30 Days of Wildness – Day 6 – Creative Cardiff

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

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

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

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An educating bench

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

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Man made and natural sculptures

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

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Spot the real one ūüôā

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

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A park to be proud of

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

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Riverside sculpture

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

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Stepped out and spotted this chap

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

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Red Campion

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

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Up close and far away

The walk finished up at the back of Cardiff Castle.

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Cardiff Castle

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

I’ll be back ūüôā

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 5 – Evening Archery

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

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

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Father and Son Bows

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

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

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Arrows Away

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

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A Lovely Evening

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

Cheers

George

 

30 Days of Wildness – Day 4 – Bramley Bimbles

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

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

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Picnic time

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

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Sit spot

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

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Our spots

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

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

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Woodland wanders

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

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Orchid hunting

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

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The journey home

All in all a great day with the family.

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 3 – Fire Lighting

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

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

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Our fire

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

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Collecting time

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

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Strike a light

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

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A huff and a puff

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

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Finally the important stuff

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

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 2 – Pond Dipping

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

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

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Heading out

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

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

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First pond – unsuccessful

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

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Second pond – some success

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

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Chilling in the trees

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

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

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

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Still at it

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

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Found a stream – good haul

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

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

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 1

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

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

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

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

A few pictures of my evenings stroll.

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

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

Cheers

George

Colours of Spring

Spring is well and truly under way now and I have been getting out as much as possible either by myself, with my family or with friends.

There is a lot to see if you look close enough as my son is with this suspended feather trap. I love feather traps (that is anything that catches a feather) as they make for beautiful pictures.

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Feather Trap

While reviewing my spring pictures I noticed there were dominant colours coming through. Below (from left to right) are the purples of the snakes head fritillary, two emerging and an emerged early purple orchid, and a lovely red campion.

I was particularly pleased to capture the orchids just emerging from their leaf sheath.

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Purples

The woods and the hedgerows are awash with small white flowers at the moment. I was pleased to see that our local woods (The Frith near Bramley, Hants) sports such a wide range.

For a few weeks at this time the wood anemone’s can be easily spotted (top left) and if you look close enough you will spot the delicate wild strawberry flowers (top right) just coming through. One day I will take the time to work out whether they are the barren or the fruiting types.

Also hiding out in the woodland glades are the beautiful but tasty (the leaves that is) wood sorrel (bottom left). Like the wood anemone the wood sorrel is best viewed on sunny days while it is fully open.

Bottom right is stitchwort (‘greater’ I think). I have been finding this in great patches alongside hedges where they receive a lot of sunlight. I particularly liked this picture with the single stitchwort being framed by the dandelion.

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Whites

As I write this the early dog violets (top right) where I live are on the wane but the beautiful bluebells are really coming through now in great carpets.

Bottom left is the often overlooked blue flower of ground ivy. As this little plant grows easily on disturbed ground you find it in your vegetable patches if you do not clear it out regularly. I like it though as it does add a lovely tinge of blue to an otherwise mass of green.

One of the nicest blue flowers (even more than bluebells I think) out at this time is the forget-me-not (bottom right). I took this picture by a riverside outside Dundee as it clung precariously to an old stone wall.

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Blues

The last dominant colour I have noticed this spring is yellow. One of the earliest and for some reason this year one of the most abundant (top left) is the primrose. I am finding this delicious little plant everywhere.

The other three (top right), the cowslip, the buttercup and the male goat willow catkins are just coming out around here. There are so many dandelions out at the moment so it is good to see that carpet of yellow being broken  up by other yellows.

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Yellows

The final picture is of the odds and sods I have taken over the last few weeks. The horsetail and the female goat willow catkin up close look very striking but it is the picture of the kids getting out and about from their usual digital world and enjoying a bit of sun and flowers that I love the most.

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Odds and sods

Cheers

George

Family Fun at Frasers

‘Snug as a bug in a rug’

The Easter holidays were fast approaching and the question in our household was –¬†where should we go? A camping trip was asked for but also a bit of seaside fun on the side.
The answer was not difficult as my good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival had been asking when we would come down to visit him in Dorset. Fraser lives off grid and runs excellent courses on the coast – All the boxes were ticked so off we went.

Family Fun at Fraser’s

¬†I¬†have written before about the food that Fraser collects and cooks up and this time there was no change in that high standard (Memorable Meals). My kids Catherine and Finlay had to be very careful in who they said was the best cook around the campfire – just for the record I was not included in any of that praise ūüėČ

I did though collect the Sea Kale you can see in the top left picture below (the purple coloured stems).

Fantastic Food

Last time I was at Fraser’s the weather was wet and windy, this time even though it was still windy it was dry (and warm when not in the wind). The sun was out and the skies were clear leading to cold but pleasant evenings around the campfire. Stories were told, woodland TV was watched, marshmallows were toasted and a relaxing time¬†was had.

Fireside Fun

Catherine and Finlay had great fun all weekend –¬†they made their own secret den (into which I was eventually initiated) and had great fun searching for lots of Easter eggs.

When I was a kid it was expected that I’d go out in the morning, return for lunch and dinner but otherwise do my own thing. Even though we live in a village my kids do not normally have that freedom but here at Fraser’s they experienced so much more freedom: off they went exploring the woods and every now and then they popped back to the main campsite to have cuts, bruises and empty tummies attended to.

Adventuring

As usual I was on the lookout for some spring flowers and find them I did.

I found my first bluebell of the year at Fraser’s as well as plenty of primroses (is it just me or has this year been particularly good for primroses?). Also in evidence¬†were plenty of early dog violets and lesser celandine.

Spotting Spring

One of the tick boxes for the weekend was time at the sea. I do not do beach holidays where you just sit about tanning yourself (my Scottish skin doesn’t like the sun too much) but like to spend time on the coast exploring and being generally active.

Our first day at the sea was sunny but very windy. The kids had their wellies on but were soon in paddling.  We tried to fly a kite but it was just too windy: after nearly  hitting a few people I put it away (quite grumpily) and we headed inland to find some of the best fish and chips I have ever had (washed down with a nice pint).

Seaside Snaps

The kids learned about wild garlic and went out on their own to collect a massive basket full. Finlay and Fraser had fun practising some woodland ninja techniques (they are both competitive types so this was fun to watch).

Fraser had recently found a deer that had been killed by a car and he had the hide loosely stretched as he de-fleshed it

Being Busy

Our accommodation for the weekend was in hammocks. My kids are very happy now to sleep in them. I set up four under individual tarps. Each hammock had an under blanket attached to keep out the cold air, a roll mat, sleeping bag and top quilt.

Everyone was as snug as a bug in a rug you could say.

A tradition we have these days is for Alison to get a cup of coffee in the morning while still in her hammock – I failed with this on the first morning I am afraid but tried to make up for it on the other mornings.

Hammock Heaven

Our second day on the beach was spent playing with a frisbee, watching the fishermen cast and discovering and building little beach henges.

Sun, Sand and Sea

We had a lovely stroll along the coast foraging for sea kale and some scurvy grass. I found plenty of sea kale but no scurvy grass (as expected, comments were made about my poor foraging skills).

We found a nice beachside café to rest up in and a lovely grassy slope for the kids to roll down Рperfect.

Together Time

On the last evening before we left I asked the kids if they wanted to shoot some arrows. Only Finlay took me up on my offer and off we went. Finlay is seven and has shot before with his own smaller bow or with me on the larger holmegaard you can see here. This was the first time he had shot the holmegaard on his own. It is a full-sized bow but not heavy in terms of draw poundage.

I was impressed with his stance and his ability to shoot with so large a bow and equally chuffed to capture this great shot of the arrow in flight.

Airborne Arrows

 So all the boxes were ticked and we took a group picture of the happy campers before heading off.

Fraser was a great host and we were all sad to leave, however we will be back again if Fraser will have us.

Farewells

As well as taking my usual mass of pictures I put together this short video of the weekend.

Cheers

George

Winter Wonders – Zooming in

Carrying on in the winter wonders theme I took a close look at the snowdrops this year. All the way through their life cycle they are a beautiful little plant . From the simple beauty of the drooped heads as they emerge, to the majesty of them as they open, through the dramatic flaring as they mature and finally to their dignified withering as they die.

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The snowdrop in its glory

The buds on the trees at this time of year at first glance seem very simple and not worth a second glance but when you get up real close you start to really appreciate the complexity of these little compact power houses. Some like the long pointed beech bud look very smooth, others like the oak and cherry are covered in scales and the dark mitre of the ash looks rough to the touch. All though are biding their time to start that cycle of life again.

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Buds biding their time

A lot of the colour over the winter is to be found with the seeds and nuts hanging everywhere. The red of the hawthorn (haw) berry can still be very striking but the deep red of the rosehip has gone as it has shrivelled up. The ivy seeds are all still hanging in there in their regimented clusters but emerging through are the tiny snowdrop seeds and the furry little pods of the lungwort nutlets.

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Seeds and nuts

Cheers

George

 

Winter Wonders – Texture, Light and Colour

This winter I have seen no snow at all where I live in the southern part of the UK (plenty up north but none down here). Normally we get at least a few days’ worth of snow giving me the chance to try and¬†take¬†some decent¬†winter photos.

Not this year it would appear (so far, he said with crossed fingers) so I have been looking elsewhere for inspiration. The next three or four posts will be about these snowless winter days and the beauty I could find in what first appears to be a rather drab time of year.

At the end of last year I started dabbling in macro photography and playing around with light, and found a whole new world opened up to me.¬†I also started noticing the different textures that were all around me¬†–¬†a skeletal leaf, a dandelion seed head, a trapped downy feather – all have beauty in their¬†own way if you look closely enough.

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Different textures

Since I started using my Nikon D3200 DSLR I have been dabbling with the manual settings more and more to try and capture pictures where the beauty of them is enhanced by the thoughtful use of light levels. Many of my past pictures, taken on my camera phone, were either way over-exposed or look washed out.
I like the effect of silhouetting a plant against the skyline or directly into the sun or even reflecting light off a plant as in the bottom right picture.

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Playing with light

The other area I have been trying to capture is just how much colour is still out there during winter. Just because flowers aren’t popping up everywhere doesn’t mean there is no beauty to be seen.
The picture of the emerging bluebell leaves I felt was enhanced by seeing my kids walk past in the background just as I took the picture, the crocus is just beautiful and there is something lovely about the crispy white frost you find on leaves during a morning stroll.

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Finding colour

A few more posts to follow in this theme so keep your eyes open for them, and for all the beauty around you out there as winter changes into spring.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a raised firepit

The final project I was involved in during the working weekend at John Rhyder’s Woodcraft School Hampshire HQ was to build a raised firepit for the students to use. John wanted this placed inside the new cookhouse to protect it from the elements.

The raised firepit

I volunteered to do this with Jumbo Jim (he flies planes) and after a bit of a chat we decided to make it out of sweet chestnut logs that had been cut down to about 5ft lengths. There were plenty to choose from so after a bit of a trimming we lugged them back to the main camp.

Selecting the logs

We found a flat area to work on (to make the build easier) as its final placement was to be on a slope. After we finished the build we moved everything to its final location in the cookhouse.
We decided to lock the logs together by carving notches out near the end of each log to form a square. We used each log as a template for marking another one out before sawing in some stop cuts.

Marking up and putting in stop cuts

The axing and adzing out (these were the tools we had available) did not take long. I thought we might need to go for a square cut for each notch but we decided to try a curved notch at first as they are quicker to carve. Even though the curve would not lock the logs perfectly the curved notches worked surprisingly well, with no movement on the logs when they were locked together.

Axing and adding the connection points

Once we were happy with the style of the notch it was then just a case of repeating this on each end of the logs so that everything locked together well.

Repeating the process

I tested the strength of the locks between the logs by walking and jumping (with the odd jig) on each level as we built it up.

Initially we’d planned a 5ft square but after discussing this with Caron and John we went for a 5ft by 4ft rectangular shape. This was to allow the students easy access to most of the firepit without having to lean too far to reach the centre. You can see the excess wood at the ends in the bottom right picture that needed to be trimmed off.

Testing and re-adjusting the size

After some more notch cutting, locking together and jumping around we got John to trim the excess wood off with his chainsaw.

More testing and trimming

We positioned the firepit where it was to sit in the cookhouse and dug out a small trench on the upslope section to flatten the firepit out a bit and lock it in place. On reflection I think we could have dug the trench a bit deeper but the depth we dug held that top log well enough even though the firepit was not perfectly flat..

Digging in the firepit

When we had locked all the logs into place we had a chat with John and agreed that we would drive in four stakes to act as supports for the grill. We found four brackets to attach to the stakes to hold the bars of the grill in place and left enough room on the stakes to add another four brackets so the grill could be raised (we left John to attach these later when he got some more brackets).

Constructing the grill stand

The filling in of the firepit was the easy bit as we simply dropped about 5 wheelbarrow loads of earth into it. Nigel was on hand while we dug the earth to tamp it all down.

The top layer of fill was taken from the edge of a small stream where there was a high concentration of clay. I hope that over time this layer of clay will harden and make for a good surface to light a fire. I suggested to John that as the top layer dries out he could add a few more layers of clay to build the surface up a little more to be in line with the top of the logs.

Filling in the firepit

When we had finished tamping the soil down it was just a case of putting the grill back on and lighting a fire. I placed some dry off-cuts over the damp soil to give the fire a good chance to get going. With a little bit of waftage from Kev it was soon going nicely.
As soon as John adds a layer or two more the surface will get a bit closer to the grill for a fast cooking time and when the other brackets are added higher up they’ll allow for slower cooking¬†too.

Topping off and first firing

The grill is as flat as we could make it although¬†it appears¬†to slope, because the ground isn’t level.

I had a great time building this firepit with Jim, figuring out how it would all link together and finally putting it all in place with the grill on top.

A happy team

There are two more posts on projects we did that weekend. They are:

Re-building the Roundhouse

Constructing the Camp Cookhouse

Cheers

George

Constructing the Camp Cookhouse

Earlier I wrote up a¬†post on re-building the roundhouse at John Rhyder’s Woodcraft School HQ in Hampshire. This post is all about the new cookhouse we built that weekend as well.

In the top picture below is the open-fronted cookhouse we built and in the bottom picture how it all looked on the Saturday morning when we first arrived – a few post holes in the ground.

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After and before

In the group building this were Scott Batty, Kev Howlett, Jumbo Jim, Nigel Painter, Paul Workman, Chen, David Willis, John Rhyder and myself. John had split a load of sweet chestnut to use as the uprights and brought into the site a load of timber to build up the walls and for battoning and rafting.

We selected six pieces for the uprights and started on the back wall first. The plan was to have the kitchen closed off on two sides (to protect from the prevailing wind) and to have it open on two sides.

The first post went in easy enough and we compacted earth and stones around it to keep it secure.

Measuring up and digging in

The other posts were put in and we used large pieces of straight timber to make sure the these posts lined up properly (mark one eyeball – carpenters measures).

John then used his chainsaw to make the facings of the uprights smooth so we could attach the timber for the walls.

Aligning and smoothing

We actually built the back wall rather quickly. One person would select the timber, another held it in place, then pilot holes were drilled in by someone and finally someone else screwed the planks in. We all took turn about and soon had the back wall up.

The plan initially was to overlap the planks of wood so as to let the water drain off but we estimated at the start there were not enough to do that so we had to place them directly on top of each other.

Racking up

There was excess wood on one side so after using a plank as a measuring device John trimmed the excess off with his chainsaw. We left just a lip of wood at the edge to overlap with the side wall that was to go up next.

Trimming off

Once the back was completed we built the side wall in the same way as the back wall (no pictures I’m afraid) and then started on the front.

The cookhouse is on a slope and John and Caron wanted a decent slope to the roof to help with runoff of rain (but not so tall as to be a problem in high winds). The first thing we did was decide on the height, then we marked it off on the uprights and got John to trim each pole to the right height.

Preparing the open front

We built a strong lintel at the front and I trimmed a couple of sweet chestnut poles to act as main rafters. We also had a selection of smaller machined battons to act as rafters.

I secured one of the sweet chestnut rafters in the middle and the other one at the open end of the cookhouse. The other machined rafters were all spread evenly along the roof and screwed down.

Rafting up
Rafting up

We did not have the shingles for the roof so we just nailed down a large tarp as a temporary cover.

In the bottom picture you get a feel for the angle of the slope the cookhouse sits on.

The temporary roofing

You can just make out the sign above Caron naming her kitchen (I have no idea who wrote it). In the pictures on the right you can see the shelving unit that Paul and Nigel built. Seemed pretty secure as it offered a perfect seat for John to survey it all.

You can also see the internal battoning (to the left of the jacket in the bottom tight picture and also to the right of John). This really strengthened the walls as we dug the battons deep into the ground.

Signs, shelves and snagging

Kev and Chen moved the kitchen platform from its old spot to inside the cookhouse. They did spend a good bit of time getting it secured properly on poles and perfectly flat.

We had some great food over the weekend with our dinner on the Saturday evening and breakfast on Sunday morning cooked inside it.

First cooking

There were some other projects going on involving re-building the shower house, laying new chippings on the paths and building the raised firepit you can see in the picture below (that will be my next post in this series).

The Sunday was a very frantic day as we strived to get everything done. When we took the group photo some of the lads had already left (about three or four I think) so apologies if i have not mentioned everyone involved in this project.

Job well done

More on the raised firepit in the next post.

Cheers

George

 

Woodland Den Building – Just for fun

I went for a woodland walk with my kids last weekend to try and spot some signs of spring. We came across an area of the woods that had been recently thinned out and all the trimmed logs were lying around in piles.
My kids started to build themselves a little den from this wood but wanted me to show them how to make something both of them could get under.

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A little shelter for two

We only had an hour to build something so I decided to show them how to construct a quick lean to shelter. We spotted a large piece of wood and after a quick chat they inserted one end in between two trunks of Goat willow and snapped it to the size the wanted for a main roof beam.

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Snapping the main beam

Then we found a flat area of ground and laid one end of the beam into a crux in the coppice stool and laid the other end on the ground.

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Picking a site

They cleared the floor of all the sticks and stones lying there and used the sawn off cuts of wood from the log pile to construct the wall of the shelter. I helped them out with this but as it was already pre cut it was just a matter of finding the right lengths.

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Rafting

While we were building the shelter my daughter Catherine came across this rather lovely little squirrel skull. I am glad she spotted it quickly as it could so easily have been trampled under foot.

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Squirrel find

As we only had an hour we did not have time to lay thatch on the roof or make a raised bed but the kids got the idea and thoroughly enjoyed making their den.  When we go camping in the summer I think this will be a good project for them to do so that it is fully weather tight.

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Half finished shelter

Lastly I got them to return the site to the way they found it by stripping all the logs of and putting them back on the pile.

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Leave no trace

I appreciate that we did not finish the shelter but it did give my kids a little bit more insight into shelter building so that the next time we build one they understand the basics of what they are doing.

Cheers

George

Rebuilding the Roundhouse

If anyone reading this has been on one of the Woodcraft School courses run by John Rhyder at his woodland site in Hampshire you will certainly remember the roundhouse. This little building has been a refuge on many a cold night for many people including myself.

Every now and then the roundhouse needs a bit of TLC. John had recently replaced the roof beams, so now it was the turn of the walls.

A group of us who are all ex students of John’s agreed to spend the weekend with him working on improving the camp facilities at his woodland HQ. I was not involved in working on the roundhouse (I was helping to build the new kitchen and raised fire pit) but I did get a number of pictures of the guys working on it.

Stripping out the old poles

Working on the roundhouse were Charlie Brookes, Keith Bosely, Scott Batty, Jack (aka  Warren Frost) and Pete Bastable, helped from time to time by Fin Rhyder.

The guys stripped the tarps away from the sides to expose the outer ring of poles. They were well worn but some were showing signs of damp at the base. The guys started in one section by putting braces in to keep the roof in place and then dug out the outer pole for that area. They would then slot in a new piece of split sweet chestnut and trim it to size. You can see all that happening in the pictures above.

Preparing the lintels

The new uprights had already been split and de-barked so Pete and Fin got to work de-barking the poles that would be uses as lintels between the uprights to support the roof.

Soon the guys had a few of the uprights in place and they put some temporary lintels in place until the permanent ones had been finished.

Putting in the new uprights

After the lintels had been debarked, the lintels ends were carved so that they could be attached securely to each upright. This involved a bit of axing out to produce a flat platform at the end of each lintel.

Inserting the lintels

The door of the roundhouse also got a makeover and was rebuilt to fit in with the lintel above it. Also as each section was finished the tarp walls were put back securely in place with some battons.

John uses these tarp walls as they can be easily rolled up in the summer to give good airflow through the roundhouse.

The re-built door and snagging

The roundhouse has a small extension at the back covered in wood instead of tarps on the walls. This area is used for storing wood for the stove . The uprights and lintels were replaced here but the wood panels had deteriorated so they were stripped off as well and replaced.

I think the guys did a good job of this area making it secure and water tight in a very short period of time.

The back extension – the storage area

The job took the guys a day and a half to do and by the Sunday afternoon the outside of the roundhouse was looking good and strong again. At some stage John will be adding new shingles to the roof as tiles instead of just the tarp they have at the moment.

Looking good

This is just a brief summary and no doubt misses out many of the issues they faced as I did not work on this project, but I do know they did a cracking job.

Cheers

George

 

Winter Fun in Snowdonia

January is usually the time that as outdoor pursuits instructors in the Sea Cadets we venture up into the mountains and moors to do a bit of skills training. This is just not as a bit of extra training for ourselves but as a way of introducing some of the newer instructors to the world of hillwalking and mountaineering.

This year we went to Snowdonia National Park where we walked and scrambled around Mt Snowdon and stayed at Capel Curig Training Camp.

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Winter Fun

There was a smattering of snow on the mountains when we arrived but not a great deal. The winds had been very high in the few days leading up to our weekend and had blown most of it away. The weekend was organised in quite a relaxed manner. One group decided to walk over Moel Siabod and the surrounding area while the group I was with decided to do a bit of scrambling and winter skills around the base of Mt Snowdon.

We had arranged to meet up with some non-Sea Cadet friends that day who were also training in the area and set off early on Saturday. We were not aiming to summit that day but concentrated on working on our micro-navigation skills, leadership and group management. For me, it was also a good opportunity to practise my photography skills. I have a separate post on these pictures in this post on Special Snowdon Scenes.

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Smattering of Snow

Our route took us from the car park at Pen Y Pas, up over The Horns, below Crib Goch, up to Glasly, around the southern shore of Llyn Llydaw before heading back to Pen Y Pass via Cwn Dyli.

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Our route on the Saturday

While we were ascending up to The Horns and then onto the base of Crib Goch some of the lads took the opportunity to get a bit of bouldering in. The weather was cold but clear, making it ideal for keeping what little snow we had and perfect for photography as well.

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Bit of Bouldering

We got some good views as we¬†worked on taking bearings on near and far features so as to double check our positions. Also we spent some time working on rope skills, learning to ‘dog lead’ a nervous student over tricky terrain.

Route finding is always a good skill to practise, whether that is to avoid great big coils of barbed wire or picking your way across a stream.

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Skills training

While we were wandering around having a good time a shepherd and his collie dog came by. As soon as the shepherd stopped the collie sat perfectly still. They both looked around, scanned the mountainside and then were away. In a couple of minutes both the shepherd and collie had disappeared. This moment reminded me that our playground is also someone else’s workplace.

Later in the day Graham and myself came across the Cym Deli pipeline that feeds water down to the oldest hydro electric station in the valley below. It is known locally as ‘the chapel in the valley‘ due to its design. I did not know this until I read the wiki page on the site but the pipelines appeared in the James Bond film ‘The World is Not Enough’

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Working Snowdonia

We had hoped to scramble up Cribau but decided against it as there was a lot of ice at the top. Not everyone had crampons or ice axes so we decided to head down to Llyn Llydaw instead. We walked around the southern shore of Llyn Llydaw to get off the beaten track and concentrated on micro navigation. 

The route is not obvious but well worth the effort. When we reached Cwn Dyli it was time for a snowball fight. Needless to say no prisoners were taken.

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Enjoyment in different forms

We all decided to stay down low on the Sunday morning. Some of the guys went to the Pinnacles to do a bit of rock climbing and the rest of us walked from Capel Curig Training Camp up to the cafe in Capel Curig.

It was a stunning morning with low-lying mist and beautiful sunshine.

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Sunny Sunday

We did a little bit of navigation but to tell you the truth we mainly just enjoyed the walk. It got a bit muddy in places but we just took our time.

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Navigating and a bit of R & R

Just before we reached the cafe at Capel Curig I met up with Dan Keefe and his lovely family. They had all come up for the weekend and were staying at Llanrwst to celebrate Dan’s birthday. This was also the first time I had met Dan’s little lad Oscar.

 

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Meeting the Keefe clan

The rain came in just after I took this picture so it was time to get a bit of lunch before heading off home in the minibus.

Cheers

George

Special Snowdon Scenes

I spent a lovely weekend in Snowdonia National Park last January with some of my climbing friends from the Sea Cadets.

While we were walking and climbing in the park I set myself the challenge of photographing the beauty of the park in as many ways as possible.

I aimed to try and capture the big scenes, the little ones, the natural ones and the man made ones. This is my record of that attempt.

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Stunning Snowdonia – big or small – natural or man made

Those who have ever been to Snowdonia will know that water is a very dominant force in this mountainous terrain. I found beauty in simple drips hanging off branches, the outflow from a stream monitoring station and the drip drip from an icicle.

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Water – beauty in many forms

I have always been fascinated by reflections on water. I tried to capture the full reflection of Crib Goch in the picture below but could not quite get the angles right to get the top of the mountain in the picture as well.

The bottom picture I liked not just for the reflection from the mountains and the small rock but the texture of the water surface, with half of it semi frozen and half of it unfrozen.

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Reflections – big and small

The geology of the park always catches my eye. I aimed in these two pictures below to capture the ruggedness of the scenery both in the sharpness of the rocks in the near distance and the rolling majesty of the land in the far distance.

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Geology – sharp and rolling

While walking around Snowdon I came across these hardy little souls. The mountain goats were well at home on the steep slopes and hardly fazed by our presence.

I stood watching them for a good half hour as they jumped about in search of green shoots and even got some of their tracks in the snow.

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Fauna – the beautiful mountain goat

The pictures below of a large bird of prey do not do the actual moment any justice at all. My lens is not the telephoto type so I could not get tight onto the bird to get a close up.

We were walking as a group in the woods near Capel Curig when I spotted the large brown bird land in a tree. We walked as close as we could to it and managed to snap these long range shots as it flew away. I am not sure if it was an owl, a hawk or buzzard but it was big and beautiful and majestic in its flight.

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Fauna – the airborne sort

Lastly not to forget the beauty poking its head out of the snow. I spent a lot of time lying in the snow getting close up shots of whatever plant life I could see.

At this time of year the ferns, mosses, grasses and heathers are the dominant flora on the mountainside. To really appreciate this beauty you need to get down close and personal.

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Flora – spikes in the snow

I find that photography is starting to awaken in me a greater awareness of all the beauty that surrounds me, even in environments where I think at first glance very little is going on.

Cheers

George

Spring den building in the garden – Just for fun

I had pollarded a sycamore in my garden during the winter and had stacked up all the rods for use in bushcraft projects this year.

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One pollarded sycamore

My kids though had other ideas and wanted a den built with the rods. As the rods were laid up against the tree I got the idea for a quick tipi style of den for them.

We stripped away all the rods that were either too big or too small.

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A little help from the kids

We laid the remaining rods around the tree in a tipi style and then wrapped some old tarp around it all.

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Wrap some old tarps

I cut up the middle of the tarp to form an opening and then with the kids tacked it all down with wooden pegs. I then added another tarp to reduce the size of the opening.

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Cut and tuck

I added a few old sleeping bags to make it comfy and the job was done.

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One den ready to go

My kids spent a lovely afternoon in the early spring sunshine playing out in their new den and it took about 45 minutes to make.

Cheers

George

Natures DPM – Exploring autumns colours

In September I received a most excellent birthday present from my wife Alison – a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera. As soon as I started using it the colour differences I saw in comparison to just using the camera on my phone really amazed me.

For example I would never have gotten all these subtle shades in the lime leaves to show up so clearly on my phone camera. I am still learning to use the manual settings on my camera so rely on the automatic settings when I am in a rush. I shoot in RAW format so that I can adjust the light and colour levels in Adobe Lightroom easily. I like Lightroom as it helps make up for the wrong choices I make on the camera when shooting in Manual mode.

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Luscious lime

I asked Santa to bring me some Kenko lens extensions for Christmas and they duly turned up (thanks Alison and Santa). Lens extensions are a cheaper alternative to a full on Macro lens for close up shooting. Below is one of my first pictures taken with the extensions and the greens and browns in the moss really stand out.

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Delicate moss

A splash of white, green and eventually pink is guaranteed from the snowberry. I love going out for a walk and seeing these delicate little globes dotted along the hedgerows. Eventually they turn to a lovely shade of pink before dying.

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Snowberry

White can also be spotted in the delicate threads of the willowherb tops, on the bramble leaf caused by the moth larvae Nepticula aurella and the tiny little white dots in the sorrel leaves

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Swirls of white and green willowherb, bramble and sorrel

Purple was an unusual colour to find but when I did such as with the herb robert, fern and red dead nettle it made for quite a striking contrast. This was the colour of choice for royalty in the past due to the expense it took to produce a purple dye but also I think because it does look so good.

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Pretty purples – herb robert, fern and red dead nettle

Why some leaves go yellow and some go brown I presume is to do with the pigments that are left in the leaves after the chlorophylls stop their production but whatever happens it always leads to some amazing effects.

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Sweet chestnut, wild service tree and the sun peaking through a crack in a leaf

This little shot is well staged. I just picked up a few yellow leaves and spread them out in a ring to capture the range of colours found under my feet. I only thought to take this picture as I had been following a small frog hopping around trying to stay under cover of the fallen leaves.

A fairy ring of colour

As some of the leaves went mostly yellow I started to see others like the horse chestnut start to take on a mixture of yellows and browns. this led to a slightly military DPM effect but you could see the odd bit of white still showing as you can see in the goat willow catkin buds.

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A bit of DPM – hazel, oak, goat willow and horse chestnut

I particularly liked the brown edging in the oak leaves in the top picture below. You can see how the leaves are shutting down from the edges to the centre as opposed to the bottom two where the process is happening from the inside out. Either way it is a beautiful and striking sight.

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Browns into yellows – oaks and ash

I liked the contrast between the two pictures of the berries below. The top one is of a dessicated rosehip I think but am not sure on the bottom one at all. Even when the berry has lost it’s moisture content as in the top picture it can still look rather striking when you get up close to it.

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Berries – wasted rosehip and an unknown black berry

Now this is a time of year for fungi and I see lots of Little Brown Jobbies (LBJ’s) dotted around the ground and I have no idea what they are. The picture in the top section below is an LBJ as I do not know its name (I am sure someone can identify it for me). I spotted it in some very long grass well hidden away and am glad I took my time to get the camera out as it is quite beautiful in its own way as it peels apart.

The bottom one is of a fungus called turkey tail I found attached to a log. It had very strong bright colours which I just enhanced slightly in Lightroom by adjusting the light levels on the different colours.

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Fungi РLBJ at the top and a turkey tail down below

I was taking a picture of a pond I regularly monitor in my village when I spotted this iris seed pod just opening. The seeds were just waiting for a waft of wind to give them a little nudge and spill out into the water. I like the way how mother nature has packaged them really neatly in wedge shapes to keep them secure until they are ready to be released.

Beautiful brown – iris seed pod

A couple in the reds for you. The top picture below just had to be taken as the reds and greens of the rosehips and the apples contrasted really well. The fly agaric in the bottom picture was one of the very few I saw this year in my local woods but I was captivated more by the little slug that was happily munching away on it than the colours themselves.

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Opposites – apples and rosehips versus fly agaric

Three lovely red pictures I took over the autumn. I used my lens extension on the pictures of the haw berry and the frozen leaf tip (left hand pictures) but not on the wasp gall on the right. You can gauge the size of the wasp gall by the thorn in the top left of the picture. I had never observed these tiny little red bundles until about two years ago and now regularly see them on brambles.

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All the reds – haws, frozen leaf tip and a wasp gall

On a larger scale the light levels over the autumn have made me think about my photography. The setting sun in the top picture really lends to a dark feel to the woods as opposed to the overcast mid day light being slightly enhanced by the silver bark of the birches.

Contrasting woodlands

My final picture in this post really struck me as one to signify the end of autumn. It was a frosty morning and the sun was just rising when I took this picture of a bud on our cherry tree. I had to adjust the light levels in Lightroom to make the frost very clear and that slightly changed the colour of the sky to give an even yellower feel to what it was really like. It is a picture that I like though and a nice one to end on.

Start of Winter

I am now thinking on to the winter and looking forward to getting some more frosty plant pictures, snowy landscapes and shots of winter plants poking their buds up over the next month.

Cheers

George

Meeting Mollie – Fun with the Field Farm Project

Back in October last year I heard that my good friend Mollie Butters would be demonstrating some of her many bushcraft skills at our local National Trust (NT) property – The Vyne. The whole family were keen to go and this is a little report on our wonderful day.

I met Mollie while studying bushcraft with John Rhyder at Woodcraft School back in 2008 and have been firm friends since.

Mollie has set up an outdoor education school called the Field Farm Project with her partner Nick McMillen and to quote their Facebook page it is ‘an exclusive mix of woodland crafts, field studies, farm life, horticulture, ancient crafts and technologies – combining to provide a rich and inspirational learning experience‘.

Mollie had already set up her stand when we arrived and had a lot of her beautiful creations on display. One of Mollie’s specialisations is basketry and she loves to pass that knowledge onto others. Mollie had planned to run classes that day but due to some last-minute changes by the local NT organisers she was only allowed to run some demonstrations.

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Meet Mollie

The Vyne is a large estate so we spent the day going off on adventures and then popping back to Mollie’s stall to sneak in a bit of basketry.

My wife Alison and the kids got chatting to one of the NT volunteers who was using a rather strange device, an oval-shaped nest of wires, designed to pick up fallen apples. It was a simple but genius system allowing you to collect lots of apples without bending over, and without damaging them in any way. As the wires rolled over each apple they parted to let it in, then sprang back into shape again to hold it securely inside with all the others.

Once the apples were collected it was off to the device that shredded them ready for pressing.

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Apples galore

As this was October the leaves were just turning. I loved the browns, yellows and greens that were all around. The yew was heavy with red fruit and the dew was still lingering in shaded areas of the grass – all quite beautiful.

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Autumn colours

My kids wandered off to the woods to play and I bimbled back to chat with Mollie. The Field Farm Project is really gaining strength nowadays with a wide range of courses being run. They have bushcraft courses for children, basketry courses and bow-making courses and they are experimenting with growing many different foodstuffs all year round. For schools, Mollie and Nick offer courses for Key Stages 1 through to 4 covering many different types of learning in the natural environment.

I spent a long time just looking at Mollie’s baskets trying to figure out how she had made them – I can do the basics but that is all ūüôā

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Field Farm Baskets

I found my family later at the falconry display. Catherine was lucky enough to get picked to fly one of the birds. I was very chuffed to capture the picture at the top left just as the bird landed – Catherine did not move in the slightest – brave girl ūüôā

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Fun Falconry

Finlay was a bit disappointed not to get in on the act but we had some great adventures in the woods together that day.

I teach outdoor education to city children and I am fully aware that the majority of kids do not truly get to explore outdoors these days РI try wherever possible to let my kids run free and discover nature for themselves. We had a great time climbing, finding kill sites, spotting birds and just generally larking about.

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Finlay Fun

I love to find fungi and photograph them. I can identify ones that I know are edible or have some sort of bushcraft use but in the set of pictures below the only one I could hazard a guess at would be the small puffball in the bottom right.

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Finding Fungi

As well as the basketry and the carvings on Mollie’s stall, I spotted what I know as a Blobster,¬†a¬†character made out of clay (shown on the left). Mollie works with youngsters making these beautiful woodland creations and it is amazing to see what¬†children can make from just the resources they find lying around them.

I love this activity myself –¬†the trick is to mould the clay around¬†a small twig to provide¬†support. You can create whole communities from mud, twigs and leaves.

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Field Farm fun

To finish my day I spent a little while trying out coiled basketry. This is such a simple art but has the potential to create very beautiful baskets in the right hands. Mollie can do that but I think I need a bit more practice.

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A great way to relax

It was great to catch up with Mollie again and I know that Alison, Catherine and Finlay had a great day as well.

The Field Farm Project is going from strength to strength and I am looking forward to seeing all the adventures they get up to in the coming year.

Cheers

George

The Poppies in the Moat – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

I have served with the forces for a short period and the cadet forces for quite a number of years so Remembrance Sunday is always a time for me to reflect on the sacrifice others have given to ensure our continued safety.

I took my children Catherine and Finlay to the Poppies in the Moat display at the Tower of London recently; even though there were thousands of people there it was well worth the effort.

When we arrived the first building that took our breath away was the Shard. I had never been up close to this ‘blade of glass’ and it sure is stunning. While we walked around to the Tower we stopped to look over HMS Belfast, the ship I worked on¬†for many years as a Sea Cadet instructor. Nowadays I do not attend the ship evening sessions as I live too far away but I still teach cadets on weekend courses doing adventure training.

Visit to the Poppy display
Visit to the Poppy display

It took us a long time to get over Tower Bridge due to the sheer number of people and the small alleyways. The slow shuffling was well worth the wait as the sight of all the poppies were amazing. I would have loved to have been able to just sit there and reflect but the sheer number of people moving around me (and the kids wanting to see more) made that impossible.

Each of these 888,246 poppies in this display represents one person from the British and Colonial forces who died during the First World War and is truly an awe-inspiring sight.

Reflecting
Reflecting

I took a couple of shots and then I made them black and white in Photoshop but kept the red in each picture. This is the part of the display that is called ‘The Wave’. The picture I took of it does not do this piece of artistic brilliance any justice and if you can get down to see it then do so.

The Wave
The Wave

The other picture that I played with is the one with the waterfall of poppies. We waited a long time to get to the corner where the trees and bushes were. I placed Catherine and Finlay on the wall and slowly stepped back before taking the shot but I could not move far because of the throng of people around us.

