This year I took most of August off work and spent it with my family in Wales, Wiltshire and the Western Isles – it was a busy time but my camera was never far away.
My Morning Classroom
I set up this parachute at the BCUK Bushmoot as an extra classroom – it was located in front of my tipi and as I got up one morning I was presented with this wonderful view.
A Happy Cap’n
The Naughty Corner at the Bushmoot has two two things that never change – they are Cap’n Badger and his Skull. The skull is always being passed around the fire and it always has Kraken rum inside it 🙂
You have my thanks Cap’n for maintaining this tradition.
Demon Fire Face
Never one to let a good fire go unnoticed the pizza oven at the Bushmoot gave me this cracking Demon Fire Face this year – you can even see its right arm.
A Bushmoot Wedding
Last year it was the engagement and this year it was the wedding. I took a lot of pictures for Phil and Magda but this one ticked all the boxes for me:
I love a good wedding (do not get invited to many these days – must be an age thing)
We were with the Bushmoot family
I do love a good Log Rocket Stove 🙂
The Coastal Survival Crew
In the middle of August I spent five days with my lad Finlay at the Wilderness Gathering working with my friend Fraser and the Coastal Survival Crew. As a land lubber I have no idea why they keep asking me back each year but I am not going to say no – they are a great crew to work with.
The latter half of August found me with the family up on the Isle of Lewis – I ran free on the beaches there as a kid and it is great to see my kids and their cousins doing the same.
I do not get to Lewis that often and rarely when all my brothers and sister are there at the same time – this year they were all there and I made sure I got this picture (thank you Alison for taking it) – as rare as ‘Rocking Horse Poo’ you could say.
The Callanish Stones are located on the Isle of Lewis and were laid down long before Stonehenge. It is a beautiful place to visit and all the more special when there is no one else there to get in your shot.
Thanks to my cousin Scott for taking the time out to show me the delights of the Uig coastline. Along the way we stopped to photograph many beautiful spots however the falls at Breanish really grabbed my attention.
One evening the whole family went out to visit my fathers grave in Ness – it is by the sea and this is the view he has – miss you Dad but glad you have a great view.
North Rona from Sula Sgeir
My family carry on the tradition of the Guga Hunt each year on the rocky island of Sula Sgeir. As I left the island at sixteen I never went on the hunt – this year though I went out with the fishing boat to pick up the lads and bring them home.
Looking out from this crack in the rocks on Sula Sgeir I was able to make out the other lonely outpost in the Atlantic that is North Rona.
Not all the Gannets were ‘Dressed’ on Sula Sgeir due to having to leave early because of the weather. I spent a day with my nephew Tam and the rest of the Guga Hunters preparing the last of the Gugas
A good month for a holiday and a good month for photography.
This August I went to the Wilderness Gathering to help out my friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival with the running of his stand. It was a busy stand however from time to time I ventured out around the show and spotted some real gems.
Starting at the end of the Wilderness Gathering I got tipped off that JP from Woodlife Trails was going to get ambushed by the Coyote Kids – Needless to say the tip off was spot on 🙂
Just off to the main area of the Wilderness Gathering is the pond. In here the canoeists have fun, we soak our willow for our fishtraps and I like to sit here watching nature go by. This year my friend Jason Sears decided to use it as a platform to light his tinder bundles – more of this in the last video in this post.
The Coastal Survival stand was busier than any time I can remember. The crowds gathered outside the stand when Fraser was demonstrating food prep and his hot smoker were fantastic.
Obviously Danny and myself were very professional and serious at all times:-)
I shot quite a bit of video this year and made a video of some of the activities we at Coastal Survival got up too – including the ancient and near forgotten art of Basketeering!!!!
One thing I love to look out for at the Wilderness Gathering is all the art – I use the term art here to describe the beautiful work that is always on display.
Below are the stunningly sculpted Kuksas from Jon Mac, the intricately carved spoons by Giles Newman and the finely twisted bottle opener by Dave Budd.
The bottle opener I spotted being made by Dave Budd as I strolled by. Dave was making one as part of a one2one training session and it did not take him long to craft it.
The bottle opener now lives in France with a friend of mine.
Still on the lookout for art I was taken by these three scenes. The first was a basket of beautifully coloured mushrooms on the Bushcraft Magazines stand. The second was spotting this Roman Centurions profile in the flames of our fire (it is something I do looking for fire faces). The last one was all the colours in the flint arrow heads I spotted on the Bushcraft Journal stand.
Further on on my strolls I came across loads of other sites where learning was going on. This was in the form of demonstrations, one2one’s or class work. I could only spend only a short time away from the stand but my time strolling always threw up little gems of learning.
A particular favourite subject of mine is building Log Rocket Stoves and my friend Des Cattys shares this passion. I spotted him one day starting a demonstration and decided to hang around to see how the class went (always looking for new ways of building these stoves)
In the evenings the music got better and better each night. There was a wide variety of artists and a particular favourite of mine was Vojta. Bushcrafters are not normally known for their dancing abilities but the front of the Bushcraft Magazine stand was buzzing each night with revellers.
After listening to a couple of Vojta’s songs I decided to record his last one of the night and I am glad I went with that gut feeling – a great session.
If you are patient while out and about at the Wilderness Gathering you can usually get a treat or two. The wild food tasting at the Bushcraft Magazine stand kept me hanging around for ages, Fraser’s great smoked sea foods were as usual highly sought after and I got to observe Roli Jones in action baking large loaves in his oven.
In amongst all this learning and art you will come across the odd and the unexpected. The Scout instructors were the ‘Bog Squad’ and worked hard to keep our loos in clean and working order – I take my hat of to you guys. As they walked by in formation I had to get this shot.
My friend Danny got a soaking while canoeing one day and decided to show off his fine ‘manly’ form to us all – I will leave it to you to judge this 🙂
The final unexpected moment relates back to my first video of JP being ambushed – I captured the moment he was turfed into the pond by the Coyote Kids and is one of my favourite pictures of the whole event.
My final video was put together to try and capture the essence of the Wilderness Gathering.
Last August I had a fantastic 5 days helping my friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival at the 2017 Wilderness Gathering. I did a heck of a lot of video this year so here is a short film of some of our antics 🙂
I still have another video to put together of the Wilderness Gathering as a whole so will be back with some more soon.
This week I am camping on the beautiful South Wales Coast at Merthyr Mawr. It is Bushmoot time again and I thought I would try a quick post using just my phone.
We have been mostly setting up the Bushmoot for the main event starting this weekend.
I did though pop around today to see a couple of the early starter courses Fraser from Coastal Survival was running a course and was when I was passing, teaching his students the art of getting a small fire going on a windswept beach. He got the fire lit using the tiniest piece of firelighter and soon had his cup of water boiling away.
The tiny piece of lit firelighter was inserted into the small tinder pile using a stick – kinds like a flaming lollipop 🙂
Catching up with friends, learning skills and getting some new kit – that is what the Wilderness Gathering is to me.
Coastal Survival has been attending The Gathering for quite a few years and this was a busy one for me as they went. I could tell that as most of my pictures this year were of what we were up to and not about what everybody else was up to. I was working alongside Fraser Christian, Danny Stocks and Chris Lundregan (we were also joined by Lorna Stocks).
Food and skills were the order of the day for us at this years show.
Over the weekend we kept a hot smoker going producing smoked mussels and mackerel. This kept a steady stream of visitors coming up to the stand. So much so that I did not get a great deal of time to wander around the rest of the show.
There is something quite beautiful about the simplicity of smoking food that is attractive to folks that makes them want to just come in and try some – it certainly is not for our good looks 😉
There was some time to get out though and catch up with folks. I missed Steve’s class on prepping rabbits but by the look on his face it went well.
Dave Budd was as usual working away but unusually he was having to be his own pump monkey on the forge – Where were you Emily? He needed you 🙂
Our neighbours at the show were Sonni and Angela from Beneath The Stars Leathercraft – the nicest set of neighbours than you could wish for.
Also spotted frequently was Jason bowdrilling away for the visitors. I sat beside him for one of his demonstrations and got some cracking pictures that I made into their own blog – Jason and the Ember Extender.
Regular readers will know I am a fan of Damp Log Rocket Stoves and Des was there this year firing them up. This particular Log Rocket was very damp but he persisted and soon had a hearty stove that produced plenty of brews.
As well as producing smoked food we spent time giving various classes such as this one on making a Bamboo Fishing Spear. This simple device does not take long to make and really packs a punch.
No Coastal Survival course would be complete without a bit of net making. Once again Fraser was up in the classrooms demonstrating his skills and getting the audience netting – I was meanwhile back tending shop – except for sneaking out to take some pics 🙂
The Masterclass this year was on constructing a Stick Fish Trap. This was planned to take 3 hours but it took most of the day for the students to complete (and for some part of the next day) but it was worth it, These traps are designed to work and do the job of catching your dinner.
