My last trip out for 2015 was a particularly nice one as we were celebrating the 6th birthday of a little bushcraft boy called David. He loves the outdoors and his Grandfather Keith Coleman had organised to celebrate the event out in the woods at Danemead Scout camp.
Keith was also out with a few of his cadets to practice some navigation skills and I was going to practice some bushcraft skills with my friends Dave, Alan and Jess.
David’s Mum Maria was who is a good friend of mine was also at the campsite so it was great to catch up with her as we had not met up for a long time.
Keith soon had the candles lit with David and we were soon tucking into a slice of Birthday cake.
Later on the boys Dad Jim turned up with David’s little brother James. Jim has been a good friend of mine for many years so It was good to catch up on goings on again with him. While we were chatting the boys asked if they could light their own fire.
We spent a little while collecting some dry birch bark and small twigs and then got the Firesteels out. I also gave them some cotton wool and Vaseline to help get the fire going as everything was very damp.
It was great to watch the two lads sparking away and then slowly building up their fire until it was well lit. Needless to say when it was time for them to go home they were very reluctant to leave their well nurtured fire.
While the lads were busy making their fire Dave was busily building a spit to cook a joint of beef on. He stripped a green hazel sapling and put a split through the the middle of it with one end squared off. Then he carved a couple of flat skewers to go through the beef and the split. This method keeps the joint fixed to the hazel rod as it is turned over the fire.
Once that was done he made two uprights to sit the hazel rod in over the fire. One of the uprights had a square notch carved into it for the squared end of the hazel rod to rest in. This ensured that as we turned the it it always remained fixed in the position we had set it.
Dave’s father Alan is an excellent chef and he had been busily working away making up a whole range of different veggie kebabs. After a couple of hours turning the spit dinner was ready.
As we try to be civilised 😉 at these events the cheese board was produced by Keith and a relaxing evening was had around the fire.
After a very restful sleep in my hammock I was awoke by our chef Alan busily working away around the fire preparing some pancakes for breakfast.
Alan was using my griddle for this job (if you do not own one I would highly recommend that you invest in one) and it was hanging off my Dovetail Crane. This crane is made out of one piece of wood, is easy to make and offers you a wide range of cooking heights.
While Keith was off doing some navigation work with his cadets I spent my morning constructing a Damp Wood Log Rocket Stove. These are easy to make and great to get a fire going in damp conditions.
I must thank Jess for helping me at this stage to take a lot of my photographs as my hands were full with constructing the stove. Thankfully Jess is an excellent photographer so I did not need to worry if the right shot was being taken or not leaving me free to concentrate on the stove.
All that was left after this was to have a brew and pack up for the trip home. This was an excellent trip to round my year off amongst friends, eating well and celebrating the birthday of a budding bushcrafter.
No series on the Bushcraft UKBushmoot would be complete without a mention of ‘Ye Naughty Corner’ – I will refer to it as the NC in the rest of the post.
The NC is many things to many different people who visit the Bushmoot. There is usually a fire on the go at most hours however it is in the evening that the NC really livens up. Some folk love the place and spend a lot of time there, some folk just pop in for a visit every now and then, however some folk steer well clear as it can be busy and noisy. I personally like to visit the NC of an evening and catch up on the days goings on around the fire while enjoying a medicinal tot or two.
Cap’n Badger and Mad Dave (our resident Pirates) normally manage the NC though Dave had to miss the Bushmoot last year. The NC has been around for a number of years now and it has grown in size as each year has passed. Some say that is a good thing and others do not – you will need to decide for yourself.
It has always been a noisy place in the evenings (folks are warned about it if they camp near it for the first time) and as a regular over the years I am quite comfortable there however as the feel of the NC has changed from a small to a big community some folk have drifted off elsewhere on an evening.
The central point of the NC is the fire and it makes for a great woodland TV. On some of the busy nights you will be lucky to get anywhere near it however if there is a decent stock of wood it is soon lit up well. I have snapped many a fire face picture in these flames over the years.
One thing you are guaranteed is the option to try out a number of different tipples while sitting around the fire. There is usually a bottle or two of Kraken rum, meade, port or whisky making the rounds to try. The nost memorable one for me was when I was passed a bottle of Dave Budd’s Chilli rum – never to be forgotten.
I think one of the reasons the NC has become so popular is that there is usually some music and food on the go.
Initially folks would cook there own food and come along to the NC for a drink and a chat. Nowadays our resident Phil is on the go all night cooking and serving a wide range of excellent food (we do run a group kitty to cover the cost of the food).
A couple of years ago Tim Neobard ran a class at the NC to build a cob oven for baking pizzas. The pizzas proved to be very popular with the residents of the NC so everyone was looking forward to having some pizzas the following year.
When we returned last year we found that someone had decided to destroy the pizza oven. Un-dettered Neil re-built the oven this year out of brick instead of cob so hopefully it will be there this year.
I like to pop by the NC during the day to see what is going on. Sometimes it is pretty quiet as folk are off at all the classes however sometimes you will find a class or two going on at the NC.
A few years ago one of our regular NC residents Drew Dunn passed away in a road traffic accident. This tragic loss really affected many of us at the Bushmoot as we had grown to love Drew. When I met Drew for the first time his first words to me were ‘Where can I find the Naughty Corner’.
Drew loved the NC so much that Cap’n Badger and Mad Dave organised the planting of a tree and plaque in his honour. The tree and plaque sit just behind the NC where Drew used to camp.
The NC does throw up some strange sights I must admit. A few years ago this massive net was strung up and it was termed the Mammock. I have no idea how many folk got crammed into the Mammock in the end but it proved a star attraction.
Each year a fancy dress themed night is run. Last year it was Monty Python, the year before it was a Victorian explorer theme and I think next year it is a horror theme.
Not something I have gotten round to doing but there are plenty of folks who do and they do put in a lot of effort to look the part.
As the evening gets on though the reason why the NC corner gets its name starts to become apparent. It might be that you find yourself getting covered in lots of little clothes pegs if you are not careful, you may inadvertently get passed the bottle of chilli vodka, or you may get buckarooed if you fall asleep.
There is an skill to buckarooing as you need a steady hand. The poor soul who is asleep has tins of beer (empty) and pegs (and other adornments) heaped on top of them before a picture is taken. Everything is then taken away so that when the poor soul wakens up they are none the wiser until they see the picture the next day.
I appreciate that the NC is not for everyone as it can be a busy and noisy place however I personally like to spend an hour or two of an evening there.
To me it is one of the highlights of my year where I can relax and have a bit of fun while catching up with my friends.
There are plenty of campfires to visit at the Bushmoot where you can sit and relax and chat. The NC is just another one of them however it is one of the livelier ones.
This week found me working hard for my pictures. With much of nature dormant at the moment in the woods (plenty going on on the peripheries though) my stroll through my local woods this weekend was slow and quiet.
This scene came up on me and kind of reflects the still magical place the woods seem to be at the moment.
I took plenty of pictures however this one reminded me that you do not need to look far for an excellent scene to capture even when you think nothing is going on.
Last weekend I ended up in Dorset visiting my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival. It was a stormy weekend but thankfully the wind dropped enough on the Saturday evening to allow me to sleep in my hammock.
On the Sunday morning not long after I got up I spotted this waterfall effect of Turkey Tail fungus on an old stump and was quite taken with them from a top down view – kinda glistened in the early morning sunshine.
Today found me out and about with my family at The Vyne National Trust Property near Bramley in Hampshire. The day started wet and overcast but we still managed to get out and get muddy.
I took lots of pictures but this one of my son managing to have fun with just a couple of sticks on an old wooden fence really put a smile on my face. He likes his X Box but thankfully likes to get muddy just as much.
This is my 200th post on my Bushcraft Days blog and I have had fun writing every one – Looking forward to the next 200.
Thank you to everyone who follows my little adventures.
So begins a New Year and I was considering where my photography would take me this year. After a long hard thought (about 10 minutes really) I came to the conclusion my photography could go wherever it liked.
So I plan to have a post once a week with what I consider my best or most interesting picture.
On New Year’s Eve I took a bimble around our village and was seeing lots of signs of spring (a bit early if you ask me) when I spotted this leftover morsel from last year.
Normally the squirrels beat me to these little nibbles so I was surprised to see some still left over from last year’s crop. This hazel tree was overhanging a reedmace-covered pond so maybe it proved too precarious a perch for the little fellas.
This year I have had real fun trying to capture just a little bit of the nature I see around me when out and about on my adventures. I have had a look through some of the nature pictures I have taken this year selected the ones I have fond memories off.