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Catherine and Finlay

While I am writing this I am listening to a song on television from the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance called the Shores of Normandy by Jim Radford. Jim was a 15 year old galley boy working on a tug maneuvering the blocks of the Mulberry harbour into place on D-Day. His song is beautiful and recounts what he saw that day as he watched the storming of the Normandy beaches. I know this display represents those British and Colonial deaths in the First World War but truly this display represents far more to me.

The Waterfall
The Waterfall

Once we had finished we came across some members of the Parachute Regiment selling poppies. I introduced myself as an ex-Para and asked this sergeant if he was happy to have his picture taken with the kids and he was happy to oblige.

Then we were off sightseeing at all the strange buildings in the city centre. We ended up at the Monument and Catherine asked if we could go up. I had never been up before –¬†the kids climbed all 311 steps without stopping for a break once.

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Sightseeing

The views from the top were brilliant looking over St Paul’s Cathedral, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.

The Monument View
The Monument View

The display of poppies is to be dismantled on the 12th of November but the section known as The Wave will be around until the end of the month before going on a national tour.

Cheers

George

Late Summer Bimbles

July, August and September were very busy months for me this year so I did not post up much about the bimbles around my local village of Bramley.

Part of this was due to receiving a rather lovely birthday present in September from my wife Alison of a new Nikon D3200 DSLR camera. I have never owned a camera that requires anything more than point and shoot before so I have spent many an evening reading up on it and practising.

Some of the pictures in this post have been taken with my Nokia phone and some with my new DSLR.

I have  put up just a few of the many pictures I have taken over the last two months and separated them into categories.

Butterflies

I am not that knowledgable about these lovely creatures so had to rely on a guide book to ID them. The three below from top left clockwise are a Comma Butterfly, a Marble White and a Silverwashed Fritillary. All were photographed in woodland glades enjoying the sunlight.

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Comma Butterfly, a Marble White and a Silverwashed Fritillary

Flowers

As usual flowers are my passion with the range of smells, colours and textures they offer. I am still confused by some flowers I find in and around the woods by our village Рthere must be lots of garden escapes. The yellow flower my daughter is looking at was a late bloomer; I could not identify it from my books but she liked it.

The cornflower is always a nice find but the most unusual I spotted was at The Vyne National Trust property on the outskirts of Bramley. The little flower on the bottom right was sitting on top of a perfectly manicured hedge and was too good a shot to miss.

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Cornflower (bottom left) and two unknowns

Two beautiful plants for late summer are Woundwort and Borage. Both plants have been used medicinally in the past, for treating cuts and kidney problems respectively.

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Woundwort and Borage

Ok not a flower but the flowering heads of the hogweed when caught at the right angle and light turn into a thing of beauty.

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The majestic hogweed

Fruits and nuts

I luckily have a local woodland next to me that has a carpet of wild strawberries. In the summer it was great to see these little red berries appearing and getting to nibble the odd one before the birds or slugs got to them. I managed to photograph far more hazlenuts this year (bottom left) before the squirrels snaffled them all. I don’t know if that was because I was really looking for them, there were more than usual, there were fewer¬†squirrels about, or a combination¬†of all of the above. As usual though there were plenty of horse chestnuts for my kids to collect. My rucksack always ended up being full of them every time I took the kids out.

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Wild Strawberries, Hazelnuts and Horse Chestnuts

Finlay spotted the apple tree in full bloom and was soon scrumping for apples in its branches. I took the bottom shot as I really liked the contrast of red and green with the rosehips and apples, both beautiful and full of vitamin C.

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Scrumping for apples through the rosehips

Leaves

I have been watching the leaves grow all year and now into the autumn I am watching them start to die off. They can be quite striking though at times with the higgeldy piggeldy white trail of the larvae from the moth larvae Nepticula aurella. A hazel leaf (bottom picture) may seem quite boring to look at first but if you put it to the light and peer closely then you see a whole new world.

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Leaves up close

Seeds

The wood aven flower is a lovely yellow colour and the plant has many uses but the flower only lasts a few months. To know it all year round you need to recognise the shape of its leaves and also the spiky seed head it produces (top left). Once you have identified one you will see them all over the place.
I like to peer inside the little capsules containing the bluebell seeds just before they fall apart and drop their seeds (bottom left). This is a second period of beauty to me with this plant, often overlooked by most people. I have no idea what the seed pod in the top right is from (taken in my garden) but it is striking.

The last one at the bottom right shows the seeds from the willowherb starting to unfurl.

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Seeds – Woodaven, Bluebells, Willowherb and one unknown (top right)

I could not resist putting this picture of the willowherb up on its own as it captures the moment the little hairs with their attached seeds are just starting to float off.

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The beauty of a Willowherb seed pod unfurling

I came across this little chap (not my son) Mr Squirrel (though it could have been Mrs Squirrel) lying in the leaf litter on one walk with Finlay. Over a number of weeks we would see this little chap slowly decomposing and both Finlay and myself found it totally fascinating.

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Mr Squirrel returning to the earth

Insects

Over the summer I have been trying to get some good macro shots of insects and I was particularly impressed with the spider in the top left picture. I took this one with my new camera as well as the honeybee (I think that is what it is) at the bottom right. The other two were captured using my Nokia phone camera.

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Up close and personal with the insects

This little packet of pink madness is the red gall of the gall wasp. I found it hanging off a bramble branch and was very confused to what it was at first until I had looked it up. I will be looking out for more of them next year when I will hopefully have some extension tubes for my camera lens so as to take far better macro pictures.

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The red gall of the gall wasp

A last little look at the beauty of the small fly and the daddy long legs.

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The fly and daddy long legs

My last picture is of one of the few ground-dwelling fungi I spotted over the summer. As far as I am concerned it is an LBJ (Little Brown Jobbie): I do not study these little critters enough to identify the different types of LBJs. I liked this one for the forlorn look it had sitting on its own on the woodland floor after something or someone had snapped it.

Thankfully as autumn has progressed more and more fungi have started to pop up all over the woods which I can identify.

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An early dejected looking LBJ

I had a great summer photographing around my village and look forward to getting some great pictures as the autumn comes to a close and winter sets in.

Cheers

George

Close up photography

I have been experimenting with my Nikon D3200 DSLR for a month now and I am very impressed with the results so far.

Also I have got Adobe Lightroom which really helps me get the best out of the pictures I take while in my learning state. I am shooting more and more in the RAW format as if I take a bad shot I have a chance of making something out of it in Lightroom.

Also I took the plunge and got the Nikon D3200 for Dummies ebook and am plowing my way through it in the hope of it all making sense one day.

Here are a selection of some of my close up work over the last month. I am enjoying this type of photography and so have been looking into lens tubes to help in this macro photography.

I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I enjoyed shooting them and playing with them in Lightroom.

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The Comma Butterfly
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Popping out of the hedge
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Catherine investigating
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Garden seed head
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Hoverfly (I think) on an Ivy seed head
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Common fly sunbathing
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Daddy Long Legs in some rushes
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Hoverfly 2
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Spidey
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Willowherb seed
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Dandelion and fly
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Hazlenut
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Hazel stem and next year’s bud
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Cornflower
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Unknown
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The red gall created by the Gall Wasp larvae
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Willowherb seeds
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Mr Squirrel
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Ivy Seed Head
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Beautiful Borage
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Unknown
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Seen better days
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An apple and rosehip harvest

Cheers

George

Wilderness Gathering 2014

I am told that if you keep doing the same thing each year, such as going to the same holiday destination, that time will seem to speed up as you get older. I agree with that to a point¬†but as far as I’m concerned it’s what you get up to at your favourite destination that’s important.

I missed the very first Wilderness Gathering but have been to all the rest since and to combat that sense of time passing quickly I make sure I do something new each time. This year my focus was on the art of filming (there are five short videos in this blog post).

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The Wilderness Gathering and the Coastal Survival Crew

For the third year I helped out Fraser from Coastal Survival, mostly in the role of cameraman for him (filming has been my ‘learn’ for this year) but occasionally doing some one-to-one instruction on making fishing spears and nets. Also in the team was fellow Scot, Steve, and new to the team Leo and Max.

The Gathering is also a time for me to catch up with old friends, such as the selection pictured here: Phil from Badger Bushcraft, JP and Pablo from Woodlife Trails, Pete, Martin (in the Billy the Bushcrafter mask) and Mark from G-Outdoors (there are quite a few more friends pictured later). Also it is a great time to meet new friends such as Phil’s partner Charlie.

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Meeting old friends and new friends

Over all the days there were plenty of workshops going on but due to helping Fraser out I did not spend any great time at one workshop. In a way it was great to flit from class to class and grab a snapshot from as many as I could. Below you can see Will Lord expertly knapping, Steve and Paul from the Bushcraft Magazine giving some great demonstrations on the stage and I even managed to catch one axe in flight.

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Workshops and demonstrations aplenty

One of the things I like about the Wilderness Gathering is all the art you can see in all its different forms, from the grass mat made in a day to the beautifully crafted kayak made by Patrick from Backwoods Bushcraft.

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Wonderful art and craft

Once each day’s¬†crowds had gone¬†home it was time to tidy up, cook tea and relax. The stage was well attended this year with different acts and it was good to hear the music from most of the site.

I slept up in the main car park in my hammock suspended from my own home-made freestanding hammock stand. I packed it this year as I turned up a bit late and knew there would be no space left in the woods.

As usual I brought one of my Scandinavian candles along and managed to get one picture showing a couple of great fire faces.

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Evening Time

On my wanderings I found that if you were patient enough you could get some great shots of some of the best bushcrafters and woodland workers practising their different arts. In these pictures you can see Peter Whiteman carving a yew bow, Ben Orford effortlessly creating a spatula, Jason Sears perfectly demonstrating the art of making cordage by rolling it on his thigh (I have never mastered this) and Jon Mac showing the art of chip carving.

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Masters at Work

Fast becoming a regular feature at the Wilderness Gathering is the Bowdrill World Championship challenge and this year it was run by Phil Brown of Badger Bushcraft. The challenge is to light a fire using a bowdrill set as quickly as possible. I have entered this on a number of occasions. My quickest time ever from start to flame is 1 minute 13 seconds, but sadly not this year. The best I could do after four attemps was 2 minutes and 6 seconds. JP won this year with a time of 1 minute 20 seconds.

Running alongside all this competitive spirit was Jason teaching people all weekend how to use the bowdrill.

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Bowdrill fun

So the main job for me on the weekend was to take pictures of all the activities Coastal Survival got up to. I was very happy to do this as Fraser is a good friend of mine and I am continually learning from him.

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Fishing Spear with Coastal Survival

The video goes into more detail on how you make one of these very simple but effective spears for fishing.

Fraser has spent time over the winter and summer developing his own knife for use in the coastal environment. It is still in its development stage but I was very impressed with its versatility and particularly liked the rubber handled model.

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Coastal Survival Coast Hunter Knife

I put together a short video showing it in use over the weekend.

As usual the net-making classes proved very popular and Fraser and the rest of the crew ran a number of classes on making a pocket gill net and a full-sized gill net. The kids particularly liked making the pocket version.

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Net making with Coastal Survival

The video is not a step by step guide to making nets but it will give you a feel for their construction.

A very popular class that Fraser ran was his cold smoker class. The device was set up in front of the stand all weekend and we smoked some wood pigeon in it.

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Cold Smoker with Coastal Survival

Have a look at the video and see how easy it would be to make one for yourself.

A few other snippets from the weekend: Theresa Kamper in the top right picture (below) is an expert in a lot of primitive crafts but particularly in different types of leather that primitive cultures would have used and is currently finalising her PhD in the subject.

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Moments in Time

All in all I had a great weekend working hard and catching up with old friends like Sonni and Angela from Beneath the Stars Leatherworking and Dave Budd our resident expert blacksmith, and trying out new skills like dowsing with Hans.

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More Moments in Time

At some stage Fraser said he had been given a canoe to take away as a gift. I initially thought he was pulling my leg but it turned out to be true. I had to turn around his front passenger seat so that we could get the thing into his van but after a bit of huffing and puffing we managed it.

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The Coastal Survival Tardis

I had a fantastic weekend at the Wilderness Gathering and I was particularly happy that the filming worked out so well.

Here is my last video, with shots from as much of the weekend as I could cram in.

See you there next year hopefully.

George

Carving Contrasts

I like to think I can carve the odd decent spoon, bowl or cup from time to time but I know my skill level is only fair to middling as I do not spend enough time practising the art, but I do have a number of good friends who are absolute expert carvers and from whom I can get inspiration.

Mark Beer is one of them. He is an excellent all-round woodsman and carver and on a recent visit to his place I was quite taken aback by his latest creations. As usual I insisted on taking loads of pictures of his work and when he explained the fluorescent properties of Robinia (False Accacia) wood the photographer in me became quite excited.

The cup on the left is carved from Robinia and the other two are from mulberry.

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Robinia and mulberry make for beautiful carvings

The cups were carved from burls found on the trees so you can see lots of swirls in the wood. The robinia under normal light is a light cream colour that contrasts well with the darker parts caused by the haphazard growth of the burl.

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Robinia under natural light

Under an ultraviolet light (I made an impromptu studio in his closet) the wood is transformed into a magical range of colours. I was as usual only taking pictures with my phone but I think you can really see the green, yellow and purple coming through.

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Robinia under infrared light

And up very close – quite psychedelic really.

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Robinia up close

The smallest of the cups was made from Mulberry. I find carving small cups quite difficult as you need to carve deep but have so much less wood to hold while carving. This small cup is simple in its design but because of the growth of the burl is rather beautiful with shades of light and dark.

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Mini Mulberry

The third cup also made out of mulberry has a larger bowl with a pointed tip. The inside of the bowl was finished using his knife only with very fine cuts to make it smooth but the outside still had the tool marks clearly showing. These tool marks blended in well with the swirls of the burl.

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All angles and curves

In terms of function these cups perform the exact same job but in terms of form each is a unique piece of beautiful art.

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Contrasts

Mark had also purchased pipestone (catlinite) to make a Traditional Ceremonial Elbow Pipe and carved and shaped the bowl himself. The pipestone is only allowed to be quarried by members of recognised Native American Tribes. The wood Mark used for the stem was cherry.

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A pipestone elbow pipe with a carved cherry stem

The man himself.

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Mark the Carver

Thanks for letting me look at your latest work Mark, and allowing me to photograph these beautiful pieces.

Cheers

George

Bushmoot 2014 – Bushcraft Days 100th Post

My 100th post – it seems like only yesterday that I was tentatively writing my first post way back at the end of last September.

For this 100th post the subject couldn’t be anything other than this year’s¬†Bushcraft UK Bushmoot.

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BCUK Bushmoot 2014

I came back from holiday in France on Saturday the 2nd of August, unpacked then re-packed and headed out with my two kids Catherine and Finlay to Merthyr Mawr in South Wales on Sunday the 3rd of August. Unluckily I had been beaten to my usual camping spot at the Moot by another family but managed to set up nearby with my tipi, kitchen tarp and my hammock stand.
I found a fire guard lying in the sand and after digging it out used it around my fire. It was quite a well engineered piece and I could not understand why anyone would have discarded it.

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My camp

The first few days were mostly spent chilling out with the kids before eventually getting around to putting up the workshop tarps and parachutes. This was the first year I had taken my children to the Moot and they took to it like ducks to water.

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Set up

For the first few evenings we had dinner with Fraser from Coastal Survival over in the sand dune area so preparing the evening meal was never an issue for me, thankfully.
I could not resist taking this shot of Stu when he arrived in a taxi and we unloaded his supplies for the Naughty Corner.
It was at this time that my daughter started feeling unwell with a high temperature and feeling very faint. For the next few days she would sleep a lot in her hammock and eat very little. I thought it was just one of those 24 hour bugs but it turned out to be quite a nasty virus and really laid her out.

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Settling in and arrivals

This is the first of five videos I took while at the Moot and shows the set up and some of the first courses that were held.

It was good to see all the new growth on Drew’s tree that had been planted last year. People have been leaving little tributes on the tree over the year which I thought made it look very special. While Catherine was feeling a little better she would come out and play with the other kids while she could. She never met Drew but I am sure that they would have gotten on with him like a house on fire. Drew loved to run role-playing games with the kids at the Moot and Catherine and Finlay love these types of games.

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Bushcrafters Past and Bushcrafters Future

Before the main Moot started a number of other courses had been organised. These included Bhutenese bow making with Wayne from Forest Knights, leather working with Eric Methven, green wood working with Bob from the Rural Skills Trust, and the Coastal Hunter course with Fraser of Coastal Survival.

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Week 1 Courses

The first course I was involved in was the Starter Course. I have written a separate post on this course on the BCUK forum and you can read about it here – Bushmoot Starter Course. This is the second year we have run the course and it is starting to prove very popular now.

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Starters Course

Over three of the nights I was at the Moot there was some great entertainment. On one night some of the lads from the Naughty Corner came down to the main sandpit area and had a great jamming session. Apart from filming them I recorded a couple of their tracks and then used them as backing music for my second video. Tony, the organizer of the Moot, even got himself some birthday cake on the night.

The other two nights we were treated to an amazing fire display by Emily, Liesl and Naomi Cook. These three young ladies are very talented and brave.

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Evening Entertainment

Here is the video of Emily, Liesl and Naomi doing their fire show on both nights.

One of the things that has struck me about the Moot is all the different art that you can experience there. Art in the form of music from Stephen Crump (recorded for my third video), Welsh love spoons from Dean Allen, Woodland Plant Art from Keith Beaney and art in the form of iron from Dave Budd.

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Bushcraft Art

Needless to say Spikey and Badger managed their own version of art up in the Naughty Corner with the use of torches and some evening spirit.

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Ye Old Naughty Corner

The main Moot kicked off with lots and lots of courses. I have posted pictures from just a small selection of what was on offer: making the pizza oven with Tim, mini bows with Wayne, water purifying with Richard, net needle making with Steve and spoon carving with Dean. There were lots more courses going on but I did not get to see them as I was on the Starter course all day. My wife Alison arrived on the first day of the main Moot and took a lot of the pictures of the day.

It was at this stage that we decided that Catherine was best off at home, so instead of staying, Alison took her back that day with Finlay.

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Workshops – 1

The next video is of many of the first day’s workshops, with backing music from the Naughty Corner band.

The Sunday was another day of workshops and I tried to get around to as many as possible. These included knife sharpening with Chris, making tapestries with Shelly, tracking with Perry McGee of the National Tracking School and making a geodesic dome with Tony. There were plenty of other courses going on such as plant walks with Robin Harford and willow basket trap making with Fraser from Coastal Survival.

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Workshops – 2

My video of the day has as its soundtrack Stephen Crump playing a tin whistle on a wet afternoon.

Needless to say I spent a lot of my time down on the archery range shooting arrows or atlatl darts. With all the bows Wayne had been helping people to make we were kept very busy.

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Down on the Range

I made a short but very funny video of Mad Dave and Cap’n Badger helping me to clear the range of a hung up tree.

At this stage I had not run any bowdrill classes but I had done a couple of one-to-one sessions. My neighbour Matt Baillie went off after one of the sessions and persevered until he got the bowdrill cracked Рwell done mate.

