The Woodlore team got the opportunity to hone some essential skills earlier this week as part of the field staff’s annual training. At the top of the list was a renewal of our essential 1st aid skills which will ensure that we are prepared for anything that the season can throw at us and more importantly, be better informed and able to prevent situations reaching the point where intervention is required.
The following post was written by Woodlore’s Head of Operations, Dan Hume, with regard to this year’s annual staff training in East Sussex:
This week saw another successful passing of the annual field staff training at Woodlore, and our dedicated team of instructors are now poised and ready for the exciting course season ahead which begins with the first British courses early next month.
As our clients will attest, many of the bush skills Woodlore teaches are perishable and so even the fundamentals of bushcraft must be practiced regularly to avoid deterioration. Every year the team gets together to both catch up with each other after the winter and to maintain, refresh and extend their knowledge of a selection of crucial skills. And this year was no different.
This time we concentrated on a small but important selection of subjects; cordage making was the first, being much more of a challenge outside of the summer months due to the availability of suitable materials. Nevertheless, we went out into the forest to collect natural fibres before turning them into beautiful and functional cord.
We then looked at several trapping techniques gathered from around the world, from Africa to Scandinavia and of course here in Britain too. Travelling in the wilderness is made far safer if knowledge of how to feed a party is possessed by those involved. It is similar to first aid knowledge; you hope you never have to use it but it is there if you need to rely on it. It also breeds confidence as you relax in the knowledge that you can look after yourself and those accompanying you in a crisis.
“With ice axes and crampons packed, Steve Corbyn and I landed near Inverness to meet Rob Bashford for a long weekend of winter walking, learning new skills and refreshing ourselves before the new course season at Woodlore. After buying our food and settling into our dorm at the Glenmore youth hostel we chatted about the coming activities and caught up over tea.
We were up early the next morning in order to meet Gary, our instructor for the day. We felt it important to ensure our skills were as fresh as possible and, after a brief from Gary and a chat about the day’s aims, we set off for Coire an Lochain with the following tasks in mind to focus on:
- Use of an ice axe for stability, cutting steps, fall arrest
- Assessing snow pack avalanche risk using a hasty pit
- Movement with and without crampons
Last week saw the first Woodlore U.K. course of 2014 take place. This year we kicked things off with our Advanced Tracking course, held in the beautiful countryside of East Sussex.
Guided by the staff, the clients roamed amongst ancient woodland of oak, beech and yew as they followed the trails left by man and beast. Having completed previous tracking courses with us, this was an opportunity to delve much deeper into the art of tracking, build on their current knowledge and put new skills and techniques to the test in challenging, exciting and realistic scenarios.
Last weekend at Woodlore there was a fantastic atmosphere and a tremendous enthusiasm for the coming year as our outdoor team assembled for the annual staff training meet. We were blessed with gorgeous weather more reminiscent of June than mid March, which was greatly welcomed by all!
The following post was written by Woodlore Aspirant Instructor Rob Bashford:
The Art of Navigation
I have often heard Ray refer to the compass as the ‘key to the wilderness’. By this I believe he means it unlocks the full potential of the outdoors, enabling you to travel confidently in wild places. Navigation is undoubtedly one of those foundation skills, along with the likes of first aid, around which all other bushcraft skills should be built. The ability to navigate proficiently is an absolutely key skill if you plan to venture into the outdoors and its importance rises in direct proportion to the remoteness of the environment. It is very often the case that emergencies in the outdoors are the end result of an earlier navigational error.
The problem is that in today’s world of GPS and mapping software, now conveniently incorporated into smart phones, it is all too easy to think that the map and compass have become outdated. Nothing could be further from the truth. As in other areas of bushcraft, the best tools are those that are simple and robust, meaning they can be relied upon in tough environments. Those that utilise electronics and batteries do not generally fall into this category. That is not to say there is no place for this technology but it should never be the sole means of navigation. There is no substitute for the humble map and compass.
The ability to navigate with confidence is a wonderfully liberating skill, enabling you to venture further off the beaten track and really immerse yourself in wild places. The real beauty of this skill is that it is entirely transferrable to different environments. Yes, the maps may look a little different in foreign countries and there are some important variables to be aware of, but ultimately the skill of using a map and compass remains the same wherever you are in the world.
In its simplest form, navigation means knowing how far you have travelled from a known point and in what direction, a process known officially as ‘dead reckoning’. In reality there is a bit more to it than this and like many of the skills in bushcraft, observation is paramount. Learning to read the subtleties of the terrain allows you to venture into seemingly featureless landscapes, where there are no signs or paths to guide you. It also builds an inner confidence and that frees you to visit those less frequented places.
Although there is certainly scope for teaching yourself the basics of navigation, as when learning most new skills, a little instruction goes a long way. Woodlore has been running wilderness navigation courses for some years now and we have distilled Ray’s many years of wilderness navigation experience into a readily digestible format. These courses are unique, in that we teach you techniques you can use anywhere in the world, with a strong emphasis on woodland navigation. This environment mirrors the rigours of navigating in reduced visibility and is perfect preparation for the night navigation elements of the course. It is safe to say that when you can find your way confidently through dense forest at night, with only a map and compass to guide you, you can navigate just about anywhere.
– Rob Bashford