31 January 2017

26 January 2017

Journalist Lenny Antonelli Spends Two Days Learning Bushcraft

Journalist Lenny Antonelli spends two days learning bushcraft in the mountains of Kerry with Outdoors Ireland

Ever wonder how comfortably you could survive in the wilds of Ireland if you were dropped deep in some remote mountain glen?

That’s what I went to Kerry to find out on a cold and windy autumn weekend. I had come down for a two-day bushcraft skills course with Outdoors Ireland, and must admit, I was skeptical. It’s one thing to watch Ray Mears live comfortably in the boreal forests of Canada — or see reality survival shows set in tropical jungles — but the Irish mountains are barren, rugged, and wet. What on earth is there to eat or build a shelter from?

Our small group — myself, a Dutch woman and two Polish ladies — met on Saturday morning in the Muckross Park Hotel for our briefing. Our instructor Nathan handed us each one tin of spaghetti hoops and one tin of baked beans. “Now, over the next 36 hours I want you to try to get by on eating just these, and whatever wild food we can find,” he said.

He later added: “After extreme cold, cold and wet climates like Ireland are the next hardest to survive in, if you’re lost in the wild.”

We drove out of Killarney, down ever rougher boreens, deeper and deeper into the mountains. Finally we parked on sheep-grazed pasture by a remote mountain lake. By the water’s edge we rubbed charcoal on our faces (it’s a natural sunblock), and Nathan showed us how to correctly eat rosehips (it’s all about cutting the hairy seeds out). Then we followed a track through old farmsteads, along the course of a rushing river.

Along the river, Nathan showed us how to collect nettles (for soup) without getting stung, and we also gathered thistle-roots, and gorged on the delicious nuts inside the heads of the thistle flower. Then we collected rowan berries and crab apples, and followed the river through pastures full with flowering gorse, deep into a craggy mountain glen. We crossed another stream in a small birch wood, and gathered birch bark to use as tinder for our campfire later.

Not long later, we left the river behind and headed for a small oakwood sheltered by a steep crag, deep in this wild valley. This is where we would make fire and build our shelters for the night. “You can sometimes hear the red deer bellowing here at night, and see their eyes glowing up on the hillside,” Nathan said.

Soon he was showing us how to make our simple debris shelters, using an A-frame made of deadfall sticks propped up against a tree, with a thick layer of bracken on top, to keep the wind and rain out. “And if it was raining, you’d need about twice as much bracken,” he said.

In the mean time Nathan had built the campfire (we’d be working on our fire-making skills the next morning), by digging a pit and carefully removing the mat of soil (which he’d put back the next day, to hide any trace of the fire). We gathered twigs for kindling and bigger deadfall too, while Nathan built a tripod to hang pots over the fire.

Then we sat around the campfire as night fell and the valley darkened, taking turns to hike down to the river to gather water every so often (we kept a pot boiling at all times, to make sure there was always plenty of clean drinking water). We had our warming nettle and thistle root soup, then spaghetti, then a crab apple and rowan berry stew. But apart from Nathan, we’d all been scoffing sandwiches and chocolate on the sly, too. (When I came back to this valley with Nathan again the following spring, we cooked a big wild feast in this same wood from ingredients we’d gathered or caught  — nettle soup, spruce needle tea, wild river trout fresh from the river and stuffed with sorrel, with dandelion root coffee to finish).

Then we sipped some hot whiskey by the campfire before returning to our cosy shelters, as the wind whipped down through the valley, shaking the trees. I slept deeply, and woke the next morning for a breakfast of baked beans and coffee (Nathan says it’s one of the few luxuries he brings with him when practicing bushcraft).

Then we got down to practicing our fire-making skills, using our flint strikers to light the birch bark we’d collected the day before. I struck furiously onto the birch bark for about twenty minutes, generating plenty of sparks, but no fire, and eventually gave up. The cotton wool, by contrast, lit instantly. “You can see how hard it is to light a fire with just flint and birch bark,” Nathan said.

We dissembled our shelters, covered up our fire, packed up, and left as little trace of our camp behind as possible.  Hiking out of the valley, Nathan showed us some basic animal tracking skills, examining different footprints and scat, and pointed out a spot by the river where two stags had recently done battle, leaving a wide muddy slick behind them.

As we arrived back to our start point, I was feeling tired but satisfied. I had spent two days in the wilds of Kerry and had slept well, ate well (with a little cheating) and survived comfortably with just a few basic tools. I’d been wrong about how comfortably you can survive in the Irish wild — and I was only just starting to scratch the surface of bushcraft in Ireland.

22 January 2017

Beginner To Lead Climber

Our next six-day Beginner To Lead Climber Course starts Fri 3rd Feb.

Full dates are 3rd - 5th Feb plus 10th - 12th Feb.

Places left available if you are interested in booking a place.

For more details please contact Nathan on info@outdoorsireland.com or 086 860 45 63.

15 January 2017

13 January 2017

Hiking Boots & Socks

Students sometimes ask about taking spare socks with them outdoors, so if their boots and socks become wet they can change.

My answer is that if you have wet socks you will also have wet boots, so spare dry socks will simply become wet again.

If you are over-nighting then definitely bring spare socks. Nothing nicer than climbing into your shelter or sleeping bag with dry socks on your cold feet. However if just outdoors for a single day I would wear a pair of good quality hiking socks, with a thinner pair of socks over or under them.

Wearing two pairs of socks is super comfy, protects better from pounding and blisters. Also if your boots become wet two pairs of socks gives you a wetsuit type effect, hopefully keeping your feet warm.

By all means empty your boots of water and wring out your wet socks if need be. In tough conditions too much stop/starting and messing with boots/socks can become an issue. I have seen this slow down a group far too much, resulting in being caught in darkness and the inset of hypothermia. If your feet are wet simply keep going, unless you have a good reason for otherwise.

Best of all though keep feet as dry as possible for as long as possible. This means good quality leather hiking boots, with a good welt and a high rand. Laced securely. A pair of gaiters. Waterproof trousers on in advance of being needed. Walking pole in boggy ground. Good route choice and navigation planning, for example, instead of cutting through a depressed wet boggy area choose to follow a spur or ridge to the side.

Nathan - Outdoors Ireland

10 January 2017

Bushcraft Skills 1 + Forest Navigation Skills

We have two pretty awesome training courses coming up.

The first is Bushcraft Skills 1 on 21st & 22nd Jan; covering survival skills, shelter building, fire building, cooking, water sterilization and food foraging.

The second is Forest Navigation Skills on 25th & 26th Feb; covering the skills to navigate confidently and comfortably through deep dense forest. This includes a mix of map navigation, compass navigation, tracking skills, and using the wind/sun/trees/moss/water.

For more details please contact Nathan on info@outdoorsireland.com or 086 860 45 63.

4 January 2017

The Yew Tree

The Yew Tree - all parts toxic apart from the berry, which is delicious. The seed within the berry is highly toxic though and must be carefully removed.

The foliage is actually more toxic than the seeds, and increases in toxicity when dried.

Yew seeds or needles used to be dried and ground into powder which was used as a fatal poison in medieval days. Predating that Celtic warriors, and warrior tribes around the world, would sometimes carry yew poison to self-ingest if they were captured by an enemy and through torture there was a risk of betraying their tribe.

Yew poisoning symptoms include increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, collapse and cardiac arrest.

Even yew pollen can cause headaches, lethargy, aching joints, skin rashes; and is a trigger for asthma.

Having said that yew is an beautiful and majestic tree, often reaching 400 - 600 years of age, with huge druidic, historic and religious importance. I have a large yew growing beside our wood shed and am delighted to have it there.