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.
As a bushcrafter I like to keep an eye on what is going on around me. As an amateur photographer – ditto. This habit of always looking for an interesting shot has led to a few comments recently about my ‘Geek’ levels 🙂
Perusing my albums over the last few months though I felt a number of shots lent themselves to this blog of contrasts and colours – Geeky I may be but I enjoy it.
The two ‘In Profile’ pictures above are of my kids Finlay and Catherine. Both shots were in separate locations but truth be told they were well posed. It was great to walk past a site – see its potential at that moment in time and then get the shots I wanted.
Recently I was with a group of friends in the Brecon Beacons having fun in the mountains. I spent a fair bit of time scouting around on my own to get what I think are decent shots like the top picture above. I had fun ordering the guys around on the mountain until I was happy with the shot but it was hard work.
In contrast the picture of the guys sitting on the bridge, low down in the valley was at the last moment after an impromptu group photo. They all just decided to do a ‘Bolt‘ at the end of it and I just clicked away – easy.
I love to photograph my children and they love to be photographed. Colourful pictures in the late autumn and winter can be hard to find at times but they are out there.
The two pictures above were shot on different days however with a bit of good sunlight coming through the different colours in the woodland really stand out – a bit of action always helps to 🙂
I really liked the contrast of the two pictures above. I stalked the deer for quite a while and waited until I could get the best picture of her as she finally noticed me. The woods were very closed in with lots of underbrush and noisy from the leaf litter.
The field though was different in every way and I only decided to take this shot as I passed by. It was so quiet and open however when I looked at the picture later I could see the subtle greens of the weeds coming through. Even though the pictures are so different there are similarities with the colours of the weeds and moss in both pictures.
The ‘Curves and Corners’ pictures are stills from some video I shot at the Surrey Hills Wood Fair last October. Not the greatest quality however these were two scenes that had me entranced.
The skills needed to form the glass bowl over the log and the carving of the links out of a single trunk make my mind boggle.
I went for a walk with my family in Basing Wood at the end of last year. It was a dark and dreary winters day – the type that could really do with a great dollop of snow to cheer you up.
Not to be put off with this greyness I kept looking for something a bit cheery. I found this where the trees met the sky when the sun finally came out.
The kids woodland play park arch came alive when shot from below – its depth really stood out at this angle. The bottom picture I love because of the bands of colour you can pick out in the weak afternoon sun. My wife Alison was the one who suddenly stopped me and pointed me in this direction – so easy to just walk on by…………
Last weekend I was teaching near the River Thames and in the evening spent some time standing by the river waiting to see what happened. One Swan swept by and I managed to get a shot of him clear of all the buildings. I enhanced the evening skyline to make the picture warmer and was pleasantly surprised by the results.
In contrast the B&W picture below I nearly deleted. It was a nice enough picture in colour but nothing special I would say. A niggly thought bugged me as I hovered over the delete button so I went with it. Glad I did as the B&W version really works for me.
A single last picture – no contrast – would not dare 🙂
I love this picture of my beautiful wife Alison as she led the Christingle service at our local church – St James here in Bramley last year. I could not use a flash and relied on a zoom lens. The colours and the smile really make this picture for me and a fitting one to end on.
Where have the last few months gone? – life and work have been hectic recently so I am only now catching up on my trips from late last year.
November last year found me in the Ashdown Forest here in the UK with the Sea Cadets assessing our latest group of expedition leaders. These Sea Cadet and Royal Marines Cadet instructor/students had a busy year preparing for their assessment but it was worth all the effort. The qualification they were looking to gain was their Basic Expedition Leaders Award (Level 3). This is a nationally recognised qualification from Sports Leaders UK.
I was joined by my colleagues Perry Symes, Dave Lewis, John Kelly, Ben McDonald and Alan Lewis for the weekend.
We were soon split into a couple of teams and out on the heathland and in the woodland testing their skills. Some of these students started the course with very little knowledge so it was good to see them putting all their new found skills to the test.
