Walk Like a Shadow: A Day With Ray Mears, Ashdown Forest, East Sussex - 29th December 2005

Ray Mears - bushcraft expert and TV legend - runs several courses throughout the year, via his company Woodlore, which range from introductory walks through to complete two-week treks through the jungles of Belize. The trick is getting on one, as the demand is so great that eternal vigilance (or luck) is required when monitoring the e-mail list for a cancellation spot or a new course appearing. And so it was when an e-mail arrived for a day course entitled "A Christmas Walk in the Woods" in Nosher's inbox: about 60 seconds later a place was booked. The course itself is held in Ashdown Forest, and starts from the nearby scouts' centre at Broadstone Warren. 20 people arrive in the carpark for 9.45am (Nosher had driven straight down from Suffolk, having left at 7.15am), and shortly afterwards Ray himself arrives. The group then heads off to build 3D models of the local terrain out of heaps of leaves, learn about tracking (to which the light covering of snow contributes immensely), create fire without matches, learn how to navigate by using trees (if you look carefully, their branches tend to point south), do a spot of archery under the tutelage of expert bowyer Chris Boyton and generally get a chance to listen to someone with a passionate and genuine affinity for the landscape and the rapidly-diminishing skills of native bushcraft. Ray Mears is as affable in real life as on telly, and tells some great stories in an engaging way whilst we hike around the woods of East Sussex - the day is thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening

next album: New Year's Eve and Day, Thorndon and Thornham, Suffolk - 1st January 2006
previous album: Boxing Day Miscellany, Hordle and Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire - 26th December 2005

Contributed by Ellie: Nosher takes aim under the watchful eye of Chris Boyton

Contributed by Ellie: Nosher's group clear away all traces of our camp fire

The first task is to build 3D models of the area

Ray Mears inspects our 'models'

The group hikes off into the forest

Ray Mears spots some grasses covered in the deadly fungus Ergot

Ray finds something interesting in a tree

Chris Boyton introduces his bows

An introduction to archery

The tracks of a fox are pointed out

Fox tracks

Ray explains the differences between male and female deer droppings

Chats in the woods

Ray takes a bit of beech bark from a dead tree lights it with a spark

Ray gets a fire going

We are encouraged to get in touch with trees

We get a lesson in fire lighting

The Woodlore team's fire is going

Nosher's group's firelighting efforts

Campfires in the woods

The low winter sun shines through the trees

The scene looks almost neolithic, as wisps of smoke rise through the trees

Our camp fire finally gets going well. Annette, one of the Woodlore guides, comes over to check.

Ray and his group's camp

Ray warms his longbow up over the embers of the fire

Some archery occurs

Ray and Chris do a bit of 'roving archery'

Chris Boyton lets an arrow off

Ray has to dig one of his arrows out of a fallen tree

Ray uses a quick-fire bushman hunting technique

An iron-ore-tinged red stream flows through a snowy landscape

The uses of sphagnum moss are explained

A huge beech tree, pollarded 600 years ago

Ray carves a picture of a pawprint track in a piece of fungus

Back at the car park

Ray does some book signing on the bonnet of his Land Rover

Ray signs an axe

More signatures

Members of the group take it in turns to have photos taken

A photo with Ray Mears

The group disbands

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Contributed by Ellie: Nosher takes aim under the watchful eye of Chris Boyton