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A Little Fire Fix

I also did a quick session on the Egyptian bowdrill method and made a short film of it.

The Monday was a bit of a damp affair but the Traders’ Day went well and I managed to try some more of Richard’s excellent elderberry wine.

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Traders’ Day and a Private Wine Tasting

I managed to get a little bit of food at the group meal before it was devoured. This is becoming a bit of a tradition now since we stopped doing the hangis, and it is amazing to see all the different dishes that can be cooked over an open fire in a Dutch Oven.

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Group Meal

My last video of the Moot is of the Traders’ Day and the group meal.

I spoke with Alison that evening and decided to head home in the morning as Catherine was still very poorly. I got home by lunchtime on Tuesday and thankfully over the next few days Catherine started to recover and was soon back to her usual self.

I really enjoyed the half of the Moot I attended this year and my kids are desperate to come back again next year. There were another couple of days of workshops that I missed but I think this post will give you a feel for how the Bushmoot works.

I hopefully will see you all again next year and meet a few new faces as well.

Cheers

George

Brittany Adventures

The start of this year’s school holidays found our family in the beautiful Breton countryside. My good friend Rick offered us the use of his place over there for 10 days.

I tried to do a little bit of bushcraft as the holiday went on but it turned out to be a real mixed bag of outdoorsy adventures for the whole family.

Most days we would head into La Roche Bernard to find one of the cafes that had Wifi and chill/catch up on emails but every day my kids would want to climb the rocks beside the cafe. I tried to keep an eye on them but as you can see Finlay was usually off doing his own thing.

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You have your eye on one and the other…………….

My beautiful family Alison, Catherine and Finlay

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Family Fun at La Roche Bernard

We had a lovely day at a Breton Country Fayre at Nivillac where the focus was on early farm machinery. I looked at some of the tractors and could remember riding on these types when I was a boy.

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Traditional farming machinery

I liked the fact you could get up close to all the action. Catherine was enthralled with winnowing the seed heads but Finlay kept well back as he suffers from hayfever. I was particularly taken with the guys using the hand flails to thresh the wheat. They were so close to each other but not once did they have an accident.

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Even older techniques

I made a short video of the day

Back at the house, I managed to find a spot in the garden to put up a hammock for some quality chill time.

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Chill Zone

I managed to get a spot of carving in as there was a pear tree in the garden that needed a bit of a trimming. I have a roughed-out bowl drying out at the moment waiting for a sanding. It will end up back in Rick’s cottage as a thank you for letting us stay there.

Alison found the hammock great as an office. As a digital publisher she takes her laptop most places but prefers work in style wherever she goes.

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Modern and ancient pastimes

Evenings were a sociable¬†time and my little whisky cup made for an excellent damson liqueur holder. I introduced this sharing cup to some of Rick’s Breton friends and they were very taken with this Celtic tradition –¬†Brittany of course being one of¬†the Celtic nations.

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Damson liqueur in the whisky cup

We went for a river cruise along the Vilaine River and while I was watching the world go by at a tranquil pace heard a buzzing sound. Have a look at this little video and tell me you would not want this toy РI know I do.

One morning I decided to explore the nearby woods and Finlay asked to come along. We found an area of woodland with a mixture of conifers and deciduous trees. The insect life was much richer than I would normally find back in the UK as it was not managed it seemed to any great extent.

We got up close to the spider’s web you can see at the top left and as the spider detected our movements he¬†sped over to a fly he had wrapped up,¬†protecting his dinner. I thought that the brown butterflies were particularly well camouflaged in amongst the leaf litter.

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Insect life

We found plenty of signs of deer (we spotted some out in the fields) such as scratching posts and found this butterfly trapped in a web. I would have left the butterfly if I had thought the spider could have eaten it but all that was happening was the butterfly was trashing the web with the poor spider staying well out of the way. Finlay helped release the butterfly and it flew off, leaving half a web for the spider.

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Investigations

A few other finds were lots of laying up points for the deer, some very strange gooey fungus and a pine cone that had only had one strip of its seeds eaten.

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Oddities

Back at the cottage I took down a tent that had been up¬†in the garden and found this ants’ nest under it. In less than an hour every single egg had been removed to safety by the ants. The crickets were particularly tame and were quite happy to sit on your fingers.

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Super bugs

Under some slates covering the well I found this rather beautiful little lizard hiding from me. The damselflies were everywhere and very hard to get up close to to photograph.

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Up close and personal

I must admit to spending a couple of days on the beach and as you can see I was never properly dressed for this environment. I salvaged my bushcraft credentials with a good walk over the rocks at low tide looking at all the oysters, and I came across this little Breton lady foraging for buried seafood in the sand.

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Bushcrafters on the beach

Alison and the kids spotted some unusual holes across a path one day and I came over to have a look. There were no holes on either side of the track but there were little mounds of dirt. From what I could see that had happened was that a mole had dug his way across the path and as the ground was compacted there, when the earth was pushed aside the holes had remained visible.

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Moles and Marshes

As I have been photographing our UK wildflowers a lot over the last couple of years it was great to be in an environment where new ones were springing up all over.

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Stunning flowers

It was nice to see some old favourites too, such as bramble and mint.

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Time to relax

The highlight of the holiday had to be the climbing day. It took us a long time to find the place but it was well worth it. Alison had spotted in a flyer a centre called Escapades Verticales where we could take the kids climbing.

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Climbing high

I was very impressed with the set and we had a fantastic time climbing and zip wiring all afternoon.

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Zipping and traversing

I managed to put together a short video on it using my phone.

As far as holidays are concerned this one was one of the best and I will always remember it. I must say thanks to Rick for letting us stay at his cottage and also babysitting one night to let us get out for a lovely meal as a couple, a rare treat.

Cheers

George

Brecon in Bloom

‘for some reason the name Bob comes up time and again’

While helping with a Gold DofE Expedition this July in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales I got photographing as much of the plant life I could that was in flower.

I find that many people who walk these high hills (including many adventure leaders) pay scant regard to what is down by their feet but if you look closely enough you will see a riot of colour.

I have used two good reference guides for this article – these are:

1) The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland – Charles Coates

2) The First Nature Guide to Wonderful Wildflowers of Wales – Volumes 1 to 4 – Pat O’Reilly and Sue Parker

All of the pictures were taken inside the Brecon Beacons National Park mostly on the hillsides.

On the left below is Bog Asphodel a beautiful yellow flower that is now in decline. Historically farmers associated this plant with ailments to sheep such as brittle bones or foot rot. It was not the plant that caused the problems but the poor soil the sheep lived on. As farming practices change so does the soil and so the plant is now in decline.

At the top right you see Tormentil and this little plant is always ovelooked but once you become aware of it you see it all over the hills. This is an astringent little plant that was used to treat gum disease and colic. Another common name is bloodroot for the red dye it produces.

At the bottom right you can see Perforate St John’s Wort. I normally spot this plant low down slopes but I found this one in a gully quite high up where it had found some shelter. Herbalists use this plant to treat depression to this day however due to its perforated leaves (hold one up to the sun to see them) it was previously thought to be good for treating wounds and stopping bleeding.

Bog Asphodel, Tormentil and St John's Wort
Bog Asphodel, Tormentil and St John’s Wort

I found Water Forget-Me-Not in a number of locations, sometimes on its own and sometimes in whole carpets but always around water in sheltered spots. Apart from being given to loved ones in the past so they would not feel forgotten this little plant was seen as cleanser of mucus so thought good for treating whooping cough and bronchitis.

A little point on naming plants is that when I am out and about especially with my younger students I do not always tell them the names of the plants. I get them to agree a random name for different plants and say out these names as they go along every time they spot one – for some reason the name Bob comes up time and again (must be a Blackadder thing). Once we are back at camp I then get them to ID Bob for its given name. This seems to make the plant names stick with them more. I got this idea many years ago from a fellow bushcrafter.

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Water Forget-Me-Not

Another couple of plants of wet areas are the Sundew (top) and the Butterwort (below). Both plants exude sticky fluids to catch insects and have been used to treat rough skin to make it smoother (Butterwort) and also to treat sunburn (Sundew).

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Sundew and Butterwort

I came across a bank made up of shaped stones to support a small railway and saw that it was completely covered in Wild Strawberries. I have never seen so many Wild Strawberries in one place. The bank was facing the South West over open water so that must have had quite an influence on its growth.

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Wild Strawberry

Back out on the moorland the land was dominated by the Soft Rushes. As recently as the second world war the soft piths of these plants were used as candles.

I found the Water Mint in a tiny stream in amongst the Rushes. I did not identify it easily at first as it was not in flower but its smell and square stem gave it away. A great medicinal plant and I like it in my tea.

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Soft Rush and Water Mint

The Brambles (top) I spotted in mid July were just starting to ripen their Blackberries. Is it me or are the blackberries very early this year?

I spotted these Bilberries (bottom) while walking with the cadets where the sheep could not get easy access to so we had a bit of a feast.

Both these fruits make excellent puddings and jams.

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Ripening Bramble and Bilberry

The beautiful Meadowsweet was in full bloom in July and was growing abundantly in the low lying areas around the hills where it had plenty of light and water.  This was one of the plants sacred to Druids and was a plant that Bayer used as one of the key ingredients when developing aspirin in the 19th century. It gives off a lovely aroma and was traditionally used in the home to cover up bad smells.

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Meadowsweet

On the left you can see the Common Spotted Orchid. I came across this beautiful flower in the hills but on the steep grassy slope by a river where the soil was not too acidic. A common ingredient in love potions all over the world I am told.

At the top right is the tiny Wild Thyme, a plant I got confused with Self Heal for a long time. As a medicinal plant it was used as a sedative and was good for hangovers.

The Red Clover in the bottom right is a little flower spotted all the time by most people but at this time you can see that it has opened up slightly. This little fella I can remember as a kid providing me with a shot of nectar. It is also loved by farmers as a nitrogen rich fertiliser or as a feed for animals

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Common Spotted Orchid, Wild Thyme and Red Clover

I did not see a great deal of the Bell Heather (top left) as it does not like the soil to be to acidic so it can be an indicator of drier ground. Traditionally this plant has been used in the making of ropes and baskets due to its long fibrous stems.

The Marsh Thistle (bottom left) as you can see by the insect feeding on it is a good source of food for many different types of insects. The young shoots are quite tasty too.

On the right is the majestic Foxglove. I did not spot too many high up in the hills but found a few in some of the more protected gulleys. A poisonous plant but one I remember playing finger puppets with as a child. As I know it is poisonous now as a father I do not let my kids go anywhere near it.

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Bell Heather, Marsh Thistle and Foxglove

The Meadow Crane’s Bill (top left) named after the fruiting body it grows that resembles a Cranes beak. This is another medicinal plant used historically for treating wounds and nowadays for treating diarrhoea and also as a gargle.
Bottom left is the tiny Self Heal. Another plant that is easily missed but was once seen as the woodmans friend and used to treat small cuts they got from their tools.
On the right is the tall and slender Great Burnet. I found this one in only one spot on my trip near a railway line and nearly walked past it. I like to nibble the young leaves. It’s other name is Burnip due to its ability to help treat burns.

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Meadow Crane’s Bill, Self Heal and Great Burnet

On the left is the well known medicinal plant Yarrow. This tough plant was growing all over the lower slopes. Up high you still saw the odd one but hugging the earth very closely. I remember being on a Bushcraft course, having a cold and being given Yarrow tea laced with honey. That cold did not hang around as it normally would do with me.

I think the yellow flower on the right is a Hawkbit. These little yellow flowers are difficult to identify correctly if you do not look closely at the leaves. I forgot to do this but I think it is a Hawkbit. The genus of this plant is Leontodon which translates to Lions Tooth Рreferring to the squared of but toothed tips of the flower.

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Yarrow and Hawkbit

My last picture I included as I came across a lot of logging in the lower slopes of the hills. It is Larch I think and I really liked the contrast between the young green growth, the growing cones and the sharpness of the stump left by the loggers.

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Larch

I really enjoyed spotting and photographing these plants (I had to climb down into some steep gullies) however please let me know if you think I have identified any of them incorrectly.

Cheers

George

Brecon Gold

Last July I found myself helping out with a Sea Cadet Gold Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expedition in the Brecon Beacons of South Wales.

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Going for Gold

I was asked to attend in a safety role as a Mountain Leader but soon ended up doing safety and training as we had a shortage of instructors. The expedition was over five days and we had one team along for training and two other teams doing their assessed expeditions. All the participants were from the Sea and Royal Marine Cadets (including both cadets and younger staff in the teams). The participants were from London Area and Southern Area Sea Cadets.

I joined the expedition at the end of the first day at Dan yr Ogof campsite. The staff and cadets under training were camping there but the assessed teams camped elsewhere remotely. I soon had my hammock stand set up and turned around to see my neighbours were some pigs. At least they were better company than the midgies.

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My home for the trip

My first morning was a bit of a damp affair but the bacon sandwiches soon made up for that. I was joined by my friends Alan and Dave  Lewis, John Kelly, Chris Bonfield and met for the first time Paul Kelly. Paul also holds a Mountain Leader qualification which proved invaluable over the expedition.

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A wet start

I took a little bit of video after my first night in my recently modified hammock stand. I had a great sleep and it was nice to get away from the mossies.

I took out a team who were training for a future expedition. It was made up of Jess, Maisie, Rosie and Tara. Tara and Jess are also working towards their Level 2 Assisting Basic Leadership award with me so this trip proved great experience for them.

In the role of safety officer I normally like to get up very high in the hills to observe the assessed teams remotely. My team was dropped off at Tyle Gawr at the foot of Fan Nedd. The day was blustery but at this point the visibility was clear. We were soon slowly picking our way up the side of Fan Nedd, discussing all the factors of good route selection on a steep slope.

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Straight up

The spirits of this team were high and they did not let the wind or the rain get them down at any time (which makes my job far easier).

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The Training Team

After doing a fair bit of map work, where they had to continually identify where they were, we soon spotted the first of the assessed teams on the hills. Also while we were ascending Fan Nedd we were passed by many troops heavily laden down with heavy kit. They seemed to reach some point then turn around and run off down the hill. I said to the team that we would do the same and received an incredulous look from them Рwe did it anyway and it only took 15 minutes to descend half way down Fan Nedd to the minibuses.

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Observing and problem solving

Along the way we did a spot of foraging for bilberries and did a fair bit of wild flower spotting. I will do a separate post on all the wildflowers we came across later.

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Wanderings and Foraging

The weather soon closed in but we were still able to navigate easily over very rough ground (with limited use of maps or compasses) and keep an eye on the other teams remotely; thankfully though when we were lower down the visibility was much clearer.

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Beautiful views up high and down low

After ensuring that all the assessed teams had descended off the Beacons Way to Blaenglyn Farm campsite, I took my team to recce the steep slope at Craig Cerrig Gleisiad as this had been discussed as a possible point to ascend into the hills the next day. It soon became apparent that,thanks to the recent heavy rain, the steep grassy slopes would be too much of a challenge for the teams the next day. At least the team had a good time practising their route selection skills again as they descended this steep slope to the camp site.

 

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Steep Slopes

After the end of a long hard day all the tents, tarps and hammocks were soon up. Those on the expedition stayed at Blaenglyn Farm campsite while all the staff stayed at Grawen campsite.

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Accomodations

Day two started and finished with excellent weather. The teams were bussed to a new start point just at Twyn Garreg Рwen. This day was to be much lower down but the ground was very treacherous with tufty grass before descending into the woods then climbing up onto Cadair Fawr and then to Grawen

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Sunshine

Dave and I spent the morning observing the teams and met them only a couple of times in the day. The training team also spent the day by themselves following the route. With so few landmarks on the open moorland the day was a good test of the teams’ navigation skills.

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Moorland navigation

Along the way I came across this group of ponies with a number of foals grazing on the hillside. The teams did not all get to the summit of Cadair Fawr (due to a few minor aches and sprains) but did spend the whole day navigating as much of the route as possible.

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Lovely encounters

The last day was spent navigating from Pont Sarn to Talybont dam. I found a spot halfway along the route to wait out the teams passing through at Buarth y Caerau. It was a long wait and I only saw two teams all day. The third team went slightly off track but got to the end on time anyway.

I spent my time watching wildlife (spooked a heron) and taking pictures of wild flowers.

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The waiting game

All the teams reached the dam safely and on time. There was a few aches and pains (including the staff) but an over-riding sense of achievement amongst everyone.

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Final team in

After a good clean up it was time for one more picture and the long trip home.

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Happy Expeditioners

I made a small video of the whole trip.

I hope that this is the start of many more Gold DofE expeditions in the Sea Cadet Corps and look forward to helping out on them in the future.

Cheers

George

Bramley Bimbles – June 14

I made a number of bimbles around Bramley in June observing the changes occurring so I have decided to merge the three trips into one report. I took my kids out on two of them: it’s great seeing them starting to observe nature with more of an eye for detail.

My wife Alison gave me a macro camera lens for my iPad mini for Fathers Day and I took this lovely picture of this orange hawkweed with it.

Orange Hawkweed
Orange Hawkweed

The cherry tree I have been monitoring produced its fruit in June. On the first trip they were yellow, on the second they were red and on the third trip they had all been stripped away by the birds.

I did also manage to find a few wild strawberries over the month but they were soon getting nibbled away at as well.

Cherry and Wild Strawberry
Cherry and Wild Strawberry

On the second trip I spotted that some damselflies were flitting about a watercress-covered pond. I kept trying to get a decent picture of them but the pictures always ended up fuzzy. On the last trip after a patient wait I managed to snap this picture with the iPad mini using the macro lens.

Damsen Fly
Damselfly

At another pond where I am watching the reedmace growing I came across the yellow flower below. I had never seen this before so had to look it up: the closest I can get to it is a flower called the monkey flower. Happy to be educated by anyone if they can ID it as something else. If it is monkey flower then the leaves and stem were¬†traditionally used by Native Americans as a salt substitute just as colts foot was used here. I was first taught how to dry out the leaves of colts foot by my friend Kevin Warrington –¬†Laplanders Natural Lore Blog.

Even though the bluebell has lost its flower I still think it is a beautiful plant in this late stage of its life cycle. These pods will eventually darken before they open to disperse their seeds.

Monkey flower and Bluebell seed pods
Monkey flower and Bluebell seed pods

This was one of the first self heal flowers I came across this year right at the beginning of the month. It is a wonderful medicinal plant that I have used a number of times along with woundwort, plantain and yarrow to treat small cuts and grazes. It was also known as carpenter’s herb ¬†because of this ability to treat small cuts.
As the month has worn on this plant has appeared all around the village in great numbers. It is a pity that most people do not give it a second thought.

Self Heal
Self Heal

Two very tiny details in abundance at the moment are the cuckoo spit and the tiny green alder cones. The cuckoo spit contains the Froghopper nymph which uses the spit much like a home when it emerges as a place of safety.

Some of the alder cones have a red tongue-like protrusion caused by the fungus Taphrina alni. The fungus develops in some of the cones and forces the cone to grow these protrusions so as to produce and release its spores – a kind of forced symbiosis I suppose. My source on this was the Donegal Wildlife Blogspot

Frog Hopper spawn and Alder Cones
Cuckoo spit and Alder Cones

My first mullein flower of the year. This was the only mullein I saw in flower but there are plenty growing around the village. A great medicinal plant used for treating chest infections, TB, digestive problems, sore throats and many more ailments. Nature News has a good page on the plant.

