Like many others in the UK today I woke up to a touch of snow this morning – not enough to cause any undue trouble but enough to make a photographer smile.
We visited our local church, St James, here in Bramley for the 9am service (Alison was leading the service) and afterwards I took a stroll around the church to see what stood out for me. The Daffodils had taken a bashing however when I got down low their beauty really stood out. Needless to say my kids were happy just to ping snowballs at me.
I then took a stroll around our local woods – The Frith and the first spot I found were these two horses in their winter coats nibbling on some hay. I adjusted my angle and got the lovely heart shape effect with their heads which you can see in the bottom right picture.
At this time of year it can be hard to see the colour in the landscape but if you look close enough you can see it. The Hazel catkins were all fluttering in the strong wind but I did get a picture of some hanging nice and still in a more sheltered area – they look delicate and beautiful however they are tough little things ‘hanging on there’ in the wind.
I was hoping to spot some Deer in the woods however they were all out on the fields today. The wind was strong but the Roe Deer were in the fields on the lee side of the woods avoiding the worst of it. They kept a close eye on me as I passed on by – normally they sprint off but not today – there spot was just too good.
I also spotted a few of our feathered friends in the woods from the Kite soaring overhead, the Robin flitting from tree to tree and the Pheasant making his presence felt in its usual noisy way on the woodland floor.
As Bimbles go this was a pretty special one, with lots of wind, snow, life and colour.
Unlike the Saturday where navigation skills were the focus the Sunday at Chosin Cup is all about testing the cadets skills such as teamwork, ropework, first aid and archery – to name just a few (there will be a further post on the Endurance Race).
After a short briefing the cadets were sent out in their teams to various stances set out in and around the woods earlier that morning.
Being Sea Cadets a weekend without testing their Seamanship skills in some way would not be proper so they soon found themselves having to construct a pulley system to transport water across a ‘raging river!!‘.
Bushcraft is a key part of their training now so their firelighting and pioneering skills were also tested however there was always time to take a few minutes’out‘ on the hammock.
Our adventure training boss Ben McDonald had organised for a mobile climbing wall to turn up that morning. I have no idea how they scored this event however the cadets were up and down it like yoyo’s.
A couple of challenges they faced involved climbing in pairs carrying a ball between them and making the climb blindfolded – both more difficult than you would think.
A favourite of mine is archery. This year our archery instructor Jacob brought along his Area kit so my poor bows could have a year off (I broke one a year ago so glad we have new kit). It proved a ‘hit‘ with both the cadets and staff and even the visiting VIP’s had a bash.
Perry and Deano spent the morning running the tree climbing stance. The cadets had to use ascending devices to climb up into the big old oak tree. This was done to varying degrees of success as it can be difficult if you do not get the knack right.
We had a birthday that weekend – Frankie Mae Edwards turned 13 on the weekend and the cadets had brought her along a cake to celebrate. Needless to say the staff did not get to see much of the cake – thankfully I missed out on all that polishing – well done Cliff and Dave – vary shiny job.
Normally all our classes are located outdoors but this year for some reason the First Aid and the Navigation quiz was hosted indoors – no idea why and hopefully will not be repeated next year 🙂
The one activity missing from this post is the Endurance Race – that deserves a post all of its own which will follow after this.
Soon it was time for the awards and we all paraded in the massive troop shelter on the training area. Enfield unit came 3rd, Sunbury & Walton unit came second and Poole unit won the visitors trophy.
First place went to Merton unit and the Team leader trophy went to Niamh Kelly. Well done to everyone – cadets and staff for taking part in what was a great weekend.
Catch up time again – this post is the one I think that caused me to stop blogging for a bit last year – just too much to capture and show I thought. As you can see I have finally gotten off my backside and written it up.
Chosin is the is the one cup any Sea or Royal Marines cadet who does adventure training in the London Area wants to win. It is a tough weekend where all their skills are tested.
Our new Area Staff Officer Ben McDonald managed to get the training area around Pirbright Ranges booked (they were not in operation thankfully) for a weekend in late September last year. We found a great little woodland to set up the staff camp and an open field for the cadets to use on the Friday night.
The Friday is always a hectic one with setting up camp, sorting the teams out as they arrive and planning for the Saturday and Sunday events.
I took a fair bit of video on this weekend so have made up a number of short videos for the post (hence the delay in writing this up). This post will focus on the Friday and Saturday only with a further one with the Sunday Shenanigans.
Saturday morning got off to a quick start with some staff heading out to check points and some to act as a roving assessment team. I was part of this roving team and had along with me Sharon Selby and Kim Pybus. Sharon and Kim were under training for their Basic Expedition Leaders qualification (now known as the Lowland Expedition Leader Award) and they were using the weekend to help hone their navigation skills.
My fellow colleagues Dave Lewis and Dan Keefe each had a team of trainee instructors as well to take out making for one of the best staffed Chosin Cups I can remember.
Sharon and Kim were soon off navigating and I kept a discreet distance away most of the time. We were hunting the cadet teams that had headed out earlier however they bumped into Dan’s team where one of his trainees – Gary 🙂 put a seed of doubt into their minds as to their location. Needless to say this caused a moment of two of Faffing to happen but they soon got on with things again. They did get their revenge later when we bumped into them again :-).
It was not all study on the day – Kim and Sharon are a little bit mad but great fun to be with – that is what makes them great instructors.
The teams were set tasks along the way and we came across units having their team work assessed at the First Aid stand. Not the usual First Aid but a blind fold carry through the woods – a lot more difficult than it looks – only one team member could see and they were not allowed to touch the other team members in any way.
Another stance was about communications. Instructions were given to a runner behind a tarp, the runner had to pass the info to the others who had to then navigate through a pretend minefield. Their were plenty of other stances including erecting an antennae in a tree and a navigation quiz.
Along the way I did come across some intriguing spots, including checkpoint markers (hope the Paras won), a Pine with its inner trunk burnt out, beautiful Welsh Love Spoons carved by Phil Dent and some great skies.
Looking back on my videos there were some more silly scenes apart from Sharon and Kim.
Once the teams had finished the navigation for the day they had to set up camp and cook a meal from the food they had brought and present it for inspections. Paul Townsend and Graham Brockwell volunteered for this duty – brave men 🙂
Did not get to try out the delights myself however they did manage to stagger away from the tasting session and live to tell the tale.
The cadets thought that was it for the night but they were told to strike camp in the pitch black and pouring rain, then given some co-ordinates to head for (with all their kit). Thus involved having to scramble down a steep slope using descending gear and navigating from point to point in the darkness and rain.
This did not take long and after a debriefing they soon had their tents up and got their heads down ready for a busy Sunday the next day.
Hard to believe that just a couple of days ago we had a good covering of snow (nothing like in the North & West of the UK though) and then in a flash it was gone.
We have an informal and relaxed service at 9am in our Church – St James in Bramley that I attend when I can (other conflicts being Finlay’s Footie or Cadet weekends). After the service I left Jerry and Finlay to clean the hall and had a stroll around the cemetery to see what I could find.
I spotted a lovely dew covered Daffodil and a grave marker for one of The Old Contemptibles – James Johnson – I will have to try and find out a bit more about James and his time in the army. The term Old Contemptibles is supposed have come from from an order from the Kaiser at the beginning (as known then) of the Great War when he reputedly ordered his army to “exterminate … the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army”.
After dropping Finlay off at a friends house Catherine Alison and myself all headed over to The Vyne National Trust property that is near Bramley. The Vyne had been shut during the cold snap and just re-opened again.
My first spot was some Lungwort near the main house however as usual it was the sight of the 100 Guinea Oak that got my attention. This grand 600 year old oak (Quercus robur) is propped up by a couple of poles because of damage caused by the main road to its roots (the oak was there before the road) but it is still a magnificent sight to look at. For scale you can just see Catherine in the bottom right corner of the picture.
Old & New
I was not expecting to see too much but I was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of late winter/early spring plants such as the Primrose, Winter Aconites, Snowdrops and one or two Cowslips. All these dainty little flowers were popping up near the sight of a rather rough and silvery dead conifer trunk – quite a contrast.
On the Water
I spent a lot of time watching life go by on the water. There was one lovely spot where the Snowdrops drooped over a stream, a Swan cruised by a wood carving of itself and the Ducks were happy to get some ice free water to feed under.
Amongst the Trees
There are a wide range of trees at the Vyne however the Cedar of Lebanon does produce a rather grand seed that sits upright. There were also plenty of nodules sticking out of the ground under some conifers on the bank of the lake – no idea what causes this but will check it out.
After a lovely coffee and cake it was time to pick the boy up from his friends and head home.
The final part of our Welsh Weekend with the Grumpy Chums (Rick, Gordon, myself and Stu – the order of grumpiness) last year brought us down to the Brecon Beacons and Pen y Fan. The drive from Cadair Idris was a long one due to an accident ahead of us but we got there eventually and soon had a fire on.
We stayed at the Pentwyn Farm campsite (I can thoroughly recommend it) which is 7 miles from Brecon Town and within easy reach of Pen y Fan.
We headed off from the car park at Cwm Gwdi (old soldiers may remember this as an army camp) and headed SSE up the track on Cefn Cwm Llwch ridge.
We had very little in terms of wind so the walk was pleasant enough as we ascended the ridge however we were soon in the clouds with very little visibility (I like this route as it is usually quiet).
A young couple did overtake us on the way up (sprightly things) but after about half an hour they appeared out of the clouds heading down hill. We congratulated them on getting to the summit so fast but they quickly admitted that they had not gone too far ahead and had kept us in sight as we ascended. They lost us at one stage (probably when we stopped for a break) and so got a bit concerned for themselves in the thick clouds – turns out they had no map and compass. Thankfully they carried on back down the ridge.
We soon topped out and joined the masses coming up from the Storey Arms, had a dram and got a quick piccie of Flossie Ann before heading off down to Cribben. Along the way I did ‘splash about’ a bit – Rick had a few choice words for me 🙂
Once over Cribben (finally got a view) we were off down the Old Military Road back to Cwm Gwdi car park. Everyone had achy limbs by this stage and if you know this old road then you will know how we felt 🙂
As it was our last night we had a night out in Brecon Town where we downed one or two sherberts to toast our 3 days on the hills.
I had a great weekend with the Grumpy Chums heading over Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan and would thoroughly recommend this gentler 3 Peaks Challenge.
Today has been one of working at home as our trains decided the weather was not for them.