As well as observing their group management skills as they navigated they all had to give ‘short on the hoof’ presentations to the others. These could be given under the relaxed canopy of a tree or under a windswept bothy bag 🙂
One of the most crucial skills any expedition leader should have in my opinion is to be able navigate to a high standard. The students were not only expected to be able to use a map and compass without thinking about it but also to be able to teach the skill to others as well.
Modern navigational aids are looked at on the course however it is the use of the ‘Mark 1’ eyeball, map and compass that are assessed. We spent the whole of the Saturday out and about doing this (hard work some may say).
Sunday was a day mostly of testing knowledge and each of the students had to run a class. Subjects covered included expedition food, kit and the theory of navigation.
While some of the assessors were observing the classes the rest of us were busy catching up on all the admin that Sports Leaders UK need us to complete to run our centre- admin as many of my friends know is not something I enjoy 🙂
One of the things I like about helping to run this course is that I keep on finding new ideas for classes from the students like using this mine tape to highlight contours.
Everyone who was assessed on the weekend came up to the standards to be an expedition leader so it was great to receive the certificates and to help award them.
We have been running this award in the Sea Cadets since 2010 now (I think we have missed one year) and I have worked with every group. We have a great team that is growing all the time and other Sea Cadet areas are now sending students to us or looking to emulate us.
By the way can you spot the difference below? 🙂
The 2017 group has already started so that one will be up on the blog sometime soon – so loads more trips planned.
For years now I have been making rope out of various different natural materials. This has generally been a relaxing though time-consuming process for me, until Perry McGee from the National Tracking School taught me at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot that it could be a fun and frantic process as well.
Now this may not be the prettiest, smoothest or most perfectly formed rope, but it is fast to make, strong enough for most camp jobs and can be made out of many different grasses. This is a technique that is not just for bushcrafters but for any outdoor pursuits leader (I am a Mountain Leader as well) as a way of putting a rope together in an emergency.
For this blog I had a wander along a nearby stream and harvested some dead grasses and some leaves from a Pendulous sedge. To harvest the grasses I would advise you to wear gloves and use something like a Laplander saw to cut the grass.
Gloves are useful to protect you from hidden brambles etc and also because you can easily slice your fingers open on some grasses. I do not use a knife as I find grass quickly blunts its edge, so instead I hold the grass firmly half way along its length and sweep the base of it with the saw before pulling the grass away. Pulling grass straight out of the ground with bare hands will eventually lead to cuts on the inside of your fingers.
The X and Y start
To start your rope off begin with two evenly thick strands (this thickness will determine the overall thickness of your rope). I vary the individual lengths of the grass within each strand so that as it thins out and I add in more grass later the joins will be staggered (this will make a stronger rope).
Form the X first (the ends of the grass nearest to me are called the standing ends) close to the standing end and then wrap one of the standing ends under the other strand, back through the middle, and join it to the other standing end to form the Y shape. You can see all the steps below.
Laying in the rope
In the pictures below I am holding both the standing ends in my left hand (on the right in the picture) and twisting the strand closest to me a couple of times towards myself.
Keeping the tension on the twist, I then turn the newly twisted strand away from me over the top of the other strand and clamp it in place with my left thumb (I have added a video at the end of the post to show you this in more detail). Once done this means the other strand will be closest to me, and it’s simply a case of repeating the process of twisting the closest strand towards me a couple of times, then turning it away from me over the top of the other strand and carrying on.
It does not take long to start forming the rope but you do have to be careful when using whole pieces of grass as you can easily cut yourself. The rope made from this fresh grass will be perfectly usable in the short term however as it dries out and shrinks the strands will loosen.
If I had wanted to make rope for long-term use I would have stored the harvested grass until it had dried out and then re-wetted it before making the rope. This would mean the rope would not shrink and loosen afterwards.
Adding more grass
Eventually one of the strands will start to get thinner. It is at this point you will need to add in more grass. I lay a fresh piece of grass into the strand that is thinning out with the short end sticking out by a couple of centimetres. After twisting and laying in the strand as normal I twist the small piece sticking out back and incorporate it into the other strand.
Every time a strand starts to thin out I add another piece of grass in this way.
