4 November 2015

Bushcraft Weekend With Outdoors Ireland

Written By Charelle Holleman.

For as long as I can remember the great outdoors has intrigued me. So when someone told me that I could go on a bushcraft weekend I jumped at the opportunity! In September I was able to join Nathan and his group at the last minute to go back to basics for a weekend.

We met on Saturday morning at Jarvies Rest Pub in Killarney where were given an idea of what bushcraft actually was. But before we got down to the nitty-gritty, the question was asked why we had decided to go out on this weekend in the first place. For me it was just to go out, learn a thing or two and have some fun. I have had some bushcraft lessons in school so I had an idea of what to expect, but learning things and actually putting them to use are two entirely different things!

There were some things I had heard of before, but a lot of what Nathan told us was new to me. There was, for instance, the survival pyramid with at its foundation the will to survive, followed by the knowledge and skills needed, the ability to improvise and lastly your gear or survival kit. I had never thought of it that way, I assumed it referred to your most basic survival kit – a knife, some rope, tinned food... But then again, people have survived with only the clothes they were wearing. The will to survive stuck with me as well… I mean, I watch Discovery Channel and I have seen those extreme survival shows where people managed to survive for months with no gear, no knowledge – nothing.

So, after our little briefing we headed out to Lough Guitane (thank you Google Maps!) where Nathan parked the car and we continued on foot. Along the way to where we were going to spend the night Nathan showed us what you could eat and what could be used for tinder. It was really interesting to see how much of what you see around you you can actually eat! I personally really liked the nettles and thistles (there’s a part inside the flower-head you can eat and it tasted a bit like hazelnuts, yum!)…

At around five in the afternoon we arrived in a valley called Cappagh (Google Maps, what would I be without you?) where Nathan showed us how to build our shelter.

First, you had to find a spot and Nathan found me just the perfect place to set up. There was this really low-hanging branch I was able to use as a ridge-beam for my shelter. It was going to be a very tight fit, but that was the way it was supposed to be – to keep the heat inside.  So then I had to find branches for the sides of my shelter. It took me a while to find enough, but the fun was just about the start, because the next step was to collect enough bracken to make the shelter water and wind proof.

It took so long to get enough bracken for my shelter, and after a while I got so frustrated that I just wanted to quit. But then the survival pyramid came to mind with at its base the will to survive... Now, of course, this situation was entirely safe, but at that moment I realised how important it is to have a positive state of mind. So in the end it took me about five hours to get my shelter finished, but the feeling of frustration was nothing compared to the pride and fulfillment I got out of building my little hut.

After our dinner – consisting of baked beans and a penguin bar – and sitting around the fire for a while I went to bed. Now, like I said, my shelter was quite small, so getting in was a bit tricky. And then there was this little slope I had built it on as well… Sensible people would have made sure their head would be high and their feet would be low. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. Now just imagine, if you will, sleeping head down on a bed of bracken and lying inside a sleeping bag of synthetic, friction-less material… This combo resulted in me sliding head first out of my shelter whenever I moved.

Sometimes I would wake up during the night, notice that my head was poking out of the entrance (again!) and I would try to wriggle myself back inside (again). I kept thinking to myself that if anyone had been watching my struggle against gravity they’d be having a very entertaining time. I couldn’t use my hands to push or pull myself in – there just wasn’t any room – so I must have looked like a fish out of water – flopping around helplessly in an attempt to wriggle myself back inside. But the struggle was well worth it – because inside my shelter I was warm and comfortable and I slept like a baby.

The next morning we had breakfast – spaghetti-loops and warm fruit we had collected the day before. And after we cleaned up camp we got to make our own fire. This was very exciting for me, because so far I had never been very successful in lighting a fire with a fire-steel. So when I managed to build my fire and light it within the first five tries I was over the moon! I remember sitting by my fire and thinking: this is my fire, I made this… And again this feeling of pride washed over me.

It is interesting how such a small thing as making a fire or building your own shelter can give you such a feeling of accomplishment and how important it is to be grateful for these little things. We tried to light birch bark as well which was a bit harder but I think we all managed to do it (although it took me half an hour, but that’s beside the point!).

After the fire building we headed back to the car. To civilisation. I was happy to go back – the prospect of having a nice hot shower and a comfortable couch looked very appealing to me – but I was also a bit sad to go. I loved sleeping beneath the stars and getting away from the daily bustle. I enjoyed the peace and quiet…

Thank you, Nathan, for this amazing adventure!


  1. Really good write-up - I want to do this course now!

  2. Thank you! Our next one is 30th & 31st Jan in Kerry if you are interested.