30 Days of Wildness – Day 28 – A Bright Day with Dark Skies

Day 28 of the 30 Day Challenge has found me up in Bradford. I am here for one night only and I am right in the city centre.

After a quick check on Google Maps I decided to have a mooch around the gardens of Bradford Cathedral. The Cathedral has a garden that is a real oasis of peace and beauty in this very built up area.

Bradford cathedral – An oasis of nature in the city

As soon as I walked up the steps into the garden I spotted some lovely Ivy Leaved Toadflax clinging to the wall. I love this little flower as it will grow in places where other flowers fear to tread.

As I walked to the end of the wall there was a building with this rather spectacular bike in the window. It had been decorated with all things nature – it even had a nest on the handlebars – quite a site.

Natural and man made nature

There were many wild and domestic flowers around the Cathedral but the Red Valerian and the Foxglove got my attention.

The whole area around one side of the Cathedral was paved in gravestones and they made quite a contrast to the vibrant colours of these flowers – Life and death you could say.

Life and Death

As I left the Cathedral I spotted smoke on the horizon so I set off to investigate.

Dark Skies

I came to a bridge over the railway and was confronted with this. The trains were going right through the smoke and by the smell I can only guess that a dump full of tyres had somehow been set alight.

Quite a contrast to the quiet beauty of the Cathedral.

Bright Day – Dark Skies

I did not know what I would find when I went out for my Bradford Bimble but I am glad I did.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 27 – Survival with Bramley Beavers

Day 27 of the 30 Day Challenge found me running a survival session for our local Beaver group – the  2nd Bramley Beaver Scouts. My son is a Beaver so I was more than happy to run this.

I can only publish a few pictures due to the Scout policy on this and must apologise about the quality of the pictures as I had left the focus on manual instead of auto.

I set up a scenario where the Beavers were lost in the woods and in trying to find out where they were, they found a ‘supposed’ aircraft crash site. Everything they found at the site such as a discarded parachute was put to use.

In no time they had the chute up to offer them some protection from the sun.

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Rigging the chute

Once the chute was up the Beavers went out to collect wood and tinder for their fire (all strategically placed for speed as we only had an hour and a half for the whole event).

The Beavers lit the fires (we made two) using firesteels and we set up a cooking rig to boil water in a couple of kettles (a brew for the staff).

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Getting the fire ready

I had set up a load of hammocks around the crash site for the Beavers to try out. I took ten at a time on the firelighting while the other ten were told to conserve their energy and rest up in the hammocks. I had no arguments on this from any of them.

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Hammock time

Once the fires were going we set off to do two other activities. I asked Amber (aka Kiwi) if she could run a drum stalk. This is where the Beavers are blindfolded and they have to walk towards the sound of the drum and touch the drummers forehead. All the Beavers managed this. It is a good game for teaching them the importance of using all their senses and not just their sight.

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Getting the tea on

The other activity was the Atlatl. They had a great time pinging Atlatl darts down the range to finish off.

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Some Atlatl time

I had a great time with this event and by the smiles on the Beavers faces afterwards I think they did too.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 26 – Story Sticks

Day 26 0f the 30 Day Challenge was one of beauty.

Finlay and Catherine had their friends Lisa and Finlay ‘D’ around for the afternoon. I took them out to the woods near Silchester and we brought along some Story Sticks. I have heard them called Journey Sticks but their job is to tell a story of a journey.

I had made them a Story Stick each with twine and elastic bands wrapped around them. As we went for a walk we started to find interesting and colourful stuff to attach to the sticks so that they could at the end recall their journey.

We started off next to some of the most beautiful poppies I have ever seen.

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Off we go

As the kids went off finding stuff I took a closer look at the flowers. The inside of the Poppy flower seemed quite psychedelic with all its strong colours.

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We had a great time munching on Bilberries, scrambling on fallen trees, finding what looked like very fine sheep fleece and just watching the pond.

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Finds and fun

We took a break at the pond to have a snack and take in the view. The boys wanted to be zipped up in the hammock and the girls took the opportunity to tickle them without fear of retaliation.

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On the way back we took time to gather more finds for the sticks, watch the sheep and flowers, and to just run.

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Heading back

Our completed Story Sticks ready to take home – quite beautiful.

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Story Sticks finished

Next time you go for a walk remember your Story Stick.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 25 – Barbie and Bugs

Day 25 of the 30 Day Challenge brought us to RAF Benson. Our friends Tracey and Scott invited us around for a barbecue today – quite apt being it is Armed Forces day here in the UK.

The weather was perfect for me with a nice mix of clouds and sunshine (I am dreading next weeks heatwave when it comes). Tracey and Neil put on a great spread and just as I was getting comfy with a beer in my hand there was an almighty racket of squealing from the kids……..

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Barbie on the Base

It turned out that one of the lads William had found himself a large spider and was showing him to the rest of the kids. They were showing their appreciation by quite vocal squealing.

Also up above a couple of Red Kites were checking us out for a chance opportunity to get some food and my friend Paul pointed out some Ladybird larvae to me that was sitting on a leaf.

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Initial spots

Soon the food was all ready and it was time to tuck in. While I was chomping away I decided to carry on the theme of bug spotting so took off afterwards with Finlay and William to see what we could find on the base.

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Tucking in

There is not much dead wood lying around on the base so we really had to look hard to find bugs but they were there.

We spotted some Lime Nail Galls standing proud. On some leaves there was only one but on others you could find twenty or so.

Sheltering from the sun under an Ivy leaf we found a snail and on the Blue Iris (at least that’s what I think it is) there were loads of little black aphids.

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Lots of spots

The spot of the evening was the pyramidal orchid covered in aphids. We found this lone plant in the long grass but no others.

I took the picture of the Bluebottle just because of the lovely colours it radiated from itself.

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Bugs galore

When we got back the ladies were stretched out enjoying a chat but were being press ganged by the kids to do some handstands.

Alison I must admit can do an excellent cartwheel and headstand – nice one.

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Legs galore

This was a lovely way to spend Armed Forces Day, in good company, in good weather and with some excellent bugs as well.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 24 – Fire Spirits

Day 24 of the 30 Days Challenge found us back out in the woods – not for pictures of plants or animals but to collect some wood – some very special and magical wood.

