30 Days of Wildness – Day 12 – Sunday Bushcraft

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

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

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

Busy Breakfast

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

Sunday Stances

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

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 11 – Bushcrafting Saturday

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

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

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A damp start

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

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Lots of food

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

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

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Woodland TV

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 10 – Camp Set Up

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

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

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HQ set up

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

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A dozen hammocks

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

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

All in all a day in nature I would say.

Cheers

George

Dartmoor Development Days

Early April found me back in one of my favourite locations – on¬†Dartmoor.¬†I was told recently by a friend that you need to say ‘on Dartmoor’ and not ‘in Dartmoor’ – seemingly that is something else entirely ūüôā

Dartmoor can be a very tough place to learn about the art of navigation but if you can crack it there then most other places will seem like a walk in the park in comparison.

This was the second of four weekends that we are running as part of the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) award for our Sea Cadet instructors.

The Crew

On the Friday night we stayed at Oakhampton Army camp on the northern edge of the moor and then camped out on the Saturday night.

Each student had to give a ten minute presentation on a given outdoor pursuits subject and also a five minute ‘on the hoof’ presentation while out navigating. We managed to do a few of the presentations on the Saturday morning before striking out onto the moor.

Rugged Terrain – out of remit for BEL

I was working with my good friend Graham Brockwell over the weekend so we split the students into two teams. My team headed up onto Yes Tor to work on our map and compass skills.

While up there we spotted the local hunt lower down on the moor. While watching them a Royal Navy Rescue helicopter came in below us and landed at Oakhampton Army camp. I always love being up high and seeing aircraft flying about below me.

Up high and looking down

It was soon time to come down of the Tor to navigate along the tracks in the valleys. The BEL qualification is a lowland award and the students have to show a high degree of accuracy while navigating on clearly marked paths.

After a few more presentations we found the old artillery range. The metal rails you can see in the picture on the bottom left were for the carriage that held a large target for the artillery to shoot at. 

Down low – in remit for BEL

Camp on the Saturday night was quite high up but very near to a road where we had our minibus parked.

The students soon were sorted out both fed and rested ūüôā

Camp, Dinner and Rest

The last of the presentations were run that evening. It was still very bright but very windy. In this class Carol was doing a quiz on map symbols that involved a little artistic licence.

Once it got dark Graham and myself took everyone on a hike without torches onto one of the Tors. The skies were very clear and as everyone’s eyesight had adjusted to the dark the views of the stars were exceptional. There was a slight level of light pollution around the edges of Dartmoor but looking straight up was crystal clear.

Evening classes

This weekend I had to sleep in a tent (contemplated the hammock stand but it was just a tad too windy) but it was surprisingly comfy I have to admit – the two roll mats helped!!

Cooking on the moor can be difficult with the wind but Dave soon found himself the perfect niche to get out of the wind to brew up.

The wind was really helpful though with drying the tents off quickly. It was just the undersides that needed drying so as long as you held on tightly to it, it was soon dry.

A windy breakfast

Now Graham managed this on his own as he is a bit of a pro however some of the student instructors (I did say some) needed to get a bit of teamwork going to get everything packed away without being blown away.

Packing and wrap up

The Sunday morning was to be a short affair as we had a long drive back towards London. It was still a bit windy but brilliantly clear making the navigation slightly easier.

To begin with we did some compass work and were soon off.

Set off

Along the way it was time to run a scenario – a first aid scenario.

It is quite common for someone to trip on the moor and pull a muscle or twist an ankle. I asked Jack to quickly lie down, set the scene for the students and set them to it.

The scenario was that Jack had hurt his leg, bad enough to find it very difficult to walk but not a broken bone. The students were briefed that the minibus was nearby (it was) and that as they had enough people in the team they could treat Jacks injuries and rig a seat to carry him out.

Casualty simulation

Jack was helped over to the side of a collapsed building for shelter to be treated to get him out of the strong wind.

In the picture above you can see the students placing their hands on the ground. This was to show them how cold the ground gets very quickly and the importance of protecting Jack from the cold ground.

Once he was comfy a seat was rigged from a survival bag and slowly (everyone taking turns) Jack was transported about 100 metres or so off the moor.

Good teamwork

Dave got his bothy bag out for some of the guys who had never used one before to try out. This bit of kit is brilliant in an emergency to treat a casualty out of the wind or more commonly as a mobile shelter to each your lunch out of the wind.

Getting out of the wind

To finish some of us jumped into the minibus back to the camp while others enjoyed a nice walk down off the moor.

The whole weekend on Dartmoor was lovely in terms of the weather and the traffic on the A303 on the trip home ran really smooth – not often you can say that.

Cheers

George

Glorious Dartmoor Days

I spent seven days this Easter on Dartmoor – seven glorious sunny days.

I never thought I could have said that with my previous experience of this often wet and windy but beautiful moorland landscape.

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Day 1 on the Moor

The first five days were with the Sea Cadets where my friend John Kelly was running a DofE Expedition on the moor. I was along as Mountain Leader safety and to help train the Gold training team.

John also had a Silver team under training, another Silver team under assessment and another Gold team under assessment – Quite a busy 5 days it turned out.

The first day was all about training for me as the Gold team were under my wing all day. We focussed on key map and compass skills so that the next day they could navigate under remote supervision safely.

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The Gold Training team

Early on the first day my friend Dave Lewis managed to pull a muscle in one of his legs and had to retire early on from the walk that day. It was serious enough stop him from getting back on the hills for a few days and I insisted he put his feet up – to which I received no arguments (I needed Dave fit for another course straight after this one).

The evening of the first night was spent indoors learning all about route cards. Thankfully we were located at the Langstone Manor campsite near Tavistock where they have excellent facilities and allowed us to take over their dining area to run the classes.

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R&R and Homework

Day two saw some of the teams starting out at the beautiful hump backed bridge over the West Dart river near the Dartmoor Training centre.  Never one to miss a photo opportunity I soon had them lined up for a quick shoot.

I spent the day monitoring these teams remotely, only meeting up with them occasionally.

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Day 2 start at the Dartmoor Outdoor Training Centre

At the end of the day the descent off the moor was pretty steep but very beautiful. The footpath that took them off the moor into the village of Michelcombe was very hard to locate so after a little bit of map revision with the teams we were all soon rapidly making our way downhill.

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Heading off the Moor

The campsites were varied from the relative luxury of Langstone Manor, to the basic beauty of camping in a field of new born lambs and finally the remote camping of a high moorland copse.

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Sunny Camping

I really enjoy these trips as I get to wander the hills on my own and getting to sit back and relax while waiting for teams to appear. I have to try and anticipate where the teams will be at any given time and observe them from a distance or from time to time wander down to meet them.

As the teams I was observing were all under training I was able to spend some time with them at some of these rest spots making sure they knew exactly where they were and offering them advice when needed.

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Meet ups

Near the end of the day on the Thursday one of the cadets (Jess) tripped and strained a muscle in her leg. As this was very near the end of the day I called all the teams in from the surrounding area and revised their walk to head off the moor on an easier path.

We really took our time so that every one including Jess managed to walk off the moor and arrive back at the minibuses together.

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Final push

For those doing the Silver award this was the end of the expedition and after a de-brief they boarded a minibus to take them back to London.

Those doing the Gold assessment and training had to do one more day so it was back to Langstone Manor campsite for one more night and a final days trekking the next day.

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De-brief

I did not manage to get everyone in one group picture but got these two in the end. The top picture is off the Silver teams and the gold training team.

The bottom picture is off the Gold assessment team prior to them heading off on their last days trek alongside some of the staff monitoring them.

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The whole Gang

My final picture is of my hammock stand I had brought along for the week. I like tents but why sleep on the floor when you can hammock ūüôā

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My accommodation

I put together a short video of the trip.

The last two days of the week were spent on another course training up some Sea Cadet instructors to become outdoor pursuits instructors on the Basic Expedition Leader Award. That post will follow shortly.

Will I ever get so many sunny days on Dartmoor again I have no idea but I will certainly remember this trip because of it.

Cheers

George

Expedition Leaders – The new batch

This year I became the course director in London Area Sea Cadets for the nationally recognised qualification in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEL). This is the third time¬†we as a Sea Cadet area have run the course and yet again it has proved very popular, with 13 instructors applying. I had set the limit at 12 but with one extra applying I thought that 13 had to be lucky for some ūüôā

The course is spread over 4 weekends throughout the year (the final weekend is an assessment) and is aimed at training our instructors to a nationally recognised level where they are qualified to lead day and overnight expeditions in lowland environments. We were supposed to run the first course out of Crowborough Army Camp but due to overbookings there the Sea Cadet unit TS Black Swan (Sunbury & Walton) offered us the use of their building as a base for the weekend. This was ideal as the North Downs were a short 30-minute drive away.

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BEAL and BEL 2015 – Weekend 1 at TS Black Swan

The weekend ran at the end of February and the Friday night was the usual madness of arrival and paperwork that needed to be attended to. Running alongside the BEL course that weekend was also the Basic Expedition Assistant Leadership (BEAL) course run by my good friend John Kelly. This is also a nationally recognised qualification and we run it to allow our older cadets (16 and 17 year olds) the chance to gain valuable outdoor experience as well as the qualification. The BEAL allows you to assist in an expedition, leading your own walks but not in overall control of the expedition.

Saturday morning, after a fantastic breakfast from the unit staff, was spent going over how the BEL certificate works in terms of the legal stuff and how it fits with Sea Cadets more generally.

We have candidates this year with a wide variety of experience, from very little to many years, so it was all new to some and for others the start of a period of Continuous Professional Development, but all will face an equally exacting assessment at the end of the year.

As soon as we got outside Graham Brockwell led the class on tents.

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Different types of tents

This class was designed to show the students the wide variety of tents they will come across in the future and give them hints and tips on setting them up and, crucially, hints and tips on explaining all that to the cadets they will be training in future.

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Pros and cons of different tents

One of the reasons I was very happy to take up the kind offer of Sunbury & Walton unit to use their building was that this first weekend involves a large amount of classroom time. As the weekends progress most of the classes need to be undertaken outdoors, giving the students time to practise everything they have learned.
Classes we gave included basic map work, legal definitions, risk assessing, meteorology, and also on clothing and equipment.

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Lots of classroom work on the first weekend

As the course goes on all the students will have to cook for themselves on their own camp stoves but for this weekend we had Paul Kelly and staff from the unit cooking for us. All I had to sort out for myself was some lunch on Saturday. A great job guys – it was really appreciated.

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Hard work in the Galley

Saturday night’s meal was really worth a mention. We all chipped in ten pounds and Paul and the gang produced a wonderful curry with some wine to wash it all down.

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Great food all weekend

After lunch on Saturday we headed out to the North Downs for some map work. To begin with the instructors took the lead in delivering this training. Everyone went back to basics with using a map (no compass at this stage) as we had such a wide variety of experience within the group. I found this helpful later when the very experienced students were able to assist their colleagues.
It was a damp and windy day but I find I am most comfortable in this kind of environment.

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Lots of trainer led mapwork

Needless to say, in between sessions when we were out and about we needed to take the occasional break. I like about 10 minutes’ break for every hour of travel so I found ample time to deploy my small EDC hammock chair (UKHammocks). Both Dave and myself are of the school of thought ‘if you can sit – sit, if you can lie down – lie down, if you can sleep – sleep’.

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Chillax time

While we were strolling on the slopes of the North Downs there was little in the way of flowering plants on display but I found plenty of other beauty around – I just had to look a little bit harder.

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Some winter flora

Once everyone had gotten the basics of scale, symbols and setting their maps to the ground we gave everyone individual legs of the journey to lead. Later we brought in the use of the compass, pacing, and talking about tick-off points, cut-off points and hand-railing.

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Lots of individual work

The rest of the weekend was spent getting to grips with all the BEL paperwork, more classes on maps and routecards, planning for the next weekend in Dartmoor and a bit of relaxation on the Saturday evening.

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Mapwork, paperwork and muddy lectures

We finished the weekend on a high when Perry presented Tara Kelly with her BEAL certificate. Tara undertook the BEAL last year while she was a cadet and the weekend was a good opportunity to present her with her pass certificate.

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The BEAL certificate for Tara

The next weekend is in April and we will be heading down to Dartmoor to give everyone a chance to appreciate what type of countryside they will be allowed to work in and what type they will not, also to continue working on all the skills they learned on this weekend.

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.

Snowdon Map
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

Teenage instructors – The new crop

I spent the last weekend of October by a lovely stretch of the Thames at TS Black Swan РSunbury & Walton Sea Cadets unit. I was assessing a Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEAL).
With me were Perry Symes and Jennifer Burdett. This course is one of the most difficult a cadet can undertake in the Adventure Training world and leads to a recognised qualification.

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T S Black Swan on the Thames

Alongside us our friend John Kelly (bottom left) was running a DofE training course. This proved very useful to us as we could assess our BEAL students as they taught the DofE students the basics of living under canvas.

The other staff members - Perry, Jenny and John
The other staff members – Perry, Jenny and John

The first class, taken by Tara and Jess, was on the different types of food you would want to take on expedition. In terms of assessment, as well as expecting them  to talk about different food types we were looking to see how well they managed to hold the attention of the class. They had plenty of different foods to pass around and engaged the students well by asking them plenty of questions to keep them thinking.

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Delivery from Tara and Jess on food

Next up was Jack with his class on the different types of kit they would be expected to use. Jack had brought a lot of kit to illustrate the discussion and explained well why he used particular pieces.

The DofE students were all fairly new to camping so found this invaluable.

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Kit presentation from Jack

Thankfully Jen and Perry were happy to take all the notes as that left me free¬†to take the pictures ūüôā

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Jen and Perry busily recording their observations

While the guys were running their classes indoors, Mehmet and James had been busy outdoors setting up a range of tents and tarps. They discussed the pros and cons of each tent type with the DofE students to give them some information to think about when either buying a tent or setting one up.

Mehmet and James delivering their tent class
Mehmet and James delivering their tent class

We were grateful to John Kelly for letting us use his DofE students for our assessments as we could really see how the BEAL candidates interacted with these younger cadets, which made the assessments very realistic.

From the looks on these students’ faces I would say that they had a good time.

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The DofE crew trying out their tents

While all these assessments were going on it was good to see so much happening on the river. We’d decided to run the final assessment here as we had finished with all the navigation parts of the assessments on previous courses. I had never been at this unit before and really enjoyed watching all the river activity.

The view from the classroom
The view from the classroom

While we were happy that they all could navigate for themselves, we watched each BEAL student run a one-to-one session with a DofE student to explain how maps worked and how to use a compass.

Being a good navigator is important, but if you cannot pass that skill over to someone else then you will never make a very good expedition leader. All the candidates fared well here thankfully.

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Being assessed on how they teach map reading

The classes carried on well into the Saturday evening, when we observed the BEAL candidates supervising the DofE students as they cooked their evening meals.

All went well and everyone got fed quickly and safely. I have seen a few accidents happen at this time as everyone is tired and it was good to see our young trainee instructors still keeping an eye on what was going on.

Some late night assessment on teaching cadets safe stove use
Some late night assessment on teaching cadets safe stove use

Sunday morning was spent getting all the paperwork for the students in order and giving them feedback on their progress.¬†I was happy to see that as a group of instructors we agreed that four of the students had passed after this weekend (the other was deferred, and I’m confident will pass very soon).

This was the first BEAL course the Sea Cadets had ever run (I do not think that even the Army or the Air Cadets have run one) and I was very proud to have been a member of the team. These new instructors (and they are instructors in every sense) are the ones who may well one day take over our jobs in the Sea Cadets.

Well done to all those cadets that undertook and passed this pilot course and I am looking forward to helping out at the BEAL course we will be running this year.

Cheers

George

Autumn Campcraft

‘no need to be uncomfortable in the great outdoors’

Have you ever wondered what your kids get up to when they go off camping with one of the many different youth organisations we have in this country?

Well with the Sea Cadets we always try to make it a special trip as many of our younger cadets have never camped in their lives, or even wandered freely outdoors. There is a lot to learn if you want to live comfortably outdoors but even if the weather is not being nice to you all the time there is no need to be uncomfortable.

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Campcraft in style

I spent a lovely weekend at the beginning of October this year with my friends Dave Lewis and Charlie Brookes teaching campcraft to Sea Cadets from North London in the beautiful military training area that is Pippingford Park located in the Ashdown Forest. The public do not have access to this area and if the military are not running exercises then it can be a most beautiful and tranquil place to visit.

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The beautiful Pippingford Park

We had a small group of lads for this weekend and we started off by¬†teaching them the basics of navigation. When I say ‘we’ I must truthfully say Dave taught the cadets: I spent most of the¬†time trying to get to grips with the manual settings of my new D3200 Nikon camera.

The picture directly below was taken beside one of the many different weirs with a very slow shutter speed to try and capture that feeling of motion.

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Playing with my new camera and navigating

In between¬†learning the art of navigation and talking about the various properties of kit I snapped these two pictures with the leaf hanging off a spider’s thread. I like the totally different effect when the focus changes from the leaf to Dave.

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Looking and learning

As usual with our weekends we spend a lot of time with the cadets discussing the different signs that can help us with navigation.

Below you can see Dave explaining to the cadets how the shape of lone trees on exposed slopes can reveal the prevailing wind direction. I taught the cadets about how to distinguish different tree types by looking at the leaves, bark and (in the example below, with the beech nuts) the fruit. Knowing your trees, for example whether they are coniferous or deciduous, is key to successful map reading.

We also got the cadets to identify animal tracks when they spotted them. The picture at the bottom left shows a steep slope where the hoof marks of a herd of deer could be clearly seen as they had tried to scramble up or down the slope.

Not all the signs are natural and the cadets soon learned to identify man-made objects such as this stepped weir (bottom right) so that they could identify where they were on the map easily.

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Outdoor signs

The weather was a bit damp that weekend and as soon as we returned to Crowborough Army Camp we set up our tents, hammocks and tarps.

For our classes we set up a large tarp to keep the worst of the weather off us. The cadets put up the large tarp with a bit of instruction from us.

In the picture below the cadets are being introduced to the safe use of camp stoves.

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Tarps up

After getting the stoves going the cadets got some food cooked and while they were doing this I had a look around and managed to get the lovely shot below of the spiders web covered in water droplets.

After tea we had a evening wander in the nearby woodland but did not stray too far as the military were conducting exercises there. Thankfully there is a lot of dead wood in that area so it did not take long to get together enough for a fire for the evening.

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Preparing for nightime

The evening fire turned out to be quite a nice show in the end. As many of you will know I collect ‘Fire Faces‘ and will happily sit for hours in front of a fire taking pictures. Of every 100 or so I photographs I take¬†I probably keep only one. I call the picture directly below ‘The Three Amigos’ as I can see a cat on the left, a rooster in the middle and a dog on the right. Take your time and see what you can see.

The usual marshmallows and biscuits came out for a relaxed evening by the fireside.

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Fireside fun

Sunday morning was spent discussing all the different kit they will be expected to use outdoors. The classes cover kit such as rollmats, sleeping bags, bothy bags, rucksacks, food, packing, tents, first aid and footwear.

The amount of information they need to take in is enormous so at this basic level they are not tested on it. As they get older and move on to more advanced courses like the Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership they will then be tested on the subjects.

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Campcraft classes

On the Sunday morning we were joined by our friend and fellow Sea Cadet instructor Charlie Brookes. Charlie and myself took the cadets out of the camp into the woods to do some micro navigation. Up to this point the cadets had just been learning how to use maps for navigating so this short walk was just to introduce them to the use of the compass.

After we had finished with the compasses Charlie and myself got our EDC hammocks out for the cadets to try out and needless to say that they were a great hit – no need to be uncomfortable in the great outdoors.

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Chilling out on a Sunday morning

Just before lunchtime we packed away all the tarps, tents and kit. While we were doing this a cadet called me over to one of the tents. The inner tent was covered in scores of baby spiders – it seems the heat of his body had caused a nest of spiders to hatch in the grass under the tent. They were really minute –¬†the one I photographed was right¬†at the edge of what my camera could handle.

After lunch it was time to parade, pass out the certificates and load up onto the buses to head home.

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Wrap up time

This was a great weekend –¬†the weather was not the best¬†but as we took our time and prepared well everyone had a great time and came away with some lovely memories and new skills.

Cheers

George

Graham’s 2014 Chosin Cup – My Anniversary Post

A year ago I first advertised my Bushcraft Days blog on Facebook with a view to recording my adventurous activities and sharing them online. I did this primarily to let everyone know what we get up to in the London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training Team.

We are a small team of instructors dedicated to getting cadets and staff outdoors and exploring as many different environments as possible. When I joined the Corps back in 1998 I came across this slightly eccentric but vastly knowledgable and experienced Adventure Training (AT)¬†instructor¬†Lt (SCC) Graham Brockwell. Graham has been in the Corps since he was a lad and I would say is the Corps’s most experienced AT instructor.

The Boss
The Boss

For quite a few years now he has¬†run the London Area Chosin Cup competition but¬†he decided this year’s¬†would be the¬†last with him in charge.

This post is therefore dedicated to my friend Graham – our slightly eccentric, vastly knowledgeable but very friendly Boss.

As usual the AT team turned up early on the Friday (26th of September) to set everything up and the rest of the staff and cadets turned up over the course of the Friday evening. The cadets had to do a night nav into the campsite after being dropped off by their minibuses. Most teams found the camp but four teams took a wrong turning and headed off into the Forest. Dave Lewis and myself found them all huddled together conflabbing about where to go but they were in high spirits and were soon back at camp.

It was an early start the next morning where the teams were given separate routes and headed off to their stances. After finishing each stance they would head off on a new bearing to find the next one, repeating this throughout the day. My job was to keep moving around the course to make sure everyone was OK and not getting lost, which allowed me to take lots of pictures.

First I found the raft building stance where Enfield made a valiant effort to float their raft but sadly things were a bit loose and they soon ran into trouble (they managed to keep smiling throughout though). Next I came upon the plank race. This was a tough little race in the woods but the cadets were continually egged on by Tommo and his microphone and speakers.

Breakfast and away
Breakfast and away

One of my favourites has always been the archery stance. Charlie ran that one again this year with Robin up on Hill 170. It seems that one of my bows may need to be retired as it is now developing latteral cracks but it managed to last the day thankfully.

Archery stance
Archery stance

One of the stances I visited was the flag raising one with Paul and Eli but as no teams turned up while I was there could not take any pictures. Paul did film some of the stance though and I put this short video together from his footage.

Next I found Dave and Paul in the woods where they were running the river crossing stance. As it is training there was not a river in sight but the cadets had a great time setting up their rigs and ferrying their kit and themselves across.

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River crossing stance

There were quite a few other stances I did not photograph including an AT quiz and identifying knots.

After all the stances were completed the cadets went back to the campsite to cook dinner, but as soon as it got dark they were given a new route to a different campsite. They had to navigate in the dark and cross one of the lakes in canoes. A bit of a logistical nightmare but great fun. Thanks to Jo, John and Kev for organising all this.

Night Nav
Night Nav

After all the cadets were set up in their new camp the instructors all relaxed for an hour or so around the campfire. It was great to get the night nav finished so early and for once I got a decent sleep on a Saturday night over Chosin Cup.

Rest back at camp
Rest back at camp

I made this video of the Saturday showing as many of the stances I could and it is set to my favourite classical track – The Ride of the Valkyries.

Sunday morning was one of these special ones. I got up at 6am and grabbed my camera straight away and got some beautiful shots.

Stunning morning
Stunning morning

While I was prepping for the day I had a chuckle as I watched the Deputy Area Officer (London) Lt Cdr (SCC) Cliff Lewis giving the London Area Staff Officer Adventure Training CPO (SCC) Perry Symes a field shower. Not often you get to see that or even say all that ūüôā

Prep for the day
Prep for the day

The Sunday stances were all concentrated in and around a small woodland so the cadets could get around as many as possible. My first set of pictures were of the stalking stance run by Cliff. The cadets competed against each other to remain undetected, retrieve as much water as possible without spilling it, and identify the various man-made objects strewn about the course.

Stalking stance
Stalking stance

Dean and Tommo ran the tree climbing stance. They had rigged some ropes up to an Oak tree and the cadets used a prusik system to ascend to the top.

Tree climbing
Tree climbing

The cadets had to test out their seamanship skills by trying to get a heaving line into a container and Paul had them rigging a pulley system to move a very heavy water carrier.

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Heaving line and pulley

Another of my favourites is the Atlatl. Dave ran this stance and had it set up against a massive pile of hay in the meadow to catch any stray darts. I was relieved to hear that my unit (City of London) came top in this stance ūüôā

Atlatl
Atlatl

As Graham had wanted quite a bushcraft feel to the Sunday there was also a shelter stance and a fire making one. Paul had them setting up tarps to help treat an injured casualty and Charlie was doing timed firelighting – both fundamental bushcraft skills and great fun.

Shelter and Fire
Shelter and Fire

Ian was running Kim’s game where the cadets have a minute to study a range of items and then when they are covered up have to describe each one in great detail – not as easy as you may think. Alan was running the Gyn stance – the cadets had to use all there seamanship and team working skills to build the Gyn so as to raise a log up to a set height.

Kim's game and the Gyn
Kim’s game and the Gyn

As I had taken a lot of video I made a separate video of the day.

Also running throughout the morning was the Endurance Race. The race was right down in the valley so the cadets would have to cross the river.

The start of the Endurance race
The start of the Endurance race

There was a great Postman’s Walk (rope brige), muddy slopes, ditches and netting to get through in a fast a time as possible.

In full swing
In full swing

The teams had to help each other as much as possible as the clock did not stop until the last cadet had finished. I had a great time running around the course trying to get the best position to film and taking pictures.

The finish
The finish

My last video of the weekend was of the Endurance Race.

I had to leave before the placings were announced so I have used Joanna Russell’s pictures here. The visiting team trophy went to Poole unit and third place went to City of London unit.

Poole - Winning visitors City of London - Third place
Poole – Winning visitors
City of London – Third place

Second place went to Finchley unit and First place (for the second year in a row) went to Enfield unit.

Second place - Finchley unit First place - Enfield unit
Second place – Finchley unit
First place – Enfield unit

Also for the second year in a row the Team Leader trophy went to LCdt Jess Edwards of Enfield unit.

L Cdt Jess Edwards - Winner of the Team Leader trophy
L Cdt Jess Edwards – Winner of the Team Leader trophy

I thoroughly enjoyed the Chosin Cup this year as the weather was kind¬†to us and the bushcraft stances worked well but most importantly it’s great to see so many teams entered in what I think is the hardest competition the Sea Cadet Corps runs.

Well done to all the teams who took part.

A great weekend
A great weekend

There are a lot of people that make Chosin Cup happen (including staff and cadets) but without the drive and dedication of Graham Brockwell it would not be the success it is today.

So thank you Graham for organising another great Chosin Cup.

Cheers

George

Meet London Area Juniors

Meet our Junior Sea Cadets from London Area – Cadets who love to learn by having fun.

A year or so ago my friend Lt Cdr (SCC) Mark Weston invited me along to help out on one of the weekends he organises for our Junior Sea Cadets. Mark believes that it is sometimes good to bring these youngsters (10 and 11 year olds) away on training weekends where they can learn in a fun manner but not have the prospect of an assessment hanging over them at the end of the weekend.

I was hooked on these weekends from the start as the Juniors undertake a number of different activities to learn new skills and I get the chance to play at bushcraft with them.

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Meet London Area Juniors

I was joined on the weekend by my friend Dave Lewis to deliver the bushcraft class in the woods. The training was conducted at Crowborough Army Camp but thankfully this time we got access to the ajoining woodland where we are allowed to light fires.

Many of the Juniors had never shot an arrow before but¬†after some tuition they were pinging them down range as quick as they could. One little lad was so chuffed as he got the tiny bull’s eye on one of the targets.

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Bulls-eye archery

Dave and I took it in turns to deliver different classes as we got a group of about 6 Juniors at a time for about an hour and a half each time. So while I was doing archery Dave was teaching half of the group how to use a firesteel properly and then how to build a proper fire.

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Firesteel fun

I collect Fire Faces from images I see in the flames but the best faces are always found on the owners of the flame. Even Mark helped out with the fire lighting and I think his face says it all.

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Happy Fire Faces

While we were having fun in the woods, other instructors were running courses back in the main camp. Here you can see Kay modelling some of the signalling flags the Juniors had designed in her class.

Also Sam and Lorraine ran a very busy and successful cookery class where the Juniors made some rather delicious biscuits (I know – I tried a few out).

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Comms and Cooking

Every Junior took part in the First Aid class with Keith and learnt about CPR and got themselves a signed certificate to confirm this.

A Sea Cadet course would not be complete without a seamanship class so Alan and Nigel were kept busy teaching all the Juniors about bends and hitches.

Up in the gym Darren our PTI kept the Juniors running around all day with fun classes to use up all their excess energy.

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First Aid and Fitness

On the Sunday all the classes were up in the camp and included the ever popular Atlatl class. This skill has become a popular one to learn as the older cadets are now marked on this in the Chosin Cup competition held annually by London Area Sea Cadets.

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Steady – Aim – Shoot

Dave ran this class leaving me free for some time to concentrate on getting these pictures and capturing some video of the weekend.

As some Juniors were doing the Atlatl others were in the gym with Darren competing against each other doing lots of games.

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On target

I got some of the Juniors and staff together that morning to do some relay bowdrill. I didn’t have time to run this with all the cadets but those that did had a great time.

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Group Bowdrill

I put together two videos of the weekend. The first one shows all of the activities the Juniors undertook and was partly filmed by Deputy Area Officer (London) Lt Cdr (SCC) Cliff Lewis while I was teaching.

The other video shows the relay bowdrill I did with the Juniors. This was an experiment and as it was successful I will be using this technique with them again. Thanks to Chrissie Weston for filming much of this.

This was a great weekend and Mark has gotten a winning formula with the variety of classes the Juniors get to try out –¬†I am looking forward to the next one in late spring next year.

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

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

New Forest – Our annual pilgrimage to remember HMS Hood

May brings about City of London Sea Cadets annual pilgrimage to the New Forest to remember the 1,415 crew members of the mighty Battlecruiser HMS Hood who lost their lives on the 24th of May 1941 and also to provide a range of adventurous activities for our cadets to try out in the beautiful countryside.

Our campsite was in the large Scouting site of Ferny Crofts in the New Forest.

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HMS Hood Remembrance Service

This year we had a number of cadets from visiting units of ages ranging from 10 to 17. They were split into a class for the Juniors (10 & 11 year olds), a course on basic campcraft and one on more advanced skills. This weekend was also a chance for us to let the younger members of staff have a go at teaching outdoor skills to the cadets and which I was very happy to see worked out very well. We laid on a variety of classes including navigation rucksack packing, first aid, outdoor clothing, cooking and conservation.

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Outdoor classes

For the Juniors the Saturday morning included a class on responsible firelighting. This was run by Charlie who is a fire fighter in his day-to day-life and is always keen to show the cadets how to light and manage fires in a fun but safe manner. Charlie had them using modern and traditional firesteels, and also had the cadets assisting him in creating fire by friction using the bowdrill method.

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Bushcraft classes

Soon it was time to head out and about. The day was very hot so I made the decision to try and keep to the woods as much as possible. Even though it was hot, the ground in many areas was saturated, making for wet feet for some.

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Out and about in the New Forest

Along the way we would stop to have an impromptu classes on navigation, conservation, first aid or leadership. As far as I am concerned this is the best type of classroom.

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Classes on the go

A nice¬†spot for us to stop for a restful break is the hotel near the Beaulieu Railway station. The cadets can relax or run around the small play park for a while while the staff can plan the evening’s activities. it is around this time that Simon heads off to prepare a great meal for everyone in the Roundhouse at our camp.

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Rest and excellent food

After all the learning it is time to play and relax. The kids and staff all took part in the the tug of war and the volleyball games.

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Fun and fitness

Someone managed to get hold of the water cannons I had brought along for bushcraft games and put them to good use in the evening as well.

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Pure fun

After dark we had the usual marshmallows around the fire and I lit a couple of my Scandanavian candles. Dave though had brought along his laptop and small projector. he put a film on (Brave, I think) and projected it onto the inside of the parachute. The whole set up could not be filmed because of the dark and the smoke from the fire but it did work and kept everyone happy.

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Nightlife

As my wife Alison was also away that weekend I took my two kids (Catherine and Finlay) along with me. They got on really well with all the cadets and Finlay managed to sleep all weekend in a hammock for the first time. Not bad for a six year old.

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Sleepy mornings

As part of their Green Module the cadets learnt how to cook over an open fire on the Sunday morning and I was happy to sample the fare.

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Campfire classes

We try and set up lots of events on the Sunday morning, some to really test the cadets and some to just have fun just like they are having on the Atlatl range.

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Atlatl fun

Over the weekend one of the cadets turned 18 and so became a member of staff. We managed to get some cakes and candles together for a good old Happy Birthday sing a long.

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Birthday celebrations

I have been experimenting with video over the last few months so managed to put a short piece together of the weekend.

While we were running around the woods on the Sunday morning Paul. Andy and some of the older cadets attended the HMS Hood Remembrance ceremony at Boldre church. In all my years attending this event (since 1999) I have never gotten to the church; I’m always left behind in the woods ūüėČ These are official City of London Sea Cadet pictures.

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Remembrance

As usual I am looking forward to my trip to the New Forest next year. I also made a small video of what my kids got up to over the weekend.

Cheers George

Archery, Atlatl and Fire – Fun with the Juniors

No pressure, no assessments, no worries – just fun, fun and more fun – these were the requirements for the recent London Area Sea Cadet Juniors training weekend at Crowborough Army camp.

I was joined by my good friend Charlie Brookes for the weekend teaching some bushcraft skills to the cadets. Also helping us were one our new Adventure Training instructors Emma Deasy and Leading Cadet Jessica Edwards (Jessica is under training to become an Adventure Leader).

We set up our classroom and prepared for all our activities on the Friday afternoon. At this stage it was just Charlie and myself but as he is a top bushcrafter everything got set up in record time.

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Our classroom and my billet

As the cadets arrived on the Friday evening Charlie and myself relaxed around a nice fire and discussed how best to run the weekend. We did not have to look after the cadets in the evenings as there were enough ‘Duty Staff’ around to do this.

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A relaxing evening

There were lots of activities planned for the cadets. The plan was for us to be given six cadets for an hour or so and then they would be moved onto other activities. On the saturday we had 3 teams in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.

We ran various activities in each slot including the Atlatl, archery, fire lighting and stalking games.

The Atlatl (a spear chucking device) has become a regular event at many of our courses. Just looking at these cadets you can see that they really enjoy this activity. I set up a short range of about 15 meters as I was more focused on accuracy rather than distance.

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Atlatls in action

One of the other activities the cadets undertook was a cookery class (Cook Stewards course in the Sea Cadets). I was supplied on a number of occasions with some excellent cookies that were baked in this class and every time I went into the main building I was assaulted by a fantastic smell of baking biscuits.

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Cookery class

As you can see that the little fella in the picture just above on the right turned out to be a proper little Minion. This was baked by one of the other instructors Emma.

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Emma’s Minion

Charlie spent a great deal of the day teaching the cadets how to light a fire in many different ways and also about the responsibilities they need to think about when lighting a fire. In these pictures the cadets are using traditional flint and steels on the left and more modern firesteels on the right.

Some take to this straight away and others require a little bit of a helping hand.

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Flint & Steel and Firesteels

In no time the cadets were creating good sparks from traditional flint and steels and lighting up cotton wool balls smeared in Vaseline with modern firesteels.

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Sparks and flames

The cadets also lit lots of charcloth and soon had good tinder bundles going.

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Flamage

I put together a short video showing all these activities.

I asked Emma at some time on the Saturday to go around the other classes and get one or two pictures of each one. Emma did get some good pictures but I also found this on my camera – scary stuff ūüėČ

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The ladies taking a selfie

A little toy that really caught the attention of the cadets was the parabolic mirror. This is a concave mirror that you can use to light a small piece of material just using the suns rays.

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Parabolic mirror

Other classes the cadets undertook included First Aid and Physical Training.

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First Aid and PT

One of the activities I like to teach the cadets is about listening correctly while out and about. They all come from London so for many they do not truly listen to the countryside when out and about. to begin with I get them to focus their listening by cupping their hands to their ears. This really increases the sound volume from the direction they are facing and as they turn around they can clearly hear everything coming from quite a distance.

After they get used to this we blindfold them so that they can appreciate how much sound can help us with spotting animals in the woods.

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Learning to listen properly

The drum stalk is a game where the participants are blindfolded and have to walk from an unknown spot (to them) and touch the head of the drummer. The drummer gently taps the drum (a bucket in this case) to give the participants a focus to walk to. Each participant has a guide walking by them to make sure they do not fall into any holes or trip over anything.

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Drum stalk

Being Sea Cadets a training weekend would not be complete without a class on Seamanship and on Comms skills. In Seamanship the cadets learnt how to make a monkeys fist – this is a type of knot that creates a weight using the rope and is used for throwing a heaving line from a boat to the shore in order to tie it up.
In the comms class the cadets learnt all about how to use radios properly by getting out and about using hand held radios and they also made their own semaphore flags.

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Seamanship and communication skills

After each Atlatl session I also got the cadets to shoot some arrows down the range. I managed to get some cracking shots this time of the arrows being released.

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Archery action

On the Sunday morning a competition was held and we set up an Atlatl range so that the cadets could try out all the skills they had learnt the previous day.

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Atlatl competition 1

The cadets were definitely better than the staff with both accuracy and enthusiasm.

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Atlatl competition 2

The PT staff also set up an indoor sports competition for the cadets. I walked into the hall and the noise of all the cadets egging their pals on was amazing.

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Sports competition

A staff team was put together and thankfully as I was seen to be too busy filming was left alone. In all the madness and fun that was being had I have no idea who won.

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Even the staff took part

In amongst all this fun we did find time to do some other stuff. Charlie tested out a Wood Gas stove and I managed to do a little pot hook carving (a How To on this to follow).

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Testing and carving

A great weekend with great Sea Cadets both young and old.

Cheers

George

Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership

I got a lovely sunny weekend in Crowborough – not often I can say that in March

The London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training has run over the last few years a couple of Level 3 Certificate in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEL) courses for our instructors. This is a nationally recognised qualification and we as a team have worked very hard with the trainees to get them trained up and assessed. Our training team in the London area has grown quite a lot now with more and more camps taking place.

The downside to this was that as more and more cadets were being trained up there was a point when they hit 16 years old there was little in the way of camping qualifications we could offer them. My boss Perry Symes has worked hard to bring in a brand new qualification for these 16 and 17 year old cadets Рthe Level 2 Award in Assisting in Basic Expedition Leadership (BEAL).

The course comprises at least two training weekends, a couple of weekends where the cadets assist on other camping courses, and an assessment weekend.  The first training weekend this year took place in (for once) a rather sunny Ashdown Forest. Most of the training takes place outside but as we were also using Crowborough Army Camp we did have the use of a classroom as well.

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Lots of outdoor work and a little indoor work

We had six cadets over the age of 16 on the course but could have had another six if they had not applied too late. The course instructors were Perry Symes, John Kelly, Liz Rowan and myself. John and Liz passed the BEL a couple of years ago so they came on the course to gain valuable experience. John in particular is working towards his Walking Group Leaders award so running this course will give him valuable experience.

We also had another course running alongside this one for the younger cadets covering all the subjects for their Basic Campcraft badge. This course was run by Dave Lewis, Charlie Brookes, Lloyd Martin and Dean Barnett. Lloyd has passed his BEL course recently as well so it was good to see him in action and Dean is just starting out in his training to becoming an Adventure Leader.

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Learning to erect tents so they can teach the art in the future

I think Perry and John were trying to prove to the cadets that if they could both fit into one of the smaller tents then they would have no problems at all ūüôā

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A squash and a squeeze

While the BEAL students were doing some class work, Dave and Charlie had the younger cadets put up my tipi. They used this over the weekend as a group shelter and temporary classroom, and some of the cadets slept overnight in it.

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Teamwork for the team tent

In between all the classes we do try and have a bit of fun wherever possible.

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Fun and games

Both teams set out in the afternoon on the Saturday to focus on navigation. The young ones at this stage get an introduction to using a map and working as a team in the outdoors. The BEAL students had already shown us they could use a map and compass in the morning so we set them to work in pairs with some challenging places to find.

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Serious time

On our travels we came across the memorial plaque to A.A. Milne. There are fantastic view from this spot so it is great for more macro work with the compass. We got the cadets to take ‘back bearings’ on known locations they could see to identify exactly where they were and also to use their compasses and maps to try and identify far-off unknown features they could see.

Perry wanted a proper picture taken of him but I seemed to get in the way:-)

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100 Acre Wood

What we aim to do with this course is to train the BEAL students up to a standard that can be assessed for a nationally recognised qualification so that one day they can take over from us. In the meantime I am very happy to continue teaching outdoors skills but recognise that one day others will need to take our places.

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Current instructors and future instructors

While we were doing compass work the younger cadets had found the Airman’s grave. This is not an actual grave but a memorial site to the crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed here on the 31st of July 1941 returning from a mission over Germany.

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Basic Campcraft group

Later that evening after all the classes were finished, Charlie, Liz and myself took the younger cadets off for an evening’s walk. I insist that the cadets do not use torches to show them how quickly their eyes adjust to the dark. Most of these cadets had never walked in the woods at night, let alone without torches. Thankfully we had a good moon that night with a clear view of the skies.

I took them down to an area of the military camp that is heavily wooded but is the site of some old World War 1 training trenches. In no time the cadets were running all over the place having a great time and had totally forgotten that they were nervous about being in the dark. We took them through various types of woodland and heathland and also met the Royal Marine Cadet instructors out training.

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Night time wanderings

Just before we got back to camp we got the torches out and cut up some dead standing wood for a fire to toast some marshmallows. On the way back after this we managed to get a bit of star gazing in as well.

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Wood Party

One of my usual nightly chores is to carve some marshmallow sticks for the cadets to use. Thankfully though we have some good willow shoots nearby. While I was doing this Charlie was teaching Dean how to light a fire properly and maintain it. I got this little video of it all in between carving the sticks.

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Marshmallow sticks

After the fire got going it was time for a photography shoot to get some fire faces. You can see a small one on the left in the bottom picture.

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Fire Faces

Then it was onto the serious job of teaching the art of toasting a marshmallow. It still amazes me to find so many children in their teens who come on these courses and have never had the simple pleasure of toasting a marshmallow over an open fire.

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Marshmallow time

Next morning in between classes I managed to get some time in spotting some unusual fungi (cheers Liz for finding these) and a bit of spoon carving. I have a tutorial on carving this spoon here – How To…. Carve a Simple Spoon: the double-handle technique.

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A touch of bushcraft

It turned out that running these two classes at the same time worked quite well. The younger cadets had to learn all about camping like using stoves and the BEAL students had to re-learn the same subjects so that they could prepare themselves for teaching the cadets themselves in the near future. In the top picture Perry is showing the cadets how that if a gas bottle is shaken too much it may flare up and become dangerous.

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Classes

While Perry got on with the class with all the cadets and other instructors Dave took a well earned break and I got my sleeping bags out for an airing.

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Hammock time

Part of the course is designed to get the BEAL students to come up with different ways to get the learning across. Here they are using Charades to explain the Country Code. They felt a bit embarrassed at first but soon got into it.

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Trying to make teaching the Country Code interesting

It is not often you come down to a weekend at Crowborough in March and manage to make fire using parabolic mirrors. I even found a nice honeysuckle-wrapped shoot that could be turned into a nice walking stick. I gave it to Dave as I’d broken one of his walking poles a few years ago – it was after he had tripped in a ditch and bent it and I had tried to straighten the thing ūüôā

Photo 23-03-2014 00 21 07That was the end of a very successful weekend. All the BEAL students went off with areas of navigation to work on and a date for another course which they would help to run. Some of the new instructors gained some valuable experience and I got a lovely sunny weekend in Crowborough – not often I can say that in March.

I am looking forward to the second training weekend later in the year for this course.

Cheers

George

Getting Outdoors – Where it begins

Best to learn the tricks of campcraft here so that when you are sorting your life out on that wet and windy morning in Brecon Рlife is a breeze. 

This post documents the last of my courses with the Sea Cadets for 2013 and one of the first of 2014. It was a very good year (2013) for expeditioning in the Corps as far as I was concerned. Some of our cadets will eventually find themselves climbing mountains in the Alps and great fun they will have too, but they have to start somewhere before this high-level work can happen

In November last year and in February of this year I helped run two Northern District (London Area Sea Cadets) Basic Campcraft weekends. These weekends are designed to introduce the cadets in a constructive but fun way to the skills they will need to develop to reach their higher goals – be that completing a Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s expedition or climbing in the Alps.

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Basic Campcraft with the Sea Cadets

The areas we cover in the course are:

  1. Providing shelter
  2. Food and Cooking
  3. Packing and carrying equipment
  4. Safeguarding health and well-being
  5. Recognising suitable clothing and equipment
  6. Navigation skills
  7. Safeguarding the environment and countryside
  8. Planning and preparation

The pictures in this post come from both courses to show all the activities the cadets undertake. Some of the cadets who come on this introductory course have never camped in their lives. Most are city kids who have had little chance to get out and about into the woods and hills so the pace is taken gently as we slowly expand their comfort zones.

After introductions, discussions on safety and a kit check it is time to start learning how to read a map properly. I find it best if the cadets start to read maps like a book, and the only way to do that is to understand the symbols. Everything else such as scale, slope aspect and compass use comes later.

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Learning how to use a map

We get out and about as soon as possible but will vary the timings depending on the weather. On the left below is Chief Petty Officer Dave Lewis, who is as keen as I am in getting the cadets adventuring. On the February course Dave and I took a step back to let one of the younger instructors, Emma Deasy, run the course. We were there for safety, to add extra detail when required and to assess Emma for her Adventure Leader qualification. This is an in-house Sea Cadet qualification but is a first step towards gaining the nationally recognised Basic Expedition Leader Award.

While Emma briefed the cadets (picture on the right) Dave and myself watched from on high.

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Getting out there

The cadets are not expected to lead the navigation at this level but just get used to using a map and to start to get an understanding of how it relates to the real world. In between all this learning it is always good to find some mud.

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Finding muddy trails

These are the two groups we had, the top picture from February this year and the bottom picture from November last year. Pictured in the bottom picture in the red jacket is Lt (SCC) Keith Coleman RNR. Keith like Dave is a great friend of mine; I didn’t know at that time that this was to be the last Sea Cadet course I would work with Keith.

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The cadets and staff

I had to get this picture in as I always like to take my EDC hammock chair with me on trips. Sometimes I get a rest, more often the cadets nick it. The trip in February was hard for me as I forgot to take it with me – poor skills on my part.

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Time for a brew

It is not all navigation: it’s good to get close to nature too – be that alive or dead. The bottom picture shows some wood pigeon feathers found by one of the cadets. After some initial hesitation the cadets got up close to investigate them. On close viewing you can see the blunt bite marks typical of a fox but some of the quills have the single score line on them typical of a bird of prey. I am no expert in tracking or hunting but it’s clear there is a story to tell here and it is great for the cadets to see this and start to open their own eyes and mind to what is happening all around them.

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Watching nature

Along the way we teach the cadets about the plants that are in season at that time and they are then expected to start to look for more of them along the way. I don’t expect the cadets to remember all the names, just to start noticing them more.

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Plant ID – Shepherds Purse and Coltsfoot (taken in February)

No introduction to campcraft would be complete without trying out an emergency bothy. Most instructors will carry one of these whether they are on the hills or just wandering around the woods. I have used these for real on a couple of occasions in high winds and rain on mountains. When you get inside as a group the bothy traps warm air so that the temperature rises quickly. They are not waterproof but do cut out the wind and can make all the difference.

For the cadets it is a fun if squashed couple of minutes.

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An intro to the emergency bothy

These two courses were run at the Waltham Forset Sea Cadet Unit in North London. As we had access to the main building we ran some of the classes indoors (some other courses are based solely outdoors). As I said at the beginning, this course is about an introduction to campcraft where we slowly expand the cadets’ comfort zones.

Speaking of comfort zones, as you can see (below left) Dave has mastered the art of getting comfortable no matter where he finds himself. In the picture on the right the cadets are being taught what to look out for when buying or using a rucksack.

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Indoor breaks and classes on kit

Next up were classes on First Aid kits and footwear. You can see that not all the cadets fully appreciate the need to wear walking boots at this stage and some do turn up in trainers thinking they will be OK. On both weekends there were a few cadets with wet feet.

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First Aid and footwear

While we were running about doing this adventure training stuff there were other courses being run out of the unit, including Seamanship, Communications and Physical Training (PT).

In the pictures below you can see cadets learning how to throw a heaving line properly and taking part in games on the PT course.

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Other courses – Seamanship and PT

Usually when the cadets turn up on the Friday evening the staff have to help them set their tents up. A few bring their own but most cadets are given a tent to use by their own Sea Cadet unit. Most of them won’t have set a tent up before and some will never have slept outdoors in their lives.

On the Saturday we normally have a class on the different types of tents you can buy and how to erect them. Here Keith is leading the class and once he had shown them the basics it was over to the cadets to have a go.

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Setting up tents

Sometimes things go pop in more ways than one. In the top picture the cadets have failed to secure the pole over the entrance; in the bottom picture the pole had actually snapped. In the former case the pole is easy to re-position but with a snapped pole a little bit of imagination, a tent peg and some duct tape are essential. Everyone got a good night’s sleep in the end.

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Dealing with problems

Eventually the tents were all up properly. The staff hammocks and tarps are right at the back. I do not usually let cadets on this course sleep in hammocks, but when they advance to other courses they will be offered the chance to do this. Here the cadets get to see what hammocks are all about and to try one out if they wish. I like to see the cadets using hammocks as they do have a real historical association with the sea.

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Getting it right

In the evening wherever we are running this course I do try and have a camp fire lit. I remember as a young lad what camping meant to me – sitting around the fire in the evening eating toasted marshmallows (yes they were around then).

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Evening fire

We do not cook food over the open fire on this course as it is not on the syllabus but it is our tradition now to have Shmores whenever possible.

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Time for marshmallows

A Shmore is a toasted marshmallow or two inside a couple of biscuits. Why some people find this unappealing (Dave) I will never know.

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Who could resist a Shmore

The cadets do have to cook a meal for themselves on the course so need to be introduced to some different types of stoves. After some safety tips and basic tuition it is over to them to have a go under close observation.

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Learning how to use stoves

We try to keep the cooking simple with foodstuffs such as pasta, beans or even just boil-in-the-bag ration pack food. Dave though takes a strong dislike to seeing the inevitable pot noodle rear its head out of some cadet’s rucksack. Have a guess who the culprit is on the right? Although pot noodles are quick to heat up with boiling water they generally have only about 300 calories in them, not enough to keep a cadet going on these weekends.

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Trying it out for themselves and some less-than-desirable food

Put the tents up – then learn to put them away properly as a team. It is easy to do in this controlled environment when the weather is dry and there is little wind; it is a bit more challenging on the side of a hill in Brecon on a wet and windy morning.

Best to learn the tricks of campcraft here so that when you are sorting your life out on that wet and windy morning in Brecon – life is a breeze.

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Packing away properly

There were many more classes including different types of clothing to wear, first aid scenarios, planning, the countryside code and packing kit that the cadets have to cover.

At the end of the course all the cadets receive their certificate and basic campcraft badge. For some this is as far as they will go with camping but for most I will see them again on more advanced courses leading them into the mountains and the world of bushcraft.

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The Awards

These two courses were an end of an era for Keith and the beginning of a new era for Emma.

Emma managed to pass her Adventure Leader assessment after working hard towards it over the last few years. This qualification is not easy to attain due to the complexities of all the different situations you can find yourself facing – so welcome to the team Emma and well done.

Keith has now left the Sea Cadets but it was always a pleasure working with him. Keith is a good friend and we will work again on other courses, in particular bushcraft courses, as that is where his heart truly lies. As well as being an excellent Adventure Leader Keith is a great organiser – Dave, that leaves you and me to do the paperwork now ūüôā

Cheers

George

Wet and Windy – Getting comfy in the woods

The cadets knuckled down, worked hard, had great fun and made things comfy for themselves – that’s bushcrafting for you.

The end of October last year found me down at Crowborough Army camp in the Ashdown Forest. I set up a bushcraft area in the woods near for the camp to run a course to introduce some of our younger Sea Cadets to bushcraft.

Helping me on the weekend were Dave Lewis and Charlie Brookes (and at different times Christine Weston and Emma Deasy).

The weekend’s weather was pretty poor to say the least with a lot of rain and some quite high winds.

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A team of hardened Sea Cadet Bushcrafters

The high winds were a concern for me so I told the cadets that sleeping in hammocks over the weekend was not an option. A few were upset but soon got on with things. The cadets ended up sleeping in their tents in the grounds of the main camp nowhere near any trees.
They had to set up the main tarps to work under, after a bit of instruction on knots they were left to their own devices and managed to get two big tarps up by themselves.

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They had to set up their own campsite

Once the tarps were up the cadets had to collect dry wood from the surrounding area. As it had been raining heavily there was very little in the way of dry wood lying around so we taught them how to identify dead standing wood. Thankfully the woodland had been coppiced in the past and left untouched for many years so there were plenty of dead standing coppice poles in the area.
Once all the wood had been collected and graded it was time to play with some firesteels.

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Learning how to use a fire steel

(NB The light levels in the woodland were poor and I only had my phone camera to hand so some of the pictures have been brightened slightly or have had the colours in them deepened slightly.)
Once they got the hang of lighting char cloth the cadets experimented with other tinders such as pampas grass and birch bark.

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Practising using different tinders

Everything was very damp but the cadets persevered and eventually had two good fires going to get a hot brew on. As we were running the course in the woodland within the grounds of the camp all the cadets were being fed from the main camp galley. This freed us up to concentrate on different bushcraft activities without having to worry about getting food cooked over the open fires.

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They kept persevering through all the rain

One of these activities was to introduce the cadets to a bit of safe knife use. After discussing safety issues and the legalities of using a knife, the cadets learnt how to carve themselves a small wedge. I like this simple activity as it involves using a variety of carving techniques.

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Good knife safety was practised

The cadets practised cutting techniques safely, making cuts away from themselves and in front of them or off to the side. We spent a good hour trying out different cuts and everyone managed to finish their wedges.

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Working well off to the side

The wedges were needed because the next lesson was about battoning – where you use your knife more like an axe to split small logs. I did a demonstration to the class showing the whole process and then we split into two groups to let the cadets have a go themselves.

I find battoning is best done kneeling down and with the use of a stump on which to rest the piece of wood that needs to be split.
The knife is positioned on top of the piece of wood at 90 degrees to the body and the back of the blade is struck with the ‘hammer’ (a small but weighty stick) so that the edge of the blade is driven into the wood. I published an article on¬†knife safety¬†last year that covers battoning in more detail.

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Later we introduced the cadets to the art of battoning

Here you can see that the knives have been driven well into the wood and the wedges are now being used to widen the split further.

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Dave and Charlie led one class while I led the other

The cadets got the hang of it pretty quickly and were soon splitting the wood down.

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Using the knife and then the wedge to batton

Here the knife has been removed and the cadets are using the stump to help drive the wedge into the wood to split it.

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Hammering the wood and wedge into a stump to split the wood

Later that afternoon we started on two shelters. Normally I would ask for volunteers to try and sleep out in them but due to the high winds I did not offer the cadets the option this time. The weather was quite cold, but this activity kept them moving and warm.

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An early start to shelter building

It was not until well after dark that I called a halt to the shelter building but they did a good job and worked well together.

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They worked well into the evening

Even though the weather was not kind to them and we worked them hard there was still time to play and chill out around the fire with a marshmallow or two.

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Plenty of time to just play and chill with a marshmallow

We stayed a couple of hours around the fire before sending the cadets back to the main camp and getting our own heads down. All the instructors stayed in the woods with our hammocks and it was a slightly ‘swaying’ night to say the least with lots of creaking from the trees above us.

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An evening around the fire

Charlie had a brew on first thing and also showed the cadets how to use the Kelly Kettles safely.

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The day starts with a brew

There was time for a couple of posed pictures in front of the shelters before the cadets dismantled them both and scattered the debris back around the site so as to leave no trace of them. Apart from becoming unstable if left up, shelters tend to attract rodents to the site (since it’s not just humans who seek shelter) ¬†– so down they came.

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A few daylight shots of their shelters before dismantling them

For the next couple of hours it was time for Atlatls, bows and stalking games.

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A morning of games including Atlatls and Bows

Once the cadets got their eye in some had pretty good groupings.

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Some good groupings

Even the staff managed to get a shoot in ūüôā

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Not that the staff were competitive ūüėČ

Even though the cadets did not get to use the hammocks and tarps this time we did get some out for them to try.

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Checking out tarps and hammocks

The final part of the weekend was to return the campsite to the condition we found it in, if not better. This was the easy part of the weekend as the teams were now working well together and everything was stripped down and packed away quickly.

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Wrap up and home time

I hope to run one or two more bushcraft courses for the cadets this year and give them the chance to sleep out in a hammock.

Even though the weather was against us this time the cadets knuckled down, worked hard, had great fun and made things comfy for themselves – that’s bushcrafting for you.

Cheers

George

Work hard – Play hard – Chosin Cup 2013

Early October brought me to the beautiful Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest. This is a military training area that is not open to the general public and so makes for an ideal place to run adventure training activities. This year London Area Sea Cadets decided to hold their annual Chosin Cup Adventure Training competition here.

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The beautiful Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest
Top picture courtesy of the Welsh Harp boat station.
Bottom picture is the view from my hammock.

Nine teams took part this year (eight teams from London Area and one team from Southern Area). Each team has up to six cadets and the weekend consists of a navigational course with stances for the teams to complete. Points are awarded for technical skills, leadership, team work and overall enthusiasm. The stances are a mixture of seamanship and improvised skills. There are rigging type activities as well as other rope skills alongside tests of fitness and problem solving.

My Commanding Officer Paul Townsend explained the Chosin Cup nicely on the City of London web page :

A team of six Cadets competed in the annual London Area Adventure Training Competition. This is known as the Chosin Cup after the actions of the 1st US Marine Division, supported by 41 Commando Royal Marines, around the Chosin Reservoir in November 1950, during the Korean War. Vastly outnumbered by Chinese troops, and in mountainous terrain where the temperatures dropped to minus 37C, 1st Marines fought their way out of an encirclement.

Well, brilliant though the London Area Adventure Training Team are- they couldn’t manage minus 37C and the People’s Liberation Army failed to oblige, on this occasion. Nevertheless, the Cup consists of a gruelling, and very muddy, series of tests of brains, brawn and stamina. Raft building, orienteering, assault course, rope work and other challenges- some conducted in darkness. Our youngish team, including Gemma Knowles, aged 12, did brilliantly to come third out of the eight London Area teams.

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The Trophies

I arrived at lunch time with Graham Brockwell, Perry Symes, Charlie Brookes and John Kelly to help set up the event. The cadets arrived in the early evening. They were given a kit check and then some six figure grid references to plot on their maps and so find their bivvy site for the night.

While I was driving around the park on the Friday evening two stags shot out in front of me and proceeded to lock antlers furiously with each other. I tried to get a picture of this but my phone could not cope too well with the darkness – plus my hand was shaking a little ūüôā

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Night arrival

I ended up sitting out in my hammock chair for most of that evening in the woods to stop the cadets from wandering too far off course. On this course the staff have to do a lot of waiting around for teams to appear, then there is a burst of activity and then it is time to settle down again. As you can see our Alan Lewis has mastered the art.

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A lot of waiting around

Meet a few of the team. Graham had been given a Pith helmet as a Father’s day present and in no time we all tried it on. I think the guys were all born in the wrong century and should have joined the army (though I am not too sure about Sarn’t Big Yin Kelly ūüėČ

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Meet my colleagues
Top Left – Sarn’t John (Big Yin) Kelly
Bottom Left – Sarn’t Major Perry (Smiler) Symes
Far Right – The Honorable Gentleman Explorer Major General Graham (Ever So Mad) Brockwell

The Saturday starts out with some team planning and finalising of route cards before setting off. This year we kept the cadets within the military training area concentrating on micro navigation and lots of stances to test their team working and problem-solving skills.

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Lots of team planning and quizzes

I managed to get out and about and had a great time spotting the many different fungi that can be found in the park. On my travels I stopped off at any stance I came across to see how things were going along. At one stance I found Dave Lewis and Paul Townsend and quickly spotted that Dave had his small hammock set up. As I said at the start there is a lot of waiting around so it was time for a quick lie down:-)

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A view from Mr Dave Lewis’s day hammock – Cheers Dave

When the next team arrived it was time to get up and get some pictures. The cadets had to get the small blue box into the large brown box without entering the rope circle. They had been given lots of rope, poles, and various blocks and tackles to do the job. This team though elected to try out an alternative method using just rope and an open karabiner. Unusual, but it worked.

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Stance – Sealing the radioactive waste

My friend and fellow bushcrafter Charlie Brookes ran the archery stance. The cadets were all given a little practice and training before shooting a marked round.

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Archery

In between the stances the cadets would find time to heat up some food. As far as the staff went it was a case of grabbing some food on the go but Dave and Perry put together a midnight barbecue for all the staff when the cadets had gone to bed.

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Making time for some food – Top picture courtesy of City of London Unit

On the Saturday evening our colleagues from the Welsh Harp Boating Station arrived with lots of canoes and raft-building equipment. The cadets had to move camp after they had finished all the stances and then prepare for a night navigation exercise through the training area. This exercise involved a lot of night-time map work and crossing a lake in canoes in the dark. What they did not know was that they were not heading back to their tents when they finished.

I did not get any pictures of the canoe crossing but it all went very easily as the cadets are quite at home operating on water.

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The Dockers arrive

Dave Lewis managed to get a bit of bushcraft in and got the evening fire going while we were out doing the night navigation.

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Getting the evening fire going

The cadets were told to head to a particular spot in the woods where they were handed a couple of tarps per team. They set the tarps up and eventually bedded down for the night. Thankfully I was able to retire back to the staff area where my nice comfy hammock was waiting for me.

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Camp set up on the Saturday for cadets and staff

Sunday was another day of activities. All the teams had to build themselves a raft and row out to the centre of the lake and back again. Some made it, a few rafts did break up when they started rowing, but they all had a great time.

Bexley Unit made a great video of the event which can be viewed here – Bexley Unit Rafting in Pippinford Park.

The Welsh Harp Station Dockers also put together an excellent video containing video and pictures of this event – Chosin Cup – Raft Building

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Raft building – Pictures courtesy of the Welsh Harp Boat Station

Charlie Brookes ran the fire-making stance where the cadets had to build a small fire after gathering all the materials to get it going. They gathered all the tinder and twigs to get the fire going (apart from some hay and char cloth to start it which we supplied). They used firesteels to light the charcloth which they then used to blow the hay into flame. They had to build a fire as quickly as possible so that the flames would burn through a piece of birch bark that was attached to the string you can see in the pictures below. Most teams burnt through the bark and string within a minute or two of starting their fires.

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Fire making stance – Pictures courtesy of Charlie Brookes

Paul ran the seamanship stance on the Sunday where the cadets had to build a tripod, known as a Gyn, to be able to lift a heavy log off the ground. This is a skill that the cadets learn in their units and works well when we are running these competitions to assess their team-working abilities.

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Seamanship stance – The Gyn

While all this was going on I spent most of my time back at the troop shelter we had set up as our HQ. In between dong admin I spent much of the morning drying out 20 or so tarps that the cadets had used the night before so I did not get to see much of what had been going on.

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Work back at HQ – Admin and drying out more than 20 tarps

One of the Marine Cadet instructors, Kev Lomas, set up an excellent Endurance race. I only got to see the cadets as they came back from it but they all seemed to have a great time.

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Endurance race – in with a splash – Pictures courtesy of City of London Unit

The route for the race was set up through the trees and over the local stream.

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Endurance race- Over and under – Pictures courtesy of City of London Unit

As you can see not everyone got across dry. Jacob Leverett took a great video of cadets from Sunbury & Walton, Twickenham and Feltham Units running the course РEndurance race video.

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Endurance race – Over and in – Pictures courtesy of City of London Unit

After everyone had gotten cleaned up and packed away it was time for the awards.

Leading Cadet Jess Edwards from Enfield Unit was the clear winner of the trophy for the best team leader of the weekend.

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Team Leader Winner – LC Jess Edwards (Enfield Unit)

We had one team from outside of London Area on the competition, from Guildford RMCD Unit. As they are not in London Area they are not eligible to win the Chosin Cup but we do have a trophy for the winning visiting team. Even though they were the only team from outside London Area this year they did come third overall so well deserved the trophy.
As City of London Unit came fourth overall they were the third place London team so they collected their certificate and medals as well.

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Guilford RMCD Unit from Zulu Company Royal Marine Cadets – Winning visiting team
City of London Unit – Third place overall

Second place went to Bexley unit and first place to Enfield Unit. City and Enfield are both in Northern District, to which I am attached, so I was very pleased with the high scoring of our teams in the competition.

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Bexley Unit – Second place
Enfield Unit – First place

So ended a fantastic weekend. It would not have been possible without the dedication of all the staff involved in its organization, the staff training the cadets up over the year and the cadets themselves who worked hard and, as you can see from the pictures, also played hard.

Cheers

George

Bumped from my hammock – With Enfield SCC Unit

Back in early September of 2013 my good friend Dave Lewis invited me over to Danemead Scout Camp to help work with some cadets from the North London Enfield Sea Cadet unit that he was planning to put forward as a team for the London Area Sea Cadet Chosin Cup competition in October.

I had worked with the team earlier in June focussing on their navigation skills so this time the focus was team working. The Chosin Cup marks highly on good team working and we both felt that Enfield had a very good chance of winning. As well as the teamwork we wanted to give the cadets some time to relax and enjoy the outdoors in a way that they would not normally have the opportunity to.

As part of the team working training I briefed the cadets that I wanted them to set up their own group tarp, fire and individual hammocks. They had learnt many of the necessary skills before so they just needed a little refresher on bushcraft knots and off they went.

The white platform the cadet is standing on is actually one of my archery targets made by Mark Gater of G-Outdoor. An excellent bit of kit that has many uses other than just a target. I did a review of the G-Tuff Field target on Bushcraft UK back in 2011.

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Group and individual tarp set ups

We used a mixture of tarps including the DD Tarp XL, a Hennessy Hex and Extended Desert Cam tarps.
The hammocks were the Woodsman¬†Uk Hammocks and DD Frontline hammocks. I had also managed to buy some Snugpack Underblankets for the cadets to use. These underblankets make a massive difference to the quality of sleep you get by blocking out the cold air beneath the hammock. A lot of this kit we’d bought after¬†fundraising in 2012 by running a bushcraft course for a group from the City of London and after I received a grant from the¬†Jack Petchey Foundation¬†to buy bushcraft kit for the Sea Cadets.

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Hammock set ups

Now a recurring theme of the weekend was the lack of time I got to sit on my EDC hammock chair. I love this chair so I was a little upset at its overuse by others ūüėČ

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My hammock chair was stolen

The cadets were also taught how to use Laplander saws safely so they could prep their own fire for the evening: the wood slightly propped up and sawn off to the side with the arm supporting the branch crossed over the top of the blade.

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Safe sawing skills

The cadets needed no help getting the fire going with firesteels as they had done this many times before, and then it was time for a well-earned rest.

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Fire set up and learning the art of doing nothing

On the Saturday after noon we had a visit from our friends Jim and Maria Stilgoe with their sons David and James. I had never met baby James before so it was nice to do so out in the woods. David on the other hand is not one to sit around for long and was soon off exploring and had a great time with Jim shooting the Father and Son bow.

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A visit from the Stilgoe clan with a bit of Father & Son time

After a bit of shooting David needed a bit of a rest and soon found his first hammock – ‘And the little one said roll over’ comes to mind here ūüôā

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A hard-working pair

As I was saying earlier I did not get much of a chance to use my own hammock chair. It makes a perfect seat for mother and baby I think.

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Still not given back to me

Camping would not be camping without a toasted marshmallow or two. And the occasional cremated one.

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Evening activities

That evening around the fire the cadets had made I got some cracking Fire Faces.

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The weekend’s Fire Faces

After a good night’s sleep (we were only out for one night) it was time to crack on with more activities.

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Sunday morning wakey wakeys

The focus on the Sunday was to improve the communication between the team members when doing tasks. Here the cadets are working together to set up a river crossing activity by manoeuvering a log to act as one of the make-believe river banks.

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Working together as a team

I taught them a new way to create an emergency stretcher from a single piece of rope (not the usual Mountain Leader version).

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Lift and shift

At break time you can guess I was still minus a hammock.

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Still hogging the hammock

Dave set up the river-crossing activity and talked the cadets through what he wanted. They set up an excellent crossing and soon all were over the other side.

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Practising river crossing techniques

To finish off we got the Atlatls out and had a ping. It is good for the cadets to practise this as it is a standard test at the Chosin Cup now. I took a short video of the cadets using the Atlatl that weekend.

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Fun with the atlatl

The best thing about the EDC hammock is that it has a zip. Somehow the cadets found this rather fun. I had given up now on ever getting a seat ūüôā

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Had enough and just zipped them in ūüôā

I had a great time over the whole weekend as all the staff and cadets knew what they were doing, they wanted to be there and the weather was perfect. You do not get that too often when teaching outdoor education so it is one weekend I remember fondly – apart from the hammock stealing!!!

Cheers

George

Hammocking and abseiling on Dartmoor

Once a year the London-based Adventure Training instructors of the Sea Cadets like to get together and have a training weekend in a remote location. Apart from having some time catching up with each other we use it as a time to skill up some of the newer instructors in map reading and climbing skills. Many of them are training to be assessed as Walking Group Leaders. Summer Mountain Leaders or the Single Pitch Award (outdoor single pitch climbing).

So this January we decided to head for Dartmoor as we managed to get booked into the army camp at Okehampton.

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Oakhampton Camp – Our B & B for the weekend – Picture courtesy of Jim Stilgoe

Everyone arrived on the Friday afternoon or evening and we spent our time catching up on things, prepping kit and planning the activities for the weekend. The weather forecast was a real mixed bag with Saturday looking good and Sunday looking atrocious. We decided to do the walking on Saturday and abseiling (and possibly climbing) on the Sunday.
We were up early and had an excellent breakfast before setting out. I had plenty of porridge before a good fry up. There was no one on the counter so I managed to get two sausages and two pieces of bacon ūüôā If you have ever eaten in an army camp you will know how rare that is.
We walked out of the camp and straight onto Dartmoor. It was quite windy but the sun was out so it was a pleasant start to the day. This was the first time I had been out on the hills for over a year and a half so I was looking forward to it.
Jacob took this picture I think on his GoPro camera strapped to his rucksack. That is one bit of kit I would like to get one day. It takes stills and video and you can attach it to just about anything.

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Start of the nav training – Picture courtesy of Jacob Leverett

We decided to have a look from on high at the viaduct we would be abseiling from on the Sunday but on the way we came across a year-old lamb with its head stuck in a fence. The ground was fairly churned up around it so it looked like it had been there for quite some time. Eventually Dan and Jacob managed to free the poor thing and before anyone asks I was not tempted to turn it into supper ūüôā

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Lamb rescue

As the guys headed off I went off on my own slightly higher up to see what I could see in terms of plants and tracks. Jim took this picture of me sky lined and I think it is the best picture taken of me on the hills ever. Cheers Jim.

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Wonderful walking – Picture courtesy of Jim Stilgoe

After having a look at Meldon viaduct (with a few gulps) we headed off up to Yes Tor. The streams were very high so we had to follow them for quite a distance to get a safe crossing point. There are few bridges around here and to cross safely you need to be able to do it in one step. Eventually we found a decent spot where everyone could cross safely.
When choosing a spot to cross make sure that you can not only cross over in one step, but that you can also cross back the other way in one step. This is best done where both banks are at the same height.

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Safe Stream Crossing

I spotted a couple of small trees by the side of the stream and asked the guys if they were OK having a break there. As soon as they agreed, out came my little EDC hammock. Normally I just set this up as a chair but the trees were just that bit too far apart so I went for a conventional set up. I really rate this hammock. It crams down to nothing so I can stow it away in my rucksack but in a matter of a minute it can be set up. I normally set it up with an Evenk knot on one end and a Tarp Taught hitch on the other. You can pick one up from UKhammocks for about £15.
Anyway I was happy to get off the wet ground and have a break. Jennifer took these pictures but when I asked if she wanted a go was not too keen (need to convert you to hammocks this year, Jen).

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Who says life on Dartmoor is always tough

Moving on up to Yes Tor the ground became increasingly saturated. Even the rabbit holes were flooded.

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Waterlogged Warrens

I spotted very few flowering plants except some flowers on the gorse bushes (tasted nice) but spotted a few fungi and lichens. The Devils Matchsticks (Cladonia floerkeana) really stood out because of the lack of flowers. Also on the way up I spotted four separate clumps of fox scat and the hairs of the prey were clearly visible. There is a good write-up on the Dartmoor Fox here on the Legendary Dartmoor site.

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Devil’s Matchstick lichen (Cladonia floerkeana) and possible Fox Scat

Someone in the group spotted a puddle with some bubbles in it. After having a good look I could see that the bubbles were caused by escaping ground gas. When I bent down to take a picture I noticed Perry’s reflection in the water. With the walking poles it turned out surprisingly arty.

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Puddle gas bubble

The wind was in our faces the whole way up Yes Tor and we met a number of youngsters out doing the Ten Tors. I was happy to be doing just one Tor in that wind. No reports that night of anyone missing so they all must have made it back. Normally the challenge is in May so these guys had picked a tough time of year to do it.

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Approach to Yes Tor

A quick snap of Jim just after he had tied his shoelaces. It was good to see you back out with us Jim.

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Our Jim just redoing his laces

Up on the summit the wind was so bad you could hardly stand but Dean insisted on a picture. Next to the summit is a large flagpole on which the army hang a red flag if there is live firing in the area.

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Dean on top of a rather windy Yes Tor – Picture courtesy of Dean Barnett

After reaching the top I spotted a little alcove in the rock and asked Ben and Matt if they had any climbing kit to help me set the hammock up. They pulled out a full rack of kit and in no time the hammock was up again.

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Who needs trees when you have climbing buddies with you?

While I was chilling out Dan had gotten his rope out and was practising some abseiling skills as part of his Mountain Leader training under the watchful eye of the boss Perry. The hut in the background is for army personnel to use when the range is in use.

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Rope skills training

After a while, even sitting in the lee of the Tor, we started to feel the bite of the wind. A quick check of the map and we were off again. I think Jen and John were feeling the cold at this point, I know I was as my fingers were starting to stiffen up.

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Planning the next leg of the day

The next stage was out onto the open moorland to do micronavigation with compasses. We were looking for a metal marker out on a spur when we came across this lone pole. Up close you could see the gaping exit holes of high calibre bullets. The tiny marks were from lower calibre bullets that had just ricochted off and I think the small pyramid shapes were bullets that had gone through one side but not out the other. Not something you see very often.

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Impact marks

It was at this point that some of the guys headed off to do some more micronavigation training. I took a wander off down to the artillery range at the base of the valley, which is dotted with little ponds formed out of shell impact craters. The army use this area as the ground is so soft that much of the energy of the shells is absorbed by the peat. I would love to do a survey of this area as there are so many little microclimates dotted around down there.
Next to the impact area is a rock bunker for observers to sit and watch the shells impacting. It was muddy inside but would keep you pretty safe.
I caught up with the others heading back to the camp and had a great chat with Jen and John on the way back. This helped me as my right ankle had really tightened up at this point. A sign of old age, not being on the hills for ages or both (the latter probably).

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Military presence

All the blokes stayed in this building but as Jennifer was the only lady in the group she got one of the new buildings all to herself.

Sunday morning was all change on the weather front. As well as the wind it was the usual Dartmoor horizontal rain. Some of the group decided to walk around to the viaduct (about 2 miles away) and the rest of us took the minibus with all the kit we needed.

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Our accommodation on a rainy Sunday morning

After parking up I came across this elder tree covered in jelly fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae). A real tasty treat for foragers.

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Jelly fungus and lots of it (Auricularia auricula-judae)

Meldon viaduct outside Okehampton is 50 metres high and provides an excellent spot for abseiling. We had permission from the army to do this and were given the keys to access the underside walkways. It would have been far too dangerous to abseil from the centre in the high winds so we picked a spot about a quarter of the way along the span. The height at this point was about 25 metres. Some of the guys wanted to go over the kit that they would be using with Dan so while they did this I cleared the landing spot, set up my hammock again and had a bit of a chill. I needed a ladder for this set up but it was worth it.

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A wet and Windty Meldon Viaduct – Our abseil spot

The set up of the abseil did not take long and was done by Dan, Ben and Matt. Matt went first and I went second followed by Jim. This is a free abseil set up: no bouncing off a cliff face, you just launch yourself off the side and drop down at whatever speed you want.
Matt filmed his descent on his GoPro camera strapped to his helmet. I have not seen the video yet but will link to it when I can.

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Set up and Matt is first off

It was my turn next.

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George is away

Dean had never abseiled before (apart from a quick practice a few minutes earlier on a short section about 10 feet high) so this took guts to do. I remember my first abseil and can clearly remember seeing my legs shaking furiously.

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Deano ready to take the plunge

I took these pictures from the bottom after I had abseiled. Jim is on the left and Dean is on the right.

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Jim and Deano descending

After this I took three videos of the the others that abseiled that day.

Ben’s abseil video

Graham’s abseil video

Dan’s abseil video

We very nearly did not do the abseil at all owing to the atrocious weather earlier on but I’m glad we did in the end.
It was a great finish to the weekend. I got the picture of Graham and myself to show the amount of water flowing over the dam as it was an impressive sight.
Lined up below in the group photo in the Back row (left to right) are Dean Barnett, John Kelly, Jennifer Burdett, Jacob Leverett, Jim Stigoe and Ben MacDonald.
Front row George Aitchison, Graham Brockwell, Perry Symes, Matt MacDonald and Dan Keefe.

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Happy Instructors – Endex

A big thank you to Graham and Perry for organising this weekend, and to all of you for being such great company. To those who could not make it – there is always next time.

Loads more pictures can be seen here in my photobucket account.

Cheers

George

Northern District Advex Competition – July 2013

A particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit

In July this year we had our annual Sea Cadet District Adventure Training competition in a rather sunny Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest.

Five teams from Northern District within London Area Sea Cadets attended the weekend. There was supposed to be a sixth but seemingly they thought it was the following weekend.

The weekend itself is a competition to test the cadets’ skills in navigation, team working, seamanship, first aid, communication and campcraft skills. The top three teams get invited to attend the London Area Chosin Cup competition later in the year to compete against the winning teams from other Districts within London. Over the last few years we have relaxed this criteria so that if a unit comes outside of the top three, they can enter for the Chosin Cup if they really want to. The competition is still very competitive but a bit more open now at all the levels.

Thankfully I do not have to do much of the organisational paperwork for the event as my good friend Keith Coleman has that firmly taken care of. Admin has never been my strong point.

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Our little Minion Mascot for the weekend

I try to arrive early on the Friday and set up the parachute and the rest of the admin area. I was a bit gutted this year as I left the long extending pole I use to put up the parachute rope behind at the site and have never seen it again.
My hammock seat was well used this weekend but thankfully since then some of the guys have bought their own ones now.

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Base camp set up and a bit of hammock seat testing

Once we are set up it is a case of chilling out until the cadets arrive. The campfire cooking rig has been donated (on a long term loan) to the Sea Cadets by my good friend Mark Beer. It made a big difference to the amount of food that can be cooked quickly over the open fire.

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Friday camp set up

Our District Officers Mark Macey and Mark Weston were both keen to try out a hammock but as yet have not volunteered to sleep in one. Apparently for Mark Weston this was the first time since he was a young lad that he had camped out. Good on you Mark for staying out. It seems though that his good lady Chrissie has learnt the art of delegation and supervised the whole tent set up business ūüėČ

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Officers relaxing

The teams all arrived on the Friday evening and set up camp. After they sorted themselves out they were sent straight out for a night navigation excercise with all their kit. We found all the teams eventually and had them set up camp.

Saturday

In the morning I managed to get a group picture of each of the teams before the hard slog began.

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Enfield & Haringey Units

Each team is supposed to have 6 cadets and they need to be totally self sufficient for the whole weekend. Kit checks are undertaken as soon as they arrive to ensure they have all the basics such as a sleeping bag, tent, waterproofs, water etc. They loose marks for any kit that is missing from the kit list they are sent out before the competition. I always bring extra sleeping bags, tents, jackets, roll mats and gloves as there are usually a few missing pieces.

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City of London & Waltham Forest Units

While the cadets sort themselves out on the Saturday morning the staff tuck into a good breakfast as the day is a long one. By the time any night navigation exercise is finished at the end of the day they could have been on the go for 18 hours.

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Finchley Unit and some of the staff relaxing over breakfast

As part of the navigation assessment, each team has to produce a route card for the day’s walk. The route goes all around Ashdown Forest and there are various checkpoints they have to get to. At some checkpoints they are set various tests on Sea Cadet skills. This was a particularly tough walk as the route was 27km long with full kit – do not ever say that being in the cadets is a breeze, it can be tough.
I do not have any pictures of the cadets while they were out but by the end of the day two teams had completed the whole course and the others were either picked up or had just missed out one or two checkpoints.

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All the units had to produce a route card for the weekend

Sunday
This part of the competition is undertaken just in Pippingford Park. The cadets have to navigate to different stances in the training area and complete different tasks.
All the stances are designed to test personal skill, team work, leadership and communication skills.
One of the stances was to rope up a river crossing system, using their seamanship skills, to be able to carry the whole team across.
All cadets are trained in First Aid so we usually have a stance on this. It can be quite weird listening to all the theatrical shouts and groans that come from this stance ūüėČ

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River crossing and First Aid stances

Teamwork and communication are skills scrutinised on the mine clearance stance. Pretend mines are hidden and the cadets have to probe for them. If they find one they mark it with a tyre.

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Mine clearance

The Observation stance is set up with objects or people set out in front of the cadets. Some are obvious to spot but due to the skill of the Royal Marine Cadet instructors who set up these stances can be extremely difficult to find.
The challenge on this year’s Seamanship stance run by Paul Townsend was to use a variety of ropes, poles, blocks and tackles to set up a rig to conduct a Colours ceremony. I like this stance as it brings together Sea Cadet skills originally aimed at use on board ship out into the woods.

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Observation and Seamanship stances

My favourite – the Archery stance – was run this year by Charlie Brookes. All the cadets look forward to this stance both for the fun of it and for its competitive spirit within each team and between teams for the highest scores.

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Archery stance

At the end of the Sunday we have an Endurance race. A course is set up through the woods going through streams, over logs, under them, up and down steep slopes. Each team gets to run it twice: first to get to know the route and secondly as a timed event that can be scored.

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Endurance race

We finish with a final river crossing and a group picture. The looks on the cadets faces tell you very clearly that they had a great time.

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Final crossing and a happy group

A special award was given to Enfield unit for saving a Fawn that had become tangled up in some wire fencing. Well done guys.

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First place for animal rescue. They rescued a fawn trapped in a fence.

Enfield receiving the Fawn award and Waltham Forest receiving their Third place certificate.

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Enfield Unit receiving the ‘Fawn’ award and Waltham Forest Unit receiving the 3rd place award

Second place (and the Team Leader award) went to Enfield and the winners were Finchley unit. Both these teams scored highly in what was a very tough but fun weekend.

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2nd place to Enfield Unit and 1st place to Finchley Unit

As well as being a weekend full of assessments this course was a great training event for the teams that went forward to Chosin Cup later in the year but more on that later.

Cheers

George

Links

The Sea Cadets

Adventures in the New Forest – To play and to learn

Every year for as long as I have been in the Sea Cadets we have made an annual trip to the New Forest. This started out with just our unit (City of London) but has since grown to include units from all over London.

The aim of the event is to provide cadets for the annual HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre Church and to conduct a range of adventurous activities. The last trip was in June this year and we managed to run a a Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL award) assessment course, D of E Bronze expedition, lots of Junior Sea Cadet activities, cadet camping qualifications and run an adult Adult Adventure Leader assessment. A very busy weekend all in all. The majority of our cadets come from London and some get very few opportunities to head out into the woods for the weekend to play and learn.

The pictures below have been selected from a number of different years.

I normally arrive early on the Friday to set up the parachute and other group shelters. The cadets and the rest of the staff will arrive later on the Friday night. Our accommodation is usually at the Ferny Crofts camp site in the New Forest. It has a wide range of facilities and activities but the best thing about it is that you can set up hammocks and have a fire.

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Sea Cadets in the woods

Meet my boss – Chief Petty Officer Paul Townsend. He is the Commanding Officer (CO) of City of London Sea Cadet unit based on HMS Belfast. Paul is in overall charge of the camp and leads the honour guard at the HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre Church in the New Forest on the Sunday. Apart from being a good CO, seamanship instructor and sailing instructor he is not too bad at the old adventure training as well ūüôā

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The Boss

Our sleeping accommodation is a mixture of tents and hammocks. Over the years we have introduced cadets to using hammocks and now I do not have enough hammocks for all the cadets who want to use one. Thankfully some of the older cadets have bought their own now.

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Accommodation

Even managed to get my friend Perry Symes to try out a hammock again and this time he enjoyed it.

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Hammock heaven

A big part of the weekend is to teach navigation to cadets and adults. We do get to some beautiful locations.

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Going Walkabout

This was a particularly tricky spot to navigate. Liz took her time but it was fun to watch. Liz was on the assessment course for the BEL award I was helping to assess. I was told that later the same day a couple got stuck in this area and had to be rescued by the emergency services.

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Step lightly

At some point on the saturday we like to stop off at the Beauly Station Hotel with all the cadets and staff for a bit of refreshment. It was here we were introduced to Helen and Simon’s son James. A real hit with Jason.

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Meeting new friends

The weather this year was thankfully gorgeous unlike some previous years. This was my friend Charlie Brookes’s first visit to the event. Apart from being a bushcraft instructor he is an excellent navigation instructor.

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Beautiful weather

While out and about I like to make sure that everyone is well aware of what is happening in Nature around them. My friend Liz Rowan took the picture of the snake. That is one thing I am yet to see in the countryside – maybe one day.

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Looking at nature

As per usual on any trips now I have my EDC hammock chair ready to deploy. Best £15 I ever spent.

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Chill out time

Problem is though, everybody else likes it as well. I love the fact that when you are sitting in it it appears your feet are floating in the air.

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Hanging out

As part of their training cadets are trained in how to use an emergency shelter. These things are a real life saver.

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Emergency Shelter use

Teaching classes on putting up tents can be a bit dry so I like to see a bit of fun being injected into the learning.

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Learning about tents the fun way

We run lots of activities including using firesteels, group bowdrill and team games.

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Activities

The cadets lit this fire with firesteels and are having their break relaxing and watching a bit of ‘woodland TV’.

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Woodland TV

The Juniors have to cook food over an open fire to complete their Sea Cadet Green training module, so lighting their own fire then cooking over it gives them a great sense of achievement.

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Food glorious food

The wood under the fire came from a massive pile of old pallets that the Scouts provided so that the local woodland is not stripped of dead wood – got to leave a home for the bugs.

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Sausages and melting chocolate

I was introduced to Smores a few years ago at the BCUK Bushmoot and they have proven to be a hit with the cadets (and the adults). They are toasted marshmallows squeezed between a couple of biscuits, ideally with melted chocolate drizzled over.

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Smores – The best

Another sweet favourite is to cook chocolate cake mix in oranges. Messy but tasty.

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Chocolate oranges

A regular feature now is to build a candle for cooking on.

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Cooking Candles

As we cannot cook every meal on an open fire we always have a field kitchen in a large Roundhouse we rent out. The cadets have to work in shifts helping out. Some great food has been created here with very few resources. Well done guys.

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Our Field Kitchen

As we are running courses on campcraft there are plenty of classes discussing kit and its uses.

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Kit class

Dave is having a bit of a debrief here with his group to reinforce the learning. Don’t know if he is talking about wood or if he is just tired ūüėČ

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Class debrief

At some point in the weekend we always get the Atlatls out for a quick ping.

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Atlatl fun

There are plenty of areas to do some stalking skills as well.

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Stalking games

At the end when we pack up we like to ensure the place is left cleaner than we found it. Here is the ideal skirmish line set up before starting to sweep the area.

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Area clean – Nice and smart

Unfortunately however working with cadets can be like herding cats. So instead of keeping in a nice straight line and sweeping efficiently across the area it all soon degenerates into a bit of an aimless-looking wander. Thankfully though we always manage to get the place cleaned up.

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Area clean – Not so smart

I hope we have many more years going to the New Forest for the HMS Hood Remembrance Service. It is great to see the cadets head out to the service and just as good to see them enjoying the woods.

If your unit has never been down to this event and you’d like some information just let me know.

Cheers

George

Bushcrafting with the Royal Marine Cadets on the Isle of Wight

Around a fire some time last year my friend Kev Lomas asked me about helping out the Royal Marine Cadets (RMC) in his area (Southern Area Sea Cadets) with some Bushcraft. As Kev had helped us in London Area a lot over the years I was keen to help out.

Another reason was that the course would be on the Isle of Wight and there is nothing better than walking through dappled woodland in the Spring on a sunny day on the island (there are no deer on the island to eat all the flowers).

The course was at the end of April this year and the weather was fine and warm. I had a smooth trip over the Solent with with just a little fog to begin with but it soon cleared up.

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Beautiful ferry crossing

I went down on the Thursday to set up camp and I am glad I did as it took us all Thursday afternoon and Friday to set everything up. The camp we stayed at was deserted and the woodlands were beautiful – though I did manage to get my heavily laden van well and truly stuck in the mud trying to set up. Luckily once emptied she leapt out of the mud to save my embarrassment.

There was to be about 25 cadets on the course with about 5 instructors. One of the instructors called Sgt Tony Moore had attended the same instructor course with Woodcraft School that I had completed so it was good to swap stories. (The chicken below, by the way, is a plastic one we found in the woods.)

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Prepping the camp

When the cadets arrived they were briefed on the activities. I think some were a bit disappointed to find out I was a Blue Jacket (a Sea Cadet instructor) rather than a RMC instructor but when I began describing all the skills they would cover and how these could cross over into their field skills they started to come around (I think also that it helped when Kev mentioned I was ex-Airborne).

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Briefing time

We had the Padre around for the weekend and he was keen to be involved. As well as trying out a normal hammock he was very taken with my UK Hammocks EDC chair.

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The Padre was around all weekend and keen to take part (in a relaxed sort of way)

A tradition in the RMC is to introduce the cadets to the Coca Cola tree. Many of the older ones had seen this before and sniggered at the back watching younger ones’ confusion as Kev pulled the ‘tree’ out of the ground all the while explaining how rare it was ūüôā

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The rare Coca Cola tree

Many of the cadets brought their own knives along so we had a good chat about the pros and cons of the various different types. I then issued some fixed-blade bushcrafting knives for them to practise with.

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Knife class

They all managed to make wedges and learn the art of battoning wood, making the kindling they’d later use for their fires.

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Knife skills

They used firesteels to get their fires lit and then we boiled water in our Kelly Kettles for a brew. I love using the term ‘brew’ to Marines as you can see the grimace appear on their faces. To them the correct term is a ‘wet’ and they are very proud of the difference (no idea why).

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Make a Fire – Make a Brew (sorry I should say a Wet)

We bought in some mackerel and the cadets prepared them and made up some Ponassing rigs.

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Ponassing class

A bit of a scrum to be fed but they all enjoyed it.

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Enjoying the fruits of their labour

During the day we went out for a wander looking at tracks and signs. We found some owl pellets, scavenged birds’ eggs and also some early orchids.

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Owl pellets

In the woods there were clear Badger trails which were easy to follow. We came across this nice print near their latrine.

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Badger print

On the Saturday afternoon we dug up some worms so they could be cleaned out overnight. The next day a quite passable omelette was made with a bit of worm as protein.

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Digging up worms for an omelette

Tony had fun showing the cadets how to prep rabbit.

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Rabbit prep

As we had quite a lot of fish that was not Ponassed we fried it off in the Muurrika.

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Frying up the remaining fish the cadets had prepped

In the evening the staff helped the cadets set up 10 hammocks. This took quite a while but was worth it as some were very keen to try them out. One cadet was about 6 foot 5 inches and was determined to have a go. His head could not fit in the hammock so it was quite a challenge to make him comfortable. He survived the night however, and said it was a relaxing sleep.

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We set up 10 hammocks

Again on the Sunday we went for a wander to see was out there in terms of foraging. The cadets were introduced to hawthorn, birch and beech leaves (all tasty in the spring). The small plants we looked at were nettles, wood sorrel, burdock, plantain, reedmace and primrose to name just a few.

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Foraging – Primroses

The ranges were an ideal spot to get the bows out.

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Arrow away

We also introduced the cadets to the Atlatl.

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Airborne Atlatls

You do not often see so many being launched simultaneously like this.

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Broadside

I had a fantastic weekend and so did the cadets, based on the feedback I received. I am looking forward to doing something similar with the RMC in London and also with the Southern Area RMC again next year.

Cheers

George

Natural Lore and the Sea Cadets

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Kevin & George – Early days

My friend Kevin Warrington of Natural Lore asked me to put up a post or two on his blog while he and Teres get to know their new baby daughter.

I was very pleased to hear the news yesterday of the birth of little Kelly. Congratulations to you both: I remember when my kids were born and how chuffed I felt.

I last posted for Kevin back in September of 2009 so was pleased to be asked to write again for him.

The post I published today can be viewed here on Kevin’s Natural Lore page.

Cheers

George

Enfield Unit training at Danemead – March 13

At the end of March this year (29th to the 31st) I was invited by my friend Dave Lewis to help out with training his cadets from Enfield Sea Cadets at Danemead Scout Camp. Danemead is near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The staff with Dave and myself were Keith Coleman, Alan Lewis, Emma Deasey and Allen Holloway.

The aim of the weekend was to start navigation and team-working training in preparation for our District and Area adventure training competitions. From the outset I could see that Dave had a proactive team who were very keen to work together. This was the first of a number of training weekends that culminated with the team winning the Area Chosin Cup for Adventure Training and also winning the Team Leaders cups at both District and Area level.

This was the beginning of that chain of events though. Danemead is one of my favourite campsites as it is near to most of the Units I work with but feels sufficiently remote to offer good training.

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Danemead – A good playground

The weather for the weekend was a mixed bag, generally cold with sleet and rain but with sufficient periods of dry spells to make it comfortable.

The cadets love to try out hammocks so on the Saturday we put up some for them to use. We have managed to fundraise some money to buy some hammocks from UK hammocks.

These Woodsman hammocks are like little nests. You lie diagonally so you end up with a much flatter sleep. I am afraid if you have never slept in a hammock then the only way to understand what I mean is to try out a hammock that allows you to sleep diagonally.

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Little nests

Not a pretty picture I am afraid but I am snug as a bug in my hammock.

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Snug as a bug in a rug

Due to the winds and rain we felt it better to put up the big tarp rather than the usual parachute.

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HQ Tarp

Key to operating at this time of year is to have a warm brew on hand and the fire as usual provided the evening’s Woodland TV.

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Brewage

Also there was some heartening food in the mornings.

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Breakfast – the best meal of the day.

Over the weekend the main focus was on navigation and leadership skills. All the cadets brushed up on their map and compass skills. While out and about we also focused on group leadership and set some scenarios such as First Aid.

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Nav briefing

The navigation was undertaken in some of the beautiful woodland and farmland around Danemead.

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Beautiful woodland walks

During the Saturday walk we had sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine again. Thankfully the snow did not lie.

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Proper variable March weather

On the trek we came across a dead fox in an old disused caravan. The fox did not look like it had been there long. As it was the end of the winter it may have curled up here and been to weak to move. We came across another dead fox later that day at the side of the road which had probably been hit by a car (but no obvious trauma signs on it).

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A sad sight – dead fox found in an old caravan

As we went along we spent time studying tracks and scat. Some of the cadets I’ve worked with a number of times don’t think I am too mad for spending so much time looking at animal poo – but they all do when they come out with me for the first time.

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Tracking

During the walk I spotted a muntjac laid up under some brush but as we got close it bolted. Up close we spotted the hairs it had left behind (coin included for scale).

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Muntjac hairs

Also there is a Wildlife Park nearby and we came across these sawed bones near the fence. Makes you wonder what is around at night!!

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Animal bones

I was chuffed to see the cadets pointing out all the feeding stations they could find.

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Squirrel meal

We came across a shelter so took the opportunity to get a picture and get a bit of shelter. The cover was not great but it certainly got them out of the wind. We did check to make sure it was clean enough and strong enough before we used it. I personally like to dismantle shelters I build after use, but this one did come in handy.

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Taking some shelter

Apart from navigation we set up some archery as this is a regular event on the adventure training competitions. Prior to starting though as everyone was a bit cold Alan took everyone through a bit of gentle Tai Chi to warm us up. Everyone did enjoy it (eventually).

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Cold day warm up – Tai Chi (conducted by Alan Lewis)

Then we had fun.

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Practising archery for the competitions

They got pretty good with the Atlatl as well.

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Practising Atlatl for the competitions

In between classes a cadet will make their own fun (though I suspect they are not allowed to do this officially!)

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Impromptu fun

I think this is the weekend I introduced Dave to the EDC hammock chair. This chair sits in my pocket ready to be used whenever we stop for a break in the woods.

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Some staff chilling in the EDC Hammock Chair

I thoroughly enjoyed this weekend and it was the first of many for Enfield Sea Cadets on the adventure that culminated in winning this year’s Chosin Cup competition.

Cheers

George

Bushcraft and Adventure Leader Training – Pip Park, Ashdown Forest – Feb 2013

My first Sea Cadet trip this year was down to Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest. This is an MOD training area but as I like to think of it as one of the best playgrounds in the world.

We went down to practice some Bushcraft and train one of the younger instructors on some navigation skills.

I was with my friends Keith Coleman, Charlie Brookes and Emma Deasey.

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Beautiful Pip Park

As we did not have any cadets to teach we took our time setting up our camp. We had our hammocks and a main tarp for a fire. It was a tad on the cold side but we had enough kit to stay toasty.

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Taking a break setting up camp

The site is full of great sites. One of my favourite trees is the Kissing tree.

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The kissing tree

The MOD have brought Exmoor Ponies in to help manage the land. They are a hardy breed and are quite happy to graze the low quality grazing found here so helping to manage the landscape as heathland.

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Exmoor Ponies

The park has over 600 Red and Fallow Deer so spotting droppings is not a problem. The droppings seemed to be pointed on one end and indented on the other so I took these to be Fallow.

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Deer droppings

Some great fungus to shelter under.

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Large Artists fungus

Much of our time was spent mooching around and as usual we were always picking up material for tinder.

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Foraging for tinder

The park has six lakes to wander along and it was not long before we spotted something…………….

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Lads have spotted something

The remains of a Deer by the waters edge.

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Deer remains

Further on on a stump I found some fox droppings.

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Fox droppings

But the surprise was spotting the Witch of the Woods.

The park allows filming and this was a scene from the tales of Albion.

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Filming for the Tales of Albion

We had to try out our new hammock seats from UK Hammocks

These are great for instructors as you can stuff them in your pocket and pull them out wherever you are.

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The three stooges

A new convert in Emma.

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Happy (but cold) Emma

As Sea Cadet instructors to go hungry is a crime.

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A typical Sea Cadet Breakfast

As usual I try and find Fire Faces in the fire.

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Cat Mask Fire Fac

The park is packed with archaeology. Please see the link below for further info on the park. This link is useful for all instructors bringing cadets here.

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Iron Age berm

One thing you always have to remember is that you are on MOD land.

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Got to remember you are on MOD land

More information on the history of Pippingford Park can be found here –¬†http://www.pippingford.co.uk/history