Plants and Fungi
I went to the Brecon Beacons in the Spring with a few of my friends from Crisis and while walking along the banks of the Afon Mellte river near Ystradfellte I was struck by all the spring flowers emerging but it was something else that really caught my eye.
I initially walked passed these emerging Fern Fiddleheads. I stopped myself as I realised that they would make for a cracking shot if I got down low. I am glad I went back as they are quite magical looking when you get down low (I did have some passers-by step around me as I lay in the path).
I often take a bimble around my village photographing wild flowers and rarely do I pay much attention to the mass of wheat being grown in all the fields.
I was though stopped in my tracks by this dainty little picture. It was not until I got the picture up on the computer did I realise how beautiful it would look. These are two pieces of nature that you would not normally pay the slightest bit of attention to however when they come together they end up looking like a painting.
I have dabbled a bit in Black and White photography this year and felt that this shot of some Cotton Grass lent well to that style.
I was really struggling to find some interesting shots while up in the Lake District this year and so ended up lying face down in a bog to get this shot. Well worth it though in my opinion.
I really love to explore the art of Macro photography and have now got a couple of tripods and lens to help me with this.
While in France on a wet morning I was walking with my friends Simon and Rick and came across these Damson Berries. Problem was I did not bring my tripod along with me. I must of taken about 50 pictures of this berry and this was the only one that was properly in focus.
A real fluke but one I am glad I persevered with.
We had a busy time running a Basic Expedition Leadership course for Sea Cadet instructors this year. While waiting for them to appear out of the woods on a navigation exercise I decided to try out an experiment.
I positioned myself by a fallen log and focussed on some fungus on the log. As the guys passed by I took the shot and I think I can say the experiment worked pretty well.
I cannot remember where I took this picture but I do remember seeing this little guy perched on the upturned tip of a succulent leaf. I took the shot as I could make out through the lens that his legs were resting not on the leaf but on the hairs protruding from it.
I sat watching him for about 5 minutes and he did not move once – it was as if he was on some sort of guard duty.
For some reason this year spiders webs have been out in force. While in the Ashdown Forest my friend Charlie spotted this amazing web that was strung between two trees. The trees were about 20 feet apart and when photographed from an angle a rainbow appeared in it.
I did not see this at the time of taking the picture but had it pointed out to me by my wife Alison and my friend Eleanor. Kind of took me back a bit as I did not see it at all – maybe it is just a camera thing.
My daughter spotted this little Dragonfly resting up at our local Church when I was running a Bushcraft stand at the church open day.
She came running up to tell me but I was teaching bowdrill and had to tell her to wait. I thought he would have been gone by the time I walked over but thankfully he was still there. Looking closely I could see why – he was sitting comfortably on a little downy bed sunning himself.
This is another one of these pictures that you take and only realise something was happening afterwards. It was taken in Southern France on an unidentified flower. I had spotted the small spider but that was all.
Later when processing the picture in Lightroom I saw that he had caught and immobilised a small wasp. I wish I had spent more time watching what was going on but at least the spider got his lunch.
This has to be my favourite nature picture of the year. It was taken by the banks of Coniston Water in the Lake District while assessing a Gold DofE Expedition.
I was waiting for the teams to appear at a check point when I started stalking Damselflies – probably looked a bit of an idiot ;-). I used my extension rings to get a bit closer and this little chap was not fazed by me at all (unlike most of the others who soon flew off).
Thats it for my nature memories so I will finish up with this rather nice sunset taken off Kings Standing in the Ashdown Forest. I have really enjoyed capturing nature images over the year and will no doubt be out and about looking for more beautiful and unusual images next year.
My last post in this series will be on the Memorable Moments I have had in the last year in the world of Bushcraft.
Carrying on with the Memorable Moments theme I thought a post on my favourite family pictures of the year was due. Each of the 12 pictures I have chosen have some special memories for me.
Starting off with my beautiful daughter Catherine who has the most amazingly curly hair. I captured this picture early in the year of her backlit by the morning sun. The moment caught individual strands of hair framing her perfectly.
We had a lovely day trip to Winchester in the spring. While we were relaxing in one of these small cafe’s you find in the Medieval backstreets I caught Alison looking perfectly relaxed with a cheeky little Finlay snuggled up to her – quite a beautiful moment you could say.
One of my favourite pastimes is to head out for a Bimble around our village of Bramley. I spend a lot of time photographing what I find. Catherine spotted some Chicken of the Woods fungus one day and was really taken with its colour.
The resulting picture taken in such a dark coniferous woodland I found both striking and beautiful.
A moment of joy is how I would describe this picture. We were visiting our friends Tracey and Neil on an RAF base one day and after a lovely barbie Alison decided it was time for for some gymnastics with the kids.
This picture reminded me to always be on the lookout for the unexpected – excellent style by the way Alison.
While visiting our friend Fraser from Coastal Survival we spent an afternoon on Chesil beach in Dorset. Someone had decided to build themselves a mini Stonehenge on the beach. Myself and the kids were very taken with it and it made for some great pictures.
Once I got down low to the mini monument the whole look of it changed transforming it into a picture I wanted to keep.
When we go camping as a family we can mostly be found sleeping in hammocks. Alison insists though that before she gets up that a cup of coffee is produced. It is a bit of a tradition now this coffee business but one I am happy to maintain – needless to say Alison is in full agreement with me.
Last June I took part in the 30 Days of Wildness organised by the Wildlife Trust. I blogged about my nature adventures for 30 days. On one of these little adventures I was exploring the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre at Silchester with my daughter Catherine.
We stopped for a rest and Catherine spotted a beautiful thatched cottage through the trees. She sat there and told me later that she had found her ideal home. To me this picture is like a painting and I can sit and look at it for a long time without getting bored.
As memorable moments go there are plenty to be found at the BCUK Bushmoot. We go every year and it is a great location for families.
I caught my son Finlay mucking about with some stocks ( they belong to the Live Action Role Players who use the site as well) and as I took the picture the parachute set up beside it suddenly puffed up with the wind. Not your typical outdoorsy picture but one I felt lent to a bit of B & W manipulation.
I took a lot of pictures while on holiday in France this year of some really beautiful places however it is this simple picture that sticks with me.
We were walking through a small industrial estate to get to a river walk when I grabbed this picture of the kids walking along holding hands. A little moment in time so easily missed you could say.
My friend Paul Kelly runs his own canal boat hire company called Thames Boat Training and I have been out twice this year to photograph his boats for his web site. On the last trip we moored up waiting for a lock to open when I snapped this little moment in time. I like the picture for its feeling of depth and sheer peace.
Remembrance Sunday was a lovely day in Bramley. After the service I took some group shots of all the Scouts, Cubs and Beavers however my daughter Catherine wanted to take some pictures with her iPhone.
I think Catherine has an eye for photography and I am keen for her to explore this talent of hers. Catherine took this slightly dark picture of Alison and myself with one of these Instagram filters you can load onto your iPhone. Not often anyone gets what I think is a good picture of me and I think Catherine did well here – As for Alison, well – she always looks good 🙂
I started with Catherine so I will finish with Finlay. He has been keen on Karate now for a year now and I was very proud to watch him recently get his Orange belt. Finlay is only 7 and can be as mischievous as any other young lad however when he applies himself to something he can show some excellent self discipline – so well done son.
The next instalment in the Memorable Moments series will be on some of the nature photography I have taken this last year.
I tend to put what I think are interesting photographs I have taken up on my Instagram account and as I was looking through it tonight certain ones caught my eye and brought back some good memories.
Memorable Moments will be a short series of themed posts of pictures that I enjoy looking at time and again.
Starting with last winter I was strolling along a path in North Wales and was struck by the simple beauty of this footpath marker – reminded me of a sugared bun.
While walking with a group of Sea Cadet friends below the summit of Snowdon a shepherd appeared out of the mist and stood by us. He did not look at us or speak to us. He just stopped, surveyed the land around him, spotted his sheep and was then off – quite a surreal moment where I instantly was reminded that one persons playground is another persons workplace.
Late January brought the Snowdrops out and as I was practising my macro photography I was soon out and about looking at these beautiful flowers.
I somehow managed to catch this one in the right light and our local magazine thought it good enough to make the cover page in last February’s issue.
I love taking my kids out into the woods to explore and we have some great adventures. My son Finlay though was stopped in his tracks by a simple feather that was caught up on a branch.
I came along to see what he had found and snapped this little pic of him admiring some simple beauty in nature.
My final picture in this winter theme is staged I am afraid. I was walking along in the woods looking for an interesting shot when I spotted this rather skeletal leaf on the ground.
