We had gone to the woods in search of a place for our cooped-up teenagers to let off steam and try out a little bushcraft. Rod Anderson Boyle of Green School runs regular family bushcraft sessions at the Forestry Commission’s Wendover Woods. So on one delightfully wet day we set off, bikes on board, to explore the woods and try our hand at breadmaking, knife safety and firemaking.
The torrential rain finally slowed to a gentle drizzle as we drove up the long and winding road beneath elegant dripping beech trees, until we reached the car park deep in the heart of Wendover Woods. Dan (15), Clifford (14), Connie (13) and Frankie (12) had been less than enthusiastic about going out on such a wet day, but when we got there they soon jumped on their bikes and raced off to explore the cycle tracks winding through the trees.
Wendover Woods comprises 325 hectares of mixed coniferous and broadleaved woodland on the northern edge of the Chilterns escarpment, offering spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. It is large enough to feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere, yet it offers something for everyone.
If you’re feeling intrepid, there is a high-wire adventure in the form of Go Ape, an off-road cycle trail and an extensive network of routes for both horse riding and orienteering. There is also an exciting woodland play area, a café, and barbecue stands so you can cook your lunch. This magical place is also perfect for family adventures, such as making shelters and playing tracking games, but if you time your visit right you can try some natural history and Rod’s bushcraft activities.
Sparking into life
Our first task was to attempt to start a fire without using matches. At the best of times, making fire is a real challenge, but in the wet, without matches or
any newspaper, it seemed like an impossible task. Rod pointed out that our ancestors managed to do it, but could we?
He demonstrated two or three different methods, stressing that firemaking requires both perseverance and concentration. Of course, these traits are rarely seen in teenagers, but to our surprise they soon forgot about the rain and became completely absorbed.
Our first task was to try to make feather sticks – fine curls of wood that will light easily. As well as being a great way to start a fire, the activity also improves your knife skills. Rod showed Connie how to hold the wood on her raised knee, and then carefully carve away from her body and down the stick in slow, steady movements, producing the perfect feather sticks. Before long there was a big pile of the thin curls of wood, ready to be lit. Now all we needed to do was make some fire.
Using a bushman’s spark generator, made of a piece of flint and a rod of steel, we repeatedly struck the flint and steel together to generate a shower of sparks over the feathered wood. Eventually, an ember set the feathers alight. Some of the teenagers were struggling to get the hang of it, but soon Connie was shrieking with delight, holding up her burning feather stick for all to see.
“You just need to do it loads of times to make more sparks than the rain,” she said excitedly. Meanwhile, Dan made an ember in a tinder nest of birch bark and straw; lifting the nest up in the air he blew steadily until it burst into flames. He then placed it in a prepared fireplace. Everyone had learnt that making fire is challenging, but it brings a powerful sense of satisfaction, even on a wet day.
However, children should only make fire when under close adult supervision and in areas where firemaking is permitted. Fires are not generally allowed at Wendover Woods unless under Rod’s supervision on an organised course.
Making outdoor bread
Once our fires were crackling away, we had a go at making bread, which is suitable for younger children and saves you from having to tidy up a messy kitchen, too. We joined a group of hungry children mixing bread dough before winding it round peeled hazel skewers, ready to bake over the glowing embers of the fire.
The addition of herbs, spices and even chocolate chips made the hot bread even more delicious, but it was the sense of achievement that brought a smile to the faces of all involved. Bushcraft has a happy knack of doing that.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the A41, take the Wendover exit and then the B4009 towards Aston Clinton. Take the first left towards Wendover. After ½ mile, take a left to Wendover Woods
and St Leonards. The main entrance to the woods is on the right, where there is a pay and display car park. Buses will take you as far as Halton and the Chiltern Line runs a regular train service to Wendover from Marylebone.
FIND OUT MORE
Halton, Wendover HP22 5NQ.
Rod Anderson Boyle’s Green School aims to give you the confidence to go into the great outdoors and feel comfortable with nature.
Cafe in the Woods
Wendover Woods Car Park
Built in 2006 in the middle of the woods, the café is open 364 days a year, 9am-5pm (later in the summer months) and offers freshly prepared food, most of which is locally sourced.
The Ramblers’ Retreat
Hostel-style accommodation at Wendover House School during school holidays and at weekends. Booking essential.