Bushmoot 2017 – Brilliant

a magical two weeks

A ‘Brilliant Moot’ is how I would summarise this year’s Bushcraft UK Bushmoot. It was action packed from start to finish for me as I juggled my time between looking after my kids, running workshops and doing a lot of filming.

I will let the pictures and video do most of the talking so will keep the text to a minimum.

Bushmoot 2017

The first few days for us ‘Mods’ (forum moderators) were all about setting up the Bushmoot so that everything was in place for everyone arriving later in the week. We did not rush things as it was a holiday for us as well but over a few days the Bushmoot was soon set up.

Set up

There are some great places to camp at the Bushmoot which makes for stunning photography. The Mods’ corner is great to photograph on a sunny morning.

I have used the same camping spot for a number of years now and even though a year passes between each visit it feels as if I have never been away when I return.

Camp life

Early Workshops

There were a couple of early workshops this year – Open Fire Cooking with Neil and a 48hr Survival Course with Fraser from Coastal Survival. Both courses covered a lot of different areas so my photos are just a snapshot of their content – needless to say on both courses all the students eat well.

Early workshops

Videos

I put a short video together of this early part of the Bushmoot – including a scenario where my son pretends to chop my head off with an Ivy sword 🙂

Also a short video on the Lolli Stick Fire on Fraser’s course.

In amongst all these workshops and general setting up my kids took themselves off exploring. I went with them on one jaunt and they took me to the ‘House of Doom’ (as they referred to it). I think film companies use the site and they had left this massive Gothic barn – quite beautiful but eerie at the same time (the axe was for posing with only by the way).

Exploring

The Bushmoot is all about ‘Family’ as far as I am concerned – this family extends out to all my Bushmoot friends I see time and time again as I return each year.

Friends

Getting out of the woods one day with my friends Ian, Catherine and Liz (and assorted kids) we went Dune Diving. Merthyr Mawr sand dunes are the second highest dunes in Europe, apparently, and there is one dune in particular that the kids love.

Needless to say I joined the kids as they threw themselves down the dune – great fun even for a 50-year-old kid like me.

Dune riding

Core Day Workshops

I have no idea how many different workshops we ran this year and I only photographed or filmed a small number of them. We always start with a tool safety presentation (normally three different groups) before starting the main workshops.

Core days – part 1

Fire lighting in its many different forms is a staple of the Bushmoot and this year was no different – below are pictures from the bowdrill, the damp tinder and the flint and steel workshops.

Core days – part 2

Other workshops included Baking, Pottery, Rocket Stoves, the Starter Course, Basketry and Wood Spirits (to name just a few).

Core days – part 3

Watch the video to get a feel of the subjects we cover at the Bushmoot.

Bushmoot Life

Outside of all these workshops and background work life goes on at the Bushmoot – food I can tell you forms a big part of that life 🙂

I am no great chef (tend to prefer building Campfire Cooking Constructions) but can when needed put something together – thankfully though there are plenty of people around like my wife Alison willing to put together a good spread for the kids and myself. Highlights of the Bushmoot are the Group Meal and the Hot Chocolate evening.

All things food

A favourite of mine has always been the archery range. We had another great competition this year. The winners from last year (Marek and Louey) were also presented their made-to-measure bows from Wayne Jones of Forest Knights.

This year we also had a catapult competition run by Steve (Mesquite) Harral and a workshop from David Colter on the Pellet Bow. Around the site we had various smaller ranges for axe, spade and pin throwing.

Down on the range

The Naughty Corner

No Bushmoot would be complete without the Naughty Corner and I try to get up to it for an hour or two each evening. This year my friend from the Sea Cadets Alan Lewis joined me at the Bushmoot for the first time and as he is a chef found himself drawn to the pizza oven.

Phil and Magda as usual kept us well fed each evening and Cap’n Badger made sure we were all not too naughty 😉

The Naughty Corner

The Sand Pit

The evening socialising is not restricted to the Naughty Corner – usually for a couple of evenings lots of folk congregate under the big chute by the kids sandpit for a bit of a shindig.

We were supposed to have a band along one evening but for some reason they failed to show up – thankfully Marek and Gemma with some others started their own musical session that lasted well into the evening.

Sandpit evenings

The Main Chute

This is where we meet each day, talk about what will be happening, answer questions and celebrate people.