Once I have finished the rope to the length I want I finish the end of by twisting the two strands tightly and tie it off with an overhand knot.
To finish you can trim off any pieces of grass that are sticking out with a knife if you want to tidy it up.
Perry insists that students on his tracking courses should be able to make thick coils of rope the length of their body in about a minute. I have a bit to go to be able to do that but as you can see below the rope – whether it is thin or thick – can be used for many purposes.
You can evacuate a casualty, construct a hammock, make coil baskets or even a great tug of war rope to keep the kids (of all ages) happy.
As the steps can be a little hard to follow with just pictures I put this short video together to show you the process in action.
Have fun, and I’d love to see pictures of the rope you make!
‘Looking for that moment‘ – always something at the back of my mind when I am out and about. These last few months I have been extremely busy at work so my Bimbles have been severely curtailed however there were one or two ‘Moments‘ over the last few months.
The thing that the three pictures below have in common (apart from the obvious) is that I walked past each location and then purposefully double backed to get the shots – I am glad I did now 🙂 The colours came out beautifully in my opinion.
As the nights have been drawing in I have tried to get a few night time shots in as well. The two shots of the moon I took using my DSLR however the Christmas Reindeer (outside Cardiff Castle) I took using my Sony mobile phone. I think I will be trying out a bit more night time photography in the future.
Walking in the woods on my own I find very relaxing as I can wander wherever my interest takes me however taking the kids out brings the woods more alive I think. There is something magical with the light in the autumn that the kids really love and I think it makes them more adventurous than when we have a heavy canopy of leaves – it certainly makes for easier photography.
As winter approaches (strange saying that in January) I hope we get some snow here in Southern England to get out to explore and photograph.
OK – when I say we had a ‘Boys Own Weekend’ it was not through choice – sometimes it just happens that way and no girls had booked on the course.
Last October I spent an excellent weekend with my friend Dave Lewis teaching some Sea Cadets more advanced navigation techniques. They had all completed their basic campcraft skills and so the focus was on the use of the map and compass.
We were based in the Ashdown Forest here in the UK (Winnie the Pooh land) and really tested the lads out with their navigation. We had access to Pippingford Park training area so we were not continually bumping into people as you would do in the open access areas of the forest.
Pippingford Park has a wide variety of habitats from heathland, woodland and wetlands. The park also has many deer and wild horses roaming its interior making it a special place to visit.
We camped in the park on the Saturday evening and soon had a good fire going. Even though it rained a lot we got the marshmallows out and I started to spot loads of fire faces in the flames.
The colours were quite beautiful that weekend with all the fungi out and the leaves on the ground. Every time the sun came out so did my camera as that is when the colours came alive.
It is weekends like these where there are only a few of us that I really enjoy teaching. More focus can be given on the advanced skills and more time can be given to the instructors to relax 🙂
Over the last year I have dabbled with some of my pictures to see how they they fared in Black and White. I did look for pictures that gave me good shadows and high levels of contrast. I have no idea if that is the best way of going about it but I had fun along the way.
I hope you enjoy the pictures and wish you all a Happy New Year.
Welcome back to Part 2 of my story on our expedition last October to the Brecon Beacons. Yesterday I published Part 1 in our Brecon Gold Story – Part 2 covers Day 3 and 4 of the expedition.
This was a day of mostly walking the valleys from Blaenglyn to Grawen campsite so was much easier to manage for us staff. We had a leisurely wait at the Storey Arms as the cadets walked up from the campsite and then onto the hills.
JK and Deano had gone on ahead to do the high level observation (and practice some micro nav) while Morgan and myself got dropped off further down the route.
The day was one of these usual DofE staff days – wait, wait and wait some more. Eventually the teams started to appear over the hills heading South. We soon lost them all in the woods along the reservoirs then it was a case of nipping through the back routes to keep an eye on them.
While we were waiting for the teams Morgan asked me how to make rope out of the grass around us (I have a habit of doing this since Perry McGee taught me this a year ago) so the time soon passed (I will be writing this How To….. soon),
We also had some younger cadets along for the trip – they were not doing the DofE but were along to learn about campcraft. They were being looked after by Donnah and Carol however they were joined on Day 3 by Dave. They had a wonderful day walking along the trail that is known as the ‘Along the Waterfalls’ route near Ystradfellte. As well as a location for excellent waterfall shots it is a great location for woodland navigation.
