How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – No chainsaw – Part 1

Spend time on preparing your candle and the payback will be a beautiful column of flame that will captivate any audience.

Read on to see how…………

A favourite evening activity of mine while in the woods is to build a large torch to light up the area around my campsite, and this version has a dual purpose as a handy self-contained stove too.

This type of log stove is commonly referred to as a Swedish Candle in the bushcraft world, but there’s some debate over its origins. Some history I have come across it is that it was used by Finnish soldiers during the winter war of 1939/40 between Finland and the then Soviet Union as a quick way of cooking in deep snow. Soldiers would just ski up to a dead standing piece of wood, cut it to size, split it and put a wedge in the split. After setting a fire in the split they would place their billy can on top to heat up the contents.

In dry arctic environments, dead standing wood does not contain much moisture so catches light easily. In our more maritime environment in the UK we have more moisture in our dead wood so it takes a bit more work to get a fire going. I use a lot of fluffy stuff (eg cotton-grass heads, thistledown or common reed heads), birch bark, spruce or pine resin and anything else I can find to get it going. When you finally succeed though it makes an excellent alternative woodland TV.

On a number of courses I have attended the instructors used chainsaws to make the vertical cuts. This makes the job very easy and you can set up a number of them around the camp quickly.

Chainsawed Candle (with Halloween pumpkin!)

I do not have the luxury of owning a chainsaw so I had a trawl around You Tube and came across a good video from Hobbexp on making one of these candles without the use of a chainsaw. A link to that video is at the bottom of this post. I took a number of attempts to get a system that works for me but as you can see from the results it is worth it.

Axed candle

Some of the pictures you can get are quite stunning. This is from my Fire Face collection and I call it the Seahorse.

Excellent Fire Faces

I typically use a length of well-seasoned birch as my candle but any wood that’s not too hard would work. As I never seem to find the ideal piece of dead standing wood when I need it I always keep a little stock in my store to bring along to camps.
First, split the wood with an axe and a batton. Be very gentle with the first few taps of the batton to make sure the axe does not slip.

Axe Battoning

Create the first split to a depth of about 50 or 60cms then create another split at 90 degrees to the first. To make the candle stand up, rest it against something that is not flammable (I sometimes use a cooking tripod) or dig it into the ground.

Batton a cross

Once the candle is in position, add a green wood wedge down each split to keep the four parts of wood separated, then you’re ready to light your candle.

One of the best aids to lighting a fire is resin. I collect it when out and about in conifer plantations, using a flattened stick to prise it off the tree. It makes it much easier and also you do not need to clean your hands or knife so much. Adding lots of resin to the split keeps the initial flame going for longer, giving the wood time to catch.

Resin is an ideal fire starter for a candle

Here you can see the green wood wedge keeping the split open and the start of the build-up of tinders. Tapping the green wedge in can make the log split a bit more – as you can see here – so be careful that you don’t allow the split to run all the way to the bottom.

Green wood wedge and some tinder

Here you can see I have placed some resin in the split along with some paper impregnated with pig fat. Keep building up different layers of tinders.

Build up layers

I started the fire in this candle with only a small amount of tinder at the bottom of the split to demonstrate how poor the flame would be.

Poor fire from the bottom

The flame was very slow in building up and when I placed small twigs on the top it dampened the flames down. (Instead of small twigs it is better to use dry pine needles as they are very flammable.) Starting the fire at the bottom will work, but you will need to spend far more time tending it; better to start the flame higher up as shown below.

Just remember the saying about the 7 P’s – Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance. Spend time on preparing your candle and the payback will be a beautiful column of flame that will captivate any audience.

Slow to build up flame

Here I have built up lots of layers of resin and birch bark and lit the flame from the top. I don’t know the physics of it but if you start your fire at the top and let it burn down through the layers it works much better.

Lots of layers and start from the top

A well-lit candle now and an ideal place to boil water for a brew.

Time for a brew

I have gotten some fantastic pictures from these candles.

Evening flames

Even the embers are beautiful.

Glowing embers

The beauty of this set up is that if you keep adding tinder, resin and small twigs this candle will last a good couple of hours.

I have been experimenting with a couple of alternative candles today and will post the results of my thoughts on them in Part 2 of this How To…. soon.



How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Damp/Wet Wood – Part 2

Log Stove video by Fredde (Hobbexp)

The Kent County Show with Badger Bushcraft

June and July are time for County shows all over the country. This year at the end of June I agreed to help my good friend Phil Brown out at the Kent County Show.

Phil runs his own bushcraft company called Badger Bushcraft. Phil is based in Kent and does a lot of work with schools in the South East of England. His website at Badger Bushcraft covers all the angles on how he works with schools so I will not go into depth on that here.

I have known Phil since about 2005 and we have both studied together under John Rhyder at Woodcraft School on a number of his courses. Just like in the forces you go on long courses, meet people, go through some pretty hard stuff (and good stuff) and come out at the other end with some good friends. Phil is one of these good friends and over the last few years has given up his time to help me out on my Sea Cadet courses so it was only right to help out where I could for him. Not difficult as we both share the same passion for teaching bushcraft.

