It’s half-term coming up and there are lots of fantastic bushcraft activities the children can get stuck into, come rain or shine. Here are just a few ideas:

Build a campfire

Fire is a key component in bushcraft and survival. It keeps you warm, provides light and you can cook your food over it. But a campfire is Firealso a great way of getting people together and enjoying each other’s company without ‘modern’ distractions. With a little preparation, lighting a fire is simple. While the actual fire lighting should be left to an adult, children can enjoy helping to gather all the materials.

Build a shelter

Children always enjoying building a den. Working together and using a little imagination, you can together create a lovely natural shelter that will keep you warm and dry. You don’t even need to venture out into the woods to do this. You can always build a shelter in your back garden. Once built, where better to play games, eat a meal and just enjoy being outside.

Foraging

It is simply amazing what delicious things you can find to eat outdoors. Foraging is a great activity for all the family and can be extremely rewarding. By law, you are allowed to forage for fruit, flowers, foliage and fungi. You can do this anywhere, but you must have the right or permission to be on the land.

Things to forage:

  • Nettles
  • Dandelion
  • Wood sorrel
  • Elderflower
  • Blackberries
  • Plantain
  • Ramsons
  • Mushrooms

One of the most important rules with foraging, is if you aren’t 100 per cent sure what it is, then DO NOT eat it. If in doubt, leave it out.

Cooking in the great outdoors

There is something extra special about preparing and eating food outdoors. The fresh air and woodsmoke seem to add a wonderful extra flavour to the dish and it is a great way of getting everyone to work together. Cooking over a fire is pretty easy and there are so many tasty and fun things you can cook, including:pot

  • Marshmallows
  • Twist bread
  • Popcorn
  • Stews and soups
  • Steak

Animal tracking

Animal tracking uses footprints, trails, feathers, kills, scratching posts, drag marks, smells, and behaviour exhibited by other animals, to identify an animal. It’s a great way to learn more about the landscape and sharpen the senses. Have a go trying to track some deer, badgers, wild rabbits or even wild boar.

Natural navigation

You can practice this anywhere. Use the sun, a shadow stick, tree and moss growth or the watch method to help you. A compass is a great tool to help you experiment with natural navigation and easy to use. Just remember that the big red arrow always points north.

Simple carving

There is something quite wonderful about spending time outdoors making something beautiful and practical that will last a long time. For children it is just as satisfying and carving a tent peg, is a great way to get them started with using a knife. As their confidence and skills grow, they can move on to making a pot hanger, spoon or even a cup. Children should of course only use sharp tools under supervision, and it is important that they understand how to use a knife safely before they get started.

Important to remember

  • Knife law: Whatever bushcraft fun you have planned for the half term, it’s important that you know the law on carrying and using knives.
  • Leave no trace: Once you have finished your activities it is essential that you leave no trace that you have ever been to that area. The key essence of Bushcraft is respecting the environment and other people that may also use that area.

For more family bushcraft fun, sign up to our next Family Bushcraft course which the whole bushcraft a family guidefamily can enjoy. You can also get your hands on a copy of  Bushcraft: A Family Guide, a fantastic resource full of ideas and guides on how to enjoy the great outdoors with your friends and family. Get your copy from Amazon and all good book shops.

Being able to safely use a knife for bushcraft and survival tasks is absolutely essential. Even if you are an experienced knife user, you must never become complacent with using a knife. Here are our tips for using a knife safely for bushcraft.

Keep it sharp

A safe knife is a sharp knife. It will always cut as you expect and won’t need excessive pressure.

Always keep the knife in its sheath

Whenever your knife is not being used, return it to the sheath, it is the safest place for it. Don’t ever just leave it out somewhere, even for a brief moment.

Taking a knife out of its sheath

You can easily cut yourself just by removing a knife from its sheath, so it’s important to keep fingers away from the sharp edge. When it isn’t attached to you, pull gently on it and then remove the sheath from the knife. If the knife is attached to you, then pull on the knife gently and pull it out slowly.

Make some space

Always ensure there is plenty of space around you when you are using a knife. If there are people in close proximity to you, then ask them to move back or find a new location. You must never try to use your knife in badly lit, confined or awkward spaces.

