Author Tom Forward
A youth group from the local Baptist Church contacted me about leading an overnighter following a bushcraft day at Buchan Country Park that they had enjoyed the year before. Here, they had learnt about shelter building, fire lighting, cooking and tool use. This time they wanted to test their skills and go for the overnighter experience.
Now that Gatwick Greenspace Partnership leases a patch of beautiful old Hornbeam coppice woodland nearby, we are able to offer this. Our plot is rented from the kind people at Woodlands.co.uk, who are very keen to encourage more people out to explore and make best use of the woods in their communities. Indeed, the concept of Community Woodlands has a variety of benefits including education, self-confidence, team building, improved communication, spiritual well-being and a greater awareness of life outside the normal daily routine.
The focus for the young people was to build a proper bushcraft shelter, but only making use of a few basic hand tools (no hammers or nails allowed) and any natural materials around them. In doing this, they needed to take into account slope, prevailing wind, weather, insulation, water-proofing and ultimately working co-operatively to achieve an effective shelter before the night set in. We were able to make use of wood left behind from ride opening and glade clearing during the winter.
After completing their shelters they practiced their fire lighting skills and lit small fires close to the entrance of their homes for the night and used the smoke to purge the inside of creepy crawlies. While I got on with preparing supper over the main camp-fire, their final task was to dig a loo pit and provide some privacy using tarps. The concept for the toilet was to leave only solid waste behind and toilet paper was collected in a bag and taken off-site.
A well-earned supper was enjoyed around the fire. Once darkness set in, I led the group on a night walk through the woodland, looking and listening out for the wildlife of the night. We saw bats hawking for insects in gaps in the canopy and heard the hoots of a tawny owl. Following a “night stalkers” game, fires were extinguished and we went to our shelters to sleep.
Up until 5am we had been blessed with fine weather and then the heavens opened with gusting winds bringing in heavy showers. I arose to make sure that the cooking fires were lit before it got too wet and to see whether the groups were staying dry in their debris shelters. I was pleased that the efforts from the day before had paid off and nearly all members of the group had managed to stay dry in their shelters.
The rain eased while we tucked into a fried breakfast and talked about the night time experience. After that, there was just time to break camp, clear up and walk out of the woods, all smiles, stories and smelling of wood smoke.
The group would like to come again…and this time do the cooking themselves!