As I had been stuck at home all day but without the daily commute into London I decided to take a Bimble around our local woods – The Frith – here in Bramley.
The snow was falling gently and the light was fading slowly. Not having the kids with me I could walk slowly and quietly. I came across a forlorn looking nest, a fresh Pheasant track (could hear him but not make him out), spotted a Hare and saw plenty of Deer in the gloom. There was one Muntjac and a herd of Roe Deer.
I shot the pictures and video using my phone so the quality in the low light is not the greatest.
Day 2 of our Grumpy Chums adventure brought us to the beautiful Cadair Idris range. These mountains are stunning to look at and a joy to walk.
The walk starts steeply, up through beautiful woods, with raging waterfalls and great views back down into the valley.
Our route was in a clockwise direction up to Llyn Cau, following the Minffordd path, over Craig Cau, Penygadair, Mynydd Moel before returning to the car park at Dol y cae.
There was a good covering of clouds over the mountains however the views over Llyn Cau were stunning. Once we got up onto the Minffordd path we soon lost the views, except every now and then when a window in the clouds opened up to reveal Llyn Cau below. We stood and watched a helicopter buzzing over the water below us and I spotted a strange shaped rock on a cairn that reminded me of the ‘Sorting Hat’ from Harry Potter – someone had carved a Grumpy Face at its top for some reason (you can see this more clearly in the video below)
We finally reached the summit of Penygadair however the visibility was as usual zero. We had a quick break in the bothy there and were soon heading over to Mynnd Moel and down.
Half way down the clouds lifted and we were treated to a breathtaking view of the whole horseshoe.
Once we got down it was time for the long trip down to the Brecon Beacons.
Enjoy the video below of what I think is a brilliant playground – Cadair Idris.
‘We need a new challenge’ – from a conversation one night in the pub with the rest of the Grumpy Chums.
The guys were looking for something a bit more challenging this time and I remembered seeing a picture on Facebook by my friend Shelly Bristow of her completing the Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge – Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan – so I put this to the guys and we were soon on our way.
Unlike Shelly though we opted for the more sedate challenge of one mountain a day and to make a long weekend of the trip. We headed (last September) for North Wales to tackle Snowdon first. As the weather was expected to be very bad with high winds and driving rain I opted to keep the group to the main tracks. We started from Pen y Pass car park, followed the Pyg track to the summit and descended on the Miners track.
Starting off we were in the shelter of Llanberis Pass however as soon as we crossed over the pass below Crib Goch the wind really picked up. There was no rain but we could see the heavily water laden clouds above us – we made best of the views of Llyn Llydaw and cracked on up.
We soon entered the clouds and the rain soon got into every nook and cranny. On the way up I chanced upon two friends Jacques and Deano coming down from the summit (Deano had been getting his nav tested by Jacques in readiness for his Mountain Leaders assessment).
I spotted quite a few people ascending Snowdon in trainers, jeans and cotton jackets – it makes me wonder sometimes what people think mountains are all about!!!!
Topping out on Snowdon was great as the wind and rain really tested everyones spirits. We did not hang around long but did chat for a while with a radio ham who had hauled all his kit to the top of the mountain.
On the way down I bumped into a young couple (a young lady and man) struggling to ascend in the wind and rain and after having a chat with them they decided best to try the mountain again the next day. The young man eventually agreed with me that a waterproof would be a better option the next day rather than the trendy leather jacket he was wearing – his young lady friend backed me up all the way 🙂
We all came off the mountain soaking wet but in good spirits. I put together a short video of what was a very drafty and damp day on Snowdon.
Parts 2 & 3 will cover our days in the Cadair Idris range and around Pen y Fan.
The weekend was about training and testing teams in Adventure Training. Hankley Common is a training area I have been going to since the late eighties. It is predominantly sandy and as it was used as a testing area in World War II there is a lot to explore.
I brought my mountain bike along with me as the sand makes it impossible to drive around the area. The Saturday was a day of cycling, observing the groups moving around the area, watching nature and eating ‘Rat Pack’ delectables 🙂
One of the stances had a lift and shift across a hillside – the cadets had to devise their own stretcher from what was in their packs. I also explored one of the old bunkers that were used to test out artillery shells. The slit showed damage from direct hits and if you shone your torch inside you could see the impact points from shells that had gone right through.
Another job I got was to set up the Night Navigation exercise. The cadets had to navigate without torches (thankfully the moon came out later) around the common to different locations using only bearings and pacings. The bunker you saw in the previous picture was the final destination – hard to find navigating over the featureless moor and dark woods.
After an excellent night in my hammock it was time to run the stances. I ran the Atlatl stance so I did not get a great deal of time to see what the others were up to.
I did though spot that there was a First Aid stance and the cadets were put through their paces on a ‘Rigging Rescue’ 🙂 There were other stances such as navigation, basha building and ropework.
I am afraid I cannot remember all the units that attended the weekend but I do remember I had a great time. Hankley is a place I remember well from my younger years and I do love coming back every now and then to make more memories
Thank you Ben and the rest of the Southern District staff and Cadets who made my weekend so enjoyable.
Over the last few years along with my family I have had some fantastic trips to France. Last August found us in Brittany once again spending some quality time with our friend Rick.
On the ferry out I caught my first glimpse of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth – no planes as yet but a sight to behold none the less.
I have known Rick for over 20 years now and he is always happy for us to visit him in this lovely part of France – I think the kids treat him kind of like a Grandad as he spoils them, then hands them back to us to calm them down 🙂
We have a few holidays throughout the year but not often are we all away together as a family. As there is so much to do in Brittany it is the ideal location for us to spend a lovely two weeks.
I kicked the holiday off with a bit of Bushcraft. We had a barbeque on the first night and Rick invited the neighbours round. The kids heard that I teach Bushcraft so we soon had the bowdrill out and in action.
I must say that this was the first time that a Princess assisted me with this particular skill 🙂
Up to now I have been creating videos and hosting them on YouTube – Alison introduced me to Vimeo. I find that this is an excellent platform for these family type videos.
The nearest town to us was La Roche Bernard and there is a profusion of artwork on display around the town. I even managed my own piece in the top picture below. It is the shadow of a yacht with a background of oily water – kinda cool I thought.
No trip to Brittany is complete until you visit Escapades Verticales. When we first went Finlay could not do all the routes due to his age and height – this year there was no stopping him.
Alison and Catherine were also in action on the routes and I tentatively filmed some of the action with my phone (paranoid I would drop it) – I now have a Go Pro but alas, not at the time we were there.
Some evenings we would stroll off down to the river and some days around the town. If you kept your eyes open, though, there was always something interesting to see from Mother Nature – I think the mole passed away from heat exhaustion as the cats were too lazy to do much.
Beaches are not usually my thing but I do make an exception on the Brittany coastline. I can usually find a cliff to scramble or a couple of convenient trees to put up my hammock.
The heat may well have gotten to me on this trip (raising my grumpiness levels above their norm) but I really enjoyed my time in Brittany last year. This year we are off up to Scotland to visit the family so Brittany will have to wait till next year for another visit.
For the last few years my wife Alison has compiled a calendar from my photography to give out as presents to our close family. Alison is both a Publisher and an author and she inspires me each year to get out there and photograph life around me – so this blog post is dedicated to my wife Alison .
Looking at the pictures in the calendar they have brought back some great memories of the last year.
We spent a day visiting our friend Molly from the Field Farm Project earlier this year where I spotted Henrietta the Hen (no idea if this is her name) wandering amongst the Daffodils.
Anther trip was to Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove (went twice in 2017). As the sea was so calm on the first trip I had to get really down low to get any sort of wave action in Lulworth Cove.
I took lots of wild flower pictures this year however I decided to see what the underside of a Snowdrop looked like – I was pleasantly surprised at the green stripes and the shear number of petals.
On a trip to Chesil Beach to meet my friends Fraser (Coastal Survival) and Dougie (an ex army buddy of mine) we spent time as a family building a Beach Henge. We came across one of these structures years ago on Chesil so decided to build our own.
This year I got myself a new phone – a Samsung S7 and I decided to test out its zoom abilities. The Stitchwort flower below was probably only a centimetre in diameter so you could say I was happy with the phone.
Throughout the year we take time to head out into the woods as a family. This shot was in our local woods at Pamber Forest – I must admit to emphasising the blues a bit but I did like the effect this had on the trees.
July found me in Ashdown Forest with the Sea Cadets. In between classes I found time to stalk a herd of wild ponies, Using my phone I managed to get this cracker of a skyline as the sun was setting.
August was holiday time and every couple of years we spend time in Brittany with our friend Rick. There are great beaches on the Breton coastline however we did find time to do a bit scrambling at Pénestin.
September is a busy time for me with the Cadets and although this picture was not taken in that month it does epitomise to me the adventures we have. I was working as a Mountain Leader Safety Officer with the Royal Marines Cadets on the Brecon Beacons earlier in the year doing a mountain night nav when I managed to snap this shot as the sun was setting. It was a long night on the mountains but everyone came off safely and had a great time.
My son Finlay is 9 years old now and had expressed interest in getting out into the hills a bit more. In October I took him along with me on a Gold DofE Expedition in the Peak District. Needless to say Finlay showed no fear of heights while exploring Kinder Scout.
My daughter Catherine has not expressed that same wish for roaming the hills however she is extremely happy roaming the woods. I loved the colours of this winter shot in our local woods near The Vyne National Trust property.
December is winter time and although I was wishing for snow in Southern England there was not much to be had. This shot was taken earlier in the year on the side of Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons. We were there to celebrate the Dining Out Weekend for our friends Perry and Graham.
This was a tough one for me but Alison decided on this shot of a Swan taking off from the River Thames. I was delivering a course at my friend John Kelly’s Sea Cadet Unit – TS Black Swan and decided to spend a half hour seeing what life was going on on the Thames – a good half hour I think.
Thanks Alison for taking the time to putting this Calendar together – without you I know it would never happen.
Ever lose the urge to do something? – well I did a couple of months ago and that was to whether or not carry on with writing up my little adventures.
I thought at first it was I because I needed to do something different but on reflection (over the Christmas period) I now know it was to do with stresses at work (Adventure Training is not my full time job).
Looking back on my pictures and videos of the year I realised how far behind I have gotten in updating this blog and – what I now refer to as my ‘Digital Diary’. Parts of this diary are instructional (The How To….. section) but the majority is a digital diary of what I get up to in my spare time.
So to catch up…………….
Last July (Yup I am that far behind) it was time to help out with our District Sea Cadet Adventure Training Competition. My good friend Dave Lewis set up the weekend on Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest and we were joined by a number of District staff. As you can see when it comes to these weekends we do not rough it – It takes years of training to remember to bring all these comforts 🙂
First thing Saturday morning the teams were up and away navigating their way around Ashdown Forest. We only had 3 teams enter this year due to a Sailing Regatta being run that weekend but they were still tested to the same high levels.
The cadets had to carry all their equipment for the whole weekend and as well as testing their navigation they had a number of leadership tasks to undertake as well.
As I said at the beginning it takes years of training to remember to bring along the right ‘comforts’ 😉 and this includes food. Alan, Dave and Charlie prepared some great food over the weekend for the staff – that roast was brilliant and I got a cracker of a Fire Face.
It was great wakening up in the morning in my hammock but it was soon time to crack on with the Sunday Stances. I had brought along some Atlatl’s and Dave brought along some Darts. These are great for testing out your marksmanship and easy to teach.
Other stances (in between the herds of wild horses) were the stalking game and the Seamanship stance. Both stances require high levels of team work in order to be completed successfully.
The weekend was soon over – City of London came 3rd, Haringey 2nd and the winners were Enfield unit – well done to everyone who took part.
It has been good re-starting my Digital Diary and I hope to get back in to making my videos some time soon.
This August I went to the Wilderness Gathering to help out my friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival with the running of his stand. It was a busy stand however from time to time I ventured out around the show and spotted some real gems.
Starting at the end of the Wilderness Gathering I got tipped off that JP from Woodlife Trails was going to get ambushed by the Coyote Kids – Needless to say the tip off was spot on 🙂
Just off to the main area of the Wilderness Gathering is the pond. In here the canoeists have fun, we soak our willow for our fishtraps and I like to sit here watching nature go by. This year my friend Jason Sears decided to use it as a platform to light his tinder bundles – more of this in the last video in this post.
The Coastal Survival stand was busier than any time I can remember. The crowds gathered outside the stand when Fraser was demonstrating food prep and his hot smoker were fantastic.
Obviously Danny and myself were very professional and serious at all times:-)
I shot quite a bit of video this year and made a video of some of the activities we at Coastal Survival got up too – including the ancient and near forgotten art of Basketeering!!!!
One thing I love to look out for at the Wilderness Gathering is all the art – I use the term art here to describe the beautiful work that is always on display.
Below are the stunningly sculpted Kuksas from Jon Mac, the intricately carved spoons by Giles Newman and the finely twisted bottle opener by Dave Budd.
The bottle opener I spotted being made by Dave Budd as I strolled by. Dave was making one as part of a one2one training session and it did not take him long to craft it.
The bottle opener now lives in France with a friend of mine.
Still on the lookout for art I was taken by these three scenes. The first was a basket of beautifully coloured mushrooms on the Bushcraft Magazines stand. The second was spotting this Roman Centurions profile in the flames of our fire (it is something I do looking for fire faces). The last one was all the colours in the flint arrow heads I spotted on the Bushcraft Journal stand.
Further on on my strolls I came across loads of other sites where learning was going on. This was in the form of demonstrations, one2one’s or class work. I could only spend only a short time away from the stand but my time strolling always threw up little gems of learning.
A particular favourite subject of mine is building Log Rocket Stoves and my friend Des Cattys shares this passion. I spotted him one day starting a demonstration and decided to hang around to see how the class went (always looking for new ways of building these stoves)
In the evenings the music got better and better each night. There was a wide variety of artists and a particular favourite of mine was Vojta. Bushcrafters are not normally known for their dancing abilities but the front of the Bushcraft Magazine stand was buzzing each night with revellers.
After listening to a couple of Vojta’s songs I decided to record his last one of the night and I am glad I went with that gut feeling – a great session.
If you are patient while out and about at the Wilderness Gathering you can usually get a treat or two. The wild food tasting at the Bushcraft Magazine stand kept me hanging around for ages, Fraser’s great smoked sea foods were as usual highly sought after and I got to observe Roli Jones in action baking large loaves in his oven.
In amongst all this learning and art you will come across the odd and the unexpected. The Scout instructors were the ‘Bog Squad’ and worked hard to keep our loos in clean and working order – I take my hat of to you guys. As they walked by in formation I had to get this shot.
My friend Danny got a soaking while canoeing one day and decided to show off his fine ‘manly’ form to us all – I will leave it to you to judge this 🙂
The final unexpected moment relates back to my first video of JP being ambushed – I captured the moment he was turfed into the pond by the Coyote Kids and is one of my favourite pictures of the whole event.
My final video was put together to try and capture the essence of the Wilderness Gathering.
Last August I had a fantastic 5 days helping my friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival at the 2017 Wilderness Gathering. I did a heck of a lot of video this year so here is a short film of some of our antics 🙂
I still have another video to put together of the Wilderness Gathering as a whole so will be back with some more soon.
A ‘Brilliant Moot’ is how I would summarise this year’s Bushcraft UK Bushmoot. It was action packed from start to finish for me as I juggled my time between looking after my kids, running workshops and doing a lot of filming.
I will let the pictures and video do most of the talking so will keep the text to a minimum.
The first few days for us ‘Mods’ (forum moderators) were all about setting up the Bushmoot so that everything was in place for everyone arriving later in the week. We did not rush things as it was a holiday for us as well but over a few days the Bushmoot was soon set up.
There are some great places to camp at the Bushmoot which makes for stunning photography. The Mods’ corner is great to photograph on a sunny morning.
I have used the same camping spot for a number of years now and even though a year passes between each visit it feels as if I have never been away when I return.
There were a couple of early workshops this year – Open Fire Cooking with Neil and a 48hr Survival Course with Fraser from Coastal Survival. Both courses covered a lot of different areas so my photos are just a snapshot of their content – needless to say on both courses all the students eat well.
I put a short video together of this early part of the Bushmoot – including a scenario where my son pretends to chop my head off with an Ivy sword 🙂
In amongst all these workshops and general setting up my kids took themselves off exploring. I went with them on one jaunt and they took me to the ‘House of Doom’ (as they referred to it). I think film companies use the site and they had left this massive Gothic barn – quite beautiful but eerie at the same time (the axe was for posing with only by the way).
The Bushmoot is all about ‘Family’ as far as I am concerned – this family extends out to all my Bushmoot friends I see time and time again as I return each year.
Getting out of the woods one day with my friends Ian, Catherine and Liz (and assorted kids) we went Dune Diving. Merthyr Mawr sand dunes are the second highest dunes in Europe, apparently, and there is one dune in particular that the kids love.
Needless to say I joined the kids as they threw themselves down the dune – great fun even for a 50-year-old kid like me.
Core Day Workshops
I have no idea how many different workshops we ran this year and I only photographed or filmed a small number of them. We always start with a tool safety presentation (normally three different groups) before starting the main workshops.
Fire lighting in its many different forms is a staple of the Bushmoot and this year was no different – below are pictures from the bowdrill, the damp tinder and the flint and steel workshops.
Other workshops included Baking, Pottery, Rocket Stoves, the Starter Course, Basketry and Wood Spirits (to name just a few).
Watch the video to get a feel of the subjects we cover at the Bushmoot.
Outside of all these workshops and background work life goes on at the Bushmoot – food I can tell you forms a big part of that life 🙂
I am no great chef (tend to prefer building Campfire Cooking Constructions) but can when needed put something together – thankfully though there are plenty of people around like my wife Alison willing to put together a good spread for the kids and myself. Highlights of the Bushmoot are the Group Meal and the Hot Chocolate evening.
A favourite of mine has always been the archery range. We had another great competition this year. The winners from last year (Marek and Louey) were also presented their made-to-measure bows from Wayne Jones of Forest Knights.
This year we also had a catapult competition run by Steve (Mesquite) Harral and a workshop from David Colter on the Pellet Bow. Around the site we had various smaller ranges for axe, spade and pin throwing.
The Naughty Corner
No Bushmoot would be complete without the Naughty Corner and I try to get up to it for an hour or two each evening. This year my friend from the Sea Cadets Alan Lewis joined me at the Bushmoot for the first time and as he is a chef found himself drawn to the pizza oven.
Phil and Magda as usual kept us well fed each evening and Cap’n Badger made sure we were all not too naughty 😉
The Sand Pit
The evening socialising is not restricted to the Naughty Corner – usually for a couple of evenings lots of folk congregate under the big chute by the kids sandpit for a bit of a shindig.
We were supposed to have a band along one evening but for some reason they failed to show up – thankfully Marek and Gemma with some others started their own musical session that lasted well into the evening.
The Main Chute
This is where we meet each day, talk about what will be happening, answer questions and celebrate people.
The Bushmoot is run by Tony and Shelly Bristow (along with us volunteer Mods) and as often happens the Bushmoot coincided with Tony’s birthday. We also remembered our dear friend Drew who passed away so tragically at a young age in 2013. We do this by giving each year an engraved Swiss Army Knife to the person we feel has contributed most to the Moot.
Our good friends John Fenna and Steve Harral raise money each year for Cancer charities. Steve gets John to dress up in a different pink outfit each year and we make lots of donations in various ways. Also John has an award he gives out called the John Fenna Award (a Teddy Bear with lots of bushcraft kit) and this year it went to Cap’n Badger for dedicated service to running the Naughty Corner – or undetected crime as I hear 😉
All this talk of fun would not be complete without mention to what we organise for the kids (I mean the young ones here). We are not against technology and I am happy to let my kids watch a movie in the evening by the fire (gives me a breathing space to get on with camp chores).
The Bushmoot is a family friendly place and there are always workshops and games planned in for the kids. When there are no planned activities the whole estate is their playground and it’s great to see my kids roam free as I once did as a kid growing up in the Western Isles.
My last video on the Bushmoot looks at this ‘Bushmoot Life’.
When I popped up to the Naughty Corner one night I got chatting to our chefs Phil and Magda and found out that they had just got engaged – Phil had popped the question to Magda that day down on the beach and she had said yes.
The next day we got Phil and Magda to announce the engagement to everyone under the Main Chute – congratulations guys.
I am mostly to be found behind the camera lens so you do not see many pictures of my silver mop at the Bushmoot. Over the last 10 years I have really embraced photography and am always on the look out for something unusual to snap.
Fire Faces are a favourite of mine – spotted the BFG in one snap I took this year – but there is always something interesting to photograph at the Bushmoot.