A couple of years ago my good friend Mad Dave Delaney at the BCUK Bushmoot introduced me to the Fire Spirit. These little fellas are supposed to be created so that they can be burnt on the campfire and a then a wish is made upon them.

My kids love them but refuse to burn them (even for a wish). Catherine has had one now for a couple of years and it needed a make over but Finlay needed a new one altogether.

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Fire Spirits

We looked firstly for a branch with a good fork (these will be the legs) in it, trimmed it and another straight piece for the arms. Once both were trimmed we headed back home to assemble everything.

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Selecting the right wood & a bit of sawing

Needless to say we could not go to the woods without climbing a tree or two 🙂

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You gotta climb

We found lots of leaves in the garden to dress the Fire Spirits. We used hemp cord and damp reed leaves to bind everything together.

Catherine’s Fire Spirit was just a bit loose on the bindings so with a new dress and some fresh cord she was ready to go again.

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Refurbishing Catherine’s old Fire Spirit

Finlay helped me to carve a face on his Fire Spirit (the first time I have given him a knife) and then it was a case of dressing his Fire Spirit and attaching the arms.

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Finlay’s new Fire Spirit

All done – two new residents of the den.

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Two new residents for the den



30 Days of Wildness – Day 23 – A Sad, Sad Day

Day 23 of the 30 Day Challenge was a sad one for us.

It started out so well with the kids wanting to go on a bimble with their scooters. We decided to visit our favourite woods at the Frith.

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A scooting Bimble tonight

The Frith is an ancient woodland with a massive electrical substation in the middle of it so we can only wander around the edge.

At the far end though there is a small copse off to the side with permissive paths through it (sign posted saying keep to the paths because of ground nesting birds). When we got there tonight, though, the landowner had put up a fence over all the access points and posted signs saying it was now closed to the public.

I have really enjoyed this small oasis over the years and cannot understand why the landowner has done this.

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A sad sight – our local woodland has been closed off

We soldiered on though and headed on around the Frith to a place where there is a lovely pond. I ended up carrying the scooters but it was worth it.

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Moved on to the pond

I spotted my first Meadowsweet of the year – a real plant of the summer.

First Meadowsweet of the year for me
First Meadowsweet of the year for me

There was plenty of life around the pond. As the kids had a snack I got down to the serious job of stalking the dragonflies 😉

Catherine spotted the little cricket on the bench she had been sitting on.

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Lots of activity

We headed off towards home saying one last goodbye to our old paths on the way.

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A last look

It was a lovely bimble but a sad one none the less.



How To…. Build a Classic Aures Campfire Crane

The final part of the Aures Crane Trilogy – The Classic.

I call this one the Classic as it is the design laid out in the book Camp-Lore and Woodcraft. The author Daniel Beard called it a rustic crane fashioned along similar lines as the iron cranes found commonly over 100 years ago over open fireplaces.

The crane is named after Victor Aures, a Scout Master from Buffalo, NY. I found a good article on this from an issue of the Boy’s Life from 1915.

The Classic Aures Campfire Crane

You do not see the classic crane often since it requires a specific configuration of angles on the forks and it’s all too easy to cut through the thin layer of bark and sap wood needed to form the loop on one end.

Aures crane
The Aures – Picture from Camp-Lore and Woodcraft


I stumbled upon a good piece of hazel recently with a strong main fork and the necessary secondary fork at right angles to the main one.

The basic parts & measuring up

I had a good pole that I was going to use as the upright and measured the top limb for trimming. I estimated with my eye the amount of wood I would need on the top limb to form the loop (I call this section the tail before it is formed into a loop).

Trimming the excess


After sawing off the excess I started the slow process of removing all the excess wood on the tail. It is easy to remove the wood at first but try and remove it evenly as you work.

Removing the excess wood from the wrap

I tend to work from the end of the tail and work up the crane towards the fork. This helps in reducing the chance of chunking through the wood and destroying the crane.

In the pictures below I have worked my way down to the pith and then just passed it. I forced myself at this stage to take my time and work methodically.

Important to trim evenly from bottom to top

Eventually I could make the wood bend slightly (it was only a couple of centimetres wide now). I scared myself when the bark cracked but that is OK – it is the sapwood that needs to bend.

When bending down the wood do it slowly and do not try and force it.

Trimming and flexing

I finally had just a thin piece of sap wood left that could be bent a bit more but not fully. To help this process along I used the tip area of my knife to cut out some more of the wood without making it any thinner than a couple of centimetres.

To help the bending process I left the crane in a stream to soak up some water. If you have the tools to steam bend wood the job would be much easier.

Last few scrapes and softening

Once the tail was very pliable I flattened an area where the tail would be whipped to the crane then marked the tail and the main body of the crane with a pencil so that I retained the size of loop I wanted while I whipped it.

Prepping for some whipping


In the book Camp-Lore and Woodcraft, Beard’s drawing shows the tail being tied off with strips of bark. I will use bark when the crane has fully seasoned (it will shrink in the process) but for now I whipped it with some old paracord. I whipped it twice with different cord as that is what I had to hand.

Whipping the wrap

The loop should be big enough for your upright and positioned so that when the crane is hung on it and braced on the fork, the pot arm is level and pointing slightly upwards.

Hangs well

The Pot Arm

I then went to work on the pot arm, carving out little notches so that I could adjust the position of the pot easily along its length.

I also put my usual dimple on the end for hanging another adjustable pot hanger off it.

Carving the pot arm

I took the crane out on a Bushcraft course with the Royal Marine’s Cadets and it was soon in action.

In use alongside another pot hanger

It is very easy to move the crane up and down with light pots (I advise removing heavy a pot from the crane before adjusting the height then replacing it).

The crane also swings easily away from the fire. If you do not trust the loop to hold a heavy pot, you can back it up with a loop of cord.

From above

The Three

I really enjoyed making these three Aures Cranes and hope to see a few more over fires at Bushcraft meets in the future.

All three versions
All three versions – Classic, Gibbet and the Single Fork

The other two cranes can be viewed here:

How To…. Build a Carve an Aures Campfire Crane – Single Fork

How To…. Build a Gibbet Aures Campfire Crane

That is it for me on the Aures Crane (I am sure you can come up with some more variations on this), however in the course of my research I discovered a Single Pole Crane – that is next on the list.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 22 – Nature, Lines and a bit on Poison

Day 22 of the 30 Day Challenge and I am in London until late this evening. I am meeting up with the Grumpy Old Men’s Club for a social hour or two so I thought it best to get out for a wander at lunchtime to see what nature has to offer in the city.