These Stick Fish Traps are featured in Fraser’s new book Coast Hunter. This is the 2nd book in his coastal series and his copies sold out at the Wilderness Gathering. Look it up in Amazon if you are interested in all things coastal hunting.
I have been attending the Wilderness Gathering every year since 2005 so here’s to seeing some of you there in 2017 – An extra day I am told for next year 🙂
Fraser has a couple of books out now called Eat the Beach and Coast Hunter (he is currently working on his third book called Castaway on the Seashore). In the book Coast Hunter Fraser goes into detail on many coastal hunting techniques (including making this trap) and I encourage you to get a copy of these books if you are interested in the art of coastal survival.
Fraser uses this type of trap on the coast weighted down with stones in the inter-tidal zone to catch fish, crabs and lobsters. You can make the trap with many different woods found in the woods and hedgerows – just make sure it is pliable. As he was running a class for 8 people he brought in some commercial willow from Musgrove Willows.
Step 1 – Set Up
I will go through the steps as I saw them on the day but for more detail on this trap have a look inside the Coast hunter book. To form the shape Fraser used a paper plate and a tent peg to create a circle of willow. He tried to maintain an even distance (about two fingers width between each piece of willow) as he inserted the willow (thick ends) into the ground, They were pushed in about 10cm’s and the tent peg really helped as the ground was hard.
Once the willow was secured in the ground he tied of the top ensuring the willow sticks all came in at the same angle.
Step 2 – Weaving
The willow had been left overnight in a lake to ensure it was as pliable as possible however to make sure Fraser pulled each piece of willow he would weave with around his knee. This makes the weaving process so much easier and less tiring on your hands.
Starting with the thick end of a piece of willow he threaded it in and out between 4 or 5 uprights, Once that was secure he raised up the thinner in to carry on that in and out weave (raising the tip of the thinner end really makes the weaving easier).
In the picture in the bottom left you can clearly see that raised thin end being woven in and out of the uprights. He stopped the weave when he judged that part was too thin (the excess would be trimmed off later).
Once one piece was finished it was a case of repeating the process with a new piece of willow but from the next upright along. You can see in the picture in the bottom right below these staggered start points. Frase ensured that the ends stuck out proud so that they would not slip off the first upright while weaving. These would be trimmed down later.
Step 3 – Wrapping the Top with willow
Over time the trap started to develop (a height of 50 or 60 cm’s) and the string at the top was replaced with willow. I have put the steps for you below. The thick end was slid through the middle of the uprights then wrapped tightly around the uprights for about ten turns, through the uprights again, a couple more turns and back through once more to finish.
Step 4 – Closing the Gap
Finishing the top section can be quite difficult as you have less room to push the willow in and out of the uprights. Make the willow as pliable as possible and experiment with smaller thinner pieces and with starting with the thin end and threading through the thicker end.
Depending on what you are hoping to catch will decide how much of a gap to leave but ideally the gap should only be a couple of centimetres.
Step 5 – Locking off the Opening
When the top has been finished pull the trap out of the ground slowly and it is time to lock off the uprights around the opening.
Take one upright and bend it over in front of the one directly to its right but behind the 2nd one on the right. Repeat the process with the upright on the right and so on. Before long you will be left with just one upright standing vertically. Twist it back and forth and you can thread it easily through the laid uprights to its right.
Look closely at the pictures below and you will see how this works.
Step 6 – The Lid
The lid is about a third of the size of the main body of the trap however the opening is the same size. Use the paper plate, peg and string in the same fashion as before to set up the skeleton of the lid and weave in the exact same way as with the main body of the trap.
The difference though is that the top is not tied off but left open as this will become the opening that your catch will enter the trap through. When the hole in the top is about the size of your fist repeat the process of locking off at Step 5. You will also need to lock of the rim around the bigger opening when it is pulled out of the ground.
Step 7 – Trimming
When you trim off the ends of any piece of willow when making this type of trap try to leave about a cm or so sticking out so that the end of the willow does not slip inside the trap. The outside should be quite prickly but the inside should be smooth.
Step 8 – Attaching the Lid to the main body of the Trap
The lid should sit in the opening of the main body of the trap with the small opening in it well inside it. We split and soaked some willow (soaked in a cup of water) to make it really flexible and used that to tie the lid and the main body of the trap together.
They were tied together at one point only to ensure that the lid stayed attached but could be opened easily to remove any catch or to place any bait.
This project would take a confident weaver/basket maker a few hours to make however our students took most of the day (and one or two came back the next day to finish off) to complete theirs.
These traps are not just for show but tools for living as comfortably as you can on the coast. If you are interested in making these traps under a bit of guidance do contact Fraser at Coastal Survival.
As with any trap do check out whether it is legal to use it in the place you want to set it. In the UK check out the Environment Agency.
Jason is passionate about fire lighting and passing this skill onto others. I decided to sit back and watch his progress. I cannot remember the combination of wood types he was using but he did spend a minute gently warming everything up with some slow rotations of the spindle.
Once he felt everything was a dry as he could get it where the spindle meets the hearth board he really powered up to produce a hot ember. The day had been really wet so all this preparation was essential – all the while he was talking to the visitors explaining what he was doing.
To help himself along in getting his flame Jason had a piece of Cramp Ball fungus (Daldinia concentrica) on hand. He gently laid the piece of Cramp Ball beside the glowing ember to get it alight. This is a handy trick to remember in damp conditions as the ember created from the bowdrill can easily die out if you are not careful.
After a few seconds and a few puffs of breath the Cramp Ball was well alight then………………………
He added to some straw and huffed and puffed for a bit 🙂
Jason’s straw was also a bit damp so he spent a few moments just drying out the area around the cramp ball by gently blowing into it. It is at this stage that many embers disintegrate if you are not careful or they simply die out as they are too small to overcome the damp material.
After a minute the centre of the straw was well dried out and smouldering nicely. Normally, I notice a sudden increase in smoke at this stage and the colour changes slightly telling me I am about to get a flame………………………
Which he did – one impromptu looking candle in fact.
It is always a pleasure to watch Jason at the Wilderness Gathering teaching visitors fire lighting, so if you are thinking of coming along next year check him out.
At the beginning of February this year I drove down the A303 towards Dorset here in the UK in ever worsening weather conditions.
My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival had organised a meet up of some of the guys who help him out at various events throughout the year. By the time I got to his village the weather had deteriorated to storm conditions.
The pictures below show his parachute getting a right battering and even later on in the shelter of the parachute the airflow really helped shoot the flames of the fire up.
Before going to up to Fraser’s woodland location I met some of the the guys – Fraser, Steve, Si, Danny and Nick in the local pub to have a few beers (and to dry off from the drenching I got from walking from the car park to the pub).
Even though the weather conditions were still extremely poor when we got to Fraser’s woodland site we soon made ourselves comfortable. The food and mulled cider were soon on and I even managed to get a picture of the parachute looking like some sort of downed UFO.
We were joined later in the evening by Tom who is one of the other Coastal Survival instructors. He had cycled his way through the storm to get to us but seemed happy to be out there in the wild conditions (I think that it is a pre-requisite of any outdoors pursuit instructor to show they can be comfortable outdoors whatever the weather throws at them).
Due to the high winds the flames of the fire kept shooting up, so as usual I had my camera out grabbing some shots of fire faces and figures in the flames. If you look closely you will see a few faces. I can also see a deer and a water buffalo in the left hand picture below.
We spent the evening listening to the wind, catching up on the year gone by and planning trips for the coming months. Around about 10pm the wind dropped sufficiently I felt it safe enough to venture out and put my own hammock and tarp up.
I slept for a full ten hours that night and woke the next morning feeling calm and refreshed. The guys already had the kettle on the go so all I needed to do was fill my cup and wait for my breakfast from Fraser.
One thing about working with Fraser is that you never go hungry and I will never get in the way of an expert chef wanting to cook me breakfast :-).
As part of our bed and board for the night we agreed to get out and collect some of the brash wood Fraser had stored around his woodland to replace the wood we had used the night before.
We said goodbye to Tom at this stage before stringing up the brash wood to take back to camp.
Once the chores were done I set off on my own to see what flora and fauna were about that morning. Little Tinker always makes for a great shot but I soon found an excellent badger print in the damp ground.
I spooked a deer on my travels through the wood but managed to get one decent long range shot of her as she ran across a field.
Even though this was early February there was a dash of colour about with the plants.
The teasel was looking particularly majestic with new seeds sprouting within the previous years seed head. I spotted a number of primroses for the first time this year at Fraser’s and the lesser celandines were sunning themselves nicely.
