Welcome to the very first edition of Devon Bushcraft, Around the fire pit! Now first & foremost, I do not profess to be a bushcraft guru. The content here is based on my own views & experiences, everyone has their own so please have a read & get in touch if you have differing views. I’m not going to go into much detail on a specific topic in this edition but just give a general overview with a bit of my background.
Now, I’m lucky enough to have been brought up in Devon, in a family we have traced back to Kings-Nympton in the mid 16th century, so have been able to take full advantage of the wonderful outdoors that Devon has to offer. So that Greg doesn’t ban this article before I get going, I’ll also add that my mother’s Cornish!
I consider myself very fortunate to be invited to write about bushcraft, mainly because there is so much to write about that it’s virtually impossible to run out of content, but also because it is something that everyone can take an interest in and is ever growing in popularity. For me, my first introduction to bushcraft was watching Ray Mears eating a slow cooked salmon & some berries over an open fire. The reality turned out to be much less glamorous.
My first proper wild camping experience (with me in charge) was with my with my girlfriend (now wife). We set off from Avon Dam on Dartmoor, planning to head to Hexworthy on a three day adventure – long story short, we packed waaaaaay too much stuff. My pack weighed more than a Dartmoor pony and by the time we made it to Hexworth & setup camp, we abandoned the idea of having a multi-night stay and ending up getting the girlfriends mum pick us up in the morning (totally hardcore I know). Since then, I have tried to reduce the weight in my pack by increasing my knowledge of how to live without “stuff” – this, in my opinion, is one of the basic foundations of bushcraft.
Bushcraft means many things to many different people, depending on their interests. Generally it’s developed from the love of being outdoors. Some people have interests in specific times in history, they then develop their skills utilising what was available in that period. Mostly however, people tend to try to recreate the lifestyle of early man, using primitive fire lighting techniques, animal trapping and shelter building. This is generally what I like as it relies on less “stuff” to get going. In more recent years, “survivalism” has become more prominent, I suspect mainly due to the likes of Bear Grylls. I practice bushcraft as a hobby, rather than with the belief that somehow I will end up stranded in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle & need to survive.
Getting started. You don’t specifically need “stuff” to get started in bushcraft. There are many many many groups on Facebook where all they talk about is “what ridiculously expensive bushcraft knife should I buy?”. Frankly all that’s needed is a pocket knife or something like a Mora (which can be picked up for a little over £10). A knife gives many additional options, it makes shelter building, fire lighting, cordage making & carving considerably easier prospects. Other than a knife, other basic kit includes a rucksack, stove (whether it be gas, solid fuel, liquid fuel or wood), something to cook in & depending on your trip, something to sleep in/on/under. We can go into specific clothing but if you don’t know how to dress yourself, carrying the other items is probably out of the question as well. As long as it’s suitable for the weather conditions it should be fine!
Bushcrafters generally get a bad wrap, we’re weirdos who hang around in the woods playing with sticks and burning stuff. In reality, we’re just seeking knowledge (we’re historians!), wanting to look after our local environments and trying to get a bit of piece & quiet in the outdoors. I recently convinced my 4 year old boy to sleep out in a tent (a polish canvas lavvu to be more specific) in the garden, he absolutely loved it, which I’m thrilled about as I can now take him on a jaunt across Dartmoor & force him to eat some concoction that I’ll make over a gas stove.
There are a few laws to be cautious about. Please don’t carry knives unless you absolutely must (certainly never in public areas!). If you’re not camping in the permitted areas on Dartmoor, please seek the landowners permission. Don’t light fires on the ground unless in a fire pit on land where you have permission, there are plenty of twig stoves on the market that can be used instead & cause much less damage to the ground. Lastly, LNT is a well-known acronym in the bushcraft world “Leave No Trace” – take everything home with you!
Hopefully that’s given you a bit of an idea of what it’s all about. In future I’ll go into more detail about specific topics & skills so stay tuned!