Phil’s aim for the weekend was to network with visitors who had links with schools. All the craft items were for display purposes. My role was to demonstrate some activities. These included, using firesteels, bowdrill, hand drill, knots, carving and looking at hammocks set ups.

Phil of Badger Bushcraft

Phil had his own shelter for the craft items and I brought along our own Coleman Event shelter to do the demonstrations. I am glad I brought it along as the heat all weekend was very intense.

Stall and demonstration area

I brought along some of my craft items and so did Phil. We could hardly fit them onto our tables in the end. I lost track of the times people came up asking how much we were selling things for. Some could not believe that we were not here to sell stuff but to just network and demonstrate.

Nothing for sale here

The hat you can see in the picture Phil found in Romania. It is made out of amadou from the bracket fungus Fomes fomentarius. A good explanation can be found here on Wikipedia.

Items for Education

Running over the weekend was a small competition. It was to identify the plant shown here at the bottom of the table. It is highly toxic and was very hard to ID (I had no idea what it was until told). People got a chance to use some ID books to find out what it was and we got an eventual winner. The prize was a weekend course with Phil if I remember. The plant if you have not guessed it is a Thorn apple (Datura stramonium) More info on it can be found here at the RHS web page.

Plant ID competition

I must admit to being impressed with the skull collection that Phil now has. They were a real attraction to all the kids.

The Badger Bushcraft Skull Collection

Much of my time was spent in the demonstration area. It got very crowded at times. I spent a lot of time working with adults and kids doing group bowdrill and practising using firesteels.

Whats happening here then?

The demonstrations all went well apart from one time when I was working with a young lad. For whatever reason we just could not get that ember. Possibly due to my drops of sweat putting the ember out 😉

Bowdrill Heaven

The kids waited patiently until it was there turn and wherever possible I worked with groups of 3 or 4 at a time.

Waiting patiently for their turn

I did a number of one to one sessions with adults and a few got that final happy flame face I so love to see.

Now that is a happy fire face

Interspersed in between the bow drill I got the hand drill out. I think I did 4 demonstrations on the Saturday which thankfully were all successful (it was very hot and dry so ideal conditions) but I did collect a couple of blisters and my hands did feel bruised.

Handrill Demonstration

At the back of the shelters we had set up home. I had a few people asking about the hammock set up.

My home is the hammock – Phil has the tipi. No roughing it here.

Around the fire that evening we had a little visitor that wanted to dive bomb the fire but thankfully chose not to do so at the last moment.

A little visitor in the evening

On the Sunday i set up a couple of different hammocks for people to try. Everybody was a bit nervous at first trying them but those that did were converted. The hammocks that I set up were the DD Frontline and the UK Hammocks Woodsman.

Lots of hammock testing

I tried out one of Phil’s Ben Orford hook knives and it worked a treat. I quickly cut out the inside of a small bowl. I was working on a small birch log and explaining to people as they came by what I was up to. The bowl has seasoned now and hopefully will be a Christmas present. I demonstrated my gas wood burning stove and discussed various styles of pot hooks.

Carving Demos and time for tea

We had set up an area with some stoves and different types of pot hooks for people to look at. Also one of our neighbours had a mobile planing machine. He had been making planks out of Birch and the off cuts were donated to us. The sensible thing we could see was to carve some chopping boards out of them. I think we gave away a few in the end to people who stopped to chat and were really interested in what we did.

Cooking Kit

Other neighbours included the Kent Beekeeping Society and Steve who was an expert wood turner.

Our neighbors – The Beekeepers and Bodgers

Phil got his Eco Burner going. Really outshone my little gas wood burner. He has written a good write up about the Eco Burner here. Some of the time we had a quiet spell and we managed to get a brew going but much of the time we had quite a crowd.

Quiet times – Busy times

I took a picture of one of Phil’s boards showing the benefits of bushcraft within the community. Certainly makes you think about what this subject can do to help people both young and old.

Benefits of Badger Bushcraft

If you work in a school in the South East and are interested in teaching nature based activities to your students then drop Phil a line sometime.

Badger Bushcraft

I had a great weekend and look forward to hopefully going again next year.

Cheers and maybe see you there.


Bushcraft Memorable Meals – Part 3 – Dinner with Coastal Survival

This theme of ‘Memorable Meals’ is a subject that is very close to my tummy. To watch my wife Alison cooking a meal for me is an absolute joy but I have to accept that though she loves the outdoors and camping – bushcraft is not quite the same passion for her as it is for me.  I do try to cook well for myself when Alison is not around but being of a military mind I usually end up tucking into a standard issue MOD rat pack.

Thankfully to help counter this laziness of mine I have a number of friends – both military and civilian – who happen to be excellent outdoor chefs.  Looking at my picture library I was struck by all the pictures I had taken over the last couple of years of some fantastic meals I have eaten while bushcrafting.

One of these excellent chefs runs his own outdoor cookery school – Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival. Fraser is a qualified chef and expert forager who actually lives off the land and the sea. I have recently bought his superb book Eat the Beach on Kindle. As well as covering all the edibles on the shoreline it goes into detail on how to identify and cook plants found further inland.

I will try and explain what all the dishes were but I will mostly let the pictures speak for themselves. (I can’t remember all the ingredients.)

For me nothing beats sitting around a fire chatting and watching a great meal being produced. I usually end up with getting lumbered with cleaning the dishes but that is a fair price to pay I think.