Using the knife

  1. Always concentrate on what you are doing. Cuts often happen because of a lack of concentration or distractions. If it isn’t the right time, put the knife away until it is.
  2. Hold the knife securely in full-hand grip, with your fingers safely away from the edge. Always cut away from your body and be aware of where your free hand is and be careful you don’t cut towards it.
  3. Even if your knife is sharp, only shave off small amounts with every cut. Trying to remove too much will mean you need to use excess force and reduces your control.
  4. Keep your elbows on your knees, especially while carving sitting down. This stops the knife from getting too close to your leg.

Passing it to another person

When handing a knife to someone else, always do so with great care. Using the forehand grip, swivel it in your hand and let the other person take the knife by the handle. Always be careful to keep your fingers out of the way as you hand over the knife. Make sure the point and sharp edge is away from both hands.

First aid kit

If you regularly use a knife, then there is a good chance that you may end up giving yourself the occasional nick. Always have a first aid kit with you, just in case.

See you in the woods

You can improve your knife skills at one of our bushcraft courses this year. Get in touch to find out more. We hope to see you out in the woods with us very soon.

 

Learn more bushcraft skills on our weekend
bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your space.

Animal tracking is a fascinating way to study wildlife and a great bushcraft and survival skill. It can be done out on in your local woods or even on the pavement. Along with other signs, tracking can give a better understanding of the animal who has left the track and also the wider landscape.

What is animal tracking?

Tracking uses footprints, trails, feathers, kills, scratching posts, drag marks, smells, habitat cues and the behaviour exhibited by other animals in the area, to identify the animal. It is possible to discern these clues and recreate what happened and make predictions about the animal. You can predict the current location of the animal and follow their trail to where they are.

Understanding wildlife

Before you begin tracking, you need to spend time closely observing the wildlife. Watch how certain animals respond to their environment, how they move and deal with obstacles. When tracking animals, you need to be able to picture how the animal was moving around. Knowledge of the landscape and animal behaviour allows you to predict the animal’s movements and can save valuable time.

Reading signs and tracks

A footprint does not just reveal the identity of the animal that made it, but the details and position of it can also tell you the speed of the animal and even its intentions. You may find that you only have partial tracks to follow, or even just very small hints that the animal was there. But in some places, you will find clear footprints that will allow you to identify the species and even the age and sex. The longer you follow a trail, the more detail you can discover.

Droppings

A key skill when animal tracking is being able to interpret droppings. You need to consider the colour, shape, smell texture and location. Don’t be precious about animal poo. Pick it up and study it, it hides many useful clues.

  • Deer – The droppings of female fallow deer have a rounded base, but it is indented in males.
  • Otter – These often contain fish bones and can be watery with a musky sweet smell. You might find them on rocks near water or on riverbanks.
  • Fox – Along with containing rabbit and rodent hair, the colour of fox droppings often reflects their diet. During the summer it will be whitish-grey when their diet is full of calcium from bones.
  • Hedgehog – These are often found on garden lawns and are black and shiny.

Animals to track

Deer show where they have been sleeping by the depressions left in leaves on the forest floor, often under trees. Deer hair is very brittle and the animals moult between their winter and summer coats so you will be able to find some if you look carefully enough.

Badgers often leave their long, strong hair on wire fences where it has been snagged. Badgers leave a wide trail of footprints behind them that are very distinctive, thanks to their long claws on the front feet.

Wild boar walk with their weight on their heels, so their dewclaws touch the ground and leave distinctive prints. Look for signs of them at muddy wallows and disturbed areas where they have been looking for buried food.

Animal tracking takes a lot of patience, determination and a passion for the great outdoors. It is a great way to sharpen your senses. To learn more about animal tracking and other bushcraft and survival skills, join us on one of our courses or get in touch.

After the harshness of winter, spring provides a welcome change. Nature suddenly burst into life with lots of animal activity and plant growth, so there is no better time to be outside. If your bushcraft kit has been gathering dust over winter, get yourself back out into the woods. Enjoy the start of this new season, by practicing some basic bushcraft skills to get yourself ready for the year. Practice putting up a tent or tarp, see what plants and trees you can identify, test out your axe skills, or do some foraging.

Flowers are in bloom and leaves are spreading. It is the perfect time to explore and gather some of nature’s bounty. Many wild edible spring plants have restorative properties and nutrients, often so welcomed after the sluggishness of winter. We teach about foraging on our Wildway Bushcraft courses and how to gather, prepare and cook the food you find.

If you venture out in early spring time, you may find the pickings to be slim. But as the shoots start to appear, there are some spring greens you can collect. Be warned though, some early spring plants contain toxins. Snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells contain poisonous substances. It is important to make sure you can always positively identify any plant that you are planning to eat. If you are at all unsure, just leave it well alone – it’s not worth the risk.

An important rule of foraging is to only take what you need. The area might be bursting with bounty, but you do not need to take it all. Be careful not to damage the rest of the plant or the surrounding area while you are gathering.

Just a few things you could forage this spring include:

Stinging nettles

These have heart-shaped and jagged leaves. The leaves and stems are covered with stinging hairs. The nettles can be found on waste ground and in woodland and are tasty and very nutritious. Using gloves, pick the top four to six leaves of the young plant up to around June. Cook them in boiling water, drain and squeeze well before chopping. They can be used similar to spinach in curries and stews. Try them in omelettes, risotto, pies and even on pizza.

Primoses

A pretty flower that can be used as an attractive garnish for salad. The flowers can be used raw, with the leaves fried in oil until crisp.

Dandelions

These can be found pretty much everywhere. Wear gloves to avoid getting stained hands, as they contain a milky sap when they are cut. Dandelion leaves are quite bitter, and taste rather like chicory. Very young, spring leaves are less bitter. They can be used like salad leaves or spinach. You can even make tasty fritters with the flower buds, you just need to coat them in a light batter before frying.

Before you prepare and cook anything you forage, make sure you check for bugs that may be hiding in plants and flowers.

You can find out more about all things bushcraft by joining us on our bushcraft courses. We hope to see you out in the woods very soon.

One of the most important skills of bushcraft, is to leave no trace that you have ever been to that area after you’ve left. Bushcraft is about respecting the environment and others that use the area. Leaving no trace is key to being a responsible bushcrafter.

The importance of leaving no trace

If you have a camp fire, you should make sure that the area is left safe, clean and as you would hope to find it.You need to make sure that the camp fire site is safe from fire before you leave. Make sure the fire is completely out and dead by thoroughly dousing the site with water. We recommend you choose a site that is quite close to water, or you take extra water with you. You will need quite a lot to ensure the ground is cooled down enough and safe to leave.

If you choose to set up your fire at a site where there is already an established fire circle, you still should not leave it with inflammable rubbish and burned logs. Even if the site has not been tidied before you, you should make sure that all traces of your fire have gone.

Along with clearing away all remnants of the fire, you must also take away everything you used in cooking, like packaging, foil and tin cans.

Here are some important ‘no trace’ rules to remember when you are out bushcrafting:

Plan ahead 

  • Consider what type of fuel and how much you will need – it will primarily be used for cooking and keeping warm.
  • How long will you be camping for? You may want to practice judging your fuel so there are only ashes left by the time you finish your camp.
  • Will you be camping near a water source? You may choose to take water with you, but you need to make sure you pack enough and remember you will have to carry it to the site.

Shelter

Natural shelters should only be built using dead material, to avoiding making any impact to the local area. Before you leave, remove all of your shelter and take it away with you. Leaving a shelter up spoils the area and could also be dangerous for the local wildlife and future visitors. Using a tarp or a tent is a much better option.

 Take all rubbish with you

When you have finished, pack away all your rubbish and debris and dispose of it away from the site. As you leave the site for the last time, look back and give the whole area another look around. It’s always worth checking a final time to make sure you haven’t left anything.

Bushcraft is all about respecting the environment and wildlife, while enjoying the great outdoors. If you join us on one of our Wildway Bushcraft courses, we will show you how it is possible to enjoy bushcraft without impacting on the local environment. To find out more about us and our courses, just get in touch.

Tips for choosing a bushcraft and survival school

There are many bushcraft and survival schools offering a variety of great courses. Here at Wildway Bushcraft, we are always keen to get everyone involved in bushcraft, but unfortunately not every school is reputable with experienced and knowledgeable instructors. Here are our tips for choosing a good bushcraft and survival school.

Experience

Instructors should be experienced. There is an accreditation scheme run by the NCFE for bushcraft instructors, which goes some way to prove that your chosen instructor has undertaken some form of assessed training. But this is a bonus. There are good instructors out there that do not hold this. (Ray Mears for example!). Teaching bushcraft is more than just being able to demonstrate how to pitch a tent, but requires training and experience. A good bushcraft and survival school should have high standards of practice and teaching. You could have the most experienced person in the world, but if they cannot teach effectively, you aren’t going to learn anything. Before you book a course, don’t be afraid to ask for more information about the instructors and their background. Only sign up to a course, when you feel confident that they have the expertise you need.

Safety

All schools should be fully insured, including public liability insurance and have risk assessments for all of the courses. Instructors should be CRB checked, be suitably experienced or trained in the safe practice for the skills they are teaching, be HSE compliant and have up-to-date First Aid training. You can ask to see the risk assessments which should cover all eventualities. The most reputable schools should have everything covered and be happy to share the information with you. You will be spending time with the instructors out in the woods, so for your own peace of mind, it’s good to know you will be in safe hands.

Environmentally responsible

Bushcraft is all about respecting nature and the great outdoors. Each and every bushcraft and survival school should strive to promote responsible bushcraft practices on all its courses. This should include maintaining a ‘no trace’ philosophy of leaving an area as it was found, to actively avoid disturbing any wildlife’s natural habitats and encourage responsible foraging.

Reviews

Just like when you are booking a holiday or looking for a company to provide you with a service, you should use review sites like TripAdvisor, to find out what people’s experiences are of the bushcraft school. This a great way of getting an insight into a bushcraft and survival school and to find out if they are the right school for you.

There are so many adventures to be had in the great outdoors. Get in touch and find out more about Wildway Bushcraft and our passion for offering a fantastic bushcraft and survival experience with our courses. We hope to see you out in the woods very soon.

Without their leaves, deciduous trees can be tricky to identify during the winter. But by studying important features like the bark, twigs and bud formation, you can soon learn how to recognise a tree whatever the season. Here are our tips for identifying 10 of our favourite deciduous trees this winter.

Sycamore

The sycamore is usually found in forests and woods and the bark of the young trees is often smooth and can be silvery-grey or brown. As the tree gets older, the bark begins to crack, which eventually become large peeling scales. The sycamore’s buds are oval-shaped and arranged in opposite pairs. The buds have a pointed end and are green with brown tips.

Ash

The ash is a large tree which can be found growing in forests, on open hillsides and in hedges. The ash is one of the first to lose its leaves in autumn and is late coming into leaf in the spring. The buds of the ash grow in opposite pairs and are round, except for buds at the end of shoots and branches, which have more of a cone shape. The buds are very dark in colour and the ends of the shoots curve upwards. The bark is smooth and grey or can be a paler grey-brown in younger trees. As the tree ages, the bark becomes cracked and often develops criss-crossing ridges.

Silver birch

You will find the silver birch in forests, on sandy heaths and open hillsides and down mountain valleys. The silver birch has, unsurprisingly, silvery coloured bark and as the tree ages, the lower part of the tree develops black diamond shaped marks anad develops a thick and cracked texture, with dark grey/brown almost black bumpy ridges. The buds are sometimes sticky and are small and oval-shaped.

Hazel

The hazel is a small tree, usually with multiple stems and often located in hedges and under larger trees in woodlands. The bark starts as a shiny light grey/brown colour. In younger shoots the bark can be peeling but the peelings can often be quite fragile and delicate. Cracks appear in medium sized growths, with larger trees having smooth grey/brown bark. The buds of a hazel tree are green, fat and oval shaped.

Beech

The bark of the beech is smooth and silvery grey in the younger trees. As the tree ages the bark becomes rougher, but not as textured as other trees. The buds are long, thin and pointed and have a coppery brown colour. On young beech trees, you often see dead brown leaves that are still attached during the winter.