I was so taken with it that I picked it up for a closer look and inadvertantly looked at it with the sun in the background – so in no time it was hanging off a branch for what I think is a pretty good pic.
Thats it for the Winter Memorable Moments however there will be a few more soon.
The Moot will have something for you – be that firesteels, bowdrills, handrills, pumpdrills, bamboo fire saws or the secret art of lighting fire from damp tinder
Many many years ago I stumbled upon a website called Bushcraft UK and realised that there were many folk out there just like me, struggling to get to grips with all the different ways of making fire.
The results on the site only took me so far so I was even happier when I spotted a thread on the Bushmoot. This was the second Bushmoot way back in 2005.
Since then I have discovered many different ways of making fire when out and about. This post is about just some of the ways we make fire at the BCUK Bushmoot.
One of the most common methods a bushcrafter will use to light a fire is a Firesteel, so there are plenty of people willing to share with you how they use theirs and explain what tinders they use.
We have included the use of Firesteels into our ‘Starter Course‘ at the Moot. They are easy to use and the kids love them. When teaching very young kids (pre school) I liken them to creating Fairy lights and this seems to catch the children’s imagination.
The first person to teach me to use a Firesteel properly at the Moot was Kevin Warrington (Laplander’s Natural Lore Blog) and after I attended his bowdrill class he asked me to come back and assist him with fire-making the next year. We have been good friends ever since and I have to thank Kevin for getting me started on the road to instructing others in the world of bushcraft.
The Starter Course
The Starter course at the Moot is not just about lighting a fire, it is also about making anyone preparing and maintaining a fire, and just as importantly it is about putting a fire out safely.
It is great to see a whole family come together to learn how to work as a team to get all the resources they need for their fire and to coax that initial burst of heat into a well-established fire.
From time to time some of the instructors will bring along some of their pump drills or other similar training aids. The pump drills prove a great hit with all the kids and once they get the hang of the system they soon have them spinning madly away as they attempt to produce some smoke.
A favourite of mine over the years has to be the bowdrill. I have lost count of the number of people I have helped master this skill at the Moot. One of the reasons I love teaching this skill is that there are so many factors to take into account when bowing you can easily lose a whole day when teaching it.
Recently a number of other instructors like Mark Oriel have stepped forward to teach this skill enabling me to focus on other areas to develop myself.
While teaching bowdrill I use two methods. One is with a single wrap of cord around the drill piece and the other is with multiple wraps (the Egyptian method).
The single wrap is easy to set up however it puts a lot of strain on the cord and if the drill and the bearing block become separated the drill piece tends to ping off to the side.
The Egyptian method relies on multiple wraps, it takes longer to set up and can be more difficult to control. It does though have the advantage of not putting so much strain on the cord and the drill does not ping off to the side when it becomes detached from the bearing block.
Here is the bowdrill in action using the single wrap method.
As we get a lot of children at the Moot and from time to time someone carrying an injury you need to devise other strategies for bowdrilling. Historically I believe bowdrilling was a communal affair as it requires a lot less effort from individuals to get fire when they work together.
I set up Group Bowdrill sessions for families where a couple of people can hold a large bearing block in place and a couple of others can push the bow back and forth to generate the heat required (approx 425 degrees Celsius) to produce an ember. This method usually results in a massive ember, which increases the chance of getting a flame.
Another method is to use the large bearing block with the bowyer holding one end as a bearing block with the other end dug into the ground. In the bottom two pictures you can see that Dave is also using a ’round’ of wood to raise the hearthboard making the act of bowing easier.
I made a short video of a bow in action with the Egyptian method at the Moot a couple of years ago. This was to show how easy it was to create an ember using this method with two people on the bow.
A Master fire maker who has been coming to the moot for years now is Richard (Rich59 on BCUK) and what he doesn’t know about firemaking is not worth bothering about. He is an expert with the handrill and regularly brings along a range of woods such as Elder, Teasel, Buddlia, Mullein and Reedmace for students to try out.
Richard is a keen experimenter and will try out different techniques like attaching cord to the drill to see if that technique makes life easier for people.
This is my short video on using a handrill.
This year Richard experimented with Bamboo Fire Saws. He managed to get some spare bamboo from Wayne Jones of Forest Knights (Wayne was making Bhutenese bows) and we soon had a pile prepped up around our camp.
I did not get to see Richards class as I was running one myself but the reports were all positive with successful fires being made, Maybe next year I will make time to see his class.
Once you have your ember created (however you do that) it is time to coax that very fragile bundle of hot dust into a fully formed ember and – with the use of whatever tinder you have at hand – to get that much sought-after flame.
It is at this stage that you can see students’ faces transform from concentration into sheer joy – one of the reasons why I love this subject.
Normally you try and find the driest tinder possible to turn your ember into a flame, however Richard turned that idea upside down a few years ago. We had a chat one evening around the fire and he explained his idea to me: dimply that it was possible to walk off into the woods and pick up damp dead leaves and process them in a certain way to make tinder to start a fire.
After collecting a pile of damp leaves (take the driest ones from the top of the leaf debris) start to break them up by rubbing them vigorously. Collect the flaked pieces and grade them from minute up to piles of the skeletal remains of the leaves.
From this make a small pile wjth the finest flakes in the centre of your pile.
Make a small hole in the side of your pile to the centre and pop an ember (create that in whatever way you wish) and start to blow gently into the ember.
The trick is to do this slowly so that you create an ever-expanding dry area. If necessary you can place some green leaves or bark over the top to trap all the broken debris and stop it all blowing away. After about 10 to 20 minutes you usually get flame. Just shows you should always persevere with your fire.
Whether you are a novice to fire making or an expert looking for a new challenge the Moot will have something for you – be that firesteels, bowdrills, handrills, pumpdrills, bamboo fire saws or the secret art of lighting fire from damp tinder.
In this digital/technology dominated world we live in today I always try and make time to keep an eye on what Mother Nature is up to around me – obviously with a camera about my person 🙂
One place where I can really immerse myself back into nature is every year at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot for a couple of weeks. This post will concentrate on some of the different ways we at the Moot interact with nature.
The Moot is located in a wood on the edge of the National Nature Reserve at Merthyr Mawr Warren in South Wales. Merthyr Mawr Warren is I am told the site of the second largest sand dunes in Europe.
The wood we use is on the edge of these dunes and was heavily planted with a variety of plants/trees after the Second World War by the local estate owners to help stabilise the dunes.
I like to take a walk around the site as often as possible while I am at the Moot to see what I can spot. One of my favourite spots was this little old water wheel at the edge of the site. It is a most beautiful and quiet spot to sit and observe nature.
I have a little Robin (Ok I am sure there are different ones every few years) who comes to visit me at my camp. This little fella is not shy and is always on the lookout for scraps.
My kids make this site their playground and interact with nature all the time, from climbing strange looking tree roots to making their own art by throwing Himalayan Balsam up into trees so that they hang down (quite a weird site passing these trees). As we are continually clearing back the Balsam I do not mind them doing this.
As bushcrafters we try and minimise the impact we have on the site. For firewood we have an agreement with the local estate to buy in timber from them so as to not strip out the local wood for firewood.
Occasionally with the agreement of the estate we will take out a tree or two that has become a danger to those camping in the woods.
We have been coming to the site for over ten years and this policy of minimal impact has meant that the site remains a place of real natural diversity.
A key attraction that the Moot has is of a place of learning. We have many highly experienced instructors that come along each year to teach. This can range from creating natural art, foraging for edible plants, understanding how everything interacts and using natures raw materials to make useful items.
Part of all this learning is to know when to forage and when not to forage. In a class with Fraser from Coastal Survival this year we foraged on the coastline. We looked at many of the crabs that could be found in the rock pools and returned the many smaller ones or ones carrying eggs to where we found them. There were plenty of big crabs and shrimps though to harvest for the pot.
We also forage for lots of plants that make great teas.
If you like wild flowers then the Moot is a place to go to see them. Take a wander along the edge of the wood by the dunes and you will spot some real beauties like the Vipers Bugloss, Evening Primrose and the Common Centaury.
Bushcrafters like to forage plants that they find useful and there are plenty of plants to be found here like the Rosebay Willowherb, Thistles and Burdock.
They are beautiful in their own right when in flower but it is for their uses that I look for them.
