The childhood inspiration for where I find myself today

As a Bushcraft Instructor and Head of Courses for Woodland Ways I get to do a vast array of activities throughout the year.  In fact, it’s one of the things I love about Bushcraft and the job itself, no day is ever ordinary and there’s always another rabbit hole of exploration to fall down.  There is absolutely no way you could ever get bored, proving my mum’s old adage of “only boring people get bored”.

For the purposes of this blog I want to focus on just one small part of my role, but one that has the potential to have massive impact in the lives of others, and that’s schools coming to spend time with us in the woods.  Now we aren’t a dedicated school provider and our focus will always be serious bushcraft and wilderness skills but when we do work with a school it’s because they genuinely buy into what our ethos and approach is and grab hold for a journey they will never forget.  My favourite of all these experiences is one school that comes every year for a full 5 days of living off grid in the woods with us.  Sleeping in canvas bell tents, cooking all food over an open fire, and embracing all the skills woodland living has to offer it’s always a wonderful experience.  Wednesday has become known as the day of magic.  It’s the point in the experience that the students forget about the outside world, technology, chairs, tables and buildings and let their suppressed inner wild child bubble back to the surface. The staff let their inner child out as well, as they play games, throw axes (safely) and listen to stories.

Reading round the fire... no phones allowed.
Reading round the fire… no phones allowed.
Axe throwing anyone?
Axe throwing anyone? Teachers getting involved for some healthy competition.

There are so many highlights to draw on but each year one of the activities centres around an evening sit down with the whole Woodland Ways team on the booking, where all the students and staff can ask us any question they wish.  I play host and take and direct the questions and we do this on the Thursday so they’ve really got to know us and those barriers between adult and child have broken down.  Now the first year we did this I scheduled 30 minutes thinking we’d be lucky to fill it and ended up drawing it to a close after an hour and half because they really needed to go to bed.  Every year since it’s been a similar story and this year the staff even commented that when they’d had an Olympic Gold medallist come into assembly a few weeks before they’d run out of topics after five minutes and were essentially asking the same question in slightly different ways over and over.  The difference though is the fact they’ve been with us for days and experienced a small part of our lives with us, so the questions keep coming.

As I’m sure you can imagine children don’t hold back and we really do answer anything (within reason) but the question that cropped up these last few years that has led to this blog is “What book inspired you as a child to become a Bushcraft Instructor?”  Having come to bushcraft as a job quite late in my working life I found this one a real struggle to answer, the first time it was asked, as I didn’t really feel any book had inspired me to be where I am.  Earlier this year though I found the answer while waiting for my wife to choose a book in a local bookshop.  There I was stood outside with the dog and the window display had Stig of the Dump on show.  All my childhood memories of the book and the television adaptation came flooding back and a lot of hand gesturing and window tapping got the message across to my wife that she was to buy it immediately.  For those not familiar with the title it’s a about a boy called Barney who happens upon a rubbish dump where a boy with shaggy hair and strange skills has made his home. This somehow resonated so strongly as my new home in Derbyshire is surrounded by old quarries and this sparked a connection to the surroundings in the book.

Stig of the Dump by Clive King, Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
Stig of the Dump by Clive King, Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
My Stig of the Dump setting opposite my house with my dog Willow poised and desperate for me to throw the ball.
My Stig of the Dump setting, opposite my house with my dog Willow poised and desperate for me to throw the ball.

I must have sat and read that book in no more than an evening this time around but connections kept on being made to trigger past memories and connect them with the here and now.  Oh how much I’d forgotten in the intervening 40 plus years that happened. This book was my true inspiration I’d just forgotten that it was. Whether you’ve got children or not it’s worth a read. I can honestly say it was the first reference to friction fire I ever read about it’s just my young mind probably didn’t register it back then. In my work today I get to channel my inner Stig and who wouldn’t want to do that.  Stig does flint knapping, hunting for food and wearing skins for clothing and he creates stuff to make his life more comfortable.  It was bushcraft in all but name.  Unremembered by me my favourite book as a child had led me to be here doing the job I love.  I no longer struggle to answer that question and now have Stig of the Dump as a proud addition to my Bushcraft bookshelf, but it does make me curious… “What book inspired you as a child?”

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