Dave did have a chat with me afterwards and the jist of the conversation was around never being asked to lead so many women again 😉
That night some of the cadets and staff put a fire together and re-lived the days events around the fire. It is not every trip to Wales that allows you this simple pleasure.
The final day was soon upon us and after a drop off at Dolygaer (north of Merthyr Tydfil) everyone was soon climbing high into the hills. The finish point was on the Dam at Talybont Reservoir.
Dave and myself headed off first to get up high to observe the teams and Jess and Carol took the younger cadets around the trail near the Tallybont reservoir. This meant we had good cover of the teams as they moved through the area.
The weather was spectacularly clear and I spent my time getting landscape and macro shots of everything around me. I think Dave had a less spectacular time as where he was the cloud cover was very low (that is the Welsh Mountains for you as we were less than a Kilometre from each other).
Finally everyone (I think Dave and myself were in last) reached the dam on the Tallybont Reservoir. There was time for one last picture and then some very tired but happy Gold adventurers set off on the journey home.
For the last two months my work has been pretty manic so my blogging and bushcraft has been severley curtailed. Time for catch up then on some of my autumnal activities. I have split the story of this expedition into two parts to make it easier to tell.
My last major trip of the year was with the Sea Cadets on a Gold DofE expedition to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales here in the UK.
I was joined by staff and cadets from both London and Southern Area Sea Cadets.
The staff were John Kelly (JK), Dave Lewis, Chris Bonfield, Alan Lewis, Carol O’Brien, Jess Edwards, Donnah Chandle and Morgan Hina.
All was wet when we got to Wales however we soon had the tents up (next to a field of pigs) and got to work getting ready for the next days walk.
Day 1 of the expedition was dominated by extremely low cloud cover however the teams set off in good spirit and were soon marching off into the mists.
Thankfully we had plenty of staff out on the hills to keep an eye on the DofE participants (made up of cadets and staff doing their Gold DofE). We met the participants a number of times during the day as visibility at times was down to about 100 metres.
Day 1 was from Blaenau to the campsite at Dan yr Ogof Caves. This was mostly moorland walking however their navigational skills were really tested here due to the poor visibility and sometimes uniform moorland terrain.
Some of the staff (Jess and Deano) were using the expedition to test their navigational skills in preparation for their Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) assessment in November. Helping them along were JK and Chris Bonfield – JK and Chris were also acting as the Expedition Assessors.
I was working alongside Dave as Mountain Safety staff. Our job was to stay up high and keep a close eye on the DofE participants as they moved through the Beacons. Along the way I decided to keep an eye out for a splash of colour and I found it in the lichens.
This was from a drop off near the Cray Resevoir to a campsite at Blaenglyn. This was a day spent high in the hills and though the cloud cover was high the wind was strong.
I managed to get some better photography on Day 2 and so did Dave (he captured the shepherd marshalling his sheep along with his Collie taking it easy at the back).
I passed a very intense herd of cows watching my every move and wondered at the beauty of the dew on the grass and the wisps of mist floating along the tree tops.
I met the teams along the way as they went from hilltop to hill top. They were all in good spirits in the first half of the day and even found time to dry their tents out from the soaking they got from the night before.
One team developed a couple of injuries and so we directed them to a lower route to the north of the route shown below. All the teams though made it back to camp before it got dark.
I will post Part 2 of the post up tomorrow however here is a quick photo/video of the trip to finish today.
The London Area Sea Cadets annual Chosin Cup competition is one event I look forward to every year. Since 1999 I have been attending this event and this year may not have been the hardest in terms of the weather but it sure was hard due to the sheer number of different tests the cadets had to undertake.
Kick off is on the Friday night (late September) with the cadets marching in to their bivvie sites and working on their route cards. The staff though were up into the early hours prepping everything for the weekend.