Thistles come in many varieties and I like to collect the downy seed heads for use as an ember extender. A good source of information on this plant can be found on the Eat The Weeds site – Thistle: It’s That Spine of Year
The final picture you can see at the bottom right is the bushcrafters old favourite – Burdock. As well as having an edible root at the end of its first year I collect the second year stalks to make hangers for my kit. I wrote a post on this last year – How To…. Make a Simple Burdock Hanger
I like to do a bit of Macro photography from time to time and there is plenty of scope to do this at the Moot with plants and insects. Below are just some of the shots I have taken there recently showing the cycle of life.
Below you can see the lovely stripes of the Cinnabar caterpillar, the delicate features of what I think is a Meadow Brown Butterfly sunning itself, the busy life of the feeding Six Spotted Burnett to the beauty of a discarded snail shell.
Children and adults can be put off by insects however with a little bit of play and observation you can soon learn to live alongside insects.
My daughter had a real dislike of wasps before coming to the Moot but now is quite intrigued by them. The caterpillar you can see in the bottom picture dropped onto my friends arm one day. He was quite beautiful to look at but thankfully not poisonous in any way.
I love to photograph insects and they come in many forms at Merthyr Mawr.
A skill I learnt a couple of years ago from Perry McGee of the National Tracking School was the art of Dowsing. Perry taught me this in minutes and I was able to located water sources and even follow a buried hose. I do not know how this really works but it is a force of nature that intrigues me.
Whatever interests you about watching or interacting with nature the Moot is a place to do that.
I love to photograph what I see and I have found a great place to do that at the Moot.
One thing that the BCUK Bushmoot is renowned for is its kid friendly environment. The Moot provides a massive playground for both structured (by lessons) and unstructured learning (through play).
As I grew up as a kid on the Isle of Lewis I would head on out in the morning to find adventure and return home when my stomach demanded attention. As I live in a village now that has busy roads running through it the Moot is one of the few places I know of that I am happy for my kids to go out and make their own adventures as I once did.
We stress that parents are responsible for their children however we encourage a sense of adventure. I let my kids run off and play within the main area of the Moot site and under adult supervision on the massive expanse of the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr.
There are plenty of woods, dunes, trees and buildings to explore in the area around the Moot to satisfy the sense of adventure in any kid.
There are workshops specifically for the kids and other workshops where they learn alongside adults. Kids are encouraged to attend the Starter Course we run for anyone new to bushcraft or looking to work on their basic skills.
These basic skills include learning about knots, fire lighting, carving and safely using a saw (to name just a few). Wherever possible I like to get the kids learning these skills alongside their parents so that they can work together later as a family. Kids under 16 are allowed to use knives and saws however they must be under the supervision of an adult when they are using them or carrying them.
Even in this digital age of the xBox and the Playstation kids are always attracted to sticks, be that the Atlatl, bows or staffs. I like to think that the classes we teach kids bring some of that make believe digital world to life without any of the violence or gore. We always teach the kids to treat these tools with respect and only to use them when permitted.
My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival has been coming to the Moot for a number of years now. Fraser is always keen to teach kids in his classes. Some of his courses include campfire baking, net making, coastal foraging and survival training.
One thing I love about the Moot is that it is situated on sand dunes that have over the years become a woodland. This makes for an amazing place to launch yourself of heights or climb trees. Natures own playground you could say.
There are lots of activities aimed primarily at the kids from treasure hunts with our resident Pirates under the leadership of Cap’n Badger, to craft courses and games.
One of the games I run from time to time is a stalking game. Below you can see the kids trying to leopard crawl up to get some sticks without being soaked. This is a great game to teach kids all about their senses and in particular about staying quiet in order to see more wildlife around them.
For many a year now we have had story telling sessions around the fire of an evening for the kids (and adults too). Womble is a great story teller and keeps the kids captivated with his interactive stories.
The Moot organiser is Tony Bristow and depending on the dates of the Moot his birthday sometimes falls during it. It usually is a time to bake a cake and dish it out. Needless to say Tony gets a little piece however there are many hungry little ones looking for their share 🙂
The Moot is for kids of all ages be that young at heart (yes I mean you Spikey) or taking their first steps out in the adventure of life. My kids love coming along to see their ‘Moot friends’ and I hope they will continue to do so for years to come.
Looking at the BCUK forum I see that there is talk already about organising activities for the kids for next year.
A big part of any Moot is food and at the BCUK Bushmoot it comes in all forms.
Looking back over the pictures I have taken I was quite staggered at the range of food you can find at the Moot. I cannot profess to being any sort of cook (I prefer to build cooking constructions) however I appreciate good food when I see and smell it.
Many years ago at the Moot I would help out with teaching how to butcher rabbits and pigeons so that they were ready for the pot. Many of the instructors at the Moot will do these classes and each year you are bound to find a class going on somewhere preparing some meat stuffs for the pot.
I leave the butchering of Deer and such like to some of the members more competent in this field though I could quite happily run a class if I had to.
Up until a few years ago at every Moot we had a Hangi – an underground oven. A large pit would be dug in the sand and it would be lined with non porous stones (to avoid stones exploding). A large fire would be lit above it and kept going for a few hours.
Once the fire died down pre-prepared food parcels would be placed on the hot stones and covered in sand and hessian to slowly cook.
This is a great group cooking method and we had many a fine meal out of the Hangi
The Hangi has not been run for a few years as it has been superceded by Ponnassing. We try to buy in some salmon or other similar large fish and cook them as you see below over an open fire.
In the picture below at the top right you can see some Dutch Ovens that Neil was using to cook some food. Neil creates such an intense fire that the pots with regular turning can be used as cooking vessels without being on the actual embers at all.
The Ponnassing did not happen this year because of difficulties in getting fish however I hope it will be back on the menu next year. All the fish when it is cooked is added to the group meal.
About five years ago we introduced to the group meal some Dutch Oven food. Many of the members of the Moot cook a meal in a Dutch Oven (or similar type of pot) and bring it along to the group meal. Each dish is clearly marked with its ingredients so we do not get any allergy issues.
The queue for this meal is massive with everyone looking to get a taste of something new. I am always amazed at what people can produce over an open fire – a real banquet is produced each year.
Baking is something I love to do around the campfire. At the Moot it happens all over the place.
The baking classes can be over subscribed so we usually have a number of instructors running classes. Everything is covered from simple twizzle stick bread, dampers, loaves, rolls and even cakes (cheers Ian Woodham for the cakes).
I love the look on someone’s face when they open up a pot and look upon their first loaf baked over an open fire – about as magical as when you create your first flame from a bowdrill. My friend David Willis (Bushcraft with David Willis) ran the class you can see in the picture below and it was enjoyed immensely by everyone.
As I said I do not do much cooking at the Moot and that is because I am rather spoiled by certain friends. For example my friend Fraser Christian (Coastal Survival) is a top rate chef and loves to cook.
Fraser likes to forage on land and sea for his food and then to cook rather amazing meals. I have no wish to upset that routine so I am happy to help out in the gathering and cooking process with the ultimate aim of getting a fantastic meal.
For many years at the Moot I would come along on my own and so would keep my own cooking fairly simple (whenever I could not cadge a meal off someone else). Over the last couple of years my family have started to come along so I have to start to think about cooking a bit more.
I am not bad at a good breakfast however thankfully my wife Alison is an excellent cook so I am not stretched too far 🙂
Looking at my pictures I came across these ones from my friend Mark Oriel who is a butcher by trade. One year he managed to spit roast a whole pig which went down a treat with everyone.
He also ran an excellent class building a smocker in the woods so as to preserve different meats.
One thing I have learned coming to the Moot is that Bushcrafters do not generally tend to go hungry – quite the opposite could be said in truth.
To make all this happen you need people with different skills. We come together and share these skills to make some truly memorable meals in what many others may say is an inhospitable environment – we just call it home.
There are many other classes going on in terms of cooking and foraging so the best way to see what is on offer is to come along to the Moot. Next year it will be at the beginning of August on the coast at Merthyr Mawr in South Wales.
My trip to Ashdown Forest at the beginning of October with the Sea Cadets for Chosin Cup proved to be a stunning time for Mother Nature.
Not only were the trees looking at their best in terms of colour and the landscape shots proved pretty spectacular too, it was the spiders that caught my attention.
For the first time ever I managed to capture a rainbow in a web. My friend Eleanor spotted this phenomenon in the picture you can see below on the right. I had never heard of this before so it came as a real surprise to see all the colours in the picture.
I was having a mooch around the forest in the military training area when my friend Charlie pointed out this beauty of a web. It was suspended at least 10 foot on either side from the trees. Quite a feat of engineering in my opinion.
We were lucky to pass by it just when the sun was at the right angle to frame it.
On the Saturday morning Charlie and myself were wandering the forest looking for the teams that were out navigating when we came across this blanket of webs.
