Cadet Bushcraft Weekend
Thetford Forest 6-7 September 2014. Earlier this year I was approached by FS Paul Fido to ask if I would be interested in leading a bushcraft weekend for the RAF Coningsby (17 Sqn) Air Cadets.
A weekend away, living in the forest, sleeping in a Hennessey hammock, eating from the land, no contact with the outside world – he knows me well! The team consisted of Paul Fido and Colin Murray as Cadet Instructors and joining us were cadets Ryan, Alex, Tyler, Katie, Jess, Vicki and Zoe. The Bushcraft Team was headed by FS Carlos Proctor and Andy “Tilly” Tilby as second instructor and Tina (if you can’t beat ‘em join’ em) Proctor as head cook and bottle washer.
On arrival in Thetford Forest, the students set up base camp under the cover of beautiful scot pine and sycamore trees. Colin and Paul set off collecting wood for cooking whilst the remainder set up the cooking area.
First exercise – Knife skills! Within no time at all the students were hard at work utilising their new talents by making a simple peg. Having whittled away their pegs by chamfering, batoning, bevelling and pointing, any would-be vampire was scared away.
Food was next on the syllabus and in no time at all six pigeons were prepared and the breast meat cooked on a muurikka cooking plate over an open fire. Whilst this meal was being cooked, the cadets next gutted and skinned a similar number of rabbits (remember that smell Alex?) ready for the evening stew pot. By this point a number of star students were beginning to shine.
Having devoured the pigeon lunch, the cadets split into two teams to build natural shelters for the evening. Tilly had his team construct a lean-to whilst Carlos’s team manufactured an A-frame shelter. Utilising dead fall and foliage, both teams produced excellent shelters.
Just before Tina’s outstanding rabbit stew was served, the students learnt some simple stalking and senses skills. These would be needed for the night exercise which would follow in the dark hours.
Once fed and watered, Colin and Paul set up the exercise area whilst the students were briefed on their challenge – King of the Castle! Their task was simple: Get into the castle outer-cordon area without being seen. The adults guarded the central castle area whilst the students used darkness and stealth to (try to) sneak in. Although the adults caught all the cadets, Tyler and Katie (aka ‘The Mouse’) came very close to succeeding.
Breakfast on Day 2 consisted of sausages and bacon, but only once the cadets had made their own bread. ‘Damper bread’ is made simply by using flour and water and cooking on a hot plate slowly. Mr Warburton – don’t start worry about your profits just yet!
Whilst Tilly prepped for his lesson, Carlos delivered the next training phase – Fire. In just over an hour, and after developing knowledge and understanding of how and why things burn, the students made fire using a variety of methods, including straw/hay with ignition from cotton wool, cramp balls, char cloth, wire wool, flint and steel and fire by friction.
The last lecture was water purification, delivered by Tilly. The students soon discovered that even the dirtiest of stagnant water, once treated correctly, can save your life in a survival situation. With the aid of a discarded plastic container, the cadets made a simple water filtration system which removed turbidity from the water before boiling.
Before we knew it, it was time to depart but not before Katie and Vicki were nominated as “best students of the course”. Congratulations must go to all the students for taking part, and a big thanks goes to the organisers, instructors and, of course, the cook (she only cut herself twice).