Exploring the Wilderness lifestyle

John Traynor has a wealth of knowledge about all things outdoor, he's a contributor to our magazine website and an experienced tent camper.

From an early age, bushcraft meant adventure, outdoor living, freedom. It was also a romantic vision of bygone days and something of an anachronism in our urban lives.

It was the values and activities involving in making things from natural materials and learning new outdoor skills that drew me to the Wilderness Gathering this summer in Wiltshire. It’s described as ‘A festival of bushcraft & music, wild camping & open fires’. So it proved to be. Despite all the axes and knives on belts and shoulders, it was a gentle affair, packed with happy folk earnest about their chosen lifestyle and thronged with active children.

Bow making using pole-lathe turning techniques brings old skills into focus with a practical purpose

Organiser Roger Harrington told me, “Many years ago, several bushcraft events were promoted but I felt they lacked an authentic motivation. Initially, I thought of holding an event called ‘Rendezvous’, with its mountain man connotations. It didn’t seem right, so it ended up as the Wilderness Gathering and reflects the wide range of interests and activities under that umbrella. It’s become an annual meeting place of old friends happy to welcome families and new faces.”

Appropriately at the Wilderness Gathering, many campers were well-used to setting up an independent camp

That was certainly my experience on the first day. Under torrential rain, smiling faces and cheery banter were the order of the day. In under 24 hours, a year’s-worth of rain fell through the day and night!

However, camping on the open field overlooking the Bush Farm Bison Centre venue meant there were no flooding issues to threaten the fun. It made sense to camp at the event for the weekend as day visitors had to leave by 5pm and there was plenty going on in the evenings.

Workshops and demonstrations are a key part of the Wilderness Gathering programme

Traders ranged from those selling lovely, hand-made leather and wood products to those promoting skills and selling courses. Though the surplus supplies and clothing traders drew me, it was the ‘Bring & Buy’ second-hand areas that saw me leave clutching items including an ancient climbing piton and a battered leather hat that once belonged to the main man Roger himself.
Tibor Epperjessy was happy to share the story of his journey to becoming an artisan leather craftsman with me
Conversations were easy as everybody wanted to share skills and experience so the day passed swiftly. The lure of on-site catering was irresistible though the initial choice of aubergine bake was replaced by bison burger and cheesy chips. As the evening music started, Euan’s bar was busy but orderly and all was well with the world.

Old and new materials were brought together in this meeting place constructed in the style of a Neolithic roundhouse

Returning to my tent, I paused to chat with new friends around a blazing fire and reflected on an unusual day spent well in good company. After checking guylines, it was time to retire into the snug warmth of my Buffalo sleeping bag – it seemed an appropriate choice bearing in mind the venue. Incidentally, the bag is almost 25 years old, shows few signs of wear, is the easiest ever to wash and must be a top contender for sustainability through longevity.

Handmade and unique were keywords for the products of many of the traders

The next day dawned with sunshine and, though it was plagued by clouds and showers, nothing dampened the spirits. There were plenty of opportunities to follow up conversations enjoyed on the previous day and even more to explore with fellow-campers and visitors.
All in all, it was one of the most convivial events I’ve attended. Partly due to the location/layout and the focus/scale but mostly because of the enthusiasm and friendliness of traders and visitors alike. There was so much to enjoy and more to take away. Difficult to ask for more.
As a family-oriented event, it was no surprise to meet this mum and her son carving wooden spoons together in the sunshine

If four days at the event stretches your interest too far, then day tickets are available and the nearest Club Site is just outside Salisbury.


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