Wild and backwoods camping has had a bit of a revival in recent years. Championed by the likes of Mors Kochanski and Ray Mears it has become known as Bushcraft and in the UK it has gained great popularity through the Bushcraft UK forum run by Tony Bristow.
Every couple of years I try to get to the Bushmoot, their annual gathering at Merthyr Mawr in South Wales. Almost a fortnight of backwoods camping with good friends.
This year, I decided to do things a bit differently and take the Steam Tent equipment with me for a more elaborate encampment than usual there.
We dubbed it Steam Tent Corner and although we were running a bit less in character than our own camps it made a good showcase and attracted a good bit of interest.
I was joined in the camp by John and Jane Curran, Good friends from Edinburgh and both keen craftspeople as well.
They arrived with a cavas Yurt / Ger which they made themselves and proved perfectly that it is not just the obvious kinds of tent that will fit well into our encampments.
Some of our other co-op members have established their own camp at the moot, known as Dingly Dell and the communal center of it has expanded somewhat over the years too.
We enjoyed fine hospitality around their fire on more than one evening.
I mentioned that John and Jane were craftspeople too and one of the things I have always enjoyed about the Bushmoot is sitting around the fire, swapping skills and techniques with like minded people.
The Bushmoot is set up with skill sharing as it’s primary focus and this is done through formal and informal workshops on the core days of the event.
Inevitably though, after attending for a number of years I tend to find I have done many of the regular workshops before so I usually take a project of my own down with me.
This year I decided to make myself a Ditty Bag, based upon the sort of bags a seaman would keep his equipment in during the old days of sail.
This particular design appealed to me because although duffle bags are great for storing and carrying stuff in, they are not the best design when trying to find something that has fallen to the bottom of the bag.
The advantage of this design is a zip in the side that opens the bag almost to the base and makes rummaging through the contents a much easier affair.
Being set up for so long gave me a good opportunity to refine some aspects of the communal area and equipment.
One of the things I most commonly heard from some of the interested parties that visited our corner of the woods, was that they would love to do something like this but just couldn’t carry this much equipment.
The thing I tried to make clear is that you don’t need this much stuff.
The whole point of having a communal area where people can cook and gather is that means that individuals do not need to bring all that stuff. It’s there to be used and I can carry most of it in my van.
The point of a Co-operative is that we all bring what we can to it. I have a lot of stuff already and providing people look after it I don’t mind it being used.
The first thing that people need is their personal equipment. Something to wear, something to eat and drink out of and preferably something in keeping to sit on around the fire. Not too much to ask I hope.
On some sites, we should have room for a “plastic camp” slightly away from the centre of things so that people can bring modern nylon tents, bedding and the like, without disturbing the atmosphere of the main camp.
The next thing to look at is an “in character tent that will get them closer to the action, this could be small or large depending on what they can find or transport. It doesn’t have to be dressed out inside at first, that can come later. Such tents can be set up at the perimeter of the main camp and providing they are kept closed up, their presence will start to enhance the overall camp atmosphere.
Eventually, we hope these tents will also become dressed up within over time and join the inner circle of tents around the communal area, but there is no hurry or pressure to do that. The important thing is that we want people to be able to join in at whatever level they can manage.
I fervently hope that as our group expands and our events become more established we can adopt this craft and skill sharing ethos around our own camps.
I have never been formally taught any of the varied craft skills I have developed. I have learnt them from people that were willing to share their knowledge and I am happy to share what I now know. Even amongst the few people I know in the group we have a very wide skill base and it is through such co-operative teaching and learning that we could all expand our abilities.
Over and above all that, it is a splendid way to pass your time on camp.
I also had time to do some photography of course and on one evening, set up the camp for a quick workshop on night photography. One of the most important points to get over is that most good shots are taken before it becomes fully dark.
That sweet spot, where there is a balance between twilight and the light of the lanterns is what creates the real magic. Most of the “night shots” on this page were taken between 9:30 and 10:00pm. About half an hour to an hour before full darkness descended.
One evening even saw the camp used to take a “wedding photo”, something I have long avoided, but as Phil and Magdalena held a vows ceremony at the moot it seemed the least I could do to wish them well.
So, a lot of work and equipment to set up on my own but once the logistics were out of the way, a thoroughly enjoyable break from the norm and something I will definitely look forward to doing again in the future.