Bushcraft Birthday Bash

There has been a lot of skullduggery going on in the Aitchison-Jones household recently and it all came to a head in September 🙂

My wife Alison made sure that a certain weekend in September was kept well clear in my diary. I was told to pack for a family camp to celebrate my 50th birthday (location unknown) – hard to believe I have reached such a lofty age, I know 😉

So after packing we set off on a magical mystery tour that stopped off at the Arrivals lounge at Gatwick Airport. Passing through the gates was ‘Darling Barney’ all the way from Southern France to celebrate my birthday with us.

The pictures in this blog are a mixture from Tony Bristow, Ian Woodham, Alison Jones and myself.

The Bushcraft Birthday Bash

The magical mystery tour continued to our friends Philippa and Phil’s farm just outside Dorking in Surrey. I was directed to a field to set up camp and we soon had our hammocks up and fire on. That night Phil came down to join us around the fire, there was a Harvest Moon and real ale and I was happy as Larry.

Phil asked Barney and myself if we could help him and a couple of friends complete a bridge at his girls school the next morning.  I thought nothing of this as I normally help out Phil’s farm when I camp there and Barney is a carpenter/cabinetmaker anyway so his skills were needed.

Friday Night – Saturday Morning

It was a good morning mucking about in the mud building the bridge and we even stopped off for a couple of pints on the way back.

Unbeknownst to me Alison had set up a secret Facebook page and invited lots of my friends to the bash. While I was away folks started to arrive and needless to say that when I was in the car coming back down the field to the camp I was feeling slightly bemused.

There followed a lot of hugging and generally turning around with a startled look on my face as more and more folk popped out of the wood. These Saturday morning arrivals were friends from various parts of my life. Barney and Steve from Raleigh International, Liz, Rick, Stu and Gordon from Crisis, Alan and Dave from the Sea Cadets, Tony, Shelly, Robin, Jenna, David, Ian and Archie from Bushcraft UK

More Surprises

Alison had arranged for a delivery of groceries to be dropped off at the farm and a feast was quickly prepared. David Willis (Bushcraft With David Willis) used his bushcraft baking skills to make bread and our resident Sea Cadet chef Alan Lewis got on with prepping the skewers for the barbie.

I had gone from quite chilled out (must have been the two pints in the pub) to frantically running around getting the fires going, maintaining them and trying to chat with everyone who arrived. Those of you who know me personally know that multi tasking is not my strong point.

Added to all this confusion my friend Graham was spotted coming down the hill carrying a massive present all wrapped up. He told me I could not open it until later that evening around the fire.

The Feast

After a few more beers (I kept opening one, putting it down, chatting, losing it, opening another……and so on, repeating the process) the food was ready and a lovely birthday cake produced.

Thanks to everyone who brought a present along – every one was appreciated and I am still working my way through all the single malts you brought along Rick, Gordon, Stu, Dave and Alan.

The wooden ’50’, Cliff, sits with my medals and other personal bits and bobs. It is a lovely piece of carving buddy.

Still not used the old military canteen, Barney, in case I damage it – it too will live on my bits and bobs shelf.

As for the Harrier knife carving, that log Graham that may take a while. (The massive present Graham brought me turned out to be a rare Harrier stamped knife together with a log from which to carve my own twelve-piece dinner service).

Thanks Phil and Philippa for the lovely honey you had just jarred 20 minutes before. As fresh as you can get I would imagine.

Thanks for all the Go Outdoor vouchers – I spent a happy couple of hours in there getting some extra kit.

Lastly to Alison for getting me that rather nice laptop I was really looking for (cheers for organising that Dave). It works a dream and I can process pictures so much quicker now.


The rest of the evening was spent chatting and from time to time Alison managed to extract some stories from folks about myself – many had the ending of me being hit in some way 🙂

A real highlight of the evening was listening to Robin and Jenna singing Happy Birthday to me in Welsh – I am not normally an emotional person but that moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.

A surprise evening arrival to the party were my good friends John and Caron of Woodcraft School (apologies I did not get a picture of you at the party). They just sort of appeared out of the dark while I was chatting away (just when I was sure there were no more surprises I was proved wrong).


Sunday morning soon came and those that had decided to stay for the night rose to a breakfast of bacon rolls and sausages before cracking on with some archery and Atlatls and posing for a Survivors’ picture.

Packing up was a sad business as everyone prepared to travel back home but I was still reeling slightly in a happy way from the whole surprise party.

Survivors Photo

I am still amazed at the distances people travelled to come to the party – France, west Wales, Leeds and more. Some came for the day and others stayed overnight. Thank you to all those who could not make the weekend but sent me there heartfelt wishes instead.

Thank you everyone who came and a special thanks to Alison and Philippa for all your organisational skulduggery 🙂



An Epic Scottish Road Trip

We clocked up nearly 2000 miles on the road this summer galavanting around Scotland visiting friends and family. Every couple of years we travel up to the Isle of Lewis to visit my family however this year we decided to call in at a few more friends en route.


Our first port of call was to stop off at Balquhidder Church in the beautiful Trossachs in the Highlands of Scotland. This is where my Father’s side of the family come from and where Alison and I got married. Buried in the local graveyard are my Gran and Grandpa and the falls above the church are well worth a visit.


Isle of Lewis

Then it was off to Ullapool to pick up the ferry over to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. My mother Joan and stepfather Abby live in the village of Port of Ness at the northernmost tip of the island. This was to be our base for the next week.

Our kids Catherine and Finlay were really looking forward to this visit as they had not stayed at their Grannie Port’s house before.

Port of Ness

Much of our time was spent down on the beach at Port or at Stoth as the weather turned out to be glorious. This is where I spent much of my childhood and it was great to see my children loving it as well.

Beach Time

I took the family and my brother Finlay to visit my Dad Freddie’s grave. It is located on the Machair right by the coast and the view are stunning. My Dad was also a part-time lighthouse keeper at the Butt of Lewis so it was a pity that it was closed to the public – the views are fantastic from the top.

It was great to catch up with everyone such as my old mate Peche and his wife Jean who I had not seen for many a year. The kids spent a lot of time with their cousins Kenny John, Courtney and Lauren. Kenny John in particular was very excited that Finlay was coming to visit and the two of them had great fun, playing hide and seek and climbing trees together.

Family and Friends

We spent time most days with my sister Tina, my niece Natasha and her lovely little daughter Lily Mai. As we only get to go north every couple of years the difference in the little ones is always amazing – the last time I had seen Lily Mai she was still a babe in arms.

My sister Tina is a keen walker and is out for a five mile walk most days. I decided to photograph her one day on the coast and was really chuffed with the results. It is not all play though as the peats were calling and I went out a couple of evenings to lift and turn them with my brother-in-law Kenny – the midgies won in the end on both evenings and we were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

It was also great to catch up with Andy Burns each day as we were out and about. Andy is a great photographer and gets some incredible shots as his croft overlooks Port Beach.


While we were on Lewis my Uncle Dods was once again leading the annual Guga hunt. They arrived back the day before we were due to leave. I popped over to Stornoway to catch them offloading the Gugas. That night the kids, Abby and myself enjoyed a good feast of Guga.

The Guga Hunters

Before we left we managed to get out to visit the Black House at Arnol where I had a great time talking with the wardens about traditional crafts and how they were made and used (for example making rope out of heather).

The time had flown by so fast and it was soon time to say goodbye to my Mum, Abby and the rest of the family.



After picking up the ferry back to the mainland we headed for Banchory over on the East Coast of Scotland. Our friends Kate and John live there now. We met Kate on a Raleigh International expedition to Chile in 1996 and have been great friends since. They have two lads – Chris and Matthew.


We spent three days exploring the local area and managed to get a real feast of blueberries on Scolty Hill.

Stopping off at the Thundering Falls of Feugh we were hoping to spot some leaping salmon however we were amazed to spot an otter fishing in the falls below our feet – it was quite a sight.

Otters and Adventures


Our next stop wasThornhill in Stirlingshire to visit our friends Kate and Roddy. Alison has been friends with Kate since University and we always try and visit them when we can.

We spent a great afternoon at Doune Castle exploring its secrets and walking in its grounds. Apart from its rich historical past in recent years it has attracted many tourists for its use in the film industry: Monty Python and the Holy Grail featured the castle and scenes from the TV series Outlander were shot here.

Thornhill and a bit of Monty Python

Located nearby is the beautiful Flanders Moss nature reserve. It is one of the last blanket lowland peat bogs in the country and is home to some rare flora and fauna.

Flanders Moss

Family Visits

The next stop was to visit my Uncle George in Crieff. It was also great to see my cousin Leanne and her son Robbi – another one who has shot up :-).

The we popped in to Callander to see my Aunty Catherine and Uncle Fred, who had just celebrated his 90th birthday the day before.

Our final night was spent back in England visiting Alison’s mum Beryl in Stockport. It was great to stop off there as no road trip North up the M6 would be complete without stopping off and letting the kids spend time with their Grandma.

Family Visits

It felt like we covered a lot of ground on this holiday however it was over in a flash. I caught up with many folk I had not seen in a long time (it was hard to recollect names at times) but I left Scotland with some great memories – I hope my kids felt the same as well.



The Wilderness Gathering with Coastal Survival

Catching up with friends, learning skills and getting some new kit – that is what the Wilderness Gathering is to me.

Coastal Survival has been attending The Gathering for quite a few years and this was a busy one for me as they went. I could tell that as most of my pictures this year were of what we were up to and not about what everybody else was up to. I was working alongside Fraser Christian, Danny Stocks and Chris Lundregan (we were also joined by Lorna Stocks).

Food and skills were the order of the day for us at this years show.

At The Gathering

Over the weekend we kept a hot smoker going producing smoked mussels and mackerel. This kept a steady stream of visitors coming up to the stand. So much so that I did not get a great deal of time to wander around the rest of the show.

Food on the go

There is something quite beautiful about the simplicity of smoking food that is attractive to folks that makes them want to just come in and try some – it certainly is not for our good looks 😉

A busy stand

There was some time to get out though and catch up with folks. I missed Steve’s class on prepping rabbits but by the look on his face it went well.

Dave Budd was as usual working away but unusually he was having to be his own pump monkey on the forge – Where were you Emily? He needed you 🙂

Our neighbours at the show were Sonni and Angela from Beneath The Stars Leathercraft – the nicest set of neighbours than you could wish for.

Also spotted frequently was Jason bowdrilling away for the visitors. I sat beside him for one of his demonstrations and got some cracking pictures that I made into their own blog – Jason and the Ember Extender.

Catching up with friends

Regular readers will know I am a fan of Damp Log Rocket Stoves and Des was there this year firing them up. This particular Log Rocket was very damp but he persisted and soon had a hearty stove that produced plenty of brews.

Log Rockets with Des

As well as producing smoked food we spent time giving various classes such as this one on making a Bamboo Fishing Spear. This simple device does not take long to make and really packs a punch.

Building a quick fishing spear

No Coastal Survival course would be complete without a bit of net making. Once again Fraser was up in the classrooms demonstrating his skills and getting the audience netting – I was meanwhile back tending shop – except for sneaking out to take some pics 🙂

Net making

The Masterclass this year was on constructing a Stick Fish Trap. This was planned to take 3 hours but it took most of the day for the students to complete (and for some part of the next day) but it was worth it, These traps are designed to work and do the job of catching your dinner.

Stick Trap making

These Stick Fish Traps are featured in Fraser’s new book Coast Hunter. This is the 2nd book in his coastal series and his copies sold out at the Wilderness Gathering. Look it up in Amazon if you are interested in all things coastal hunting.

The new Coast Hunter book

I have been attending the Wilderness Gathering every year since 2005 so here’s to seeing some of you there in 2017 – An extra day I am told for next year 🙂



How To…. Build a Stick Fish Trap

These traps are not just for show but tools for living as comfortably as you can on the coast

Last August found me at the Wilderness Gathering here in the UK with my good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival. Fraser ran a Masterclass at the Gathering for about 8 people in how to make a stick fish trap.

Willow Fish Trap

Fraser has a couple of books out now called Eat the Beach and Coast Hunter (he is currently working on his third book called Castaway on the Seashore). In the book Coast Hunter Fraser goes into detail on many coastal hunting techniques (including making this trap) and I encourage you to get a copy of these books if you are interested in the art of coastal survival.

Fraser uses this type of trap on the coast weighted down with stones in the inter-tidal zone to catch fish, crabs and lobsters. You can make the trap with many different woods found in the woods and hedgerows – just make sure it is pliable. As he was running a class for 8 people he brought in some commercial willow from Musgrove Willows.

Step 1 – Set Up

I will go through the steps as I saw them on the day but for more detail on this trap have a look inside the Coast hunter book. To form the shape Fraser used a paper plate and a tent peg to create a circle of willow. He tried to maintain an even distance (about two fingers width between each piece of willow) as he inserted the willow (thick ends) into the ground, They were pushed in about 10cm’s and the tent peg really helped as the ground was hard.

Set Up

Once the willow was secured in the ground he tied of the top ensuring the willow sticks all came in at the same angle.

Step 2 – Weaving

The willow had been left overnight in a lake to ensure it was as pliable as possible however to make sure Fraser pulled each piece of willow he would weave with around his knee. This makes the weaving process so much easier and less tiring on your hands.

Starting with the thick end of a piece of willow he threaded it in and out between 4 or 5 uprights, Once that was secure he raised up the thinner in to carry on that in and out weave (raising the tip of the thinner end really makes the weaving easier).


In the picture in the bottom left you can clearly see that raised thin end being woven in and out of the uprights. He stopped the weave when he judged that part was too thin (the excess would be trimmed off later).

Once one piece was finished it was a case of repeating the process with a new piece of willow but from the next upright along. You can see in the picture in the bottom right below these staggered start points.  Frase ensured that the ends stuck out proud so that they would not slip off the first upright while weaving. These would be trimmed down later.


Step 3 – Wrapping the Top with willow

Over time the trap started to develop (a height of 50 or 60 cm’s) and the string at the top was replaced with willow. I have put the steps for you below. The thick end was slid through the middle of the uprights then wrapped tightly around the uprights for about ten turns, through the uprights again, a couple more turns and back through once more to finish.

Tying off the top

Step 4 – Closing the Gap

Finishing the top section can be quite difficult as you have less room to push the willow in and out of the uprights. Make the willow as pliable as possible and experiment with smaller thinner pieces and with starting with the thin end and threading through the thicker end.

Depending on what you are hoping to catch will decide how much of a gap to leave but ideally the gap should only be a couple of centimetres.

Closing the gap

Step 5 – Locking off the Opening

When the top has been finished pull the trap out of the ground slowly and it is time to lock off the uprights around the opening.

Take one upright and bend it over in front of the one directly to its right but behind the 2nd one on the right. Repeat the process with the upright on the right and so on. Before long you will be left with just one upright standing vertically. Twist it back and forth and you can thread it easily through the laid uprights to its right.

Look closely at the pictures below and you will see how this works.

Locking off

Step 6 – The Lid

The lid is about a third of the size of the main body of the trap however the opening is the same size. Use the paper plate, peg and string in the same fashion as before to set up the skeleton of the lid and weave in the exact same way as with the main body of the trap.

The difference though is that the top is not tied off but left open as this will become the opening that your catch will enter the trap through. When the hole in the top is about the size of your fist repeat the process of locking off at Step 5.  You will also need to lock of the rim around the bigger opening when it is pulled out of the ground.

The Lid

Step 7 – Trimming

When you trim off the ends of any piece of willow when making this type of trap try to leave about a cm or so sticking out so that the end of the willow does not slip inside the trap. The outside should be quite prickly but the inside should be smooth.


Step 8 – Attaching the Lid to the main body of the Trap

The lid should sit in the opening of the main body of the trap with the small opening in it well inside it. We split and soaked some willow (soaked in a cup of water) to make it really flexible and used that to tie the lid and the main body of the trap together.

They were tied together at one point only to ensure that the lid stayed attached but could be opened easily to remove any catch or to place any bait.

Attaching the Lid

This project would take a confident weaver/basket maker a few hours to make however our students took most of the day (and one or two came back the next day to finish off) to complete theirs.

These traps are not just for show but tools for living as comfortably as you can on the coast. If you are interested in making these traps under a bit of guidance do contact Fraser at Coastal Survival.

Happy Weavers

As with any trap do check out whether it is legal to use it in the place you want to set it. In the UK check out the Environment Agency.



A Brilliant Bushmoot – 2016

As family holidays go the BCUK Bushmoot is hard to beat. It has it all, with activities for all ages, a stunning location and people who are happy to share their knowledge with you.

The week started with three days of wet weather however that did not stop us getting out and about. I spent one day with my friend Fraser Christian (Coastal Survival) setting nets and lobster pots out on the coast for a class he was running.


My family spent two weeks at the Bushmoot in early August and the kids cannot wait until next years return trip. The Bushmoot is held on the Ogmore Estate by the beautiful Merthyr Mawr sand dunes in South Wales here in the UK.

While the kids were off playing I was busy with running or attending classes. Once again this year we ran a Starter Course for anyone new to Bushcraft. Alison decided though to crack on with some more spoon carving this year with our daughter Catherine under Deans watchful eye while Finlay got on with climbing everything he could find..

Play for some – Work for others

This year I spent some time with Anita (our resident potter) discussing how to make a primitive pot for extracting birch bark oil. Anita came up with a design for me which I am hoping to try out in the winter. Anita ran a number of sessions and a particularly popular one was making clay whistles.

The picture of the clay dragon whistle shown below won the August heat of the BCUK Bushmoot competition – It was a cracking bit of craft

Pottery Art

A course I thoroughly enjoyed this year was Perry McGee’s (National Tracking School) grass rope making (I had attended last years one as well). I really like Perry’s style of teaching – it is relaxed in one way however he really does make you work :-).

The whole group made enough rope from grass to make a hammock that took the weight of anyone in the group, This is a skill I have been looking into more after seeing rope that was made out of heather recently up on the Isle of Lewis.

Grass – comfy and tough

David Willis (Bushcraft with David Willis) attended once again this year and his class was packed. The smell of fresh baking bread could be detected from afar and I made sure I swung by the class a few times.

Alison attended the class and we were well set up for bread for the next couple of days.

Beautiful Bread

There was plenty of wood working going on as usual this year. Ed Livesy ran a busy class on carving a Figure Four Deadfall mechanism, Roy Budd was running the pole lathe continuously every day (where he got the energy I do not know) and I ran for the first time the Dovetail Campfire Crane class.

This class on the crane I will run again next year as a lot of people have never heard of it and became very interested in it after seeing what my students created. It is basically an adjustable crane made out of one pole.

Wood Skills

Food as usual plays a big part in the life of the Bushmoot. The communal meal was a great success again, Tony got himself a lovely birthday cake and the kids enjoyed a few evenings supping hot chocolate around the fire.

Top Scoff

It must be getting on 6 or 7 years we have run the archery range with the competition later in the Moot.

We have sessions run most evenings and the competition is broken into two parts (kids and adults). I received many great presents to give away as prizes so thanks to all who donated. The winners are each to receive a handmade bow from Wayne Jones (Forest Knights).

On a down side my Holmegaard bow snapped this year at the Moot. It has been a trusty bow since I made it 8 years ago and it has been used by hundreds of people on my courses. I did though get an Elm stave from Chris Claycomb – so that is a project for the winter.

Down on the Range

Another first for me was running the Damp Wood Log Rocket stove class. The rain we had earlier meant that all the logs were damp (the spray was hitting us in the face when we split them) so it was great to see after all their hard work all the students managed to get their log rockets fired up.

The coffee I can tell you was brilliant 🙂

Proper coffee from Damp Log Rockets

As you can see I did take a few pictures at the Bushmoot however there were a few special ones to me. Below are three that I really was glad they turned out so well.

The first one was a moment I captured when taking a picture of the battery candle sitting in basket of carved flowers. Mark was just saying goodbye to Tony with a manly hug when I pressed the shutter.

Next was sitting beside the beautiful artwork created by Keith Beaney. Every year Keith comes along and patiently creates these works of art for us all to enjoy.

And finally one day someone pointed out to me a dragonfly sunning itself next to the shower block. This little fella was not moving for anyone and really let me get up close and personal to photograph him.

Special Moments

There were too many workshops run to be able to attend them all (approx. 110 were run over the core days) however keeping my trusty Nikon with me I managed to capture a few moments from just some of them.

Wayne was busy teaching knife throwing, Theresa ran a very busy workshop on flint knapping and Stuart spent two days splitting the most twisted trunk in the world without using metal wedges. There were many, many more workshops run by different instructors, I saw some, photographed some but missed many – that is the nature of the Bushmoot for you.

Passing On By

After the core days were over we spent time dismantling lots of the classrooms, mooching by the fire and taking long relaxing walks down to the beach,

Winding Up
Winding Up

During the Moot I finished off doing my 22 Day 22 Push up challenge and videoed it each day. In the video below you will see in the second half of it lots of Bushmoot locations, finishing up with pushups in the swash zone in the sea at Merthyr Mawr,

So if you are into activity holidays that do not cost the earth then head on down to the Bushmoot next year.



BEL – 2016 – Preparing for Assessment

This year has once again proved to be a busy one for me on the Adventure Training front, however it has probably not been as busy as it has been for some of our ‘soon to be Basic Expedition Leaders‘ (BEL) in the Sea Cadet Corps.

Catching up on all that paperwork

This weekend my friend Perry Symes and I ran the penultimate weekend in this years BEL course. The BEL award is a nationally recognised qualification designed to give adult instructors a good grounding in becoming Adventure Leaders.

Next month they all go for assessment so this weekend was all about catching up on their paperwork and really testing their navigational and group leadership skills.

Practice and more practice

Joining us on the weekend were Sarah, Lee, Charlie Chris and James. Everyone had to lead specific legs of the route we chose for them and manage the group as we went along.

There were lots of challenges set for them in terms of giving short lessons on different subjects and making sure they could navigate to a high standard (as well as teach navigation to others).

Woodland wanderings

It was great to get out at this time of year and see all the autumnal colours really starting to show through. We studied hard over the weekend however we did have fun along the way.

Autumn is here

Over the weekend we stayed at the Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadet unit TS Black Swan on the banks of the river Thames. I must say thank you very much to all the staff who welcomed us, fed us and  looked after us so well.  I for one got to kip on my friend Paul’s canal boat (Thames Boat Training) that was moored up next to the unit – so cheers Paul :-). This enabled Perry and myself to fully focus on preparing the guys for their two day assessment next month.