As a bushcraft instructor its rare that I actually get time to enjoy the outdoors for myself these days so I was more than keen to join my friend Steve when he proposed we hike the North Downs Ways or at least half of it anyway.
But being bushcrafters we couldnt do it hiking from b+b to b+b, packed down with brand names and luxuries, we had to do something more "traditional" - after all did the Roman's under Ceasar do that? Or the Pilgrim's??
Way back when I first left the army and went to work as a assistant instructor for Woodlore I often went walkabout but being unable to afford camp sites or b+b's I used to go what I called "tramping" ......... and this is what myself and Steve choose to do this time. Traveling light, sleeping rough and enjoying the freedom to which our ancestors were born.
*I should point out here that tramping does what it says on the tin - its not expedition style campcraft, no luxuries and comfies. Tramping means sleeping rough, where you find a place etc - I should also point out that this my be viewed by some as tresspass which is a civil offence and I do not condone or advise anyone to take such actions. Damage to property, makes tresspass a criminal offence and that is something I am strongly against.
Unlike Scotland, England has no right to roam act and as such "tramping" means we are only expressing our natural right to travel and rest upon the lands of our ancestors - but we do not damage them or deface them so others can not enjoy them.
As such rule one - no fires!
Rule two - only uk legal cutting tools allowed (as you will see you dont need more anyway!)
On the last day of November myself and Steve set off on our travels.
Arriving at Dover Priory station we had a quick cuppa and posed for a happy snap before tabbing off through the town toward the start of the trail.
Here the North Downs Ways and the Saxon Shore way mingle so as a walker you get to enjoy both as well as the bracing coastal weather you also climb out of Dover on a route lined with bunkers and gun emplacements built during the last war.
As we turned inland the heavens opened and set the theme for the rest of a week where we (and Kent) suffered over double the counties standard monthly rainfall in two days married up with driving winds and sub zero temperatures.
The weather, rather than the miles was to prove our greatest challenge but enjoying our freedom we found some interesting shelters such as a old Pillbox where we stopped for a much needed hot drink!
I know many of you kit junkies out there will be dying to know what we took. Apart from wash kit and basic emergency items (first aid, compass, torch ect) we each took a sleeping bag, bivi and tarp. Warm jacket (Montane down) UK legal pocket knife (mine a Case Jr Scout, which proved more than capable of doing everything I needed a cutting tool for, from carving tent pegs out of thumb thick hazel to preping food and even helping treat a errant blister!) we both had 2 litres of water and a thermal mug. For food all we took was a few satchets of porridge, cup-a-soup and a reindeer salami.
Suffice to say much of the hike was just that hiking and as such not much to tell - so I wont bore you to much - pictures speak volumes and when the clouds permitted the views were stunning.
One or two tales worth mention however - midweek a terrible storm hit us, we slogged on and were soon soaked through to the skin - as night closed in a temperatures dropped we needed to find shelter, a shelter better than a wind blown tarp and the bushcraft Gods did provide as hiking deep into a stretch of woodland we came across a old lorry trailer used by beaters as a rest area. Never was such a thing more welcome and if not saving our lives it certainly went a long way to making them bearable that night!!
Another tale people might find of interest is the fact what 'out of season' we had the downs to ourselves and in a week came across only two other groups of people - and all of them soldiers! One group out doing a 30 mile hike the others out enjoying a bracing mountain bike ride .......... suffice to say we, as our ancestors would have done, stopped to exchange greatings and news. Much to the armies amusement they were impressed to see two 'civies' as mad as they were, even if they did point out that they were at least getting paid to be out there!
Hiking from Dover to Rochester we had planned to enjoy a steady stroll of about 1.5 miles an hour covering the 54 miles in a relaxed 5 days, bearing in mind the limited day light hours we planned to do 11 miles a day, allowing for us to gather food and find water ect as we went.
Much to our surprise the weather, or more correctly the rain and the subsequent sucking mud made this a harder task than planned and yet one which we could have easily completed in 4 not five days! The last night found us settled and comfy in a small strip wood only 4 miles from our expected finishing point.
We finished the walk hiking across the Medway Bridge, where I told Steve how Ceasars army had swam across the river and then fought a battle against a ancient British host before decending down to river level and a much deserved junk food fiest at the Golden Arches!
A fantastic week which even the bad weather enhanced rather than hampered. We were both reassured in ourselves to know we had succeeded where many other 'shrafters' would fear to tread. We had proved ourselves capable of living up to the bushcraft ideal, we were actually able to carry less by knowing more, we were able to replace kit with knowledge and feed and sustain ourselves along the way and we were able do, rather than just dream of doing, bushcraft!
Rather than just the usual sitting around a campfire and talking about it, admiring your shiny kit next time you get some free time why dont you saddle up your old rucksack, lace on your hiking boots and get out there for a tramp - experience the freedom and see if your bushcraft skills are as good as you would like to think they are!!??
One things for sure - if you do, your most likely to meet myself and Steve out there as now we've tasted the freedom of roaming wild we will certainly be doing it more and more -
For what could be more 'bushcraft' than going walk about just as our own aboriginal ancestors did?