Finally I spotted an elder tree covered in some lovely looking jelly fungus.
It was soon time to head home again however the drive back was a delight due to feeling refreshed and the sun was out 🙂
Thanks to Fraser for hosting us for the weekend and the rest of the guys for being such good company.
Last weekend I ended up in Dorset visiting my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival. It was a stormy weekend but thankfully the wind dropped enough on the Saturday evening to allow me to sleep in my hammock.
On the Sunday morning not long after I got up I spotted this waterfall effect of Turkey Tail fungus on an old stump and was quite taken with them from a top down view – kinda glistened in the early morning sunshine.
Carrying on with the Memorable Moments theme I thought a post on my favourite family pictures of the year was due. Each of the 12 pictures I have chosen have some special memories for me.
Starting off with my beautiful daughter Catherine who has the most amazingly curly hair. I captured this picture early in the year of her backlit by the morning sun. The moment caught individual strands of hair framing her perfectly.
We had a lovely day trip to Winchester in the spring. While we were relaxing in one of these small cafe’s you find in the Medieval backstreets I caught Alison looking perfectly relaxed with a cheeky little Finlay snuggled up to her – quite a beautiful moment you could say.
One of my favourite pastimes is to head out for a Bimble around our village of Bramley. I spend a lot of time photographing what I find. Catherine spotted some Chicken of the Woods fungus one day and was really taken with its colour.
The resulting picture taken in such a dark coniferous woodland I found both striking and beautiful.
A moment of joy is how I would describe this picture. We were visiting our friends Tracey and Neil on an RAF base one day and after a lovely barbie Alison decided it was time for for some gymnastics with the kids.
This picture reminded me to always be on the lookout for the unexpected – excellent style by the way Alison.
While visiting our friend Fraser from Coastal Survival we spent an afternoon on Chesil beach in Dorset. Someone had decided to build themselves a mini Stonehenge on the beach. Myself and the kids were very taken with it and it made for some great pictures.
Once I got down low to the mini monument the whole look of it changed transforming it into a picture I wanted to keep.
When we go camping as a family we can mostly be found sleeping in hammocks. Alison insists though that before she gets up that a cup of coffee is produced. It is a bit of a tradition now this coffee business but one I am happy to maintain – needless to say Alison is in full agreement with me.
Last June I took part in the 30 Days of Wildness organised by the Wildlife Trust. I blogged about my nature adventures for 30 days. On one of these little adventures I was exploring the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre at Silchester with my daughter Catherine.
We stopped for a rest and Catherine spotted a beautiful thatched cottage through the trees. She sat there and told me later that she had found her ideal home. To me this picture is like a painting and I can sit and look at it for a long time without getting bored.
As memorable moments go there are plenty to be found at the BCUK Bushmoot. We go every year and it is a great location for families.
I caught my son Finlay mucking about with some stocks ( they belong to the Live Action Role Players who use the site as well) and as I took the picture the parachute set up beside it suddenly puffed up with the wind. Not your typical outdoorsy picture but one I felt lent to a bit of B & W manipulation.
I took a lot of pictures while on holiday in France this year of some really beautiful places however it is this simple picture that sticks with me.
We were walking through a small industrial estate to get to a river walk when I grabbed this picture of the kids walking along holding hands. A little moment in time so easily missed you could say.
My friend Paul Kelly runs his own canal boat hire company called Thames Boat Training and I have been out twice this year to photograph his boats for his web site. On the last trip we moored up waiting for a lock to open when I snapped this little moment in time. I like the picture for its feeling of depth and sheer peace.
Remembrance Sunday was a lovely day in Bramley. After the service I took some group shots of all the Scouts, Cubs and Beavers however my daughter Catherine wanted to take some pictures with her iPhone.
I think Catherine has an eye for photography and I am keen for her to explore this talent of hers. Catherine took this slightly dark picture of Alison and myself with one of these Instagram filters you can load onto your iPhone. Not often anyone gets what I think is a good picture of me and I think Catherine did well here – As for Alison, well – she always looks good 🙂
I started with Catherine so I will finish with Finlay. He has been keen on Karate now for a year now and I was very proud to watch him recently get his Orange belt. Finlay is only 7 and can be as mischievous as any other young lad however when he applies himself to something he can show some excellent self discipline – so well done son.
The next instalment in the Memorable Moments series will be on some of the nature photography I have taken this last year.
In this digital/technology dominated world we live in today I always try and make time to keep an eye on what Mother Nature is up to around me – obviously with a camera about my person 🙂
One place where I can really immerse myself back into nature is every year at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot for a couple of weeks. This post will concentrate on some of the different ways we at the Moot interact with nature.
The Moot is located in a wood on the edge of the National Nature Reserve at Merthyr Mawr Warren in South Wales. Merthyr Mawr Warren is I am told the site of the second largest sand dunes in Europe.
The wood we use is on the edge of these dunes and was heavily planted with a variety of plants/trees after the Second World War by the local estate owners to help stabilise the dunes.
I like to take a walk around the site as often as possible while I am at the Moot to see what I can spot. One of my favourite spots was this little old water wheel at the edge of the site. It is a most beautiful and quiet spot to sit and observe nature.
I have a little Robin (Ok I am sure there are different ones every few years) who comes to visit me at my camp. This little fella is not shy and is always on the lookout for scraps.
My kids make this site their playground and interact with nature all the time, from climbing strange looking tree roots to making their own art by throwing Himalayan Balsam up into trees so that they hang down (quite a weird site passing these trees). As we are continually clearing back the Balsam I do not mind them doing this.
As bushcrafters we try and minimise the impact we have on the site. For firewood we have an agreement with the local estate to buy in timber from them so as to not strip out the local wood for firewood.
Occasionally with the agreement of the estate we will take out a tree or two that has become a danger to those camping in the woods.
We have been coming to the site for over ten years and this policy of minimal impact has meant that the site remains a place of real natural diversity.
A key attraction that the Moot has is of a place of learning. We have many highly experienced instructors that come along each year to teach. This can range from creating natural art, foraging for edible plants, understanding how everything interacts and using natures raw materials to make useful items.
Part of all this learning is to know when to forage and when not to forage. In a class with Fraser from Coastal Survival this year we foraged on the coastline. We looked at many of the crabs that could be found in the rock pools and returned the many smaller ones or ones carrying eggs to where we found them. There were plenty of big crabs and shrimps though to harvest for the pot.
We also forage for lots of plants that make great teas.
If you like wild flowers then the Moot is a place to go to see them. Take a wander along the edge of the wood by the dunes and you will spot some real beauties like the Vipers Bugloss, Evening Primrose and the Common Centaury.
Bushcrafters like to forage plants that they find useful and there are plenty of plants to be found here like the Rosebay Willowherb, Thistles and Burdock.
They are beautiful in their own right when in flower but it is for their uses that I look for them.
Thistles come in many varieties and I like to collect the downy seed heads for use as an ember extender. A good source of information on this plant can be found on the Eat The Weeds site – Thistle: It’s That Spine of Year
The final picture you can see at the bottom right is the bushcrafters old favourite – Burdock. As well as having an edible root at the end of its first year I collect the second year stalks to make hangers for my kit. I wrote a post on this last year – How To…. Make a Simple Burdock Hanger
I like to do a bit of Macro photography from time to time and there is plenty of scope to do this at the Moot with plants and insects. Below are just some of the shots I have taken there recently showing the cycle of life.
Below you can see the lovely stripes of the Cinnabar caterpillar, the delicate features of what I think is a Meadow Brown Butterfly sunning itself, the busy life of the feeding Six Spotted Burnett to the beauty of a discarded snail shell.
Children and adults can be put off by insects however with a little bit of play and observation you can soon learn to live alongside insects.
My daughter had a real dislike of wasps before coming to the Moot but now is quite intrigued by them. The caterpillar you can see in the bottom picture dropped onto my friends arm one day. He was quite beautiful to look at but thankfully not poisonous in any way.
I love to photograph insects and they come in many forms at Merthyr Mawr.
A skill I learnt a couple of years ago from Perry McGee of the National Tracking School was the art of Dowsing. Perry taught me this in minutes and I was able to located water sources and even follow a buried hose. I do not know how this really works but it is a force of nature that intrigues me.
Whatever interests you about watching or interacting with nature the Moot is a place to do that.
I love to photograph what I see and I have found a great place to do that at the Moot.
One thing that the BCUK Bushmoot is renowned for is its kid friendly environment. The Moot provides a massive playground for both structured (by lessons) and unstructured learning (through play).
As I grew up as a kid on the Isle of Lewis I would head on out in the morning to find adventure and return home when my stomach demanded attention. As I live in a village now that has busy roads running through it the Moot is one of the few places I know of that I am happy for my kids to go out and make their own adventures as I once did.
