Is scouting still relevant today?

Is scouting still relevant today?

Were you ever a scout?

from across the globe will meet for the 21st World Scout Jamboree on
Saturday to mark 100 years of Robert Baden-Powell’s movement – one of
several events that will run throughout the year.

Today there are 28 million scout members, both male and female, in nearly every country in the world.

you involved in the scouts? What are your scouting memories? What did
you get from being involved? Does the movement still offer useful
skills for people in the 21st century?

Scouting for Boys: The original ‘dangerous’ book for boys
Published: 28 July 2007

First published in 1908, a few months after the founding of the Boy Scout movement, Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell went on to become the 20th-century’s fourth highest-selling book. It is no longer used as a handbook by the Scout Association. Yet it still has a lot more to offer to 21st-century children than we might imagine. These extracts give a flavour of Baden-Powell’s thinking …


Camping is the joyous part of a Scout’s life. Living out in God’s open air, among the hills and the trees, and the birds and the beasts, and the sea and the rivers … all this brings health and happiness such as you can never get among the bricks and smoke of the town.

Hiking, too, where you go farther afield, exploring new places every day, is a glorious adventure. It strengthens you and hardens you so that you won’t mind wind and rain, heat and cold. You take them all as they come, feeling that sense of fitness that enables you to face any old trouble with a smile, knowing that you will conquer in the end.

But, of course, to enjoy camping and hiking, you must know how to do it properly …


The best place for a camp is close by a wood where you have permission to cut firewood and to build huts. So if you know of an owner in your neighbourhood who may let you use a corner of his wood, there is your chance … Or you can go to mountains, moor, or river, and get permission to pitch your camp.

In choosing the camp site, always think what it would be if the weather became very rainy and windy. Choose the driest and most sheltered spot, not too far away from your water supply. Remember that a good water supply is of first importance. And make sure that your drinking water is pure … When you have chosen the spot for your camp, pitch your tent with the door away from the wind. If heavy rain comes on, dig a small trench about three inches deep all round the tent to prevent it from getting flooded. This trench should lead the water away downhill.


If [a Scout] has no tent, he doesn’t sit down to shiver and grouse, but sets to work to rig up a shelter or hut for himself … Notice the direction from which the wind generally blows, and put the back of your shelter that way, with your fire in front of it … A bivouac shelter is the simplest form of hut. Two upright stakes are driven firmly into the ground, with a ridge-pole placed in position along the tops. Against this a number of poles are made to lean from the windward side, with crossbars to support the branches, reeds, sods or twigs, or whatever is to form your roofing material … When you start to thatch your framework, begin at the bottom and lay your roofing material in layers, one above the other in the way that slates are put on a roof. In this way you make it watertight. For thatching you can use thick evergreen branches, or grass, reeds, sods, bark or slabs of wood (called "shingles"), or small twigs of heather closely woven in. It is generally advisable to lay a few branches and stout poles over the thatch when finished in order to keep it on if a gale springs up.


No Scouts ever leave a camp ground dirty. They sweep up and bury or burn every scrap of rubbish. Farmers then don’t have the trouble of having to clean their ground after you leave, and they are, therefore, all the more willing to let you use it again.


A camp is a roomy place. But there is no room in it for one chap, and that is the fellow who does not want to take his share in the many little odd jobs that have to be done. There is no room for the shirker or the grouser – well, there is no room for them in the Boy Scouts at all, but least of all in camp. Every fellow must help, and help cheerily in making it comfortable for all. In this way comradeship grows.


Before lighting your fire … remove all grass, dry leaves, bracken, heather, from round the spot, to prevent the fire from spreading … The usual fault of a beginner is to try to make too big a fire. You will never see a backwoodsman do that – he uses the smallest possible amount of wood for his fire.

First collect your firewood. Green, fresh-cut wood is no good, nor is dead wood that has lain long on the ground. Get permission to break dead branches off trees for it … To make your fire, you put a few sticks flat on the ground, especially if the ground be damp. On this flooring lay your "punk" – that is, shavings, splinters, or any other material that will easily catch fire from your match. On this you pile, in pyramid fashion, thin twigs, splinters, and slithers of dry wood, leaning on the "punk" and against each other. These are called kindling.

A good kind of kindling can easily be made by slitting a stick into several slices or shavings. This is called a firestick. If stood up, with the shavings downwards towards the ground, it quickly catches light and flares up. A few stouter sticks are added over the kindling to make the fire. Set light to all this, putting your match under the bottom of the "punk". When the wood has really got on fire, add more and larger sticks, and finally logs.


The boy takes the spindle of hard wood and holding it upright with one hand, the palm of which is protected by a wood or stone hand piece, he twists it rapidly round by means of a bow whose string is twisted round the spindle. The point of the spindle then works its way into a board of soft wood, which the boy holds in place with one of his feet.

