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 – Bluebells, Bugs & Bike Maintenance

As a kid growing up in the 80’s I fondly remember a TV programme called ‘Why Don’t You’ which was all about getting away from screens and engaging in practical fun. Since my last blog I have been proactively seeking hands-on activities during my working week and wanted to share some with you.

Bluebells & Whitebells on Barnes Common

We have been making the most of our daily outdoor exercise by taking a family walk, on the local common or in Richmond Park, which mercifully are within walking distance of our home.

Rather than marching on past these beautiful Bluebells I took a moment simply to linger and enjoy them in the afternoon sun, growing alongside Spanish Whitebells.

Bee Fly – [Bombylius]

During the same wander an unusual bug alighted on my wife’s jeans, which turned out to be a furry Bee-Fly! It’s fun to have lived in a country for over 4 decades and still realise there is plenty I have not yet encountered. Hence a bit of bug research showed that the impressive proboscis is fortunately for flowers and not legs!

We all enjoy cooking in our house, and yesterday I made a simple carrot soup. Nothing complex just some onion, celery, about a kilo of carrots and a vegetable stock cube. I realise it took a momentary pause in the kitchen for a smile to develop, as I breathed in the scent of frying onions. It is funny how I sense the the need for permission not to hurry. It seems to require an active choice sometimes to avoid missing pleasures as basic as an aroma.

During a recent stroll in Richmond Park we met a friendly Police Officer, who clarified that only NHS Staff and kids under the age of 12 are presently free to cycle there. Thus the opportunity arose to invite my kids into some basic bicycle maintenance! We grappled with the process of puncture repair in our back garden and had a chance to use some tools from Daddy’s ’round-the-world’ tool kit (collated specially to minimise weight on Humanitarian Air Service Flights). So, not just fixing time, but story time too as I recalled adventures my tools had experienced ;o)

Back Garden Bike Workshop

Subsequently my children rode while I scurried cross-country to keep up with them. Contact was adequately maintained by VHF Radio during the parts where my legs were slower than their pedals. Okay that was most of the time!

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