The Bushmoot is run by Tony and Shelly Bristow (along with us volunteer Mods) and as often happens the Bushmoot coincided with Tony’s birthday. We also remembered our dear friend Drew who passed away so tragically at a young age in 2013. We do this by giving each year an engraved Swiss Army Knife to the person we feel has contributed most to the Moot.

Our good friends John Fenna and Steve Harral raise money each year for Cancer charities. Steve gets John to dress up in a different pink outfit each year and we make lots of donations in various ways. Also John has an award he gives out called the John Fenna Award (a Teddy Bear with lots of bushcraft kit) and this year it went to Cap’n Badger for dedicated service to running the Naughty Corner – or undetected crime as I hear 😉

Life under the main chute

Kids’ Fun

All this talk of fun would not be complete without mention to what we organise for the kids (I mean the young ones here). We are not against technology and I am happy to let my kids watch a movie in the evening by the fire (gives me a breathing space to get on with camp chores).

The Bushmoot is a family friendly place and there are always workshops and games planned in for the kids. When there are no planned activities the whole estate is their playground and it’s great to see my kids roam free as I once did as a kid growing up in the Western Isles.

Kids – old fun and modern fun

My last video on the Bushmoot looks at this ‘Bushmoot Life’.

A Celebration

When I popped up to the Naughty Corner one night I got chatting to our chefs Phil and Magda and found out that they had just got engaged – Phil had popped the question to Magda that day down on the beach and she had said yes.

The next day we got Phil and Magda to announce the engagement to everyone under the Main Chute – congratulations guys.

Congratulations

Me

I am mostly to be found behind the camera lens so you do not see many pictures of my silver mop at the Bushmoot. Over the last 10 years I have really embraced photography and am always on the look out for something unusual to snap.

Fire Faces are a favourite of mine – spotted the BFG in one snap I took this year – but there is always something interesting to photograph at the Bushmoot.

Just me

A bit of Magic

This year at the Naughty Corner it was hard to miss the fact that the fire was making a good impression of a Rainbow. It turns out that Cap’n Badger had acquired some Mystical Fire  and popped it into the fire. I took a few snaps of the flames and caught a lovely shot that I call ‘The Dancer’.

My kids loved the stuff and so we popped a couple of sachets on our campfire one evening while they watched a movie.

Rainbow flames

Alison

My wife Alison did not attend the whole of the Bushmoot (she pops back and forth from home over the fortnight) as she runs her own publishing company and this year was focused on finishing the first draft of her own book while we were at the Bushmoot.

Needless to say when Alison returned at the end of the Bushmoot she did so with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the fact that she had finished her first draft – well done darling 🙂

Congratulations Alison

That is it from me on the subject of the 2017 Bushmoot. Thank you to Tony, Shelly, all the Mods and all the other helpers who organised everything and helped make it such a magical two weeks.

Cheers

George

One Hot Dartmoor DofE

Boy do I feel old…………

It was time to head back down to Dartmoor early in July with Sea Cadets from our London and Southern Areas to run a Gold DofE practice expedition and boy was it hot.

These training expeditions have one day of training on the Moor for the cadets and staff who are doing their Gold DofE followed by 3 days of remote supervision. We tend to stick very close to the groups on the first day of remote supervision and then as everyone gets their navigational eye in we tend to just meet up with them from time to time.

Set up

Training Day

We stayed at the rather luxurious Tavistock Camping and Caravanning Club site for the first two nights – I love it as we can put hammocks up 🙂

Early in the morning some of our trainee instructors (doing their Basic Expedition Leadership Award) ran some classes on kit to carry and map work. Around 11am we headed out to just south of Princetown to get in some navigational time on the Moors and we soon found the temperature starting to shoot up.

The trip was organised by our DofE co-ordinator John Kelly and we were joined by staff from London and Southern Area Sea Cadets

Training day – Instructing – Nina, Donnah, James, Morgan, Chris and Dave

Everyone was in light order for the training day with plenty of water and sun cream. You can see from the pictures below just how hot it was with all that blue sky (and for a Scotsman let me tell you it was not comfortable). Each team had an instructor with them and were soon off onto the Moors testing out their navigational skills.

There were plenty of adventures along the way and I spent time skulking in a Dartmoor Leat (a man-made stream) photographing and filming the wildlife (I will put up a separate blog on this sometime) and even caught sight of someone paddle boarding along one.

Keeping an eye on the teams

Day 1 – Remote Supervision

The next day the teams were let off on their own and we headed up onto the Tors to keep an eye on them. We had plenty of radios and one team even had a tracking device on them.