Time to chat

It is always good to stop for a brew. I love my tea and coffee but a foraged brew tastes that much sweeter.

Time to brew

As well as Fraser, another expert chef and forager is Alan Smylie. Thankfully these two guys get along when it comes to cooking and foraging. They seem to complement each other somehow without any of the drama I have seen with co-chefs in the past.

A bit of this and that

A recurring theme in this post will be the Meat Feast pictures. Apologies to all the vegetarians reading this 🙂

Meat Feast 1

As a forager it is always good to munch as you go along, and we are not just talking plants here – shrimps and fish eyes, anyone?

Seashore nibbles

On trips with Fraser we catch quite a few crabs. They make an excellent stock.

Maritime Stock

Breakfast is something I tend to get left with so at least there is something I cooked here.


Fraser and Alan live off the land and they showed me an excellent way to cook sea bass parcelled up in the embers of a fire. This method of cooking ensures the fish stays very succulent.

Sea Bass delight

I made sure not much remained of the bass.

Cleaning out the bones

Walk on the sea shore and you will see limpets everywhere. They do not take long to cook and are great on their own or added to a stew.

Limpet cooking

I think the patties were made up of the leftovers of a previous day’s meal.

Homemade patties

All these meals included foraged ingredients.

Fireside Food

Cooking rig experiment – pots set at different heights for boiling and simmering.


Some more protein.

Meat Feast 2

I took this picture after Fraser had done a class on cold smoking mackerel in a cardboard box. After this we broke up the smoked mackerel and added it to a stew.

Smoked Mackerel

Before and after pictures.

Chops (top) and Seaweed Stew

In between classes a quick and easy meal is an omelette

Pepperoni omelette

The stove in the picture below is actually an old cutlery drainer and we were using pine cones as fuel.

Midnight cooking

Last of the Meat Feast pictures. I enjoyed every one of these roasts.

Meat Feast 3

Omelette for breakfast this time………..

Breakfast omelette

…..sometimes it can be fish, potatoes and eggs………..

Fish breakfast

…..but there are days when only a bacon buttie will do.

Bacon Butties

Even the cat eats well here.

Feed me!!!

I hope you enjoyed these foraged food and feasting pictures.

I am aiming to get back down to see Fraser again in the near future for some more fabulous bushcraft-style belly fuel.



For more information, see:

Coastal Survival

Eat the Beach – by Fraser Christian

Adventures in the New Forest – To play and to learn

Every year for as long as I have been in the Sea Cadets we have made an annual trip to the New Forest. This started out with just our unit (City of London) but has since grown to include units from all over London.

The aim of the event is to provide cadets for the annual HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre Church and to conduct a range of adventurous activities. The last trip was in June this year and we managed to run a a Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL award) assessment course, D of E Bronze expedition, lots of Junior Sea Cadet activities, cadet camping qualifications and run an adult Adult Adventure Leader assessment. A very busy weekend all in all. The majority of our cadets come from London and some get very few opportunities to head out into the woods for the weekend to play and learn.

The pictures below have been selected from a number of different years.

I normally arrive early on the Friday to set up the parachute and other group shelters. The cadets and the rest of the staff will arrive later on the Friday night. Our accommodation is usually at the Ferny Crofts camp site in the New Forest. It has a wide range of facilities and activities but the best thing about it is that you can set up hammocks and have a fire.

Sea Cadets in the woods

Meet my boss – Chief Petty Officer Paul Townsend. He is the Commanding Officer (CO) of City of London Sea Cadet unit based on HMS Belfast. Paul is in overall charge of the camp and leads the honour guard at the HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre Church in the New Forest on the Sunday. Apart from being a good CO, seamanship instructor and sailing instructor he is not too bad at the old adventure training as well 🙂

The Boss

Our sleeping accommodation is a mixture of tents and hammocks. Over the years we have introduced cadets to using hammocks and now I do not have enough hammocks for all the cadets who want to use one. Thankfully some of the older cadets have bought their own now.


Even managed to get my friend Perry Symes to try out a hammock again and this time he enjoyed it.

Hammock heaven

A big part of the weekend is to teach navigation to cadets and adults. We do get to some beautiful locations.

Going Walkabout

This was a particularly tricky spot to navigate. Liz took her time but it was fun to watch. Liz was on the assessment course for the BEL award I was helping to assess. I was told that later the same day a couple got stuck in this area and had to be rescued by the emergency services.

Step lightly

At some point on the saturday we like to stop off at the Beauly Station Hotel with all the cadets and staff for a bit of refreshment. It was here we were introduced to Helen and Simon’s son James. A real hit with Jason.

Meeting new friends

The weather this year was thankfully gorgeous unlike some previous years. This was my friend Charlie Brookes’s first visit to the event. Apart from being a bushcraft instructor he is an excellent navigation instructor.

Beautiful weather

While out and about I like to make sure that everyone is well aware of what is happening in Nature around them. My friend Liz Rowan took the picture of the snake. That is one thing I am yet to see in the countryside – maybe one day.

Looking at nature

As per usual on any trips now I have my EDC hammock chair ready to deploy. Best £15 I ever spent.