There is a lot of nature in the centre of London but what struck me is that we do seem to like everything neat and lined up nicely. I know nature generally does not like straight lines though like the flowers on the right it can lend to to it at times – so why do we insist on keeping everything neat and straight?

Neat Lines

I took a wander over to Regent’s Park On my Bimble and everywhere the gardeners had been it was all neat, tidy and lined up (with the occasional twirling hedge).

All for ease of maintenance I suppose however if you look closely at areas where nature was left alone you start to see more curves and waves.

Lines and curves
Lines and curves

I like bindweed as a flower and also as a plant that is a hardy survivor however in Regent’s Park the gardeners see it as a killer and they try to get rid of it.

it was also nice to see that the gardeners had left many old fallen trunks around for the insects. I found lots of insects, fungi and other wild plants living or growing on them. It was nice to see the randomness of nature here as opposed to the well structured areas all around them.

Nature doing what nature does best

The poplar seeds were floating around and being blown away by the gardeners with their large machines but I managed to find one pile in the crook of a tree that had not been tidied away – all tangled and lying around as they fell.


I did though spot a fair few natural straight lines with the likes of these young birch trees (accepted they had been planted but they were very straight at this stage in their life) and the drooping heads of the pendulous sedge.

Lines in nature

In amongst all this I did see nature getting on with its daily business, be it this bush enveloping the bridge, the bugs feeding on the flowers or the ducks nesting quietly on the ponds.

Getting on with life

On the way back to the office I passed the Faculy of Public Health and they have a small garden outside (behind very big bars) dedicated to poisonous plants. I wil go back there with my digital camera to zoom in  on more of the plants later but I was able to photograph these plaques for Ivy – never knew Ivy had been used to prevent hangovers – relevant as I am off to meet the Grumpy Old Men’s club tonight 🙂

Who knew – Ivy has been used to prevent hangovers

Regent’s Park is a beautiful place to visit however the beauty is not all in the straight lines and stunning borders – for me it is in these little pockets of un-managed nature left behind by the gardeners.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 21 – Finishing the Den

Day 21 of the 30 Day Challenge found us going back to finish our shelter we had started on Day 18 (Shelter Building – Part 1).

I had to trim a rather overgrown Leylandii in our front garden and I voluntold the kids into helping me. They had to tell me if anyone was coming (the branches hung over the pavement) and transport the cuttings back into the garden.

Once that was sorted we started the laborious job of breaking of the branches so that they could be used for thatch for the den they were building.

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Trimming the Leylandii

Then it was a case of dragging all the cuttings into the back garden (It was just Catherine and myself at this stage as Finlay had headed off to Karate).

Once we got all the cuttings in the back garden Catherine and I leant some of the bigger branches against the frame to catch the cuttings (pointing upwards). The we started to weave in the cuttings (pointing downwards) to thatch it.

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Gathering and set up

There were plenty of holes in the thatch so Catherine went inside and would stick her little hand out where she could see sunlight. It was then my job to thatch it.

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Checking for holes

We laid a lot of sticks on the outside to hold all the thatch in place in case the wind gets up.

Finlay was back after 8 pm just in time to finish it off with a few extra additions

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Final touches

I think they have a proper little den to play in now for the next few days.

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A proper den



30 Days of Wildness – Day 20 – Reflecting with the Beavers

Day 20 of the 30 Day Challenge was not one I needed to think about much. My son Finlay is a member of the 2nd Bramley Beaver Scouts.

They had decided for tonights activities to visit Morgaston Woods near The Vyne National Trust property to explore the area, discuss the idea of self reflection and of course – toast a marshmallow or three.

I tagged along as an interested parent and also to meet the boys as I will be working with them next week.

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Reflection at Morgaston Wood

The Beavers split up into about five different groups and chatted about what they themselves felt they had to be thankful for in life. Once they had decided they wrote their thoughts on a tag and hung them of a line to swing in the breeze.

I found the whole process quite relaxing, fun and crucially quite mentally stimulating – I too had to take part 🙂

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Messages in the wind

A fire was lit in a tray and I managed to catch the initial flare as all the kindling went up – made for quite a flame. The flames soon died down and after a little while (a story was read about pigs and poo – laughed too much to understand what it was all about) everyone got on with the serious business of marshmallow toasting.

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Marshmallow time

There was time for a bit of daft fun in the lean too shelters while we were heading home.

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The lock up

As we drove Finlay’s friend William home we spotted some Poppies growing on the roadside – could not pass up the opportunity for one more picture.

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A Poppy find on the way home

I liked tonight as I did not have to think about what to do and the Beavers were an excellent and well behaved bunch.

I am looking forward to working with them next Monday with a spot of survival training.



How To…. Build a Gibbet Aures Campfire Crane

This is the second of my blog posts on the Aures campfire crane trilogy. I call it the Gibbet crane based on a pot hook I found mentioned in the book Camp-lore and Woodcraft. The crane does look a bit like a traditional gibbet but the name apparently refers to the overlapping joints used in its construction rather than its likeness to an instrument of execution.

This is a great project for the longer-term camp or if you want a bit of practice carving joints and whipping.

The Gibbet Aures Crane
The Gibbet Aures Crane

As usual the tools for making the crane are to be found in most bushcrafters’ backpacks – a knife, saw and axe. I saw this crane set up many years ago at a camp however I have seen little written up about it in books or online.

I found one piece of wood with a strong fork and a smaller catapult-shaped fork (bottom left below) and I cut a limb with a branch coming out (top left below).

The first job I did was to strip off all the bark from all the pieces.

Tools and basic parts

I placed the large fork up against the pole it would hang off to measure where I needed to trim each limb. To do that I just used my knife to mark the limbs. The top limb needs to be marked to the left of the pole (as you see in the picture below) and the bottom limb needs to be marked to the right of the pole as you see it below.

Carving the top limb

To begin with I trimmed the top limb at its mark with my saw, leaving the bottom one for the moment.

