Brand new for 2017, bushcraft courses can be embarked upon a stone’s throw from Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park, under the banner of Cotswold Adventures. For adults and older children, the courses include foraging, shelter building, game preparation, navigation and more. And while it may be a little tame for those seeking an extreme survival experience, they’re a fun, accessible and memorable foray into finding yourself outdoors.
Arriving early at Cotswold Farm Park, excitement mounted as the dozen or so Cotswold Adventures participants gathered in a huge tent near the park shop for a briefing by experienced outdoor experts, local lad Tim and South African born-and-bred Jose, with the action taking place around 20 minutes’ walk away in private woodland adjoining the attraction.
Within minutes of setting off we were appreciating our surroundings in a new light, stopping to hear about plant varieties with nutritional and healing properties, as well as those which could leave you with a nasty case of belly ache and worse.
We spotted deer tracks, mastered the art of picking nettles without getting stung, and all remarked how ‘we really must do this more!’, arriving at an Instagram-worthy bush camp already set-up. Surrounded by beautiful silver birch, spruce, ash and sycamore, a large parachute was fixed into the canopy to provide shelter – with a camp fire flickering and kettle bubbling away – with plenty of logs for seating and steaming hot cups of tea on the go.
Particularly keen on their camp health and safety, Tim and Jose filled us in on the fine art of lifting and carrying hot pots around camp, before moving on to using and sheathing super sharp camping knives and saws, before we all tenaciously set about whittling something resembling a butter knife from a log.
Pearls of wisdom spanned some of the best ways to find water to an array of purification systems for making H20 safe to drink. Meanwhile the fire-lighting session was particularly fun, as we enthusiastically struck flints and steels together, aiming sparks into dry organic matter, cotton wool and other materials. It was harder than it looked!
Time to put our knife and saw skills to the test again: collecting, cutting and stripping the abundance of branches around us to make a shelter big enough for one or two people. They looked great after being packed tightly with leaves and it was novelty to give them a dry run – although I felt glad it wasn’t my real bed for the night.
It was novelty to give the shelter a dry run – although I felt glad it wasn’t my real bed for the night
For me, the most memorable part of the day was the knifeless preparation of game pigeons shot on a nearby estate.
I tried to hide my squeamishness as Jose demonstrated the technique of tugging a bird’s head off and turning its body inside out, revealing the breast meat, which could be picked off the bone with your fingers.
I was impressed to see the few kids on the course getting stuck in, and minutes later, hands covered in blood, had a new-found appreciation for this wild meat and what turned out to be a lip-smacking lunch of pigeon fajitas, cooked over the campfire – as we all chatted together like we’d known each other for years.
We all agreed, while I don’t think our whittling skills will leave Bear Grylls fearing for his job, this relaxed, informative and hands-on day in the Gloucestershire fresh air, provided just the gentle introduction any budding outdoors enthusiast would enjoy.
While family-friendly courses are a great opportunity for everyone to get involved, for those who fancy a more grown-up challenge, Cotswold Adventures is also running adults-only days.
If you fancy taking your bushcraft skills to the next level, 24-hour survival courses also on the cards for those aged 18 and over too. Make sure your shelter’s nice and watertight!
Family friendly courses cost £75 for adults, £50 for children – and all children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Grown-up courses cost £89 for adults, and £69 for minors (aged 16 to 18). 24-hour survival courses for those aged 18 and over are £150 per person. Visit cotswoldadventures.com or call (01451) 850307 to book.
By James Fyrne
Saturday 30 September 2017
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