It is rocket science

The first Colne Valley Bushcraft Club (CVBC) session on 2016 tool place at the weekend. It is our aim to run a bushcraft session every month for families to come along to and learn new skills or practice old ones.

This session, in some ways, harked back to our very first Slaithwaite CVBC family session three years ago in which families split logs and hammered the split wood into the ground to make a mini Swedish candle to cook on. This time however we had the benefit of an investigation into Swedish/Finnish candles, Rappanan Tulli and log rocket stoves from George Aitchison, bushcraft instructor and author of the Bushcraft Days blog.

Families were shown different methods of creating Swedish candles with and without chainsaw and the benefits and drawbacks of different approaches were discussed. We then moved on to making single use log rocket stoves. A detailed explanation of how the log rocket stove is made exists on George’s blog and is well worth a look.

Another thing that this session had in common with the session from three years ago is that it over ran somewhat. Start time was delayed while we everyone arrived but I think that one or two of the logs had quite dramatic hidden knots which slowed one or two groups down. While there was not time to cook on the stoves, as originally intended, some were lit (Not all as some families were keen to take them home and light them in the garden!) I was quite surprised at how well the stoved burned. The wood had had been down for some time but was still damp inside but once the kindling had charred the inside of the stoves, they became self sustaining, the heat drying out the next layer of fuel enough to release the flammable gasses and create flames.

This is a great session to run with lots to learn and do for participants. Two hours is probably just enough time to get settled, talk safety and make the stoves but three would be better so that they can get well lit and attendees can cook on them.

Well done to everyone who came, it was a very cold and damp day and well done to staff for supporting attendees where needed.

Feeling like a Southerner

It has been a long time since I used the “Hexham” tag on a blog post. Not everything is in this blog, not the full story of the first visit delivering a two day Forest Schools taster session to my good friend Deni’s youth work trainees. Nor the sessions with the “Mams” from the East end estate who were dragged kicking and screaming and by the force of Deni’s personality into the woods where they found peace and laughter and left happy and smelling of woodsmoke.

There are lots of other stories there, stretching back six years and documenting my own journey working in the out doors with all sorts of different people and groups.

This weekend I got to go back to deliver two bushcraft sessions, a family session and one to adults only. I got to visit the new workshop, where woodcraft, weaving and carving takes place and Target woods, an atmospheric conifer plantation. Best of all I got to see and work with old friends and make new ones.

I could not help but feel proud of all that they have achieved and the peoples lives that have been touched, enriched and changed by their work and take some small pride in the fact that I was there with them for a while and can still help out on occasion.

People often tell me that I “have the best job ever” and how great it must be. And it is. But it can be hard, physically exhausting, mentally draining and emotionally challenging. We do our very best to present to the world an image of calm competence and professionalism while our feet paddle furiously under water to make it so.

It can sometimes feel very lonely even with the help and support of good people. We can feel like we are kicking “the proverbial” up hill. We know that this work is good and everyone would surely benefit from some aspect of it. We become like the Trotter trading company “This time next year Rodney we will be millionaires” so we carry on and sometimes we forget why.



then we remember.

Thank you to everyone who came along to the weekends sessions and were enthusiastic and joyful. Thank you to the Target Woods Action Team (yes they do go by an acronym) and thank you to my good friend Deni who is a wonderful host and an all round good egg.

After School Bushcraft Club 1.04

Mothers are often the fount of sage advice and wisdom. Last weekend, my mother advised me to just do things for the sake of it, be creative without having a goal other than the creativity itself and the joy it brings me. So good was this advice that I passed it on to anyone whom I thought might benefit from a little “art for arts sake” passing it off as my own wisdom, naturally.

The relevance? Bear with me. I then chanced upon a link to an old blog post of mine which gave me pause for thought and led me into blog fuelled reminiscence of sessions gone by and children grown.

Anyone who has written a blog for any period of time will appreciate that one can become a slave to it, it becomes a chore, timetabled into life alongside a myriad of other “must dos” and that is how I often felt. But reading back reminded me of the pleasure I had in recording, retelling some interesting or humorous observation or anecdote.

Today was the fourth After School Bushcraft Club. A hybrid provision aimed at being as child led as possible while still offering opportunities to learn and develop bushcraft knowledge and skills. We have children from 8 – 12 who are left in our tender care, over fives who come with a parent and the parents themselves who are demonstrating a real desire to do more than sit on the logs drinking coffee.