Chill out time

Problem is though, everybody else likes it as well. I love the fact that when you are sitting in it it appears your feet are floating in the air.

Hanging out

As part of their training cadets are trained in how to use an emergency shelter. These things are a real life saver.

Emergency Shelter use

Teaching classes on putting up tents can be a bit dry so I like to see a bit of fun being injected into the learning.

Learning about tents the fun way

We run lots of activities including using firesteels, group bowdrill and team games.


The cadets lit this fire with firesteels and are having their break relaxing and watching a bit of ‘woodland TV’.

Woodland TV

The Juniors have to cook food over an open fire to complete their Sea Cadet Green training module, so lighting their own fire then cooking over it gives them a great sense of achievement.

Food glorious food

The wood under the fire came from a massive pile of old pallets that the Scouts provided so that the local woodland is not stripped of dead wood – got to leave a home for the bugs.

Sausages and melting chocolate

I was introduced to Smores a few years ago at the BCUK Bushmoot and they have proven to be a hit with the cadets (and the adults). They are toasted marshmallows squeezed between a couple of biscuits, ideally with melted chocolate drizzled over.

Smores – The best

Another sweet favourite is to cook chocolate cake mix in oranges. Messy but tasty.

Chocolate oranges

A regular feature now is to build a candle for cooking on.

Cooking Candles

As we cannot cook every meal on an open fire we always have a field kitchen in a large Roundhouse we rent out. The cadets have to work in shifts helping out. Some great food has been created here with very few resources. Well done guys.

Our Field Kitchen

As we are running courses on campcraft there are plenty of classes discussing kit and its uses.

Kit class

Dave is having a bit of a debrief here with his group to reinforce the learning. Don’t know if he is talking about wood or if he is just tired 😉

Class debrief

At some point in the weekend we always get the Atlatls out for a quick ping.

Atlatl fun

There are plenty of areas to do some stalking skills as well.

Stalking games

At the end when we pack up we like to ensure the place is left cleaner than we found it. Here is the ideal skirmish line set up before starting to sweep the area.

Area clean – Nice and smart

Unfortunately however working with cadets can be like herding cats. So instead of keeping in a nice straight line and sweeping efficiently across the area it all soon degenerates into a bit of an aimless-looking wander. Thankfully though we always manage to get the place cleaned up.

Area clean – Not so smart

I hope we have many more years going to the New Forest for the HMS Hood Remembrance Service. It is great to see the cadets head out to the service and just as good to see them enjoying the woods.

If your unit has never been down to this event and you’d like some information just let me know.



Sustainability Centre & Woodcraft School

Back in May the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire was hosting its May Fair. I decided to take my kids down for the day with one of their friends and I was joined for the day by my friend Rick. Thankfully the rain kept off until it was time to go home.

I love going down to the Sustainability Centre as there is such a wide range of things for both kids and adults to do. They even have an area for hammocking which is always a bonus for me.

Rick arrived on his motorbike and the kids all got to sit on it. I think Finlay was most taken with the bike though.

Arrival and already thinking of his future

We went for a good wander around the woods and had a few finds through the day. Catherine was a little bit sad to find a dead wood pigeon. I was more taken with the stove than the kids I think but we were all fascinated by the squirrel print that my friend John Rhyder pointed out.

Our finds

The centre has a number of tipis and yurts for hire which were all open for the day so the kids were straight in there.

Best Friends Forever

There were many stands displaying alternative technologies and lifestyles but the kids loved the Dream Catcher lady the most.

Dream Catcher Construction

After finishing their Dream Catchers we found a bug hotel and its little sign.

Dream Catchers and Bug Hotel

My friend John runs Woodcraft School. I trained under John on his instructor programme back in 2008, a course I thoroughly enjoyed and got a great deal out of – I would recommend it to anyone.
At the fair John was leading a walk looking at the different plants that were starting to come through that month, both edible and medicinal.

John Rhyder of Woodcraft School leading a walk on edible and medicinal plants

We looked at quite a number of plants such as wild strawberry and ribwort plantain.

Edibles – Wild Strawberry and Ribwort Plantain

Other plants included silverweed and nettle. Finlay was a bit dubious at first even though he has eaten some before but did venture a little nibble of nettle.

Nettle tasting

A plant that was covered in a lot of detail was herb bennett – also known as wood avens. Its root has a very clove-like smell and so was hung up in wardrobes to ward off moths. It is a plant still used today in some areas to flavour beer and has many medicinal uses. A good site that goes into more detail on the plant is Dals Wildlife site.

Discussion on herb bennett

Next on the list was burdock, a great plant for the carbohydrates found in its root. The whole plant is edible but the leaf is a tad on the bitter side (in fact to be honest it’s absolutely horrible). I don’t think the girls were taken with it. It was good to hear John covering these plants again and it reminded me that I needed to get my books out again.

Burdock tasting

Ever seen a greenhouse made out of plastic bottles? If not come down here and see for yourself. We were all gaping at this thing – so simple but at the same time so complex.

Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

One of the reasons the kids love to come down here is the circus area. I must admit to trying and failing miserably on the unicycle 🙂

The Circus

At the end of the day it was a tractor trip to the carpark and home.

