We get to try some great things through the blog, and I’m always interested in experiences where both Monkey and I can come away having learned something new. An email pinged into my inbox recently that really grabbed my attention and a date was set in my diary to try something new. We set off bright and early a couple of weeks ago and headed for Cotswold Farm Park to spend the day Bushcrafting with Cotswold Adventures.
Monkey and I have learned to make fire before, but that was a few years ago now, and we were certainly looking forward to trying to hone our fire making skills. We’d also be learning about foraging, building shelters (stick boy heaven), water safety, natural navigation (that would be interesting with me and my total lack of sense of direction) preparing and cooking game as well as wood whittling. We would be meeting up with everyone for a 9am start and would be returning from our bushcrafting with Cotswold Adventures at around 5pm. So it was going to be a full on day. Tea, coffee, water and squash are provided during the day, as well as lunch. If you’ve got a fussy eater as I do, then just let the team know in advance.
With the weather forecast predicting another day of downpours, Monkey and I were both kitted out in full waterproofs and sturdy boots. Nothing worse than getting wet in my opinion.
Bushcrafting with Cotswold Adventures is run by experts Jose and Tim, who make a great team. We were instantly made to feel welcome, and that no question would be a stupid question. Throughout the day, they passed on so much information, made us laugh and pitched the whole experience perfectly for children and adults alike.
My son was as shy as ever, but he really appreciated the time the guys spent with him, especially when Jose helped him to make fire.
We were also really lucky to be joined by Adam Henson for the morning. He shared his experiences of growing up in the area as a child and his knowledge of the woodlands we would be walking through.
After a general safety talk we headed away from the Farm Park, across the fields and into the woods. As we walked we learnt about wind directions, the wind here normally blows from the south-west. This would help with natural navigation, as we looked at how the wind helped to shape trees. We also learned about lichen and how it likes the sunshine, another natural navigation tip, along with flowers that will always want to face south. It was fascinating, my son was enthralled, I knew it was going to be a good day.
Our walk through the woods gave us time to learn about basic foraging. Who knew that you could actually eat Hawthorn leaves and Sweet Woodruff or that Wood Sorrel tasted like apples (it really does), but don’t eat too much of it or your stomach might not thank you later. Goose grass can also be eaten and the seeds can be used to make a kind of coffee. But avoid Arum Lilies aka Cuckoo Pint as it’s poisonous. It was all really interesting and I think it would be useful if a handout was provided at the end of the day to aid those of with memories like sieves.
We talked about identifying different plants; sedge having triangular stems, grasses being flat and reeds being round. It was great to see my son taking it all in and really looking at the landscape around us too.
Stinging nettles are something I’ve always hated to be honest. But I’ve come to appreciate them more recently. When my son was learning about the Stone Age at school we all got to taste nettle soup and it’s good, try it some time if you can. We also learned that there are other cures to a stinging nettle sting, other than a dock leaf. You can use goose grass or stinging nettle leaves themselves (grab them quickly and you don’t get stung (who knew), rub either of these options quickly in your palm until you have some sap, and apply to the sting. Instant relief and we got to see that for ourselves as one of the boys in our group got stung and was upset. Adam jumped to the rescue and honestly, the boy was fine within seconds. Such a worthwhile thing to learn as we are often coming up against stingers on our adventures.
Deer are common visitors to the woodland and we saw lots of evidence on our walk, from tracks to where they lay to rest.
The shelter building workshop was always going to grab my son’s attention. We’d been given sheathed knives and safety saws to use through our bushcrafting with Cotswold Adventures and we would get to use both as we built our shelter. Again we’d Tim and Jose had talked us through the safety aspects of both pieces of equipment before we started work. As well as building the shelter itself, my son decided that a campfire would also be needed.
Our base camp had an awning and logs for seats, a fire, that we were taught how to keep lit and water permanently on the boil for the drinks. It was quite amazing really that during the day it poured down in intervals, we could hear it, but we never once actually got wet. Between the awning and the tree canopy itself we were protected.
I was going to be getting out of my own comfort zone as we learned how to prepare game for our lunch. We’d had no clues as to what we would be doing beforehand, but lunch would be locally shot Pigeon. Now I love eating pigeon, we used to enjoy it a lot as kids, but I wasn’t sure how my son would cope with seeing clearly, very much dead birds in front of him. He totally amazed me, took it all in his stride and listened spellbound as Jose talked us through what we would be doing. If you are squeamish you might not want to click on the video, but it was fascinating to watch, and so interesting.
I have to be honest, I was a little apprehensive about preparing the pigeon myself, but actually it was easy to follow Jose’s instructions, and once I started, I really enjoyed the experience. To be able to prepare the two pigeon breasts without using a knife at all was quite an eye opener. I even prepared a second pigeon, and it as my own personal highlight of the day. Trying something completely new. Once the breast meat was chopped up it was time to make lunch. We cooked the meat, over the fire with onions, garlic and peppers and seasoning and ate it in wraps.
Delicious. We did try to persuade my son to try our campfire lunch but he really wasn’t having it. He tried a tiny bit of the pigeon, but that was enough. Luckily I’d pre-warned the team that we might have an issue, and they were great, and surprised him with a sandwich that he would happily eat.
Our fire lighting session was good fun, it’s all about the preparation, get all your materials in place before you even think about lighting a fire. We tried making fire with different materials and I was quite successful. My son didn’t have quite the strength to strike the flints to get a spark, but Jose was so patient, trying different options with him until my son did make fire for himself. It made his day.
Learning about water sourcing and preparation to make it safe to drink was also fascinating. The motto of the day being ‘big bubbles no troubles’ when you are finally ready to boil your water.
We also get to try our hand at wood whittling. My son and I are both left-handed and it makes life a little more challenging at times. But we made our wooden butter knife, my son decided he’d be the instructor, rather than the maker. But the whole camp went quiet as everyone concentrated on the task at hand. Another skill learned.
The day flew by so quickly, and my son and I had had so much fun. We’d learned loads, been out in the fresh air and just enjoyed time together. The larger group gelled well together, everyone mucked in and it was nice to see my son join in with the other children at times to have adventures in the woods. We felt as if we were a million miles away from the rest of the world and it was rather surreal when we finally emerged from the woods into the Gloucestershire sunshine. It made no difference what our skills were before we starting bushcrafting with Cotswold Adventures, but we all emerged feeling that we’d really achieved something. My son and I certainly slept well that night!
I’m a great advocate of getting children outside and having outdoors adventures as much as is possible. My son has grown up with a love of nature and yes, sticks, and will always pick a day of den building activities over time indoors. We aren’t a techie family, and for us, being surrounded by nature is our happy place and I hope that will always be the case. The day also showed my son some of the things he’s likely to experience when he moves up to Cubs at the end of the year, so hopefully things will be a little less daunting for him. It really was a great day, and we’ve been buzzing about it ever since.
You can find more information about the course itself, dates and booking details on the Cotswold Adventures website.
disclosure: we were given complimentary tickets for this course in exchange for an honest review