The visibility was clear and we soon saw them on the move. One team made good progress over the Tors but two took a slight detour and had to be shunted back on course.

Day 1 – Remote supervision

Luckily we had plenty of staff with us and everyone eventually made their way over the Tors. The temperature was soon rising again and we made sure everyone had water at each of the checkpoints (and an ice-cream in Princetown).

As usual we stopped for a picture on one of the Tors (Little Mis Tor) and watched the helicopters playing about on the Moors. The Tors offered some respite from the heat of the sun with their lovely shaded north-facing nooks and crannies.

Lots of meet ups

Coming off the Tors we met up with Alan Lewis (the Old Sea Dog) and more of the all-important water. I pulled out a chocolate biscuit from my pack only to be confronted with a sticky mess – it still went down the hatch 🙂

The teams were soon off up over North Hessary Tor (under the mast) and down into Princetown where we told them to get some ice-cream.

The campsite for the teams was south of Princetown at Nun’s Cross Farm. It is a fairly wild camp but with easy access for us with vehicles.

End of Day 1

Some staff stayed near the campsite and the rest of us headed back to the campsite at the Plume of Feathers Inn in Princetown. This campsite has a stand of trees running up the side of it for our hammocks – always a bonus on Dartmoor 🙂

On the way back to camp we spotted a fallen lamb being comforted by a herd of cows. It looked like the heat had really gotten to it so Chris, Carol and I gave her (I think it was female) some water to drink – she took nearly two water bottles. Chris also sprinkled water over her body to cool her down. We tried to get her to stand but she was too weak. In the end we got the local farmer to come out and take her in.

What really surprised me about the whole scene was the care the cows were taking over the lamb. The were nudging her gently and standing over her to give her shade – quite something to witness.

The staff (and a little Lamb)

It was a great day all in all and I particularly liked spotting all the wildlife so I decided to put together a little video of that side of the expedition.

Day 2 – Remote Supervision

This part of the expedition was to prove the longest and the hardest. Due to the very high temperatures and because this was the practice expedition I decided to tell the teams to go in light order. I took all non-essential kit such as tents and sleeping bags off them to lighten their load in the high temperatures.

Day 2 – Remote supervision – a lot of waiting

I went high with Dave Lewis and the rest of the instructors either went on ahead in vehicles or were trailing the teams from a distance. We got up high quite quickly and had some time to sit back and wait for the teams – amazing where you can hang a hammock 🙂

This part of the route took the teams over to the Eastern side of Dartmoor where the views are quite spectacular down onto the coast.

Enjoying the views

Day 3 – Remote Supervision

After a night in a farmer’s field at Middle Stoke Farm, the teams were up and away for their final day on the hills. I had decided to stay off the hills that day as I had felt a torn muscle (from the year before) in my right leg starting to give way again.

The teams headed off up into the hills and navigated along to a village called Scorriton. They had a tough time as all the paths had been little used recently and were quite overgrown (we had been there last year and they were clear) but they were soon coming down off the hills with smiles on their faces.

This was a easy expedition for me as there were so many great staff who gave their time up to come along (Boy do I feel old…… I realised that I had trained and assessed every one of them over the years) but it was a tough one for the cadets and staff doing the Gold DofE practice expedition due to the heat – well done the lot of you.

Final day

A final video of the trip – one that I am very proud of – both in terms of what was achieved and its composition.

Cheers

George

Happy Campers

Every now and then a nice little weekend comes along – this trip to Crowborough Army camp with the Sea Cadets was one of them (not often you can say that with Crowborough). My friends Dave and Alan Lewis had already set up camp when I pulled up ( I had been at Woodcraft School that day so was running late).

We had a group of 5 senior cadets and a party of Junior cadets to train in campcraft over the weekend.

All set up

There was other training going on in the camp but we were separate from all that in the woods. Along with us was Gary Brodie-Barratt who is under training for his Basic Expedition Leadership award. Under supervision from Dave, Gary led a lot of the classes covering subjects such as kit, clothing and tents.

Early start

While they were cracking on with these classes Alan and myself were preparing for an influx of Junior cadets later that afternoon. I did though get out with Dave and Gary when they set off to do some navigation.

Some of the cadets were learning map reading for the first time and some were on our intermediate course which focuses on compass work a lot more.

Focus on Navigation

Everyone though gets to play with the bothy bag – this little bag is a real life saver when you are in very exposed conditions. The cadets learn how to use one in a safe and controlled manner so that if they ever need to use one for real they will know how to deploy it correctly.