End ex and off home on the tractor (well to the car really)

This is a great place to visit for the day or to camp over. There are areas dedicated to the growing of wild plants and to displaying sustainable ways of living. There are bushcraft and green woodworking courses on offer and there is a beautiful Natural Burials woodland to stroll in.

Maybe see you there next year.



Bushcrafting with the Royal Marine Cadets on the Isle of Wight

Around a fire some time last year my friend Kev Lomas asked me about helping out the Royal Marine Cadets (RMC) in his area (Southern Area Sea Cadets) with some Bushcraft. As Kev had helped us in London Area a lot over the years I was keen to help out.

Another reason was that the course would be on the Isle of Wight and there is nothing better than walking through dappled woodland in the Spring on a sunny day on the island (there are no deer on the island to eat all the flowers).

The course was at the end of April this year and the weather was fine and warm. I had a smooth trip over the Solent with with just a little fog to begin with but it soon cleared up.

Beautiful ferry crossing

I went down on the Thursday to set up camp and I am glad I did as it took us all Thursday afternoon and Friday to set everything up. The camp we stayed at was deserted and the woodlands were beautiful – though I did manage to get my heavily laden van well and truly stuck in the mud trying to set up. Luckily once emptied she leapt out of the mud to save my embarrassment.

There was to be about 25 cadets on the course with about 5 instructors. One of the instructors called Sgt Tony Moore had attended the same instructor course with Woodcraft School that I had completed so it was good to swap stories. (The chicken below, by the way, is a plastic one we found in the woods.)

Prepping the camp

When the cadets arrived they were briefed on the activities. I think some were a bit disappointed to find out I was a Blue Jacket (a Sea Cadet instructor) rather than a RMC instructor but when I began describing all the skills they would cover and how these could cross over into their field skills they started to come around (I think also that it helped when Kev mentioned I was ex-Airborne).

Briefing time

We had the Padre around for the weekend and he was keen to be involved. As well as trying out a normal hammock he was very taken with my UK Hammocks EDC chair.

The Padre was around all weekend and keen to take part (in a relaxed sort of way)

A tradition in the RMC is to introduce the cadets to the Coca Cola tree. Many of the older ones had seen this before and sniggered at the back watching younger ones’ confusion as Kev pulled the ‘tree’ out of the ground all the while explaining how rare it was 🙂

The rare Coca Cola tree

Many of the cadets brought their own knives along so we had a good chat about the pros and cons of the various different types. I then issued some fixed-blade bushcrafting knives for them to practise with.

Knife class

They all managed to make wedges and learn the art of battoning wood, making the kindling they’d later use for their fires.

Knife skills

They used firesteels to get their fires lit and then we boiled water in our Kelly Kettles for a brew. I love using the term ‘brew’ to Marines as you can see the grimace appear on their faces. To them the correct term is a ‘wet’ and they are very proud of the difference (no idea why).

Make a Fire – Make a Brew (sorry I should say a Wet)

We bought in some mackerel and the cadets prepared them and made up some Ponassing rigs.

Ponassing class

A bit of a scrum to be fed but they all enjoyed it.

Enjoying the fruits of their labour

During the day we went out for a wander looking at tracks and signs. We found some owl pellets, scavenged birds’ eggs and also some early orchids.

Owl pellets

In the woods there were clear Badger trails which were easy to follow. We came across this nice print near their latrine.

Badger print

On the Saturday afternoon we dug up some worms so they could be cleaned out overnight. The next day a quite passable omelette was made with a bit of worm as protein.

Digging up worms for an omelette

Tony had fun showing the cadets how to prep rabbit.

Rabbit prep

As we had quite a lot of fish that was not Ponassed we fried it off in the Muurrika.

Frying up the remaining fish the cadets had prepped

In the evening the staff helped the cadets set up 10 hammocks. This took quite a while but was worth it as some were very keen to try them out. One cadet was about 6 foot 5 inches and was determined to have a go. His head could not fit in the hammock so it was quite a challenge to make him comfortable. He survived the night however, and said it was a relaxing sleep.

We set up 10 hammocks

Again on the Sunday we went for a wander to see was out there in terms of foraging. The cadets were introduced to hawthorn, birch and beech leaves (all tasty in the spring). The small plants we looked at were nettles, wood sorrel, burdock, plantain, reedmace and primrose to name just a few.

Foraging – Primroses

The ranges were an ideal spot to get the bows out.

Arrow away

We also introduced the cadets to the Atlatl.

Airborne Atlatls

You do not often see so many being launched simultaneously like this.


I had a fantastic weekend and so did the cadets, based on the feedback I received. I am looking forward to doing something similar with the RMC in London and also with the Southern Area RMC again next year.



Flora, Fauna and Fun – Spring Adventures

Do I get out and about with my children enough?

Probably not but when we do, we like to explore and adventure.

Two particular walks earlier this year stick out in my memory due to the flora and fauna that we came across and the fun we had. Both walks were in the same piece of woodland near our village.

On the way to the woods one of the routes takes you though our local church. The early spring flowers were quite beautiful.

Early Spring flowers

As soon as we entered the woods the kids spotted something.

Something out there

Needless to say it was not just the kids that were excited.

Who’s looking at who?

