I recently attended the “Wilderness Immersion Course” run by Woodlife Trails. The instructors Pablo and JP are both friends of mine so knowing their level of knowledge and bushcraft / outdoors skills my expectations for this course were set high... I was not disappointed!!The course was held at Hatfield Forest in Hertfordshire. This is a National Trust site that Woodlife Trails has been given permission to use. So the aim of the course was to Immerse us all into the Forest and get us as close to wildlife as possible. This included learning some field-craft, basic tracking and some bushcraft skills. Before learning a new skill the basis for learning that particular skill was explained, this enabled a clear understanding of why and how the skill worked and what it was to be used for. Next you were given an exercise to put your newly learnt skill to the test.
On the first evening after getting the safety stuff out of the way we were taught a little about zoning in.. At dusk we were taken to a part of the forest were we sat from dusk to just after dark. We were told to go and find a spot on our own, make ourselves comfortable and zone in, become aware of our surroundings and blend in. I found this to be a very peaceful and relaxing time. Once you have found the Baseline (you will learn about this on the course) any noise such as the snap of a twig or an alarm call from a bird becomes very apparent. It was then back to camp for a debrief, a quick brew and then bed.
The next morning it was up at 05.00, find a spot, zone in and wait. After a while the squirrels came out to play along with 4 Jays that were very noisy. I was watching their antics for a good 10mins when I was rewarded with a Munjact Deer crossing just in front of me.. By this time it was getting on for 08.00 so it was back to camp for some breakfast and a brew.After breakfast we created a sketch map of where we were all sitting and what we saw. We then broke camp, backpacks on our back and off we set for a day on the trail of learning and exercises. Some of the skills that we were taught included, adapting your eyes to night vision, the 8 S’s, Spore and signs, trails and runs, field craft skills to name but a few. All of this was in preparation for the evenings experience to come. The idea was at the end of the day after learning the skills taught to us by JP and Pablo we would pick our own spot to layup, setup camp and really Immerse our selves individually into the Forest. I have been too many Bushcraft meets and done my fair share of wild camping but this was different. Usually you have the social aspect, a few beers and you’re always within a few meters of someone else. In this case you were on your own, no beer, just you and the forest inhabitants. Whilst cooking tea a couple of small rodents moved through the leaves and up on to a branch just a couple of meters away from me where they had a little Gnaw on the branch then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. On reflection I think that once you have been in the forest some time and slowed right down I believe you are in a semi zoned in state by default, the little rodents really didn’t care that I was sat there cooking tea. After zoning in and Immersing yourself into the surroundings for the evening, when darkness fell it was off to bed. (Its worth mentioning that although you were camping on your own you were always within whistle distance from the instructors or another student, sound travels a long way in the forest at night. The instructor also GPS marked everyone’s location and of course you had the good old mobile phone at hand if needed).
The following day it was back to base camp for another debrief, some more sketch mapping of peoples locations and the sights and sounds that they heard. This proved to be very interesting as a picture of the happenings in the forest that encompassed the area that we all stayed in took shape. From these findings you can plot animal movements along with possible cause and effect for these movements.For the rest of the day we put into practice some of the skills that we had learnt as well as some sensory exercises. One of these involved being taken into the middle of the woods, taking your shoes and socks off, being blind folded, disorientated and then told to listen for a sound that you must make your way too. In-case you wish to try this yourself I won’t go into details of what I experienced but needless to say I didn’t walk into any trees... After this particular exercise we were sent off to zone in for 20 minutes, Wow did I feel relaxed after that.
At the beginning of the weekend we were asked at what speed in life we felt we were travelling between 100mph & 0mph, I set myself at around 80mph. By the end of the course on the Sunday afternoon I was floating around 20mph.