escape festive excess in the woods

It might be cold, wet and ‘miserable’ beyond the speckled panes of your kitchen window but its worth putting down the 10th mince pie and the 8th glass of sherry (or in my case Hudson Bay Spruce Beer) and grab a friend or family, brace the inclemency and blow those cobwebs away with a walk deep into the woods. But take your time, pack some cake and tea, maybe stop by for a campfire and a five -minute brew before you return to the sterility of your ‘living’ room.

click on the video below to watch Eddie and Mark starting fire-by handrill, a five minute fire and a cup of tea (then leave no trace)

Below is a diary entry from a time, around Christmas, when I grabbed my son Eddie and went out for breakfast in the woods. It does not have to be an expedition. It can just be a morning or an afternoon. Don’t let having ‘no time’ put you off from grasping the opportunity. These moments are priceless.

“The weather was cold, damp and miserable. Fine drizzle peppered the windscreen as we gunned up the wide track, across the deep ruts and over the ridge to where the trailhead began. The deeper forest beckoned.

My back seat driver was Eddie,  four-year old navigator and camp-chef for the day. Unusually we parked up on the crest of the valley and grabbed our kit from the trunk. Eddie looked the part, dressed in mini camo trousers and a ‘kerchief scarf. He even tried to whistle a ditty.

The first thing you have to recognise when having a young-gun in tow is that you ain’t going anywhere quietly. We were not fifty yards from the car when a dozen fallow deer broke cover, bolting across the high pasture. Shame. Eddie called out, in his little musical voice, for them to remember to bring Santa. Bless ‘im.

We wound our way along the old green lane: part stream-bed part old, rutted highway, past the ruined crofters cottage and down to the valley bottom where the broad oaks and tapered ash yielded to a birch-ranked clearing matted with whisper dead fern. Just off stage the brook gushed in winter spate. A dead fallow lurked in the shallows, reminding me of where not to fetch our water.

The drizzle intensified into marching curtains. The tarp was up in no time. The kit out the way but still down in the mulch. Eddie and I traversed the brook at the ford and climbed briefly into a stand of dormant larch to collect tinder. The tiny snaps sounded like gun-fire in the sombre, dank silence. Once back in camp we busied ourselves grading the firewood. Eddie will make a fine quartermaster one day. Eddie scavenged some birch bark from around the clearing and soon we had a crackling fire. It even promised to give a cherry glow to the camp: striking against the monochrome sky.

We discovered a small spring oozing from the side of the valley. Eddie pushed an angled stick into the muddy strata to coax the trickle away from the mud n’slate bank. It worked, and soon we had a canteen of clear spring water.

Back in camp Eddie fed the fire, gingerly at first then with growing enthusiasm nearly smothering it with attention. He joined in the blowing as we gently nursed it back to health. But maybe it was my fault for letting such a young fire go for so long whilst we went in search of water. Breakfast soon followed – eggs, bacon, sausages all cooked in a pan on a trivet. Eddie turned the bangers, I flipped the eggs. Piping hot water, boiled at the end of the pothanger, made some thick, unctuous hot chocolate for Eddie and a ‘raise-the-dead’ coffee to help give me some zest. I looked at my watch, three hours had passed and Eddie was sitting with his little knife whittling a stick….not a bored hair on his damp little head, absorbed absolutely with his task. He even helped pack up and ‘leave no trace’; scattering cold ash to the four corners and raking leaves over where the fire once stood.

We hummed to each other all the way home. Him pointing out tree roots and burrows, I stumbling over them with the kit. Even the rain did not dampen our spirits. We hardly noticed. Before we knew it we were back. Muddy clothes in a heap and Eddie telling his mum all about ‘his great cook out’. He asks me all the time when are we going again. And can we track deer next time aswell.

I’ve captured his imagination. The hard work is done.”


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