I personally like it as it makes a good handrill, a good torch when covered with oil or fats but also as its leaves are soft and have anti-bacterial properties, which means they make great toilet paper.

Mullein flower
Mullein flower

As I have been taking Paul Kirtley’s online Masterclass in Plant ID I have been monitoring a lot of different sites and trees around the village since February and plan to do so for a whole year. It has been great to see all the changes occurring with the flowers and the trees leaves coming through but I was particularly happy to spot my first hazelnut and acorn of the year this month.

Hazel nut and baby Acorns
Hazel nut and baby acorns

It was not until the end of my last bimble, as I turned my last corner to go home, that I spotted my first poppy of the year. The edible part of the plant is the seed which is used in cakes and also crushed to make an oil.

Poppy
Poppy

Two other new spots this month were the enchanters and the woody¬†nightshades. The enchanters nightshade I found dotted all around the woodland floor but the woody nightshade I found in a hedge by our local park. They are not related but are both beautiful flowers. The enchanters was known to the Saxons as aelfthone to treat what they saw as¬†elf sickness¬†–¬†any¬†sudden sickness brought on for no known reason.

Woody nightshade is another plant used medicinally in the past and is also known as bittersweet because of the bitter then sweet taste you got when chewing the root of the plant. Large doses of this plant though are deadly so one left to well-trained herbalists.

Enchanter Nightshade and Woody Nightshade
Enchanter Nightshade and Woody Nightshade

I have found only one patch of ground where I have seen the common bistort growing. This was taken near the end of its flowering stage and was covered in these moths. I have never tried this plant but I am told that the young leaves and the root are edible. In the Lake District the plant is used in the making of a pudding called the Bistort Easter-Ledge Pudding.

Bistort and Moth
Bistort and Moth

My friend Alan Smylie is an excellent forager and photographer and I was chatting to him about the common mallow and the lime flowers that you can see below. Apart from looking beautiful he is making a wild cherry jelly infused with mallow leaves and he makes a tea from the lime flowers. I hope to do a forage or two with Al at this years BCUK Bushmoot in August and pick his brains a bit more about some of these plants.

Mallow and Lime seeds
Mallow and Lime flowers

In the stream near our house I have found carpets of watercress growing. The flowers attract a lot of insects and the whole plant can seem to fill a stream. It was not until I got into the stream did I notice that the plant seems to float on the water with the roots of to the side of the stream. The plant is edible but only if you know the water is clean.

Watercress
Watercress

On the left is the pin cushion head of a devils bit scabious flower. This beautiful flower is a source of food for many insects in the summer. In particular the declining Marsh Fritillary Butterfly relies heavily on this flower. When I see this flower appear each year I know that summer has finally arrived.

At the bottom right is the lovely meadowsweet. This was one of the plants sacred to Druids and was a plant that Bayer used as one of the key ingredients when developing aspirin in the 19th century. It gives off a lovely aroma and was traditionally used in the home to cover up bad smells.

Devils Bit Scabious and Meadowsweet
Devils Bit Scabious and Meadowsweet

I spotted this little fella taking a rest on the seed head of a Ribwort Plantain plant. He was not at all fazed as my phone camera came in close.

Ribwort Plantain seed head
Ribwort Plantain seed head

On our second trip out we came across this ash tree that had been used as a scratching post for deer. It looks like they had used the tree to help rub the felt of their antlers. I could see teeth marks on the edges of the ripped off bark and lots of scratches on the wood itself where it appears they were rubbing their antlers.

Apart from the sign on the tree there were plenty of tracks. We had lots of deer slots, badger prints, pheasant, squirrel and what maybe a vole print.

I do not know if the top right print is a vole but it is certainly small enough to be one and the bottom one are the tracks of a grey squirrel.

Deer tree damage, unknown top right and Squirrel bottom left
Deer tree damage, unknown top right and Squirrel bottom left

There have been lots of early purple and early marsh orchids in the woods around the village but I have only spotted two of these pyramidal orchids this year. They seem to like drier, more open ground and I found one near the railway line and the other on the edge of a field so they are probably less common due to the fertilizer run-off from fields and toxins from the railways but also because they do not produce nectar themselves but rely on other nearby orchids to attract insects.

Pyramidal Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid

That was my June when it came to observing nature around Bramley. My kids had a great time and so did I, taking them out, photographing and researching some of the plants.

Cheers

George

Bramley Bushcrafting

About a month ago I was asked to help out at my local village fete by running some bushcraft activities. Space on the field¬†was quite limited so¬†I could not set up ranges for the bows or the Atlatls – my first choice –¬†so instead I opted for fire, hammocks, camp set-ups and the whimmy diddle.

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Bramley Bushcrafting

I arrived at 8.20am to be greeted by these dramatic mammatus clouds (known as upside down clouds). They are sometimes spotted preceding a thunderstorm. In a matter of minutes the rain was lashing down and the picture on the right is a still of a lightning bolt I caught on video.

The rain carried on in bursts for the rest of the morning as I set up. I was a bit concerned that all my tinders and fire sets would be a bit damp. I set up my tipi, a fire area, some campfire cooking set ups and a hammock for folk to try out. Thankfully by the time the fete opened at midday the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing and my kit was all still dry.

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Stormy Set Up

As soon as the fete opened I was kept busy. There were lots of different activities, some you paid for and some you did not pay for. I had agreed to run my activities for free partly because it was a nice opportunity give something to the community and partly because I love seeing people try out bushcraft and discover these ancient skills for themselves.

A quick and easy-to-learn activity is the use of modern firesteels. In no time at all the kids were lighting up Vaseline-smeared cotton-wool balls and using smouldering char cloth to get tinder bundles going. I try to make each of these activities into little classes that include a little discussion at the beginning around permissions and the safety of making a fire.

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Busy times straight away

One of my favorite bushcraft toys is the whimmy diddle. This was taught to me a few years ago by the guru of bushcrafting Mors Kochanski. I love the way I can make the little propeller go one way and then the other as if by magic but best of all I love watching other people trying to figure out for themselves how to do it.

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Introducing the Whimmy Diddle

During the day a number of dads came up to me (no mums this time, for some reason) and asked me to help them make fire using the bowdrill with their sons. I think this set of pictures kind of says it all in terms of how special a moment this can be.

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Quality Father and Son time

It was not all work work work; I was able to keep the gas wood burning stove my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival gave me and so I always had a brew on the go.

While I was busy teaching, others just chilled out in the hammock (this was very popular and quite a queue formed) or studied the various campfire cooking set-ups I had put up.

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Plenty of brews and chill time

I hadn’t really planned to use the handrill but someone¬†asked about it so I¬†gave a demonstration (thankfully I got an ember), and then before I knew it I had loads of kids asking to have a go. I explained that this would usually¬†be¬†done in family groups (and in some societies still is) so to make it easier for everyone. Before long we were twirling away taking it in turns. I think we only had one failure, but we kept the dust we had produced from that one to help build up a successful¬†ember using the bowdrill instead.

At the end of the day I lost count of the number of handrill sessions I did: I do remember having really sore hands (even sorer the next day) but it was all worth it.

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Never too young to learn the handrill

Occasionally I gave some one-to-one tuition on the bowdrill to give my hands a little rest from the handrill.

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Adult to Adult teaching

As I did not have a great deal of time with each person I tried to help out where I could. In the picture below all I am doing is showing the student how to keep the bearing block still and my right hand is stopping the bow from see sawing (I am not holding it at all).

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Guiding

It was not all handrill with the kids – sometimes we got the bowdrill out with spectacular results.

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Big kid teaching little kid

Plenty of smiles after each time.

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Smilers – Picture courtesy of Ian Evett

All in all I had a fabulous day lighting fires, teaching the whimmy diddle, discussing campfire cooking set-ups and ensuring as many kids as possible got to try the hammock out.

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Flamage

I am told that the rest of the fete was a success with loads of activities but I never got to see any of it. I managed to get away from the stand once to go to the toilet and my wife Alison brought me what must have been the largest pork roll ever from the hog roast stand (and for taking all these pictures).

My kids had a great time and managed to pop back to see me every now and then.

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What I missed

The only problem with being part of an event like this is that you miss seeing all the other activities, such as this inflatable tag challenge which my kids obviously loved.

Cheers

George

Useful Island Beauty

a stark reminder of a very different time

I made two trips to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland this May: the first time to attend my gran’s funeral and the second time to spend a week there on holiday with my family.¬†The island has beautiful beaches, rocky coves, stunning moorland but also some of the most useful and beautiful plants a bushcrafter or forager would want.

Island Beauty
Island beauty

I was initially struck by some of the flowers I spotted in my sister Tina’s garden. The bluebell is very common where I live now in the south of England but not so much on the island. I have used bluebell sap to help attach feathers to arrow shafts as flights (seemingly a common practice up until the Middle Ages) and I have heard that the Elizabethans used it as an early paper glue.

The red campion was growing right beside the bluebells and this¬†again has many uses historically. The roots contain saponins which are great for making a form of soap. Great for washing clothes but not for the fish –¬†the soap was also used in the past to paralyse fish so making for easier fishing.

Tina's garden - Bluebells and Red Campion
Tina’s garden – bluebells and red campion

The beautiful pink flower in the top picture is dame’s rocket and the lower flower is common scurvy grass. Both of these are high in vitamin C and both were used in the past to ward off scurvy.

Dame’s rocket is a member of the mustard family and the flowers are edible, making them great for salads. The common scurvy grass is also edible as well as being medicinally important and the leaves were often used¬†in sandwiches prior to the popularity of watercress.

Dame's Rocket and Common Scurvy Grass
Dame’s rocket and common scurvy grass

The lady’s smock (or cuckoo flower) can make for a majestic and striking picture. Sometimes I see this flower growing and think it looks lonely; it really is one of these taller flowers that can withstand some pretty harsh environments.

This was another edible high in vitamin C that was used historically to treat scurvy but also makes for a spicy addition to a salad. The flower in folklore has received a lot of bad press – it has been associated with bad luck and the evil eye so was thought to be best left outside the house (we are a superstitious lot, us Scots).

Lady's Smock
Lady’s smock

Who would have thought that this delicate little plant called thrift could be so tough and beautiful at the same time? The stalks of this tiny plant were commonly used in the past for basketry. On an island where plants do not grow very tall due to the wind basket weavers would use whatever material came to hand and the stalks of thrift, although short, are strong and flexible.

Up to the 1700s a tonic called arby was made out of the root of this plant in Scotland as a cure for TB but the best use I have heard of for thrift was as a hangover cure for sailors (according to Charles Coates, The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland).

Delicate Thrift
Delicate thrift

The three flowers below are very common on the island as well as much of the rest of the UK. We found the primroses on Lewis still in full bloom in May: they make for a good snack on the go, though I have read in Paul Kirtley’s blog that they can cause contact dermatitis in some people.

The hogweed stalk you can see in the bottom left is from last year’s growth and¬†I can remember as a lad using the hollow stalks as pea shooters. I have seen people cook¬†the young leaves and shoots but cannot recall trying any. I have, though, had the seeds in various stews over the years.

The final picture is of Wordsworth’s favourite flower – not the daffodil, but¬†grianne (Gaelic for the Sun), known to him and most of us¬†as¬†¬†lesser celandine. This is an edible plant if handled properly,¬†highly¬†toxic if not. It’s best to cook it well and only use the youngest of leaves. Again this is a plant that has good levels of vitamin C and is quite astringent, making it medicinally important. However the sap in its raw format is very corrosive and has been used to remove warts; there are stories in Scotland of beggars¬†using the juice of the plant to create sores in order to gain more sympathy and money. A useful plant in the right hands, but dangerous in the wrong hands.

Primroses, Hogweed and Lesser Celandine
Primroses, hogweed and lesser celandine

The island seems to be suffering an infestation of horsetail (top picture on either side of the nettle). This plant is a pain for gardeners but a bushcrafter’s friend. I have used horsetail as a pot scrubber many a time, it has a rough texture due to the high content of silica in it. The plant also makes an excellent natural sandpaper.

I spent a couple of days in the grounds of Lews Castle grounds in Stornoway and came across some useful trees there (the sheltered grounds are the only place on the island where there is a large concentration of deciduous trees). The leaf and flower in the bottom picture is from the whitebeam and it produces an excellent smooth wood ideal for tool handles and cogs before the widespread use of iron. My friend Phil¬†Brown from Badger Bushcraft produces an excellent jelly from the tree’s fruit.

Horsetail, Nettle and Whitebeam
Horsetail, nettle and whitebeam

Two other useful trees I came across in the grounds were the wych¬†elm (scotch elm) and what I think what was a white elm. Both are real bushcrafters’ friends as the inner bark makes a great cordage. The word wych is an Old English word meaning pliable and this pilability also extends into the wood as well; these trees make for really excellent bows. A good blog on this can also be found on the Badger Bushcraft site – Wych Elm or Scotch Elm Cordage From Dried Bark.

Wych Elm and Common Elm
Wych elm (Scotch elm) and white elm

I was visiting my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival earlier in the year and he showed me how you can squeeze the juice out of the marsh horsetail (bottom left) and the combination of fluid and silica make for an excellent handwash (great for helping small cuts heal quickly as well).

On the right is a young silverweed plant. This is the plant that prior to the introduction of potatoes (and in times of the potato blights) was a staple food on the islands. This plant is known as Seachdamh Aran (the Seventh Bread). It was thought that a man could sustain himself for a year on a patch of silverweed the square of his own height. In North Uist, during the clearances, homeless folk were said to be living on shellfish and on bread made from dried silverweed roots. A good document on this can be found on the BBC website.

Marsh Horsetail and Silverweed
Marsh horsetail and silverweed

This is one of my favourite pictures was this one. I loved the waterfall and the shelf with the scurvy grass happily growing under it.

Island beauty
Island beauty

It was not until I was reviewing my holiday pictures that I realised that the majority of the plants I had photographed were so useful.  I found out a lot about some of these books from my guide book РThe Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland by Charles Coates.

It’s a stark reminder of a very different time, when these plants protected peasants against scurvy or starvation – worth remembering if you’re tempted to dismiss them as just ‘pretty flowers’.

Cheers

George

Teine Eigin – The Force of Fire

I have been bushcrafting on and off for most of my life. Growing up in a remote village on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland I was free to get out and about as a boy and really explore my surroundings. I saw this sometimes then as a lifestyle that was stuck in the past: I remember wishing for all those modern gizmos and ways of doing things I saw advertised on the television.

But now, aged 47, I really appreciate that upbringing, even though we did struggle at times. When I teach outdoor skills to kids these days I see the effect on them; having been sat in front of a TV or computer for most of their lives they are afraid at first to explore or take risks outdoors, but with a little bit of encouragement and support it is great to see them discovering a whole new way of learning.

One of the tools I use in that learning process is the ‘force of fire’.

Happy Fire faces
Happy Fire faces

That force of fire can be made in many different ways but my favourite is Teine Eigin РGaelic for rubbing two sticks together to make fire. Nowadays bushcrafters know this as bowdrill or handrill (though there are many other techniques, such as the plough) but what many do not realise is that this method was used in certain areas of Scotland up until the middle of the 19th century. I wrote a recent article where I put some good links to this tradition РBushcrafting at Lews Castle College.

This summer I plan to explore some different methods of making fire by rubbing two sticks together – Teine Eigin.

Here is my intro video to the subject.

This is my first video with commentary so I’d love to hear your thoughts¬†or questions.

Cheers, and I will be back over the summer with more articles on these methods in detail.

George

Bushcrafting at Lews Castle College

After the day was finished I was really struck by how many of the skills I practice under the title of bushcraft were being practiced on a daily basis on the Isle of Lewis just a few generations ago

My brother Finlay has been attending Lews Castle College on the Isle of Lewis off and on now for a number of years and I was privileged recently to be asked along for a day to teach him and his fellow students some bushcraft skills. They have a great horticulture area at the college with some impressive greenhouses growing a wide range of plants. Finlay loves working with plants and the college has provided him a good place over the years to develop his skills.

The current course he is attending is called Grow2Work and its aim is to instil a work ethic within the students, giving them confidence and building their self esteem. The students develop a number of skills, such as working as part of a team and following instructions by spending time planting, harvesting vegetables and strimming plants.

A lovely day bushcrafting at my brothers college
A lovely day bushcrafting at my brother’s college

My Grandmother Mary passed away earlier in May this year and while I was up on the island¬†for the funeral my sister Tina had a chat with the course director, John Maclean, and mentioned that I did teaching around wild plants and bushcraft skills. Unknown to me, Tina had volunteered me to do a day’s bushcraft tuition for the whole of Finlay’s class when I was next up at the end of May on holiday to the island with my family.

I found out eventually I was doing the course and so, not really knowing what I was going to do with it, packed an extra bag full of bushcraft and survival kit. I fully expected to have half my kit confiscated at the airport but miraculously the security folk let it all through. If I had been asked to open it up I would have been hard pressed to explain myself.

I had been asked to run the course on the Monday so I managed to do a recce of the castle grounds woodland to find good teaching areas. While I was doing this with the kids my wife Alison ran the Stornoway half marathon. I shot this little video of the day recceing the woods and supporting Alison.

I spent a lot of time as a teenager exploring these woods around the castle and it did feel rather strange to be coming back to teach bushcraft skills in one of the places that my passion for the art started.

Monday morning arrived: I went off to Stornoway with Finlay Mhor (Big Finlay – my brother) and with Finlay Bheag (Little Finlay – my son). I met the rest of Finlay’s class – Murdo, Matthew, Alistair, Josh, Mark, and John – and the tutors¬†John¬†and David.¬†We had a good chat about what we could do and ended up agreeing to spending some time:

  • making nettle cordage
  • identifying some of the wild plants growing around the site
  • setting up a tarp and hammock to learn some bushcraft knots
  • trying out some different fire lighting techniques
  • and finally shooting some Atlatl darts in the wood.

There were a few nettles growing around the edges of the gardens so after putting on some gloves I got the guys to pick some to make some cordage. I explained that it was thought the nettle was introduced to the British Isles by the Romans as a method of producing linen or as a method of keeping warm (urtification).

In Scotland historically nettle was used to make scotch cloth; the poet Thomas Campbell wrote in some of his letters,¬†“In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen.”

Stripping and prepping the nettles
Stripping and prepping the nettles

After picking the nettles the guys stripped off the leaves and crushed all the nodules in the stalks to make them easier to split open. Nettle cordage would have been made on the island in the past as it has been common on the island for centuries. I got the class to split open the stalks of the nettles along the full length of the stems and then pulled out the hard pithy core to leave long strips of the outer nettle fibre.

Splitting the nettles
Splitting the nettles

We then wrapped the nettles into short strips of cordage. The guys liked this as they could see how they could easily make cordage from nettles in their garden if they did not have any modern cordage to hand.

Making some good cordage
Making some good cordage

After making the nettle cordage we went for a walk up into the woods. On the way we stopped to chat about many of the wild plants growing around the college. One of the common plants was the Silverweed. I explained this plant was a staple food in Scotland prior to the introduction of potatoes in the 1500s and was known as Seachdamh Aran (the Seventh Bread). It was thought that a man could sustain himself for a year on a patch of silverweed the square of his own height. In North Uist during the clearances, homeless folk were said to be living on shellfish and on bread made from dried silverweed roots. A good document on this can be found on the BBC website.