Measuring and trimming the top limb

I laid the small hook beside the end of the top limb so that the hook was pointing towards the big fork and marked where I wanted to trim it. I did not want to leave it too big – just big enough to be whipped to the big fork.

Measuring and trimming the top hook

I wanted the joint to be strong so I put a stop cut into the top of the upper limb so I could cut out a lap joint (also known as a Gib joint).

I then battoned off the excess so I was left  with one half of the lap joint, then I trimmed the bottom of the small hook flat to fit snugly against it.

Cutting out the Gib cut on the top limb and hook

Not a perfect fit but good enough.

Putting them together

I then used paracord to whip the two together, on both sides of the hook. I left excess string tied in a knot as the wood was green. As it dries out the wood will shrink and I will have to redo the whipping.

Whipping The Gib joint

Carving the bottom limb

I flattened the upright of the ‘Y’ piece and split out a Gib joint on the lower limb. You have to make sure all the cuts are done on the correct planes so that the hanger will fit on the upright pole without twisting.

Cutting the Gib joint on the bottom limb and fork

After a bit of whipping it was time to set it up and make sure it worked correctly. In the bottom right picture you can see clearly how it all comes together.

Fitting and splicing

Carving the pot arm

I have a particular way of carving the hanging arm (you be as creative as you like). I axe out the basic shape I want, trim it smooth with my knife and cut in lots of grooves along the upper part to allow the pot to be hung on various areas of its length.

Carving the pot arm

Once all the grooves are cut I tend to put a dimple in the end so I can attach an adjustable pot hook. This allows me to hang two or three pots from the crane.

Finishing touches

Using the Crane

This sequence of shots shows the method I use for adjusting the height of the crane when it has a heavy pot attached to it. I swing the crane away from the fire, remove the pot, adjust the height of the crane, attach the pot again and swing it back over the fire.

With light pots you do not need to remove the pot but just lift the crane slightly so it detaches from the upright and then just move it up and down.

In use

In this picture you can see how the arm works with an adjustable pot hook attached to the end of the crane arm.

It looks precarious but with the usual level of care you take around any fire I have found this system works well.

Added adjustable pot hook

Dinner could be in one pot and the kettle on the other leaving plenty of room to sit comfortably around the fire without having lots of uprights protruding out (which can be a problem with other campfire cooking rigs).

Works a treat

I took the set up out on a recent bushcraft course I was running to show some colleagues and set it up with a fixed crane. All in all it worked a treat.

In use in the field

If you have not seen it I have another post on making one of these cranes but just out of one forked stick – How To…. Carve an Aures Campfire Crane – Single Fork



30 Days of Wildness – Day 19 – Fathers Day Fun

For Fathers Day my main request to the family was that we did something together but outdoors for the 30 Day Challenge.

Alison suggested a barbecue at the Lime Pits nature area near Basingstoke. As soon as we arrived the kids were all over the playground equipment – I do include Alison in this 🙂

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Lime Pits Park

It was great to spend time together in a place that holds so much beauty if you look closely.

I found that this is a great place for Self heal and Thistles – Lovely purples.

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Family and Nature – Fathers Day request

We had a Red Kite hovering over us for a while, lots of bees in amongst the comfrey and crickets galore. I had to struggle through some nettles to get to my prize find of the day – Large Yellow Loosestrife – a beautiful flower.

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Life in the park

Now the barbie could have been a bit of a nightmare. I had set it all up and lit it but it did not take. After a bit of a re-think plan B was to raid the first aid kit for a couple of dressings, found my lip balm (vaseline based) and added a few ash twigs.

A quick strike from the firesteel and up she went.

Then it was over to Alison for the cooking – I know barbies are supposed to be a male preserve but it was Fathers Day 🙂

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Barbie time

There was plenty of time to run through the woods or roll down hills or in my case struggle through nettles to get the picture of the Loosestrife.

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All having fun

The food was cooked to perfection by Alison on the barbie and there was plenty of fruit afterwards to enjoy – I did manage a couple of beers along the way as well 🙂

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Great food

Soon it was time to go home so out came the water bottles for a quick hose down to put out the barbie. The kids for some reason insisted on doing this themselves. I was left with the messy job of mixing it all together to make sure it was properly out.

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Time to cool things down

As a final note I must say thank you to Catherine and Finlay for being such great kids today and to Alison for making Fathers Day such fun.

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Thanks Alison



30 Days of Wildness – Day 18 – Shelter Building – Part 1

I have never seen a pram being used as a cooking stand but it worked 🙂

I was looking at the weather forecast for today and there was a possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon. So for the 30 Day Challenge I thought a bit of shelter building learning was the order of the day.

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Proper playing

I have a load of sycamore rods in the garden from some pollarding I did last winter so decided to put them to use.
I prepared three interlocking poles for Catherine and Finlay to put up to start their shelter. Once they had locked them I got them to lash them together with a bit of paracord. Then they had to collect all the other poles together ready for constructing the shelter walls.

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Set up and wood collection

I think you could say that they were happy with their haul 🙂

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I think they are happy with their haul

They took it in turns at first to select a rod, measure it, saw it with me and then place it in its correct position.

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Catherine, measuring, sawing and fitting

This lasted for a little while alternating back and forth but I felt that this level of accuracy was testing for most adults never mind a couple of active kids so eventually I let them off to play elsewhere and cracked on with this bit myself.

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Finlay , measuring, sawing and fitting

As I neared the end I got Catherine and Finlay back involved finishing the tail of the shelter off.

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Eventually the final touches to the frame

Shelter building takes time so for tonight we just put a tarp over it secured down with some logs. In a day or two we will cover the shelter with some spruce boughs and give it a soft bed – but that is for another post.

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A tarp for tonight

So the difficult bit began 😉 Time for play.

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Time to play

I must say that Catherine really got into the spirit of making a camp setting up her own play fire and rigging her own cooking rig (thankfully no thunderstorms appeared).

I have never seen a pram being used as a cooking stand but it worked 🙂



30 Days of Wildness – Day 17 – Majestic Morgaston

It was my wife Alison’s turn to choose our trip out for the evening and she chose a trip to Morgaston Woods for the 30 Day Challenge.

Alison chose this area for its good access and that there is a rather lovely bird hide on the edge of the wood near The Vyne National Trust property. We were joined tonight by Finlay’s friend Finlay (yup I did say Finlay’s friend Finlay)

Straight off and having fun
Straight off and having fun

I spotted this rather beautiful looking dead root system. It looks dangerous but relatively easy to climb onto from the back – makes for a great picture.

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Magic roots

We had lots of spots tonight, from a lovely glade of foxglove, a little beetle and some chicken of the woods fungus. The kids are really getting their eye in now.

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Foxglove, beetles and chicken of the wood

At the far end of the walk we came to the bird hide. Thankfully it was empty (we would have gotten some scowls from any serious bird watchers for our noise) and we had some good views.

I spotted a heron coming into land on the lake – my lens does not have great magnification I am afraid.

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Quiet time – spotted a heron landing

On the way back from the bird hide we came across lots of camps and chainsawed seats in the woods (I love this bench – rustic and simple). There were a number of nettle stings over the evening but with a few crushed up nettles rubbed onto them they were soon away (best cure for nettle stings is the juice of a nettle).

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Camp set ups

We found the old bomb crater in the wood and the lads ran themselves ragged around it trying to out do each other.

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Running the crater

Looks like the weather is changing tomorrow with thunderstorms coming in so who knows what we will get up to then.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 16 – Hammock Time

I am running a bushcraft evening for our local Beaver group in just over a weeks time and so I went out with the pack leader Amber to check out the woods we would be using.

I took the kids with me as Alison is in London today and also took along a hammock to see if we could easily string a few up on the evening. Hammocks I thought was a good theme for the 30 Day Challenge.

After a good reccee of the site the kids found some clay blobsters the school children had made so they had fun playing with them. We also spotted a colony of ants with lots of flying ants among them (the pictures did not turn out well though).

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Class Recee

After tea we went for an evening bimble and spotted lots of small willowherbs and quite a few ripe wild strawberries.

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Willowherb and Wild Strawberries

In keeping with the hammock theme I put up my small EDC hammock for Catherine and Finlay. This kept the kids happy while I wandered around looking for pictures. Finlay though could not help himself and was soon shimmying up a tree.

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A bit more hammock time

While the kids were in the hammock or up trees I spotted these little critters. The one on the left was sitting on the tip of a small mullein leaf. There was a fight going on in the top right picture and the chap in the bottom right was just sunning himself.

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Bug spotting

The beauty of the EDC hammock is that it has a zip – great for containing the kids when out and about 🙂

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EDC – Perfect for naughty kids

It was soon time to go home but Finlay could not resist one more shimmy across the narrow ridge over the stream.

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Carefully does it

Another successful Wild Day I think and who knows what tomorrow will bring (need to think of something fast).



30 Days of Wildness – Day 15 – Catherine’s Choice

This 30 Day Challenge is reminding me very clearly what busy lives we lead. I got home from work, had a lovely tea cooked by Alison and then we were out to take Finlay to football practice at 6pm. Finding time for nature can be difficult however not impossible.

Alison decided to go for a run while Finlay was training so I asked Catherine what she wanted to do – Answer – Get an ice cream and go and see the ducks – So off we went.

We were in the lovely village of Sherfield on Loddon so after getting the ice creams we paid the ducks a visit.

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Catherine’s choice

We sat for a while watching the Ducks and then wandered across to another pond where we got a lovely surprise of a nest of ducklings.

We observed for a few seconds and then backed away to leave them in peace.

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A little surprise

We tried to sneak up on some rabbits but they were too fast for us but we did spot a lovely little common spotted orchid beside a dried up pond.

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Found an orchid

It was soon time to pick Finlay up but when we got there they were running over time a little. I laid back in the grass and got this picture of Finlay as he came by. Alison took the lovely picture of Catherine with the bubble.

Some ball control
Some ball control

Busy lives but a little bit of nature squeezed nicely in 🙂



The Grumpy Old Men’s Club

Mid May found me heading to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales with my good friends Gordon, Rick and Stu. We all have volunteered together with the homeless charity Crisis for nearly 20 years now and for a variety of reasons we are known as ‘The Grumpy Old Men’s Club’. We like to get away together once a year just to catch up and have a bit of fun (in our usual grumpy old way).

We camped by the Dan yr Ogof show caves in the lovely village of Glyntawe. On the Saturday morning we drove over to the car park in Taf Fechan Forest and walked up the track to the east of the Upper Neuadd resevoir onto the area known as ‘The Gap’. On the map you will see this as Bwlch ar y Fan.

Set up and away

From The Gap we headed west around Cribyn and up onto Pen y Fan. There was little wind here and lots of cloud cover making excellent walking (I do not particularly like hillwalking in sunny conditions – must be a Scottish thing). We took our time but we were soon all at the top.

We did not hang around long and via Corn Du we headed South again by way of the ridge on Craig Gwaun Taf. This route has much less traffic on it and soon we were on our own again. The windswept peat banks made for a bit of fun along the way.

Pen Y Fan

As we moved down Craig Gwaun Taf we could see clearly now the resevoir at Upper Neuadd. It looked as though someone had pulled the plug hole in it.

South via Gwaun Taf

Further down the track near Twyn Mwyalchod (grid SO021176) we came across a Trig Point painted with a Welsh dragon and two little plaques dedicated to fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan war. Quite a moving site in such a beautiful location.

Commemoration Trig Point at Twyn Mwyalchod

Our descent took us through a conifer plantation that had been felled a couple of years ago (there was significant re-growth). It was tricky going in places but we took our time and were soon by the Taf Fechan river (translates as the Little Taff).

We could not cross due to the high water level so we headed downriver to find a bridge near the road. By the road we came across an abandoned campsite that had been left in a poor condition. Everything had been bagged up but just left there. Also along the way we spotted that the billberries were coming through. Not ripe yet but definitely coming through.

Descending into Taf Fechan forest

Needless to say there was plenty of time to sit and relax or as usual to stroll around and take pictures.

Chill time
Chill time

After an enjoyable evening and a night in my hammock (the other guys got the tipi) we packed up and drove over to Ystradfellte to walk the ‘Along the Waterfalls’ route.

As you can see the drive took us a little time but we were in no rush.

The road to Ystradfellte

The spring flora was well displayed along the River Mellte. Wood anemones were in abundance ( top left below),’ the ferns were just unfurling, the cuckoo flowers (bottom left) were everywhere and I was especially happy to spot an area of water avens (bottom right) along the river bank.

Brecon in Bloom

The biggest and most spectacular falls on the walk are to be found at Sgwd yr Eira (Waterfall of the Snow) and it is safe to walk underneath the overflow. When you near the falls you have to descend some steep steps and it was when we were nearing here we started to hear some shouting.

The shouting turned out to be a local Kyokushin Karate club doing waterfall training. They have been doing this since 1980 and come down every year. For a while we watched them doing training under the spray of the waterfall and then one by one, as you can see below, they jumped into the river. This type of training is common in Japan, apparently.

Finding the falls at Sgwd yr Eira

Once we had finished here it was a slow climb out of the ravine and we headed back upstream to find some of the other waterfalls.

Mooching upstream

There are quite a number of waterfalls on the river and I normally come to Sgwd y Pannwr (Fullers Falls) to sit and have lunch. It has a lovely flat area of rock to sit on and you can paddle in some of the shallow areas. Today however there were a lot of outdoor groups canyoning and I got some fantastic pictures of the guys leaping off the side of the waterfall.

Airborne at Sgwd y Pannwr

The last waterfall had a large group climbing down the side of it and when they got to the base of the falls, one by one they disappeared into it. We did not hang around to see them emerge, but as I heard nothing in the news all must have made it safely out 😉

The falls at Sgwd Clun-Gwyn

We were soon back at the car park ready for the trip home.
This was a great weekend with the Grumpy Old Men’s club and I look forward to many more.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 14 – A little bit of Macro

I set out on the 30 Day Challenge tonight on my own with an eye to do a bit of macro photography. I also took along my little tripod to get a steady shot if the light was not good.

On the way to a nice wild spot in the village this little trap passed me by and when I got to my spot the first thing I tripped over was a pheasant.

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Heading out

The area I was going to photograph is on a piece of waste ground near our old British Legion building here in Bramley. There is always some teasel growing here and I managed to get a lovely shot of this one backlit by the sun. The two pictures on the right are of speedwell and brooklime. Both of the flowers were tiny so I used my lens extensions to zoom in and my tripod to try and get a steady shot.

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From big to tiny

I was having a look at the oxeye daisies when I came across this little chap. He was raising his front legs every now and then to ward off the lens.

The bottom two flowers are forget-me-not and stichwort, both very dainty and beautiful. I love how you can see the shadows from the stamens on the stichwort.

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Fine detail

I decided to have a play around getting some shots of the seed heads of some grasses and was pretty happy with the results. The vetch and the down feather were less of a success as I could not get the depth of field to focus on everything (I need a course on this).

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Points and curves

The hairs on the oxeye caught my attention as they were lit up by the sun but I was really taken with the herb robert in the two pictures at the bottom. I was impressed that I could make out the individual pollen grains.

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A little bit of pollen

My last picture of the night was of a lonely little snail tucked up in the nook of a nettle leaf.

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Snuggled in

Really enjoyed getting down to the macro level again.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 13 – Nature and Silchester Amphitheatre

The thing I really like about this 30 Day Challenge is that it makes me get out of the house when I would normally stay indoors. Monday evening I got off the train from London and instead of flopping in front of the TV or computer I said to my daughter we were going out.

Now this was not taken well as there was the little matter of the iPad in the middle of this. Eventually after much grumbling (from both of us I admit) we were in the car heading up to the Roman amphitheatre in Silchester.

I remembered that there were many wild flowers growing there such as the dog rose flower you can see below. Needless to say Catherine was off climbing as soon as we got there.


Silchester Amphitheatre

I took these two shots of Catherine as she entered the amphitheatre and as you can see all traces of grumpiness had gone – all it took was to actually get out there. 

A Grand Entrance

Looking around the amphitheatre there were a lot of wild flowers and insects still out and about. Coming through lovely were the foxgloves and lots of buttercups.

I spotted a lone mullein growing and got Catherine to feel how soft it was in comparison to other plants. Needless to say the conversation got onto what type of plant leaf would be good for toilet paper and mullein came tops.

Light, Colour and Texture

We climbed up onto the top of the amphitheatre to look at the view and spotted this lovely little thatched cottage at the back. A dream house as far as Catherine was concerned.

Postcard Picturesque

Carrying on around the rim of the amphitheatre we came across a holly tree covered in the larvae burrows of the holly leaf miner (Phytomyza illis). This larvae makes its home in a holly leaf and will burrow about as it eats leaving a space it can develop into an adult fly.

Other animals and insects will predate the miner including the blue tit (triangular scar in the top right picture below) or a parasitic wasp (bottom right). The picture at the bottom left I think shows a slightly larger round hole signifying a successful emergence.

The Holly Leaf Miner (Phytomyza ilicis)

As we left we spotted some more dog roses and some little ducklings in the local pond.

Dog Roses and Ducks

This spot is great to visit due to its historical nature, its quietness much of the time and its wide variety of flora and fauna. Hits all the nature tick points as far as I am concerned.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 12 – Sunday Bushcraft

Day 12 of the 30 Day Challenge was one of rush, rush and rush from morning till night.

The Royal Marines Cadets we were training had the task of lighting the fires to cook the breakfast but thankfully we had our very own chef Alan Lewis to oversee all the cooking.

I tried to spend as much time as possible baking twizzle stick bread to get out of doing the many chores that were needed doing on this last morning of the camp (not very successfully may I add).

Busy Breakfast

We ran various classes that day including bread making, archery, stalking games and group bowdrill. London Area Sea Cadets have a brilliant Bushcraft team and this weekend showed that clearly – thanks to Dave Lewis, Charlie Brookes, Cliff Lewis and Alan Lewis for being that team.

Sunday Stances

Wrap up was a fast affair with everyone helping out. So fast I was home at 2pm – just in time to start on all my home chores 🙂



30 Days of Wildness – Day 11 – Bushcrafting Saturday

The early hours of Day 11 of the 30 Days Challenge brought us very heavy rain overnight and just in time for the tapes in my trusty old tarp to spring a leak.

The day though turned out brilliantly with the Royal Marines Cadets and staff getting up to loads of activities including fire lighting, knife skills, shooting Atlatl darts, stalking games and learning about bushcraft knots.

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A damp start

One of the main events of the day was cooking fish over the open fires (more on this in a later post) however there was plenty of other delights such as Dave’s favourite cupcakes 😉

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Lots of food

This was a long day however an extremely enjoyable one for all the cadets and staff getting back in touch with nature and having a really wild day.

Another lovely evening watching a bit of woodland TV where I can definitely see two fire faces in our little campfire picture at the bottom.

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Woodland TV



30 Days of Wildness – Day 10 – Camp Set Up

Day 10 of the 30 day Challenge found me in the military training area around Aldershot. I will write an in depth report on the weekend later but as this was where I was interacting with nature last Friday so I thought I would write up a little on what I got up to.

I had taken the day off work to prepare for a bushcraft course I was helping to run with the Royal Marines Cadets. As the advance party it was our job to set the camp up so it was mostly putting up tarps, a parachute and doing all the other chores needed to run a camp.

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HQ set up

As I wanted to give the cadets a good bushcraft experience once the main HQ area was set up we spent the rest off the evening until the cadets turned up putting up 12 hammocks and tarps. This is not easy to do with only a few of you (thanks Dave and Charlie) so I was glad to see the last one finally up.

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A dozen hammocks

The cadets turned up in the evening and some slept in the hammocks and some in bivi bags on the ground. The plan was then to allow them to swap over on Saturday night.

I finished the evening chatting with the guys around the campfire planning for the next day.

All in all a day in nature I would say.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 9 – Ice Cream Drinks, Saws and Strawberries

I have had a day off work today so I spent it prepping a load of kit for a bushcraft course I am running for the Royal Marines Cadets this weekend. Part of my prep for the weekend was to make sure my bowdrill sets were working fine. It was good to see the embers coming out well so I think that that part of my day comes under the 30 day Challenge.

Lovely ember

After school the kids asked for an ice cream drink (made with ice cream and lemonade). I readily agreed as they are one of my favourites as well and they laid out in the grass to enjoy it.

It was at this point that I let them know that there was a price to pay for the drink so it was off to the woods we went.

I needed to get some wood for the weekend and I knew where there were some brash wood piles of Silverbirch. There has been a lot of thinning work going on in the woods so it did not take long to find enough. I only took one or two pieces from each pile so as to not disturb too much any new habitats forming within them.

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Ice cream drinks with a price to pay

I had decided to introduce the kids to using a saw. The one I brought along was my little Laplander folding saw as I thought it would be easier for them to handle. It took a while as this is not something you can rush, however they enjoyed the experience.

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Intro to the Laplander

It was not all sawing though, nearby the kids spotted some Wild Strawberries coming through and enjoyed feeling the softness of the emerging Mullein leaves.

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Strawberries and Mullein

It was soon time to go back so after a quick pic of our harvest off we went – do not worry I carried most of them back :-), the kids carried two logs each. These logs will be used by the Marines this weekend to learn the art of carving.

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Our harvest

I had promised them another ice cream drink when they got back and I added a few marshmallows as an extra treat.

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Ice cream drinks to finish

As I will be in the woods for the next few nights I will not be posting up but rest assured I will be looking to carry the challenge on.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 8 – A Bramley Evening

I got back from my travels from Cardiff this evening having been in class for most of the day and a few hours on the train.

It was great to get home however it was too late to go out with the kids (being a school night). So once they were off to bed I took an evenings stroll to see if I could get any decent shots of the countryside as the sun was setting for the 30 Days Challenge.

Just as the sun was setting over the Frith woods I got this nice shot of the Hawthorn Haws developing.

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Caught up in the Hawthorn tree I spotted a small pigeon feather swaying in the breeze.

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Feather trap

Below the Hawthorn were some Oxeye Dasies.

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Oxeye Daisy

Slowly over the next little while the sun dissapeared with a lovely tinge off red. When I uploaded the pictures to my computer I increased the contrast to darken the shaded areas it had the effect of deepening the reds (I like the effect so decided to keep it).

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Disappearing sun

Tomorrow night it will be time to get out with the kids again to see what we can find.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 7 – Cardiff Bay Wetlands

Day 7 of the 30 Day Challenge I found quite relaxing. I spent much of today cooped up in a very enclosed office training new staff. It was very warm and claustrophobic so a trip down to the Cardiff Bay wetlands was just the tonic I needed.

My day had been very enclosed up to this point so it was good to get out and about in this wetlands environment. As soon as I walked into the wetlands I caused a stir. I decided to have a look at one area and promptly disturbed a Heron which took flight instantly.

Cardiff Bay Wetlands

I hoped to get out into the wetlands themselves but it was not to be. On the outskirts of the wetlands there was plenty to see in terms of common reed, the flowering rush and the yellow iris.

Lovely flowers and reeds

I spent a lot of time standing on the wooden walkway watching the ducks. They were very busy either preening themselves, resting on one foot or heads down and feeding.

The ducks were keeping busy

It was soon time to head back to meet some friends (Cap’n Badger and David Jones) in Cardiff town centre and I was given some spectacular views on the way.

A final few flowers

I needed these couple of hours to myself just to re-set my internal clocks.





30 Days of Wildness – Day 6 – Creative Cardiff

Work has taken me to Cardiff tonight so for the 30 Day Challenge I am once again on my own.

The hotel I am in overlooks Cardiff Castle so for tonights wander I decided to have a look at Bute Park which is located next to Cardiff Castle.

The first thing I found when I entered the park was this lovely carved bench identifying different trees by their leaves – better than any ID book.

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An educating bench

The park is a beautiful place to have a bimble in the evening. Before I knew it carvings (natural and man made) were popping up everywhere with the odd little squirrel staring me out.

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Man made and natural sculptures

I took all the pictures with my phone camera (Sony Z3) and was quite chuffed to get close enough to the little fella in the bottom left picture to get a decent shot of him.

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Spot the real one 🙂

The park not only has beautiful sculptures it also has some stunning trees like the Cedar in the bottom picture.

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A park to be proud of

Eventually I found the River Taff and this mature nettle perfectly silhouetted by the sun’s reflection.

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Riverside sculpture

Further along the river bank I came across a downed Willow tree. The tree was over the river so as I scrambled over it I came across this little fella sitting on another tree by the bank. He was so chilled he let me get close enough that I could easily touch him.