All the gorse bushes were covered in a mat of webs. Many off them were from the spider mite (Tetranychus lintearius). This little fella is numerous in numbers and seemingly helps in the control of the spread of gorse.
In amongst all the spider mite webs the real spiders also were busy producing beautiful but deadly little traps.
My final shot of the weekend was this one of the bottom half of a web. I was struck by how regular everything was however it was the similarities that the strands seemed to have with a pearl necklace that really caught my attention.
I went out to find the cadets on their travels never thinking for one second that I would find all these little treasures.
My annual holiday to the BCUK Bushmoot would not be complete without a bit of bow making and some time down on the range.
About ten years ago I was introduced to bowmaking by my friend Bardster (Paul Bradley). Bardster used to run workshops at the Moot which were always well attended. I then studied under John Rhyder of Woodcraft School and made a number of different bows from Ash Flatbows, Holmegaards and the Father & Son bow.
The Father & Son Bow
I introduced to the Moot a number of years ago the Father and Son bow (I had learnt this of my friend Mark Emery of Kepis Bushcraft) This is a ‘quickie’ bow to make and comprises two rods (usually hazel) strapped together. The bows take only an hour or two to make if you know what you are doing although they may take up to a day to make if you are new to it all.
I have run quite a few classes over the years at the Moot on the Father & Son bow. As you can see in the pictures below they were large classes.
Nowadays Chris Pryke runs this class and it is well attended each year. The bows if made properly can last you years. I still have and use my first one which is over 6 years old now.
I have had hours and hours of fun making and using these bows over the years. They are cheap to make, very accurate with practice (normally I shoot them between 10 and 20 metres) and will shoot on a high arc about 60 to 70 metres.
The Bhutanese Bow
One of our long-term members is Wayne Jones of Forest Knights bushcraft school. Wayne is an expert bowyer and taught me a few years ago to make a Bhutanese bow. This type of bow is made of a large piece of bamboo and relatively quick to make (about half a day I think it took me)
The bow is constructed of two separate pieces of bamboo joined in the centre. The join can be with, tape, cord or with pins.
Most folk who start one of these bows can be found down on the range in the evening.
We started the range at the Moot about six years ago. it is well away from all the camping areas surrounded by wooded sand dunes. There are two Bhutanese bows in the top picture below in action and I am holding one in the bottom picture below.
Wayne sometimes runs workshops similar to the ones Bardster did in the past making more traditional style flatbows. I hope to one day make time to study under Wayne as it has been a few years since I have made an Ash Flatbow.
The Mini Bow
The final type of bow that is produced at the Moot is the Mini bow. Wayne uses the large pieces of bamboo he brings along for the Bhutanese bows to also make these very small Mini bows. The kids absolutely (and a few adults) love them.
They do not take long to make and are small enough to be made as one piece.
On the range you will see a wide variety of bows in action from the traditional (top two have my Ash Flatbow and my Holmegaard in use.
Below them are some of the modern bows people bring along to the Moot. Some are very powerful and come with all manner of attachments. When it comes to the competition we hold we do not mind what type of bow you use as long as it does not have extras such as stabilisers, sights or gears attached.
I am always intrigued with the different bows that appear and was particularly interested in the Mongol style bow Lisa had brought along as I had never seen one before (bottom right).
Each evening during the Moot (and sometimes during the day) a few of us troop down to the range for a shoot. Running the range is usually Cap’n Badger, Paul Pomfrey, Ian Woodham and myself.
We try and balance the time between teaching novices and letting the ‘Old and Bold’ have time to keep their eye in. After a full days teaching bushcraft having to do this can initially feel like a chore to me however once I have shot in a few arrows it can be quite relaxing, especially after a very busy day.
Competition day happens usually in the second week of the Moot and it gets very competitive. We normally run two competitions, one for the kids and one for the adults. They have to shoot at different ranges and are closely marked by the referees as there are usually some very good prizes up for grabs.
Afterwards when all the scores have been tallied up the thing I really like about this time down on the range is how good natured everyone is.
The winners get first dibs at the prizes (everyone brings a prize for the pot with a few extras donated) however everybody walks away with a prize at the end.
I have been to many different types of bushcraft shows, courses and meetings over the years but it is only at the BCUK Bushmoot that I see such a wide range of archery on display.
For ten years now I have been going to the BCUK Bushmoot and I have had great fun learning new crafts, making some amazing constructions and occasionally dabbling in a bit of art.
This post cannot do justice to the wide variety of crafts, constructions and artistic endeavours that are undertaken however I have trawled through my picture library to try my best.
One of the most talented carvers who attends the moot regularly is Dean Allen. Dean makes beautiful spoons (particularly Welsh Spoons) and some fine primitive crafts as well.
Hands are always busy doing something at the Moot – twisting grass rope, weaving beautiful tablet bands, embroidering flags and constructing clay pots – to name just a few activities.
I have attended the classes with Perry McGee on grass rope making and tablet weaving with Susannah Parsons. Both classes were hugely enjoyable as these instructors are experts in their craft.
I have dabbled in animal hide work from scraping to tanning, and I know it is hard work (see my earlier blog How To….Make Buckskin from a Deer Hide). Theresa Kamper however makes it look so easy. She studied everything to do with working with animal hides for her PhD and is fantastically knowledgeable on the subject of everything we regard as ‘Primitive Skills’, and is happy to share that knowledge at the Moot.
Basket- and lobster-pot making is very popular at the Moot. Our regular instructor on this is Julie Wagstaff from the Welsh Willow Works.
I have never had the time to do one of Jules’s classes however everyone I have spoken with has really learned a lot from her. Jules has a really patient nature and a very creative pair of hands.
One day of the Moot is set aside as Traders Day. The Moot is not a particularly commercial event for traders however we do have a small shop open most days with a bring and buy stand.
On Traders Day many of the members set up a stand to sell their ‘wares’. Some of this is second hand, others have brand new bought-in goods, and a few sell their own creations. Some of these items like the baskets and the leather work you can see below are highly crafted and intricate.
A post on craft cannot be complete without mentioning Mr Dave Budd. Dave is a master craftsman when it comes to metalwork, Using only the most rudimentary (but highly suited to the job) equipment he runs his own forge for us every year.
Dave makes excellent knives and other woodland working tools. My daughter Catherine enjoys being the ‘Pump Monkey’ – keeping the pump going to heat the forge. Dave also donated this year a beautiful knife and a bodkin arrow point as prizes for the archery competition.
Another metalworker who is starting to experiment with this material is my Bushmoot neighbour Ian Woodham. A few years ago Ian showed a class I was running how he built a gas wood-burning stove out of a paint can. I was so impressed with it that I made one myself and wrote a tutorial on it – How To….Build a Wood Gas Stove.
This year Ian brought along a new stove he had built out of two gas bottles. The stove had a burner on one side and an oven on the other and I can confirm it did make excellent pizzas and cakes. Since then he has built another one which I am hopefully going to be trying out soon (as soon as I can figure out how to transport it from Yorkshire to Hampshire).
We have had a number of leatherwork instructors over the years however Eric Methven has been teaching this art at the Moot the longest. Eric can turn his hand to most things when it comes to working with leather from water bottles, tankards and sheaths to the likes of beautiful arm guards for archery (we got one of these guards as a prize for the archery competition one year).
Our good friend Drew passed away a few years ago and he was a keen student of Eric’s. I still remember clearly Drew coming up to my camp to show me the new sheath he had just made for his Leatherman multitool.
No Moot would be complete without some spoon carving. Our expert carver is Dean however quite a few of us lend a hand with this class. It is great to see all the kids learning to carve their first spoon (and adults too – that is my wife Alison with her first spoon below).
My first spoon at the Moot (way back in 2005) was quickly constructed from birch bark. It did not take long to make but it did impress me.
I ran a competition one year where everyone was tasked with constructing something for a bushcraft camp. There were many entries and you can see three below.
I loved the little stool and the washing rack, which had a lot of love and care put into its construction. My entry was this freestanding hammock stand (no land anchors were needed) .
A couple of other construction projects have been around the theme of cooking. Tim Neobard built this fantastic pizza oven out of clay and straw last year. It baked some excellent pizzas (sadly some idiots smashed it up after the Moot finished).
Happily the oven was re-built by Neil this year using bricks as a skeleton so hopefully it will last for a few years.
My project this year has been on building campfire cranes and I tested out my Lap Joint crane at the Moot. It is a very simple device made out of one pole and I am happy to say it passed with flying colours. Since then I have been busy building other cranes with as many variations as I can think of.
