Modern life is rubbish, so we’ve come to the woods to get back to basics with a bit of bushcraft. This is the sort of thing that survivalists, soldiers and doomsday preppers do living off the land.
Today we’re on a combination of bushcraft, fire starting, archery and zip wires on a woodland adventure day deep in the Derbyshire Dales with the same company we went caving with. In my mind it’s a Rambo style ramble through the woods with bows, burning, bushcraft and zip wires, maybe even all together while we shoot fire arrows from a zip wire through the woods. All the wilderness survival skills essential for Brexit Britain and all the ideal things for a great “date night” which is precisely what this is for us.
It’s spring, Easter day actually, and an unusual 24 degrees, which as a freckled pasty-faced Englishman is equivalent to roasting in hell. I’m used to having to duck from shaded cover to the next in an attempt to deviate from the crispy fried lobster look while I produce enough cleavage sweat to hydrate a rainforest. It hasn’t worked and I’m now barbecued on the outside while still moist on the inside.
We start off on zip lines and you can almost hear the groan of the zip wire as it eyes us up as we climb into our harnesses. The health and safety conscious among us i.e. Sam, suggests that throwing yourself off a cliff is not a sensible option, even if the baby zip line you start on is only 10cm (OK, maybe ten feet) off the ground. But she does it anyway. The video above shows her dropping off the edge of a high cliff face after her confidence has built up.
We try a few zip lines of different heights, length and speed, all seemingly able to handle 16 stones of awesomeness as wind rushes through the hair. What does not go so well for someone is the Tyrolean traverse, the hand over hand technique to pull you from one side to the other like Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger. I guess it helps if you can reach the wire or that you have arms like the Italian Stallion. It’s hard work.
Bushcraft and Fire Starting
After a short break we move on to some bushcraft. People assume that because I was in the RAF, that I will have done something like this before. The only thing I remember was having an old tobacco tin that sufficed as a survival kit stuffed with some paracord and a Stanley blade that never once saw the light of day again in my entire 14 years served. In reality, the nearest I got to this bushcraft business was making sure that the admin people had booked us a nice hotel for deployment and being horrified to discover that we had to stop in a tent for 3 months just after the original Gulf War.
Feeling a little bit under prepared, perhaps I should have payed attention in combat class, those skills could come in handy. The last thing we want is Bear Grylls popping out of a bush advising me to drink my own urine that’s been filtered through one of my own socks.
Immediately discarding the three rules of survival, I volunteer to become the firestarter, even though it’s 24 degrees already. That primal instinct in me has taken over. Sam is left with building a shelter and she gets busy building with sticks, soil and stones to become the happy homemaker. The end result isn’t too bad and the shelter has a very earthy feel to it, worthy of a being listed on AirBnB even if it is a little too airy.
Cave age man must have had a lot of patience to perfect the art of fire starting, ask any man who’s ever lit a BBQ without briquettes. But then again, he probably didn’t have that much to do apart from eat raw meat, club a woman over the head, and daub some drawings on the wall of his cave, all in the relentless pursuit of human advancement.
Having heard from our instructor that lighting a fire from raw naked materials is hard work and takes a long time, we decline the bow drill kit to whittle in wood. What I have done though is seen enough survival shows and lit enough barbecues to know that some cotton wool dipped in Vaseline and a fire stick are enough to get a fire going. That fire gets going on the first strike and I’m boiling water in minutes. Homo Erectus should stand tall and proud of his descendants achievement.
Back in the 14th century, football was once banned and 2 hours of compulsory archery practice was introduced every Sunday, the national service of the medieval youth. Any male Englishman over the age of 14 having to carry out that archery practice each week, essential to fill the ranks of the English army after plague and pox had done its best to whittle the population down. As I don’t recall any French knights being wounded or killed by a football at the battle of Agincourt, the archery practice must have worked. We’re giving it a go.
Being from Nottinghamshire, we should be naturals with a bow and arrow, Robin Hood is in our blood, percolating through our DNA, surely archery and arrows will come naturally to us? No, it doesn’t, as my first arrow ends up in orbit and I suddenly realise why there was 2 hours archery practice each week. Sam manages to get a lucky first timers shot near the bull’s eye.
It gets better and not aiming seems to improve results, it’s more like willing the arrow to its target as it makes a satisfying thud in the target. The arrows go in a fair distance but I’m not sure how they’d be against a moving target. Then again we’re not having to hunt or forage for food, we could just eat the packed lunch we’ve brought along.