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Stepped out and spotted this chap

The dominant flower along the length of the River Taff I walked was the beautiful Red Campion.

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Red Campion

It was nice to walk through the park looking at and photographing both the fine detail and some of the bigger scenes.

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Up close and far away

The walk finished up at the back of Cardiff Castle.

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Cardiff Castle

I have never been to Bute Park before and I have to say it is probably the best city park I have ever come across.

I’ll be back 🙂



30 Days of Wildness – Day 5 – Evening Archery

It has been a busy day today with all the chores of most Sundays so the wildest we got today was the back garden to do the 30 day challenge.

A couple of years ago the kids each helped me build their father and son bows. These quick bows are made from Hazel and shoot just as well as the day they were made.

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Father and Son Bows

We have not had the bows out this year so after going through the basics again we had quite a few rounds shooting down the garden.

As the kids do not draw them back too far at the moment I was happy to have them shoot in the garden. Once they got their eye in they started to hit the targets.

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Arrows Away

Not to be outdone I had a little shoot myself and thoroughly enjoyed spending my evening with the kids.

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A Lovely Evening

I am off to Cardiff tomorrow for a couple of nights so there will be a couple of posts on what I can find in the city.




30 Days of Wildness – Day 4 – Bramley Bimbles

What a cracking day it has been. I had no problem getting out and about for the thirty day challenge as it was such a lovely day.

We popped out to Clift Meadow here in Bramley for the ‘Big Lunch‘ – my wife Alison had organised an excellent picnic for us. This is a one-day get together for neighbours to meet up and chat over a spot of lunch.

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Picnic time

My son Finlay was off playing with his friends so after our picnic my daughter Catherine and I went off in hunt of some insects. We went to one of our favourite ponds that is full of Yellow Iris and Brooklime – a perfect attraction for insects.

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Sit spot

We were hoping to spot some Mayflies but it was not to be. We did though spot some bees on the flowers on the way and at the pond itself a cricket and a small moth on the Brooklime.

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Our spots

Later on in the afternoon we jumped on our bikes and headed out to our local woods.

After hiding the bikes we spotted lots of deer tracks and had some fun on the old bridges.

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Woodland wanders

The main reason to go to this spot was to look for some of the Common Spotted Orchids I know grow here. After a quick recce we soon found them.

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Orchid hunting

It was soon time for dinner so we headed back for the bikes. On the way back we spotted a pigeon kill site. I had a look at the quills and none of them had been ripped off so I imagine it was a bird of prey that had its dinner here.

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The journey home

All in all a great day with the family.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 3 – Fire Lighting

This thirty day challenge is proving a bit of a challenge all right. Not for the activities but for just sorting the pictures. The kids are having a ball though.

Tonight I needed to finish building a Gibbet crane (more on this in a later post) and I needed a fire to test the crane out. So instead of cracking on with it myself I got the kids involved.

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Our fire

First up we headed out to the wood pile and got a load of small twigs and small logs. Once collected Finlay and Catherine sorted them into different sizes by the firepit.

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Collecting time

To light the fire we got a couple of firesteels out, had a little practice and then sparked up some char cloth.

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Strike a light

The char cloth was popped into some hay and within a minute they had it well lit.

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A huff and a puff

I got all my pictures of my crane sorted but the kids wanted the important stuff – marshmallows – could not disagree with them

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Finally the important stuff

Quite happy to do this one tonight as I needed to light the fire but it was a nice change to get the kids involved in the fire making this time.



30 Days of Wildness – Day 2 – Pond Dipping

As I got home tonight from my trip away I had a chat with the kids about what we could do for the 30 day challenge and pond dipping was brought up.

We had a quick scrabble around for all the kit and were soon on our way.

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Heading out

There are a number of ponds in the village and I was hoping that there would be enough water still standing from the heavy rain last weekend.

The first pond was very low and after a couple of dips we gave up as all we were bringing up was mud.

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First pond – unsuccessful

The next pond though covered with pondweed offered up a small ant (must have been on a stick), a small worm type animal, loads of mossie larvae and a few little shrimps.

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Second pond – some success

We visit this pond regularly as a family of coots nest here every year and this is the perch the kids use to watch them. They were not in sight tonight but we enjoyed the tree anyway.

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Chilling in the trees

Finlay went back to dipping and Catherine to a bit of examining and it was at this point that a couple of lads came cycling by and insulted my kids not knowing I was sitting by the tree. They were off the opinion that they were crazy to be anywhere near the pond as they would get horrible diseases. It is sad to see that that is the attitude of many.

My kids know not to put their hands near their faces when pond dipping by a still pond like this and to wash their hands thoroughly when they get home. I know there is always the potential for Weils disease however the kids had no cuts and scrubbed well when they got home.

Needless to say I stepped out and soon they were scuttling away

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Still at it

As we did not have much time (nearly 7pm on a school night) we headed back but had one more dip in another stream. Finlay was chuffed as he managed to get himself a pond skater in the net.

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Found a stream – good haul

We did not get any fish however we did have a great evenings stroll.Photo 04-06-2015 20 20 35

Last catch – a pond skater, some small shrimps and a small worm



30 Days of Wildness – Day 1

I was reading an article on Bushcraft UK tonight by my friend Tony Bristow on the June Nature Challenge set by The Wildlife Trusts.

It is aimed at – asking people, both young and old, to be creative and invent their own ‘random acts of wildness’. They could be as simple as following a bee to see where it leads you, smell a wildflower or make a wild work of art for others to enjoy.
The possibilities are endless.

Tonight I am away from home in the Black Country (west of Birmingham, UK) staying in a hotel and after watching the video decided to get out for a bimble. Over the rest of the month I will try and post up a bit about nature (with the occasional bit of wildness thrown in), be that on my own, with my family or with friends.

I did not have my DSLR with me on this trip so decided on my walk tonight to test my mobile phone to its limits and see what beauty I could find in this urban landscape I am currently staying in.

A few pictures of my evenings stroll.

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A splash of red
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Urban beauty – Hogweed
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Nettle nest
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Mayweed mossie
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Foxxie Finger – Foxglove
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Standing proud – Ribwort Plantain
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Comfortable Cleavers
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Sticky Willie trap
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Frog Hopper Foam
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Deadly Double

I think my phone has passed muster on this one so lets see what the rest of the month brings.