One thing you can be guaranteed about at the Moot is being astonished by the numerous things you can do with string, be that Dream Catchers, crochet or making whoopie slings.
We also had David Colter making Balearic slings out of string at the Moot and running a competition with them. Most bushcrafters are quite happy at the Moot to show you what they think are the best knots to use in any given situation.
A very quiet craftsman is our very own Cap’n Badger. He uses a fine saw to carve bone and antler into beautiful pendants. You can see a couple of his designs in the picture below.
The pendant on the bottom right is the one he carved for me a few years ago. The design was very intricate (a Royal Marine dagger and parachute wings). Badger also made some more pendants this year and donated them to the archery competition where they were quickly snapped up by the competitors.
Now it is not all hard graft when it comes to the Moot. Last year my friend Richard brought along a number of his bottles of white elderberry wine. I managed to get a private tasting session and I was very impressed with the quality of the wine that he had produced.
Richard has managed to cultivate his own ‘orchard’ of elder trees that produce white elderberries. This has taken him years to do and it has paid off for him with some excellent wine.
I think though that the most beautiful sight you will come across at the Moot must be the fantastic mosaics of plants made by Keith Beaney (Keith refers to them as Land Art and you can see why clearly). Keith will spend hours producing these wonderful spectacles for us to marvel at. Many of the children head off to collect materials, inspired by his creations, and leave their own mosaics dotted around the woods.
I could have added lots more on this subject but I have to end somewhere.
I am looking forward to next year when I can practice some of these arts and crafts again and learn new ones.
I have been going to the Gathering so long now that I feel part of the furniture (I did miss the very first one) but I would not miss it for the world.
Work kept me busy this year so I did not get down to West Knoyle until the Friday so the guys had set everything up before I arrived. I also met Danny’s wife Lorna for the first time this year.
The Friday for me was a relaxed affair setting up my tent and catching up with old friends. That evening found us all relaxing to the music and light show from the band area.
Throughout the whole weekend we would spend time weaving a willow trap for catching crabs and lobsters. This was harder than it looked and I must admit that Danny did the majority of the weaving.
Last year Fraser had a cold smoker set up on his stand and this year he decided on setting up a hot smoker made out of a cardboard box.
It is called a hot smoker as the small smudge fire that generates the smoke is inside the box as opposed to the cold smoker that has the smudge fire located outside of the box.
Due to an algal bloom along the Sputh West coast of the UK we could not get fish for smoking however Fraser did get some delicious cockles from Scotland that he smoked. After smoking the cockles Fraser explained how he further preserved them using either oils or vinegar.
The class he ran from the stand was well attended and I did not manage to get a taste of the cockles before they were all eaten by an appreciative audience.
Being the Coastal Survival stand we spent time demonstrating net making and Fraser managed to get himself filmed by what looked like a very professional looking film maker. I do not know who he was but he did look the part and Fraser being a bit of an extrovert loved it.
The whole weekend was very busy however I did manage to get out and see the rest of the Gathering a few times.
Across from us I found Jason demonstrating his bow drill skills and getting the kids to join in with him. It was also great to catch up with Pablo, JP, Hannah and Richard from the Woodlife Trails team across the way from our stand.
I had a great chat with Jon Mac (of Spooncarvingfirsteps fame) and was really chuffed to be allowed to handle many of the new knives he and Chris Grant are jointly working on. Jon has since gotten married since I spoke with him to Sarah so I want to extend my congratulations to them both now.
While I was on the stand my friend David Willis asked if I could take some pictures of his baking class. David had a busy time demonstrating and teaching folk to bake bread over an open fire. The good thing about being his photographer was that I got to test all the bread.
Saturday night was another night of great music and catching up with friends and the light show was again very impressive.
I spent quite a bit of time taking many pictures of the flames of our fire and was rewarded with these cracking Fire Faces. I can see one howler in the left hand picture and at least three faces in the right hand picture.
How many can you see?
Later that evening I spent some time with Martin Burkinshaw learning the art of low light level photography. Martin gave me some great tips and let me try out his tripod to capture the picture of the Milky Way you can see below.
Sunday found me catching up with our friends Rich and Dave. Rich had recently broken his wrist however that did not stop him getting out and about, though he did take a bit of flak for his nice new black armband.
I spotted some movement on the lake on the Sunday afternoon and managed to get these great snaps of this father and son combo out for a cruise on their newly crafted coracle.
I did not get out to see as much of the Gathering as I did last year when I managed to film much of it however I had a great time teaching lots of kids how to make fishing spears and chatting with our neighbours Sonni and Angela.
This year has also been a good year for Fraser’s book Eat the Beach as we managed to sell quite a few copies for him over the weekend.
To finish up we got given a lovely Lemon Drizzle cake for free by the kitchen staff at the Gathering and somehow it ended up as a birthday cake for our own Stephen Herries. I have no idea how old he is but he was happy anyway :-).
Another year over for the Wilderness Gathering however I hope it is nowhere near my last one.
The BCUK Bushmoot is about sharing knowledge however one thing it does bring out in me is my competitive spirit. That may be through making a tug of war rope out of grass through to the serious competitiveness of the archery range.
This sharing of knowledge may come about in many ways such as workshops, one to one sessions, presentations and competitions. This post is focussed on the many competitive activities we undertake over the two weeks of the Bushmoot.
The first picture I shared was of the grass tug of war we undertook under the watchful eye of Perry McGee from the National Tracking School. Perry showed us how to quickly gather grass, twist it, create rope and most importantly how to have fun with what we created.
One of the activities that attracted participants from all age ranges was the catapult. The catapult is a tool for all ages I think – sometimes we were aiming for accuracy and sometimes aiming just for the fun of it 🙂
My friend David Colter has introduced the sling and in particular the Balearic style of sling. The throwers all made their own slings from string and leather and it attracted participants of all age groups.
David has run classes on this for a number of years and he had a great time running a competition on the sand dunes this year. The sling throws the projectile at very high speed so I think they used tennis balls for safety’s sake.
Next year David is making this official by running the Balearic slinging world championship event at the Bushmoot.
One of my favourite events is the Atlatl. This again is a very ancient art and was (and still is in certain parts of the world) used as a hunting tool.
I have lots of different types of Atlatl throwers and darts however I use unsharpened bamboo canes for training. I use Atlatl throwers with rest attachments for the kids to use (they can be difficult to hold) and spend many an hour with my friend Charlie Brookes on the range teaching them to throw.
This is a particularly popular activity for kids of all ages (most adults at the Bushmoot come under this category as well) as the appeal of throwing Atlatl darts down range can be quite addictive.
We run an axe and spade throwing range as well ( more difficult than it looks) and it provokes stiff competition. I have not done this to any great degree (though I hope to throw more next year) but it does make for great viewing and photography.
I noticed the guys were throwing next to Cap’n Badger’s white tarp and positioned myself to try and capture the axes and spades in flight. Needles to say I had my lens well zoomed in and the shutter speed really fast.
I think Cap’n Badger was trying to tell me here what he thought of Phil’s throwing technique 😉
Each year we (that is usually Cap’n Badger, Paul Pomfrey and myself) run the archery range for an hour or two in the evening. This allows anyone who wants time to get in a bit of practice.
We run lots of classes for the kids offering tuition or time for parents to teach their own kids. For many who come to the Bushmoot this is the first time they have ever shot a bow.
Many of the bows are made on site including the Bhutenese bows (with Wayne Jones) and the Father and Son bows by Chris Pryke (I used to make these at the Bushmoot as well).
The archery range is situated well away from the main camping area in the centre of a beautiful copse. The range is managed well by a core team and there is plenty of time to practise before the competition.
We have a competition for the kids and one for the adults. Everyone who enters brings a present along and we also have prizes donated by others so the so the spirit of competitiveness can be quite fierce.
Usually we have three rounds of shots at different distances and the judges make sure everything is tallied up correctly.
The award ceremony is always great fun (especially as the scores are read out) and everyone walks away with at least one prize.
As the years have gone by and the competition has become a normal part of the Bushmoot many people look forward to this event so that they can walk away as champion.
The Bushmoot is a great place to learn however it is also a great place to come and test yourself against others, be that making grass rope the quickest through to being crowned archery champ for 2016 – who knows it could be you 🙂
A package arrived in the post for me yesterday from my sister Tina in the Isle of Lewis: our annual treat of Guga.
Guga is salted young gannet – my family are amongst those allowed to undertake the annual Guga Hunt to a rocky island called Sula Sgeir off the coast of the Isle of Lewis every August. The hunt is covered by the Protection of Birds Act 1954 – the men are allowed to catch up to 2000 birds a year. A great description of the whole hunt can be found here – The Guga Hunters of Ness.