Silverweed - The Seventh Bread
Silverweed – The Seventh Bread

After talking about some other plants including comfrey, thistle and some different types of trees, we set ourselves up a little camp. This was to show the class some of the hammocks and tarps I use when bushcrafting. They were all keen to try out the hammocks. I had brought along two types of hammocks. One was the EDC Chair hammock and the other was the Woodsman hammock. Both hammocks are made by my friend Mat Howes of UK Hammocks. After setting up the hammocks we set up a tarp and practised some knots, including the Evenk, the Tarp Taught and the Clove Hitch.

Hammock time
Hammock time

After lunch it was on with the business of making fire. We had already made fire by using a parabolic mirror earlier that morning using the sun’s rays – not often you can do that on the Isle of Lewis. Although I used a modern mirror this technique has recently been shown¬†to have been used for thousands of years – World’s Oldest Solar Device.

Parabolic Mirror
Parabolic Mirror

We decided for safety to light our fires on a patch of concrete within the nursery area (normally I would use raised fire pits for this). I taught the class how to use modern firesteels at first and they soon had sparks going strong.

Firesteel session
Firesteel session

My son Finlay got in on the act as well and everyone was able to light up some cotton wool balls in no time. I have to say a big thank you to my wee boy Finlay as he was the perfect student all day, getting stuck in with all the others.

Little Finlay has a go as well
Little Finlay had a go as well

After the cotton wool balls I got the class to catch some sparks onto some char cloth that we then popped into some hay.

First tinder bundle
First tinder bundle

Everyone was happy when we got that first tinder bundle burning happily.

First flames
First flames

After the firesteels it was time to make some Lucky Fire,¬†sometimes known as¬†the Beltane, the Need¬†fire or Forced Fire¬†on the islands. In Gaelic it is called teine eigin¬†(translates as ‘fire from rubbing sticks together’). Bushcrafters normally¬†call this skill¬†the Bowdrill but what is¬†not commonly known is that this method of fire lighting was used in Scotland in some places to light fires up until the middle of the 19th century.

I doubled up with each of the guys to give them a feel for how it worked but due to a lack of time could not teach them to do this on their own. The wood was lovely and dry due to the sunny day and we soon had some good coals going.

Bowdrill teamwork
Bowdrill teamwork

As we were bowdrilling I explained how this technique had been used on the islands until very recently and it would have been quite likely that some of their recent ancestors had used this technique to light a fire. After getting a few coals we popped one into a tinder bundle and started blowing that into flame.

Final strokes and getting the bundle going
Final strokes and getting the bundle going

Everyone was keen to be involved in all parts of the process of making fire.

Everyone had a go
Everyone had a go

Even the boss John¬†got involved and before we knew it we had flame again ūüôā

Even the boss Angus got a go
Even the boss John got a go Рthen we got flames again

As we could not keep the fire going because of the college safety rules all I could do with the class was to explain at this point how they would go about building their fire up so it became self sustaining.

Flamage
Flamage

The final activity was to get the Atlatl darts out. I could not bring any with me on the plane so I just bought some bamboo canes locally and made flights out of tape. All in all the set cost me about £6.

After a bit of tuition to each pair it was time to do some shooting.

A little bit of Atlatl tuition
A little bit of Atlatl tuition

In no time they were getting the hang of it. We did though have to move our target (thanks for your ingenuity here John) as some golfers had lost a ball and were searching for it in scrubland near the target.

Boys having fun
Boys having fun

I think John is a possible convert to the Atlatl by the look of the concentration on his face.

Some good Atlatl throwing
Some good Atlatl throwing

I really enjoyed teaching my brother Finlay to use the Atlatl.

My brother ready to shoot
My brother ready to shoot

In the end they all got the hang of it and were happy to be chucking darts down the range.

Dart away
Dart away

I must in the end thank my sister Tina and John¬†for arranging this day as I had a fabulous time working with everyone in Finlay’s class.

After the day was finished I was really struck by how many of the skills I practise under the title of bushcraft were being practised on a daily basis on the Isle of Lewis just a few generations ago.

Cheers

George

Bramley Bimble – 16th May 14

The 16th of May was a perfect day for a bimble around the village with the kids. They decided to take the scooters and even managed to keep them going on the rough woodland tracks.

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Bimbling with my kids

Looking good now is the common bistort and the yellow iris. I found the large sow thistle up near the Clift Pavilion.

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Bistort, Iris and Sow Thistle

I passed by many dandelion seed heads but this one caught the light just perfectly.

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Dandelion seed head

The meadow by Lane End proved a good place to explore.

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Chilling in the sun

The wild strawberry leaves and flowers are well out around the whole village but I saw my first buttercups and red clover this week.

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Wild Strawberry, Red Clover and Buttercup

This large horse chestnut is one of the trees I am monitoring for the whole year. The sun looked nice as it shone through it. The blossom is still looking good on the horse chestnut and at the foot of it I found these ferns uncurling.

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Horse Chestnut and unfurling Ferns

We had a good look around the meadow but there are not too many plants flowering yet.

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Cuddles

I did spot that the cherry tree near the pond is starting to produce its fruit now. Catherine and Finlay were also on the lookout for tracks (this one is deer) and tadpoles.

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Cherry fruit, Deer slots and Tadpoles

One of my favourite snacks while out foraging is the pignut. I found that they had just started to flower in our area now.

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Pignut flowers and leaves

I do not really know my birds but Catherine and Finlay took some time out to lie back and see what flew over them.

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Watching the sky

The orchids in the Frith are still hanging in there but I expect to see them disappear over the next few weeks. In the damp ground we did find a pheasant track and spotted that the Brooklime was appearing now.

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Orchids, Pheasant print and Brooklime

The bluebells have started to die back now but still make a beautiful sight. The stichwort and mayweed are looking at their finest though at the moment.

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Bluebells, Stitchwort and Mayweed

The kids had soon had enough of lying about and started scrambling over the alder and willow trees.

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The Catherine Shuffle

The ash is finally out: it must be one of the last trees to burst into life in the Bramley area. Out near the playground by the new estate the white campion is in full bloom and in the Frith we spotted what looked like a badger print, deep in the wood well away from dog walking tracks.

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Ash, White Campion and possible Badger print

Still to be found there are the lovely yellow wood avens and blue forget-me-nots, and the grass seed heads are standing tall.

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Wood Aven, Forget-Me-Nots and Grass Seed head

Needless to say Finlay needed to get in on the tree climbing act.

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The Finlay Shuffle

I found what looks like a water hemlock by the stream next to our house. Beautiful but deadly.

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Water Hemlock

Last picture is of a couple of tracks from I have no idea what animal: any ideas?

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Unknown print?

This was an excellent bimble around Bramley and I am now looking forward to seeing all the early summer flowers that will soon be appearing.

Cheers

George

The Heimplanet Cave inflatable tent

I was shown what I think is quite an ingenious tent two weeks ago by my friend Adam Cottrell. The tent is from a company called Heimplanet and is erected simply by inflating it. This post is not an in-depth review as I have only seen it once for a very short period. My initial impressions of it were very positive and I would be keen to try it out sometime.

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The Cave

The tent weighs 11.5lbs (5.2kgs in new money) so one for the car I think rather than¬†the backpack. The quality of the bag was very good with a ‘canoe bag’-type top that you roll down to compress and seal it.

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One tent in a compression bag and pump

All the guylines were detached when Adam opened it up so there was nothing tangled up.

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Laid out ready for pumping

Dotted around the tent are 5 nozzle points; only one is needed for inflating the tent, but all the tubes can be closed off after they have been inflated so that if you get a puncture in one tube the whole tent does not deflate.

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5 possible nozzle points

In about two minutes Adam had set everything up and inflated the tent.

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Simple to inflate

I got Adam to re-do the inflation of the tent and took a short film of it to show you how simple the procedure was. I was quite surprised at the size of the tent and can see why they call it the Cave.

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Inflated quickly

Each of the five sections of the tubing can be closed off by this simple locking valve that pinches the small connecting tube between the main tubes.

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Each tube can be locked off with these valves

The guylines come in an unusual configuration. They are attached to the tent via toggles and one set of lines on each side is pegged out flat on the ground.

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Simple low-lying guylines

Here you can see a little more clearly how the toggles attach to the tent.

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Toggles attach the upper guylines

Both sets of guylines on each side attach to the same peg keeping things neat and tidy.

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All the guylines on each side go to one peg

Everything is connected either ¬†by velcro straps or toggles. The tent can be erected without the outer sheet (but that’s probably not advisable¬†here in the UK).

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Tubes and the tent are connected with velcro and toggles

The workmanship I observed on this tent was very high. All the seams looked neatly sealed and the stitching was very accurately placed.

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Strong velcro straps

As well as a locking valve on each section there are also 5 access points so that the inner tubes can be removed and repaired if need be.

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Separate access to each tube

The tent has a small porch and the small front awning will stop rainwater dripping into the tent when you open it (but only just I think). However when this tent was fully inflated and the guylines were secured it was very stable and strong.

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A very strong and stable tent

I liked the small pockets for stowing the door flaps. Very neat and a great idea.

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Neat pouches to stow the entrance flaps

In terms of space you could fit two adults with lots of kit into it comfortably. If there were three of you then you would just need to be a bit more disciplined about things but you would be comfortable enough.

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Good gap between inner and outer. Also plenty of space inside.

The tent had good ventilation with plenty of mossie-style nets on the inner and a number of covered openings on the outer. It also comes with a good loft storage area and loads of pockets. You cannot stand up in the tent but when sitting most folk will not touch the ceiling with their head.

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Good internal ventilation and plenty of storage

To deflate, simply unlock the valves and let the air out. The tent simply collapses in on itself.

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Easy to deflate

You need to spend a couple of minutes just pushing all the air out of the tubes, otherwise the tent will be very difficult to put back into the bag.

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Take your time pushing all the air out

The tent is rolled up to the size of the bag as with most tents but you can use your knee to push out any trapped air. A good enhancement to the tent back would be to install a little valve so that as you rolled the top down the air could escape quicker.

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Compression sack gets rid of the last of the air

As I said at the beginning I was very impressed with this tent. I initially thought that this could never work but after looking at the quality and the strength of the tent I soon lost any doubts. I like the fact that the sleeves covering each tube are very strong and that each section of the tubing can be locked off to aid quick repair. Amazon has these tents on sale for about ¬£395 so they’re not exactly cheap for a 2-3 person tent but this certainly scores highly for quality and ease of erection. I had a look at the Heimplanet site and all the specs for the tent can be found here – The Cave.

Cheers,

George

Bramley Bimble – 4th May 14

I took my whole family on my rounds of Bramley last weekend. The kids as usual had fun climbing, wobbling and generally getting muddy.

This was the first time that Alison was able to come on my rounds and she was keen to explore the village wildlife in more detail.

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Checking out nature

I took a short video of the walk which I titled Happy finds and sad finds.

A few new flowers made an appearance this week.

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Yellow pimpernel, lady’s smock and white campion

I particularly like the bottom right picture. You can actually see the the probiscus of the fly. Not bad for a little phone camera.

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Feeding time

The moth was found in a bowl of water by my daughter Catherine and seemed to be recovering well as it dried its wings out. In the bottom picture you can just see a solitary bee emerging from its underground home.

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Rescued moth and emerging bumblebee

The crab apple tree on my rounds is finally in leaf now. I will be recording the growth of the apples closely over the following months.

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The family under the apple tree

The yellow coltsfoot flowers (top left) have gone now and all that is left are the distinctive leaves and the beautuful puffy seed heads. Also the lungwort flowers have gone leaving only the distinctive white spotted leaves (top right).

At the bottom though I found that the orchids were still standing strong.

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Coltsfoot seed head, lungwort and orchids

While we were looking for orchids Alison spotted a dead deer nearby. I couldn’t see any obvious cause of death but lying nearby were some deer leg bones recently stripped of flesh. As the deer (as you can see) still had all its legs I assume there must have been another dead deer nearby at some point as well.

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A sad sight

It was nice to see the willow and oak finally coming through this week (left-hand pictures). The reedmace leaves seem nearly full grown now so I will be looking out for the stems and flower heads starting to appear.

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Willow, oak and reedmace

Looking beautiful still were the bluebells.

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Bluebell bliss

Cheers

George

Awakening Ash

I have been patiently waiting for the ash (Fraxinus excelsior) tree in my local park to break open its buds. It has done so over the last two weeks and I am glad I did keep a close eye on it as the birth of its leaflets is quite a beautiful process to watch.

With the prospect of the spread of ash dieback increasing over the next few years I wanted to capture this process I have for so long taken for granted. I am studying plants this year in far more detail as part of the online course with Paul Kirtley from Frontier Bushcraft.

The buds of ash are typically black (likened to the shape of a bishop’s mitre) over the winter as they lie dormant and it is only as they are about to ‘break’ (when the green leaf tip first appears) that the bud changes to a slightly greenish tinge.

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The black ‘bishop’s mitre’ ash bud

Here you can see the bud on the left is about to break and the ones on the right have just broken.

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From black to green and the breaking starts

After this the growing leaves push out from the bud but are wrapped in a protective sheath. I am unsure what this sheath is called but hopefully someone who reads this can tell me. I liken it to an inner scale of the bud.

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Truly broken out now

Once released from the bud you can clearly see the inner protective scale that is wrapped around the ash leaves. In the right hand picture you can just make out the small ash leaflets that are growing.

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Ash leaves are wrapped in their inner scales

As the leaves and their attached leaflets push up, the inner protective scales are pushed aside to allow more growth to occur.

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Inner scales are released

I noticed at this stage that the leaves continued to grow but still had a stickiness about them that kept them together. This causes the leaves to form into what looks like a small rugby ball.

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Ready for the final stretch

Finally the leaves were unfolded (that is when their full length is showing from tip to attachment at the stem).

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The individual stems have separated and the leaves have unfolded

The individual leaflets then parted from each other; all that is left now is for them to grow to maturity.

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The ash leaflets finally appear

I have noticed¬†that the oak leaves round here have appeared a few weeks before the ash this year so if the old saying – ‘If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak” – is correct then we should be in for a nice summer (here’s hoping, anyway).

All in all I think that this is a particularly beautiful sight and if you go out around now and look at some of the ash trees you will see it happening for yourself.

I have done a similar post called Stunning Sycamore¬†if you’d like to see more of these amazing unfurling leaves.

Cheers

George

Bramley Bimble – 27th April 14

I managed to get out around Bramley this morning before all the rain came in and it was well worth the effort.

The bluebells are looking particularly impressive at the moment but if you look closely you will find so much more.

Here is a little taste of what I found this morning.

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Iris – yellow flag leaves
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Hawthorn blossom buds
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Bluebells
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Young alder catkins
Photo 27-04-2014 14 31 57 (HDR)
Willow catkins gone to seed
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Wood spurge and wood anemone
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Wild mignonette and a bursting pine cone
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Possible large oak gall
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Horse chestnut blossom
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Fresh nettle leaves and bugle
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Early purple orchid
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Ribwort plantain and elderly primrose
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Cow parsley

I made a short video of the walk.

Cheers

George

Bramley Bimble 26th April 2014

I take a wander around my village (Bramley, Hants, UK) every week or two and photograph certain sites to see all the changes that are happening here with the flaura and fauna.

I will post what I think are the best pictures of these bimbles here. Currently I am using a Nokia Lumia 820 phone camera to take these pictures.

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Horsetail
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A little Shield Bug possibly
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Marsh Marigold
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Emerging Ash
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Cherry
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Willow
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Visiting the Vetch
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Herb Robert
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Young Oak
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Wild Strawberry
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Fresh Young Lime

Cheers

George

Spring Weekend with Coastal Survival

It was great to be back down at Fraser’s place once again, it is a proper playground

Every now and then I head off into the hills with some friends. This time it was to be Gordon and Rick, whom I have worked with for a number of years at the Crisis Open Christmas shelters, and I had arranged with my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival that we would come down and spend time at his place in the woods in Dorset.

Rick drove us down there in his campervan so it did feel as though we were off on a holiday from the start. I took this picture as we neared Fraser’s place. The angle is such that you can’t see the horse and it looks like the little dog at the back is pushing the Barrel Top along.

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Arrival in Bearminster

I found myself a nice spot for my hammock, on a bit of a slope so slightly slippy but the view was worth it. I had also brought along a couple of other hammocks for Gordon and Rick to use.

The rest of the Friday was spent teaching the guys how to put their hammocks and tarps up, carrying all the kit up to the site and chilling around the fire eating excellent food cooked by Fraser.

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My home for the weekend

Food is always a dominant part of any visit to Fraser’s place. Breakfasts were a slow relaxed affair with plenty to eat and the coffee was excellent as well.

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Breakfasts were good

As usual whenever I spotted some beautiful plants out came my trusty phone camera. I am very impressed with the results I get from the camera on my Nokia Lumia 820 phone (not being sponsored to say that!).

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Figwort, Horsetail and Scarlet Pimpernel

That first morning was spent collecting ramsons, or wild garlic (Allium ursinum), to pickle for later use. I’ll do a separate post on this later.

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Ramson forage

Lunch was a tortilla cooked on the open fire with the ransom adding that lovely garlicky flavour.

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Ramson tortilla lunch

One of my main aims of the weekend was to find some chill-out time. I did that with my trusty EDC hammock chair from UKHammocks. The views were wonderful.

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Post-lunch relaxing in my EDC hammock chair

Saturday afternoon was spent down on the coast near Bridport foraging for crabs, small fish, limpets and seaweed. We met some other friends on the coast – Paul Burkhardt and Paul Newman – while we were there. Both Pauls were also looking for fossils. This part of the coast is full of fossilised sea creatures and it doesn’t take long to find them once you get your eye in.

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Coastal Forage

The walk along the coast was a very pleasant affair but I was ever mindful of the risk of the clay cliff faces collapsing. With all the recent rain they did look rather unstable, with lots of collapsed areas.

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Man’s best friends

I made a couple of videos on the Saturday:

Easter with Coastal Survival – Foraging

Dinner that night was a lovely risotto made with shellfish stock and a garnish of seaweed, topped with a chop for the non-vegetarians. It all went down a treat.

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Seafood risotto and pork chops

The Saturday evening was a quiet affair chilling out around the fire and testing out Fraser’s large gas wood burners (or more properly re-burners, as the gases produced are recirculated and reburned). I got a few fire faces and particularly like the Ent’s face (Lord of the Rings tree giant) in the one on the left.

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Fire faces

On the Sunday morning we had a beautiful walk through the woods looking at the new growth, the animal tracks and the views. I took the top two pictures that morning just to see what kind of detail my phone camera could give me. The crab picture was from the day before.

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I took a video that morning but encountered a few problems making it.¬†The problem with the second video was that I managed to delete¬†the original files before saving the clip in iMovie. I could then only view the clip in iMovie and couldn’t¬†upload it to YouTube. To get round this I ran the clip on the iMovie app¬†and re-videoed it with my phone camera (I hope that all makes sense). Not as high¬†quality as the first one but I still want to post it here.