Practising for those emergencies

After lunch the Juniors arrived and the peace and tranquillity of our camp was shattered 🙂 These Juniors are so keen to learn that it is a pleasure to teach them.

We got them fire lighting first and soon had sausages, bread and marshmallows on the go.

Junior time

Later on I took them on a nature walk (with a little bit of navigation thrown in) down through the old World War 1 training trenches running beside the camp.

Exploring the trenches

We had cracking weather all weekend, did not have to share the woodland with any other groups (always a bonus) and for once had plenty of staff on hand – all in all it made for Happy Campers.

All things campcraft

Below are my favourite shots of the weekend (so want one of these blow up seats).

Mt favourites

Maybe next year I will get one of these weekends again 🙂

Cheers

George

Junior Brecon 2017 – With the Royal Marines Cadets

Adventure and Tactics

Last April the guys from London and Southern Area Royal Marines Cadets (RMC) decided it was time to test themselves out on the slopes of the Brecon Beacons here in the UK.

The expedition was organised by my friend Baz Lilley of the RMC and he wanted Adventure and Tactics  – so that is what he got…………..

Adventuring with the Royal Marines Cadets

I was joined by my fellow Mountain Leaders from the London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training  team (LASCAT) Graham, Ben and Dan.

Friday Night

After a quick set up at Grawen campsite just north of Merthyr Tydfil a group of us set off to recce our first activity – Canyoning just south of the village of Ystradfellte in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.. The river was flowing perfectly for the event and we were set to go.

Planning

Saturday

After a quick breakfast all the LASCAT team headed out to set up for the canyoning. The rest of the RMC staff took the cadets out on some navigation training while we set up.

We were soon set up and I found time to take a nap, take some pictures and have a brew 🙂

Canyoning set up

Baz had paid for a qualified local canyoneering expert to be in attendance so after a chat about what we would be doing it was time to get on with it. Everyone had a life preserver on and a helmet – no wet suits for us.

I led off the first team and after a few push ups in the shallows it was time to take the plunge – the water was a tad cold you could say 🙂

Canyoning – Top half

We went down a couple of slides, through the ‘Jacuzzi’ and crossed some larger pools.

The final section was the ‘Leap of Faith’ – this was a 20 foot jump into a plunge pool at the foot of a waterfall. I went first with my team following closely – a most exhilarating experience.

As soon as my team was out of the water the life preservers and the helmets were transferred to Dan’s team for them to do the run.

Canyoning – Bottom half

The day was warm so everyone was soon dry and warm again. A few of the guys shot some video of the canyoning and it makes for great viewing.

Once we got back to Grawen it was time to prepare for an evenings Tab – I mean Yomp for my Royal Marines friends 😉 (my beret is Maroon and not Green). The plan was to march through the evening to a new campsite with all the kit we would need for a night on the hills.

It was great walking over the hills as the sun set (great photography) but as soon as it had gone the cadets started on tactical patrolling techniques with the RMC staff.

Start of the Night Nav

We hoped to get to another campsite north of Pen Y Fan but the terrain and the heavy loads started to tell on folks so a sensible decision was made to call in the mini buses and get everyone back to camp.

It was a tough day as my pedometer showed nearly 30,000 steps – tough enough with all the kit we had been carrying.

End Ex – Night Nav

The Sunday morning dawned as a fine day but not with the promise of it remaining that way. We hoped to have a morning navigating over Fan Nedd and an afternoon topping out on Pen Y Fan.

It was a cloudy start as we ascended towards Fan Nedd but as usual in Wales the weather really closed in. We decided to skirt round Fan Nedd and head straight to the Storey Arms to try for Pen Y Fan.  The summit of Pen Y Fan could not be seen the wind was strengthening and the rain was coming in stronger. With a heavy heart (consoled by a large burger) we decided to keep low down and do some skills work instead.

Sunday Stroll – Brecon Style

We found a spot in the local woods to run some activities for the cadets. We set up four stances looking at rope work, emergency procedures, hammocks and trying out the Commando Crawl.

Ropework

The lads tried out carrying a casualty over broken ground with a slippery bivi bag (harder than you think), tying different knots and had a go at the Commando Crawl – to different degrees of success 🙂

Precarious

My stance was little bit more sedate on how to put up a tarp and a hammock (in a non tactical way) – it gave them food for though but the boss enjoyed the hammock seat when he came by.

