Holidays have arrived, and this is my one free day before I go skiing and then after that HARDCORE revision/courseworkage..
Well, there is a possibility that to kick start my gap year, I’ll be going to Sweden camping/canoeing/fishing for a month! Of course, I have no idea how to fish, so that could be interesting.
Another problem is food – food for a month!? Doesn’t seem realistic, I think I’ll have to return mid-way to stock up, maybe? If anyone’s reading this, do comment on what you take with you! I’m hoping fish will be a regular option, although, then again, with my unknown fishing skills, it may not.. So I’m thinking lots of flat bread/pasta/rice/cup-a-soups.. What about fruit/vegetables? All I can think of is raisins.. And berries if I can find them!
I’m looking at Varmland at the moment, but who knows, really!
Looks like I started this blog at the wrong time: must now focus on exams – back in a few weeks!
Great video I watched the other day: found the link on BushcraftUK. Les Stroud’s (aka Survivorman) journey to a life off the grid.
Of course, there’s a lot less land in the UK to go around, but definitely something to aspire to in any case. I also love the idea of living in a log cabin for a year in the wilderness, as they did.
I’m not entirely sure if this is allowed to be on the internet – if I find out it’s not I’ll take it off!
I think a lot of people are inspired by the landscapes they see in films. ‘Lord of the Rings’ comes immediately to mind – New Zealand has a lot to thank those films for I think. A little hope I have about the popularity of such films is that people who don’t necessarily think about nature much or consider its importance, perhaps come away with a sense of awe and thus respect for that fundamental aspect of our lives. In a world where really you can shut yourself away from nature by living in a city (and really the only contact you have with nature, if you want it that way, is the weather – and you can probably escape from that too) having contact with nature just through cinematography could have a valuable impact on the societal mindset.
On the flip side, because it is seen on screen it could somehow be associated with ‘fiction’, and therefore is nothing to worry about.
Upon watching the new Narnia film ‘Prince Caspian’, I was struck by the profound message it contained. (If you haven’t watched it and intend to, you should probably stop reading now, although there aren’t really any major spoilers) Upon return to Narnia (1300 years later in Narnia time) the Pevensie family discover a very different world to the one they left. The Telmarines have brought many Narnian creatures to the verge of extinction, the trees no longer dance (not that they did in the first film, but apparently they did), and Aslan is gone. It is the children’s job to help fight the Telmarines and restore Narnia to its former glory. However, ultimately it is not they that wins the battle: it is the lion Aslan, and the forces of nature who fight back and help win the fight. I loved this aspect of the film – it brought another level to an otherwise entertaining yet typical fantasy family film. I believe C S Lewis projected similar messages throughout the books, as well as religious ones, but I read them when I was like 8 and really can’t remember!
The scenery in the film is also amazing, and filmed in various places throughout the world. This made me think however, about the inspiration scenery in films gives. I think an essential aspect of this inspiration is derived from the accompanying music. This can be compared with photography: it will invariably have had some sort of processing or photoshopping done to it to enhance the awe-inspiring effect. With this in mind, can the real thing ever live up to what you see in films, where there is no grand quest, you can feel the hardship rather than just see the romance of it on screen, the land is not always in a state of sunset, and there is no inspiring background music to aid your awe?
I’ll continue my Woodsmoke review a little later, along with a picture of my very first spoon that I carved while I was there!
Today was a happy day for me – although I was revising all day, I also got an offer from Cambridge. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet but I feel the need to broadcast it to the world!
Anyway, back on topic, this got me thinking about my gap year. I’d love to do something to do with bushcraft during my gap year: the problem is, there aren’t any companies that do trips for longer than say a week or so. If there were, they’d cost a lot, I expect. I’d be perfectly happy to do something just with a couple of friends: say, to Sweden canoeing and camping in the wilderness. Sadly, none of my friends are into bushcraft. I’ll keep searching for any gap year opportunities- if anyone happens to know of any, please do let me know.
I’m very attracted to doing work on a cattle/sheep station in Australia: you go out and do a 5 day course of working on a station, then they help you get a job in the outback. My only reservation is how remote you are once you’re on the job – it would be fantastic, but if you ended up in some dodgy place then it could be terrible. I love the idea of taking extended trips into the outback, sleeping in swags, although I don’t think I’d end up doing that working on the station.
Conservation work is of course another option, which would be great: there are so many options though it’s just overwhelming, and the problem is discerning which companies are reliable nowadays. And then of course dealing with the cost!
I need to make a lot of money for this gap year if I’m to do some sort of conservation work or maybe an expedition combining conservation and community work like Raleigh International. In the case of Raleigh, it’s a charity, meaning fundraising by writing to companies etc could gain a good proportion of the money. I also intend to work in the 2009 part of my gap year. I’m now also looking into ways of making money on the internet, although it all seems very technical. This summer I went on a trip to India to build a house for a beneficiary, and we as a group had to raise £4000, which was quite a challenge. A message that really struck home was the use of collective input – we held discos and non-uniform days at school where everyone paid a pound to take part: that raked in a lot of money at very little cost to anyone. Something else I did was sell tracksuit bottoms to my school house: although a lot of hassle I managed to profit by about £300 from that, all for a good cause – this was very satisfying, and got me thinking maybe I should go into business when I’m older..! Or maybe I should start now – but I wouldn’t have a clue how. I don’t think I’m independent enough to do so, and I have no idea how to set up a business or what to sell etc etc. Maybe I should start thinking – how hard could it be?
Well, during the summer, in order to learn more about bushcraft/survival skills and put anything I’d learned into practice, I decided to go on a Woodsmoke course. I can happily say it was one of the best weeks of my life. I went up to the Lake District apprehensive and nervous, I came back happy, dirty, smelly, smoky and having learnt a lot. I cannot recommend it enough if you want to learn some bushcraft skills, meet some like-minded or just appreciate the ability to be in the woods mucking around and appreciating nature. It was very laid back, and Steve, one of the instructors, also commented that he hoped one of the reasons we might be here was the ability to camp in the woods, when this is restricted in the vast majority of England now, if you don’t own the land.
I did the Junior Woodlander course, which was for 13-17 year olds. I was picked up from the station by the instructors and we headed off to the pub where everyone else was meeting. The instructor who was driving us was really friendly and got everyone (about twelve of us) chatting, and there was a great atmosphere even at this early stage. Once we had driven as close as we could to the woods where we would live for the next 6 days, we shouldered our rucksacks and set out along the track, with some obligatory banter about Ray Mears and the one and only Bear Grylls (don’t get me started). I quickly made friends with the older element of the group – I was one of only two 17 year olds, and then there was a 16 and 15 year old pair or friends who had come together. We made friends really quickly, and it felt like we had known each other for years. Somehow during the course of the week we became known as ‘The Four Twats’ for our ceaseless banter and close camaraderie. I continue to object firmly to the label. There were also some younger ones – some 12 year olds who had snuck on cheekily and then some more withdrawn older ones. One of us ‘four twats’ had been on the course before (she was the only other girl except me, but we never noticed), and apparently the average age had been much older than this time, so it must vary quite strongly.
Back on the point, we were shown around camp – the trench loo which was about a mile away from the main camp, which was a parachute suspended over from a tree under and around which we did a lot of our learning. On the other side we were led to an area where we could set up our tents, which we did (with varying degrees of success) and then headed to the parachute for the classic dish – soup with crisps (a festival in the closest town had just ended and there was no bread left in any of the shops!). While eating our meal we introduced ourselves vaguely, and then chatted until people started drifting off to bed.
The site we were staying at was beautiful – on a private estate in the middle of the woods. Apparently there are two sites, and the use is varied according to time and conditions etc. The other site was used the year before for this course, which had a lake and canoes: it was a shame we weren’t at this site as I would have loved to try out the canoes, but I certainly had no complaints about where we were.