Eventually the deer took off. To see a herd of deer move as one is like watching a wave move through the woods. Quite a stunning sight. I was sorry that we had disturbed their rest but still delighted to see them. I was so glad that the kids were with me.

Spot the odd man out?

I was particularly delighted when Finlay pointed out some Cramp Balls to me as they are great fire starters when dried out. Enough to make any Bushcrafting father proud 🙂

Cramp Ball – Daldinia concentrica

We came across a fairly fresh kill site. The kids were straight in there looking at the feathers.

Fresh Raptor kill site

From looking at the feather tips the single score would indicate a bird of prey kill. If it had been a land animal such as a fox the tips of the feathers would have been jagged due to the tearing action of the animal’s teeth.

Complete Quills with the characteristic beak mark

The slots from the deer were crystal clear for them to spot.

Finlay finding deer slots

I did not ask my kids to collect tinder but they just went and collected anyway. Must be in the genes.

Catherine tinder gathering

As usual the kids needed to be extricated from the trees. Thankfully Alison was on hand as my hands were too busy with the camera 😉

The usual tree extraction

The next walk was a much more relaxed affair. It was time for the Bluebells to appear.

Chilling in the bluebells

Some days Catherine wants to explore and some days nails are more important. Must be a Mars – Venus thing.

Girl time

Thankfully Finlay wanted to do the Mars thing. He was determined to be able to lift this tree higher.

Boy time

The bluebells were looking beautiful that day.

Need to work on the cam and concealment

Also the orchids were standing lovely in the woods.

Lots of orchids

Finlay was more interested in finding bridges to cross and search under for Trolls.

Finlay’s favourite bridge

I do love spending time in the woods but it is special when you are with your own family.
My kids love to use all the latest gizmos but thankfully they love the outdoors just as much.



How To…. Build a Wood Gas Stove

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Wood Gas Stove

Back in 2010 at the BCUK Bushmoot I saw a wood gas stove that my friend Ian Woodham had built for himself. Needless to say I was very impressed with this stove.

One of the reasons I love it is that it’s so easy to put together: it requires no welding and only the most basic materials and tools. Even with all the testing and photographing I did, this stove took only the better part of an afternoon to make.

Yet despite its simplicity it’s actually very efficient: there’s a primary burning area in the centre and the smoke and gases from this primary burn are channelled to the top of the stove to be re-burned. I found a good image of this in Wikipedia – Wood gas stove – Principle of operation.

The parts

I used a standard metal paint tin, a large dogfood tin, a Fray Bentos tin, a Jubilee clip, a metal rod and four bolts (with nuts and washers). The tools I used were a power drill, small hammer, metal file and tin snips. If you own a Dremmell (or similar tool) your life will be much easier.

Just click on any picture to see more detail.

In order to allow airflow through the bottom I marked out some ‘arches’ around the base and then cut them out. I used my drill for this and then some pliers (at this stage I did not have my tin snips). I also added some little holes in between each arch. If I had had the tin snips from the start the job would have looked much neater. I did not take a picture of the drilling stage as my hands were full, but I used a rounded piece of wood secured in a vice to support the tin (on the inside) as I drilled into it. I also used the file to smooth off any sharp edges.

Arches cut out
Arches marked out









I then used the dogfood tin to mark a circle on the lid, then made another circle about 1cm inside that. I drilled holes all around the inner circle to make it easier to cut out.

Drilled lid
Cut out lid









Using my new tin snippers (went out to buy a pair) I cut lots of slits and then folded them back. These folded pieces of tin are needed later.

Cut slits in the lid
Fold then down









Ensure that the dogfood tin fits snugly.

Snug fit

Using a drill and my piece of backing wood on the vice I drilled loads of small holes in the base of the (empty) dogfood tin. I then drilled bigger holes on the sides at the top and bottom. I put twice as many holes at the bottom than at the top. If I was to make another stove I would make these holes even bigger. The small holes on the bottom allow air to rise up into the primary burn area and the bigger holes on the side at the bottom allow air in and gases to escape (to rise up to the holes at the top). The holes at the top allow the escaping gases to be sucked back into the top of the stove where they are then re-ignited. A very efficient system when you think about it.

Lots of holes in the bottom
Holes on the side (top & bottom)













Use your hammer and file to beat flat any sharp areas on the inside.

Flatten the sharp edges on the inside

After re-inserting the dogfood tin into the lid I secured it with a Jubilee clip.

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Jubilee clip to secure the burner

I also replaced the plastic handle on the paint pot using a metal rod to make a fire-proof one. Now with the burner, air holes and handle finished it was time to construct the hot plate. Thankfully Ian had shown me his secret: a Fray Bentos tin, which fits this size of paint pot perfectly.
So take one Fray Bentos tin (empty – what you do with the contents is your own business), mark a circle roughly the size of the one on the paintpot lid, and drill holes all round the line to make it easy to cut out.

Drill out the centre

My son Finlay was keen to help hammer all the jagged edges flat.

Boys and hammers

The next stage is to drill four holes for the bolts and then attach them to the Fray Bentos lid and voila – one hot plate ready. The hot plate fits perfectly into the lid (into the recess) of this type of paintpot.