Wild Cherry

The wild cherry grows in mixed woods. The bark of young wild cherry trees is shiny and can be greyish-pink to purpley-red. In older trees, the bark is more purpley-grey with raised light brown bumps and peels in horizontal strips. Its buds are egg-shaped and dark orangey-brown.

Hornbeam

Hornbeams tend to grow alongside the beech tree and its bark is a silver, dark grey colour and has a smooth texture. As the tree ages, the bark may develop criss-cross ridges. The tree’s long buds are pointed, green/brown and close to the stem.

English Oak

The English oak is a common tree and is one of the more dominant large broad-leafed trees to be found across Britain. Younger trees have smooth, grey/green bark, and as the tree ages, the bark becomes more cracked with distinctive ridges. The buds are orange/brown and often grow in a cluster near the end of the twig and are egg-shaped with blunt rounded tips and grow in clusters.

 Elder

The elder is a common tree that can be found in hedgerows and woodland. Its bark is beige/grey and the young shoots often have raised bumps, while the older growth develops very rugged cracks and ridges. The buds grow in opposite pairs, and are purple, with spiky scales.

Goat Willow

There are 18 species of willow native to the UK, along with many hybrids. The goat willow is the more common willow tree. Often found growing near water, the goat willow is pale grey and the bark is banded with small diamond-shaped ridges. As the tree ages, the bark becomes shallow, with criss-cross ridges which can later become orange cracks. The tree’s buds are rounded and a shiny red or a chestnut brown colour.

This time of year is a great opportunity to put your winter bushcraft skills into action, so get outside as much as you can and enjoy this beautiful season.

As some trees shed their leaves during the autumn and winter months, determining the identity of deciduous trees can require a little more effort at this time of year. So we have put together a quick guide to help you know what to look for:

Bark

The bark protects the underlying tissue of the tree and its appearance varies across all the different species. The colour, thickness, pattern and texture of the bark are useful ways of determining a tree’s identity. Not only should you study the appearance of the bark but you should touch it to feel its texture. You can also look at how the bark is peeling as this can also differ, depending on the species.

The bark of a young sycamore for example, is usually smooth and can vary from silvery-grey to a brown colour. As the tree gets older, the bark develops cracks which progress to large peeling scales. You need to get up close to the tree and have a good scratch and sniff too! The smell of the bark is also another useful tool, just like with the yellow birch which smells like wintergreen whereas the wild cherry has more of a bitter almond scent.

Buds

The size, shape, colour, texture and position of the buds can often be a useful way to identify a tree during winter. Flower buds can form in different places and can often be much larger than the leaf buds. The leaves will grow as terminal buds, which are found at the ends of the twigs, or they will take the form of lateral buds, which grow along the sides. The number and placement of the buds on the twigs can also be significant to determining the tree’s identity. The buds are most often enclosed in modified leaves known as scale leaves. These may be tough protective structures, coloured or sometimes they might be sticky, like the horse chestnut. When the scale leaves fall, they often leave distinctive markings on the twigs.

For example, the buds of a Hazel tree are short, blunt and have green and red scales and the shoots have rough hairs. Sycamore buds are arranged in opposite pairs and are egg-shaped with a pointed end, green in colour and the tips of the bud scales are brown.

Twigs

Twig markings provide useful information as to how the leaves are arranged when they are there. They can also tell you where the buds grow. Some trees like the ash, maples and dogwoods have opposite branching and this is when the twigs and buds grow off a main branch in pairs. Trees like birches and sycamores have alternate branching which means that the twigs and buds grow off a main branch one at a time.

There are many other bushcraft activities you can get up to this winter, it’s a great time to get outside and practice all your bushcraft skills. For expert tuition from a Wildway Bushcraft instructor, join us on one of our popular courses for a fantastic time in the great outdoors.

Here at Wildway Bushcraft we are always keen to encourage everyone to go out and enjoy the great outdoors, whatever the time of year. But with winter on its way, you may think that it’s time to pack away your bushcraft kit until the spring. Being outside in the woods in winter may not seem particularly inviting, but you can still enjoy being out and practising your bushcraft skills.

Fire lighting

Winter is the time to really test your fire lighting skills. It is during winter that you will greatly appreciate the benefits of a good fire. But whatever technique you use to light a fire, it is harder to do so in the cold and damp conditions of winter. Try to source dry kindling and dead, dry standing wood for your fire. If you find that you need to perfect your technique then you may want to join our one day friction fire lighting course.

