My learning journey was started after my early medical retirement in 2017, following my PTSD diagnosis. At the age of 38, I found myself at a loss as to what I was going to do next. What was the next chapter in my life? I had no idea how I was going to pay the bills and support my family. I’ve worked since the age of 16 and I found myself in a situation where I knew that I wasn’t well still but too proud to want to claim any benefits, besides benefits would not have been enough to support me so I had no choice but to find something.
Thankfully I received a pension payout and with that I decided to take a month out to look for something I thought I could handle. Over the course of that month, I scoured over the job sites and one day came across an advert from an outdoor activity centre asking for an assistant activity instructor based at a local scout camp near to my home. I had no real idea what an activity instructor was at this point but I had ample experience youth instructing with the Army Cadet Force, I had an enhanced DBS and the job sounded interesting so I thought to myself “Hell why not” and applied.
Within minutes of applying I had an email from the company owner asking me if I was free for him to call. Tim then called me and told me that he had an immediate position for an assistant bushcraft instructor so if I could pack a bag immediately and drive up to Great Tower Scout Camp in the Lake district, where I would be living for the next 10 weeks, then the job was mine. I told him that I couldn’t go there and then but I could leave in the morning. Tim told me that as he was impressed by my CV and previous experience and that as he really wanted me on the team, that the next day would be fine. He ended the conversation with ‘Welcome to the team” and that he would text me the camp project managers details and that I needed to make contact with him and to take my DBS up with me. Wow! I now had to tell my family the good and bad news. Thankfully there were no issues from my family regarding disappearing for 10 weeks and the next day, after not a lot of sleep, I did something very very brave considering I was still dealing with PTSD, I got in my car and I drove the 136 miles to Great Tower Scout Camp.
There I met Pete or “Chief” as I soon got used to calling him. Pete was the project manager and an instructor. I met the other bushcraft instructors – Paul, Robin and George and my fellow assistants – Tommy Lad, Mikey and a girl whose name escapes me right now. The project was a ‘Bushcraft Extreme’ camp for youths on the NCS Scheme. My accommodation was a tent and I spent those next weeks learning about bushcraft and I loved every second of it. I developed great working relationships with the team, of which I am still in contact with today. The job itself was great. I found that I already possessed many skills. I initially assisted with some First Aid lessons and quickly started running my own sessions as I was qualified to. As I also knew how to use a map and compass, I took out my own group on our weekly 10k hike stopping at places like Gummers How to take in the gorgeous views of Lake Windermere. I learnt how to build a fire, make elder whistles, skin a rabbit and a whole host of things. To be honest, I enjoyed my time there so much that before I knew it, it was over and I found myself back at home and missing the campfire.
That time in the woods and going beyond my comfort zone helped my massively with my PTSD. I started sleeping better and felt more alive. That time ignited something in me that I’d not experienced in a while and I wanted to carry on with learning bushcraft. I was unable to find any groups for women or where women would feel safe asking questions without being mocked so I decided to set up my own Facebook group called ‘Women in Bushcraft”. The group was created with the aim of promoting bushcraft, survival, adventure and its related skills and crafts. To encourage, educate, grow and to champion women by giving them a platform to showcase their skills. I also vowed to start a journey of learning and decided to set up a Facebook page and Instagram account called Vixen Bushcraft (and later a Youtube channel) where I would document my learning journey and so this website and blog was also born.
So my journey has started and I hope that you will join me along the way.