Hammocks and tarps

There was a competition over all the stances and some sweetie treats for the winners. It may not have been as cool as topping out on Pen Y Fan (the mountain can wait for a kinder day) but everyone had a load of fun while they learnt some new skills.

The evening was spent around the fire with a Sods Opera (where the cadets perform little skits imitating the staff) as the main event.

Prizes and Plays

Monday  

It was an early start on the Monday and as some of the Cadets had a six hour journey ahead of them we set off home early.

I am hoping that the RMC manage to organise another of these weekends next year – it is a real test of stamina and skills for both the cadets and the staff.

A wonderful weekend

Cheers

George

Bushcraft Birthday Bash

There has been a lot of skullduggery going on in the Aitchison-Jones household recently and it all came to a head in September 🙂

My wife Alison made sure that a certain weekend in September was kept well clear in my diary. I was told to pack for a family camp to celebrate my 50th birthday (location unknown) – hard to believe I have reached such a lofty age, I know 😉

So after packing we set off on a magical mystery tour that stopped off at the Arrivals lounge at Gatwick Airport. Passing through the gates was ‘Darling Barney’ all the way from Southern France to celebrate my birthday with us.

The pictures in this blog are a mixture from Tony Bristow, Ian Woodham, Alison Jones and myself.

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The Bushcraft Birthday Bash

The magical mystery tour continued to our friends Philippa and Phil’s farm just outside Dorking in Surrey. I was directed to a field to set up camp and we soon had our hammocks up and fire on. That night Phil came down to join us around the fire, there was a Harvest Moon and real ale and I was happy as Larry.

Phil asked Barney and myself if we could help him and a couple of friends complete a bridge at his girls school the next morning.  I thought nothing of this as I normally help out Phil’s farm when I camp there and Barney is a carpenter/cabinetmaker anyway so his skills were needed.

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Friday Night – Saturday Morning

It was a good morning mucking about in the mud building the bridge and we even stopped off for a couple of pints on the way back.

Unbeknownst to me Alison had set up a secret Facebook page and invited lots of my friends to the bash. While I was away folks started to arrive and needless to say that when I was in the car coming back down the field to the camp I was feeling slightly bemused.

There followed a lot of hugging and generally turning around with a startled look on my face as more and more folk popped out of the wood. These Saturday morning arrivals were friends from various parts of my life. Barney and Steve from Raleigh International, Liz, Rick, Stu and Gordon from Crisis, Alan and Dave from the Sea Cadets, Tony, Shelly, Robin, Jenna, David, Ian and Archie from Bushcraft UK

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More Surprises

Alison had arranged for a delivery of groceries to be dropped off at the farm and a feast was quickly prepared. David Willis (Bushcraft With David Willis) used his bushcraft baking skills to make bread and our resident Sea Cadet chef Alan Lewis got on with prepping the skewers for the barbie.

I had gone from quite chilled out (must have been the two pints in the pub) to frantically running around getting the fires going, maintaining them and trying to chat with everyone who arrived. Those of you who know me personally know that multi tasking is not my strong point.

Added to all this confusion my friend Graham was spotted coming down the hill carrying a massive present all wrapped up. He told me I could not open it until later that evening around the fire.

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The Feast

After a few more beers (I kept opening one, putting it down, chatting, losing it, opening another……and so on, repeating the process) the food was ready and a lovely birthday cake produced.

Thanks to everyone who brought a present along – every one was appreciated and I am still working my way through all the single malts you brought along Rick, Gordon, Stu, Dave and Alan.

The wooden ’50’, Cliff, sits with my medals and other personal bits and bobs. It is a lovely piece of carving buddy.

Still not used the old military canteen, Barney, in case I damage it – it too will live on my bits and bobs shelf.

As for the Harrier knife carving, that log Graham that may take a while. (The massive present Graham brought me turned out to be a rare Harrier stamped knife together with a log from which to carve my own twelve-piece dinner service).

Thanks Phil and Philippa for the lovely honey you had just jarred 20 minutes before. As fresh as you can get I would imagine.

Thanks for all the Go Outdoor vouchers – I spent a happy couple of hours in there getting some extra kit.

Lastly to Alison for getting me that rather nice laptop I was really looking for (cheers for organising that Dave). It works a dream and I can process pictures so much quicker now.

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Partying

The rest of the evening was spent chatting and from time to time Alison managed to extract some stories from folks about myself – many had the ending of me being hit in some way 🙂

A real highlight of the evening was listening to Robin and Jenna singing Happy Birthday to me in Welsh – I am not normally an emotional person but that moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.

