. However, on occasion, you may need to know exactly where you are. In this case, use a version of the walker’s ‘attack points’. These are a series of distinct points on route to your destination. Take note of each one then as you pass them mentally cross them off. This helps you establish an accurate location as you will always be between two ‘attack points’.  

Next week

Next week we’ll be looking at navigating at night when walking, be sure to check in next week to find out more.

 

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Natural Navigation in the UK

 

The abilities to find north, navigate short distances and tell the time of day without a map, compass or watch are key bushcraft skills. In this latest blog, we will look at we will introduce you to these skills and show you how you can get started in navigating without a map or compass.

As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most. 

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Navigate without a map: how to find north
Finding North without a map or compass

The ability to find north without a compass when out in the woods is a key bushcraft skill.  In the following section, we’re going to show you some different ways of finding north when you are out in the woods. First though, a word on the different kinds of north. 

Grid north, magnetic north and true north 

There are, essentially, three different types of north. Grid north is the direction of the grid lines on your map, magnetic north is the direction indicated by a magnetic compass while true north is north on a longitudinal line that converges on the North Pole. For more information about the differences between grid, magnetic and true north see the Ordnance Survey site here.  

Why does this matter?

Over an extended distance, magnetic variation will start to matter, likewise, it’s a good idea to factor it in when walking on a bearing in the Scottish mountains in a whiteout. However, when trying to navigate using natural features then it’s almost impossible to be accurate enough that it will matter when you try to relate the bearing you’ve taken from natural features to the lines on the map.

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Finding north using the sun

Find north without a map or compass

Despite what you might read about finding north using an analogue watch, this method is, in reality, far from reliable. An easier way of finding north is by using a shadow stick. Place the stick in the ground and mark the tip where the shadow ends. Wait about 15 minutes or so then mark the new position of the shadow tip. Draw a line between the first marker and the second. Stand with your left foot on the first marker and your right on the second marker, you’re now facing in a northerly direction.

Finding north using the stars

Keep in mind that this blog is written for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and the UK in particular. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere finding north using the stars is a very different matter.

As you might remember from Scouts or the like, the key to finding direction by using the stars is by locating the North Star.

How to locate the North Star

In order to locate the North Star, you first need to find the constellation known as ‘the plough’, ‘the saucepan’ or, for the Americans, ‘the big dipper’. What you’re actually seeing is the seven brightest stars of the constellation Ursa Major, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as you can identify it. 

Remember, the Plough rotates around the North Star so will sometimes look like it is upside down. However, this doesn’t change how you can find the North Star.

The North Star, or Polaris, sits directly over the North Pole. In order to find it is to go straight up from the two stars that make the ‘edge’ of the ‘saucepan bowl’ for about five times the distance that these two stars are apart. This will lead you to a bright star on its own. This is Polaris or the North Star, and there you are, you’ve found North.

Navigating using the north star

Learn more about natural navigation, fire lighting, shelter building, water sourcing and other key bushcraft skills in our  weekend bushcraft course.
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Navigate without a map: calculating pace and distance 

Use natural navigation to measure pace and distance

Calculating pace and therefore distance covered is key to successful navigation without a map or a compass. In our blog last week we looked at how to judge distances without a map, knowing the distance you are from an object you then need to be able to calculate how long it will take you to walk that distance. This is particularly important if the light is fading or weather conditions are worsening, you need to be able to judge if you will be able to reach your objective in time or if it is better to stay put and wait it out. Perhaps the best-known method for calculating distance is by using Naismith’s rule.

Naismith’s rule

Naismith’s rule is a rule of thumb for judging pacing when out walking. It was originally devised by the Scottish mountaineer William W. Naismith in 1892. The basic principle of Naismith’s rule is that each 5km takes one hour to walk, for every 600 metres ascended during that hour add an additional one hour. Another way of looking at it is an hour for every 5km with an additional minute for every 10 metres of ascent (this would be one contour line on a map but you will need to judge ascent yourself if you don’t have a map).

Modifications to Naismith’s rule 

Weather, weight carried, terrain, conditions underfoot and fitness of your party can all impact on Naismith’s rule. Generally speaking though when walking on rough or hard terrain alter the pace from 5km per hour to 4km per hour, a strong headwind will reduce this further to around 2km per hour. Walking with a heavy pack will also cut your speed on flat ground to around 50% of your unladen speed.

Telling the time of day

Natural navigation for telling the time

 

Now you can estimate the direction in which you are traveling, the distance (see our earlier blog), and how long it will take you, you need to know the time of day. Knowing the current time (without a watch or phone) and the time of sunset will let you work out whether you have time to make the distance of whether it will lead to you being benighted.

Estimating the remaining time before sundown

A handy little trick to estimate the amount of time you have left is to measure, in terms of horizontal fingers, the distance between the sun and the horizon. Extend your hand out in front of you so that your palm is facing across your body with your little finger horizontal to your feet. Remove or add fingers until your palm covers the gap between the horizon and the sun. Each finger represents about 15 minutes, so four fingers represent an hour.

Direction of the sun in the sky

The sun rises in the east (roughly) and settles in the west (again roughly), at midday the sun will be directly overhead. Therefore, knowing what time sunrise is and being able to see the current position of the sun in the sky will enable you to make a rough estimate of the current time of the day.

Coming up

Next week we will be looking at how to navigate accurately on the UK’s rivers. In the meantime, why not join our Facebook group for bushcraft tips, advice, and discussion.

