2-day course in Kent
Where: Westwell, Kent, UK
When: June 2022
Duration: 2 days
Booked via: Jack Raven Bushcraft
A fun, informative and interactive 2-day course (Friday eve to Sun afternoon) learning bushcraft basics. Situated in a small woodland camp, under Gary’s expert guidance the topics we covered were fire-making, using and maintaining bushcraft tools, erecting a hammock and tarp using appropriate knots, tree identification and making cordage.
The facilities are fairly basic as you would expect, although the camp provides all the essentials including very tasty food prepared by Nicola. It was amazing how much I learned in a short space of time, and would highly recommend this immersive experience.
On a sunny Friday afternoon in June 2022 I drove down to Westwell in Kent, to join a group of five other bushcraft novices. We set off with Gary and Nicola, the founders of Jack Raven Bushcraft, to their camp in a nearby wood where they have been running a range of courses for over 10 years.
By way of settling in we put up our tents and then went out to gather nettles for cordage, which we’d make on Sunday. After a tasty bowl of homemade soup we set about preparing the nettles by stripping the leaves, flattening out the stem and removing the middle part to leave the outside of the nettle, which was hung up to dry, before retiring to bed.
After a light breakfast Gary taught us how to safely and correctly use a knife to whittle, firstly a tent peg and then a wedge. Wondering what the wedge was for, all was revealed when we learned how to split wood with a knife and mallet. Once the initial crack has been made the wedge can be inserted to widen it, and then it is hammered down using the mallet to finish splitting the wood.
For the afternoon session Gary explained and demonstrated various fire ignition methods such as using flint and steel, the magnifying glass in a compass, a bow drill or simply lighting a match. He also showed us a handy gadget called a fire steel, which he is demonstrating below.
We practiced generating sparks onto different materials such as wire wool, cotton wool and char cloth. It took me ages but I eventually managed to create a spark with the flint and steel, and coax the ember into flame; it was a proud moment!
Another great bushcraft skill is being able to put up a tarp and hammock using simple knots to secure in place. I think I need a refresher on this as I can’t only remember two of the three knots; it’s probably not a good idea to ask me to tie up your hammock as you may end up sleeping on the floor!
All this activity took us to early evening and dinner, which was a delicious venison stew with rice cooked by Nicola. By then a wind had picked up and the forecast predicted high winds and a storm. It was deemed too dangerous to sleep in the woods and I ended up driving home for the night.
Luckily the storm abated and I re-joined the group first thing in the morning for knife sharpening using a Japanese waterstone.
The knife blade should be positioned so that the whole edge is in contact with the stone and raised at a slight angle, to sharpen push the knife away from you along the length of the stone. Do this on both sides and then scrape the edge along a piece of leather to finish off.
Somehow our nettles had stayed dry during the storm and were ready for us to make cordage. Gary showed us a twisting technique to bind the strands together and the resulting cord was really strong!
A useful skill is being able to identify trees and bushes and we went for a woodland walk to learn more about each species of tree, as our final task was to gather wood and make a fire from scratch. Amongst other things, Gary explained that the little thin birch branches are good for tinder and other trees such as beech were good for firewood.
He showed us how to construct the fire, using larger and longer branches for the base and making a right angle with slightly thinner branches away from the wind. Smaller branches would be used to feed the fire, and the smallest used for the tinder bundle.
It was very exciting to collect my firewood, construct the base, create a spark to produce an ember within the tinder bundle, blow the ember until the tinder catches fire and finally place on the base and add the other wood to build up the fire.
It was amazing the amount I learned in such a short space of time, testament to Gary who was a knowledgeable and patient teacher. The little camp was a relaxing place to spend the weekend and I would highly recommend this course, which is both accessible and fun!