Guga has a very strong taste and smell (which I love, however my wife Alison is not so keen) so I tend to cook it outdoors. This year I decided to get the kids doing a bit of bowdrill to light the fire and we soon had a good ember going.
Next the ember was popped into a bundle and then we took it in turns to blow into it to spread the ember so that it would catch.
In no time we had a bit of flamage and I think in the top right picture below we got an appearance from Daffy Duck – can you see him?
The Guga gets boiled for an hour with one change of water in that time (due to the salt, oils and fat). After half an hour I put the spuds on as well.
For this meal I used two different cranes. The Guga was hung on my Mortice and Tenon crane (I have not blogged on how to make this crane yet) and the spuds went onto the Lap Joint crane. Both are ideal for this type of cooking as I could easily adjust the heights of the pots to control the rate of boiling.
After an hour all that was left to do was to eat the Guga and spuds. The kids had their friends round and they liked the Guga meat but would not ‘sook’ on the claw. Catherine and Finlay were introduced to the Guga as babies by sucking on the claw (this tradition dates way back in time) so they love the taste of it.
There was a little left over for me and Alison even had a bit this year saying that it was not too bad: ‘Tastes a bit like anchovies.’
Thanks to my sister Tina and my brother Finlay for sending me my annual Guga and to Uncle Dods and the rest of the crew for making the trek once again to catch them.
The Bushmoot(referred to generally as the Moot) is an annual event here in the UK and for many years now has taken place at Merthyr Mawr in South Wales. The name Bushmoot comes from the word Bushcraft (as popularised by Richard Graves and Mors Kochanski) and the Saxon word Moot (used to describe a gathering of people).
I like the Moot as it is a gathering of like-minded people with a multitude of skills to share with each other. Not only can kids run free and have fun but so can the adults and I am a firm believer in learning through fun .
I am writing 10 blog posts on the Moot this year and this first one is on the theme of Learning. I tried to write just one post however I really struggled to choose just a few pictures out of the many hundreds I took. My wife Alison suggested a number of short blog posts on different themes from the Moot and so here we are.
A couple of well-attended courses nowadays are the Startercourse (a full breakdown of the course can be seen here on the BCUK site) and the Spoon carving course run by Dean Allen. Alison and our kids did the spoon carving course this year with Dean and carved their very first spoons.
I managed to fit in a few courses this year and did a cracking traps course with Perry McGee.
The Moot is usually run over 2 weeks with a core 5 days in the middle where many short courses (2 hrs to 1 day) such as fire making, bow making, spoon carving, tarpology, knife safety, axe work, net making, cordage making, bread making, foraging, atlatl making and knotwork, to name just a few, are run.
There are other longer courses run either side of the core days (with an additional fee) such as an accredited First Aid course, Bhutenese bow making, coastal survival, tracking and lobster pot making with willow.
Many of the courses are based on using different materials, from basket making, pottery, sling making to learning about different knots.
I enjoyed running the ‘show and tell’ workshop on campfire cooking constructions and observing the father and son bows being made.
One of the things I love about the Moot is the sharing of knowledge such as how a stove was constructed or that Ikea make good quality drying racks that double up as brilliant cooking grills.
A favourite of mine is the art of fire making. At the Moot you can learn about making fire with firesteels (old and modern), bowdrill, handrill, with damp tinder, pump drills and in many other ways.
Shelter building is a big subject and is covered well, from simple tarps and debris shelters to large group tarps, permanent constructions and the magical art of tarpology.
There are many other courses to attend at the Moot with new ideas coming up each year. I have found that the Moot has really broadened my knowledge of all things Bushcraft over the years and I expect will continue to do so for many more to come.
While out and about assessing for a Gold DofE expedition last July in the Lake District with the Sea Cadets I spent a lot of time searching out all the beauty that was around me.
This could be natural or man made however when I returned and looked at my pictures I was able to neatly drop them into different categories. These orchids below (Common and Marsh) I categorised with the carved toadstool in the middle as ‘Tall beauty’.
Sometimes the beauty was totally unexpected, as with the Money tree, the Laughing tree and a hedge carpeted in spiders’ webs.
The gentle beauty of the Valerian, the Dandelion seed head and the Cotton grass struck me as they ofen live in a very inhospitable environments. They look very fragile however they are designed to withstand much of what nature can throw at them.
July is a great time for spotting the Sundews and Butterworts in the marshy places of the lakes. Once you get down close you can easily get drawn into these sticky little fellas.
I spent a lot of time crossing or just gazing at the numerous little streams or waterfalls that trip. They can be quite hypnotic and relaxing if you allow yourself the time to relax (there’s lots of waiting around on a DofE trip).
One day I was wandering along the road admiring the betony and the Cuckoo flowers when a tractor came along and mowed the whole lot down ( I appreciate that this is a working landscape – I am the tourist here and I remember that fact) – they were gone in a blink of an eye.
Thankfully many of the farmers in the Lakes encourage wild flowers in their fields these days so there was still plenty to see and for the insects to visit.
There were plenty of reds around, such as the Foxglove and the English Stonecrop (not sure about the little fella on the bottom right). Had to take these pictures from weird angles, often involving climbing rocky outcrops.
The Bog Asphodels and yellow Poppies were simply stunning. I do not see these plants in many other places and they were carpeting whole areas up in the Lakes.
I had to jump on a number of occasions to avoid squashing frogs however they do like to play dead if they are spotted, allowing you the chance to really get up close to them.
My favourite pictures of the trip was of this little Damselfly. Simply stunning.
I had fun with my macro lens extensions (especially with the rather grumpy little fella on the bottom left – I think I was in his personal space by the look in his eye).
Lastly some fleeting beauty – the geese on Coniston Water and a deer and an owl in the woods
Keep your eyes open on your next trip out and you will see different beauty all around.
The beginning of July found me in the Lake District with Sea Cadets from the London and Southern Areas helping to run a Gold and Silver Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition. I was working with John Kelly, Carol O’Brien and Chris Bonfield.
My main roles were to act as an assessor for the Gold Expedition and as the Mountain Safety Officer. It was a very hard trip for the cadets and staff with the terrain and the atrocious weather however as you can see in the picture below of the Silver team finishing that these slight irritations did not dampen their spirits at all.
Day 1 – Saturday 4th July 2015: Hawkshead to the NT Campsite at Great Langdale
Initially the Gold group were to set off from Grazedale on the Furness Fells however due to road works on the way the minibus could not get through (the Silver team was being assessed by Carol and Chris and were on a different route). The group set off instead in good spirits on a wet morning (though it became increasingly dry and warm throughout the day) to the west of Hawkshead and headed up to Hawkshead Moor.
I gave the team two checkpoints that I would meet them at. These were at Tarn Hows and Little Langdale. There route was initially uphill through Forestry Commission land, over Hawkshead Hill to Tarn Hows. From there they navigated on clear footpaths over to Little Langdale and then north to Chapel Stile.
I spent my day paralleling their route and staying high where possible. I took the time to do a lot of nature photography as well and will post these pictures up as a separate post.
I observed the group taking pictures and notes around the slate mines along the way as part of their project for the expedition.
The group were in good spirit and made good time throughout the day returning to the campsite at Great Langdale following the path alongside Great Langdale Beck.
In between all the walking I took out time to feed some ducks, show the cadets some great hammock seats (from UK Hammocks) and to just enjoy the views.
Day 2:Sunday July 5th 2015,Great Langdale – Dalegarth Campsite.
Using their 1:25,000 OS Map & route card the group set off west into the Oxendale valley along farm tracks. The weather was fine initially however as the day wore on it slowly deteriorated with thick low lying cloud and drizzle. I had set them 3 checkpoints I would meet them as they would be walking up to the Three Tarns below Bow Fell. I met the group at Hell Gill on the ascent, at the Three Tarns (700m) on the saddle below Bow Fell and at Lingcove Bridge over the Lingcove Beck.
Up to the Three Tarns the group were walking on clear paths and they took their time on the ascent however they worked well and always kept together. I had good views of the group on the ascent as the cloud cover at this stage had not dropped. I could see that each member of the group took it in turns to either use the map and compass and also take it in turn to select what ground to navigate over to avoid rocky or boggy areas.
One of the group informed me she was feeling slightly unwell at the Three Tarns and was worried about carrying on. After a good lunch and rest though she felt better and was happy to carry on. The weather started to deteriorate and the path became very faint before disappearing. The group worked on compass bearings and I kept a slightly closer eye on them from the surrounding hillsides at this stage. They navigated well around some particularly rocky and boggy terrain down to Lingcove Bridge in the rain and poor visibility.