 

 

Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills in our weekend bushcraft course.
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The natural world has been helping people find their way since the paleolithic era, and it’s been helping animals to do the same for even longer. This is still the case, for those that know how to spot them, the natural world provides signs and markers that can help find water, food, and direction. This blog post introduces the concept of natural navigation and provides an overview which will help you get started.

As always, please feel to read the whole blog or click on the links below to skip to the section that interests you.

 

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What is natural navigation 

Natural navigation is something that,  theoretically, all of us, can access.  In his seminal book ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ the legendary Harold Gatty states;


“a man with a good sense of direction is, to me, quite simply an able pathfinder – a natural navigator – somebody who can find his way by the use of the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, the senses that he was born with) developed by the blessing of experience and the use of intelligence”.


In short, someone who is merely skilled at noticing the signs around him and interpreting these signs.  

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Early examples of  great uses of natural navigation

Natural navigation early examples

Humankind has always been developing methods of navigation. The compass can be dated back to around 206 BC, and issues determining longitude and latitude plagued early modern navigators well into the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite this, early humans traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles using only the natural signs around them to find their way out and of course, home.

 

Navigation in 3000-1000 BC


There is evidence to suggest that between the years 3000 and 1000 BC the people that became to be known as Polynesians traveled thousands of miles across the open Pacific ocean; spreading their culture and their language, with only natural navigation. Australian aborigines passed down ways of finding one’s way across the often featureless landscape through the medium of song and dance. The routes described in these songs were known as Songlines . They often followed the stars, with lyrics and movements to the song acting as memory aids for the routes.

In short, natural navigation, like most things in bushcraft is about being at one with the natural environment. It’s about knowing how to spot and then interpret the signs that nature is showing you.

How can different elements help us to navigate

Natural navigation with trees

This blog is not supposed to be an in-depth guide to natural navigation, to learn these skills in detail it is worth attending a course. This blog merely provides a general introduction to natural navigation.

Natural navigation with trees/plants

Aside from the sun and the moon, trees and plants are among the best tools for natural navigation. The best way to use trees and plants in terms of natural navigation is as direction finders.

Trees, plants and the sun 

Trees are rarely symmetrical. Look for the side of the tree that appears ‘heavier’, or more abundant in terms of leaves and branches. In the UK if a tree is relatively isolated then the abundance of foliage on one side will indicate a southerly direction. This is because the southern side of a tree gets the most sun, so it naturally grows in that direction.  Additionally, branches on the southern side are likely to grow out in a horizontal direction,  those on the northern side are likely to grow upwards in an effort to reach the limited sunlight.

The effects of sunlight on the directional growth of a tree will become very confused in wooded environments. For this reason, it is better to consider isolated trees when trying to establish direction. 

Trees, plants and the wind

Trees and plants help to provide a clue as to the general trend in terms of wind direction. In the UK the trend is for the prevailing wind to blow in from the southeast, that is it travels from a southeast to a northeast direction. This often means that the tops of exposed trees exhibit a sort of combed effect, with the ends of the branches pointing in a northeasterly direction.

Using natural navigation to estimate distance 

Estimating the distance to an object relevant to your position is a key aspect of navigation. When combined with a direction it enables you to triangulate your position on a map with pinpoint accuracy. Being able to judge direction enables you to estimate how long it will take to reach your destination. With that in mind here are some natural ways to judge distance if you don’t have a map or a compass. 


Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills on our weekend bushcraft course.
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Use your fingers

This section should more correctly be titled, ‘judging distance using parallax’, but that’s not very snappy. Parallax is, in short, a method of judging distance by holding out a finger and shutting your eyes. It works like this; when you hold your finger out straight in front of you and view it only using your left eye, then, keeping your finger out in front of you, view it only using your right eye, it seems to have moved. This phenomenon is known as parallax. 

To use this to measure distance, hold your finger out in front of you so that it is pointing upwards in line with the object that you wish to know the distance of. View your finger through only your left eye, then, without moving your finger, view it only through your right eye. Note how many feet along the object your finger appears to have moved. Your distance from the object will be ten times the distance that you perceive your finger to have moved.

For example, if your finger appears to have moved thirty feet the object will be approximately three hundred feet away from your current position.

Judging distance with natural navigation

 

Know your distances

It is also worth remembering some key distances. Keep in mind that, like many elements of natural navigation, these are rough tools and not entirely accurate. With thanks to Harold Gatty’s ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ rough distances are:  

46 metres/50 yards: a person’s facial features, such as eyes and mouth, can be clearly seen.
275 metres/300 yards: the outline of faces can be seen.
1600 metres/1 mile: large tree trunks can be seen.
4km/2.5 miles: you can just about make out chimneys and windows
14.5km/9 miles: the average church tower or steeple can be seen.

Using the sun

When it comes to natural navigation the sun is one of the best indicators of direction. Roughly speaking, the sun rises in the east and settles in the west. However, it is only twice a year that the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west.

One of the simplest ways of navigating using the sun is through the use of sun tables. These are tables that relate the latitude and time of day to the angle that the sun will be at. Having a copy of these tables jotted down in the back of your notebook helps you to establish direction.  Harold Gatty’s book, ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ features some excellent examples of these tables.

Get started with natural navigation

Don’t throw away the map and the compass just yet. One of the best ways of getting started with natural navigation is to incorporate elements of nature in your normal navigation when on your next trip. For example, how does the position of the sun relate to the direction you’re heading in? How far away do you estimate the church in the distance to be?

 

Next week

Next week we will be looking at how to find your way without a map or compass in more detail.
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