A bit of Magic
This year at the Naughty Corner it was hard to miss the fact that the fire was making a good impression of a Rainbow. It turns out that Cap’n Badger had acquired some Mystical Fire and popped it into the fire. I took a few snaps of the flames and caught a lovely shot that I call ‘The Dancer’.
My kids loved the stuff and so we popped a couple of sachets on our campfire one evening while they watched a movie.
My wife Alison did not attend the whole of the Bushmoot (she pops back and forth from home over the fortnight) as she runs her own publishing company and this year was focused on finishing the first draft of her own book while we were at the Bushmoot.
Needless to say when Alison returned at the end of the Bushmoot she did so with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the fact that she had finished her first draft – well done darling 🙂
That is it from me on the subject of the 2017 Bushmoot. Thank you to Tony, Shelly, all the Mods and all the other helpers who organised everything and helped make it such a magical two weeks.
There is no rocket science here or fancy skill to learn – just down right common sense.
When you have limited resources and the elements may be against you, then you may wish to consider the ‘Lolli Stick Fire’.
At the 2017 BCUK Bushmoot my good friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival was running a 48hr workshop on Coastal Survival. One of the classes was on lighting a fire on the beach in windy conditions with very limited resources – he called this the ‘Lolli Stick Fire’.
There is no rocket science here or fancy skill to learn – just down right common sense.
Fraser built using sand a little reflector wall in a horse shoe shape and within it he laid a platform of dry dead twigs. On the surface of this platform he laid three loose piles of twigs in a ‘U’ shape. On top of this ‘U’ shape he laid a further pile of loose twigs making a roof. This shape left a hole in the side to add a firelighter.
Rather than using a whole firelighter Fraser cut a firelighter into 8 pieces and stuck one of these small pieces onto a thin sharp twig (and here likened it to a ‘Lolli Stick’). He lit this in the shelter of his tarp and easily popped it into the middle of his twigs.
The flames spread through the twigs very easily as they were loosely laid and Fraser topped them off with further twigs to get the fire going really well. This process only took around a minute and he soon had a cup of water pushed up against the side of the fire.
The small reflector wall helped bounce the heat back onto the cup and so boil the water quite quickly.
You can see it in action in the short video below.
Fraser uses this technique on the coast as the reflector wall protects the fire from the fierce winds and because of the minimal resources needed to light and maintain it. I incorporated this technique into our Starter Course at the Bushmoot and everyone easily got there fires going with it with very limited resources.
The ‘Lolli Stick’ is safe to handle, requires only an eighth of a firelighter and is easy to light – as I said before ‘down right common sense’.
Over the last few years as I have made videos of the BCUK Bushmoot I have noticed I tend to video the workshops. Looking at the footage I shot this year I saw that I had captured so much more.
This is the 3rd and final video in my Bushmoot 17 trilogy focusing on ‘Bushmoot Life’ outside of the workshops and is dedicated to my wife Alison as she completed the first draft of her latest book during the Bushmoot – Congratulations Alison and look forward to reading it.
This morning I opened a few presents (being it is my birthday) and one contained the GoPro Hero Session camera – thank you Alison :-).
I have been wanting one for quite a while now so I was soon of out at our local National Trust property – The Vyne.
Nothing strenuous or exciting I am afraid as I just wanted to see how it performed under water. Here is a very short video of it in action.
The Hero Session did not take me long to get used to and I really like that it is waterproof without the need for an extra casing. It is not the most expensive GoPro, nor does it have all the features such as the Hero 5 but it is simple to use and waterproof straight out of the box – just what I need 🙂
Looking forward to using it in my adventures in the future.
This year at the Wilderness Gathering my friend Des Cattys was showing his love of Log Rocket stoves to visitors. I decided to drop in on one of his sessions to watch how he constructs one. Like Des I am intrigued by these stoves and I am always looking to improve on their construction so watching someone else at work building one is a chance not to be missed.
If you want more detail on making one of these stoves have a look at my How To…. on building a Log Rocket stove. There are many variations on them and I have included some of them on my Bushcraftdays blog in my How To section.
Over the last few years one of the changes I have seen at the Wilderness Gathering is the quality of the music in the evenings – this year it was particularly great.
Roger Harrington of Bison Bushcraft and Dom Harvey (they run the Wilderness Gathering) had great music playing each night however I was particularly struck by one young musician – Vojta. He is a violinist at heart but somehow brings in many other instruments to his sessions.
Here is the last number he played at this years Wilderness Gathering.
This last week I have had a great time at the Wilderness Gathering here in the UK with Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival. I will write a more detailed report on the Gathering later but just wanted to share with you today a little video I grabbed just before I left.
I was approached by Ian Cresswell from Lonescout Bushcraft and told that he had heard that the Coyote Kids group had planned to ambush our friend JP and dunk him in the lake. So at the appointed time I was on hand to see the snatch and witness the dunking – enjoy the video 🙂
Over the last week and a half I have spent some glorious (and somewhat tiring) days on the South coast of Wales at the BCUK Bushmoot.
I will write a fuller report later of the event with lots of video but for now here are some of the highlights.
As usual there were far too many workshops being run for someone to attend them all. A particular favourite of mine is the Damp Tinder workshop run by Rich59 proving you can get a Fire in the dampest of conditions.
This year my friend Alan Lewis from the Sea Cadets came along. Alan is a trained chef and was soon helping Phil up at the Naughty Corner with baking the Pizzas.
On Monday the whole Moot community came together and created what is now our traditional communal meal. Everyone brought along Dutch Ovens full of different concoctions for everyone to try out.
In the evening we were expecting a band to turn up but for some reason they did not make it. Undettered we soon had a group jamming away making for a perfect end to the evening.
One of the highlights of the week is the Hot Chocolate evening around the main campfire. I was hoping for a cupful but the demand from the kids for seconds put paid to that 🙂
Now it is time to rest for a few days, tidy up camp and then head home.
This week I am camping on the beautiful South Wales Coast at Merthyr Mawr. It is Bushmoot time again and I thought I would try a quick post using just my phone.
We have been mostly setting up the Bushmoot for the main event starting this weekend.
I did though pop around today to see a couple of the early starter courses Fraser from Coastal Survival was running a course and was when I was passing, teaching his students the art of getting a small fire going on a windswept beach. He got the fire lit using the tiniest piece of firelighter and soon had his cup of water boiling away.
The tiny piece of lit firelighter was inserted into the small tinder pile using a stick – kinds like a flaming lollipop 🙂
It was time to head back down to Dartmoor early in July with Sea Cadets from our London and Southern Areas to run a Gold DofE practice expedition and boy was it hot.
These training expeditions have one day of training on the Moor for the cadets and staff who are doing their Gold DofE followed by 3 days of remote supervision. We tend to stick very close to the groups on the first day of remote supervision and then as everyone gets their navigational eye in we tend to just meet up with them from time to time.
Early in the morning some of our trainee instructors (doing their Basic Expedition Leadership Award) ran some classes on kit to carry and map work. Around 11am we headed out to just south of Princetown to get insome navigational time on the Moors and we soon found the temperature starting to shoot up.
The trip was organised by our DofE co-ordinator John Kelly and we were joined by staff from London and Southern Area Sea Cadets
Everyone was in light order for the training day with plenty of water and sun cream. You can see from the pictures below just how hot it was with all that blue sky (and for a Scotsman let me tell you it was not comfortable). Each team had an instructor with them and were soon off onto the Moors testing out their navigational skills.
There were plenty of adventures along the way and I spent time skulking in a Dartmoor Leat (a man-made stream) photographing and filming the wildlife (I will put up a separate blog on this sometime) and even caught sight of someone paddle boarding along one.
Day 1 – Remote Supervision
The next day the teams were let off on their own and we headed up onto the Tors to keep an eye on them. We had plenty of radios and one team even had a tracking device on them.
The visibility was clear and we soon saw them on the move. One team made good progress over the Tors but two took a slight detour and had to be shunted back on course.
Luckily we had plenty of staff with us and everyone eventually made their way over the Tors. The temperature was soon rising again and we made sure everyone had water at each of the checkpoints (and an ice-cream in Princetown).
As usual we stopped for a picture on one of the Tors (Little Mis Tor) and watched the helicopters playing about on the Moors. The Tors offered some respite from the heat of the sun with their lovely shaded north-facing nooks and crannies.
Coming off the Tors we met up with Alan Lewis (the Old Sea Dog) and more of the all-important water. I pulled out a chocolate biscuit from my pack only to be confronted with a sticky mess – it still went down the hatch 🙂
The teams were soon off up over North Hessary Tor (under the mast) and down into Princetown where we told them to get some ice-cream.
The campsite for the teams was south of Princetown at Nun’s Cross Farm. It is a fairly wild camp but with easy access for us with vehicles.
Some staff stayed near the campsite and the rest of us headed back to the campsite at the Plume of Feathers Inn in Princetown. This campsite has a stand of trees running up the side of it for our hammocks – always a bonus on Dartmoor 🙂
On the way back to camp we spotted a fallen lamb being comforted by a herd of cows. It looked like the heat had really gotten to it so Chris, Carol and I gave her (I think it was female) some water to drink – she took nearly two water bottles. Chris also sprinkled water over her body to cool her down. We tried to get her to stand but she was too weak. In the end we got the local farmer to come out and take her in.
What really surprised me about the whole scene was the care the cows were taking over the lamb. The were nudging her gently and standing over her to give her shade – quite something to witness.
It was a great day all in all and I particularly liked spotting all the wildlife so I decided to put together a little video of that side of the expedition.
Day 2 – Remote Supervision
This part of the expedition was to prove the longest and the hardest. Due to the very high temperatures and because this was the practice expedition I decided to tell the teams to go in light order. I took all non-essential kit such as tents and sleeping bags off them to lighten their load in the high temperatures.
I went high with Dave Lewis and the rest of the instructors either went on ahead in vehicles or were trailing the teams from a distance. We got up high quite quickly and had some time to sit back and wait for the teams – amazing where you can hang a hammock 🙂
This part of the route took the teams over to the Eastern side of Dartmoor where the views are quite spectacular down onto the coast.
Day 3 – Remote Supervision
After a night in a farmer’s field at Middle Stoke Farm, the teams were up and away for their final day on the hills. I had decided to stay off the hills that day as I had felt a torn muscle (from the year before) in my right leg starting to give way again.