First thing on Saturday morning they were briefed in their teams and then they were off. They needed to navigate a route inside and outside Pippingford Park military training area (located in the beautiful Ashdown Forest in the UK).
This year the Chosin Cup was run by our ‘soon to be‘ new Area Staff Officer Ben MacDonald. Ben is keen to really test the cadets and brought in some new activities for them to try out.
Cliff Lewis was in his element running the timed rowing race, there was plenty of archery to test the keen eyed ones, loads of fakeblood for the hardy at heart to stem and a fantastic climbingtower to let the cadets scurry up.
In between each stance the cadets had to keep navigating and pushing themselves to get to each one as quickly as possible.
The TyroleanTraverse and the Minibuspull tested the cadets teamwork and strength while the Seamanship stance worked on their core Sea Cadet skills
In between all this tooing and frowing of cadets the staff were busy running the stances (well some got a bit of R&R in between) and we had a visit on the Sunday from the Senior London Area officers (that kept us on our toes).
As for myself I was in the enviable position of being the roving safety officer/official photographer (my car ended up totally covered in dust from all the dirt tracks).
I put together a couple of short videos of the weekend and below is the first one with snippets of the Saturdays activities.
The Saturday night was not a quiet affair, as soon as it was dark, they were off again. This time on a night navigation excercise working from point to point using compasses and maps – they all made it and were soon safely back at camp.
All the activities on the Sunday morning were located within the confines of Pippingford Park (no hardship there as it is a beautiful site) and so after a good breakfast it was time to get started again.
The cadets were kept busy hauling themselves and all their kit up steep inclines, building rafts (a few did come apart) and stalking the enemy 🙂
My friend Charlie Brookes ran the Fire Race. This involves collecting different tinders and twigs then lighting them (using a firesteel) and getting the flames high enough to burn through a suspended horizontal rope – not as easy as you might think.
The event culminated in each team having to run the EnduranceRace. This was set up by our friend Kev Lomas from Southern Area Royal Marines Cadets and he knows how to set a tough race (he knows his stuff as he runs a company called Muscle Acre).
After a briefing they were off – each team took about 15 minutes to complete the race. It was a mixture of natural and man-made obstacles but the general theme was mud, ropes and water.
It was great to watch the cadets pushing themselves over the race and really come together as individual teams. There were staff located all around the site to encourage the cadets and ensure they were always safe. It was hard for them but the looks on their faces when they finished showed that they really enjoyed themselves.
For many years I have run with the teams around these races however this year it was time to let others have a go and as the official photographer I encouraged/poked/prodded some of the other staff to have a go so I could film them (you have to have some sort of R&R when you reach 50!!)
Below is the second of my videos showing the Sunday activities including the Endurance Race.
After a quick wash up it was time for the awards. There were 9 teams entered in the event this year and a close run thing it was too.
Merton Unit came 3rd, City of London came 2nd and the winners were Maldon Unit – BZ guys.
For many years the Chosin Cup has been overseen by our two Area Staff Officers Perry Symes and Graham Brockwell. They are standing down now to make way for some younger members of staff such as Ben MacDonald to take over and test themselves. This post then, I am dedicating, (like my videos) to these two stalwarts of the Adventure Training world in the Sea Cadets – Perry and Graham.
The weekend could not have been run without all the staff that volunteered to come along and run it so thank you to each and every one of you.
Thanks to all the cadets that came along and really tested themselves in what I regard as the toughest competition the Sea Cadets and the Royal Marines Cadets run.
Finally thanks must go to Ben MacDonald for putting it all together and making it a fine one for Perry and Graham to bow out on.
There has been a lot of skullduggery going on in the Aitchison-Jones household recently and it all came to a head in September 🙂
My wife Alison made sure that a certain weekend in September was kept well clear in my diary. I was told to pack for a family camp to celebrate my 50th birthday (location unknown) – hard to believe I have reached such a lofty age, I know 😉
So after packing we set off on a magical mystery tour that stopped off at the Arrivals lounge at Gatwick Airport. Passing through the gates was ‘Darling Barney’ all the way from Southern France to celebrate my birthday with us.
