As far as outdoor course providers go, the 'traditional' course window is probably not far off the classic May to September as the time that clients are more inclined to book up. So off I went to Hatfield forest to up with the Woodlife Trails crew for the Woodland Feast weekend in off season February.
As I walked to the basecamp I wondered if I'd see any fresh nature sightings as I'm going to attempt to record all flora and fauna seen and heard during 2016. Well that would have to wait because I got there before first light, and armed with a small faggot to get the campfire going, so once the fire was started, the kettle went on and we were some way to being ready for the day as folk rose.
As the morning brightened it became clear, as JP set up the game for the day, that any attendee would not go hungry on this woodland feast weekend. I was particularly taken by the breast feathers of the cock and hen pheasants...One of those details that we perhaps take for granted...
The early morning chill prompted me to get this bad boy on the go and get some fuel for the fire for socialising, warmth and most importantly cooking.
The woodland feast is a season starter and predictably based around a Saturday of food, but it also a certain informality to it as well. The attendees gathered to be given an outline...And as it was food based Pablo had asked me to make some jerky, but more on that later.
Even with the informality there was a suddenly a lot happening. JP got going on the game prep talk and as he was going to get to the venison promptly I fired up my homemade jerky tower...So JP some venison please...
...Er JP, the venison?
Er J...Ah that'll do, a nice piece of venison backstrap which I cut across the grain (or the pieces can be prone to crumbling) and simply marinated in a shop purchased herb and spice jerky mix. Just using a dry mix gives the added advantage of any liquid seasoning not needing to dry out first.
Whilst the prep and jerky stuff was happening, Head chef Vince cracked on with the start of two fine dishes for dinner and tea...
The dinner time offering was a slow cooked game pasta which had pheasant, rabbit and pigeon in, accompanied with manly pieces of crusty buttered bread.
The forecasted rain came in the afternoon and the wind was somewhere between frisky and obnoxious for some of the weekend but the show went on. After dinner it was a varied bag with a little air rifle action...
A extended hedgerow bimble with a handsome looking edible showing through the dogs mercury and lords and ladies...
JP showing how snares are made...about the same time that the jerky was ready to be attacked. I have a decent amount of jerky pictures but I've been asked to do an article on the homemade stand so they are being saved, including a very humorous shot I have to say.
Whilst all the above was happening it's only right to chuck in a fire close up. Some decent pieces of oak, hawthorn, cherry and hazel made for a great bushcraft TV. It was especially appreciated as the rain and wind made it a little chilly at times.
And to tea with a concentrated stock which became a rich venison casserole for the evening. Just before tea time I took my trail cam out to the sound of three buzzards 'meowing' and still looking graceful in a rather spiteful gust. There's no picture of tea on a plate as it was dark but trust me it was gorgeous and I've got a bit of a wimpy 'lame game' palette. Vince's son also provided a good pudding too.
And to the Sunday morning. A quick pre dawn walk and a lot of crows and jackdaws noisily landed in several trees during the bimble which prompted an almost Hitchcock like moment, which quickly followed with around eight fallow deer bolting into the treeline. Jackdaw and fallow (along with a tawny call) duly added to my previously mentioned 2016 flora and fauna list. When I got back there were some small glowing coals to be had so the larch and clematis bark tinder and kindling I'd prepped on Saturday was quickly up and running with the help of a handful of old fire dogs. Kettle on again, rinse and repeat...
You may have seen Des and his catapult base at a show near you (such as the Wilderness Gathering), well he took some folk through the construction of a functioning catapult starting with, almost inevitably, a forked stick.
And after dinner a spot of target practice ensued using premade and new catapults. Sadly, several tin cans were harmed during the time the base was running. The weekend finished with an extended nature walk back to the cars whilst the final camp admin was sorted. The whole weekend had unfolded at a steady unrushed pace and I'm sure everyone got a lot out of it. One advantage of the wind was that all tents, tarps and the chute were dry and packable. Did I say that the food on Saturday was great?
One disappointment was that the trail cam that I'd set up only had some bunny action to show for it's efforts, oh well you can't win them all. Interestingly I had a 'living tree' style coat on and I've never noticed that the patterning doesn't show up on the trail cam footage before. Now I have a small amount of the jerky left, I could use this natty device and bring it back on the next course, or I could just scoff it...But which one? As we were on the verge of leaving I noticed a red kite circling on the Eastern edge of the forest which is a first for me at this site. Never a dull moment.
All sound good to you? Have a look here at the Woodlife Trails website.