The teams headed off up into the hills and navigated along to a village called Scorriton. They had a tough time as all the paths had been little used recently and were quite overgrown (we had been there last year and they were clear) but they were soon coming down off the hills with smiles on their faces.
This was a easy expedition for me as there were so many great staff who gave their time up to come along (Boy do I feel old…… I realised that I had trained and assessed every one of them over the years) but it was a tough one for the cadets and staff doing the Gold DofE practice expedition due to the heat – well done the lot of you.
A final video of the trip – one that I am very proud of – both in terms of what was achieved and its composition.
Every now and then a nice little weekend comes along – this trip to Crowborough Army camp with the Sea Cadets was one of them (not often you can say that with Crowborough). My friends Dave and Alan Lewis had already set up camp when I pulled up ( I had been at Woodcraft School that day so was running late).
We had a group of 5 senior cadets and a party of Junior cadets to train in campcraft over the weekend.
There was other training going on in the camp but we were separate from all that in the woods. Along with us was Gary Brodie-Barratt who is under training for his Basic Expedition Leadership award. Under supervision from Dave, Gary led a lot of the classes covering subjects such as kit, clothing and tents.
While they were cracking on with these classes Alan and myself were preparing for an influx of Junior cadets later that afternoon. I did though get out with Dave and Gary when they set off to do some navigation.
Some of the cadets were learning map reading for the first time and some were on our intermediate course which focuses on compass work a lot more.
Everyone though gets to play with the bothy bag – this little bag is a real life saver when you are in very exposed conditions. The cadets learn how to use one in a safe and controlled manner so that if they ever need to use one for real they will know how to deploy it correctly.
After lunch the Juniors arrived and the peace and tranquillity of our camp was shattered 🙂 These Juniors are so keen to learn that it is a pleasure to teach them.
We got them fire lighting first and soon had sausages, bread and marshmallows on the go.
Later on I took them on a nature walk (with a little bit of navigation thrown in) down through the old World War 1 training trenches running beside the camp.
We had cracking weather all weekend, did not have to share the woodland with any other groups (always a bonus) and for once had plenty of staff on hand – all in all it made for Happy Campers.
Below are my favourite shots of the weekend (so want one of these blow up seats).
Maybe next year I will get one of these weekends again 🙂
it was about 9 years ago or so that I was coming to the end of my Bushcraft Leadership course with John Rhyder at Woodcraft School. With my fellow students we had to prepare a couple of weekends training to visitors to prove we had mastered our bushcraft skills and also that we could pass these skills onto others – in May of this year I was back down at Woodcraft School but as a visitor this time with this years students.
I had received an invite and so popped down one morning in late May. All the classes had been set up and after a quick chat catching up with John it was time to get cracking. There was a class on bowdrill by Jack which was great but I was not. I failed to get an ember – excuse – I was not allowed to use my knife to make adjustments as I had not done that class yet 🙁
There were classes on campfire cranes (a particular favourite subject of mine loyal readers will know), safe carving techniques and different methods of using a firesteel.
Another favourite of mine is the Atlatl (I think I was one of the first students on John’s courses to teach this). We carved our own Atlatl and were soon pinging darts down the range.
Then it was time for a stroll in the woods looking at useful plants. John runs an Ethnobotony course (which I hope to attend one day) and Lucy our instructor had completed this very in depth course previously – her knowledge on plants and their uses really came through on the day.
Back at camp Lucy had prepared about 15 plant specimens and we had to identify each plant and note its use correctly – tough but we got 100% after a bit of conferring 🙂
Lucy had also collected up some cleavers which she crushed up and boiled to make a green tea – this was really enhanced with some Elder flower cordial she had made earlier.
My final class was with Lee looking at animal tracks and signs. Lee certainly knew his subject however I had to leave (to run one of my own courses) early and did not get out on the tracking walk he had planned.
It certainly was great to get down to see John and the students at Woodcraft School and I wish all the students well for the future – as to you John, thanks for the invite and as per usual a job well done I think.
The weather was great but as usual Dartmoor threw up a few surprises.
We were staying at the salubrious accommodation that is Okehampton Army Camp (I can sense the shivers running down the spines of certain readers as we speak) however this time we managed to bag the officers quarters as we were the first to arrive.
I was joined initially by my friends Graham and Perry before the rest of the gang arrived in the evening. The view from my billet was great as the whole of North Moor was visible.
First thing on Saturday morning our most senior of instructors Alan Lewis took everyone out to loosen up with a bit of Tai Chi. It was short and to the point but the setting was fantastic.
Alan swears by Tai Chi and it sure keeps him active.
After breakfast it was time for some classes. We were joined by fellow instructors Dave Lewis, Chris Bonfield and Ben McDonald along with some of this years Basic Expedition Leader students.
The focus for the Saturday was on navigation and group leadership.
Dave, Chris and Ben went off with a group of students each and Graham, Perry and myself set off onto the moors to keep an eye on them. Needless to say that as things went along they got pretty daft – always is with this pair 🙂
The weather held well and we met up with each of the groups as we went along. Everyone got time to practice their navigation and group leadership with a few scenarios thrown in for good measure – I must thank Ben, Chris and Dave for all this as they did all the work – so cheers guys.
Much can be said about the beauty of Dartmoor with its Tors and dramatic skies but you do need to remember where you are. Along the way we passed numerous shell holes with the odd rusting casing lying around. Also there were the odd pile of spent rounds that had not been cleaned up but there can be live ammunition found.
We spotted lying nestled in the grass a live grenade (looked like one from the new grenade launchers mounted on vehicles). I took a quick snap with full zoom and we logged its position on the GPS so as to report its position back at the camp. Remember the rule of leaving everything well alone on Military Training Areas.
Nature has it hard as well out on the moor – mind you the frog I spotted sunning itself looked happy. It had been raining really hard the day before (you can see the amount of moss on the roof) and one little lamb had crawled into a crack in the rocks to shelter but did not make it through the night.
We also found part of a lambs leg lying in the grass – it was very fresh as so I assume it made for a tasty meal for some predator.
Sunday morning brought us back to Meldon Viaduct (regular readers may remember this from two years ago) for our abseil – known as ‘The Big Oke‘ Abseil. It is a cracker of a drop – a 100 foot free fall abseil.
Perry an Graham set up the ropes and we were soon away.
For some this was the first time they had abseiled and it is one to remember. The last time we were there the weather was atrocious so we could not drop from the centre but this time the weather was kind to us and the views were great.
The drop made for a cracking video.
As I said Dartmoor is like a second home to me (just come back from a Gold DofE training expedition on the moor) so I am looking forward to getting back down there soon.
The expedition was organised by my friend Baz Lilley of the RMC and he wanted Adventure and Tactics – so that is what he got…………..
I was joined by my fellow Mountain Leaders from the London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training team (LASCAT) Graham, Ben and Dan.
After a quick set up at Grawen campsite just north of Merthyr Tydfil a group of us set off to recce our first activity – Canyoning just south of the village of Ystradfellte in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.. The river was flowing perfectly for the event and we were set to go.
After a quick breakfast all the LASCAT team headed out to set up for the canyoning. The rest of the RMC staff took the cadets out on some navigation training while we set up.
We were soon set up and I found time to take a nap, take some pictures and have a brew 🙂
Baz had paid for a qualified local canyoneering expert to be in attendance so after a chat about what we would be doing it was time to get on with it. Everyone had a life preserver on and a helmet – no wet suits for us.
I led off the first team and after a few push ups in the shallows it was time to take the plunge – the water was a tad cold you could say 🙂
We went down a couple of slides, through the ‘Jacuzzi’ and crossed some larger pools.
The final section was the ‘Leap of Faith’ – this was a 20 foot jump into a plunge pool at the foot of a waterfall. I went first with my team following closely – a most exhilarating experience.
As soon as my team was out of the water the life preservers and the helmets were transferred to Dan’s team for them to do the run.
The day was warm so everyone was soon dry and warm again. A few of the guys shot some video of the canyoning and it makes for great viewing.
Once we got back to Grawen it was time to prepare for an evenings Tab – I mean Yomp for my Royal Marines friends 😉 (my beret is Maroon and not Green). The plan was to march through the evening to a new campsite with all the kit we would need for a night on the hills.
It was great walking over the hills as the sun set (great photography) but as soon as it had gone the cadets started on tactical patrolling techniques with the RMC staff.
We hoped to get to another campsite north of Pen Y Fan but the terrain and the heavy loads started to tell on folks so a sensible decision was made to call in the mini buses and get everyone back to camp.
It was a tough day as my pedometer showed nearly 30,000 steps – tough enough with all the kit we had been carrying.
The Sunday morning dawned as a fine day but not with the promise of it remaining that way. We hoped to have a morning navigating over Fan Nedd and an afternoon topping out on Pen Y Fan.
It was a cloudy start as we ascended towards Fan Nedd but as usual in Wales the weather really closed in. We decided to skirt round Fan Nedd and head straight to the Storey Arms to try for Pen Y Fan. The summit of Pen Y Fan could not be seen the wind was strengthening and the rain was coming in stronger. With a heavy heart (consoled by a large burger) we decided to keep low down and do some skills work instead.
We found a spot in the local woods to run some activities for the cadets. We set up four stances looking at rope work, emergency procedures, hammocks and trying out the Commando Crawl.
The lads tried out carrying a casualty over broken ground with a slippery bivi bag (harder than you think), tying different knots and had a go at the Commando Crawl – to different degrees of success 🙂
My stance was little bit more sedate on how to put up a tarp and a hammock (in a non tactical way) – it gave them food for though but the boss enjoyed the hammock seat when he came by.
There was a competition over all the stances and some sweetie treats for the winners. It may not have been as cool as topping out on Pen Y Fan (the mountain can wait for a kinder day) but everyone had a load of fun while they learnt some new skills.
The evening was spent around the fire with a Sods Opera (where the cadets perform little skits imitating the staff) as the main event.
It was an early start on the Monday and as some of the Cadets had a six hour journey ahead of them we set off home early.
I am hoping that the RMC manage to organise another of these weekends next year – it is a real test of stamina and skills for both the cadets and the staff.
Family camps tend to be busy affairs for me – setting up the tipi, sorting the fire etc, etc.
Not for this weekend last April- my wife Alison booked a Pod at the Durdle Door Holiday Park for us all. It was a weekend of exploring, swimming and eating – without touching a tent 🙂
The Pods were tall enough to stand in, had two single beds, one double, plenty of storage and electricity. We even had space to put up some hammocks (not an April shower in sight) and treated Finlay and Catherine for lunch at ‘Finley’s‘ cafe in Lulworth Cove.
