It's summer. You can tell it is summer because the big orange ball in the sky is here and it's not raining as much. Or, at least the rain has a slight warm quality to it. So, now is a good time to get in touch with your inner Bear Grylls. NO! That doesn't mean drinking your own wee on camera- (although how you earn your living is entirely between you and HMRC) I mean Bushcraft.
The exact definition of Bushcraft varies, depending on which expensive book you read. But it's basically doing stuff outside with knives and wearing beige shorts. I've expanded that definition a little bit for the sake of this article, but there are loads of very serious people you can consult if my own working definition isn't good enough for you.
Spoon carving is great fun, and a good way to dip your toe into Bushcraft. You'll need a few things to get started, but the big advantage of this area of Bushcraft is that you get something at the end of it- specifically, a spoon. A sharp knife, a sort of bendy knife, a saw, and an axe are all you need to get started. But you'll be pleased to know that there are a wide range of different fancy bits you can get as well.
My brother and I had a full day course with Barnaby Alexander Carder- affectionately known as Barn the Spoon. He looks exactly how you'd imagine a professional spoon carver to look like, with the advantage of being one of the kindest (and most patient!) blokes I've ever met. His book, Spon (2017) is a great treaty on spoon carving- but there really is no substitute for having someone teach you how to do it in person. Courses are available at the Greenwood Guild.
On the other end of the spectrum- Blacksmithing is very much a kit-intensive activity. The most obvious thing required is a forge. Which, unless you have both a very large workshop and incredibly patient neighbours who don't mind the sound of banging metal all the live long day. That being said, it is awesome! If you've ever wanted to pretend to be a Viking swordsmith or a dwarf from Lord of the Rings (and who hasn't!) then this is for you. For most people, a one or two day course is sufficient to enjoy the experience. Fortunately, there are dozens of places across the country that offer a "blacksmith for the day" type thing. Oldfield Forge offers a range of different options, including a romantic sword forging experience for two! One word of caution with these experience days- it's worth checking what you can expect to bring home with you and if anything like handles are extra. The finished result obviously depends on your own level of skill and ability to follow instructions to a certain extent- but you don't want to pay five hundred pounds and spend two days only to come home with a wonky bottle opener.
Coming a close second in the manliest bushcraft thing, wood working is exactly that- you take some wood, do some stuff to it with tools, and then you have a thing. Unlike spoon carving, which can be largely self-taught, wood working involves a lot more complicated tools, which can be dangerous if not used safely. Until you get your confidence, I'd advise you to find a few classes. If you can, gently forget the idea of creating a Ron Swanson level masterpiece straight away, and don't compare yourself to others. Just enjoy what you can create for its own sake and enjoy getting better at your own pace. Wood working is not just one skill, but rather a whole bunch of a lot of other skills- all of which you need to learn to make something. Annoyingly, the most important one of which is patience.
If this all seems a little bit too macho, there are plenty of other things to do. The Brogdale Collection has a range of short courses- such as foraging and weaving with willow. They also run seasonable food courses- such as making elderflower cordial. Which as well as being less likely to cut your own thumb off, also gives you a big bottle of elderflower cordial to take home with you.
The aptly named Cider Academy offers a comprehensive education in making Cider and Perry (that's cider, but made from pears, in case you didn't know) Based in Gloucestershire, they provide an extremely thorough five day course on the theory and practice of cider making- with an Advanced course, in case the introductory five day course wasn't quite enough for you.
As with all these things, safety first! Listen to the instructors, and don't be a muppet. Use all the safety equipment provided- and remember, it's better to ask a stupid sounding question if you're not sure, than to accidentally cut off your toe with a pruning hook.