So far every session has been different, busy, manic, challenging and seemingly over in moments. With no activity structure, children can be asking for help with a whole range of tasks from sharpening sticks, to finding chalk, wearing face paint (home made of course) to firing darts from atl atl. And that’s just the first five minutes!

Over the last four weeks themes have begun to emerge and I am hopeful that the ownership that children and adults are showing of this session will grow and expand. Imagine a place where children can play, be safe, make friends, share food, learn new things which interest them, take risks, make decisions, a place where children can Be More Outdoors.

One of my Forest School catch phrases is “reflection supercharges learning” and writing this blog was always as much about reflection for me as a practitioner as it was recording for funding or marketing purposes. Looking back at the whimsical nature of some of the posts it is entirely possible that this is my creative outlet, all be it as a manifestation of my work life.

Next week I might draw a picture of me toasting a marshmallow.

New beginnings

In the lengthy hiatus since the last blog posting things have progressed apace. We are now operating as a registered charity under the name Be More Outdoors with Babes in the Wood, Colne Valley Bushcraft and Spoonrakers as projects under the charity.

We are about to move into our office in the village and have acquired the lease on a piece of land which should be much more secure as we go forward into our next phase of growth.

In the first year of BITW, there were 25 sessions delivered. In year two, 75 and this last year…126, plus various birthday parties, Family bushcraft sessions and adult carving sessions. We have a pool of five Forest Schools practitioners to draw from, innumerable volunteers keen to help out and a team of charity trustees working behind the scenes to ensure that all runs smoothly and that we never lose sight of out main goals to deliver interesting and engaging outdoor experiences to as wide a range of families as possible.


Saturday saw forty volunteers turn out over the course of the day in terrible weather to help create a path through dense undergrowth and establish a suitable camp fire circle area. We even had a crack team of ladies digging out a channel to help drain an particularly boggy area. One or two wellies might well have become adrift judging by the shrieks of laughter but the channel was dug and the water does flow.

On behalf of BMO I would like to thank everyone who turned up and we hope to see you all again at the next working party weekend.

Sunday saw the first session on the new site. A nice relaxed spot of spoon carving in the dappled sunshine under the trees at Spoonrakers 7.

All that remains to do (well not all obviously) is to get Holey Mole ensconced in his new gaff then let the joy commence

Marsden Family Bushcraft 3 – Fire lighting

The run of good weather persisted for the Marsden Family Bushcraft day, which was fortunate as we were doing fire lighting. Always a thankless task in the wet especially if one is heaving and sweating over a bow drill.

After a meandering discussion (with many side tracking interruptions) about fire, what it is and how we can make it, we set to.

As I explained to the group at the start. Bushcraft is really about messing around with sticks and making tea. In short order, everyone had used their sticks and made tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

Other fire lighting methods were experimented with. Electric and solar being very popular. Perseverance paid off in the end as one dad achieved a friction ember and brought it to fruition.

I usually approach a fire session in which I am demonstrating bow drill with some trepidation as it is usually a while since I have practiced. But, that session was fun and made me realise just how well we had been taught at the Woodcraft School by Messer’s John Ryder and Nick ward.

Marsden Family Bushcraft 2 – shelter building

As you can see from the photos, this was quite a rainy morning. Ideal for shelter building as it gave everyone the chance to see just how waterproof their shelters might be.

We started small. Having looked at pictures of debris shelters and discussed how they are made, everyone set to making use of  spaces in tree roots, stones, sticks and moss for camouflage. J. Put a big stick in the ground to stop anyone from standing on his mini shelter and M. Made his for the hedgehog who was visiting from Marsden Infants School.

As there was not too much debris around, we used tarps for the full size shelters. Families made all sorts of shelters in a variety of shapes and all of them seemed to keep the rain off.

To finish off we split down a log and made tent pegs with sheath knives. Children worked safely under supervision of their parents, Lisa and I.

A wet day, but a lot of fun all round.

CVBC Marsden Family Bushcraft 1 – safe tool use

This was the first of three planned Family Bushcraft sessions at Tunnel End woods in Marsden.

The day was so wonderfully warm and sunny that we decided not to put up the parachute so sacrificing bushcraft allure for the joys of sun on our faces.

The group was slightly smaller than anticipated but with safe tool use being the focus for the session, less is often better. Many of the families attending had worked with us before either at Babes in the Wood, previous Family Bushcraft sessions or private birthday parties and were very adept at the tasks required.

