Hello, my name is Paul Kirtley.
This website is part of my mission to help others become more competent, rounded outdoors people, who also respect the natural environments they visit.
From humble beginnings in late 2010 when I didn’t even know how to register a domain or start a website, I’ve chipped away at this internet thing and the site has become highly regarded by readers around the world.
Outdoor life is no longer a hobby or a pastime for me. It’s a passion I turned into a full-time occupation. I’ve been a full-time professional outdoor skills instructor since 2005. I’m fully invested in a life of developing practical outdoor skills and the knowledge to support this – both developing my own abilities and helping others develop theirs.
My primary focus is bushcraft and I’ve been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. I started with a part time job with Ray Mears, assisting him and Juha Rankinen on bushcraft courses at Woodlore. This role turned into a full-time job offer and I worked as Course Director of Woodlore for five years.
In 2010, having had a very fulfilling time at Woodlore, I wanted to strike out on my own. It was then I started my company Frontier Bushcraft Ltd., which offers skills courses, trips and expeditions. It continues to go from strength to strength. I also started this website in 2010. I wanted to share material here, for free, that would help others to get the most from their outdoor life.
What you’ll find here on this website is a range of materials, varied in both type and format. There are clearly written articles, tutorials, photoblogs and trip reports. There are also videos and audio podcasts. Despite the varying approaches and styles, these are all aimed at providing you with the benefit of my experience and the experience of others. On my podcast in particular, I seek to interview and have conversations with people who are experts in their field or who have unique experiences.
I also encourage you and other readers to share your experiences, thoughts and perspectives on all the material on this site via the comments sections under each entry here. Many articles have dozens of comments underneath them, some hundreds. These comments have become unique knowledge-bases in themselves and it’s an honour to be able to use this site to nurture a really helpful community of outdoors people – something I have to admit was initially an unintended consequence of having this site but one I quickly grew to appreciate and enjoy. Even though I’ve never met some of the prolific commenters here, they’ve grown to be familiar online friends.
In addition to my central passion, of passing on bushcraft skills and knowledge, I’m also qualified as a Canoe Leader and Mountain Leader. I do enjoy a solid journey by foot or by canoe and it’s a pleasure to also guide people through varying terrain, especially when we can look at the landscape through the lens of bushcraft. Some of my first wilderness experiences were on solo backpacking trips and while these experiences were liberating, intense, impactful, I still felt there was something missing. Sometimes I felt I was in a bubble with no direct connection to the environment other than my boots on the ground. I noticed when I utilised a campfire, I felt more connected, both with the landscape and something primal within, than when I used my stove. Compared to now, my fire skills then were relatively rudimentary, though, and I had a strong urge to know more.
I’d had an interest in survival skills since I was in my early teens, however, and these skills had, I suppose, underpinned some of my confidence in my self-reliance when out on the trail. The backpacking trips in my late teens and early 20s reignited my desire to know more about the environments I was travelling through, what I could use there, not just as an emergency fallback but much more. I wanted to know what I could integrate into my journeys and camps. I had a little foraging experience, mainly passed on from my parents while living in various rural areas as a child (I never lived in a town until I went to The University of Edinburgh). Having occasionally picked some wild edibles on backpacking trips, including one memorable occasion with a large haul of wild strawberries in the Spanish Pyrenees, I began to wonder what other foraging opportunities I was passing by out of ignorance.
These were some of the threads that led me to move beyond simple survival skills and standard backpacking practice to study bushcraft. In the 1990s I began my study of bushcraft in earnest. I read many books on traditional living skills, foraging, botany and more. I made notes then tried things out in the field. I watched what few relevant TV shows I could find and I found World of Survival, one of Ray Mears’s early series of shows. I bought Ray’s early books then sought out the courses he taught. I attended several courses with him per year for a number of years and after an Arctic skills course with Ray Mears and Lars Falt in 2003, Ray asked if I would assist on some of his UK courses.
So it was that I continued my study of bushcraft, working increasingly closely with Ray Mears as well as working with and learning from other experts such as archaeobotanist Gordon Hillman and mycologist Claudia Wegner.
Eventually I gained full instructor status with Woodlore and was presented with the celebrated antler-handled instructor’s knife, being one of only a small number of people to have gained this recognition. Ultimately I held the position of Course Director at Woodlore, in which role I was responsible for all of Woodlore’s bushcraft courses in addition to managing the team of course assistants and instructors, including their initial recruitment and subsequent training.
Leading a team is never as easy or straightforward as you imagine but I enjoyed the challenge and I did work alongside some talented aspiring instructors and course assistants, from whom I also learned a lot. Whatever your position, it’s worth remembering that everyone you meet knows something you don’t. My experience at Woodlore, starting as a student on my first course in 2000, through to leaving my role as Course Director at the end of 2010 spanned more than a decade. What I learned through this period was, by most people’s standards, immense. But I now realise it was just the foundation for future learning.
I’ve spent a lot of time working on skills on my own, as well as gaining experience of travelling in wild places. My travels have taken me to Europe, North America, Africa, Australia and Asia but the list of wild places in which I’d ove to travel never seems to get any shorter. Over the years I’ve also sought opportunities to spend time with people who live close to the land, from Sami friends in the north of Sweden to First Nations friends in Canada to hunter gatherers in Africa, but also gamekeepers, stalkers, fishermen and foragers closer to home.
As I’ve indicated, I’ve been very fortunate to work with many skilful and knowledgeable instructors, including Ray Mears, Juha Rankinen, Lars Falt, Ray Goodwin and David Scott-Donelan. I’m very grateful for what I have learned from them, in terms of subject knowledge and practical skills but also by being able to observe then understand their various approaches to teaching, instructing and coaching. These are important aspects of an educator’s craft.
It has been teaching bushcraft skills that really allowed me to gain an altogether deeper understanding, to master certain physical aspects as well as hone my ability to teach and coach. Since 2003 I have delivered hundreds of weeks of courses and led dozens of weeks of trips and expeditions. I’m also grateful to have been invited to speak, demonstrate and lead workshops internationally at events in The Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, as well as regularly sharing knowledge and skills at domestic UK events such as The Bushcraft Show, the Open Canoe Symposium and the Open Canoe Association’s Canoefest.
In some respects, however, I feel like so far I’ve only just scratched the surface. Bushcraft is a broad umbrella term but at its heart is a practical study of nature. Nature is big, varied and complex. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.
On this site I endeavour to share what I do know, what I have learned from application and experience, my current level of understanding. My knowledge is a work in progress and forever will be but I hope the material here is helpful to you.
I continue to be a student of bushcraft and of nature, researching, practising, applying, failing and succeeding. I also continue to attend courses, seminars and development training with other professionals in a number of fields. Plus, I continue to make wilderness journeys of my own including canoe trips, backpacking trips, ski tours and snowshoeing/hot-tenting, some solo and some with trusted adventure companions.
In addition to writing articles for this site, I have had many magazine articles published, notably for the Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine, Walk Magazine, and Scouting Magazine.
I have contributed written sections to several books, including a manual for the Scout Association and several sections in Kevin Callan’s Winter Camping book. I have contributed photographs to these books and several others too. My own book on Wilderness Axe Skills And Campcraft will be published in early 2021. Find out more here.
In addition to the above, other things you might like to know about me that provide some context for the material/perspectives on this site – I have a particular passion for tree and plant identification; I am a member of the Association of Foragers; I have an Honours degree in Mathematics; Before I transitioned to instructing outdoors skills and knowledge full-time, I worked professionally in risk assessment, management and pricing, a background that continues to be useful in aiding rational decision-making about various aspects of my work; I’m something of a navigation nerd; I hold the Deer Stalking Certificate 1 (DSC1); I have studied a style of Ju Jitsu to black belt level and Wing Tjun Kung Fu to 1st Level Technician (black belt equivalent); I enjoy cooking, especially over a campfire; I’m a keen photographer and try to use my photography to better illustrate my articles here and elsewhere.
I believe that no-one is born knowing bushcraft. It has to be transmitted from one person to another and in learning the skills and knowledge that are useful to you, you have to internalise it an make it your own. This generally involves a fair bit of practise and practical application. You can’t just learn it in theory. I hope this site, even in a small way helps you on your journey to owning the skills you want to hold and reaching the wild places you want to visit.
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