A Magical World for Bushcraft Experiences
The first time I sat alone in a glade in our woodland in West Sussex, it was so still and peaceful I heard the eerie sound of a single leaf fall.
I was quite alone and it frightened me at the time. I thought someone was creeping up on me.
We are all in awe of the grandness of the natural world and a little afraid of our vulnerability to the elemental grand forces of nature.
We may have left our stories of Red Riding Hood behind with our childhood, but we still feel when we enter a woodland or forest that we are stepping out of the familiar and safe world and entering into an unknown realm.
Woodlands and forests have always been places of mystery, dedicated to religious rituals and initiation rites, home to secretive creatures, magic trees and strange fruits, guarded by dense undergrowth, half hidden trails and legally restricted access.
The wildwoods of the British Isles developed between the years 100.000 – 12,000 BC after the ice sheets of the Ice Age retreated. The land was initially colonised by birch trees and then gradually by other of our native species such as Scots Pine, Aspen, Willow, Hazel, Oak, Elm, Holly, Ash, Beech, Hornbeam and Maple.
In Neolithic times, the first farmers cleared some of the dense wildwoods to create their settlements, plant crops and domesticate animals. Historians believe that by 500BC around half of England ceased to be wildwood.
Saxon kings protected many of the fragments of ancient woodland for hunting. After the Normans invaded and settled in England, forests such as The Forest of Dean, Epping Forest, the New Forest and Sherwood Forest were designated as Royal hunting grounds for the Norman kings and for the aristocracy by invitation of the King.
Those peasants previously living as forest tenants were evicted from their dwellings. Forest activities such as cutting wood for fuel and trapping animals were prohibited.
When we head for these Forests to enjoy bushcraft activities with our families, we are walking in the paths of the ancient kings of Britain.
To see how the world looked to Neolithic peoples – just take a trip to Sherwood Forest as it is a remnant of forest which has existed since the last Ice Age. How magical is that!
In the legend of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest was a place of sanctuary, of escape from the restrictions and requirements of the social world. It represented a place for personal freedom, where we can be ourselves. It represented nourishment for the body and the soul, and Robin Hood poached the King’s deer, robbing the rich to nourish the poor.
We all need the nourishment of the natural world and quiet places as a counter balance to the humdrum time we spend focussed at the computer, in the car commuting, at the lunchtime meetings, sitting exams, cleaning the fridge, shopping on a Saturday. We all need beautiful and magical wild places to escape to, where we can let the imagination run free and play with the children and maybe the dogs.
Enjoying bushcraft activities with the family.
Have a go at stringing hammocks among forest trees, tree bark rubbing, leaf collecting for printing, bug watching. Did you know that Epping Forest which is designated a SSSI has 500 rare and endangered species? Go check them out!
Collect leaves twigs and debris with the children and use them to create magic carpets on the forest floors. Visit the woods and forests in autumn and winter. Learn how to ID trees without their summer foliage.
If you have older children, consider taking them out on the cycle routes in the New Forest. You can hire cycles, child seats, trailers and tag alongs for the day through www.forestleisure
Consider trying a guided forest walk with the family or a course at a forest field centre. Parkhurst Forest on the Isle of Wight has a Red Squirrel Safari.
Be a good bush-crafter. Do not light fires in any of the forests you visit. Do not collect fungi as this may be prohibited. It is against by-laws to pick or remove fungi in Epping Forest and the New Forest.
Clear up after yourself. Leave only footprints.
“The trees are singing my music – or am I singing theirs? “ Sir Edward Elgar