The lovely folks at Camp Wilderness and The Bushcraft Company invited us to a free taster day to learn all about what they offer at their summer camps. They’ll also be running more of the family days throughout the year. Oliver is still a bit young for their summer camps but he loves the outdoors, so does R. I tolerate the outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s sunny and warm I love being outside. In March? Not so much. But I went along to Camp Wilderness see what all the fuss is about. Besides, what else would we do to celebrate a whole week of marriage? This is how we got on.
Well, after realising (the day before) that Hatfield Woods actually isn’t in Hatfield and accidentally driving past the track that takes us to the camp we eventually found ourselves in the right place – R loves driving (probably too fast) down a country lane! We parked up and were greeted by a chap named Kyle. He asked Oliver’s name, so Oliver obviously said “Peter Parker”. Kyle instantly engaged him and cut off a piece of string to make Oliver a ‘web’. He tied it around Oliver’s wrist and bundled it in his hand then told him to shoot his web. It was an instant hit. All day Oliver was checking his pocket to make sure he still had his web!
Once we entered the Camp Wilderness site it was really easy to navigate – there were portaloos on the edge of the site, then further in was a kitchen. At the centre were 2 big tents, each of which had a fire in the middle. They were then surrounded by camping tents. When there’s a camp the staff sleep in the big tents around the fire and the kids sleep in the camping tents. All of them surround the larger tent, so that if anyone were to wake up in the night and need help they’d instantly walk toward where the staff are.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking… an open fire?!?! There were loads of kids, some Oliver’s age (4) and younger and none of them went too close to it. One of the first things we were taught was fire safety. At first some of the kids (and parents) not wanting to get too close were throwing sticks on to the fire and they were instantly told how dangerous that is. It’s actually safer to get closer and place the stick on gently.
During the session we were taught how to start fires and keep fires going. Most importantly we were taught how to do it all safely. From things like how to light a match to striking a flint away from you. Not to mention how to deal with the chemical reaction between potassium permanganate and glycerol as well as making a fire from it. We also learned how to lay the sticks so that the fire wouldn’t be suffocated and therefore would keep it going for as long as possible.
We were split in to groups, or ‘tribes’, given a leader. Our tribe leader was the fabulous Ruth. Then we had to come up with a name and make a flag from a pillow case and some coloured markers. As the grown ups were rubbish, one of Kerry at Blissful Domestication‘s daughters came up with ‘The Stags’. A far cry from the Stags R encountered just a few weeks before our wedding! We all drew around our hands because we aren’t very imaginative. The kids drew pictures, there was even a diplodocus on our flag! The process was fun and I can see how it will help kids bond and get their imaginations running. Throughout the day though, the families tended to stick together. Except Oliver, he’d just wander off anywhere, any time. Yep, we were the parents that just kept on losing their kid…
We went in to the forest with Ruth and the tribe, found a suitable spot to make a fire and then gathered up all the different kinds of wood we would need. In to piles we collected kindling, finger sticks, thumb sticks and bigger thicker logs that would keep the fire burning. Once the fire was burning steadily we set up our ‘stove’ and cooked our lunch. I say ‘we’, R cooked food for the group. He’s always group chef, wherever we go. This was certainly no exception.
At the kitchen they prepared the rest of the food. So we trundled back to camp and got our burger buns, salad and fried potatoes (oh, and ketchup, obvs). We Then got back to our fires and ate burgers sitting on the dried leaves surrounded by forest. It was blissful. I had no idea that eating a burger in the middle of a forest could make you feel so good inside.
I ought to mention that throughout the day there was always water and fruit available. We also had plenty of cups of tea and there were biscuits too. I was clearly still in ‘wedding diet’ mode because I managed to steer clear of them. We happened to notice that there are several pizza ovens on site as well! Wood fired ones of course, so the children who go on camps have to make a fire to cook their pizzas.
At the end of the day just before it was time to pack up and go home we also toasted marshmallows over the base camp fires and given rice crispy squares and hot chocolate. Ladled in to plastic cups straight from a huge pot of course.
Putting the fires out
Obviously we didn’t leave our fires going, we had to put them out. Our tribe leader offered to do that for us, but Oliver wanted to get stuck in. They poured a jerry can full of water over the fire and had to mix it together with the mud from around the edge to cool it all down. Once it was cooled all of the ash was scooped up and thrown out in to the woods in all different directions to scatter the fire remains. We also threw all of the unused wood out in to the forest too and covered the fire site with dried leaves. By the time we were finished you couldn’t tell that we had even been there.
It wouldn’t be bushcraft if you didn’t learn how to camouflage yourself and cover your entire face in camo paint. Of course I was terrible at being camouflage because I still have bright red hair and bright blue glasses (which also reflect light!). After camouflaging ourselves we then played a huge game of hide and seek. It was every man, woman and child for themselves. I was quickly seen, unsurprisingly.
I’ve left this bit til last because I’m not really sure what I’m going to write. Harry (who is an ecologist), our group leader showed us lots of different kinds of traps. He explained how they worked and used sticks to orchestrate what happens to your prey. This is where vegetarians and vegans would call me a hypocrite. I really hated it and it made me feel sick. I was quite surprised by how I felt about it, particularly as Oliver knows where his food comes from. He knows beef is cow, that pork, bacon and ham are pigs and lamb is sheep etc etc. In fact all of the kids seemed fine by it. But I felt really squeamish. Then again, I am one of those people who is constantly thinking about becoming vegetarian. (FYI they had veggie burgers available for vegetarians).
It was quite interesting and obviously a skill you’d need to survive in the wild if you were doing your Bear Grylls thing.
What Oliver Thought
Well it’s safe to say that the whole of Camp Wilderness was a hit. There were tears when we left. He thought Kyle was super awesome, Ruth was amazing and Harry was really interesting. What’s more he was asleep before we had even driven away – it was that tiring. He was also really upset that he’s not old enough to go on the camps. The starting age for those camps is age 6. Oliver really cannot wait to go back to Camp Wilderness.
What we thought
R was in his element. He loves the outdoors! He got stuck in to everything (except the hot chocolate. I married a weirdo who doesn’t like hot chocolate, I’m still baffled by it). When we left he was talking about how great it was. He’d happily go back and is quite disappointed they don’t do camps for adults. If the Bushcraft Company want to expand I’m in no doubt they’d be very successful at branching out in to stag parties for the outdoorsy types.
As for me, I thought it was great fun. As I’ve said the only thing I wasn’t sure about was the animal trapping. The rest of it was so much fun and I learned a lot. I still don’t think I’d ever camp overnight, but for a day out it was pretty good! I definitely learned to trust Oliver’s instincts with fire more and that he’s actually more capable of a lot more things than I thought. The team were absolutely incredible. I’d definitely have no issues sending Oliver to Camp Wilderness when he’s old enough. And I’m a suffocating ‘wont-let-anyone-babysit-my-not-so-much-a-baby-anymore-baby’ kind of parent. I also may have already looked on amazon for camo paint…
Here are some more photos from our day at Camp Wilderness
We were invited to a free family day by the lovely people at Camp Wilderness, all words and experiences are my own and there was no payment for this blog post