So after a quick emptying of the car into the Pod it was off around Scratchy Bottom (I love that name) to get the views from Swyre Head down onto Durdle Door. Along the way the Hawthorn trees were all bent into that classic ‘South Westerly’ pose.
Just to the East of Swyre Head is a crevice with a rope down it. This is an escape route off the beach if you get caught out by the tide. We though decided to take it down to the beach so we could approach Durdle Door from a less busy route.
We spent a little while relaxing by Durdle Door before deciding to pop over the rocks to Man O’ War Cove.
We told the kids to just paddle as it was evening time but before long they were both saturated and having a ball. For myself I was up and around the cliffs trying to get a good shot of the Cove and some of the local plants.
Next morning it was time to head back down to the beach at Durdle Door. It is a pretty steep decent to the beach and Flip Flops are definitely not recommended for the descent.
We were lucky to arrive at a time as a couple were paddling in and around Durdle Door – kinda lent well to photography. The kids though were soon back in the water in their wetsuits having a splash about – not many folk ventured into the chilly April waters so I was quite proud to see them having a go.
Then it was back over to Man O’War Cove for a family dip – boy that water was cold.
We ventured East a bit more digging ourselves into the beach and finding bits of driftwood that looked quite artistic.
After a spot of lunch we spent some time at Lulworth Cove. If you have never been here before I do advise a trip as it is quite beautiful (even on a busy day).
At the end of the day we walked up onto Hambury Tout hill. There is a large Bronze Age Barrow on its summit that still stands proud. We hung around for long enough to catch a quite lovely sunset to end the day.
After a quick pack up (love this Glamping business) we headed west for an hour to Chesil Beach. Here we met up with some friends of mine.
Firstly we met my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival as he was running a course on the beach. We left him be teaching and went off for a paddle and also met up with an old friend of mine – Dougie Gray (from my days in 15 Para) and his lovely wife Carol. It was great to catch up with Dougie and see all the pictures he had brought along from all these years ago .
While we were on the beach we decided to start a couple of Beach Henge’s. This was something we came across on Chesil beach a number of years ago and decided it was time to build our own.
They take ages to complete as you need to scour for the right stones but well worth the effort for the cracking pictures in the end
After saying goodbye to Dougie, Carol and Fraser we headed East to see our friends Brian and Jane in Southampton. As a treat for us their daughter Annabelle had made the most wonderful cake and scones for us to enjoy
Thank you Annabelle for putting the icing on the cake of what was a wonderful weekend.
Okehampton Army Camp on the Northern Slopes of Dartmoor will conjure up many memories for some folks – mostly of a wet and windswept type.
Not last weekend though when I was there with instructors of the Sea Cadets and Royal Marines Cadets. The weather was glorious, there were loads of activities undertaken but they were all started off with a gentle bit of Tai Chi.
The session was led by Alan Lewis who is 79 years young and still attending our trips on a regular basis – I may be looking into this Tai Chi business a bit more in the future then 🙂
A few weeks ago I had some Father and Son time with my lad Finlay at The Vyne National Trust property here on the outskirts of Bramley in Hampshire.
History and Archaeology have always been of interest to me so to get up close to see the renovation work going on at The Vyne was a chance not to be missed. Along the way we also took time to watch the Greylag Goslings and spotted some of the many Lego characters hidden along the way.
If you have not been to see the renovation work then I urge you to pop along to view it before the roof is all covered over again.
Groups of friends usually have something in common – with my chums from Crisis it is Grumpiness ;-( The ‘Grumps’ are Rick (1), myself (2), Gordon (3) and Stu (4). Gordon has numbered us however there is much debate about his 3rd place in the grumpiness rankings. We do grumble a lot and it is remarked upon from time to time however we like it and it makes us happy 🙂
We have worked together each Christmas for 20 years or so at one of the homeless centres for Crisis in London. During the year we always try to get away together. This year Gordon organised a trip down to Durdle Door on the Dorset coast here in the UK early in March.
I had never been to this part of the coast before so was keen to go. We set up camp at Durdle Door Holiday camp (I insisted on sleeping in my hammock while they all got the tipi) and then headed off towards the coast.
The fog was well in but I insisted we go all the way down to see the arch at Durdle Door. I am glad I did as it looked stunning in the fog.
Once we had finished there we headed on over to Lulworth Cove and Stu and myself headed on down to see Stair Hole. It was a bit of a hike down but it was worth it to get the pictures. The rest of the evening was spent between the pub in Lulworth Cove and the one in the campsite where I was presented back with my Flossie Anne. She had just come back from one of her epic trips with Rick – this time she travelled from Japan through China, Mongolia, Russia and the Baltic states (she must be the most well travelled bear in the world).
I woke up at daft o’clock on Saturday morning to the sound of the Crows roosting above my hammock. The tranquil nature of the rest of my view made up for that racket though. The rest of the morning was a relaxed affair (apart from the Crow poo all over my tarp and tipi) and Stu had brought along some great coffee to brew up.
Once brekkie was over we headed back down to Durdle Door (Rick was very concerned for a young lady as she descended the steps!!) and I got a good look down the coast over the Man O’War beach – it really is quite stunning. We pootled around Durdle Door itself (well I faffed really trying to get a good picture of it) before heading west.
As you head west you approach a great big headland named Bat Head with an archway called Bat Hole. It is beautiful to look at however there was no way round it for us with the tide being so far in (I have no idea if you can get around the headland at low tide).
Gordon and Stu were not paying attention and were soon ankle deep in swash 🙂 We back tracked and spotted an escape route up off the beach. It was a ravine with a weighted rope in it. After a quick recce everyone was soon up on the coastal path overlooking the beach.
We had a leasurley stroll up the coastal path to Swyre Head where we enjoyed the views and I stalked a crow to get a good shot of him 🙂
From Swyre Head we moved off inland around a natural bowl in the landscape called Scratchy Bottom – there are some brilliant place names in this country. It was here Rick spotted a group of wildflowers. Once I got up close I could see they were Speedwells – this being early March it was my first spot of them this year.
We made our way back to Durdle Door through the campsite (after cleaning off some more Crow poo from my tarp and tipi) down onto Man O’War beach. There were plenty of people on the beach but as we travelled on the numbers soon thinned out. Eventually we were onto rocks and we were the only ones in sight. Looking back Stu spotted the strange rock formation at Dungy Head you can see in the picture below (on the right) – Looks like a large bloke with a big round nose and a woolen hat on his head to me 🙂
There were a number of kayakers on the water and they made for some lovely photography but I could see that the fog was starting to come in again. As it thickened up two beautiful yachts came out of Lulworth Cove and headed west along the coast. It was really difficult to photograph them with the fog and because they were both white but I think I got a decent shot in the end.
We tried to get all the way to the entrance of Lulworth Cove but it was just not possible. We found a section of Cliff that was easy to scramble up and were soon in Lulworth Cove once again.
I left the lads to potter around the village (code for pub) and spent a half hour down on the cove photographing it. The waves were non existent so I had to get down really low to get a half way decent shot (bottom picture).
We had an evening of watching rugby and trading grumps before heading back to camp. Somehow I ended up getting Stu to do ‘shadows’ in the tipi and when I looked at the picture below his shadow looked to me like a giant ginger bread man 🙂
We had decided the night before to de-camp straight away and head on over to the New Forest on the Sunday morning. It did not take long to pack everything away (after cleaning of more Crow poo) however due to the rain overnight (Rick ended up a tad damp in the morning) we had to have Stu’s VW van pulled off the campsite.
Once in the New Forest we stopped off in Lyndhurst for lunch and where I got myself a proper camp coffee pot for hanging over the fire – I did though leave it behind in the cafe and had to go running back 🙂
We drove onto the carpark by Beaulieu Rd Railway Station and headed off to the woods by Denny Lodge. There were plenty of ponies around and quite a few deer – though the first lot were in an enclosure (all stags in an enclosure called Stag Park). I spent some time making up some birch firelighters and looking for fungi and burrs.
There was still plenty of standing water on the heathland so a detour here and there was required and just as we headed back to the van we spotted a herd of female deer in the open.
I took my time and got as close as I could to them. They were very flighty and soon they were off but I did manage to get a decent picture.
I liked the campsite in Durdle Door so much I am back down there in a weeks time with my family to stay at one of the camping pods they rent out – fancy a break from always having to put the tent up.
Thanks to Gordon for organising the weekend and for all my fellow Grumps for being ………well so Grumpy 🙂
You stroll down a country lane and something catches your eye!!
From time to time I get to go out on a bimble on my own (no kids in tow). When I do I really take my time and explore what is going on around me. In doing so I spotted some strange, sad, stupid and stunning scenes on my travels today.
Today was the first spot for me of this years crop of Bluebells. They were just popping out amongst the Wood Anemones. This combination of white, green and blue was great to see after the drabness of winter.
We have our share of stupid people here in Bramley as well it would seem. There is a spot that is hidden from the main road and this burnt out car has been rusting away there for years.
I visit this area as there are lots of wild flowers appearing at this time of year – I was expecting to see a little bit of colour – just not this colour combination.
As I headed off onto a footpath I came across this sad scene by the side of a field. I have no idea what had happened here however nothing good I would imagine.
I put this under the ‘Strange’ category due to the sign – ‘Ground Nesting Birds’ – somehow I don’t see too many nesting birds.
These signs appear everywhere around our area with others saying to keep out as the woods are conservation areas. Most of these woods from what I see (and hear) are breeding grounds for pheasants.
As the weather has been good these last couple of days the insects are up and about. The bees were busy today and this little fella was shopping on some Forget-me-nots – quite stunning.
You stroll down a country lane and something catches your eye!!
Not sure what else I can say here other than they looked pretty new and were caught up on the hedge – a pretty colour combination I would say 🙂
On my bimbles around ‘The Frith’ woodland I like to stop at a little pond and have a snack. When I got there today I was saddened to see that the local farmer had now closed the area off to everyone.
As I took a picture though I spooked a Heron – you can just see him taking off over the pond.
In contrast to the very bright and showy bra I was also drawn to this very delicate subdued scene. I have a soft spot for some reason for taking pictures of ‘Down’ caught up on plants. It is the simplicity of it all that makes it so perfect to photograph and a fitting one to end on.
everything you need to light your fire is under your feet
Need a fire? – Need tinders? – Look under your feet – that is what I say to my students when it comes to this basic human need.