Easter with Coastal Survival – Day two walk

After the woodland walk I brought my bows up for a bit of stump and target shooting.

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Bringing up the bows

I do like wandering around just shooting at stumps or the bases of trees. While I was out with Gordon that morning we stumbled across two large fallow deer. It was quite a sight, but they were too quick for me to get my camera out.

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Archery time

Three of the more unusual things I spotted over the weekend: some hazel coppice growing through an artist’s fungus, scores of these beautiful snails, and fresh-water tracks in the blue clay of the beach.

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Wonderful finds

Some lovely close-ups of bugle, bluebells (top row), ramsons and alder (bottom row).

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Spring bloom

A lot of Sunday, though, was spent under the parachute staying warm by the fire and listening to the rain hammering down. In the bottom picture you can see the different traps Fraser has made for fishing and catching small animals on the ground.

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The classroom

After all that rain we decided it was time to head off down to the local pub for a few beers and a game or two of pool.

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Wood gas re-burner

I now have one of Fraser’s gas wood (re-)burning stoves that you can see in the above picture and intend to really test it out over the summer.

On that final evening in the pub I edited the last of my clips to make this short video:

Easter with Coastal Survival – Bimbling and Bows

Monday morning was a pack-up-and-away day to try and miss the Bank Holiday traffic. It was great to be back down at Fraser’s place once again, it is a proper playground.

Cheers

George

Stunning Sycamore

Last weekend I stopped for a break at one of the roadside services you find on most main roads these days. I decided to have a wander while the rest of the lads got what they wanted from the shop.

I was lazily staring at the trees and noticed something about one tree in particular, a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). The tree had buds on it at every stage of growth. I could track in a zig zag pattern across just one small part of the tree all these stages.

When the lads arrived they asked what I was doing and shook their heads pityingly as I took out my phone to capture the pictures.

Here are all the stages I saw. No need for me to try and describe them as the pictures say it all.

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A stretching bud
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Peeking out
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Unfurling
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The small leaf bundle then appears
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Gathering in that first sunlight – like a young butterfly drying its wings out
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Preparing to unfurl the central leaves
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Unfurled, growing and working

I have been trying to capture this process of growth on different trees this spring but was struck by the sight of all these stages on just a few branches of the same tree.

Cheers

George

Spring Growth – 16th of April 2014

As the spring growth is coming thick and fast I popped back out on Monday to see what was coming through around Bramley.

I found that the ash had started to burst through but only on some trees. The top two pictures are of ash as well as the bottom right picture.

Bottom left is lime and in the centre (bottom) I found one English oak tree that was starting to push its leaves out.

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Bursting buds

That English oak had just one solitary leaf showing when I photographed it so as I write this three days later I expect it will be well covered now. The beech tree (bottom left) that I have been monitoring had been chopped in two as they had been doing some mechanical hedgecutting in the area. Thankfully as you can see the bottom half of the beech is managing to push some leaves out.

The silver birch in the middle picture has produced masses of leaves and they taste exceptionally good at the moment. On the right looking very shiny the lime tree I have been watching has just a few leaves showing now. Finally on the bottom right the alder is well established with leaves as it had started two weeks ago.

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Young leaves

There are plenty of flowers out there still, including  primroses, stichworts, wood anemones and wild strawberries to name a few, but two caught my attention this trip. The top two show the early purple orchid and the bottom two the masses of bluebells that have appeared over the last week.

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New Flowers

My kids had a great time looking for these orchids so we decided to make a little video of it.

Orchid Hunting with Catherine and Finlay

Cheers

George

Stone Age Day at the Ancient Technology Centre

I was catching up on what was happening on Facebook last week and spotted that the Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) was holding a Stone Age Weekend the following week. Thankfully for me my calendar was free and as my kids love this sort of interactive show it was not hard to sell it to them. The centre is in Dorset,¬†¬†just over an hour’s drive from our house,¬†and on this weekend the weather was perfect for my Scottish skin (warm but not too hot).

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The Ancient Technology Centre

My main aims for the visit were to let my kids have lots of hands-on fun and pick up some ideas for myself for future projects. The ATC caters well for parents and kids and as it is a place where lots of experimental archaeology is undertaken it ticked all the boxes for me.

The top picture below is taken from the bottom of the roof of one of the roundhouses.

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Great for kids (of all ages)

We took a walk around the whole site at first just to show Catherine and Finlay what they could do. In the end the kids had to drag me away from one of the roundhouses as I wanted to explore every item in it and how it was built.

After a five-minute wait Catherine and Finlay were using Bronze Age axes and happily chopping away. They did come back for a second go later and I managed to have a chop as well. This was the first time for me using a Bronze Age axe and it is different to using  modern or flint axes. I liked the fact that the queues here were in single-figure minutes (currently writing this in a queue Р35 minutes at Legoland and counting) and everybody was really relaxed.

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Bronze Age axes

The centre also experiments with primitive pottery and had set up a work area where we could all¬†make a pot and decorate it using old bones shells and feathers. We left our pots to dry in the sun before taking them home. We will have to let them dry for at least another two weeks before firing them over an open fire. I don’t know if we’ll do this final stage as they may crack.

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Primitive pottery

While Catherine and Finlay were happily engrossed in cave painting techniques I managed to slip off and see what else was going on.

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Cave painting

I popped over to see what was on display on the Prehistoric Archery and Atlatl Society (PAAS) stand. PAAS make some beautiful craft items based as close as possible to archaeological finds and are also keen experimental archaeologists. Last year PAAS visited us at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot and gave some great classes on archery, atlatls and slings. They plan to be at the Bushmoot this year as well.

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PAAS

We watched a demonstration next of Bowdrill using just a primitive set. The couple doing the demonstration were from Outback2Basics and put on a great show. We missed the first class on making campfire bread and cooking salmon but managed to get some time bowdrilling.

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Bowdrill with primitive kit

Finlay and myself took a twirl on the bow and then Catherine took over on blowing the ember into flame.

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Family bowdrill

With a little help from Finlay we soon had a flame. The tinder was the inner bark from a Leylandi tree.

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Flamage

The next class with them was making a fat candle  using a rock as a holder. We chipped away on a soft rock with a hard rock to create a small scoop to hold the fat.

The wick we made out of some jute string by untwisting it and then loosely putting it all back together.

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Fat candle – prepping the stone

The scoop took us about 20 minutes to chip out.

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Fat candle – fat well and jute wick

I cannot remember what type of fat was used but once it was poured in the wick was added, leaving about a centimeter protruding from the fat so that it could be lit.

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Fat candle – set up

The winds were quite light but would gust a little so we had to protect the flame.

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Fat candle – alight

I managed to capture a lot of the day on this short video.

Afterwards we had a look at the wood carving section and Catherine learned all about how beds were constructed in the past.

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Woodcarving

I picked up some ideas on making a circular stack for my kindling and the kids had fun on the Roman turntable.

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Kindling wheel and Roman turntable

Two good finds of the day for me were the drying post for bones and the wooden dugout in the pond.

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Bones and dugout canoes

I would thoroughly recommend you visit the ATC if you ever find yourself down near the New Forest as the work they undertake is quite amazing.

Cheers

George

 

A Winter’s Weekend with Coastal Survival

It was magical to lie there and watch the snow falling in the perfectly quiet woodland.

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A winter weekend with Coastal Survival

It was on a wet weekend back in November 2012 I first went to visit my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival at his woodland in Dorset. I was reviewing my photos as I will be visiting him again soon and thought that the ones I had taken on this weekend warranted their own post even though the trip was over a year and a half ago.

The snow you see in the picture above did not arrive until the Sunday but I did have a great time even with all the rain and mud before the snow arrived. The weekend was a relaxed affair with no formal teaching planned, just a get together to relax and explore the beautiful Dorset hills.

The gang below included (from the left) Steve, Rich, Fraser, Si and myself. 

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The gang for the weekend

We did a little bit of work on the weekend but only a little. That work included sawing up these logs for  classroom seats and pitching properly what was one massive tarp.

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Now that’s what you call a tarp

After sorting my hammock out, Friday night was spent sitting around the fire chatting and watching our dinner slowly roasting over the fire. You may have noticed with previous posts about Fraser that food seems to play a central role in everything we do ūüôā

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Friday night dinner

After breakfast Fraser prepared a side of pork and set it up on a stake to slowly be smoked by the side of the fire. The pork remained there most of the day, gradually absorbing the woodsmoke.

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Smoking Saturday night’s dinner

After a few brews we struck out to do a bit of foraging and tracking. I think I am a better forager than tracker and may one day have to find the time to study tracking under the likes of JP and Pablo from Woodlifetrails. In the bottom picture we found what looked like badger tracks in some soft ground.

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Striking out for the day

On the left you can see the claw marks made as the animals scrambled up the bank and on the right a possible badger paw print. The picture at the bottom right was scat from a fox, I think. It was full of yellow maize/corn so the animal may have visited a farm recently.

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Plenty of signs

Another sign we came across was grazing by deer. The top two pictures show the tell-tale deer nibble, where the bite is not clean. Fraser found these woodpecker feathers in a pile and they still had all the points on the quills suggesting a kill by a bird of prey. I found all the nutshells in the bottom right picture and it looks like a dormouse or something similar has been nibbling away.

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Nibbling

We foraged quite a bit over the weekend and even though this was November there was still a lot to be found. The water mint was destined for the teapot and the large burdock root was chopped up and added in with the other vegetables for the evening meal. The bottom left picture shows hogweed seeds which Fraser collected for using later.

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Foraging

After all this hard work of spotting signs and foraging we relaxed by wandering around the woods doing some stump shooting.

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Stump shooting

Fraser has a large paella pan that he wanted to use for cooking that night. It was a tad blackened from previous use so he used mud and small pices of gravel as a scouring agent to get it clean. It worked a treat as you can see in the other pictures. After the cleaned pan was rinsed with fresh water he heated it up and put the side of pork on it to start cooking.

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Scrubbing, Stripping and Searing

The fork you can see being made on the left was actually for using as a stand for the pork to be smoked during the day. Once the pork was cooking they made excellent tongs for mixing all the vegetables. Si had flattened a piece of one of the logs for me to use as a chopping block for cutting all the vegetables up on. As he had just stripped the bark and the wood was still green it was a very clean surface to work on.

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Prepping tools and veg

While all the food was cooking we made a fresh herb tea. The ingredients included sloes, haws, ground ivy, water mint and mullein. Very tasty it was too.

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Time for a brew

Fraser as usual managed to make a banquet (well, what I call a banquet) in very cramped conditions with minimal tools and taught us all along the way.

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Final touches

During the day we came across some live mullein (also known as Aaron’s Rod) that had not produced a stalk as yet but we also found one mullein that had grown a stalk and had died. The stalk was dry so Fraser took the time to release the seeds and spread them around to promote future growth. I like to use this stalk as a hand drill for making fire by friction but another use for this plant in the past was making torches. The seed head would be dipped in fat, grease or tallow and then set alight. For speed we stuck with some vegetable oil and soon had a good flame going.

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Aaron’s Rod

The picture on the left shows how much light the candle actually throws out. I took the picture on the right with the focus of the camera directly on the flames. When you do this you can get some interesting shapes. I see a climbing fox in this one. It has a long tail, distinctive legs and you can just make out its snout – and I am not talking about Fraser’s face in the background ūüėČ

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Mullein candle

One of my favourite pictures of this candle is the one that produced Pegasus the winged horse.

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The flaming horse

While I was compiling the pictures for this post I was struck by these two pictures. I have inverted the right hand one and call it the Crimson Climber. The pictures were taken one after each other. You can clearly see the figure on the left about to start climbing but look closely and you will see on the right with two small arms and a hunched back a figure at the top of the flame.

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The Crimson Climber

Sunday morning was a relaxed affair at first. I could hear the pitter patter of rain on my tarp as I lay there but it all went quiet soon after. As I turned in my hammock I glanced out and saw the view you see in the top picture. It was magical to lie there and watch the snow falling in the perfectly quiet woodland. This magic did not last long as the snow started to accumulate my tarp started to droop. I had set it up on a shallow angle more suited for the good view rather than to shed lots of snow.

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Wintry Wake Up

So it was time to get up and over the next half hour I had to keep clearing snow from all the tarps to stop them collapsing. Steve eventually got up wandering what all the racket was about.

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Morning Steve

Breakfast was soon on the go and it was time to pack up to head home.

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Heartening breakfast

A few pictures to finish on. It was a great weekend chilling out in the company of some great guys.

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Extras

I am hoping to pop down and visit Fraser in the next couple of weeks and see what changes he has done with his site.

Cheers

George

 

 

How To…. Build a Mini and Mighty Bushcraft Loom

For a number of years I have been interested in bushcraft mat making. I like the thought of being able to go out into the woods and build my own shelter in a Robinson Crusoe sort of way, and in my blokey sort of way make my own fixtures and fittings. One of the key skills is having the knowledge to make your own mats to sit on, wrap around you, thatch with or just use as decoration.

This How To…. is designed to show you the main principles of making either a small or large loom using wooden poles. You will need to experiment to see what works for you but that is half the fun of it anyway. There are many other ways of creating looms, for example using ¬†live trees as props, or¬†recycled materials.

The first loom we will look at is the Mini Loom.

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Mini Loom

The second one will be the Mighty Loom.

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Mighty Loom

The end result from the Mini Loom.

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Mini Mats

And the end result from a Mighty Loom.

Mighty Mat
Mighty Mat

Early Days

When I was growing up on the Isle of Lewis weaving was happening all around me. My sister was a weaver for many years on the Harris Tweed looms and though I never wove I did as a young lad have a job spinning the bobbins for the tweeds.
I was reading back in 2006 Ray Mears’s book ‘Outdoor Survival Handbook’ and came across a section on mat-making using only two stakes and lengths of string. I tested this out with my Sea Cadets on a Duke of Edinburgh bushcraft course where they made some very good mats.

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A ground loom using only two stakes and string

Mini Loom

I came across the Mini Loom for the first time I think at the Wilderness Gathering a number of years ago. This loom has five individual stakes knocked into the ground on the left. On the right only two stakes are used and a crossbar tied off in between.

In this example five pieces of string have been used. The string is doubled over and tied off (at the bend) to the crossbar on the right. Then one strand is tied to one of the upright stakes on the left and the other strand to a horizontal rod that is used to move the string up and down. As you can see in this picture one of the strands is loose: I tightened it up after this.

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Mini Loom – Staked into the ground & strung up

Line everything up as neatly as possible with no string crossing another. I use the Tarp Taut Hitch on all the tie-off points so when the mat is finished it is easy to disconnect from the frame.

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Mini Loom – Top View

The horizontal bar needs to be tied off in the same way to the string and can then be lifted up and down as you insert material. This up-and-down movement ensures that the material gets trapped in the crossed-over string. After you insert some material and lift or drop the bar, remember to keep the mat tight by pulling the material towards the horizontal bar (on the right in this picture).

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Mini Loom – The Weave

The Mighty Loom
The Mighty Loom can be made in exactly the same way as the Mini Loom by driving stakes into the ground. I could not do that for this one as I was going to be teaching bushcraft in the grounds of a church. I needed to make something I could transport easily and set up easily with the minimum of fuss. I decided to make two seperate frames that could be set up using guy lines and when dismantled would leave no visible trace of having been there.

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Mighty Loom – Initial set up

I had a load of sycamore rods (Acer pseudoplatanus) available for use. The plan was to make two frames. I planned to make one frame 75cms high and the other 92cms high (this height was based on the lengths of wood available) and both would be 145cms wide. I cut the rods to size (nine verticals and two horizontals for each frame) and made sure they were smoothed out so nobody would get a splinter.

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Mighty Loom – Sycamore rods were used for the frame

I started each frame by lashing together the two uprights to the two horizontal poles to form a rectangle.

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Start of first frame

I used a square lashing on every tie-off point as you can really tighten this knot.

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Square lashing used

I tied off seven more vertical uprights to each frame using the square lashing, alternating them on either side of the frame to give it more stability when it was set up with the guy lines out. Here you can see the smaller frame set up with the guy lines out (I used some old tent guy lines).
I wove another horizontal pole through the frame to give it extra strength and also to act as an adjustable tie-off point for the string. This pole was not tied off but was held firmly in place by the vertical poles.

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First frame – 9 vertical poles lashed with one horizontal pole for strength

The bigger frame did not have this central horizontal pole as it would get in the way of the string moving up and down to create the weave (as per the Mini Loom). The pole propped up against the frame was used to move the string up and down.

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Second frame built (bigger than first frame) with nine vertical poles

Setting the string up is the same as for the Mini Loom. Ensure you cut lengths of string long enough to be doubled up and tied off.

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Initial set up – Roped up and staked out

The Tarp Taut Hitch was used again on each bend of the string to attach it to the middle horizontal pole on the smaller frame.

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First frame rope set up – Quick release knots used – 9 strings used

For each piece of doubled up string you have attached to the smaller frame you will have two individual strands to attach to the bigger frame. One strand should be attached to the middle of one of the vertical poles on the large frame and the other strand needs to be attached to the horizontal moving bar behind the larger frame.

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Second frame set up – individual strands tied off, one to the vertical pole a one to the horizontal pole

This is the part that any weaver will tell you takes the longest. You have to take your time, do not let the strands become entangled and be prepared to do lots of adjustments. Nobody will appreciate quite what you will have gone through to set this up but they will appreciate the ease of being able to make a mat with the system.

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All tied of and adjusted

I sourced a mixture of different plants from the local area, mostly from abandoned allotments next to the church. This material would be used to form the mat.

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A mixture of different weave material sourced locally

As with the Mini Loom, insert the material you want to start with. I prefer at the beginning and the end of the mat to insert fairly rigid material like the stems of Reedmace (Typha latifolia) but try different materials to see what works for you. Pull all the material (a good handful’s width) in tight then……………………

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Insert some material between the strands

…drop the horizontal bar to cross the string over and trap the material.

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Drop the horizontal bar

Then get ready to add a new layer of material to the loom.

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Then get ready to insert more material and lift the bar to trap it

Keep repeating the process of lifting and dropping the handle and adding new material to build up the mat.

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Keep repeating the whole process to build up your mat – vary the material as you like

The edges you can see here get very ragged. You can use a pair of sharp scissors (fairly big ones) or a very sharp knife to trim this down, but leave a good handwidth from your trimmed end and the first string so the material does not fall out.

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It soon builds up and kids of all ages love this activity

When you have finished, undo each slip knot and retie the string so that it holds all the material together. I attached some more string to this mat to hang it up and also decorated it with some small yellow flowers to form the name St James. Use your imagination and see what you can produce.

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Release the slip knots, tie off, hang it up and enjoy your artwork

Mat making is not something I do at every bushcraft event I run but if I have limited opportunity to run Atlatl or archery stances, having a loom on standby will keep kids occupied for a long time.

They can be as easy or as complex to set up as you wish but the common thing about all of them is the great craft they can produce.

Cheers

George

Bushcrafting at Bramley Church

At the end of September last year I was asked to help out at our local church with their open day. This is the 50th post I put on the site and I am glad it it is one of such a good day to mark the occasion.

Our church is the beautiful St James in Bramley Hampshire. It dates back to the twelfth century and is a very family orientated church where my wife Alison is one of the Sunday School leaders.