After the team left Lingcove Bridge (below) I spotted three guys trying to cross another stream. The crazy thing was they were dressed in trainers and jeans. Madness when they could have gone back the way they came.
The team then navigated on the path SW alongside the River ESK to the base of the Hardknott pass and then along the path on the valley floor to Dalegarth campsite. I spoke with the team when they arrived and they told me that they err’d slightly along the path in the Eskdale valley but managed to re-locate themselves before going too far.
The team arrived very wet and tired at the campsite but still in good spirits after a very trying days walk
Day 3: Monday July 6th 2015, Dalegarth Campsite – Conniston Hall Campsite.
This was a very challenging day for the group with a lot of ascent and poor weather. Initially the day started overcast however it deteriorated to low lying cloud and persistent rain until evening.
From Dalegarth they set off SE around Crook and Green Crags (400m). I met the group at lunchtime at High Tongue near Seathwaite. The group found the mornings leg navigationally very challenging however they took their time and managed to locate the checkpoint. The local forest had been felled recently making navigation very challenging however they made good use of high points to spot landmarks they could identify.
Eventually after much sitting around (fairly common in the assessing world) everyone started to appear with the Silvers first.
I spotted the Golds as they were making their way over the stepping stones.
After a good rest I left them and headed up onto the slopes at Walna Scar to observe them. This is where the low lying cloud came down and the rain started. I observed though that the team took a wrong turning at the base of Long House Gill and were heading up towards the Old Man of Coniston. I did intercept them before going too far and got them to work out where they were heading and soon they were going up over Walna Scar (600m) towards Coniston. Two of the group were suffering from foot injuries so I observed that they were travelling very slow but steadily. The visibility became very limited and I moved in closer to the group to ensure that they stayed on the right track.
With good navigation they found my checkpoints along the Walna Scar road and were soon down into Conniston. The weather was atrocious however the team spirit was great with everyone helping to keep their spirits up by singing and keeping to a steady pace.
The campsite was on the edge of Conniston water and very basic and open to the elements. Everyone was wet however they soon had their tents up and dinner on. I left them tired but in high spirits.
Day 4: Tuesday July 7th 2015, Conniston Hall Campsite – Grizedale
The final day was much better in terms of the weather. It was clear, cloudy and there was little wind. The team set of early from Conniston following the footpaths to the head of Conniston Water at Monk Coniston.
The Silver team successfully navigated to the finish point and were delighted to have made it.
The Gold team navigated up through the woods onto Monk Coniston Moor as well however due to the many tracks in this area the team err’d slightly but managed to make their way to Grizedale on time for a revised pick up there.
Even though this was one of the better days they were tired and some carried injuries they stayed positive and carried on. I observed them helping each other and this allowed them all to finish as a happy team.
Both teams faced many trials throughout the expedition, from injuries, navigational errors, poor weather and some very tough terrain. They could so easily have given up with any of these trials however they chose to work through each one and came through well at the end.
On my trip to the New Forest last May with the Sea Cadets there were a few unusual and beautiful sights to be found.
Many of the wildflowers in the New Forest get cropped back by all the animals grazing but looking closely I found some lovely Bugle, Tormentil and Lousewort.
I spotted a log pile of conifer wood and a number of the trunks were made up of two trunks merged together. Quite a weird sight to see what looked like weird robotic eyes looking out at you as you passed by.
While walking around we came across two Holly trees that were joined together by a horizontal trunk. It made for the perfect seat.
Also I spotted what looked like a small vole rummaging around in the grass (bottom left). He spotted me and played dead so letting me get up real close.
And as usual there were plenty of bracket fungus to be seen across the whole forest.
Since it was May there were plenty of seedlings around. There were plenty of Beech seedlings on the ground but I did spot one snuggled into a hollow at the base of an Oak tree. It looked lovely however not a good place in the long term I think.
Day 30 of the 30 Day Challenge has arrived for me and a lovely day it was spent walking by the River Loddon here in Hampshire with my family.
We decided to head off down some of the tracks Alison uses to run along and explore them in a bit more detail. There were plenty of beautiful horses grazing in their paddocks along the way and a perfect bridge for Pooh sticks.
I was particularly glad to be at home for this final day and to spend it with Alison, Catherine and Finlay just having fun outside with nature.
We soon headed out onto the fields as there were lots of private property signs discouraging us from going further along the river. There was though plenty to find in the fields and the hedgerows such as these Poppies Alison found in the wheat..
I spotted the tiny little Shepherds Purse plant along the path and there were beautiful thistles growing in the hedges.
The path took us across a field and Catherine spotted herself a little moth hidden in the grass. There were butterflies flitting about everywhere but too fast for me to photograph.
There was plenty of more exploring to be had both in the grass and the hedgerows. I spotted some lovely Woundwort by a bridge and Finlay got himself part of wing from a recently killed bird.
As it was a school night we could not stay long so it was soon time to go home. We got in one more set of Pooh Sticks, climbed a few logs and Finlay got himself a large Pheasant feather.
That is it for me for the 30 Day Challenge. It has been a challenge to make time every day for nature however it has been well worth it – a real tonic you could say.
The Wildlife Trusts no doubt will run this again next year but in the meantime the next project is Random Days of Wildness. I can work with that I think.
Thanks for following me on this journey over the last 30 days.
I was in class all day followed by an evening of delayed train travel (I am still on the train as I write this).
I managed to get this nice shot of some Meadowsweet on the canal side at Shipley as I left the office to head home.
Today has reminded me of how lucky I have been to manage to squeeze time in each day to do this challenge over the last month. I was desperate to get some more pictures but the battery in my camera gave out (switched itself on in my bag somehow) on the way home that I forgot that part of the challenge was just to get out and about to appreciate nature – even if that was just for a few minutes.
Looking at the canal picture I think I managed that even if it was just for a minute in my otherwise busy working day.
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.
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.
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.
As I left the Cathedral I spotted smoke on the horizon so I set off to investigate.
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.
I did not know what I would find when I went out for my Bradford Bimble but I am glad I did.
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.
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).
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.
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.
The other activity was the Atlatl. They had a great time pinging Atlatl darts down the range to finish off.
I had a great time with this event and by the smiles on the Beavers faces afterwards I think they did too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the way back we took time to gather more finds for the sticks, watch the sheep and flowers, and to just run.
Our completed Story Sticks ready to take home – quite beautiful.
Next time you go for a walk remember your Story Stick.
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……..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was a lovely way to spend Armed Forces Day, in good company, in good weather and with some excellent bugs as well.
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.
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.
Needless to say we could not go to the woods without climbing a tree or two 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I spotted my first Meadowsweet of the year – a real plant of the summer.
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.
We headed off towards home saying one last goodbye to our old paths on the way.
It was a lovely bimble but a sad one none the less.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I think they have a proper little den to play in now for the next few days.
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.
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 🙂
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.
There was time for a bit of daft fun in the lean too shelters while we were heading home.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think you could say that they were 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.
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.
As I neared the end I got Catherine and Finlay back involved finishing the tail of the shelter off.
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.
So the difficult bit began 😉 Time for 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 🙂
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)
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.
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.
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.
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).
We found the old bomb crater in the wood and the lads ran themselves ragged around it trying to out do each other.
Looks like the weather is changing tomorrow with thunderstorms coming in so who knows what we will get up to then.
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).
After tea we went for an evening bimble and spotted lots of small willowherbs and quite a few ripe 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.
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.
The beauty of the EDC hammock is that it has a zip – great for containing the kids when out and about 🙂
It was soon time to go home but Finlay could not resist one more shimmy across the narrow ridge over the stream.
Another successful Wild Day I think and who knows what tomorrow will bring (need to think of something fast).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Busy lives but a little bit of nature squeezed nicely in 🙂
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Needless to say there was plenty of time to sit and relax or as usual to stroll around and take pictures.
As you can see the drive took us a little time but we were in no rush.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
My last picture of the night was of a lonely little snail tucked up in the nook of a nettle leaf.
Really enjoyed getting down to the macro level again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we left we spotted some more dog roses and some little ducklings in the local pond.
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.
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).
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.
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 🙂
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.
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 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had promised them another ice cream drink when they got back and I added a few marshmallows as an extra treat.
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.
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.
Caught up in the Hawthorn tree I spotted a small pigeon feather swaying in the breeze.
Below the Hawthorn were some Oxeye Dasies.
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).
Tomorrow night it will be time to get out with the kids again to see what we can find.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I needed these couple of hours to myself just to re-set my internal clocks.