Bushcraft Dad – Half-Term Top Ten!

As Half-Term arrives for many with kids, you may be thinking, what do can we do on a holiday in October, especially if it is a soggy one?

My family has long held to the Scandinavian saying, “There is no bad weather, only the wrong clothing!” Hence we can be found suitably clad for rain or shine enjoying the outdoor life. Here are a few of our favourite things to do, perhaps you might enjoy some of them too.

1. Wild Coffee / Hot-Chocolate – Caffeinating my kids would be deeply unwise, but any excuse for an outdoor snack is usually welcome. So, during a wander in the park or local common I will often bring a small camping stove and brew kit. When a suitably quiet spot presents itself we pause, boil up some water and make the beverages al fresco. Kids are generally fascinated by the process, and older ones like to help, in addition to enjoying the hot chocolate!

2. Torrential Picnic – A slightly more elaborate variation on the theme of outdoor eating. I usually have a tarp, some bungee cords and pegs stowed in my rucksack. At times we will proactively choose to go out for a picnic when rain appears imminent. This provides the joyous necessity of constructing a simple tarp shelter, usually between a couple of trees. We can then sit snug underneath and munch our lunch, while enjoying the invigoration of a good downpour. For some reason, many times we find an outdoor spot with very few other people about.

3. Wild Breakfast – wait a minute, all this guy does is eat outdoors with his family. Well, I promise we do other stuff too, but if you’re outdoors long enough usually there’s a meal involved! Particularly if we know it will be a crisp frosty morning we sometimes rise early, make porridge, put it in sealable lunchboxes and then wrap them in towels. Once tucked into a rucksack the porridge often stays hot for 40min or so, long enough to find a good spot to watch the day wake up. If you’re sitting for any length of time it’s easy for kids to get chilly, so I often bring a blanket and maybe a foam mat to sit on and keep us insulated.

4. Micro-Stream Adventure – As a lad floating paper boats down a small stream was one of the myriad simple pleasures on my grandparents’ farm. My kids still enjoy selecting a toy boat / mini figures and watching them bob along, often adding commentary as we go. We have made impromptu vessels from bits of wood, sometimes even adding a mast and sail with the aid of a penknife, stick and a big leaf or some paper.

5. Puddle Jumping – I hope this is already universally known as a fun thing to do! When my kids were little I realised how much more fun we all had if I accepted that wet / muddy children were an inevitable outcome of going outside. Armed with this knowledge, plus a towel and some spare clothes, I feel much more lighthearted about messy play and plan around it, rather than trying to avoid it. Happy muddy children is, after all, preferable in my book to immaculate bored kids.

6. Den Building – Any time of year this is a fun activity, once a suitable and safe location is found. Waterproofing the roof with jackets, umbrellas, or a tarp can be an interesting challenge in October. If the sticks lying around are quite small, why not build a mini-shelter. Same structural challenges but a fraction of the resources, you can make one to fit an action figure, a teddy, or just for the fun of it.

7. Rain Shadows – This idea comes from a brilliant publication ‘The Wild Weather Book‘ (by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield) which has inspired many hilarious outings for our family. If you’re out and it begins to spit with rain, find a safe piece of dry ground and lie down on it, wait there for a few minutes and when you get up, you will find your outline left behind. I find it strangely relaxing lying in gentle rain for a short time, and the kids love seeing their impressions on the ground.

8. Sit Spot – A simple but profound wilderness technique for observing wildlife is to find a place outdoors and sit quietly for 20mins. If we are still enough the wildlife which had scurried away from our clumping feet will begin to venture back out from their hiding places. I like to sit with a mug of coffee and some binoculars and see what appears. In this way I have seen mice, deer, snakes, foxes, badgers, rabbits, hedgehogs and all manner of birds – wonderful!

9. Mini-Beast Safari – Once you stop and begin looking closely at almost any patch of vegetated ground you begin to see how much life is actually present beneath our noses. Invertebrates of magnificent variety are going about their business, beetling, worming and scuttling around keeping the soil in good health. A cheap magnifying glass and a spare 10 minutes kneeling in the garden or park can be a rewarding natural history experience.