We stress that parents are responsible for their children however we encourage a sense of adventure. I let my kids run off and play within the main area of the Moot site and under adult supervision on the massive expanse of the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr.
There are plenty of woods, dunes, trees and buildings to explore in the area around the Moot to satisfy the sense of adventure in any kid.
There are workshops specifically for the kids and other workshops where they learn alongside adults. Kids are encouraged to attend the Starter Course we run for anyone new to bushcraft or looking to work on their basic skills.
These basic skills include learning about knots, fire lighting, carving and safely using a saw (to name just a few). Wherever possible I like to get the kids learning these skills alongside their parents so that they can work together later as a family. Kids under 16 are allowed to use knives and saws however they must be under the supervision of an adult when they are using them or carrying them.
Even in this digital age of the xBox and the Playstation kids are always attracted to sticks, be that the Atlatl, bows or staffs. I like to think that the classes we teach kids bring some of that make believe digital world to life without any of the violence or gore. We always teach the kids to treat these tools with respect and only to use them when permitted.
My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival has been coming to the Moot for a number of years now. Fraser is always keen to teach kids in his classes. Some of his courses include campfire baking, net making, coastal foraging and survival training.
One thing I love about the Moot is that it is situated on sand dunes that have over the years become a woodland. This makes for an amazing place to launch yourself of heights or climb trees. Natures own playground you could say.
There are lots of activities aimed primarily at the kids from treasure hunts with our resident Pirates under the leadership of Cap’n Badger, to craft courses and games.
One of the games I run from time to time is a stalking game. Below you can see the kids trying to leopard crawl up to get some sticks without being soaked. This is a great game to teach kids all about their senses and in particular about staying quiet in order to see more wildlife around them.
For many a year now we have had story telling sessions around the fire of an evening for the kids (and adults too). Womble is a great story teller and keeps the kids captivated with his interactive stories.
The Moot organiser is Tony Bristow and depending on the dates of the Moot his birthday sometimes falls during it. It usually is a time to bake a cake and dish it out. Needless to say Tony gets a little piece however there are many hungry little ones looking for their share 🙂
The Moot is for kids of all ages be that young at heart (yes I mean you Spikey) or taking their first steps out in the adventure of life. My kids love coming along to see their ‘Moot friends’ and I hope they will continue to do so for years to come.
Looking at the BCUK forum I see that there is talk already about organising activities for the kids for next year.
A big part of any Moot is food and at the BCUK Bushmoot it comes in all forms.
Looking back over the pictures I have taken I was quite staggered at the range of food you can find at the Moot. I cannot profess to being any sort of cook (I prefer to build cooking constructions) however I appreciate good food when I see and smell it.
Many years ago at the Moot I would help out with teaching how to butcher rabbits and pigeons so that they were ready for the pot. Many of the instructors at the Moot will do these classes and each year you are bound to find a class going on somewhere preparing some meat stuffs for the pot.
I leave the butchering of Deer and such like to some of the members more competent in this field though I could quite happily run a class if I had to.
Up until a few years ago at every Moot we had a Hangi – an underground oven. A large pit would be dug in the sand and it would be lined with non porous stones (to avoid stones exploding). A large fire would be lit above it and kept going for a few hours.
Once the fire died down pre-prepared food parcels would be placed on the hot stones and covered in sand and hessian to slowly cook.
This is a great group cooking method and we had many a fine meal out of the Hangi
The Hangi has not been run for a few years as it has been superceded by Ponnassing. We try to buy in some salmon or other similar large fish and cook them as you see below over an open fire.
In the picture below at the top right you can see some Dutch Ovens that Neil was using to cook some food. Neil creates such an intense fire that the pots with regular turning can be used as cooking vessels without being on the actual embers at all.
The Ponnassing did not happen this year because of difficulties in getting fish however I hope it will be back on the menu next year. All the fish when it is cooked is added to the group meal.
About five years ago we introduced to the group meal some Dutch Oven food. Many of the members of the Moot cook a meal in a Dutch Oven (or similar type of pot) and bring it along to the group meal. Each dish is clearly marked with its ingredients so we do not get any allergy issues.
The queue for this meal is massive with everyone looking to get a taste of something new. I am always amazed at what people can produce over an open fire – a real banquet is produced each year.
Baking is something I love to do around the campfire. At the Moot it happens all over the place.
The baking classes can be over subscribed so we usually have a number of instructors running classes. Everything is covered from simple twizzle stick bread, dampers, loaves, rolls and even cakes (cheers Ian Woodham for the cakes).
I love the look on someone’s face when they open up a pot and look upon their first loaf baked over an open fire – about as magical as when you create your first flame from a bowdrill. My friend David Willis (Bushcraft with David Willis) ran the class you can see in the picture below and it was enjoyed immensely by everyone.
As I said I do not do much cooking at the Moot and that is because I am rather spoiled by certain friends. For example my friend Fraser Christian (Coastal Survival) is a top rate chef and loves to cook.
Fraser likes to forage on land and sea for his food and then to cook rather amazing meals. I have no wish to upset that routine so I am happy to help out in the gathering and cooking process with the ultimate aim of getting a fantastic meal.
For many years at the Moot I would come along on my own and so would keep my own cooking fairly simple (whenever I could not cadge a meal off someone else). Over the last couple of years my family have started to come along so I have to start to think about cooking a bit more.
I am not bad at a good breakfast however thankfully my wife Alison is an excellent cook so I am not stretched too far 🙂
Looking at my pictures I came across these ones from my friend Mark Oriel who is a butcher by trade. One year he managed to spit roast a whole pig which went down a treat with everyone.
He also ran an excellent class building a smocker in the woods so as to preserve different meats.
One thing I have learned coming to the Moot is that Bushcrafters do not generally tend to go hungry – quite the opposite could be said in truth.
To make all this happen you need people with different skills. We come together and share these skills to make some truly memorable meals in what many others may say is an inhospitable environment – we just call it home.
There are many other classes going on in terms of cooking and foraging so the best way to see what is on offer is to come along to the Moot. Next year it will be at the beginning of August on the coast at Merthyr Mawr in South Wales.
I have been going to the Gathering so long now that I feel part of the furniture (I did miss the very first one) but I would not miss it for the world.
Work kept me busy this year so I did not get down to West Knoyle until the Friday so the guys had set everything up before I arrived. I also met Danny’s wife Lorna for the first time this year.
The Friday for me was a relaxed affair setting up my tent and catching up with old friends. That evening found us all relaxing to the music and light show from the band area.
Throughout the whole weekend we would spend time weaving a willow trap for catching crabs and lobsters. This was harder than it looked and I must admit that Danny did the majority of the weaving.
Last year Fraser had a cold smoker set up on his stand and this year he decided on setting up a hot smoker made out of a cardboard box.
It is called a hot smoker as the small smudge fire that generates the smoke is inside the box as opposed to the cold smoker that has the smudge fire located outside of the box.
Due to an algal bloom along the Sputh West coast of the UK we could not get fish for smoking however Fraser did get some delicious cockles from Scotland that he smoked. After smoking the cockles Fraser explained how he further preserved them using either oils or vinegar.
The class he ran from the stand was well attended and I did not manage to get a taste of the cockles before they were all eaten by an appreciative audience.
Being the Coastal Survival stand we spent time demonstrating net making and Fraser managed to get himself filmed by what looked like a very professional looking film maker. I do not know who he was but he did look the part and Fraser being a bit of an extrovert loved it.
The whole weekend was very busy however I did manage to get out and see the rest of the Gathering a few times.
Across from us I found Jason demonstrating his bow drill skills and getting the kids to join in with him. It was also great to catch up with Pablo, JP, Hannah and Richard from the Woodlife Trails team across the way from our stand.
I had a great chat with Jon Mac (of Spooncarvingfirsteps fame) and was really chuffed to be allowed to handle many of the new knives he and Chris Grant are jointly working on. Jon has since gotten married since I spoke with him to Sarah so I want to extend my congratulations to them both now.
While I was on the stand my friend David Willis asked if I could take some pictures of his baking class. David had a busy time demonstrating and teaching folk to bake bread over an open fire. The good thing about being his photographer was that I got to test all the bread.
Saturday night was another night of great music and catching up with friends and the light show was again very impressive.
I spent quite a bit of time taking many pictures of the flames of our fire and was rewarded with these cracking Fire Faces. I can see one howler in the left hand picture and at least three faces in the right hand picture.
How many can you see?
Later that evening I spent some time with Martin Burkinshaw learning the art of low light level photography. Martin gave me some great tips and let me try out his tripod to capture the picture of the Milky Way you can see below.
