A lot of my hobbies could be said to fall under the umbrella heading of bushcraft, which isn't a universally known word, even to people who would class themselves as "bushcrafters" or "bushcraft enthusiasts", it's a word without a universally agreed definition.
Bushcraft, to me, is a relatively new word, the first time I can remember coming across it was seeing a review for a book called "Bushcraft by Raymond Mears" in a magazine called "Combat and Survival". Well the title of the magazine should give some clue as to what kind of books they were reviewing, and at first glance it was clear that "Bushcraft" wasn't about combat. As such, bushcraft was of no interest to me at all, at the time "C & S" magazine was just there to feed my army-barmy teenage fantasies of battlefield glory, just like I'd read about in "Commando" comic books.
As I got older I grew out of my obsession with all things military but the survival part of "C & S" magazine really started to interest me. I loved the idea of being able to live from the land with the contents of a survival tin, and started trying to learn how to. I spent most of my teenage years trying to emulate my heroes Lofty Wiseman and Eddie McGee, both ex military survival instructors whose books I read over and over again.
As I started trying to put what I'd read into practice it soon became apparent that the survival that Lofty and Eddie made sound so easy was bloody hard work, and utterly beyond me. I started to cheat. The survival kit got bigger and bigger; rather than building a shelter I took a tent, rather than forage for food I took food from home, rather than finding and purifying water I took a waterbottle, and so on. It wasn't long before I realised that what I was doing wasn't survival at all, it was camping, and I loved it.
That love of camping and being in the outdoors has never left me, in fact it's grown, I still go camping as often as I can, and these days not just because I enjoy it, but also because I feel that it's something I need in my life now. Spending time living outdoors refreshes me, even though there's much more effort involved in being comfortable when you're camping than when you're at home, that effort somehow leaves me feeling more relaxed, invigorated even. Living outdoors is simple, everything follows a set pattern, cause and effect is really evident all around you, everything simply seems to make a lot more sense.
|The view from one of my favourite camping spots|
Waking up to this is blissful
Over time my interest in camping has lead me to many other interests in the outdoors. I was lucky enough to spend most of my childhood on a farm so I've always been familiar with the wild creatures that appear in the British countryside but I'd never really had much of an interest in them, they were either something to be shot/trapped/poisoned or they were just part of the scenery.
As I spent more time out camping I started to be interested in the animals I could see around me, and they became something much more than simply vermin or background colour, they became one of the main reasons I was spending time outside. As my interest in the animals around me grew it spread to other areas too, I started to learn about tracking so that I could better understand the animals I was watching, that got me looking at the plants that were around me, and the weather, which in turn got me looking at the stars, which is the best reason of all to be outside.
At the same time I was looking at other things to do in the outdoors, I took up rock climbing (living in Derbyshire it'd be rude not to really), and did a bit of canoeing and caving. These things made me realise that all the camping kit I'd acquired for sitting comfortably and wildlife watching was way too heavy and bulky to carry when I'd got climbing/caving gear or a canoe to carry too, so a new hobby appeared, lightweight camping.
The great thing about lightweight camping is that it's really light, the not so great thing is that it's really really expensive (at least it used to be, it's not so bad now), and the problem with me and money is that I'm tight, really tight, if there's any possible way I can get away without spending money I will. So I started making my own kit.
Whilst searching the internet one day for cheap lightweight camping ideas I came across a site called bushcraftuk (BCUK). In the intervening years since I'd first seen the advert for "Bushcraft by Raymond Mears" the author had become pretty well known as a TV presenter of survival programs, and the word bushcraft had become a little better known, I'd even bought his book in a clearance sale! So searching through BCUK I half knew what to expect, what I didn't expect to find however was that there were people out there practicing those survival skills that I'd given up on years ago, and making them look possible.
I was inspired, the lightweight camping was forgotten (along with the caving and the climbing) and the youthful dreams of living off the land came back to life, only this time I would be doing it in comfort with a pack full of kit on my back.
So, what's bushcraft to me? It's being comfortable outdoors, it's making and/or modifying my own kit, it's learning about the world around me and the plants and animals that I share it with, it's about getting round a campfire with my mates and telling stories, it's all of these things and lots more beside. I enjoy many aspects of bushcraft, but do I class myself as a bushcrafter? I don't know, I'll leave that up to you to decide.
Bye for now,