Animal tracking

Winter conditions make it a great season to do some animal tracking, especially if there is snow on the ground. When you are looking at animal tracks on snow you will be able to piece together the whole track. You will be able to observe certain activities and behaviours, which would be much harder to determine or could be missed altogether without snow. But even if there is no snow, the soil is often damper in the winter and there are a lot more muddy patches, making tracking much easier.

Snow shelter

You can build a snow shelter using blocks of compacted snow. You might want to aim for an igloo style shape by digging a trench in the snow, then using blocks to create an angled roof over the trench in an inverted V-shape. You can also build a shelter from digging into a pile of snow. Snow shelters are surprisingly warm thanks to the air trapped in the snow, which makes them well insulated.

Melting snow for drinking water

If there is snow on the ground then you can use this to make drinking water. If you have some water available, put it in a pot and heat it up then add snow gradually to melt it. Or you can start with a bit of snow which you melt quickly, then keep adding small amounts until there is a good amount of water in the pot, then continue to add large quantities of snow a bit at a time. But snow can vary in its consistency, so you might find that you need to practice this to get it right.

Identifying trees and plants

It isn’t always easy to identify evergreen or deciduous trees in winter, but when you do it’s very satisfying! During winter time you can’t rely on looking at just the leaves, flowers or fruit, but you have to look at other details. Many wild plants appear as early as December. Not just herbaceous plants but cherry trees are often well under way in early January.

Using your axe

Whether you are in a tent or sleeping out by a fire, you’ll need plenty of firewood to keep you warm, boil water and cook food. So this is where your axe becomes an essential bit of kit during the winter. If you want to sharpen your axe skills then sign up to our axe skills and charcoal making course.

It’s not surprising that many of us would rather hibernate during the colder winter months, but if you use layers of clothing to help you keep warm, wear good quality boots and pack a good bushcraft kit, then the winter is just yet another great season where you can really enjoy the great outdoors.

If you want to brush up on your bushcraft skills or maybe try something a bit different, visit our courses page and sign up for an adventure with us in the woods.

 

If you have ever fancied unleashing your inner Robin Hood, why not try our one day deer and archery course where you can really get to grips with the basics of bow shooting.

If you mainly associate the longbow that we know today with Sherwood Forest, you may be surprised to learn that it has been around from as early as the Neolithic times. Although it is thought to have made its first major appearance towards the end of the Middle Ages.

The longbow completely dominated medieval combat. During the Hundred Years War, the longbow was used by the English with a devastating effect and a similar result was experienced during The Battle of Sluys in 1340, which saw English archers discharge a shocking longbow attack on French ships.

The land Battle of Poitiers in 1356 saw the longbow responsible for the deaths of 2,000 French mounted knights. In 1346 at the Battle of Crecy, English archers completely devastated the French whose loses included 11 princes, 1,200 knights and 30,000 soldiers. In comparison the English lost 100 men. This one battle is often used as a popular example to demonstrate just how effective the longbow was as a weapon.

At Wildway Bushcraft we promise that we won’t be sending you out to battle with your longbow! But with coaching from our experienced instructors, you will be able to see your shot improve as the day goes on and by the end of the course you will be able to hit the target consistently and accurately.

Historically, the longbow was held in such high regard that the kings of England sponsored archery tournaments and banned all sports on a Sunday, except for archery. This meant that there was always a large group of experienced archers ready to be called up for battle, if England needed them. It was even enforced by law that each English shire had to provide the king with a certain number of trained archers. An experienced archer could shoot an arrow every five seconds, so a large army of skilled archers was an asset in any battle.

The longbow was about six feet long and made from a yew tree, although a shortage of yew trees saw elm, ash and wych elm being used instead. The arrows were made out of ash, birch or oak and were about three feet long with broad tips able to pierce a knight’s armour.

If you want to improve your skills with using a longbow, our Deer and Archery course is a great experience and a lot of fun. The course is not just about shooting, as you will also have the chance to skin and butcher a deer before cooking all the best steak cuts for a delicious venison meal.  If that has wet your appetite come along and join us in the woods.