10. Whittling a walking stick – An enjoyable outdoor activity is to find a good stick and carve it, to fit the hand well and create a memento of a walk or journey. This and many other brilliant ideas can be found in ‘The Stick Book‘ (also by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks). Naturally you will want to whittle safely and legally, but once these pre-requisites are satisfied there’s no end of creative pleasure in simple carving. Kids who are too little to use a penknife often love to watch, and making a walking stick for them is a valuable gift for explorers of all ages!

I hope this might provide some novel ideas for enjoying Half-term outdoors where the risks associated with COVID-19 are substantially reduced. Do ensure that you have suitable permission and are confident and competent when using any tools or gathering resources outdoors. If you would like a guided experience learning outdoor skills do have a look at my Wild Ventures events for 2021, for which dates are about to be announced.

Meanwhile here’s to enjoying natural spaces this autumn with the people we love!

 

 

Bushcraft Dad, Lock-Down Living, ‘Do real things’

Given my inclination to be outdoors and enjoy wide open spaces with my family, the notion of lock-down could easily seem untenable. However, I respect the national necessity to minimise movement during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have thus been eagerly exploring the possibilities of adventure at home.

Making Lime hearth boards for Bow Drill sets.

Within a couple of days of recent social-distancing restrictions I realised my ‘media intake’ had reached an unprecedented level, and that my soul was struggling to keep up with the global strains and stresses being reported. Not that I am uninterested, neither that I lack compassion, but I recognise my capacity to absorb ‘news’ is finite. Spending that capacity wisely is crucial to my functioning well as a husband, dad and community member.

In a recent podcast about ‘The Hour We’re In’ by one of my favourite authors, John Eldredge, a single phrase rang out to me like a clarion bell;

‘We need to do real things!’

Every garden needs a jungle cot-bed ;o)

My heart immediately responded ‘YES’! Amid the busyness of lock-down life at home – the needs of my kids to learn, my wife to work remotely, my own requirement to reinvent how I freelance in the sudden absence of any paid work – I need to make space do-real-things.

Why? I find it a powerful antidote to the incessantly demanding virtual world I inhabit. When I work and play practically, using my senses of touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste, it draws me back to the real world. Some part of me relaxes when I do this. It satisfies a deep desire to go through a simple process and see something completed. It invigorates the child like sense of wonder in me, and helps me exercise gratitude.

I’ve been proactively fixing things, playing with my kids in the garden, cooking and taking notice of the natural world while out on my daily exercise. It is definitely helping my sanity levels and I’ll post some further blogs arising from my practical adventures. Meanwhile here’s to staying well in body and soul as we go forward a week at a time!

Discovery during family exercise on the Common.

Land Rover door shenanigans

 

Wild Whittling Workshop at Yestival!

Nathan Beard ventures at Yestival 2017

I was delighted to attend Yestival for the first time this year – what an extraordinary gathering of positive, adventurous and lovely people!

Thanks to all those who came along to the Wild Whittling Workshop and had a go at green wood carving. It was a pleasure to meet you, and wonderful to see your smiling faces as shavings gathered in piles, and new creations emerged from pieces of Sycamore, Silver Birch and Sweet Chestnut.

Several people asked me about the carving knives we used and I wanted to share the info again here. They are Swedish Morakniv “Woodcarving 120” knives and are available in the UK for between £15-20. I like them because they are made from laminated steel which keeps them strong but easy to sharpen, plus I like the feel of the traditional wooden handles. There is also a plastic handled version called the Morakniv “Woodcarving Basic” with a stainless steel blade which retails for about £10-15 in the UK. Both great value tools built with Scandinavian craftsmanship.

Please note that you are required to give justifiable cause, in a legal sense, if carrying any fixed blade in a public place. So, do ensure that you use them in places where you have landowners permission. When carrying fixed blades in transit I lock them in the boot of my car, or in a roll of clothing at the bottom of my rucksack so they are beyond use. You can find a link to a summary of the UK law here.

I hope very much that you will continue to access the joy of simple carving. As some of you noted it is very relaxing way to unwind and put your energies into a positive and creative craft. It was also fantastic to see some Mums, Dads, Uncles and Elder Cousins encouraging younger folk to safely get to grips with the Moras!

If a spot of wild whittling has whet your appetite for a bigger slice of time in the woods, then feel free to check out my Wild Events. You are welcome to join me for carving, shelter building, fire making, campfire cooking, animal tracking and more at my site just up the road from Yestival in W. Sussex.

Meantime here’s to safe whittling and saying Yes more!