A slit at the side of the board leads to the hole made by the spindle, and the hot ember which comes away from the wood falls into this small opening and sets fire to the tinder which the boy has placed under it.


When you start out for a walk or on patrol, note the direction by the compass. Also notice which direction the wind is blowing; this is a great help, especially if you have no compass, or if the sun is not shining.

Every old Scout notices which way the wind is blowing when he turns out in the morning.

To find the way the wind is blowing when there is only very light air, throw up little bits of dry grass. Or hold up a handful of light dust and let it fall. Or wet your thumb and let the wind blow on it; the cold side of it will then tell you from which direction the wind comes.


At six o’clock in the morning Greenwich Mean Time the sun is east. At nine it is south-east. At noon it is south. At three o’clock in the afternoon it is south-west, and at six o’clock it is west. In winter it will have set before six o’clock, but will not have reached west when it is set … To find the south at any time of day by the sun, hold your watch flat, face upwards, so that the sun shines on it. Turn it round till the hour hand points at the sun: allow for Summer Time if it is in operation. Without moving the watch, lay a pencil or stick across the face of the watch so that it rests on the centre of the dial and points out half-way between the figure XII and the hour hand. The direction in which it points is south. This applies only in the northern hemisphere.


Every Scout ought to be able to read signs of the weather, especially when going camping … He should remember the following points: Red at night, shepherd’s delight (ie, fine day coming). Red in morning, shepherd’s warning (ie rain). Yellow sunset means wind. Pale yellow sunset means rain. Dew and fog in early morning means fine weather. Low dawn means fine weather. High dawn means wind (high dawn is when the sun rises over a bank of clouds, high above the horizon). Soft clouds, fine weather. Hard-edged clouds, wind. Rolled or jagged clouds, strong wind.


A Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others. And he is to do his duty before anything else, even though he gives up his own pleasure, or comfort, or safety to do it. When in difficulty to know which of two things to do, he must ask himself, "Which is my duty?"; that is, "Which is best for other people?" – and do that one. He must Be Prepared at any time to save life, or to help injured persons. And he must try his best to do at least one Good Turn to somebody every day …

A Scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other Scout, no matter to what country, class or creed the other may belong … Friends don’t fight each other. If we make friends with our neighbours across the sea in foreign countries, and if they keep friends with us, we shan’t want to fight. And that is by far the best way of preventing future wars and of making sure of lasting peace.

Extracts from Scouting for Boys reproduced by permission of The Scout Association. The original 1908 edition of Scouting For Boys is published by Oxford University Press, £12.99 hardback or £7.99 paperback. In the UK, Scouting offers fun and adventure to 350,000 girls and boys aged six-25, supported by 100,000 adult volunteers. To find out about opportunities where you live visit

Know your knots

[These] are useful knots which every Scout ought to know, and ought to use whenever he is tying string or rope … The best way to learn is to get a fellow who knows to show you. You need to practise a lot, or you will soon forget the knots.

THE REEF KNOT, for tying two ropes together under strain, as in tying up a parcel. Being a flat knot, it is much used in ambulance work. The best simple knot, as it will not slip and is easy to untie.

SHEET BEND, or common bend, for joining ropes of equal or unequal thickness together. Make a loop with one rope and pass other end through and around whole loop and bend it under its own standing part.

HALF HITCH, made by passing rope-end round standing part and behind itself. If free end is turned back and forms a loop, the hitch can be easily loosened. A round turn and two half hitches [illustrated] are used for tying a rope to a spar.

THE BOWLINE, a loop that will not slip, to tie round a person being lowered from a building, etc. Form a loop, then in the standing part form a second, smaller loop. Through this pass the end of the large loop and behind the standing part and down through the small loop.

Scouting for celebrities

Perhaps predictably, the Scouting movement has helped form many heads of state, including Tony Blair and John Major and, overseas, Jacques Chirac, George W Bush and Vaclav Havel. Nor is it surprising that many adventurers, explorers and naturalists should have been Scouts, from David Attenborough ("It taught you self-discipline") to Richard Branson ("My Scouting days helped me to cope with adversity"); or that top sportsmen such as David Beckham and Andy Murray should have enjoyed scouting; or even that chefs such as Antony Worrall Thompson ("To me it was ‘How to set fire to things’") and Jamie Oliver should have developed their cooking skills there.

What is perhaps more surprising is the number of ex-Scouts who have gone on to reach the heights in fields of entertainment that might have made Baden-Powell blanch. Liam and Noel Gallagher tend to play down their Scouting days; but Jarvis Cocker remains so enthusiastic that he donated the platinum disc for Pulp’s Different Class for his old Scout troop to auction. Other rock ‘n’ roll Scouts have included Boy George, David Bowie, Keith Richards (who credits the experience with teaching him the teamwork needed for performing in a band); and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, who was a patrol leader. More controversial ex-Scouts include Lord Archer ("We had a quasi-uniformed discipline that might be difficult these days") and Michael Barrymore.

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