The pictures in this blog are a mixture from Tony Bristow, Ian Woodham, Alison Jones and myself.
The magical mystery tour continued to our friends Philippa and Phil’s farm just outside Dorking in Surrey. I was directed to a field to set up camp and we soon had our hammocks up and fire on. That night Phil came down to join us around the fire, there was a Harvest Moon and real ale and I was happy as Larry.
Phil asked Barney and myself if we could help him and a couple of friends complete a bridge at his girls school the next morning. I thought nothing of this as I normally help out Phil’s farm when I camp there and Barney is a carpenter/cabinetmaker anyway so his skills were needed.
It was a good morning mucking about in the mud building the bridge and we even stopped off for a couple of pints on the way back.
Unbeknownst to me Alison had set up a secret Facebook page and invited lots of my friends to the bash. While I was away folks started to arrive and needless to say that when I was in the car coming back down the field to the camp I was feeling slightly bemused.
There followed a lot of hugging and generally turning around with a startled look on my face as more and more folk popped out of the wood. These Saturday morning arrivals were friends from various parts of my life. Barney and Steve from Raleigh International, Liz, Rick, Stu and Gordon from Crisis, Alan and Dave from the Sea Cadets, Tony, Shelly, Robin, Jenna, David, Ian and Archie from Bushcraft UK
Alison had arranged for a delivery of groceries to be dropped off at the farm and a feast was quickly prepared. David Willis (Bushcraft With David Willis) used his bushcraft baking skills to make bread and our resident Sea Cadet chef Alan Lewis got on with prepping the skewers for the barbie.
I had gone from quite chilled out (must have been the two pints in the pub) to frantically running around getting the fires going, maintaining them and trying to chat with everyone who arrived. Those of you who know me personally know that multi tasking is not my strong point.
Added to all this confusion my friend Graham was spotted coming down the hill carrying a massive present all wrapped up. He told me I could not open it until later that evening around the fire.
After a few more beers (I kept opening one, putting it down, chatting, losing it, opening another……and so on, repeating the process) the food was ready and a lovely birthday cake produced.
Thanks to everyone who brought a present along – every one was appreciated and I am still working my way through all the single malts you brought along Rick, Gordon, Stu, Dave and Alan.
The wooden ’50’, Cliff, sits with my medals and other personal bits and bobs. It is a lovely piece of carving buddy.
Still not used the old military canteen, Barney, in case I damage it – it too will live on my bits and bobs shelf.
As for the Harrier knife carving, that log Graham that may take a while. (The massive present Graham brought me turned out to be a rare Harrier stamped knife together with a log from which to carve my own twelve-piece dinner service).
Thanks Phil and Philippa for the lovely honey you had just jarred 20 minutes before. As fresh as you can get I would imagine.
Thanks for all the Go Outdoor vouchers – I spent a happy couple of hours in there getting some extra kit.
Lastly to Alison for getting me that rather nice laptop I was really looking for (cheers for organising that Dave). It works a dream and I can process pictures so much quicker now.
The rest of the evening was spent chatting and from time to time Alison managed to extract some stories from folks about myself – many had the ending of me being hit in some way 🙂
A real highlight of the evening was listening to Robin and Jenna singing Happy Birthday to me in Welsh – I am not normally an emotional person but that moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.
A surprise evening arrival to the party were my good friends John and Caron of Woodcraft School (apologies I did not get a picture of you at the party). They just sort of appeared out of the dark while I was chatting away (just when I was sure there were no more surprises I was proved wrong).
Sunday morning soon came and those that had decided to stay for the night rose to a breakfast of bacon rolls and sausages before cracking on with some archery and Atlatls and posing for a Survivors’ picture.
Packing up was a sad business as everyone prepared to travel back home but I was still reeling slightly in a happy way from the whole surprise party.
I am still amazed at the distances people travelled to come to the party – France, west Wales, Leeds and more. Some came for the day and others stayed overnight. Thank you to all those who could not make the weekend but sent me there heartfelt wishes instead.
