The Primitive Skills Year

In May 2017 we will be launching The Primitive Skills Year a course designed and delivered to instil students with the practical know-how of utilising natural materials in a woodland environment for their comfort throughout 10 modules spread over an 18 month period.

This course was originally designed and delivered as The Bushcraft Year and through instructor insight and some fantastic customer feedback has now evolved into what we think will be a truly immersive experience into stone age and so-called primitive skills.

So what does The Primitive Skills Year entail?

The first part of this course is all about getting you clothed in buckskin. One of our first modules looks at taking a few different species of deer and with an understanding in the differences of these skins applying them to specific parts of your attire. You can expect to be busy on this module with plenty of scraping, graining, soaking, rinsing, wringing, dressing, stretching, working, softening and smoking.

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Softened Muntjac hides smoked over a simple hoop frame.

We promise it’s worth it. You will be left with luxuriously soft buckskin from which to craft a shirt and a pair of moccasins for your feet. The beauty of this course is its sequential programme whereby you not only learn a craft, make an item but then actually get to field test it out in the woods over the entirety of the programme.

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Students head out of camp wearing self-made clothing from buckskin.

With clothing on your back the focus can shift to making tools. This course makes no excuses when it comes to teaching primitive skills, the use of metal scrapers during hide work is both efficient and necessary from a time point of view but with this graft out of the way our students are given the time to familiarise themselves with the fascinating processes of working bones and stones.

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Scoring along the edge of a Muntjac leg bone to produce a tool blank.

We will walk you through the methods for systematically reducing bone and stone into blanks that can then be fine tuned to produce items such as needles, awls, scrapers, adze blades, arrow heads and burrins. I love the realisation encountered during these tool making sessions that you need to create a tool in order to create the tool you had in mind which then allows you to go on make the next tool…

Many of these tools are fast, simple, elegant, dispensable and very effective for their intended purpose, who needs metal anyway?

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A range of flint knives made by students and instructors.

Let’s play word association.

I say stone age, you say hunter-gatherer…the phrase is synonymous with our prehistoric ancestors and we know that they relied heavily on animals for food particularly through the winter months in northerly latitudes. Trapping would have gone a very long way to providing calories for communities but these peoples were undisputedly hunters.

With that in mind we look to undertake a bow making module where we not only produce a weapon known to have been used over 9000 years ago we aim to do it by using the tool kits with which our distant ancestors worked! This is a bow making weekend with a twist… well lots of twists actually, in the natural fibres we look to harness for their strength when used as bow strings.

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A student shapes a bone projectile point with a few simple flint flakes.

You have clothing, you have tools, you have a hunting weapon, now it’s time to realise that everything else for your comfort and well-being comes from plants and the intimate knowledge associated with each species and how to use it. We take a very close look at plant fibres during this course and have dedicated an entire module to cordage making from various plants and trees. You will undertake more than simple two-ply nettle cordage here.

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Students collection and creation of braids, cords and fibres: sinew, Nettle, Bramble, Rosebay, Elm, Willow, Spruce root and Lime bast.

I love the process of a gradual reduction in reliance on modern materials and the growing sense of accomplishment seen in students as they learn more and more how to recognise, harvest process and make items they need from woodland materials. One of the biggest leaps forward here is the resignation of synthetic string or what one student brilliantly named ‘horror cord’ …known throughout bushcraft as paracord!

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Dyeing barks for craft work on a later module.

It is amazing just how frequently this stuff is used for ‘this and that’ when out in the woods and rightly so paracord is a very desirable item. So what do we do when we don’t have any, can’t get any, lost it, or simply don’t want to rely on something we have absolutely no idea on how it is made, what it is made from or the effects of its production on the environment? Well, that is what this weekend hopes to answer.

We hope that providing the Primitive skills Year student with a range of fibres for cordage and also a range of natural substances that can be made into glues and pitches will give them the freedom to choose whichever fixing they feel most appropriate for the task in hand. The cordage and glues module does exactly this and we have a series of workshops on making pine pitch, birch tar distilled from bark and also hide glue.

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A student makes a quick running repair with a hand made pine pitch adhesive.

A course that started in May very quickly approaches Autumn and Winter and although you adopt a ready-made round house as your accommodation for the early modules of the course we insist on taking you through the all important considerations for shelter and protection from the environment.

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The nearly finished ‘super shelter’ as named by our students!

Shelter building takes time, a lot of time and so we will be looking at nomadic style shelters that can be erected very quickly and most importantly in an energy efficient manner. You will have the chance to camp out in a woven frame shelters clad in deerskins, relaxing on woven grass mats and basking in the warmth of your long fire… or you could retreat to the roundhouse!

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There is always more to learn: here a student figures out lighting solutions on a winter night in the teepee.

By the end of The Primitive Skills Year you will at the very least have:

  • Spent 25 nights out in the woods throughout an 18 month period encountering all the seasons’ weather
  • Created buckskin from deerskins
  • Crafted a buckskin shirt and moccasins
  • Learnt to use a primitive fire lighting kit
  • Created a nomadic style shelter
  • Learnt to weave from willow and bark
  • Made many metres of cordage from a range of plants and trees
  • Understood how to make 3 different natural glues
  • Crafted a primitive flat bow utilising flint tools
  • Trapped cray fish in a woven pot of your making
  • Harvested wild plants for food
  • Tracked wild animals
  • Identified winter and summer constellations
  • Created beautiful flint and bone tools

The concept of this course is not just to make something. We want you to make it and USE it so that you fully understand how materials perform and if you ever re make a craft item you will have first-hand experience informing your improvements and alterations.

What else you learn will depend on your personal approach to the course, the questions you ask, the time you put in between modules and ultimately what the woodlands have in store for you.

There are still places available for The Primitive Skills Year intake in May 2017 and don’t forget if you feel the programme’s duration, cost or content is not exactly right for your primitive skills learning needs we do offer each module as a stand-alone course to be booked. We would be delighted to hear from you if you have any questions relating to this unique course.

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Graduate students of The Primitive Skills Year (Class of 2015) heading home immersed, smokey and happy!

Here’s to a fantastic 2017 out in the woods, we hope to see you there!

Adam Logan.