Lighting Fires and Treating Burns – not necessarily in that order!

Survival.  It means different things to different species and something that I was forced to ponder on after I made a shocking discovery the other day. Sadie’s grave had been dug up by a fox. I assumed it was a fox as I couldn’t think of any other creature around here who would do such a thing. We buried her 6 months ago so this must have been a desperately hungry fox.

Surprisingly, as gruesome as this discovery was, I felt very sorry for the poor creature who was desperate enough to have unearthed a long-buried corpse – and we all know whippets have very little flesh on their bones at the best of times.  For this particular fox, unearthing this carcass was obviously worth the effort involved in digging it up, perhaps even part of their practice of using buried bodies as a winter larder and merely part of its normal survival strategy.  I carefully put the disturbed soil back over what was left of our poor little Sadie and tamped it down with my foot.  She is already well over the rainbow bridge by now, anyway.

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For us, survival is more likely to mean the more extreme “Bear” Grylls (British adventurer, writer and television presenter) art of knowing how to get out of a situation or environment that may be threatening for us and knowing which strategies work best in different situations.  For instance, there is no such thing as bad weather just the wrong clothes.

screen shot of John Lofty's ultimate survival guide.  I've just downloaded the App on my phone!

screen shot of John Lofty’s ultimate survival guide. I’ve just downloaded the App onto my phone!

These long winter evenings have been put to good use reading about how to hone my own self-survival strategies for my pilgrimage, doing some risk assessments and learning how to turn my horse into the ultimate bomb proof specimen that we all desire from our equines.  That pile of books has grown over the weeks so I thought I would share some of the titles with you.  Still a lot of reading to do……and some books are American which means they often do things very differently.

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However, there’s no substitute for getting out there and doing it for real, where possible.

  • First Aid for Horse Workers

As I experience my first frost of the winter, I am not here in Cornwall but up near Chichester, getting snarled up in dark, rush-hour traffic jams, brushing up some half forgotten first aid skills on an intensive two-day course.  (see my beach hut pictures on The Artist as Pilgrim).

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As we all know, working with horses is not without considerable risk to life and limb!  Judging by some of the horror stories of horse-related accidents recounted by some of the participants (happily they all lived to tell their tales, obviously) on this First Aid course designed for ‘horse-workers’ and run by the BHS, it’s a wonder anyone goes near these animals.  I was reminded that the humble hunting stock, a piece of clothing that is wrapped around the neck, is actually a very practical piece of clothing designed to be used as a tourniquet in case of emergencies – for horse or rider – whilst out in the hunting field.

For anyone interested, here is a brief reminder of what to do in an emergency (click on images to enlarge them):

IMG_4537And for treating burns:

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Its as interesting as it could be for a classroom-based course but for my money, I would have preferred more ‘horse-based’ first aid, tho’ I’m quite sure, a lot of the techniques we used could easily be adapted to use with horses.  (My son suggested I try out my ‘mouth to mouth’ techniques on Tommy before we head off! haha.)

  • Bushcraft Skills

And this week I learnt the subtle distinction between mere survival skills or knowing what to do in a medical emergency, and bushcraft skills. Bushcraft is about knowing how to exist within the environment, not necessarily to escape from it.

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Back in Cornwall on a gloriously sunny Saturday, I’m in the middle of a bog at Bostraze Nature Reserve, attending a morning of Bushcraft skills courtesy of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.  Our trainer, qualified coppicer, woodsman and practicing environmental artist, Greg Humphries, shows us how to light a fire…….

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Greg demonstrates the art of fire lighting, firstly by digging a shallow earth pit, being careful to remove the roots that could act as fuses

using dried King Alfred's Cakes collected from dead ash trees as fire lighters

using dried King Alfred’s Cakes collected from dead ash trees as fire lighters,

creating sparks with a simple fire lighter to ignite the cake

creating sparks with a simple fire lighter to ignite the cake, blow on them to keep the embers glowing.

once the cake is glowing with embers, it is cradled in a nest of straw or dried grass and gently blown with oxygen that provides the fuel for the flames.

once the cake is glowing, cradle it in a nest of straw or dried grass (which you have gathered during the day and stuffed into your pockets) and gently provide the oxygen needed to fuel the flames.

once the fire is going it needs to be fed with gradually bigger pieces of fuel.....already gathered of course.  This requires constant supervision to keep it going.

once the fire is going it needs to be fed with gradually bigger pieces of fuel…..already gathered of course. These stages require constant supervision to keep the fire going.

Finally, extinguishing a fire is as important as lighting one.  With water or earth until fire is completely extinguished, returning the turf patch leaving little evidence of disturbance as possible

Finally, putting out a fire is as important as lighting one, with water or earth, until the fire is completely extinguished, returning the turf patch leaving as little evidence of disturbance as possible

Indulging in a bit of foraging, we  found some tasty sorrel leaves, and toasted some stinging nettles over the fire, using Ribwort Plantain (below) to rub away any stings in the process……(dock leaves are rubbish, apparently)

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and make a survival rucksack by binding some coppiced willow twigs into a frame and attaching a hoody or sweater!

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Tada!  This kind of improvisation is very satisfying and at times felt like we were being transported back in time knowing that the sort of fire lighting techniques and equipment we have used today are not so very different from ancient practices our ancestors might have used.  Such as the U-shaped frame that was found on the body of the Iceman hunter, discovered in the ötztal Alps by hikers.  After reporting their finding of a body on the mountain, and the subsequent autopsy, they discovered that Otzi – as he became known – had not died as the result of a recent fall in the mountains but that he was in fact the victim of a murder that took place 5,000 years ago! (more info on link above).

If you are really interested and have half an hour to spare, this video about a small survival pack is pretty impressive.