The wonderful world of Bushcraft (with a little help from Big Hat Bushcamp)

The time has come for us to abandon the comforts of our living rooms and tentatively look to the outside world. It might be a struggle to prise children, and indeed adults, away from their most precious digital items and once again sample what actual, real life has to offer let alone think about adventures such as trying bushcraft. But it is time to (safely) get out there.

Bushcraft - den building

The good news is that you do not have to go far to experience the joys of outdoor living with your family. Whether you are simply looking for a dose of fresh air, a glimpse of wildlife or some breathtaking scenery, it is all there on our doorsteps just waiting to be discovered. And if you want to go further afield, from the 4th July, we could finally go on camping and glamping holidays in England, in Scotland from 3rd July for those with their own self-contained accommodation (i.e. own shower/toilet) and similarly in Wales from 11th July. Have a look at our directory for a few ideas of lovely places to go.

Now, homeschooling during lockdown has led many of us to the uncomfortable realisation that we are distinctly average teachers with particularly low anxiety and anger thresholds. From the battles over online classrooms versus YouTube, to the mental breakdown a single sum can induce to the 5 minutes of painting followed by the hour long clean up – we are more than ready to hand the reins back over to the experts and in desperate need of a break. With several months to go until the proposed return of all school children in September, some may be looking for alternative educational opportunities to make up for our woeful attempts.

Just hanging around

 

Well, in the “outdoors classroom”, there are invaluable educational benefits to be found. From the simple and almost intuitive conundrums, like tackling an overgrowth of undergrowth and an obstacle course of fallen trees and puddles to making your own shelters or dens. Children are being inspired by TV survivalists such as Bear Grylls to get outside and give bushcraft a go themselves. Anything that gets kids excited about venturing into the fresh air for a few hours is surely a good thing. But this isn’t about training the next generation to survive the apocalypse (even if it feels like we are in the middle of one), this is about families enjoying the benefits of nature, learning new skills and garnering a deep respect for the natural world around them.

Den building

 

Some parents are happy to give bushcraft a go and perhaps have some distant memories of Scouts or Guides to draw upon, but other families might feel out of their depth and unsure where to start. For those families, a bit of help would go a long way. Ian from the Big Hat Bushcamp is a keen advocate of the full range of benefits that bushcraft can bring citing that “skills of communication, teamwork and leadership flourish” and that “children and adults draw more and more confidence.” He currently offers courses at his Surrey base for family groups – ensuring they are Covid-safe. This could be a great day out whether as a one off or as part of a planned holiday.

Wood whittling

 

Ian has a wealth of experience and is always keen to help, so came up with a few tips to help you get your family started in the great outdoors;

1) Dress yourself for the beautiful British climate. Someone very wise once said “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.

2) Find somewhere with trees. These places look green on Google maps.

3) As a family, decide on your adventure for the day. Start with something easy, like jumping in every puddle between the car park and the top of the hill, or building a shelter using only sticks and foliage. You can work your way up to actually sleeping out in it and cooking up a three-course meal in a hole in the ground.

4) Find out what’s going on around you. Bushcraft courses for families and beautiful wild camping sites can be found around the country – just check about their Covid-19 booking arrangements. There’s no need to be shy; they exist to help indoor people become outdoor people and tend to be run by some of the friendliest of folk. Why wouldn’t they be friendly and happy when they get to work outdoors?

5) Get on YouTube. Outdoorsy bushcrafty types love posting videos showing how to do all the awesome things they do outdoors.

6) Try all those things. (Note: always check permissions for things such as lighting fires and take the utmost care to put them out fully afterwards.)

7) Let us know how it works out for you; go to the Big Hat Bushcamp Facebook Page to post photos and videos of yourselves doing all the #awesomethingsyoudooutdoors.

Campfire cooking

 

If this has inspired you to have a go, why not contact Ian for more information about his family bushcraft courses?

Thank you to Ian, Big Hat Bushcamp for his contribution to this blog.

Caravan and Camping Shows – Spring 2020

It’s coming isn’t it?

“What?” I hear you ask. Well…camping season of course!

I know, I know…the weather is still doing its crazy British thing, but it really won’t be long and I, for one, cannot wait for our next family adventure.

Before the season gets started, it is a great time to check last year’s equipment: make sure it is all in working order, repair and replace as necessary. If you want to check out the new products and innovations on the market before committing to buying, then you could pop along to one of the caravan and camping shows up and down the country. These are great opportunities to have a good look at products you have heard about, to test things out, find a good deal, stock up on items or just dribble over the amazing things you could buy after you’ve won the lottery (a favourite pastime).

Whatever your budget, caravan and camping shows certainly get you thinking about the summer ahead and we’ve put a list together of a few shows that are on over the next few weeks that might just be worth a visit:

16th February – DubFreeze, Stafford

DubFreeze

18th-23rd February – Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show, NEC Birmingham

CCMShow

7th – 8th March, Camping World, Horsham, West Sussex

Camping World

20th – 22nd March – The Yorkshire Motorhome and Accessory Show, Great Yorkshire Showground

Yorkshire Motorhome and Accessory Show

9th – 13th April – Camperfest, Chester

Camperfest

17th – 19th April – The National Motorhome and Campervan Show, East of England Showground, Peterborough

National Motorhome and Campervan Show

24th – 26th April – Caravan and Motorhome Show, New Forest Showground

Caravan and Motorhome Show

Now, some of you might find the idea of going to a camping show too “peopley” but still feel the need to go shopping. I must tell you that I stay away from ‘normal’ shops like the plague but there is one type of shop that I am irresistibly drawn to… the beauty that is a camping shop (jumps up and down with excitement!) One place that is full of proper camping knowledge and an amazing range of products is the wonderful family-run World of Camping in Cornwall.

