Friday, 11 January 2013

Brownsea Island - Where Scout Camping All Started

Where Did Your Love For The Outdoors Begin ? For Me It All Started When I Joined Cub Scouts And I Was Taught How To Make An Open Fire, Then Cook Sausages Over The Glowing Embers. But Where Did Scouting All Start ?
Well One Contributing Location Has To Be Brownsea Island. And During A Family Holiday To Dorset In August 2012 I Was Lucky Enough To Follow In The Footsteps Of Sir Baden Powell And Walk Through The Same Woodland Where This Inspirational Pioneer Would Have Passed On His Passion For The Outdoors. I Hoped To Be Able To Do Just The Same With My Young Family And Here's How We Got On...

Brownsea Island can be found in Poole Harbour, which is located in the county of Dorset, United Kingdom. It is the largest of the islands in the harbour and can be accessed by the Brownsea Ferry. Which is exactly what my young family and I did whilst on a camping holiday in the county.
Robert Baden-Powell held his historical camp back in August 1907 for a group of 22 boys from different walks of life. And during the weeks expedition he would teach them activities such as camping, woodcraft, nature observation and of course chivalry. All of which we, as Bushcrafters or outdoorsmen seek an active interest in.
Having struggled to explain the importance of this island to my 5 and 7 year old kids and how my passion for bushcraft may never have happened if it hadn't been for a scouting camp held at this very location over 100 years ago, we decided to just grab our map and venture off into the reserve.

One of the amazing attributes of this beautiful island, is the fact the landscape and views you come across are constantly changing. One minute you are wandering along the small beach, paddling in the water. Then you climb up a shale path into the woods and you are surrounded by breathtaking forests teaming with wildlife. There are lakes and ponds, picturesque view points over the sea, huge lawned areas to play or sunbathe, then back into dense bracken searching for unusual tree art. The kids loved trying to find the painted lines on the trees, then standing in a certain place so that they would line up to create the images.

Of course there is also the actual site where the first of what was to be many scout camps, was held. Along with a small modern purpose built activity centre, where the many visiting Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides of today can spend time learning new skills, as they did back in 1907.
It is just up from here that I found a memorial stone on a raised plateau, which commemorates this historical event. And just standing there looking out at the stunning view, I thought that they couldn't have picked a better spot. It was simply breathtaking and you could see why the great man chose this particular island.
Of great interest to me was the abundance of wildlife and fungi, which I took great delight in showing my 5 year old son, explaining the different insects and trees that were all around us. We have nick named our son The Great Fungi Finder, as he is so low to the ground and is constantly shouting "Dad, fungi". For a while I just thought he looked up to his Daddy as enjoyable to be around. But sadly it was just about the mushrooms !
Our time was nearly up on Brownsea Island, as the ferry was due to dock and take us on the return trip back to the mainland. So we headed off back through the woods as the sun shone through the trees. We had spent a good part of the day just wandering, paddling, sunbathing, exploring, observing the wildlife and simply enjoying our surroundings. I suppose that is exactly what those 22 young lads would have done everyday for a week, back in the August of 1907 and it would have changed their lives forever.
It was shortly after this trip in 1908 that Lord Baden-Powell published "Scouting For Boys" which was to be the beginnings of the Scouting movement and for many people back then, what we think of today as a survival handbook. Many books have been written since by the likes of Ray Mears and Lofty Wiseman and I'm sure that the skills and techniques they now write about are not too dissimilar to what Robert Baden-Powell detailed in Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship
If you are ever visiting this particular area of Dorset, I would strongly advise you to set some time aside to visit Brownsea Island, as it is a magical place that you and your family will always remember. Even if it is just to watch the cheeky red squirrels that are resident here.
Hopefully when my kids (who are now in Cubs) are my age, they will take their children and teach them about the great outdoors, the wonders of nature and the events that happened here all those years ago that have changed young peoples lives, all over the world, for generations.
Me being one of those people...

I have included this short video, which shows you what my family and I got up to whilst visiting Brownsea Island in August 2012 (Not 1907).

Like the clever tree art that appears, like magic, as heart shaped images on the tree's and the cheeky resident red squirrels that thrive here.


  1. A pleasant piece to read and learn from. Thank you for sharing the great history of scout camping.

    1. Thank you Tyson for your kind comment, glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Thanks for the post about the beautiful history of camping in Brownsea Island. It is indeed a must-see place.