Introducing Steven Hanton

IN

Sometimes, in our line of work, when we are seeking a closer connection to nature through discovering flavour, we run into individuals who have found contact with the wild through some other quest. We met Steven Hanton last year, when he helped us set up a camp in the wilderness, giving us a place to learn new skills and explore flavours and ideas.  Here, he tells us how bushcraft has shaped his life, and why some of these skills have set him up for the lockdown. 

SH: “It’s difficult to confuse this one with other plants” George said, “as it looks like clover, but it grows on the shady forest floor instead of open pasture”. As I put the small, delicate three-leaved plant into my mouth, a burst of acidy lemon drew my cheeks in and my mind was blown. “You can eat weeds?” I said, amazed. “Sure” he said, “and the good news is you can eat clover too!” Little did I know as a ten-year old on Scout camp, that I had been introduced to a subject that would enchant me in my teens, consume me in my twenties, and in my thirties turn me into that dad who’s child looks like they’ve never left the bush they were born in.

‘Bushcraft’, or ‘Wilderness skills’, is an umbrella term that loosely describes a collection of skills and knowledge that people used (or use) to live outdoors for extended periods of time. In essence you combine what’s in your mind and muscles with nature’s resources to live. In my head its separable from ‘Survival’, which I consider muddling through, by hook or crook, usually for a short time. ‘Wilderness skills’ are things like rubbing sticks together to make fire, building natural shelters, having a detailed knowledge of edible and medicinal flora and fauna, and primitive technology like making bows and arrows or flint tools. But for the old-timers its more than that, often becoming a philosophy.

After my introduction through Scouts, and subsequent binge watching of shaky Ray Mears recordings on VHS, I did my first week long Bushcraft course aged 15, by the end of which I realised I was fully obsessed. Next, in a slightly rogue move, I spent my entire first University loan payment on a 7-week trip to Alaska before term began (literally picking the largest tract of wilderness I could get to) to test the very limited knowledge I thought I had. I walked and fished my way through the endless woods, solidifying my love for the wilds and reinforcing just how much there was to learn.

Steven’s other enterprises include hand building canoes  and oak framed buildings

Following as much personal Bushcraft study, reading and practice that I could fit in around my Outdoor Education degree in my native Edinburgh, I left University and landed an apprenticeship with a well-respected Bushcraft company in Cumbria. It was here that I would be invested in, given support to explore this vast subject and be given access to the greatest aid to learning there is – to teach.

Wilderness skills is a great subject for an impatient learner like me, as there are so many avenues to explore and one could spend a lifetime pursuing just one many of its many subjects. I spent a year trying to make the perfect Ash flatbow, and when I’d broken enough of them, I abandoned that and went to live in a Tipi in Maine so I could track animals through the snow for weeks on end. Each time I delve into a subject in isolation, another part of the picture forms, and what at first seems random, slowly begins to form part of the bigger picture. Over the years, my Bushcraft experiences have begun to come together to create a deep reverence for the natural world and what it means to be human. They have taught me that nature is not a museum, that it’s good for our mind and our muscles and that we should endeavour to keep it in our lives.

I first met the Botanist team when they asked me to help them with one of their events on Islay. Their ambitious idea was to conduct their annual ‘Forager’s Summit’ entirely from an expedition style base camp, somewhere on Islay. This amazing week sees ‘The Botanist’ invite truly inspirational and visionary people from across the globe to Islay to share stories, experiences and knowledge. These folks are world renowned foragers, chefs and bartenders who break the mould when it comes to using foraged ingredients in their work. I was more than a little excited to get an in! We set up a rustic camp by the shores of a remote loch on Islay and feasted on exquisite local produce, foraged wild foods and cooked using traditional techniques such as ponnassing and underground steam pit cookery.
The Botanist’s ethos surrounding ‘Terroir’ immedicably struck a chord with my own experience of place. Bushcraft requires you to get good at natural history, learn about your place and be conscious of seasonality. This event was a real celebration of all of these things and it was exciting to spend a week with like-minded people who all have a reverence for this philosophy.

As fatherhood has re-aligned my responsibilities in recent years, the diary has a less exotic feel to it than it did in my twenties. I won’t be travelling to Borneo to make blow-pipes with the Penan or lugging a toboggan up a frozen river propped up on home-made snowshoes. But unknowingly, this change of pace was the perfect transition to the lockdown we are all going through. My own journey into Bushcraft began in the fields behind my house, and it was there that some of my greatest lessons have been learned. How do I identify plants? Why are some woods better for friction fire than others? Can I follow that fox trail over the leaf litter? This lockdown has given me a good reason to rediscover what’s right here and what really matters. Before this all kicked off, I wouldn’t have made the time to gather willow rods with my son to weave as Spring advances at speed. I wouldn’t have been here to plant up the garden with herbs, and I wouldn’t have done a daily walk to the same spot in the woods to tune into the language of the birds as I used to. If ever there was a good time to reconnect with your own place, embrace the seasons and find passion for the detail in nature, it is now.

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We hope to be working with Steven again once restrictions are lifted; hear more from him through our social channels over the next few weeks.

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