With a little bit of patience you can take much of the leaf litter you find on the woodland floor and turn it into a toasty fire.
A number of years ago my friend Richard Neal (aka Rich59 on BCUK) was chatting with me around our campfire at the BCUK Bushmoot and he suggested an idea around lighting a fire using only what he could find on the woodland floor.
Richard and myself both have a keen interest in all things ‘fire’ and so in no time whatsoever we had collected a range of damp dead leaves, processed them down and soon had a decent fire going – breaking all the rules on having to use dry tinder.
Gather a good bundle of dead leaves from the top layer of the leaf litter. You may need to do this over a wide area depending on the amount of leaf litter but collect the driest leaves you can.
Here in the UK even the driest leaves are still pretty damp on most days but don’t worry about that. Try to collect some rotted pieces of bark too as they will be useful in the processing stage.
I take small bundles of the leaves and start to rub them in the palms of my hands. I let the small pieces that break off from this rubbing fall onto one of the pieces of bark. After a short period of time I’ve accumulate quite a pile of crumbled leaf litter.
Once I stop seeing any crumbled pieces of leaf falling I put the skeletal remains of the leaf into a separate pile. (Spare pieces of bark are also useful for covering your leaf bundles when you have any wind trying to blow it all away.)
I carry on rubbing all the leaves until I feel my two bundles of fine and skeletal remains are big enough. Then I spend a little while longer rubbing handfuls of each bundle again to dry them out as much as possible.
When I re-rub the fine material I make a 3rd bundle from the finest leaf litter that falls out from between my palms. It is important that you have this finest 3rd bundle as that is the material that will eventually start to smoulder and burn first.
The Tinder Pile
I like to make a nest of the skeletal remains of the leaves first on top of my pieces of bark. Onto the top of this I add the mixed grade crumbled pieces of leaves, working the skeletal remains of the leaves around these crumbled pieces to support them.
Into the side of this pile I then make a hole with my finger and fill it with the finest pieces (the 3rd pile) of leaf litter that I have processed.
If the wind is causing you a problem at this stage keep a piece of bark handy to pop onto the top of it all and keep it from blowing away.
For this fire I used a Cramp Ball (Daldinia concentrica) to get it going. I also regularly use char cloth and embers from a bowdrill or handrill. Try experimenting for yourself and let me know what works for you.
Once I had sparked up the Cramp Ball I popped it into the middle of the finest material and placed my bark on top of it all to keep everything in place.
Spreading the Heat
Watching what is happening with the wind (position yourself so the smoke is not blowing in your face), start to blow gently into the centre of the bundle. The trick here is to warm up the leaf litter around your ember so that it dries out enough for it to start to smoulder.
You might get the odd flame or two here but they tend to die back quickly. Keep taking your time (I have taken up to 20 minutes doing this with very damp tinder) and the leaf litter around your initial ember will eventually dry out and smoulder.
Catching the Flames
Once the flames you produce start to last for longer, remove the top cover of bark and add a pile of the finest dry twigs you can find to the top of the pile. You might have to gently blow a few more time but you will soon have some beautiful flames licking their way through your twigs.
Remember also to have all your other grades of wood ready to add to the fire as it sustains itself – it would be a real shame to lose it all at this stage for the sake of poor preparation.
Instead of using bark to lay your leaf litter on try using large green leaves.
No bark or green leaves? Use small branches to lay everything on and to cover your pile.
Finally test yourself like I did with my friend Mark Beer – get out into the woods and collect everything for making your fire (including making a bowdrill or handrill) and get your fire going using damp tinders.
I made this video for you to see the whole process in action.
Happy gathering, and remember that everything you need to light your fire is right under your feet.
Spring is a time I am normally found out and about with my camera looking to see what is afoot. This year my work has kept me much busier than usual so my usual bimbles have been curtailed slightly – though some may disagree 😉 I did though get out a little and here is a little taste of my bimbles this last month.
Early in March I was at a conference in Lincoln and as all the town centre hotels were full I ended up at the Branston Hall Hotel on the outskirts of Lincoln. As soon as I booked into the hotel I was straight out to explore its beautiful gardens.
There was not much in the way of wild flowers about but the local birds put on a fantastic display. The Black swan was majestic, the Cormorant stayed aloof and kept an eye on me and the Heron came blasting by.
When I am out and about I keep a little pocket hammock seat (the EDC Hammock) in my bag. As I was out on a couple of trips with the kids and their pals I needed to carry an extra hammock with me.
We did lots of exploring but we did a lot of relaxing as well – the kids just loved using the hammocks and I was always hard pushed to get them out of them.
Over the last two weeks the early spring flowers like the Wood Sorrel and the Wood Anemone have started to appear. They are so easy to pass on by but when you get down close their beauty really shines through.
Rustling through the leaves we came across quite a few frogs and occasionally the odd boy 🙂
Last weekend I was in our local woods at Pamber with my family and our friends Katie and William. The weather was gorgeous and the gorse was in full bloom making for a blaze of colours to photograph.
I took the picture of my shadow as it struck me I looked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – comes with having a nine year old son in the family I suppose.
As we move into April there will be another riot of colour and I hope a few more bimbles.
Life is all hustle and bustle at times – so when it is you need some time out. A great place for this time out can be found at the Field Farm Project.
Our friends Mollie and Nick run this project and I feel as if I have entered a different world when I pop into visit. They certainly live up to their business tagline: Grow – Study – Make.
I met Mollie on a Bushcraft instructor course at Woodcraft School and part of the course was to undertake the Basic Expedition Leadership (BEL) award. I did not do this part of the course as I was already a qualified Mountain Leader however as I run this BEL course myself now Mollie wanted to do a bit of a refresher on her navigation as she runs lots of outdoor classes.
Along for the day’s training as well was my wife Alison, daughter Catherine, Mollie’s friend Debbie and her young son. It was a lovely sunny day but with the northerly wind it was bitterly cold at times. Before setting off we were fortified by some hot home-made celeriac/parsnip soup with a side of freshly baked breadsticks.
It was not all map and compass work (though there was a fair bit of it), we had lots of fun along the way.
The snowdrops were still in full bloom and we investigated the colourful world that is their underside, had a stomp around a flint/chalk pile and petted the odd Llama and Alpaca.
Eventually we wound our way through the footpaths and country lanes to one of Mollie’s outdoor training areas. The central Beech tree was festooned with woodland art that Mollie’s classes had made, there was a small shelter and plenty of benches.
Personally I prefer to use my hammock seat however my daughter Catherine soon had me out of that 🙂
The weather changed in the latter part of the walk with some heavy showers but that did not dampen our spirits. We were soon back at the farm where I took a little time out just to photograph the animals.
As we arrived home we were treated to a fantastic double rainbow over our house – a fitting end to a great day.
So if you are looking for somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of life then I thoroughly recommend spending some time with Mollie and Nick at the Field Farm Project.
A number of years ago my friend Rich59 from BCUK taught me how to get a fire going using damp tinder found on the forest floor. This short video goes through the process – I will post a detailed How To…. on this shortly.
Apart from making baskets and sheaths out of bark I have been experimenting these last few years with weaving bark into natural firelighters. I came across a post on Bushcraft UK by a member called Woodwalker on these firelighters from 2010 – he called them Woven Kindling.
I have since added spruce resin to mine and liken them more to Natural Frelighters as they burn long and fierce. This is the second part in my two part series on natural firelighters – the first being my post on Birch Bark Fire Fans.
Removing the bark
If you can find a semi rotten fallen birch log the bark tends to come of easily so just pull of the what you need. If you use semi rotted logs just take a little piece from as many different logs as you can as these logs are home to many different invertebrates.
If the logs are freshly fallen then I use my knife to score out the area I want to cut out (ensure it is a smooth an area as possible). If the bark does not peel off easily I batton it with a small log to loosen everything up before prising it off with my knife. I go into the specifics of removing the bark in more detail in my post on the Birch Bark Fire Fan. The main thing is to take your time when the bark does not come off easily.
Once I have my section of bark I will either peel it by hand into strips of about 1 cm in length or if I am feeling the need to be very accurate I will tap my knife into a log and use that as a tool to cut the bark into even strips.
Locking the strands together
1. To make one firelighter you need four strips of birch bark. I use strips about 30 cm’s in length and 1 or 2 cm’s width.
2. Fold each strip in half – the folded end is called the closed end and the end with the two tails is called the open end.
3. Slide one closed end between the open end of another strip so it sticks out by 2 or 3 cm’s. In the picture below in section 3 you can see a T shape is formed.
4. The closed end of a third folded strip is added to the upright part of the initial T shape to lock it off.
5. A fourth folded strip is added to the third strip to lock it off and the tails are threaded through the protruding loop of the first strip.
6.All the strips should now be locked off.
7. Pull everything in tight.
The Four Strand Crown
The firelighter is formed by weaving a Four Strand Crown knot. I have added the arrows to help you visualise what I am doing. Important – There will be two strips of bark at each open end. Only use the top strip of each open end when you begin the weave
8. To begin the knot fold one of the strips over. In section 8 I chose to fold the top strip on the left over first.
9. The strip is folded over to the opposite side.
10. To secure that strip in place I folded the strip at the top over this first strip to secure it in place.
11. This top strip (now at the bottom) was secured in place by folding the right hand strip over it.
12. To secure the fourth strip loosen the first strip slightly so that it forms a small loop by its fold – known as an eye.
13.Feed the tail of the fourth strip into this eye.
14. Pull the tail of the fourth strip in tight.
15. Repeat from step 8 to 14 again to form another layer of weave.
Flip the whole piece over and begin the weave on what were the bottom strips. Once you run out of bark to fold over tuck in the ends into a suitable slot or trim them off with your knife.
These little firelighters take only a minute or two to make but they can burn for far longer if you add some resin to them. I use spruce resin as it is plentiful here in the UK (again I discuss harvesting resin in my post on the Birch Bark Fire Fan in more detail).
I break of little blobs (it can get messy if the resin is runny) of resin and insert them into the little slots formed by the weave and that is basically it (use as much resin as you can).
When lit these firelighters burn easily for over 5 minutes so giving you time to build your fire without resorting to using fine tinder and just small twigs. I can easily hold the firelighter for the first minute before it becomes to fierce to hold.
Once it gets going and the resin is well lit then it I go no where near it with my fingers. I like to use them first thing in the morning when I do not want to faff about with collecting tinders and just get a brew on.