Snug fit

I fired up the stove with some small twigs and was able to keep it going for a good while by dropping in just the twigs I found lying around. After testing the stove out I used a blowtorch to burn off a lot of the paint on the outside of the stove to avoid fumes in my brew. Here you can just make out the gases being reignited as they come back in through the top holes of the burner.

Re- ignition

One stove in action.

Ready for a brew
Plenty of hot embers
At Base Camp doing its job

I had fun building this stove and had the idea of building a better one but to tell you the truth this one works great so I’ve never got round to it.
Have a go and see what you can come up with.



Natural Lore and the Sea Cadets

Kevin & George – Early days

My friend Kevin Warrington of Natural Lore asked me to put up a post or two on his blog while he and Teres get to know their new baby daughter.

I was very pleased to hear the news yesterday of the birth of little Kelly. Congratulations to you both: I remember when my kids were born and how chuffed I felt.

I last posted for Kevin back in September of 2009 so was pleased to be asked to write again for him.

The post I published today can be viewed here on Kevin’s Natural Lore page.



Visits to the Rosens

We moved down to Bramley in Hampshire in 2007 and for a while it felt as if we had no other family around us. My mother and stepfather were in London but soon moved back up to the Isle of Lewis to look after my Granny. A little while later I heard that my cousin Louise had moved down to Hampshire with her family. Like a typical Isle of Lewis bloke I did not make any contact with Louise initially but I am glad that over the last couple of years I have made the effort to do so.

Louise is a headteacher for Romsey Abbey Primary School and lives very near the National Trust site at Mottisfont. This is a beautiful location where my whole family love to visit. Louise has an interest in Bushcraft and has set up a training course for her pupils with my friends Mollie and Nick from the Field Farm Project.

This year my family have had a couple of visits down to Mottisfont where we were joined by Louise and her family.

Thankfully our children get on like a house on fire – or in this case a tree in blossom.

Pure Blossom – Finlay, Catherine and cousin Hermione

As per usual the extraction of the kids from this kind of environment is typically complex.

Time to extracate

Much of my time at Mottisfont apart from having fun with the family is spent taking pictures of flowers. This year on Facebook I compiled monthly albums of flowers and many of Mays flowers come from Mottisfont.

My boy Finlay in amongst the  Fritillaries

The kids found the Shepherds hut and wanted to make it into a den.

Shepherds hut – they wanted to make it a den

Both families – seems just like yesterday when Louise and I were just kids ourselves mucking about on the Isle of lewis

The tribe – Michael, Louise, Elliot, Hermione, Finlay, Alison, Me, Catherine, Victoria and baby Darcy

I love the art at Mottisfont – Quite a realistic horse – Typically the girls want to stroke it and the boys want to pull the tail 🙂

Fabulous art

Icecream – Typical bushcraft food when dealing with kids.

Where does time go by?

Alison, as you could guess (a campervan fanatic), is keen to get a campervan now. I think Darcy is trying to say to her Mummy Victoria – ‘Don’t put me in there with these strange people Mummy!!’

The Rosen Coolmobil

My kids were very taken with the bug hotel at Mottisfont

Bug Hotel

I am glad to see that climbing is a trait that flows through both families – there are dolls up there as well.

Oldest Plane tree in the country

Wander through the woods at Mottisfont and you will find some strange stuff.

Woodland art

One of the joys this year was to meet little Darcy – our liitle cousin.

Little Darcy

Michael and Louise – As nice a couple as you will ever meet.

Ahh – good friends

Victoria and Charles with another keen climber – Elliott.

Fun as it should be

Our kids spent a lot of time paddling in the stream so Darcy wanted in on the action.

Teaching the Grandpa way

While Darcy was learning the finer points of paddling with Grandpa I was teaching the rest how to climb a waterfall.

They did have three points of contact at all times

I think Alison was very taken with Darcy – I did try and put my foot down on the baby thing but was totally ignored 😉

Happy Alison

Back at Louise’s house we were introduced to the fine art of picking apples. I must admit that Louise can make a fine jam from all the fruits she grows in her garden.

Apple gathering (the Rosen way)

Some lovely pictures and more importantly some lovely memories.



Enfield Unit training at Danemead – March 13

At the end of March this year (29th to the 31st) I was invited by my friend Dave Lewis to help out with training his cadets from Enfield Sea Cadets at Danemead Scout Camp. Danemead is near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The staff with Dave and myself were Keith Coleman, Alan Lewis, Emma Deasey and Allen Holloway.

The aim of the weekend was to start navigation and team-working training in preparation for our District and Area adventure training competitions. From the outset I could see that Dave had a proactive team who were very keen to work together. This was the first of a number of training weekends that culminated with the team winning the Area Chosin Cup for Adventure Training and also winning the Team Leaders cups at both District and Area level.

This was the beginning of that chain of events though. Danemead is one of my favourite campsites as it is near to most of the Units I work with but feels sufficiently remote to offer good training.

Danemead – A good playground

The weather for the weekend was a mixed bag, generally cold with sleet and rain but with sufficient periods of dry spells to make it comfortable.

The cadets love to try out hammocks so on the Saturday we put up some for them to use. We have managed to fundraise some money to buy some hammocks from UK hammocks.

These Woodsman hammocks are like little nests. You lie diagonally so you end up with a much flatter sleep. I am afraid if you have never slept in a hammock then the only way to understand what I mean is to try out a hammock that allows you to sleep diagonally.

