A unique bushcraft weekend in Wiltshire

I had the pleasure to be one of the guinea pigs for the new Wiltshire Wildlife Trust bushcraft courses over the weekend and wanted to share my experience with you.  The opportunity to get out into the wild, to do so under the eye of an experienced military operator and to do so in a location not open to everyone was too good to turn down, so I didn't.

Location, location, location

Due to the laws in England it’s almost impossible to find places that you can wild camp legally and so the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust bushcraft experience provided a unique opportunity to camp out in one of their reserves.  Knowing that I was going to camp in a beautiful wild environment where nature is encouraged, protected and thrives was a real bonus.

Two days of bushcraft training with Mike Harrison

We were going to spend two days learning a range of bushcraft skills from Mike Harrison.  Mike is a former military professional with plenty of practical experience to back up the theory of bushcraft.  I felt confident that the skills Mike would be teaching us would be the stuff that works, not just stuff copied from various books or YouTube videos on the subject.

Group hug

There were 6 of us on the course, two guys and four girls with mixed ages and the group worked really well together.  We had plenty of time working on group tasks as well as time to work on individual projects and it was great to see the transition from a collection of individuals to a group of like-minded people ready to help each other out when needed.  Meeting a totally new group of people meant that I learnt skills and made new friends.

The bushcraft course

The pace of the two days was spot on with Mike explaining concepts to us (including plant identification, knife skills, fire lighting, shelter construction), demonstrating the techniques and then watching and guiding us as we practiced.  We repeated this process for other bushcraft skills such as camp location considerations, making cordage, preparing food, tool choice and maintenance and even whittling our own spoons or mugs.  At every point Mike made us think about our impact on nature, to be sure to leave things as you found them, to think about sustainability and to respect our environment. 

Mike dealt with our questions patiently and with great humour and after a ten minute conversation about building our shelters for the night we were at it and made great progress.  I think, for me, that was the highlight of the course - being introduced to a new concept, having the key principles explained and then just getting on with it.  Seeing the shelter take shape gave me a huge sense of satisfaction once the surprise of 'hey I can do this' has died down.

Natures TV

Having a large fire for the group to sit around made for a great central point to the camp.  We came there to talk, to listen, to eat, to whittle, to practice our knife and fire skills and to chat with each other.  I found out why camp fires are often called 'Natures TV' as I found myself staring into the fire and listening to the chat around me and the sounds of nature.  The fire takes on a importance that far outweighs its basic provision of heat  - it provides food, hot drinks, sound, light, boosts morale and even provides coals to use in the making of your own mug but most of all it drew us all together.  It’s impossible not to smile while you relax near a well-stocked open fire.

Sleeping outdoors

We spent a good proportion of our time building and refining our shelters and so, by the time it came to use them, there was a pride to our work to equal the desire to sleep.  With open fronts to our shelters we could see the moon, hear the sounds of foxes, owls (and a few animals I couldn't identify) and let sleep claim us to the sound of the fire crackling in the distance.

Food never tastes so good

Breakfast the next day tasted fantastic.  After a full day working on our shelters and our other bushcraft skills and despite a fantastic meal the night before (Mike cooked pigeon on the open fire and he was called Gordon Ramsay for the rest of the night) I still woke up ready for food to fuel the rest of the bushcraft course.  The combination of outdoor living, a roaring fire and the smell of cooking breakfast brought us all out of our shelters.  I think, possibly, that getting away from my TV, my phone and my home comforts freed up my other senses and especially my senses of smell and taste.  I think I ate twice what I normally would and enjoyed every bit.

Practice makes almost perfect

We spent the second day practicing many of the skills we learnt yesterday and then reviewing our shelters, based on our experiences the night before, and working out how we might further improve them.  There was me thinking I had got away from home improvement for a weekend!  But it was the experience, more than the instruction, that you learnt from - taking Mikes advice, putting it to the test and then watching as he reviewed your work and then made some subtle suggestions that made the difference between a shelter for a night and a shelter that would last a week or longer.

I'll be back

I've already booked on the next course because I enjoyed this one so much.  A unique location, a great instructor, a top group of people and the feeling that I had learnt a range of new skills and grown as a person. 

Thank you to Mike, my fellow campers, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and to the wildlife I shared the weekend with.

Full disclosure - my wife works for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust