Last August found my daughter Catherine and I making our way down to the Wilderness Gathering. Located near West Knoyle in the beautiful South Wiltshire countryside is the Bush Farm Bison Centre. I have been visiting this gathering for the last ten years.
The Wilderness Gathering has a commercial feel to it though it still maintains its bushcraft origins. I love the fact that it is so close to where I live, there are organised classes all day for my daughter, I get to meet lots of old friends, make new ones, learn new stuff and get some more kit. For the last two years I have been helping out Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival as he is a good friend of mine (I have added all the links at the end of the post). This helps me out a lot as I get a chance to learn lots of new bushcraft skills I can use with my Sea cadets.
The first thing Catherine headed for on arrival was the farm shop to get some ice cream but she soon got into the bushcrafting spirit, particularly keen on doing a bit of carving (this still scares me).
There are plenty of stalls to visit such as the Bushcraft Magazine, to chat at, to buy from and to get some great ideas.
Fraser runs courses for the Coyote Kids Club such as making shrimp traps made out of recycled materials.
Like all the other visits I meet new friends such as the talented carver Jon Macof Spoon Carving First Steps and good friends of old such as Phil and Ben Brown of Badger Bushcraft.
The boys from Silchester – Mark Beer (Lupus), Nick Currie and from the Bushcraft Magazine Paul Bradley. I have learnt a lot from these guys over the years. Always good to catch up, chat and share skills.
This year I helped Fraser run a course on making fishing spears and nets (well, took a lot of pictures really). The fish spears are easy to make and the net making was run as a Masterclass.
A very popular class Fraser ran was how to cold smoke a fish in a cardboard box. Due to the damp weather the smudge fire kept going out but after a few hours we managed to smoke the fish and it was added to an excellent stew.
My daughter Catherine always has a great time at the Gathering as there is plenty for her to do with the Coyote Kids while I am working.
As per usual the food is good with Fraser cooking. I was trying out a new set up here on my fire pit using racks set at different heights for cooking different foods.
No big meals this time as we were kept too busy with classes but excellent all the same.
Caught this shot in one of the many showers this year, thankfully though most people just shrugged the rain off and got on with things.
Over the road from our stand was my friend Jason Sears teaching some group bowdrill. Every time he got the sets out he always had a good audience as folk knew they could participate. Rain was no barrier to this bushcrafter when it came to lighting a fire.
Other neighbours included Ben Orford demonstrating great green woodworking skills and JP from Woodlife Trails expertly taking the visitors through all the steps of creating fire by friction.
I try and get Catherine involved in as many activities as possible. She jumped at the chance to be a Pump Monkey for Dave Budd while he created some knives. I also got a present from my friend Stephen Herries of a burnt-out log – he claims I stole it off him 😉 – which gave me a chance to get my flint adze out and do a bit of primitive carving. The log is a rather nice long bowl now.
Steve Kirk of the Bushcraft Magazine ran an Atlatl making class this year which proved very popular. I learnt this skill at the gathering 10 years ago and have taught it to hundreds of people since then. The shooting of these darts make for some great pictures.
I don’t know what Sarah (of Wilderness Spirit) thought when the Gimp appeared one afternoon – he is harmless really :-).
Catherine was very chuffed to meet her friend Molly again this year. I think that Catherine will be able to turn her hand to many things as she grows up based on these pictures.
At the end of the Gathering I had a great evening with the guys from the Tribe watching Billy the Bushcrafter (Catherine really) being set upon by Beccy’s little ferret.
Last but certainly not least is the pond in the centre of the farm. This is one of my favourite places, I have spent many a relaxed hour sitting beside it.
There is much more to the Wilderness Gathering than the few pictures I took last year so check out some of the links I have put below.
I am looking forward to this year’s Wilderness Gathering and catching up with everyone again.
The beginning of August found me preparing for my annual trip to Merthyr Mawr in South Wales to attend the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot.
I have written this post as a record of the classes and events at the 2013 Moot but it is in its own way a dedication to our Drew.
I have been attending the Moot since 2005 and always have a great time. Not always relaxing but always a good time. This year we lost a good friend in the Bushcrafting world – Andrew Dunn. He was known to us as Drew but the handle he liked to be known as was Drew Dunn Respect. This year’s Moot was dedicated to our Drew.
The Bushmoot is normally held at the beginning of August each year and can last up to two weeks. I usually get there for a week and a bit depending on what else is going on. I like to think of the Moot as a meeting of like-minded people with a vast diversity of skills and experiences that they are happy to share with each other.
My arrival at the Moot was delayed this year by a day as I ran some bushcraft classes at our village summer school so I was very happy to see on my arrival that my whole camping area had been taped off for me. Eventually I found out it was my friend Charlie Brookes who had done this and I was very grateful he had as I have become very attached to my little pitch (I got thrown out of my original pitch years ago by the owners of the ‘Naughty Corner’).
The first few days for me are usually a time to catch up with good friends, prep my classes and take time to chill out in my hammock.
A couple of days later Karen and Clare turned up, not with their usual tents and tarps but with this mobile palace. Seemingly Clare said it was a wedding present she and her husband had given to themselves. It was fun though getting the mobile palace through the trees to a decent spot.
The mobile signal is pretty bad in Merthyr Mawr but there’s a particular spot I go out to where I can get a signal to phone home. The spot looks out onto the dunes and there every year I find these beautiful Evening Primroses growing. One of the great things about Merthyr Mawr is the diverse range of plants that grow there and so makes it a plant photographer’s heaven.
This year there was Victorian theme to the Moot but Spikey being Spikey decided to come as a monkey.
I was chatting with my friend Dean Allen one day at my campsite discussing the Welsh spoons he carves. The conversation got onto his other work and I had to take this picture. Dean has a great eye for detail as this picture shows.
Quite a few of the guys are bowyers and we set up an archery range at each Moot. For a few years I have run a class making Father and Son bows as they are so quick to make.
As I was helping to run the Starter Skills course this year one of the other instructors ran the bow-making course. These bows take only an hour to make but can easily shoot sixty or seventy metres.
Cap’n Badger, Wayne Jones of Forest Knights, Paul Pomfrey and myself normally run the archery range. The Father and Son bows are double limbed and are great for the kids.
The adults love shooting them as well. Over the last couple of years I have developed an interest in getting these pictures of flying arrows. The slightly slower speed of these arrows being released makes for a good picture.
A couple of years ago Drew worked with me to build one of these bows. He was not sure if he could at first and was quite shy about starting but once he got going there was no stopping him.
My good friend Fraser runs a company called Coastal Survival and has been coming to the Moot for a few years now. Sad to say that Bella (the larger dog) passed away this year due to complications from a possible snake bite earlier in the year. She was a great dog, always inquisitive and great with the kids.
Alongside Fraser is our big Al and what a lovely pair of chefs they make 😉 between the two of these guys I have had some fantastic food at the Moot.
On one of the days I popped down to the coast to do a bit of foraging with them. No fish that day but plenty of shrimp and limpets. Drew did a few Coastal trips with Fraser so I know he would have loved this.
We also collected a lot of sea weed (sea lettuce I think) which Clare was laying out to get rid of sand particles and to dry it out. Karen is making grass rope in the background as a decoration for the mobile palace.
It was great to meet Craig’s baby son Sion for the first time at the Moot.
For myself and the rest of the Mods the day starts with ‘morning prayers’ (Tony’s morning briefing) and this is soon followed by a larger meeting with everybody under the main parachute.
This picture was taken in 2011 and shows the main parachute where we have the morning meetings to discuss the day’s events. Ever the practical joker, Drew found his hat missing one day and finally spotted it at the apex of the chute.
In one of the Mods’ meetings we came to the conclusion that a’Starter Skills’ course was required, covering knife safety, carving (we made tongs for the fire), knots, fire lighting and some simple pot stands.
Emily having a go at the Evenk knot.
The kids all learnt the skills at the same time as their parents and had fun here testing that the knots had been set up properly.
Sargey finishing off the fire lighting class of the Starter Skills course. This course got a lot of good feedback so we will try and run it again next year.
Some of the members (Cap’n Badger and crew) had organised a very special Memorial Service for Drew. His parents Jean and Philip attended the Moot this year for the service along with Drew’s brother Steven and sister Stacey.
Steven and Stacey helped to plant the Atlantic Pine tree in Drew’s memory.
After the tree was planted we put in a plaque that the guys had commissioned. The whole ceremony was extremely moving. Dave finished the service with a very moving eulogy to Drew. There were not many dry eyes in the glade.
The service was finished when Drew’s father Philip spread Drew’s ashes in to the waves at Methyr Mawr.
Taken a couple of years ago, this is the sign for Drew’s favourite place at the Moot. The Naughty Corner was set up as a place for people to come to and relax without worrying too much about noise levels. Drew was always at the centre of things here and was the first place he asked to go to when he first joined us. One year the roof of the shelter here got badly damaged in a storm and it was Drew who took it upon himself to climb up and fix it.
In the evening after the service we had a Victorian themed party. Jean had a great time chatting with everyone
The costumes were brilliant.
I managed to get the majority of the Victorians together for a group shot and was quite surprised to see how many rifles they had brought along. The majority were actual period pieces.
Back to the other activities being conducted at the Moot. There were a lot of classes being run all over the site so my pictures only reflect a portion of the classes but I hope it gives you a feel for what we do.
Perry Magee from the National Tracking School came to the Moot this year. I did not get to the grass rope making class but watched the kids having a tug of war with what they had made.
Dean Allen, Mad Dave and a few others had an introductory class on carving. These lads know their stuff and the kids got some really quality tuition.
I have spent many an hour around the campfire carving with Drew as this was something he really wanted to get to grips with.
I ran the usual bowdrill classes for individuals and groups. No matter how many times I teach someone this skill I still love to see that smile the first time they get an ember.
My friend Mark Oriel is a butcher by trade and now manages a small farm in the West of Wales where he runs his own bushcraft/homesteading courses. This year Mark ran a very successful Jerky smoking class.
All lined up neatly.
One of my classes focuses on getting families working together to create fire using the bowdrill. There are not many things that bring everybody in a family together but the group bowdrill is one.
I was chatting with Perry Magee about some fire drill mechanisms he had and the conversation got onto water divining. I was sceptical at first but after some expert and clear teaching from Perry we were off. I found underground water, managed to follow a pipe and here Pete was trying to see if the rods would indicate human presence (me) and it worked. How it works no one knows, but it works.
Fraser from Coastal Survival runs a few courses at the Moot and this one was on breadmaking. Fraser created a sand oven to cook some rolls in. I did not take part in the class but the ladies who did thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
This was the fish hook carving class run by Steve Mesquite Harral – Paul Pomfrey (looking dashing in his utilikilt) was splitting down spruce root for the binding.
Some stunning artwork was seen in the woods. I cannot remember who produced this but it certainly inspired the kids to get out there and make their own woodland art.
One type of game the kids love are the stalking games. I call this one the fox stalk and is just organised madness.
At the end of the Moot we always have a group dinner where everyone either cooks something for everyone or helps to organise it. The ponnased salmon went down a treat.
This year musical friends of the boss (Tony) agreed to come over and play for us. I think they were called the Merthyr Tydfill Country Band but were all based over in Nashville. Tony had just asked them on the off chance they would turn up and turn up in style they did. The generator we had blew the lights out if I remember rightly but we all still had a cracking time that evening, drinking, eating, dancing and listening to good music.
After the main training days were over there were a few private courses run. Here Wayne from Forest Knights was running a bow making course. I learnt to make a Bhutaneese bow with him the year before.
Everyone agreed that the 2013 Moot was dedicated to our friend Drew. I do miss Drew but hope to see his parents, brother and sister at one of the Moots again sometime in the future.
Happy Christmas to everyone. I hope you are having a great time and looking forward to a good New Year.
As the weather here in the UK has been a tad damp and windy I thought it would be good to just bring a bit of colour at this time.
My Facebook friends will no doubt have seen the monthly albums of plants I have been posting over the year. I took a look at them again and decided to pull a few of the ones from each month that I particularly liked for the blog.
The plants may or may not have a bushcraft use, they are just the ones I really liked and not some sort of ID guide.
If I decide on a bit of foraging I only pick plants that I have 100% identified and that it is legal to do so. If you have positively identified a wild plant and have never tried it before then I advise you to test your tolerance to it first. A great explanation on this can be found on Robin Harfords Eat Weeds site. The test is clearly laid out and simple to remember.
I will name each plant and one or two uses (if I know of any). Apart from online references which I will link to in the post my main source of reference will be from the excellent and little-known plant ID book by Charles Coates called The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland.
One of the hidden gems of the Common Holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) is found on its leaves. Here you will find the home of the Holly Leaf Miner larvae (Phytomyza ilicis). I studied this little larvae in university and it still intrigues me to this day. The adult fly lays an egg in the stem of the leaf and when it turns into a larvae it burrows into the leaf. A large circular exit hole (over 1mm) usually means the larvae has hatched successfully. A small circular hole usually means the larvae has been predated by a parasitic wasp and a triangular tear as you see here means a blue tit has had a snack.
I have put a link to an excellent PDF on the Miner by the Field Studies Council at the bottom of the post.
Learning to identify plants when not in flower is a must for bushcrafters so as to be able to forage successfully year round.
On the left you can see the purple spotted leaves of the Arum plant sometimes known as Cuckoo-pint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) and on the right the crinkly leaves of the Wild/Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris).
I advise people not to touch Arum as it can cause quite nasty allergic reactions if not handled correctly. Arum has traditionally been used as a soap (called Portland Sago) and the starch from the root was commonly used to stiffen Elizabethan ruffs. My favourite use though I found in Coates: “Victorians omitted it from their flower guides because of its suggestive shape. For some reason, young men placed it in their shoe to gain the prettiest dance partners”. Unless you are an expert in processing this plant I would advise you just to identify it in all its different stages and leave it be.
The Primrose is a different resource entirely. The word Primrose comes from the latin Prima rosa meaning ‘first rose’. Once identified properly this makes an excellent addition to any salad or a tasty snack while foraging as the leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves and flowers can be used to make tea and I have heard of friends making a wine using the flowers.
The beautiful Blubell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) starts to stick its leaves out in March. I loved the way this one had managed to pierce some leaf litter from the previous year. Bluebell in conjunction with some other species can be an indicator species for ancient woodland.
The picture of these Crocuses was taken outside our church and it is a sight I love to photograph every year.
Another lovely sight in the early spring is the appearance of the catkins on the Goat/Pussy Willow (Salix caprea). This tree, apart from its medicinal uses, makes for excellent cordage from the inner bark and is a great bowdrill wood. Watch out when you burn it as it does tend to spark a bit. These are male catkins I think and are one of the earliest indicators of spring, appearing long before the leaves.
I took this picture of the Primrose with the flowers and the Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) on the right without the flowers as a comparison. When both do not have flowers they can be confused for each other. The Primrose has a more rounded leaf tip and the Foxglove has a very pointed leaf tip. As a forager in the early spring/late winter it is important you can comfortably identify both these plants. Foxglove is still used today in a synthetic form as a heart drug, so is, as Coates states, “Best left for the Bees”.
Until I looked in Coates I did not know much about Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) other than that they always appear in late winter. Turns out they are not native to the UK and were only first documented in the wild in 1770. In the past the flower was likened to a death shroud so it was seen as unlucky to bring a single one into your house but OK to bring in a bunch. These flowers as you can guess come from the local graveyard – kind of apt in the light of this new knowledge for me.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is not a plant I see too often in the wild. This one I found on the edges of a wood in the grounds of a stately home. As well as being rather beautiful it has some medicinal uses for treating migraines.
A sight that cannot be beaten is a carpet of Bluebells. I did watch a programme where Ray Mears crushed the bulb up in his mouth and spat it out to make a form of primitive glue. Not something I’ve tried personally but I have had limited success using the crushed leaves for fletching primitive arrows.
This picture I took at Mottisfont House in Hampshire. I think it is a Magnolia tree but it does makes a perfect canvas for some climbing children.
According to Coates the Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is a favourite of rabbits which is possibly a reason I do not see it very often in the wild. It is such a striking flower with these drooping petals.
Bugle (Ajuga reptans) is a common plant found around my village growing in the long grass of the meadows. This plant has long been used to treat wounds but from reading Coates it seemingly has been used by herbalists to help treat hangovers. You just never know sometimes.
Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) like the other plantains is a great bushcrafters’ plant. It is a hardy plant able to withstand a lot of foot traffic. The leaves can be made into a poultice or ointment to help stem bleeding or to soothe burns and stings. One herbalist explained to me that chewing some of the seeds helped to keep mozzies away and some of my bushcrafting friends have made cordage from the fibrous sinews in the leaves. My favourite use is to squeeze the juice out of the leaves and rub it on nettle stings to ease the pain. I have put another good link at the end of the post about Plantain.
Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) is one of these plants that most people do not give a second glance. Personally I think it is one of the most beautiful flowers we have. Traditionally used by woodland workers to help close up cuts.
I always come across Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) while leading groups out in the New Forest in the early summer. It is an easy plant to miss but if you keep your eyes open for well lit, low lying boggy areas you will spot them. Apart from its medicinal properties for treating breathing issues it seemingly has a reputation as an aphrodisiac – Coates notes: “Known as a love charm for its ability to lure insects, it was secreted in girls’ clothing by amorous men”.
I think that this is the Common Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) but I may well be wrong. I have spotted quite a few different types this year either in long grass or in woodland glades. In Scotland I have found many on the coast growing in sheltered areas of rocky outcrops.
There is one ditch in my village that has a clump of Common Bistort (Polygonum bistorta) growing in it. This is a plant that likes ditches and damp places. I have no bushcraft use for it but I do enjoy the sight of it as I pass by.
The Meadow Crane’s Bill (Geranium pratense) was used to treat wounds in the past. Coates notes that it has been used as a medicine since Roman times. It seems a very versatile plant for herbalists treating a wide range of ailments including diarrhoea, as a gargle for sore throats and for treating toothache.
This fine example of Borage (Borago officinalis) was from the Eden Project in Cornwall though I do spot this plant on many of my trips. It is edible and has medicinal uses. It’s originally from Southern Europe where the leaves are added to different pasta dishes and soups. Before we added cucumber to Pimms seemingly the preferred addition was Borage leaves (source Wikipedia)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) is another bushcrafter’s friend. Not only is the peeled bark/skin an excellent source of tinder, it is the little devil that makes all those beautiful spirals on young shoots such as hazel that make great walking sticks. Coates suggests it has some medicinal uses as the leaves and flowers contain the active ingredient of aspirin.
The Wood Aven (Geum urbanum) is one useful plant and has quite a history. Medicinally it has been documented in use as far back as the Greeks and to this day herbalists still use it to help treat fevers and other ailments. The root has a clove-like smell and so was traditionally hung in houses to keep away evil spirits. My favourite use however was as a flavouring for beer. Coates lists lots of other uses: one to know and try out.
I took this picture of the Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) at our BCUK Bushmoot in South Wales. A visitor from the States and another medicinal/edible plant. Coates notes that the roots were once eaten as a prelude to wine drinking as we eat olives today. He adds that it contains vitamin F which is helpful with protecting arteries from fatty decay.
I love to look at the Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum): as far as I am concerned it is a work of art. I use the stem as a hand drill and love to watch the Six Spotted Burnetts feeding off the head. The heads were traditionally used in the clothing industry to raise the fibre of cloth after weaving.
I ask the young ones to feel the leaves (gently) and I love seeing the look on their faces when they feel the barbs on the back of the leaf. When they spot the water that collects as a small pool at the base of the leaf I tell the little ones that this is where fairies come to drink. As a small child you could well believe this as the plant does look like it has magical properties.
Burdock must be one of the most well known bushcrafters’ plant. It has a two-year life cycle and the root of the plant at the end of its first year’s growth provides good carbohydrates and vitamins. Coates comments that the young leaves are edible which I agree with, but personally I cannot stand the taste of the leaves at any time. The base of the stem when the plant is young is quite palatable though.
I have friends who use the dried-out base of the second year plant attached to a bow drill spindle and swear by it. I like to use the second year stem as a clothes and kit hanger, trimming the branches from the stem leaving a small point protruding where each branch was and hanging it up in a tent for my bits and bobs. This was a traditional method on the Isle of Lewis where I come from as there are very few trees on the island so wood is hard to come by.
A plant of many names is the Reedmace (Typha latifolia), other names being Cattail, Fairy Woman’s Spindle and now officially Bulrush (caused so much confusion that one). The root, like that of Burdock, is a great source of carbohydrates, you can make a flour out of the seed head (also makes great flash burn tinder) and a passable hand drill. A plant with too many uses to list.
If you have reached this far well done. I did not want to put in so many pictures but it was very hard to choose which pictures to put up.
Apologies if I got anything wrong but I hope you enjoyed them.
June and July are time for County shows all over the country. This year at the end of June I agreed to help my good friend Phil Brown out at the Kent County Show.
Phil runs his own bushcraft company called Badger Bushcraft. Phil is based in Kent and does a lot of work with schools in the South East of England. His website at Badger Bushcraft covers all the angles on how he works with schools so I will not go into depth on that here.
I have known Phil since about 2005 and we have both studied together under John Rhyder at Woodcraft School on a number of his courses. Just like in the forces you go on long courses, meet people, go through some pretty hard stuff (and good stuff) and come out at the other end with some good friends. Phil is one of these good friends and over the last few years has given up his time to help me out on my Sea Cadet courses so it was only right to help out where I could for him. Not difficult as we both share the same passion for teaching bushcraft.
Phil’s aim for the weekend was to network with visitors who had links with schools. All the craft items were for display purposes. My role was to demonstrate some activities. These included, using firesteels, bowdrill, hand drill, knots, carving and looking at hammocks set ups.
Phil had his own shelter for the craft items and I brought along our own Coleman Event shelter to do the demonstrations. I am glad I brought it along as the heat all weekend was very intense.
I brought along some of my craft items and so did Phil. We could hardly fit them onto our tables in the end. I lost track of the times people came up asking how much we were selling things for. Some could not believe that we were not here to sell stuff but to just network and demonstrate.
The hat you can see in the picture Phil found in Romania. It is made out of amadou from the bracket fungus Fomes fomentarius. A good explanation can be found here on Wikipedia.
Running over the weekend was a small competition. It was to identify the plant shown here at the bottom of the table. It is highly toxic and was very hard to ID (I had no idea what it was until told). People got a chance to use some ID books to find out what it was and we got an eventual winner. The prize was a weekend course with Phil if I remember. The plant if you have not guessed it is a Thorn apple (Datura stramonium) More info on it can be found here at the RHS web page.
I must admit to being impressed with the skull collection that Phil now has. They were a real attraction to all the kids.
Much of my time was spent in the demonstration area. It got very crowded at times. I spent a lot of time working with adults and kids doing group bowdrill and practising using firesteels.
The demonstrations all went well apart from one time when I was working with a young lad. For whatever reason we just could not get that ember. Possibly due to my drops of sweat putting the ember out 😉
The kids waited patiently until it was there turn and wherever possible I worked with groups of 3 or 4 at a time.
I did a number of one to one sessions with adults and a few got that final happy flame face I so love to see.
Interspersed in between the bow drill I got the hand drill out. I think I did 4 demonstrations on the Saturday which thankfully were all successful (it was very hot and dry so ideal conditions) but I did collect a couple of blisters and my hands did feel bruised.
At the back of the shelters we had set up home. I had a few people asking about the hammock set up.
Around the fire that evening we had a little visitor that wanted to dive bomb the fire but thankfully chose not to do so at the last moment.
On the Sunday i set up a couple of different hammocks for people to try. Everybody was a bit nervous at first trying them but those that did were converted. The hammocks that I set up were the DD Frontline and the UK Hammocks Woodsman.
I tried out one of Phil’s Ben Orford hook knives and it worked a treat. I quickly cut out the inside of a small bowl. I was working on a small birch log and explaining to people as they came by what I was up to. The bowl has seasoned now and hopefully will be a Christmas present. I demonstrated my gas wood burning stove and discussed various styles of pot hooks.
We had set up an area with some stoves and different types of pot hooks for people to look at. Also one of our neighbours had a mobile planing machine. He had been making planks out of Birch and the off cuts were donated to us. The sensible thing we could see was to carve some chopping boards out of them. I think we gave away a few in the end to people who stopped to chat and were really interested in what we did.
Other neighbours included the Kent Beekeeping Society and Steve who was an expert wood turner.
Phil got his Eco Burner going. Really outshone my little gas wood burner. He has written a good write up about the Eco Burner here. Some of the time we had a quiet spell and we managed to get a brew going but much of the time we had quite a crowd.
I took a picture of one of Phil’s boards showing the benefits of bushcraft within the community. Certainly makes you think about what this subject can do to help people both young and old.
If you work in a school in the South East and are interested in teaching nature based activities to your students then drop Phil a line sometime.
I had a great weekend and look forward to hopefully going again next year.
Back in May the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire was hosting its May Fair. I decided to take my kids down for the day with one of their friends and I was joined for the day by my friend Rick. Thankfully the rain kept off until it was time to go home.
I love going down to the Sustainability Centre as there is such a wide range of things for both kids and adults to do. They even have an area for hammocking which is always a bonus for me.
Rick arrived on his motorbike and the kids all got to sit on it. I think Finlay was most taken with the bike though.
We went for a good wander around the woods and had a few finds through the day. Catherine was a little bit sad to find a dead wood pigeon. I was more taken with the stove than the kids I think but we were all fascinated by the squirrel print that my friend John Rhyder pointed out.
The centre has a number of tipis and yurts for hire which were all open for the day so the kids were straight in there.
There were many stands displaying alternative technologies and lifestyles but the kids loved the Dream Catcher lady the most.
After finishing their Dream Catchers we found a bug hotel and its little sign.
My friend John runs Woodcraft School. I trained under John on his instructor programme back in 2008, a course I thoroughly enjoyed and got a great deal out of – I would recommend it to anyone.
At the fair John was leading a walk looking at the different plants that were starting to come through that month, both edible and medicinal.
We looked at quite a number of plants such as wild strawberry and ribwort plantain.
Other plants included silverweed and nettle. Finlay was a bit dubious at first even though he has eaten some before but did venture a little nibble of nettle.
A plant that was covered in a lot of detail was herb bennett – also known as wood avens. Its root has a very clove-like smell and so was hung up in wardrobes to ward off moths. It is a plant still used today in some areas to flavour beer and has many medicinal uses. A good site that goes into more detail on the plant is Dals Wildlife site.
Next on the list was burdock, a great plant for the carbohydrates found in its root. The whole plant is edible but the leaf is a tad on the bitter side (in fact to be honest it’s absolutely horrible). I don’t think the girls were taken with it. It was good to hear John covering these plants again and it reminded me that I needed to get my books out again.
Ever seen a greenhouse made out of plastic bottles? If not come down here and see for yourself. We were all gaping at this thing – so simple but at the same time so complex.
One of the reasons the kids love to come down here is the circus area. I must admit to trying and failing miserably on the unicycle 🙂
At the end of the day it was a tractor trip to the carpark and home.
This is a great place to visit for the day or to camp over. There are areas dedicated to the growing of wild plants and to displaying sustainable ways of living. There are bushcraft and green woodworking courses on offer and there is a beautiful Natural Burials woodland to stroll in.
Probably not but when we do, we like to explore and adventure.
Two particular walks earlier this year stick out in my memory due to the flora and fauna that we came across and the fun we had. Both walks were in the same piece of woodland near our village.
On the way to the woods one of the routes takes you though our local church. The early spring flowers were quite beautiful.
As soon as we entered the woods the kids spotted something.
Needless to say it was not just the kids that were excited.
Eventually the deer took off. To see a herd of deer move as one is like watching a wave move through the woods. Quite a stunning sight. I was sorry that we had disturbed their rest but still delighted to see them. I was so glad that the kids were with me.
I was particularly delighted when Finlay pointed out some Cramp Balls to me as they are great fire starters when dried out. Enough to make any Bushcrafting father proud 🙂
We came across a fairly fresh kill site. The kids were straight in there looking at the feathers.
From looking at the feather tips the single score would indicate a bird of prey kill. If it had been a land animal such as a fox the tips of the feathers would have been jagged due to the tearing action of the animal’s teeth.
The slots from the deer were crystal clear for them to spot.
I did not ask my kids to collect tinder but they just went and collected anyway. Must be in the genes.
As usual the kids needed to be extricated from the trees. Thankfully Alison was on hand as my hands were too busy with the camera 😉
The next walk was a much more relaxed affair. It was time for the Bluebells to appear.
Some days Catherine wants to explore and some days nails are more important. Must be a Mars – Venus thing.
Thankfully Finlay wanted to do the Mars thing. He was determined to be able to lift this tree higher.
The bluebells were looking beautiful that day.
Also the orchids were standing lovely in the woods.
Finlay was more interested in finding bridges to cross and search under for Trolls.
I do love spending time in the woods but it is special when you are with your own family.
My kids love to use all the latest gizmos but thankfully they love the outdoors just as much.
We moved down to Bramley in Hampshire in 2007 and for a while it felt as if we had no other family around us. My mother and stepfather were in London but soon moved back up to the Isle of Lewis to look after my Granny. A little while later I heard that my cousin Louise had moved down to Hampshire with her family. Like a typical Isle of Lewis bloke I did not make any contact with Louise initially but I am glad that over the last couple of years I have made the effort to do so.
Louise is a headteacher for Romsey Abbey Primary School and lives very near the National Trust site at Mottisfont. This is a beautiful location where my whole family love to visit. Louise has an interest in Bushcraft and has set up a training course for her pupils with my friends Mollie and Nick from the Field Farm Project.
This year my family have had a couple of visits down to Mottisfont where we were joined by Louise and her family.
Thankfully our children get on like a house on fire – or in this case a tree in blossom.
As per usual the extraction of the kids from this kind of environment is typically complex.
Much of my time at Mottisfont apart from having fun with the family is spent taking pictures of flowers. This year on Facebook I compiled monthly albums of flowers and many of Mays flowers come from Mottisfont.
The kids found the Shepherds hut and wanted to make it into a den.
Both families – seems just like yesterday when Louise and I were just kids ourselves mucking about on the Isle of lewis
I love the art at Mottisfont – Quite a realistic horse – Typically the girls want to stroke it and the boys want to pull the tail 🙂
Icecream – Typical bushcraft food when dealing with kids.
Alison, as you could guess (a campervan fanatic), is keen to get a campervan now. I think Darcy is trying to say to her Mummy Victoria – ‘Don’t put me in there with these strange people Mummy!!’
My kids were very taken with the bug hotel at Mottisfont
I am glad to see that climbing is a trait that flows through both families – there are dolls up there as well.
Wander through the woods at Mottisfont and you will find some strange stuff.
One of the joys this year was to meet little Darcy – our liitle cousin.
Michael and Louise – As nice a couple as you will ever meet.
Victoria and Charles with another keen climber – Elliott.
Our kids spent a lot of time paddling in the stream so Darcy wanted in on the action.
While Darcy was learning the finer points of paddling with Grandpa I was teaching the rest how to climb a waterfall.
I think Alison was very taken with Darcy – I did try and put my foot down on the baby thing but was totally ignored 😉
Back at Louise’s house we were introduced to the fine art of picking apples. I must admit that Louise can make a fine jam from all the fruits she grows in her garden.
Some lovely pictures and more importantly some lovely memories.
Since about 2007 one of my local Bushcrafting locations has been in the woods near Silchester.
This was organised by my good friend Mark Beer as he was a Forester working for the Benyon Estate. My last overnight visit was in February this year but I did pop up and visit the lads for a few hours while they were out this summer.
Sadly access to the site is very limited now as Mark no longer works there so I thought instead of just writing about my last visit I would write about some of the different Bushcraft activities we got up to over the years.
This was probably the last picture I took in February.
Apart from Mark Beer and Adam Cottrell who are in this picture other regular members who attended were Nick Currie, Mat Howes, Andy Smith, Jon Searle and Rod Anderson Boyle. There have been many more who have attended in the past so please forgive me for not listing everyone.
As usual we had a parachute set up most of the time as our main admin area. I have spent many a happy hour around the fire under this chute. I was either carving, building something, listening to the music from all the different instruments, eating, planning my next picture, drinking endless tea from the old civil service kettle or just usually shooting the breeze and accepting the usual jibes from my friends relating to my Scottish ancestry
My kids have visited the site a few times over the years where they were always welcomed. Catherine was very happy to sleep in her hammock here and was always keen to dance around the fire to the music of one of the flutes. They are always keen to learn but this is one place where I could generally relax (cadet free zone) and learn from all the guys who would be there.
One of the things I liked about spending time here was to listen to all the different music that was played. If it was not someone playing a guitar you would be listening to flutes or the Jaw harp. It made sitting there carving all the more pleasurable.
I have learned a lot here while out and about on the mooches from the guys. So much so that my colleague Sea Cadet instructors have been known to raise an eye brow or two when I start on about looking for Pignuts (or some other such environmental subject).
One of my passions is to get my bows out on these meets. I have shot some remarkable bows over the years here that the lads have brought along.
This target by G-Outdoors has been used here for a few years now and is still going great after all the abuse we gave it.
I will let the pictures say it all now.
Hopefully I will get back out there sometime soon.
One wintry day last January while my kids and one of their friends were pelting me with snowballs I figured it was time for a little distraction for them.
I asked them if they fancied helping me build a little home in our garden from snow.
As you could guess they were up for it. I like to think that given the chance most kids would be up for something like this.
So off we started. We gathered up as much snow as we could to form a mound. You can produce a shelter like this quicker if you pack all your rucksacks into the centre and pile snow around them. Then when you dig it out you can just pull the rucksacks out. We just used snow though.
When you think you have enough snow piled up you need to compact it down as much as possible. I used the back of a spade for this. I have read that it is advised to let the snow settle for 24hrs but in any sort of survival situation make the best of what you have. I found that after really packing it down it was very strong. I am sure different types of snow will react in different ways.
I cut down a load of sticks and stuck them all into the dome to a depth of about 30cms with a little bit left protruding at the surface. This is helpful when you are excavating the snow out.
I used a saw and spade to dig the snow out.
When I came into contact with one of the sticks I would stop excavating that area and move on.
The main bulk of the interior of the Quinzhee came out easily but I did spend quite a while smoothing the inner surface down. Both to ensure the snow was still packed well and to stop any drip points forming.
My daughter is lying fully flat here. When I tried it I had to curl up slightly.
The boys were happy.
The structure stayed up for about a week before the thaw made it to unstable for the kids to go into it.