We worked through a range of tools that we might use in the outdoors to make things, focusing on keeping safe and how best to use the tools effectively. By the end of the session, everyone had made a mallet, used at least three different tools safely and had a lot of fun working together in the woods.

In an attempt to help progress this type of provision in the Colne Valley, we will be sending out a survey to capture peoples thoughts and ideas. With any luck we can take the next step and offer sustainable local provision in the outdoors where families can come together to play and learn and be together.

Family Bushcraft Day at Dipton Woods

A clear mild winter’s day in the woods beckoned families to come and join in with bushcraft activities like fire making, shelter building, woodcraft and a story. It’s been a while since we had a full day of activity at Dipton Woods and it was good to be back.

Simon kept a roaring fire and kettles boiling all day, and we had fresh soup and pitta pizzas for lunch followed by fruit crumble – renamed ‘Forest Floor Crumble’ after a bit of an accident unwrapping it! Stainless Steel Stacey kept the domestics going for us.

Alan provided the usual brilliant activities including making robins from wood cookies and telling the story of how the Robin got it’s redbreast. As usual the group was fully engaged and really relished everything on offer.

It was good to have a visit from Dave Adams from Northern Bushcraft who dived in to help with carving pegs for shelters amongst other things. Dave and his students from Newcastle College have been helping to sort out the footpaths into the woods which will make a big difference to the access in the future.

A highlight of the day was Alan being taught the Woodland Gangnam Style dance. Say no more!

Once again some lovely outcomes from the day – one auntie telling me that her little nephew was entralled with the day and was calmer than he had ever been seen, as he suffers ADHD. Makes it all worthwhile!

Jakob’s bushcraft party

What a relief to have a whole session take place without the rain coming down! With clear blue skys overhead, I asked Jakob if we ought to bother putting up the parachute. “Oh yes” he said ”you never know” And so we did while while Stan, Jakob’s dad repaired the legs on benches to make seating. So ate overgrown bit of garden under a magnificent sycamore was prepared for Jakob’s party.

A few weeks ago had discussed what kind of activities we might have at the party and with plenty of extra options, there was always going to be a lot to do. “Bushcraft is mainly about messing about with sticks and drinking tea” and with that in mind adults and children filtered some rather muddy water and boiled Kelly kettles to make their hot drinks. After a round of pizza and marshmallows, we retired to the field to throw darts using atl atl and once again the women showed the men how it was done!

It is quite challenging to offer a range of bushcraft activities while doing so in enough depth to do them justice in only three hours. It is possible to skim across the surface a little and have a light touch but Jakob struck me as the kind of boy who relished detail and knowledge.

One of the most pleasing comments from the NCFE course last year was that in my delivery to children and young people, I did not dumb down the subject just because they are young and with such enthusiastic participants, there was no need to dumb down at the party either.

My thanks to Caitlin and Stan, Jakob’s parents for their help setting up and dismantling the camp and to Zosia who displayed a frightening ability with a fire steel!

Bushcraft Birthday Party

Another first for me this weekend, a bushcraft party… in a garden, or more precisely two gardens side by side.

Yet again, in the type of weather that even a duck would spurn, I worked with children and adults for Max’s sixth birthday. Max, and indeed several of the other party goers, had attended the Marsden Family Bushcraft sessions through the Summer and his parents decided that giving Max a different kind of party would be a good idea.

I met with Max a couple of weeks ago to find out what he might like to do. Den building and making “tennis racket” grills for pizza on the fire came out top and he liked my suggestion of making the bird feeders using saws, billhooks and hammers.

An area at the bottom of the garden had been cleared for a fire circle and to combat the worst of the weather, we set up the bell tent as a refuge.

As with the Crow Lane Family session, the parents and children worked together and in larger groups to make the feeders. Everyone enjoyed the sawing, cleaving and hammering and after working up an appetite children cooked pizza on the fire embers.

In reflecting on this session and previous parties we have given or run on behalf of others, I think that the involvement of parents is one of the main factors in making the events special. Usual children’s parties are very much about children “doing” and parents watching but I do think that working together and playing together and parents experiencing the same joy as the children brings an added dimension to the day.

All of the parents at the party and particularly Max’s parents were involved at every stage and despite the terrible weather, entered into the spirit of the day and helped to make it a wet but magical experience.