Without spoiling the experience for anyone that is thinking of doing this course, I would like to give you an insight into the Woodlore Fundamentals Bushcraft course in Scotland that I attended in November 2016. This information is taken from memory and from notes that were taken during the course so the order may not be completely accurate.
We met at the Birnam Hotel in the small village of Dunkeld in Perthshire, Scotland on a Sunday evening. You can easily identify others that will be attending the course by their khaki and cammo clothes. At about 5.30pm the guys from Woodlore drove up in their Saburu 4×4, they introduced themselves and advised us that we would need to drive to the course site about 3 miles away. Those that had traveled by train could jump in the 4×4 or with one of us that had driven.
We arrived at the site at 6pm and there was a parachute canopy suspended over a small fire with a metal tripod and a large kettle hanging on a chain. Around the fire were several logs that could be used for seating. Dan one of the course instructors advised that there was no taps or potable water and that we would need to purify all the water that we use. He pointed to two jerry cans and said we could use them to store purified water.
We were based on a private estate which lay within the Boreal Forest which is a huge area of forest in the northern hemisphere. The trees on the estate were mainly coniferous made up of Scots Pine, Larch and Spruce trees but there was also a wide selection of hardwoods including Beech, Horse Chestnut, Birch and Willow.
The next morning, Monday, at 8 am we met at the main camp after breakfast, which was provided. We were each given a Mora Robust knife and sheath, and a tool roll containing: flint and steel, ferrocerium rod, carving knives and a Laplander saw. We were given instruction in knife safety and basic cutting techniques. Soon after this we went for a walk down the track and were introduced to some plant and tree species and their uses. We were told their main identification features which I was busily trying to write down while also looking at the specimen.
In the afternoon we were put into two groups and shown how to build and emergency shelter from dead wood and other natural materials available in the forest. This took us most of the afternoon to complete. For the rest of the evening we were given various lectures and had food until about 9 pm when we were again given some free time.
We met up again at 8 am on Tuesday morning and were shown how to make feather sticks and how to light fire with a ferrocerium rod. We spent some time battoning wood and creating feather sticks. We were also shown other tinder’s we could find in the wild and how to prepare them and dry them.
After lunch on Tuesday we were each given a Tarp and showed how to set it up and which knots to use etc. We spent quite a bit of time learning the knots and setting up the tarps correctly, we were a;so shown how to make pegs for the guy lines. Later that evening we were asked if we would spend the night under our tarps, it wasn’t compulsory to do so but I was quite used to sleeping under a tarp so me and another lad set out into the Forrest to find a suitably flat location. We spent the night under out tarp’s and enjoyed hearing the stag Deer’s barking as it was the rutting season.
On Wednesday morning we were back at the main camp and were taken on a walk to an open area where we learned about natural navigation and using a watch as a compass and other interesting techniques. On the way back to camp we stopped and collected red nettle stems, we needed to collect about 10 – 15 stems each at the end of the exercise my hands were numb with nettle stings.
On Wednesday afternoon we were shown how to process the nettle stems into cordage which was done with numb fingers. We were also shown the first stages of spoon carving and we had to go out and select a suitable piece of dead wood and to start creating my first spoon. The instructors had told us that we should always try to keep busy, there should be no point when you have nothing to do and this was quite tough for me at first.
Thursday is when things started to really tough, the estate ghillie had needed to shoot a deer that had been knocked down on the road so he though it would be a good opportunity to show us how to process the deer for food etc. He also had a bunch of Mountain Hares which he had caught and showed us how to skin and process those. He gave us one between two and we had to skin and get the meat cleaned ready for cooking. We discovered later that we would not be getting any food provided except for the hare meat and that we would need to cook it ourselves. We also discovered that we would need to forage for food and try and catch our dinner from the lake as it would also not be provided. We were shown how to make bannock a simple leavened bread and were given the ingredients to make our own.
We spent the rest of the day fishing and foraging. We managed to catch a trout and we were given some dry rice. Our dinner was boiled rice and trout which we cooked on a small fire and some bannock which we had made. Thursday was quite a difficult day and was tiring but very rewarding.
On Friday morning we learned about trapping and tracking, we spent some time looking for rabbit and hare tracks and other animal tracks and then we came back to camp and learned how to make snares and the laws around snaring in the UK.
In the afternoon we spent most of the time trying to make fire with a bow drill which we had made from scratch. At first we tried to get fire in pairs and once we had done this we tried individually. I found it very rewarding to get fire using this method but it is not an easy process and requires considerable practice. We also continued to work on our spoons and were shown the steps required to finish it off. We were shown how to carve fishing hooks bind the pieces together with processed spruce roots which we also had to find.
Saturday morning was spent tidying up the camp and making sure everything was ready for the next group which would arrive the next day, we had to dismantle our shelters, take down our tarps, hand in out tool rolls and tidy up any fires that we had made. We also had to pack our tents and equipment. Later in the afternoon we were awarded our certificates and lead back to our cars.
The course is quite expensive at £650 for the week, but I would say that it is excellent value for money. This course is not a holiday, it is designed to push you and to put you under pressure. It was hard work and being on the go almost non-stop from 6.30 am to 9 pm ever day is quite demanding. There are lots of things that I have not mentioned, I have only covered the main areas of the course, but it should be enough to give you a flavor of the course.
The instructors Dan, Keith and Dave are very knowledgeable and have lots of real world experience, they are also very skillful and make difficult tasks look easy. However, they are very understanding, helpful and approachable.
If you are planning to do this course there are some pointers that will help you get the most from it:
- Learn some basic tree and plant identification before you go
- Practice carving with a Bushcraft style knife, spoon carving, feather sticks – it takes along time to build the required strength in the hands to be able to carve and cut effectively with a knife
- Buy a copy of Ray Mears Essential Bushcraft and practice some of the skills in the book. This course does not have any axe work so you do not need to practice that for this course.
- Keep everything you make on the course in a safe place, the instructors will ask to see everything that you have made at some point.
- Practice fire lighting with a ferrocerium rod in both dry and when it’s raining
- Try and get some practice with a bow drill, even if you don’t get fire the practice will help.
It was obvious that some people on the course had prior knowledge of what was expected and had practiced those skills so I would recommend doing the same.
If you have an interest in Bushcraft or Survival this course is a must.
More information about the course can be found on Ray’s website at: