Footprint Apprentice Challenge Three: A Day in the Woods

Published on May 15, 2017 by Alex Eade

The latest instalment in the Footprint Digital Apprentice Challenge was a lesson in Bushcraft, and in a break from tradition, Tom B didn’t keep this one a surprise from us! (mostly because if we’d turned up in a skirt/ short sleeved top/ flimsy shoes, the forest would have finished us before we could get into the ins and outs of survival). On Friday 12th May, we all donned our backpacks and wellies, and headed off to Layer de la Haye, to meet our guide James Linford, and find out what was in store for us.

This apprentice challenge was particularly important, because the two teams, ‘Hannah Help Me’ and ‘Hungry Hungry Hippos’, had two points apiece. It was also particularly important, because it was when the ‘Hannah Help Mes’ decided to shed their (slightly rushed) name, and re-brand themselves ‘The Sun Bears’. Also, we were really happy to welcome four of the interns who will be joining us over the summer!

The woods were a short walk from the road, but before we could get there we were presented with the first task of the day, which came in the form of edging past a small black dog renowned locally as being friendly, but very vocal. I think the phrase ‘his bark’s worse than his bite’ has never been more apt! Once we were all safely past, limbs in-tact, we entered the woods and James gave us our first lesson in bushcraft.


The Fallen Tree

We stopped in a little clearing and he asked us what trees we could name. Embarrassingly, most of us could only recognise Oak (although, it would’ve been more embarrassing if we were arborists, not digital marketers). After a little break to stroke a friendly Beagle which ran past, and some mental coaxing on James’ part, we also managed to identify a Hawthorne, which he told us was once called a bread and butter tree because poor children would eat the leaves.

A little further into the woods, we came across an oak with a twist. The twist being that it had fallen over in the great storm of 1987, but half of its roots were still in the ground so the fallen over tree had carried on growing, and its branches now looked like trees in their own right. Nature always finds a way!

Fire Lighting

We arrived at base camp and dumped our bags, ready for a little look around, which included the welcome surprise of a beautiful field of bluebells. James called us over, and we got down to business. Firstly, he asked us what we thought we’d need if we had to survive in the wilderness. Most of us replied with fire and shelter. These were two of the most important things, but finding water was also high on the top of his ‘to find’ list – you can survive for a few weeks without food, but only a few days without water, and (depending on the weather) exposure to the elements can finish you off even quicker. After this (extremely upbeat!) conversation, James set about teaching us how to make a fire.

We had to start off with tinder, you can use anything fluffy, like cotton wool, or the tops of bull reed (somebody asked if Dandelions could be used as well – apparently, they could, but you’d need a whole load of them to burn). We then mixed that with the bark of silver birch, which James told us burned better than paper. Thankfully, James had brought along fire starters so that we didn’t have to mess about with flints (he showed us how to make a spark with flint and made it look incredibly easy – I highly doubt that it is!) We split up into four teams of three, and went out into the wood to collect wood to build our fires with. Four wood sizes had to be collected – spaghetti, pencil, pinkie, and thumb.

We lovingly placed our tinder on the ground in our chosen spot, and then set it alight with a spark. The spaghetti twigs were held over the flame until they caught, and then we carefully placed on the pencils, pinkies, and thumbs. This sounds like a horrendous ‘silence of the lambs’ type recipe, but it resulted in fantastic little fires, and I for one was very proud. This wasn’t part of the apprentice challenge, but it totally should have been because my team’s fire was definitely the best!


bush craft fire lighting bush craft fire lighting bush craft fire lighting

Intern Initiation

After our fire lighting success, we moved on to the interns’ initiation challenge. At this point, you have to remember that last year the interns had to walk over hot coals to earn their place in the team, so it was never going to be easy for this year’s group!

The Hungry Hungry Hippos and The Sun Bears each had to take a length of rope, and create a course through the woods with the rope that the other team would follow blindfolded. Another company might have made this easy for their opposing team because of the blindfold aspect- but not Footprint. Both teams took their rope over tree trunks and under tunnels of bracken and twigs, trying their absolute hardest to make it as difficult as possible – proper team bonding.

Each team stood in a line and were blindfolded, and then we were led to the start of the course. What the interns didn’t know, was that the Footprinters had their blindfolds taken off almost instantly. The interns had to do the course blindfolded, whilst the Footprinters just pretended to do it – very mean of us, we know! If it was a test of character that we were judging them by, then they all passed with flying colours, plus the looks on their faces at the end was worth the little bit of guilt we felt during the course!


Time for Lunch

After putting the interns through their initiation, we decided it was about time that we fed them. In the email memo it said that lunch would be included. We were a tad bit concerned that we’d be catching our own squirrels, or trying to decipher the non-poisonous mushrooms from the poisonous ones, and then our concerns were heightened by the bread and butter tree – would we be sent out into the woods to munch on leaves? Our concerns were unfounded; however, as James had brought along a feast of potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and sausages, with spiced apples for dessert. After reinvigorating our fires and building wooden tripods for the pots to hang on, we chopped, prepped, and plopped the food into boiling water – a lot easier to do on a hob rather than a roaring fire! Whilst we ate, the apples cooked in the embers.

 sausages cooking over a fire in the woods  

The Apprentice Challenge

The Apprentice challenge was much more complex than when we had to eat after eights off of our faces at the Christmas party (although similar amounts of skill were involved – after eight eating is a tricky business). This time, we had to separate out into our teams, and build a rope bridge between two trees. The objective was simple – the first team to get across the bridge was the winner of that all important point. The Sun Bears almost had it but were dramatically pipped to the post by the Hungry Hungry Hippos (this seems to be the theme amongst Apprentice Challenges). The Hippos are now one point ahead, with only a few more apprentice challenges to go this year.


  rope bridge

Wood Whittling

Our next activity was whittling wood into a knife – a very useful skill, although perhaps not the best thing to do immediately after The Sun Bears felt robbed of a point…

Hannah was extremely proud of her whittled knife. She said that she wasn’t very good at first (but then who is when they first whittle?!) but eventually she felt like a ‘really successful cavewoman’ and she also said that it surprised everyone that you could make something really cool out of a stick. Meanwhile Lori was unable to whittle, because she was too busy protecting a bee from being trodden on. Priorities.

We had a great time getting out of the office and into the fresh air, and learning new skills. It was fantastic to see the new interns again (some of them joined us for a Mindfulness ‘Think with Footprint’ session last month) and it was also a victorious and successful day for the Hungry Hungry Hippos who enter the next Apprentice Challenge one point up on The Sun Bears!
 knife whittled from wood in the forest    

Thanks very much to James, for taking us out into the wilderness, teaching us about Bushcraft, and sending us home again all in one piece!

By Alexandra Eade, Content Manager.