The next morning started bright and early: we all got up (at varying times – there were some who got up at 6 just to enjoy the solitude) and had breakfast. I was surprised at the quality of breakfast actually – I really enjoyed it! For the very thorough of you, I shall tell you the breakfast options – there were Crunchy nut cornflakes, another oaty sort of cereal with raisins, a choice of powdered milk or normal milk, and tins of fruit salad. I didn’t realise there was normal milk and had a sort of crunchy-nut-oat-powdered-milk-mix which was really good actually – water was ladled from the cauldron over the fire and it was warm and really good.
After breakfast we began our bushcraft lessons. We started out being given a tool kit: inside was our own knife: a Frosts Mora, a Laplander saw, a crook knife, a whistle and a firesteel. We began with knife safety lessons (although did not prevent some of the younger ones gaining hundreds of minor cuts throughout the week! – the instructors were very sympathetic and patient, however, and always took the necessary precautions once someone had cut themselves.). Then, we moved on to knife technique, and made a candle holder, and a butter knife with our new found skills, which was very satisfying!
Lunch was a standard fare of baguettes and as many topics as you could fill in it – delicious!
After lunch we had our first fire session: we were split into groups and went around different mini stalls with the 3 different instructors learning about different sorts of fire – chemical, friction, solar and erm.. some others. If I tell you all of it it’ll give away all the fun anyway! We then were given a demonstration of the fire bow, something which we were all keen to try out. We went on a hunt to find materials, and once that was done prepared the kits and started drilling in pairs. I am proud to announce my pair gained fire first, although not on that day. Each day began in the morning with an hour’s fire drilling practice, which was not without coughing and spluttering once the smoke starts appearing – success is not without its price.. But the sense of achievement was fantastic. The instructors were very attentive and helped sort out any problems.
After supper we relaxed in front of nature’s tv – the fire, and had long discussions with the instructors about bushcraft and Jeremy Clarkson. Life doesn’t get much better! Thus ended our first day of the Woodlander course – I’ll post more later – it seems this review might be quite long – my apologies..
Is it possible? I think I must be a dreamer – for me, nothing seems more enticing than escaping civilisation with some human company and living off the land. The reality, I’m sure, is very different from the dream. It reminds me of the story of Chris McCandless. I haven’t yet read the book of his story (“Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer) but I have seen the film: the cinematography is just amazing, and it gives me a great yearning to go out and do something similar, albeit safer.
It got me thinking though – is it possible nowadays? I know there are hunter gatherers still living in various countries across the world (and I’d love to spend some time with them), but what about in the UK? Ray Mears did a series called “Wild Food” which was all about finding the staple foods eaten by our hunter gatherer ancestors. It seems that too much knowledge has been lost about our environment to be able to survive solely from the hunter gatherer lifestyle.
Quite apart from this, hunter gatherers, I feel, in some respects had it easy. They had no governmental restrictions, no land ownership, no over-population, no social pressure. Of course, they had it much harder in many other respects. But practically, there can’t be a way to live in a primitive lifestyle in the UK, I don’t think: one piece of land would not be enough to accomodate all of your needs. Having watched “Wild Food”, equally too much has been lost to survive, I think.
Self sufficiency as a concept, if not to the extent of the hunter gatherer lifestyle, is becoming increasingly more popular as the concept of being “green” is emphasised, and spurred on more by television programmes such as “River Cottage”. More research on this is something else to be added to the list: I like the idea of generating one’s own electricity, growing a lot of one’s own food (childhood attempts at a vegetable garden failed miserably for me), etc.
Some of the foods examined in “Wild Food”, however, really fascinated me. Apparently, acorns were a staple food, and particularly cherished since they contain both carbohydrate and fats. The process is fairly arduous: first, the acorns must be split, using a rock or some other tool. Then, they are dried, followed by being de-shelled. Next they are crushed, and then leached: put into a bag and then leached in order to wash out the bitter tannins in the acorns. The result is a sort of brown mush, into which hot stones are dropped in until ready. I shall research futher into more modern ways of doing this: I know there are other uses of acorns such as coffee. It could be an interesting experiment.
Currently, I feel I am rambling: my posts shall become more specific as I get the hang of this, I promise.