Woodlore Aspirant Instructor and Quartermaster David Southey recently enjoyed some well-earned downtime following his trip to Finland, assisting Ray on the Woodlore Winter Bushcraft in the Northen Forest Expedition and before the busy course season gets underway in April.
It was a pleasure to hear from one of our regular clients about his experience of the Carving Master Class with Ray Mears. Charles made contact with us after attending his course and gave us this lovely feedback:
Wood carving – an activity that is practical, calming, skilful and quite often entertaining all at the same time.
I recently had the privilege of spending a day improving my carving ability whilst on the Carving Master Class with Ray Mears, a course bought for me (as I expect many people’s courses are) by my wife.
A stroll down into the woods with a course assistant brought us to a clearing with Ray already hard at work splitting a large sweet chestnut log into foot and a half long planks. Logs for seats, the trusty old camp kettle suspended over a open fire and a beautiful sunny day – what could be better!
In the heart of winter, it can seem that the long, dark nights are closing in around us. But the forest, seemingly asleep, is already making preparations for the most spectacular of its annual displays. The days are already starting to draw out again as we are blessed with crisp mornings, and soon we will feel the excitement of change in the air. Look closely and you will see that buds of many trees are already formed, holding close their furled treasure; spring is waiting.
The magic of the British woodlands in spring is the wonder of transformation and new life. The leaner times of winter are washed away in a flood of colour, scent and sound. Once again we can rest in coppices bathed in the deep perfume of ramsons; walk beneath the cathedral bowers of the beech, fresh in the succulence of their new leaves; drift slowly to sleep, lulled by the heady perfume of bluebells, and wake to the serenade of birdsong. These are the experiences that form our year and bring renewed vigour to our love of the forest. There is an irrepressible thrill, a deep connection with the life of these very special places, which wakes the soul and sets our pace into the coming year.
As the sun’s weak rays start to muster their strength and bring warmth to our forest home, the plants that surround us respond with generosity. The sap will rise in the birch, giving us a short-lived opportunity to enjoy this invigorating draft. The willow will loosen its bark, allowing us to harvest the fibres needed for cordage at this time of year, and many other plants will provide their fresh, young leaves, ready for salads: a welcome repast which speaks of the freshness of the season.
This week marks the end of the UK course season at Woodlore.
Our first course this year, the Advanced Tracking that took place in April seems so long ago and so much has happened since then. We have run a wide variety of exciting Bushcraft courses throughout East Sussex and further afield, meeting and enjoying spending time with clients from all walks of life.
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