They really know their stuff and can help to find you the right product for your budget. If that’s a bit far to go, they also have a website with plenty of offers available for different products. Check them out here: World of Camping.

Camping Vs Electronic Devices

Redshoot Camping Park

A couple of weeks into the school holidays and come on admit it…how many of us have resorted to electronic babysitters?

Well, we have.

Not proud.

In fact, it raises that ever-present guilt that AGAIN we are failing at parenting to the high-level that seems to be required AT ALL TIMES these days. Whether it is the right amount of screen time, sports time, music time, learning time, playing with your friends time, cooking to a gourmet standard time, there is always something to think about and then feel guilty about because they’re not on the right Olympic pathway.

We are, however, passionate about getting the children outside and off electronic devices.

Now, let me just be clear: we are not one of those smug families that say, “Oh no, we don’t even own a TV, we are so wonderfully wholesome!” I mean, life without CBeebies would not be worth living on some days, frankly. We do have an iPad and obviously, the children love it. I mean REALLY love it. They would give their very souls for a whole day of square-eyed gazing at the pad of power. They would literally merge into the couch, oblivious to any other living thing and probably forget even to eat (well, that might be pushing it a bit.) And that is the problem – it just sucks them in and then sucks the very life out of them. They stop communicating other than the odd screech if the other dares to want a turn or if a nasty parent comes to persuade them to do something a little less mind-numbing.

Kids on phones
Why talk to each other when you can look at a screen?

To be honest, it is pretty much banned in our house now as we don’t really like our children when they are on or have been on it – they just become these whinging, whining empty vessels; devoid of imagination and drive. Pretty much like drug addicts which is exactly what they become…addicts! In fact, a study by Sigman looked into the increasing use of the term ‘addiction’ by physicians to describe children engaging with a variety of electronic devices in a “dependent, problematic manner.” They noted that children are more likely to develop a long-term problematic dependency on technology.

It’s that repetition of the word “problematic” that concerns me.

How have we got to the point where these amazing portals that unlock the whole world have become so “problematic?”

It comes back to screen time. Research published by  the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, tracked the daily habits of 4,500 children who were then asked to carry out detailed cognition tests. They found that those engaging in more than two hours of screen time had worse results for working memory, processing speed, attention levels, language skills and executive function. All pretty fundamental areas really and scary reading for parents.

It leads us to think about the importance of getting the children outside, away from these hypnotic electronic devices, connecting back to nature and real things.

Camping does allow for “cold turkey.” The change of routine and location can allow children (and adults) to think about other things and kick their addiction into touch.

Think about it – in the morning, you awake to the sound of birds singing and breeze blowing rather than the stark electronic shout of your alarm and that sets the tone for the day. Stuart Lea-Swain of FootArt is an avid camper and agrees that, “You can’t beat waking up in the hills or countryside, listening to the sounds of birds singing, the fresh air and optimism of the day ahead.” This immediately connects you to your surroundings and make you want to stay outside and experience the things around you rather than retreating back to the “eyes down” position.

During the day, the children can set about exploring the play area or thrashing dad at tennis, paddling in the stream or tucking into a picnic. But most likely, they will be making new friends. Jo Smith at Stowford Farm Meadows has observed that “Classic camping memories stay with families forever.  At Stowford we love seeing families, couples, groups and pets coming back year after year and enjoying the great outdoors together. Some families are pitched next door to each other and end up keeping in touch for years – like old fashioned penpals!”

Kids enjoying camping at Stowford Farm Meadows
Enjoying life at Stowford Farm Meadows

At night, it’s time for lovely food around the campfire, games and something that might be tricky at first…talking to your family! The team at Bundle Beds are passionate about camping and enabling people to try outdoor living: “One of the reasons that we set up Bundle Beds was to get more people out and about and exploring, whether touring the world or just camping in the back garden.” They love camping for “the fresh air, for the amazing views, and our favourite bit, the campfires… the endless potential of feasts and treats to cook on them, the huddling around them as night draws in, and the simplicity of just being outside as the sun sets.”

Bundle Bed
Cosy in a Bundle Bed

Without the usual electronic devices, everyone is likely to sleep better at night as well. The usual recommendation is no screen time for 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Well, you can totally nail this one!

When you get back from your trip, rather than slipping back into the old routine, use some strategies from your new routine: Try eating your breakfast outside to set the tone for the day, organising a family game of kwik cricket, get the swingball out or try a boardgame when weather drives you back inside. Just try and break your children’s “crack” habit before they become monosyllabic teens, cos let’s face it, you’ve got no chance then!

Why not try one of these fab sites before you run out of summer holiday time?

Stowford Farm Meadows

Petruth Paddocks Free Range Camping

Forest Glade Holiday Park

Red Shoot Camping Park

Haw Wood Farm

Stanley Villa Farm Camping

Deepdale Backpackers & Camping

Greenway Touring and Glamping Park

Walton Court Caravan and Camping Site

References

  1. Sigman, A. Virtually addicted: why general practice must now confront screen dependency. British Journal of General Practice 2014; 64 (629): 610-611. DOI:https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp14X682597
  2. Walsh JE, Barnes JD et al. Associations between 24 hour movement behaviours and global cognition in US children: a cross-sectional observational study. The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, 2018, VOLUME 2, ISSUE 11, P783-791, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(18)30278-5