Sunday found me catching up with our friends Rich and Dave. Rich had recently broken his wrist however that did not stop him getting out and about, though he did take a bit of flak for his nice new black armband.
I spotted some movement on the lake on the Sunday afternoon and managed to get these great snaps of this father and son combo out for a cruise on their newly crafted coracle.
I did not get out to see as much of the Gathering as I did last year when I managed to film much of it however I had a great time teaching lots of kids how to make fishing spears and chatting with our neighbours Sonni and Angela.
This year has also been a good year for Fraser’s book Eat the Beach as we managed to sell quite a few copies for him over the weekend.
To finish up we got given a lovely Lemon Drizzle cake for free by the kitchen staff at the Gathering and somehow it ended up as a birthday cake for our own Stephen Herries. I have no idea how old he is but he was happy anyway :-).
Another year over for the Wilderness Gathering however I hope it is nowhere near my last one.
The Easter holidays were fast approaching and the question in our household was – where should we go? A camping trip was asked for but also a bit of seaside fun on the side.
The answer was not difficult as my good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival had been asking when we would come down to visit him in Dorset. Fraser lives off grid and runs excellent courses on the coast – All the boxes were ticked so off we went.
I have written before about the food that Fraser collects and cooks up and this time there was no change in that high standard (Memorable Meals). My kids Catherine and Finlay had to be very careful in who they said was the best cook around the campfire – just for the record I was not included in any of that praise 😉
I did though collect the Sea Kale you can see in the top left picture below (the purple coloured stems).
Last time I was at Fraser’s the weather was wet and windy, this time even though it was still windy it was dry (and warm when not in the wind). The sun was out and the skies were clear leading to cold but pleasant evenings around the campfire. Stories were told, woodland TV was watched, marshmallows were toasted and a relaxing time was had.
Catherine and Finlay had great fun all weekend – they made their own secret den (into which I was eventually initiated) and had great fun searching for lots of Easter eggs.
When I was a kid it was expected that I’d go out in the morning, return for lunch and dinner but otherwise do my own thing. Even though we live in a village my kids do not normally have that freedom but here at Fraser’s they experienced so much more freedom: off they went exploring the woods and every now and then they popped back to the main campsite to have cuts, bruises and empty tummies attended to.
As usual I was on the lookout for some spring flowers and find them I did.
I found my first bluebell of the year at Fraser’s as well as plenty of primroses (is it just me or has this year been particularly good for primroses?). Also in evidence were plenty of early dog violets and lesser celandine.
One of the tick boxes for the weekend was time at the sea. I do not do beach holidays where you just sit about tanning yourself (my Scottish skin doesn’t like the sun too much) but like to spend time on the coast exploring and being generally active.
Our first day at the sea was sunny but very windy. The kids had their wellies on but were soon in paddling. We tried to fly a kite but it was just too windy: after nearly hitting a few people I put it away (quite grumpily) and we headed inland to find some of the best fish and chips I have ever had (washed down with a nice pint).
The kids learned about wild garlic and went out on their own to collect a massive basket full. Finlay and Fraser had fun practising some woodland ninja techniques (they are both competitive types so this was fun to watch).
Fraser had recently found a deer that had been killed by a car and he had the hide loosely stretched as he de-fleshed it
Our accommodation for the weekend was in hammocks. My kids are very happy now to sleep in them. I set up four under individual tarps. Each hammock had an under blanket attached to keep out the cold air, a roll mat, sleeping bag and top quilt.
Everyone was as snug as a bug in a rug you could say.
A tradition we have these days is for Alison to get a cup of coffee in the morning while still in her hammock – I failed with this on the first morning I am afraid but tried to make up for it on the other mornings.
Our second day on the beach was spent playing with a frisbee, watching the fishermen cast and discovering and building little beach henges.
We had a lovely stroll along the coast foraging for sea kale and some scurvy grass. I found plenty of sea kale but no scurvy grass (as expected, comments were made about my poor foraging skills).
We found a nice beachside café to rest up in and a lovely grassy slope for the kids to roll down – perfect.
On the last evening before we left I asked the kids if they wanted to shoot some arrows. Only Finlay took me up on my offer and off we went. Finlay is seven and has shot before with his own smaller bow or with me on the larger holmegaard you can see here. This was the first time he had shot the holmegaard on his own. It is a full-sized bow but not heavy in terms of draw poundage.
I was impressed with his stance and his ability to shoot with so large a bow and equally chuffed to capture this great shot of the arrow in flight.
So all the boxes were ticked and we took a group picture of the happy campers before heading off.
Fraser was a great host and we were all sad to leave, however we will be back again if Fraser will have us.
As well as taking my usual mass of pictures I put together this short video of the weekend.
I am told that if you keep doing the same thing each year, such as going to the same holiday destination, that time will seem to speed up as you get older. I agree with that to a point but as far as I’m concerned it’s what you get up to at your favourite destination that’s important.
I missed the very first Wilderness Gathering but have been to all the rest since and to combat that sense of time passing quickly I make sure I do something new each time. This year my focus was on the art of filming (there are five short videos in this blog post).
For the third year I helped out Fraser from Coastal Survival, mostly in the role of cameraman for him (filming has been my ‘learn’ for this year) but occasionally doing some one-to-one instruction on making fishing spears and nets. Also in the team was fellow Scot, Steve, and new to the team Leo and Max.
The Gathering is also a time for me to catch up with old friends, such as the selection pictured here: Phil from Badger Bushcraft, JP and Pablo from Woodlife Trails, Pete, Martin (in the Billy the Bushcrafter mask) and Mark from G-Outdoors (there are quite a few more friends pictured later). Also it is a great time to meet new friends such as Phil’s partner Charlie.
Over all the days there were plenty of workshops going on but due to helping Fraser out I did not spend any great time at one workshop. In a way it was great to flit from class to class and grab a snapshot from as many as I could. Below you can see Will Lord expertly knapping, Steve and Paul from the Bushcraft Magazine giving some great demonstrations on the stage and I even managed to catch one axe in flight.
One of the things I like about the Wilderness Gathering is all the art you can see in all its different forms, from the grass mat made in a day to the beautifully crafted kayak made by Patrick from Backwoods Bushcraft.
Once each day’s crowds had gone home it was time to tidy up, cook tea and relax. The stage was well attended this year with different acts and it was good to hear the music from most of the site.
I slept up in the main car park in my hammock suspended from my own home-made freestanding hammock stand. I packed it this year as I turned up a bit late and knew there would be no space left in the woods.
As usual I brought one of my Scandinavian candles along and managed to get one picture showing a couple of great fire faces.
On my wanderings I found that if you were patient enough you could get some great shots of some of the best bushcrafters and woodland workers practising their different arts. In these pictures you can see Peter Whiteman carving a yew bow, Ben Orford effortlessly creating a spatula, Jason Sears perfectly demonstrating the art of making cordage by rolling it on his thigh (I have never mastered this) and Jon Mac showing the art of chip carving.
Fast becoming a regular feature at the Wilderness Gathering is the Bowdrill World Championship challenge and this year it was run by Phil Brown of Badger Bushcraft. The challenge is to light a fire using a bowdrill set as quickly as possible. I have entered this on a number of occasions. My quickest time ever from start to flame is 1 minute 13 seconds, but sadly not this year. The best I could do after four attemps was 2 minutes and 6 seconds. JP won this year with a time of 1 minute 20 seconds.
Running alongside all this competitive spirit was Jason teaching people all weekend how to use the bowdrill.
So the main job for me on the weekend was to take pictures of all the activities Coastal Survival got up to. I was very happy to do this as Fraser is a good friend of mine and I am continually learning from him.
The video goes into more detail on how you make one of these very simple but effective spears for fishing.
Fraser has spent time over the winter and summer developing his own knife for use in the coastal environment. It is still in its development stage but I was very impressed with its versatility and particularly liked the rubber handled model.
I put together a short video showing it in use over the weekend.
As usual the net-making classes proved very popular and Fraser and the rest of the crew ran a number of classes on making a pocket gill net and a full-sized gill net. The kids particularly liked making the pocket version.
The video is not a step by step guide to making nets but it will give you a feel for their construction.
A very popular class that Fraser ran was his cold smoker class. The device was set up in front of the stand all weekend and we smoked some wood pigeon in it.
Have a look at the video and see how easy it would be to make one for yourself.
A few other snippets from the weekend: Theresa Kamper in the top right picture (below) is an expert in a lot of primitive crafts but particularly in different types of leather that primitive cultures would have used and is currently finalising her PhD in the subject.
All in all I had a great weekend working hard and catching up with old friends like Sonni and Angela from Beneath the Stars Leatherworking and Dave Budd our resident expert blacksmith, and trying out new skills like dowsing with Hans.
At some stage Fraser said he had been given a canoe to take away as a gift. I initially thought he was pulling my leg but it turned out to be true. I had to turn around his front passenger seat so that we could get the thing into his van but after a bit of huffing and puffing we managed it.
I had a fantastic weekend at the Wilderness Gathering and I was particularly happy that the filming worked out so well.
Here is my last video, with shots from as much of the weekend as I could cram in.
I came back from holiday in France on Saturday the 2nd of August, unpacked then re-packed and headed out with my two kids Catherine and Finlay to Merthyr Mawr in South Wales on Sunday the 3rd of August. Unluckily I had been beaten to my usual camping spot at the Moot by another family but managed to set up nearby with my tipi, kitchen tarp and my hammock stand.
I found a fire guard lying in the sand and after digging it out used it around my fire. It was quite a well engineered piece and I could not understand why anyone would have discarded it.
The first few days were mostly spent chilling out with the kids before eventually getting around to putting up the workshop tarps and parachutes. This was the first year I had taken my children to the Moot and they took to it like ducks to water.
For the first few evenings we had dinner with Fraser from Coastal Survival over in the sand dune area so preparing the evening meal was never an issue for me, thankfully.
I could not resist taking this shot of Stu when he arrived in a taxi and we unloaded his supplies for the Naughty Corner.
It was at this time that my daughter started feeling unwell with a high temperature and feeling very faint. For the next few days she would sleep a lot in her hammock and eat very little. I thought it was just one of those 24 hour bugs but it turned out to be quite a nasty virus and really laid her out.
This is the first of five videos I took while at the Moot and shows the set up and some of the first courses that were held.
It was good to see all the new growth on Drew’s tree that had been planted last year. People have been leaving little tributes on the tree over the year which I thought made it look very special. While Catherine was feeling a little better she would come out and play with the other kids while she could. She never met Drew but I am sure that they would have gotten on with him like a house on fire. Drew loved to run role-playing games with the kids at the Moot and Catherine and Finlay love these types of games.
The first course I was involved in was the Starter Course. I have written a separate post on this course on the BCUK forum and you can read about it here – Bushmoot Starter Course. This is the second year we have run the course and it is starting to prove very popular now.
Over three of the nights I was at the Moot there was some great entertainment. On one night some of the lads from the Naughty Corner came down to the main sandpit area and had a great jamming session. Apart from filming them I recorded a couple of their tracks and then used them as backing music for my second video. Tony, the organizer of the Moot, even got himself some birthday cake on the night.
The other two nights we were treated to an amazing fire display by Emily, Liesl and Naomi Cook. These three young ladies are very talented and brave.
Here is the video of Emily, Liesl and Naomi doing their fire show on both nights.
One of the things that has struck me about the Moot is all the different art that you can experience there. Art in the form of music from Stephen Crump (recorded for my third video), Welsh love spoons from Dean Allen, Woodland Plant Art from Keith Beaney and art in the form of iron from Dave Budd.
Needless to say Spikey and Badger managed their own version of art up in the Naughty Corner with the use of torches and some evening spirit.
The main Moot kicked off with lots and lots of courses. I have posted pictures from just a small selection of what was on offer: making the pizza oven with Tim, mini bows with Wayne, water purifying with Richard, net needle making with Steve and spoon carving with Dean. There were lots more courses going on but I did not get to see them as I was on the Starter course all day. My wife Alison arrived on the first day of the main Moot and took a lot of the pictures of the day.
It was at this stage that we decided that Catherine was best off at home, so instead of staying, Alison took her back that day with Finlay.
The next video is of many of the first day’s workshops, with backing music from the Naughty Corner band.
The Sunday was another day of workshops and I tried to get around to as many as possible. These included knife sharpening with Chris, making tapestries with Shelly, tracking with Perry McGee of the National Tracking School and making a geodesic dome with Tony. There were plenty of other courses going on such as plant walks with Robin Harford and willow basket trap making with Fraser from Coastal Survival.
My video of the day has as its soundtrack Stephen Crump playing a tin whistle on a wet afternoon.
Needless to say I spent a lot of my time down on the archery range shooting arrows or atlatl darts. With all the bows Wayne had been helping people to make we were kept very busy.
I made a short but very funny video of Mad Dave and Cap’n Badger helping me to clear the range of a hung up tree.
At this stage I had not run any bowdrill classes but I had done a couple of one-to-one sessions. My neighbour Matt Baillie went off after one of the sessions and persevered until he got the bowdrill cracked – well done mate.
I also did a quick session on the Egyptian bowdrill method and made a short film of it.
The Monday was a bit of a damp affair but the Traders’ Day went well and I managed to try some more of Richard’s excellent elderberry wine.
I managed to get a little bit of food at the group meal before it was devoured. This is becoming a bit of a tradition now since we stopped doing the hangis, and it is amazing to see all the different dishes that can be cooked over an open fire in a Dutch Oven.
My last video of the Moot is of the Traders’ Day and the group meal.
I spoke with Alison that evening and decided to head home in the morning as Catherine was still very poorly. I got home by lunchtime on Tuesday and thankfully over the next few days Catherine started to recover and was soon back to her usual self.
I really enjoyed the half of the Moot I attended this year and my kids are desperate to come back again next year. There were another couple of days of workshops that I missed but I think this post will give you a feel for how the Bushmoot works.
I hopefully will see you all again next year and meet a few new faces as well.
I made two trips to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland this May: the first time to attend my gran’s funeral and the second time to spend a week there on holiday with my family. The island has beautiful beaches, rocky coves, stunning moorland but also some of the most useful and beautiful plants a bushcrafter or forager would want.
I was initially struck by some of the flowers I spotted in my sister Tina’s garden. The bluebell is very common where I live now in the south of England but not so much on the island. I have used bluebell sap to help attach feathers to arrow shafts as flights (seemingly a common practice up until the Middle Ages) and I have heard that the Elizabethans used it as an early paper glue.
The redcampion was growing right beside the bluebells and this again has many uses historically. The roots contain saponins which are great for making a form of soap. Great for washing clothes but not for the fish – the soap was also used in the past to paralyse fish so making for easier fishing.
The beautiful pink flower in the top picture is dame’srocket and the lower flower is commonscurvygrass. Both of these are high in vitamin C and both were used in the past to ward off scurvy.
Dame’s rocket is a member of the mustard family and the flowers are edible, making them great for salads. The common scurvy grass is also edible as well as being medicinally important and the leaves were often used in sandwiches prior to the popularity of watercress.
The lady’ssmock (or cuckoo flower) can make for a majestic and striking picture. Sometimes I see this flower growing and think it looks lonely; it really is one of these taller flowers that can withstand some pretty harsh environments.
This was another edible high in vitamin C that was used historically to treat scurvy but also makes for a spicy addition to a salad. The flower in folklore has received a lot of bad press – it has been associated with bad luck and the evil eye so was thought to be best left outside the house (we are a superstitious lot, us Scots).
Who would have thought that this delicate little plant called thrift could be so tough and beautiful at the same time? The stalks of this tiny plant were commonly used in the past for basketry. On an island where plants do not grow very tall due to the wind basket weavers would use whatever material came to hand and the stalks of thrift, although short, are strong and flexible.
Up to the 1700s a tonic called arby was made out of the root of this plant in Scotland as a cure for TB but the best use I have heard of for thrift was as a hangover cure for sailors (according to Charles Coates, The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland).
The three flowers below are very common on the island as well as much of the rest of the UK. We found the primroses on Lewis still in full bloom in May: they make for a good snack on the go, though I have read in Paul Kirtley’s blog that they can cause contact dermatitis in some people.
The hogweed stalk you can see in the bottom left is from last year’s growth and I can remember as a lad using the hollow stalks as pea shooters. I have seen people cook the young leaves and shoots but cannot recall trying any. I have, though, had the seeds in various stews over the years.
The final picture is of Wordsworth’s favourite flower – not the daffodil, but grianne (Gaelic for the Sun), known to him and most of us as lesser celandine. This is an edible plant if handled properly, highly toxic if not. It’s best to cook it well and only use the youngest of leaves. Again this is a plant that has good levels of vitamin C and is quite astringent, making it medicinally important. However the sap in its raw format is very corrosive and has been used to remove warts; there are stories in Scotland of beggars using the juice of the plant to create sores in order to gain more sympathy and money. A useful plant in the right hands, but dangerous in the wrong hands.
The island seems to be suffering an infestation of horsetail (top picture on either side of the nettle). This plant is a pain for gardeners but a bushcrafter’s friend. I have used horsetail as a pot scrubber many a time, it has a rough texture due to the high content of silica in it. The plant also makes an excellent natural sandpaper.
I spent a couple of days in the grounds of Lews Castle grounds in Stornoway and came across some useful trees there (the sheltered grounds are the only place on the island where there is a large concentration of deciduous trees). The leaf and flower in the bottom picture is from the whitebeam and it produces an excellent smooth wood ideal for tool handles and cogs before the widespread use of iron. My friend PhilBrown from Badger Bushcraft produces an excellent jelly from the tree’s fruit.
Two other useful trees I came across in the grounds were the wych elm (scotch elm) and what I think what was a white elm. Both are real bushcrafters’ friends as the inner bark makes a great cordage. The word wych is an Old English word meaning pliable and this pilability also extends into the wood as well; these trees make for really excellent bows. A good blog on this can also be found on the Badger Bushcraft site – Wych Elm or Scotch Elm Cordage From Dried Bark.
I was visiting my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival earlier in the year and he showed me how you can squeeze the juice out of the marsh horsetail (bottom left) and the combination of fluid and silica make for an excellent handwash (great for helping small cuts heal quickly as well).
On the right is a young silverweed plant. This is the plant that prior to the introduction of potatoes (and in times of the potato blights) was a staple food on the islands. This plant is known as Seachdamh Aran (the Seventh Bread). It was thought that a man could sustain himself for a year on a patch of silverweed the square of his own height. In North Uist, during the clearances, homeless folk were said to be living on shellfish and on bread made from dried silverweed roots. A good document on this can be found on the BBC website.
This is one of my favourite pictures was this one. I loved the waterfall and the shelf with the scurvy grass happily growing under it.
It was magical to lie there and watch the snow falling in the perfectly quiet woodland.
It was on a wet weekend back in November 2012 I first went to visit my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival at his woodland in Dorset. I was reviewing my photos as I will be visiting him again soon and thought that the ones I had taken on this weekend warranted their own post even though the trip was over a year and a half ago.
The snow you see in the picture above did not arrive until the Sunday but I did have a great time even with all the rain and mud before the snow arrived. The weekend was a relaxed affair with no formal teaching planned, just a get together to relax and explore the beautiful Dorset hills.
The gang below included (from the left) Steve, Rich, Fraser, Si and myself.
We did a little bit of work on the weekend but only a little. That work included sawing up these logs for classroom seats and pitching properly what was one massive tarp.
After sorting my hammock out, Friday night was spent sitting around the fire chatting and watching our dinner slowly roasting over the fire. You may have noticed with previous posts about Fraser that food seems to play a central role in everything we do 🙂
After breakfast Fraser prepared a side of pork and set it up on a stake to slowly be smoked by the side of the fire. The pork remained there most of the day, gradually absorbing the woodsmoke.
After a few brews we struck out to do a bit of foraging and tracking. I think I am a better forager than tracker and may one day have to find the time to study tracking under the likes of JP and Pablo from Woodlifetrails. In the bottom picture we found what looked like badger tracks in some soft ground.
On the left you can see the claw marks made as the animals scrambled up the bank and on the right a possible badger paw print. The picture at the bottom right was scat from a fox, I think. It was full of yellow maize/corn so the animal may have visited a farm recently.
Another sign we came across was grazing by deer. The top two pictures show the tell-tale deer nibble, where the bite is not clean. Fraser found these woodpecker feathers in a pile and they still had all the points on the quills suggesting a kill by a bird of prey. I found all the nutshells in the bottom right picture and it looks like a dormouse or something similar has been nibbling away.
We foraged quite a bit over the weekend and even though this was November there was still a lot to be found. The water mint was destined for the teapot and the large burdock root was chopped up and added in with the other vegetables for the evening meal. The bottom left picture shows hogweed seeds which Fraser collected for using later.
After all this hard work of spotting signs and foraging we relaxed by wandering around the woods doing some stump shooting.
Fraser has a large paella pan that he wanted to use for cooking that night. It was a tad blackened from previous use so he used mud and small pices of gravel as a scouring agent to get it clean. It worked a treat as you can see in the other pictures. After the cleaned pan was rinsed with fresh water he heated it up and put the side of pork on it to start cooking.
The fork you can see being made on the left was actually for using as a stand for the pork to be smoked during the day. Once the pork was cooking they made excellent tongs for mixing all the vegetables. Si had flattened a piece of one of the logs for me to use as a chopping block for cutting all the vegetables up on. As he had just stripped the bark and the wood was still green it was a very clean surface to work on.
While all the food was cooking we made a fresh herb tea. The ingredients included sloes, haws, ground ivy, water mint and mullein. Very tasty it was too.
Fraser as usual managed to make a banquet (well, what I call a banquet) in very cramped conditions with minimal tools and taught us all along the way.
During the day we came across some live mullein (also known as Aaron’s Rod) that had not produced a stalk as yet but we also found one mullein that had grown a stalk and had died. The stalk was dry so Fraser took the time to release the seeds and spread them around to promote future growth. I like to use this stalk as a hand drill for making fire by friction but another use for this plant in the past was making torches. The seed head would be dipped in fat, grease or tallow and then set alight. For speed we stuck with some vegetable oil and soon had a good flame going.
The picture on the left shows how much light the candle actually throws out. I took the picture on the right with the focus of the camera directly on the flames. When you do this you can get some interesting shapes. I see a climbing fox in this one. It has a long tail, distinctive legs and you can just make out its snout – and I am not talking about Fraser’s face in the background 😉
One of my favourite pictures of this candle is the one that produced Pegasus the winged horse.
While I was compiling the pictures for this post I was struck by these two pictures. I have inverted the right hand one and call it the Crimson Climber. The pictures were taken one after each other. You can clearly see the figure on the left about to start climbing but look closely and you will see on the right with two small arms and a hunched back a figure at the top of the flame.
Sunday morning was a relaxed affair at first. I could hear the pitter patter of rain on my tarp as I lay there but it all went quiet soon after. As I turned in my hammock I glanced out and saw the view you see in the top picture. It was magical to lie there and watch the snow falling in the perfectly quiet woodland. This magic did not last long as the snow started to accumulate my tarp started to droop. I had set it up on a shallow angle more suited for the good view rather than to shed lots of snow.
So it was time to get up and over the next half hour I had to keep clearing snow from all the tarps to stop them collapsing. Steve eventually got up wandering what all the racket was about.
Breakfast was soon on the go and it was time to pack up to head home.
A few pictures to finish on. It was a great weekend chilling out in the company of some great guys.
I am hoping to pop down and visit Fraser in the next couple of weeks and see what changes he has done with his site.
I was due to run a DofE course for the Sea Cadets in Brecon last August but sadly it got cancelled at the last moment due to a lack of funding. Thankfully though my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival heard about that and invited me down to a Coastal Hunter Gatherer course he was running that weekend.
This was an excellent course, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone wanting to know how to live comfortably on the coast. It is not an easy course as you really have to work for your dinner but well worth the time.
Fraser runs the course on the Dorset coast and in the nearby local woodlands. I really liked the fact we could forage and fish on the coast during the day but retire to the woods in the evening. Kind of reassuring for an old bushcrafter like me.
The spot I managed to secure for my hammock turned out to have a magical view out over the Dorset countryside. There are not many spots suitable for hammocks but Fraser does have a large army tent that some of the students slept in.
After breakfast we headed out for the coast. On the walk out to the rock pools Fraser explained how to watch the local sea birds to spot the locations of possible shoals of fish.
I had missed the first day of the course when they had put out nets and lobster pots in the rock pools (we were in an area well away from any local fishery nursery area, the closed season had passed and all the nets used were of a legal size).
Overnight about 9 or 10 fish (a mixture of Wrasse, Mullet and Sea Bass) had been caught in the two nets they had put out. I have put a link to two videos at the end of the post showing the fish being pulled from the nets.
Fraser then showed all the students how to de-scale, gut and bleed out all the fish we had caught. I don’t think he was too impressed with our efforts at de-scaling the fish 🙂
We experimented with trying to catch shrimps by throwing the offal from the fish into a rock pool to attract them. What really got them interested though was the blood on our hands. If you were quick you could just flick them out of the water.
I was taught previously by Fraser just to bite the back of the shrimp for a quick snack. Not for the squeamish but tasty all the same.
Jennifer had fun out in the sea collecting sea weed for the pot. We had fun just sitting there watching her as on quite a few occasions she nearly went under. Sea weed is best harvested from the sea as you will get less sand trapped in the leaves, making the preparation process for the pot later easier to do.
The limpets were harvested using a stone: walk quietly, a quick smack and they are ready to pick up. These limpets were cooked over an open fire in their shells, we ate some straight from the shell and some we chopped some up and added to a stew.
We caught no lobsters in the lobster pots but plenty of crabs. These were used to make a stock for dinner later that night.
I think all the guys were pretty happy with the catch on the day.
Once they were all bagged up it was back to camp to prepare dinner.
The crabs were simply mashed up and made into a stock. Not too sure of the exact process here but I am sure Fraser would explain it all if you contacted him, or take a look at his book Eat the Beach which has lots of information on catching and cooking food from the seashore.
We prepared the sea bass and wrapped it in some burdock leaves. This was cooked directly on the embers of the fire and came out very moist and succulent.
Fraser taught everyone how to properly fillet the other fish and we cooked some of them directly on the grill. The fillets we did not use were hung above the fire to dry out and take on some of the flavours of the wood smoke. We ate these smoked fillets the next morning for breakfast.
In between all this cooking I managed to take some time out and do a little bit of carving. This is my relaxation therapy.
A couple of my plates of food from the weekend. Fraser supplied a few of the basics like noodles and potatoes but everything else was foraged. The spoon in the top picture was also a little carving from the weekend.
On one of the walks we collected some herbs for tea. This is a morning brew of Ground Ivy, Bramble and Wild Mint. Very refreshing.
There were also foraging and net making classes. I thoroughly enjoyed both these classes and learnt new stuff in both.
Each student gets shown how to make their own gill net which they can take home with them.
On the last day we went down to Chesil beach. We took a stroll along the land nextbeach looking and identifying all the edible and medicinal plants we could find. We found plenty of sea kale and horseradish (not in this picture) at that time of year.
As soon as we got to the beach we set up the little shelter and Fraser taught us how he sets up his rods for beach casting.
Then it was down to the shoreline to see how it should be done and then have a go ourselves.
No fish were caught that day but everyone had fun casting out past the surf.
I filmed three videos on my iPad while I was on the course, two bringing in the nets and one on the initial prepping of the fish:
Long Line Net Gather 1
Long Line Net Gather 2
Initial fish preparation
I was very chuffed to be invited along to Fraser’s Coastal Hunter Gather course and will be looking to attending again in the future.
Fraser is bringing out a video tutorial course this year so I looking forward to seeing how that develops as coastal survival is a subject I want to explore more now.
Last August found my daughter Catherine and I making our way down to the Wilderness Gathering. Located near West Knoyle in the beautiful South Wiltshire countryside is the Bush Farm Bison Centre. I have been visiting this gathering for the last ten years.
The Wilderness Gathering has a commercial feel to it though it still maintains its bushcraft origins. I love the fact that it is so close to where I live, there are organised classes all day for my daughter, I get to meet lots of old friends, make new ones, learn new stuff and get some more kit. For the last two years I have been helping out Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival as he is a good friend of mine (I have added all the links at the end of the post). This helps me out a lot as I get a chance to learn lots of new bushcraft skills I can use with my Sea cadets.
The first thing Catherine headed for on arrival was the farm shop to get some ice cream but she soon got into the bushcrafting spirit, particularly keen on doing a bit of carving (this still scares me).
There are plenty of stalls to visit such as the Bushcraft Magazine, to chat at, to buy from and to get some great ideas.
Fraser runs courses for the Coyote Kids Club such as making shrimp traps made out of recycled materials.
Like all the other visits I meet new friends such as the talented carver Jon Macof Spoon Carving First Steps and good friends of old such as Phil and Ben Brown of Badger Bushcraft.
The boys from Silchester – Mark Beer (Lupus), Nick Currie and from the Bushcraft Magazine Paul Bradley. I have learnt a lot from these guys over the years. Always good to catch up, chat and share skills.
This year I helped Fraser run a course on making fishing spears and nets (well, took a lot of pictures really). The fish spears are easy to make and the net making was run as a Masterclass.
A very popular class Fraser ran was how to cold smoke a fish in a cardboard box. Due to the damp weather the smudge fire kept going out but after a few hours we managed to smoke the fish and it was added to an excellent stew.
My daughter Catherine always has a great time at the Gathering as there is plenty for her to do with the Coyote Kids while I am working.
As per usual the food is good with Fraser cooking. I was trying out a new set up here on my fire pit using racks set at different heights for cooking different foods.
No big meals this time as we were kept too busy with classes but excellent all the same.
Caught this shot in one of the many showers this year, thankfully though most people just shrugged the rain off and got on with things.
Over the road from our stand was my friend Jason Sears teaching some group bowdrill. Every time he got the sets out he always had a good audience as folk knew they could participate. Rain was no barrier to this bushcrafter when it came to lighting a fire.
Other neighbours included Ben Orford demonstrating great green woodworking skills and JP from Woodlife Trails expertly taking the visitors through all the steps of creating fire by friction.
I try and get Catherine involved in as many activities as possible. She jumped at the chance to be a Pump Monkey for Dave Budd while he created some knives. I also got a present from my friend Stephen Herries of a burnt-out log – he claims I stole it off him 😉 – which gave me a chance to get my flint adze out and do a bit of primitive carving. The log is a rather nice long bowl now.
Steve Kirk of the Bushcraft Magazine ran an Atlatl making class this year which proved very popular. I learnt this skill at the gathering 10 years ago and have taught it to hundreds of people since then. The shooting of these darts make for some great pictures.
I don’t know what Sarah (of Wilderness Spirit) thought when the Gimp appeared one afternoon – he is harmless really :-).
Catherine was very chuffed to meet her friend Molly again this year. I think that Catherine will be able to turn her hand to many things as she grows up based on these pictures.
At the end of the Gathering I had a great evening with the guys from the Tribe watching Billy the Bushcrafter (Catherine really) being set upon by Beccy’s little ferret.
Last but certainly not least is the pond in the centre of the farm. This is one of my favourite places, I have spent many a relaxed hour sitting beside it.
There is much more to the Wilderness Gathering than the few pictures I took last year so check out some of the links I have put below.
I am looking forward to this year’s Wilderness Gathering and catching up with everyone again.
This theme of ‘Memorable Meals’ is a subject that is very close to my tummy. To watch my wife Alison cooking a meal for me is an absolute joy but I have to accept that though she loves the outdoors and camping – bushcraft is not quite the same passion for her as it is for me. I do try to cook well for myself when Alison is not around but being of a military mind I usually end up tucking into a standard issue MOD rat pack.
Thankfully to help counter this laziness of mine I have a number of friends – both military and civilian – who happen to be excellent outdoor chefs. Looking at my picture library I was struck by all the pictures I had taken over the last couple of years of some fantastic meals I have eaten while bushcrafting.
One of these excellent chefs runs his own outdoor cookery school – Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival. Fraser is a qualified chef and expert forager who actually lives off the land and the sea. I have recently bought his superb book Eat the Beach on Kindle. As well as covering all the edibles on the shoreline it goes into detail on how to identify and cook plants found further inland.
I will try and explain what all the dishes were but I will mostly let the pictures speak for themselves. (I can’t remember all the ingredients.)
For me nothing beats sitting around a fire chatting and watching a great meal being produced. I usually end up with getting lumbered with cleaning the dishes but that is a fair price to pay I think.
It is always good to stop for a brew. I love my tea and coffee but a foraged brew tastes that much sweeter.
As well as Fraser, another expert chef and forager is Alan Smylie. Thankfully these two guys get along when it comes to cooking and foraging. They seem to complement each other somehow without any of the drama I have seen with co-chefs in the past.
A recurring theme in this post will be the Meat Feast pictures. Apologies to all the vegetarians reading this 🙂
As a forager it is always good to munch as you go along, and we are not just talking plants here – shrimps and fish eyes, anyone?
On trips with Fraser we catch quite a few crabs. They make an excellent stock.
Breakfast is something I tend to get left with so at least there is something I cooked here.
Fraser and Alan live off the land and they showed me an excellent way to cook sea bass parcelled up in the embers of a fire. This method of cooking ensures the fish stays very succulent.
I made sure not much remained of the bass.
Walk on the sea shore and you will see limpets everywhere. They do not take long to cook and are great on their own or added to a stew.
I think the patties were made up of the leftovers of a previous day’s meal.
All these meals included foraged ingredients.
Cooking rig experiment – pots set at different heights for boiling and simmering.
Some more protein.
I took this picture after Fraser had done a class on cold smoking mackerel in a cardboard box. After this we broke up the smoked mackerel and added it to a stew.
Before and after pictures.
In between classes a quick and easy meal is an omelette
The stove in the picture below is actually an old cutlery drainer and we were using pine cones as fuel.
Last of the Meat Feast pictures. I enjoyed every one of these roasts.
Omelette for breakfast this time………..
…..sometimes it can be fish, potatoes and eggs………..
…..but there are days when only a bacon buttie will do.
Even the cat eats well here.
I hope you enjoyed these foraged food and feasting pictures.
I am aiming to get back down to see Fraser again in the near future for some more fabulous bushcraft-style belly fuel.