Little nests

Not a pretty picture I am afraid but I am snug as a bug in my hammock.

Snug as a bug in a rug

Due to the winds and rain we felt it better to put up the big tarp rather than the usual parachute.

HQ Tarp

Key to operating at this time of year is to have a warm brew on hand and the fire as usual provided the evening’s Woodland TV.


Also there was some heartening food in the mornings.

Breakfast – the best meal of the day.

Over the weekend the main focus was on navigation and leadership skills. All the cadets brushed up on their map and compass skills. While out and about we also focused on group leadership and set some scenarios such as First Aid.

Nav briefing

The navigation was undertaken in some of the beautiful woodland and farmland around Danemead.

Beautiful woodland walks

During the Saturday walk we had sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine again. Thankfully the snow did not lie.

Proper variable March weather

On the trek we came across a dead fox in an old disused caravan. The fox did not look like it had been there long. As it was the end of the winter it may have curled up here and been to weak to move. We came across another dead fox later that day at the side of the road which had probably been hit by a car (but no obvious trauma signs on it).

A sad sight – dead fox found in an old caravan

As we went along we spent time studying tracks and scat. Some of the cadets I’ve worked with a number of times don’t think I am too mad for spending so much time looking at animal poo – but they all do when they come out with me for the first time.


During the walk I spotted a muntjac laid up under some brush but as we got close it bolted. Up close we spotted the hairs it had left behind (coin included for scale).

Muntjac hairs

Also there is a Wildlife Park nearby and we came across these sawed bones near the fence. Makes you wonder what is around at night!!

Animal bones

I was chuffed to see the cadets pointing out all the feeding stations they could find.

Squirrel meal

We came across a shelter so took the opportunity to get a picture and get a bit of shelter. The cover was not great but it certainly got them out of the wind. We did check to make sure it was clean enough and strong enough before we used it. I personally like to dismantle shelters I build after use, but this one did come in handy.

Taking some shelter

Apart from navigation we set up some archery as this is a regular event on the adventure training competitions. Prior to starting though as everyone was a bit cold Alan took everyone through a bit of gentle Tai Chi to warm us up. Everyone did enjoy it (eventually).

Cold day warm up – Tai Chi (conducted by Alan Lewis)

Then we had fun.

Practising archery for the competitions

They got pretty good with the Atlatl as well.

Practising Atlatl for the competitions

In between classes a cadet will make their own fun (though I suspect they are not allowed to do this officially!)

Impromptu fun

I think this is the weekend I introduced Dave to the EDC hammock chair. This chair sits in my pocket ready to be used whenever we stop for a break in the woods.

Some staff chilling in the EDC Hammock Chair

I thoroughly enjoyed this weekend and it was the first of many for Enfield Sea Cadets on the adventure that culminated in winning this year’s Chosin Cup competition.



Adventuring in the great outdoors

I wrote this article for my good friend Kevin in 2009 for his Natural Lore Blog.

I feel that we do need to remind ourselves about the importance of ‘Adventuring’ every now and then.

Ask yourself the question, “When was the last time I had a really good adventure?”

Now be truthful to yourself.

Was it recent? Was it enjoyable? Was it different?

In my line of work as an Adventure Training Instructor, health and safety and risk assessment are the norm. Everything has to be planned and assessed for each activity I am involved in. I have to be qualified in each activity I run because I work with youngsters and inexperienced adults.

Once I have planned and assessed an activity, it is no longer an adventure to me, although I hope it will be for the kids and other adults that take part in that activity. Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy my work, but taking a group out on organised walk in the woods or mountains is not really an adventure for me as it has already been planned in great detail.

Where the adventure for me comes in is, for example, when my group is trundling along a woodland path and I call a halt, then say something like “I’m bored now: let’s see what’s down there”, pointing off into the deep and dark woods. These off-piste adventures usually go for a few hundred metres so the group can get back onto the pre-planned route quickly.

Deep Dark Woods

What’s interesting is how such adventures often seem to scare people, not really I think because the woods are deep and dark but because they are leaving the path. As a nation I think we have had it drummed into us since childhood that we need to stick to the pre-planned path or we could never be found again.

In some places leaving the public footpath means trespassing, but not always. It is all about knowing where to have your adventure. The Countryside Right of Way (CROW) Act has opened up a lot of new land for adventuring (get the latest OS map of your area to see where the CROW access is). Also speaking to local landowners and explaining what you do can open up whole areas to adventure in.

Scanning my map before entering the wood tells me what I need to know in regards to health and safety and I am constantly assessing risk as the group moves through the wood. But I am seeing new things all the time , and that makes it an adventure for me. For many in the group they are realising for the first time in their lives that it’s possible to get off the beaten track and enter a whole new world, and that is their adventure.

If you’re going to lead an adventure like this, teach your group to always look back at their route so that the path is recognisable if they have to turn back because of  an obstruction. Mostly though, take your time and explore and enjoy your new surroundings.


  • Have an adventure every time you go out so you can say it has been recent.
  • Take your time and explore so you can say it has been enjoyable.
  • Finally, have your adventures in various locations so you can say they have been different.
Explore and you will be amazed at what you find.

Happy adventuring.