The church has an annual open day and this year someone (me, more likely than not) had spilled the beans that I taught bushcraft to kids. I was particularly looking forward to this day as I had never taught bushcraft in the grounds of a church before. St James has a small but beautiful churchyard with an area kept aside for meadow flowers. It was in this area (very few flowers because of the time of year) I set up my stance.

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A fun day and great location

There were many other activities including face painting, bell ringing and craft stalls and the weather was perfect for the event.
I set up my tipi with a bushcraft loom I had designed in front of it. My plan for the day was to get the kids (and adults) making mats, twisting cordage, bowdrilling and of course taking time out to have a marshmallow or two.
I also had on display some of my carvings (in various stages of completion) for folk to have a look at.

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Craft display

I did not have the room to set up an Atlatl or archery range so just had the tools on display.

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Primitive tool display

While I was doing this Alison had her hands full all morning painting faces. You will see her handiwork as you go through the pictures.

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Face Painting Fun

When I make a bushcraft loom I normally¬†hammer the upright poles into the ground then string it up. In a churchyard, though, I thought that may not be the best course of action. I devised a loom out of some sycamore rods that I could set up just with a few guy lines. This proved an interesting experiment for me and I documented each step in its construction and its use so I will post a How To…. on making one soon.
The loom proved a great success, keeping kids and adults happily occupied while I got on with other classes. These looms can be time consuming to set up (ask my sister Tina – she used to be a Harris Tweed weaver) but will keep kids occupied for ages with minimal adult input.

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Bushcraft mat-making set up

As per usual a queue quickly developed for bowdrilling. It may look like I am doing most of the work but I really do make the young ones work for that ember.  I find the more effort they put into it, the bigger the smile when they get that flame.

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Bowdrill sessions

You can really see them getting into it here.

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Bowdrill was one of the day’s mainstays

Once the ember is strong it is popped into a tinder bundle and the kids take turn blowing it into flame. I wish I had had the opportunity as a small child to do this – I had to wait until I was a big child instead ūüôā

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Group effort in fire making – Spot Daffy Duck?

After a bit of coaching some adults decided to give the bowdrill a go themselves or with the help of some of their family. This gave me a chance to get on with other things.

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Single bowdrill lessons with the families helping out

Not all bowdrill but covered the hand drill for a little while as well.

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Some Handrill lessons

With all the tinder bundles the kids put together we were able to keep a little fire going at the back of the graveyard where we got some marshmallows toasting – who can say they have had a toasted marshmallow in a graveyard before?

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Time for marshmallows

In amongst all this one of the young lads found himself a little frog in the long grass and proudly showed it to everyone. Afterwards he found a quiet spot to put him back in the long grass.

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Found a little friend

We just did a little bit of cordage-making using nettles to make some bracelets – not everyone is into bowdrilling (cannot think why!!)

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Cordage making for bracelets

The mat-making carried on throughout the morning with kids and adults coming and going. Karen stepped up and organised this well with the kids to produce a lovely mat.

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The mat-making class was always on the go

As we finished up I cut the mat from the loom and hung it from the branch of the yew tree. There it hung for a couple of months: the flowers faded, the grasses dried out but the whole mat stayed together in some pretty strong winds.

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The end of a great day

I am looking forward to this year’s event and will be working on improving the loom set up.

Cheers

George

Iron Mum, meet Iron Dad

Every September for the last 5 years many of the ladies of Bramley, Hampshire have come together for a very special race. It’s called Iron Mum and these ladies train very hard throughout the months leading up to it. Many will have started for the first that year having not trained in any way for years (or never) and in a matter of a few short months are running, cycling and sprinting in this race. My wife Alison is one of the organisers and for the first few years she had me out on the route doing marshalling. Thankfully that came to an end two years ago when I was redeployed to the fun day, and now I get to play at bushcraft while the ladies are out running. Catch is though, I have to help about 20+ kids (and the occasional mum or dad as well) achieve an ember using a bowdrill. Luckily for me I enjoy the whole fire-making business.

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The Iron Mums ready to race

The day for me starts early as I have to set up my bushcraft area and help with setting up the race. Normally I start about 6am setting up my tipi as a focal point for the bushcraft. I have the fire area set up near the tipi and an Atlatl range set up behind it.

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Iron Dad HQ for the day

Inside my tipi hanging on a rope from the centre pole is a Burdock hanger for my jacket and bits and bobs. I will be posting a How To…. on these hangers shortly.

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Burdock hanger

One of the main things I have to prepare are the drill pieces for the bowdrill. I will go through quite a few before the day is out.

Morning prep
Morning prep

Once everything is set up it is good to get a brew on. I like to use the Kelly Kettle for this as the fire area is self contained. Also it is good for these kind of shows as people can learn some basic fire starting skills using one. In this picture though is Tom Gilbert (a fellow member of BCUK) who was perfectly capable of getting the Kelly going and a brew on.

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Time for a brew

Last year I got my first customers even before the race started. I try and explain all the different parts but sometimes the queue is too big or the kids just have that look in their eye that says ‘Just get on with it!’.

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Bowdrill basics

To give that feeling of teamwork (and maximise the number of kids having a shot) I try to get them to double up with me. The need to master the bowdrill solo only starts to take hold in the teenage years, so all the kids I work with are usually very happy to work as part of a team in firemaking.

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Teamwork

My son Finlay though was very insistent on just the two of us having a go. Thankfully the day was warm, the wind was gentle and steady and I had plenty of dry timber, so we got lots of embers really quickly.

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Bowdrilling with the ‘Red Ninjas’

The kids were pretty enthralled with seeing a glowing ember and were really protective of what they had just created. The wind was just strong enough to be helpful with the embryonic ember’s start in life but potentially strong enough to immediately blow it apart if it was not protected. Kind of a Catch 22 situation, but the kids managed to protect their embers until they were strong enough to pop into a tinder bundle.

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Protecting that well-earned ember

Each ember produced a nice bundle of flame. With these tinder bundles I generally hold them unless the kids are really keen to do so. I then get all the kids to queue up behind my shoulder and take turns blowing it into flame.

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Flames away ūüôā Spot the baby dragon

While all this was going on, the stance next to me was doing a bit of hay bale throwing. Never tried this before and only got it about half as far as the winner (must be a knack thing, obviously). The kids shied away from this one so my friend Michael and myself took turns throwing the bale with any of the kids who wanted a go. Turned out to be a hit after that. (Michael though had done his shoulder in earlier so when his good wife Helen found out what he had been up to there were a few choice words said) ūüėČ

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My neighbours were being a bit active

The other activity I offer is an Atlatl range. It is very small but it has a good turnover of kids. Michael is quite happy to run this stand for me (thanks mate). I have a range of different Atlatls for the kids to use so that even 3 year olds can use them. We give each of the kids a bit of tuition to begin with before letting them loose with what is basically a spear-chucking device.

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Atlatl tuition with Finlay

The range is strictly controlled with a clear target and launch area.

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Airborne Atlatl darts

After a few tries most of the kids can get the dart into the roped off area. There is something fundamentally satisfying about throwing an Atlatl dart and I find whoever picks one up and uses it gets the same satisfaction. Must be something imprinted into our genetic makeup (like watching the flames in a campfire).

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On target 12 o’clock high

After the race (I saw nothing of it to tell the truth) those volunteers who had helped out at all 5 races received a lovely gift of an engraved metal wine stopper.

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Long Service Medal Recipients for Ironmum

I thought I would finish on this picture: my wife Alison saw it and asked, ‘Where does your beard end?’ ūüėČ

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Can you spot where the beard ends? ūüėČ

Cheers

George

Coastal Hunter Gatherer Course – Aug 2013

I was due to run a DofE course for the Sea Cadets in Brecon last August but sadly it got cancelled at the last moment due to a lack of funding. Thankfully though my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival heard about that and invited me down to a Coastal Hunter Gatherer course he was running that weekend.

This was an excellent course, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone wanting to know how to live comfortably on the coast. It is not an easy course as you really have to work for your dinner but well worth the time.

Fraser runs the course on the Dorset coast and in the nearby local woodlands. I really liked the fact we could forage and fish on the coast during the day but retire to the woods in the evening. Kind of reassuring for an old bushcrafter like me.

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Set on the beautiful Dorset coast

The spot I managed to secure for my hammock turned out to have a magical view out over the Dorset countryside. There are not many spots suitable for hammocks  but Fraser does have a large army tent that some of the students slept in.

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My room with a view

After breakfast we headed out for the coast. On the walk out to the rock pools Fraser explained how to watch the local sea birds to spot the locations of possible shoals of fish.

I had missed the first day of the course when they had put out nets and lobster pots in the rock pools (we were in an area well away from any local fishery nursery area, the closed season had passed and all the nets used were of a legal size).

Overnight about 9 or 10 fish (a mixture of Wrasse, Mullet and Sea Bass) had been caught in the two nets they had put out. I have put a link to two videos at the end of the post showing the fish being pulled from the nets.

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Great walks and rock pool fishing

Fraser ¬†then showed all the students how to de-scale, gut and bleed out all the fish we had caught. I don’t think he was too impressed with our efforts at de-scaling the fish ūüôā

We experimented with trying to catch shrimps by throwing the offal from the fish into a rock pool to attract them. What really got them interested though was the blood on our hands. If you were quick you could just flick them out of the water.

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Learn how to easily catch shrimp

I was taught previously by Fraser just to bite the back of the shrimp for a quick snack. Not for the squeamish but tasty all the same.

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Lovely eaten raw

Jennifer had fun out in the sea collecting sea weed for the pot. We had fun just sitting there watching her as on quite a few occasions she nearly went under. Sea weed is best harvested from the sea as you will get less sand trapped in the leaves, making the preparation process for the pot later easier to do.
The limpets were harvested using a stone: walk quietly, a quick smack and they are ready to pick up. These limpets were cooked over an open fire in their shells, we ate some straight from the shell and some we chopped some up and added to a stew.

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Foraging for sea weed and limpets

We caught no lobsters in the lobster pots but plenty of crabs. These were used to make a stock for dinner later that night.

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Learning how to use crab nets

I think all the guys were pretty happy with the catch on the day.

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Happy Fisherfolk

Once they were all bagged up it was back to camp to prepare dinner.

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An excellent catch

The crabs were simply mashed up and made into a stock. Not too sure of the exact process here but I am sure Fraser would explain it all if you contacted him, or take a look at his book Eat the Beach which has lots of information on catching and cooking food from the seashore.

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Cook what you catch – making the stock

We prepared the sea bass and wrapped it in some burdock leaves. This was cooked directly on the embers of the fire and came out very moist and succulent.

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Ember cooked fish

Fraser taught everyone how to properly fillet the other fish and we cooked some of them directly on the grill. The fillets we did not use were hung above the fire to dry out and take on some of the flavours of the wood smoke. We ate these smoked fillets the next morning for breakfast.

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Lovely fillets

In between all this cooking I managed to take some time out and do a little bit of carving. This is my relaxation therapy.

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Time to relax and carve

A couple of my plates of food from the weekend. Fraser supplied a few of the basics like noodles and potatoes but everything else was foraged. The spoon in the top picture was also a little carving from the weekend.

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Catch and Cook

On one of the walks we collected some herbs for tea. This is a morning brew of Ground Ivy, Bramble and Wild Mint. Very refreshing.

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Learn about herbal teas

There were also foraging and net making classes. I thoroughly enjoyed both these classes and learnt new stuff in both.

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Foraging and net making classes

Each student gets shown how to make their own gill net which they can take home with them.

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Make your own Gill net

On the last day we went down to Chesil beach. We took a stroll along the land nextbeach looking and identifying all the edible and medicinal plants we could find. We found plenty of sea kale and horseradish (not in this picture) at that time of year.

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Coastal Plant ID

As soon as we got to the beach we set up the little shelter and Fraser taught us how he sets up his rods for beach casting.

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Learn to set up a rod and tackle

Then it was down to the shoreline to see how it should be done and then have a go ourselves.

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Learn to cast from the beach

No fish were caught that day but everyone had fun casting out past the surf.

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Final fishing and home time

I filmed three videos on my iPad while I was on the course, two bringing in the nets and one on the initial prepping of the fish:

Long Line Net Gather 1

Long Line Net Gather 2

Initial fish preparation

I was very chuffed to be invited along to Fraser’s Coastal Hunter Gather course and will be looking to attending again in the future.

Fraser is bringing out a video tutorial course this year so I looking forward to seeing how that develops as coastal survival is a subject I want to explore more now.

Cheers

George

Summer Bushcrafting in Cornwall

I wasn’t going to post about our family summer holiday as I thought it wasn’t particularly relevant to this blog but after having a look at the pictures again I noticed there were quite a few bushcrafty ones. This post will just focus on some of the fun bushcraft stuff we did and I will not bore you with all the hundreds of beach and plant pictures I took.

Our good friend Lou worked as a manager at the YHA in Golant in Cornwall so we pitched our tipi in the gardens of the hostel, combining a holiday with a visit to her. The hostel itself is a Regency period building so it felt quite grand to be camped out in front of it for a week.

Alison got the hammock for herself and a cup of tea in bed every morning, I got the tipi and the kids.

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Our Holiday Homes

This was at times a very busy holiday but I certainly found time to catch up on my sleep loss. Over the whole holiday I concentrated on getting as many pictures of different plants as possible. This beautiful one of Catherine was taken in the grounds of the Eden Project.

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Sometimes restful, sometimes beautiful

We got a visit one day from our friends Steve, Kirsty, Buddy and Herbie. As per usual the barbie was down to the boys but I got the feeling Steve was in a managerial mood

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Checking for wind direction I presume!!

The boys were happy to re stock the fire as boys do and a relaxing dinner was had by all. Steve and Kirsty live with the boys in Cornwall where Kirsty runs her own business Kirsty Elson Designs (Kirsty is a fabulous artist) and Steve works in youth development and would like to do more in the way of bushcraft.

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Fire and Food

You just cannot beat some time with a bow and your kids. The Father and Son bow is excellent for introducing kids to bows as they are quite easy to draw.

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Quality boy time

Catherine had a ball wherever she went, be that with the ducklings or with sand. Our kids love their toys and gadgets but they’re good at making their own fun as well.

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Exploring Nature

I got a message on Facebook one day from one of my bushcrafting buddies Jonny Picket, inviting us to a birthday bash in his woods he was organising for his partner Janie Sarchet. We were camped just the other side of the River Fowey from them. Jonny and Janie have a lovely farm near the coast and had decorated part of their woodland for the party.

After arriving I took Finlay down to the coast with Jonny and one of his friends to watch them spear fishing. No fish but a pretty spectacular spider crab was found. Finlay and I had a great time rummaging around all the rock pools.

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Coastal Foraging

After getting to know everyone it was a case of chilling and waiting for the meat to cook in the massive metal hangi type oven. Alison got talking to Janie and has since published in the Kindle store a book that Jane had written called Project Egg. Janie also has an excellent blog site called The Hedge Combers¬†and as best said by Janie – “Our ultimate aim is to build up a resource of useful posts, ideas & recipes, invaluable to anyone starting out on their own self sufficiency, gastro-adventure“.

It was great to catch up with other bushcrafting buddies including Pete Thomas and Ashley Cawley. They all made our family feel very welcome.

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Janie’s Birthday Bash with roasted Pete

I had fun helping to cut up all the meat from the hangi and nibbling on a piece or two but best of all was the junk drumming session we all had at the end  Рwe did not roast Pete in the end as it might look from the picture above :-).

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Food and Fun

A happy Lou and Finlay taking some time out to shoot (well Finlay patiently waiting his turn).

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Aunty Lou having fun with Finlay

I took time out to just sit and carve. It was such a beautiful campsite it would have been a shame not to.

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Holiday carvings

Other nice memories were finding this nest of little chicks and watching the slightly bigger ones idily poking the fire (what kid does not like doing this).

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Happy Chicks

Every day was either spent on the beach or wandering through the woods exploring – we went to some fabulous places including The Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and St Michael’s Mount.

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Exploring we go

I had a great time with Finlay working on his archery and look forward to getting out to some camps with him this year to shoot some more. I think Catherine and Finlay will get quite competitive in the future with their bows.

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Excellent stance

I do not know who was happier about hitting the target.

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Happy Lad

This has got to be my favourite picture of the holiday with the kids playing happily in the flowers.

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Beautiful wanderings

And finally back to Alison. As I said she got not only the hammock but also a cup of tea every morning. She does make hammocking look stylish.

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Morning Cuppa

Cheers

George

An Idyllic Day

Today I woke to some lovely sunshine, a rare treat so far this winter. I’m writing up all the little adventures I had last year, and looking back at my diary I realized the next one in line also happened on a lovely sunny day, in fact it was an idyllic day.

The day after I came home from the Wilderness Gathering in August I took my two kids and one of their friends to the local National Trust property, The Vyne in Hampshire. ¬†The house itself is beautiful but the grounds and woodland are my real playground. They have a kids’ play area built around the theme of a Hobbit house with none of the usual swings or slides but plenty of cranes, water, stones, wood and sand to get stuck into.

I sometimes get so caught up with what I am focussed on when studying bushcraft that I lose site of the wonder of everything else. My kids remind me of this when they are out and about exploring and discovering new things.

I have walked past this tree a couple of times with my eyes down on the lookout for a new flower to photograph but when the kids look at it they see a magical figure with hairy nostrils. If you look at the tree from their angle (and I did) you can easily imagine this.

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Hairy Nostrils!!

To my son this ditch is a world of wonder: I just see the plants on the side but he see trolls under the bridge. It was here that I started to remember all the bridges I had crawled under as a kid in search of those damned elusive trolls. It was a fun time though a bit wet and even though my mother would scold me I would always find another bridge.

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Can I jump in Daddy?

The National Trust have built this excellent play area but all Finlay wanted to do was collect as many sticks as possible and build a shelter. This need to build something out of a pile of sticks must be imprinted somewhere in our brains and I guess for many people that need is erased as they grow up: thankfully for me that has never happened.

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Shelter building anyone

While Finlay was off building, Catherine was in the sand pit patting it all flat. I like to think she was creating a sand pit trap (to collect tracks) as she has done this before but I think she was just dreamily making shapes. I really like my daughter’s artistic side and it is nice sometimes to just sit and watch where her imagination takes her.

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Sand Pit Trap

We spent a bit of time around the pond where the kids lay down beside the edge and waited for the carp and ducklings to come a-calling. The kids asked if a carp would eat a duckling. I have no idea. I just told them that the carp were kept well fed so as to leave the ducklings alone (sometimes you just have to sound confident).

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Luckily the carp were not hungry today

I like this pond as the dragonflies put on quite a show of acrobatics. We spent a good half hour just watching what was happening here. I do not normally get that length of time for an activity like this but since Mother Nature was being kind and always up to something here the kids (and I ) were kept enthralled.

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Dragonfly spotting

Sometimes you can be wandering through the woods trying to keep the kids occupied and what you see just stumps you – No way could I beat these guys sending kids up and down the tree like yoyos. Next year I want to get the kids on this activity (that includes me of course).

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Strange happenings in the trees

Idyllic days require some fancy food – Catherine took the bottom picture just before we went home ūüôā

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Fancy Foraging

A final stroll in the woods to end a perfect day.

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Strolling home

Cheers

George

Links

The Vyne