The Bushcraft Challenge | Part 1
My challenge finally began on September 1st of 2016 and if you’ve read my original post you will know that my challenge is to live from the land (with limited) equipment for the next 12 months, so for the next year I will be aiming to live solely from my skills and small supply of outdoor gear. If you’d like to read how my challenge came around, then my original pre-departure post can be found here.
On the morning of September the first (2016) I was pretty excited about beginning my challenge, but it wasn’t until late afternoon that I finally pulled my figure out and set off into the wilds of the British Countryside – OK, maybe not so ‘wild’ as I was given a few strange looks by passers-by as if they’d never seen a man with a rucksack on their back. I dread to think what kind of stares I will endure after a year of living from the land (if I make it that far).
I’ve agreed not to provide my exact locations to each of the land owners as I progress through the bushcraft challenge, but to start with I’m in the South East in large, but privately owned woodland. It’s mainly made up of old coppiced Hornbeam, but there is also a good mixture of broadleaved species in here too – which is a good job because hornbeam isn’t the easiest species of tree to hook a hammock up to if it’s been heavily coppiced, but as luck would have it, I stumbled across a pair of ideal Beech trees that offered the perfect distance between them for the lazy bushcrafter to set up a hammock.
Among the truck loads of advice that Kris gave me when teaching me, was to set up camp close to a water source, but not so close that you get eaten alive by mosquitos or midges depending on where you’re camping. I listened to his advice, but due to the time of day I eventually arrived at destination number one I didn’t have a huge amount of time before the lack of light became a problem. The first thing I did, though – and a vital one – was check for any “widow makers”. A Widow Maker is a clump of deadfall from a tree that is wedged up top in the canopy and will likely fall at some point if it’s windy enough. With Kris’s advice on this one firmly in my mind it was the first thing that I checked for before setting up my hammock and tarp, but lucky for me there were no widow makers hanging up there ready to fall and kill me. But, what Kris didn’t warn me of, was possible missile drops from passing herons (thank god for the Boonies tarp!). I hoped that this direct hit wasn’t a sign of things to come!
So, with my camp set up, hammock secured tightly, tarp (AKA Bomb shelter) fixed in position it was time to forage. I may be named after a ‘witch hunter’ but it was berries that I was on the hunt for tonight, as after my long walk I didn’t want anything overly difficult to find or cook – I wanted straight from the hedge and ready to eat so that I could plan tomorrow’s activities whilst hanging from my hammock – nature’s ready meal maybe?
Lucky for me, along the woodland margins there was a plentiful supply of ripe berries – although, call me strange, but I prefer the sour red blackberries and they’re less likely to contain some hidden protein in form of a maggot of some type or strain! I gathered a full Zebra Bill Can full of berries and I was also lucky enough to find some unripe walnuts too.
Once back to my hammock I sat down on the edge, and like a complete idiot my arse hit the floor like a sack of spuds sending my haul of berries everywhere! I gathered up what I could and this time managed to sit comfortably inside my hammock – but this time I left my Zebra Billy Can on the floor, so I had to get out again just to grab my dinner! So back in my hammock I got and enjoyed each of the blackberries that I could find from the woodland floor. Then it came time to try a walnut which I’d not have known what they looked like in there ‘green’ state if it had not been for Kris showing me last year – but this would be the first time I’d try one from the wild – and oh my – my hands have never been stained so badly by a greenish yellow colour from the outer husk! I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing walnut husk was used to dye material at some point in history, I can’t remove it from my hands, that’s for sure, and it also has a quite sickly aroma to it! Once the green husk was removed the very light inner shell was revealed and once broken into I was able to remove the nut that we’re all familiar with, although because I collected them prior to them ripening up it had a soft and milky kind of taste, but quite satisfying.
The dusky sky began to turn darker blue, but for some strange reason it seemed to stay lighter later than it does with light pollution – odd, but that was the case. I kind of wished I’d had a book to read. Don’t get me wrong, the peacefulness was bliss, but I wasn’t at all tired and my mind was running over and over with what I should do tomorrow. I’ve been given permission to have a fire, so this will probably be what I concentrate on tomorrow – collecting enough fuel to cover the next week or two, and sorting it into different sizes. I will also explore the surrounding acres of woodland to see what wild treats that I can forage.
So, these are the events of my first day – but what about my first night out in the woods? Read on.
After darkness truly set in, it’s amazing at just how many different noises can be heard from a close proximity. Of course, we all expect to hear rustling leaves and the odd crack of a twig, but there were all manner of different sounds being produced from the trees – some almost musical and I can only put it down to the light wind causing the thick branches to rub together – either this or the woodland fairies were out with their musical instruments for the night! One sound that did make me jump sounded like a murder! It was a scream from I think was a Muntjac Deer – but either way when it’s close by and you’re not expecting it it makes the heart skip a beat or two! I was also lucky enough to hear a pair of Tawny Owls calling out to each other.
It didn’t seem long until the sun made its way up and it was at this point that I couldn’t really get back to sleep – so it was a VERY early awakening, but hopefully the stress-less woodland life will mean that I need less sleep – time will tell.
Well that is it for my first update from the woods – Thank you to the kind person at Greenman Bushcraft who has edited some of this text for me as it has been originally written on a smart phone, and we all know how much these nasty little devices enjoy changing every word that is typed on them!
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