I prep mine in the evening while sitting around the fire and pack them away for when I need them. If you are looking for a viable alternative to modern firelighters then these are ideal – if you are always a purist and insist on foraging for your tinders every time you light a fire then maybe they are not for you.
For those that like a video intead of the step by step I put this short video together to explain the process.
Since 2010 I have been part of the team running the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) Award in London Area Sea Cadets. I have lost count of the number of potential Adventure Leaders I have trained and assessed over the years and more keep coming – we must be doing something right 🙂
This year we were joined by Roy Sellstrom from Southern Area Sea Cadets as he is looking to start the course in his area. The award is nationally recognised and the success of London Area has started to be noticed now by other Sea Cadet areas.
As the course is designed to be undertaken by students with very little adventure training experience we cover all the basics that a good leader should know. These included classes on clothing, rucksacks, leaders kit, stoves, the law and tents to name just a few we covered.
Our group contained a mixed bunch in terms of experience with quite a few who have been Adventure Leaders under the old Sea Cadet qualification system and are now looking to get this nationally accredited BEL award. This helps us as instructors as we can buddy the students up to share knowledge with each other.
The first weekend is always undertaken at a Sea Cadet unit (this year once again at TS Black Swan) so that those students who are not so experienced can be introduced to the subject in a more controlled manner. As the weekends go on they will be operating out of campsites in different parts of the country and passing on their new found skills to cadets as we observe them.
Not all the classes are indoors and we get outside for subjects such as looking at tent and stove designs. These are very hands on classes designed to let the students have time to get to know some of types of kit cadets will bring along to camps. Life would be easy if we could issue our cadets with all the same kit but as we are a charity each unit must source their own kit so it all comes in different shapes and sizes.
One of the reasons I love running this weekend out of TS Black Swan is the great food we always get. The galley staff are always there to feed us from breakfast time to supper time and this is really appreciated by everyone as it lets us get on with all the classes we need to cram into this course.
No course run out of TS Black Swan would be complete without a little bit of relaxation time in the wardroom in the evening :-). Also the fact that the unit is in Sunbury on the Thames helps with the great views as you walk out of the door.
Normally I get to spend my evenings on my friend Paul’s canal boat but this year it was booked out with his new lady friend 🙁 Sort it out for next year would you Paul – I miss my bunk).
While we were running our classes there was plenty of other things going on at the unit including a Seamanship class and a Power Boat class. I spent my breaks sitting by the Thames seeing what was happening and hoping for the odd decent picture.
Sunday morning was all about map and compass work. After a couple of classes by Roy and John on compasses and maps we were all off out onto the North Downs to practice our navigation.
We broke the teams up into small groups as we had plenty of instructional staff and really concentrated on giving the students some quality tuition. A massive weighting in the assessment is on navigation so this is a skill we practice and test on every training weekend.
One minute the students would be in the woods trying to figure out the paths, then out in the open gauging distance, then to find themselves trying to figure out the best way to get a group across a busy road.
In between all this we had plenty of breaks to sit down and discuss all these skills and to just appreciate the countryside around us.
Back in the woods we started to meet up with the other groups as we took them of the paths and got them to work out their route using signs from the land around them. We get very attached to paths and I am a firm believer in getting off the path every now and then and adventuring about.
There are plenty more trips on this course ahead including Dartmoor, Ashdown Forest and the New Forest before the assessment at the end of the year.
Ever find yourself relying on using non-natural firelighters a lot due to their convenience? I do as I normally have a lot to organise before courses and using natural methods every time when I have a class can be time consuming when things are damp.
This is the first of two blogs on natural firelighters I like to use and how to make them. I like to prepare them well in advance of trips, pack them away in my bergen and use them instead of the likes of cotton wool and Vaseline (my usual non-natural method).
I came across a number of years ago a small section in Ray Mears book Essential Bushcraft on using a Birch bark fan. Ray recommended folding pieces of bark into a fan shape to stop the bark curling up quickly and becoming impossible to handle when it was lit.
I teach this method to my cadets however if I have time I like to add some melted spruce resin to these fans. This really extends the life of the fan giving me a better chance to get my fire going (great for these damp days) and because the resin soon hardens the fans they do not fall apart or deform so much when carried in a bag.
Removing the Bark
If you have a semi rotted birch log then the bark should come off easily however if it is a freshly felled log things may get a little more difficult for you. Here in the UK the birch bark can be quite thin and more difficult to remove than the thicker bark of birch trees you would find in more northern climes.
I mark out small squares with my knife and if the bark does not peel off easily I use a small batten to gently hammer the bark. This gentle hammering helps to loosen the inner bark from the sapwood.
Also having a wooden wedge helps to peel the bark of but mostly I tend to just use the curved part of my knife. Some folk say it is better to use the back of the tip of your knife but I find the curved part works well for me. The main thing is to take your time and remove the inner and outer bark from the sap wood.
Remove the Inner Bark
When I have removed a small square I gently remove the inner bark. Again do this job slowly removing the inner bark in small pieces. It is very easy when using thin bark to rip the outer bark.
Folding the Fan
To make your fan start folding your square as if you were making a very small fan – not much more you can say about that 🙂
Keep a hold on one end and with a strip of bark tie off the other end. They do not take long to make and are soon ready for the resin.
Here in the UK a handy and plentiful resource is Spruce resin. There are lots of conifer plantations where I live and a common tree in them is the Spruce. I keep an eye out for areas where the foresters have been using tractors to thin out the spruce as they tend to damage lower branches on trees they pass by.
To help heal itself the trees produce copious amounts of resin and this is full of oils that are flammable. By taking a little from different sites (I use a stick to scrape the resin) I can soon have plenty to melt and coat the Birch bark fans and leave plenty for the trees.
I just use a couple of tins (the inner tin has lots of little holes) to melt the resin by my campfire (I have documented this process in How To…. Spruce Pitch in a Tin Can) and dunk the tail of the fan into this hot liquid (good gloves or tongs are required here).
Once the tail is covered I pour some of the resin onto the area of the fan by the tail leaving the top of the fan clear of resin.
I find this combination works for me as the folds stop the bark from curling straight away and when the flame reaches the resin it burns for far longer.
I put a little video together on this to show you the process from start to finish.
The next post in this short series will be on making a woven Birch bark firelighter (again with Spruce resin).
The beginning of this year was the end of an era for the Adventure Training team in London Area Sea Cadets: our bosses Perry Symes and Graham Brockwell were standing down from their roles as Area Staff Officers after many years of hard work.
So to celebrate we headed off to the Brecon Beacons here in the UK for a ‘Dining Out Weekend‘.
It was a weekend of many parts – once we had settled into our bunkhouse at Gilfach Farm it was time for a ceremony of handing out certificates to those students who had recently passed their Basic Expedition Leadership Award.
Kev Lomas awarded Perry and Graham a cuddly neck teddy each to carry about for the weekend. Then it was off to the pub to get some dinner (a beer or two) and to plan for the next day.
After a good breakfast I had a wander outside and was greeted by a cracking view of Pen Y Fan in the distance. She had a light smattering of snow however the skies were clear.
We were soon off in the cars and mini bus heading for our start point at Cwm Gwdi car park (old soldiers may remember this camp). This spot allowed us easy access up onto Pen Y Fan without all the masses you will find on the route up from Storey Arms.
The majority of the group were outdoor instructors and all had worked with Perry and Graham in one way or another over the years . Today though the emphasis was on ‘doing your own thing’.
Alan and Dave Lewis went for a low level walk as Dave was carrying an injury while the rest of us set off up the Cefn Cwm Llwch track on the northern slopes of Pen Y Fan. The going was wet underfoot at first however we soon climbed above the snow line.
We snaked along the path, well spread out, enjoying the views and chatting as we went along. I decided to record my very first Live Facebook video on this part of the walk. The videos were not top quality because of the weak signal and wind noise but I enjoyed making them.
I spent most of my time scouting out good photography positions and ordering the lads to pose for me 🙂 Kept me happy and I think everyone liked that they could for once go at their own pace and do their own thing.
The final bit of the track up to the summit was quite icy but safe enough if you took your time. Once on the top it was like Piccadily Circus with all the folk coming up from the Storey Arms. We soon got the pictures taken and Ben found time for a few push ups before we set off.
It was at this point we broke up into three groups. The first set off at breakneck speed to ascend Cribyn and Fan Y Big. I bimbled along with the middle group but soon left them, ascending to the saddle below Cribyn. After a break on Cribyn I descended off the hill on its Northern slope down the Bryn Teg track where I met the third group being led off the hill by Jacques.
Soon the teams met up again and while Jacques sped off to pick up the minibus James produced a rugby ball from his bergen (there was not much else in it). I asked him why he had not produced it on top of Pen Y Fan and he said he forgot (would have been an excellent photo opportunity). Anyway the guys had a good half hour mucking about and doing the odd ‘Dab’ on the side of a bridge.
The Saturday evening was spent in the Red Lion pub in Llangorse enjoying a slap up meal. We were given the upper floor to use and it was probably a good move on the staff’s part – it got pretty noisy at times.
When I arrived though we were all downstairs in the bar and some of the guys were playing pool. They had been there a couple of hours to watch England play in the Six Nations rugby championship. I was standing at the bar when one of the locals approached. ‘Be careful,’ he advised me, nodding at my kilt, ‘There’s a bunch of rowdy English fans in the bar.’ I looked over his shoulder – then back at him – and said that it was OK, those rowdy English fans were my so-called mates 🙂 His face was a picture!
The evening was a great success with good food, plenty of wine, speeches, and a few war stories before retiring to the bar downstairs.
In the morning there may have been one or two fuzzy heads as we packed up and made our way to Dinas Rock located in the South of the Beacons. The plan was for some of the guys to do some Mountain Leader ropework on the rocks while the rest of us headed off to the waterfalls at Sgwd Yr Eira. In the end no one got there as we all kind of split up (after going the wrong way initially) and did our own thing.
I found a nice spot to sit in my hammock by the river while Jacques as usual dived in.
It was a fantastic weekend and it was great to be part of it. I think the pictures confirm that Perry and Graham had a great time. Below, pictured in between Perry and Graham, is Ben McDonald, the latest Mountain Leader to the team who has taken over Perry’s role as Sea Cadet Area Staff Officer (ASO) for Adventure Training in the London Area. Perry aims to stay on as the Assistant ASO for a year before stepping back totally.