Thank you everyone who came and a special thanks to Alison and Philippa for all your organisational skulduggery 🙂
We clocked up nearly 2000 miles on the road this summer galavanting around Scotland visiting friends and family. Every couple of years we travel up to the Isle of Lewis to visit my family however this year we decided to call in at a few more friends en route.
Our first port of call was to stop off at Balquhidder Church in the beautiful Trossachs in the Highlands of Scotland. This is where my Father’s side of the family come from and where Alison and I got married. Buried in the local graveyard are my Gran and Grandpa and the falls above the church are well worth a visit.
Isle of Lewis
Then it was off to Ullapool to pick up the ferry over to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. My mother Joan and stepfather Abby live in the village of Port of Ness at the northernmost tip of the island. This was to be our base for the next week.
Our kids Catherine and Finlay were really looking forward to this visit as they had not stayed at their Grannie Port’s house before.
Much of our time was spent down on the beach at Port or at Stoth as the weather turned out to be glorious. This is where I spent much of my childhood and it was great to see my children loving it as well.
I took the family and my brother Finlay to visit my Dad Freddie’s grave. It is located on the Machair right by the coast and the view are stunning. My Dad was also a part-time lighthouse keeper at the Butt of Lewis so it was a pity that it was closed to the public – the views are fantastic from the top.
It was great to catch up with everyone such as my old mate Peche and his wife Jean who I had not seen for many a year. The kids spent a lot of time with their cousins Kenny John, Courtney and Lauren. Kenny John in particular was very excited that Finlay was coming to visit and the two of them had great fun, playing hide and seek and climbing trees together.
We spent time most days with my sister Tina, my niece Natasha and her lovely little daughter Lily Mai. As we only get to go north every couple of years the difference in the little ones is always amazing – the last time I had seen Lily Mai she was still a babe in arms.
My sister Tina is a keen walker and is out for a five mile walk most days. I decided to photograph her one day on the coast and was really chuffed with the results. It is not all play though as the peats were calling and I went out a couple of evenings to lift and turn them with my brother-in-law Kenny – the midgies won in the end on both evenings and we were forced to beat a hasty retreat.
It was also great to catch up with Andy Burns each day as we were out and about. Andy is a great photographer and gets some incredible shots as his croft overlooks Port Beach.
While we were on Lewis my Uncle Dods was once again leading the annual Guga hunt. They arrived back the day before we were due to leave. I popped over to Stornoway to catch them offloading the Gugas. That night the kids, Abby and myself enjoyed a good feast of Guga.
Before we left we managed to get out to visit the Black House at Arnol where I had a great time talking with the wardens about traditional crafts and how they were made and used (for example making rope out of heather).
The time had flown by so fast and it was soon time to say goodbye to my Mum, Abby and the rest of the family.
After picking up the ferry back to the mainland we headed for Banchory over on the East Coast of Scotland. Our friends Kate and John live there now. We met Kate on a Raleigh International expedition to Chile in 1996 and have been great friends since. They have two lads – Chris and Matthew.
We spent three days exploring the local area and managed to get a real feast of blueberries on Scolty Hill.
Stopping off at the Thundering Falls of Feugh we were hoping to spot some leaping salmon however we were amazed to spot an otter fishing in the falls below our feet – it was quite a sight.
Our next stop wasThornhill in Stirlingshire to visit our friends Kate and Roddy. Alison has been friends with Kate since University and we always try and visit them when we can.
Located nearby is the beautiful Flanders Moss nature reserve. It is one of the last blanket lowland peat bogs in the country and is home to some rare flora and fauna.
The next stop was to visit my Uncle George in Crieff. It was also great to see my cousin Leanne and her son Robbi – another one who has shot up :-).
The we popped in to Callander to see my Aunty Catherine and Uncle Fred, who had just celebrated his 90th birthday the day before.
Our final night was spent back in England visiting Alison’s mum Beryl in Stockport. It was great to stop off there as no road trip North up the M6 would be complete without stopping off and letting the kids spend time with their Grandma.
It felt like we covered a lot of ground on this holiday however it was over in a flash. I caught up with many folk I had not seen in a long time (it was hard to recollect names at times) but I left Scotland with some great memories – I hope my kids felt the same as well.