Fresh from her appearance on the Alan Titchmarsh show, bushcraft expert Hannah Nicholls talks to us about her passionate belief in outdoor life.
‘The best way to spend time out of doors is to have a project. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but many people have lost the ability even to be out of doors in opens spaces.’
Hannah was raised on a Suffolk small-holding and as a young mother lived in the Queensland Rainforest with three small children, no electricity and no running water.
‘We went to stay with my sister for a year, I can tell you it was quite a shock! When we arrived in a jeep, we left a dirt track, which was the ‘main road’ to then cover a further 5km down a path where my sister was living in a large outdoor shed. The walls came up to your waist, it had a tin roof.’
But gradually, she and her children got used to a more relaxed way of life. Hannah’s two elder children went to the nearby school and once they had settled, it was hard to come home:
‘It wasn’t the easiest way of living, but there was less pressure. The rhythm of life was easier. It’s all about making sure you’ve got the wood for the day and the water.’
When she got home she found a book by the American naturalist Tom Brown who learnt tracking and wilderness survival from a Lipan Apache elder called Stalking Wolf. Hannah trained with Thomas Schorr-con, at Trackways (UK) and to Tom Brown’s Tracker School, and has now taught bushcraft at Natural Pathways for ten years.
Hannah is a pioneer, but the drive towards outdoor education is gradually gathering momentum. In Wales, 70% of primary school teachers hold some kind of Forest School qualification and the majority of 3-7 year olds are taught outdoors as part of the curriculum.
In an attempt to spread this to the whole of the UK, the government’s new teacher standards now require teachers to demonstrate they can plan out-of-class activities.
‘The skills that children learn outdoors involve problem solving, collaboration and managing risk as well as care for the environment’ says Hannah. ‘One of the most rewarding aspects is seeing people achieve something they didn’t think was possible.’
Hannah’s appearance on the Alan Titchmarsh show was prompted by a growing interest shown by women in survival techniques, and to cater for demand Hannah now runs women only courses. ‘It’s an empowering experience for anyone to find that they can do something for themselves. Bushcraft is not about strength, it’s about skill and technique. Although I must admit there is quite a lot of laughter on my courses!’
She teaches basic wilderness survival, shelter building and nature awareness, water purification, native cooking, fire-building and making utensils. Her team also includes expert flint knapper Will Lord and staff maker Andrew Duncan, who makes the staffs for the BBC series Merlin.
Lief Bruylant, chief of camp fire cookery, has been an instructor on the camps for many years. She enthusiastically imparts her knowledge and skills of cooking delicious gourmet meals on the camp fire, giving many home cooks food for thought!
Will Lord teaches Flint Knapping
With thanks to Hannah Nicholls, Natural Pathways Kent, UK. Tel: (0)+44 (0)1304 842045
Other Useful Links:
Hannah on the Alan Titchmarsh show:
Field Studies Council
National Trust: Outdoors on Rainy Days
National Trust: 50 things to do before you are 11 ¾