A surprise evening arrival to the party were my good friends John and Caron of Woodcraft School (apologies I did not get a picture of you at the party). They just sort of appeared out of the dark while I was chatting away (just when I was sure there were no more surprises I was proved wrong).

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Activities

Sunday morning soon came and those that had decided to stay for the night rose to a breakfast of bacon rolls and sausages before cracking on with some archery and Atlatls and posing for a Survivors’ picture.

Packing up was a sad business as everyone prepared to travel back home but I was still reeling slightly in a happy way from the whole surprise party.

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Survivors Photo

I am still amazed at the distances people travelled to come to the party – France, west Wales, Leeds and more. Some came for the day and others stayed overnight. Thank you to all those who could not make the weekend but sent me there heartfelt wishes instead.

Thank you everyone who came and a special thanks to Alison and Philippa for all your organisational skulduggery 🙂

Cheers

George

Skilling up in the New Forest

Recently I have been reading a lot on social media about how kids and adults seemingly do not interact enough with nature. This is now the fourth year I have written about our annual trip to the New Forest so I would like to say that whoever writes these general stories has never been out with the Sea Cadets. We immerse both our cadets and staff in nature, so much so that they keep coming back for more. This is the story of just one of the many expeditions we run throughout the year.

This particular expedition is arranged each year so that we can skill up our cadets and staff in Adventurous Training (AT) activities and also to support the annual HMS Hood Remembrance Service at Boldre church in the New Forest.

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The Crew

The weekend is organised by Chief Petty Officer Paul Townsend (City of London Sea Cadets) and we have cadets and staff attending both from London and Southern areas.

Our aim is to immerse everyone fully in nature as well as teaching them the traditional AT activities such as map reading, compass work and camping. This weekend saw the cadets finding the skeleton of a fox, observing pond life and scrambling all over the woods.

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Relaxing and Exploring

We have various groups set up over the weekend focusing on different skills. There was a group for the Juniors, various groups for the older cadets and a Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) group out as well.

I took out a group with Paul, Jess and some of the older cadets, The cadets were looking to gain various camping tickets and Jess was under training for her Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) award. This requires her to have a high level of navigation skill however it also requires he to have the skill to pass that knowledge onto others.

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Map and Compass work

Now it is not all hard work and no play by any means. Soon the cadets were flying through the puddles and we took time to rest up on the Saturday afternoon at the hotel near Beauly Rd station. On the way back to the campsite at Ferny Crofts the way got pretty boggy so it was fun watching the cadets trying to keep there feet dry. They soon learnt how to select a good route along the way.

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Fun for all ages

Evening activities involved the usual football, netball and run out games before it was marshmallow time.

We had enough wood this year for the cadets to have their own fire and soon it was sparking away merrily.

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Woodland TV

On the Sunday morning a group of cadets go off to the remembrance service at Boldre church while the rest of us get on with the mornings activities.

Simon was thankfully with us again this year and ran the galley in the roundhouse. He certainly can make some great meals with very little in the way of ingredients. The Juniors meanwhile cracked on with firelighting with Charlie and cooking with Chrissie. I enjoyed some giant toasted chocolate marshmallows however the orange cakes were left in the embers for a little too long I think 🙂

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Sunday Morning Feast

The rest of the staff and the older cadets cracked on with lots of classes. This allowed the trainee instructors like Sarah, Jess and James to gain some valuable time teaching AT skills while training up for their BEL award.

Classes included tent pitching, first aid, bag packing, cooking and compass work. I did not see much of the DofE team as they were out on their expedition on both days however reports back were that they all successfully completed the weekend.

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Adventure Training classes

While all this was going on on the Sunday morning the group at Boldre church put on a fine parade and learnt a bit more about HMS Hood. In all my years going to the New Forest for this trip I have never managed once to get to the parade – mind you that would involve me putting a uniform on 😉

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2016 HMS Hood Remembrance Service

As I get older the years seem to pass quicker however each year has been packed full of fun. I am looking forward to many more years of visiting the New Forest and passing on my knowledge of nature to others so that they can continue this skilling up cycle.

Cheers

George

Previous years in the New Forest

2013 – Adventures in the New Forest – To play and learn

2014 – New Forest – Our annual pilgrimage to remember HMS Hood

2015 – New Forest Adventures

Bushcraft Fun with Enfield Juniors

Sometimes in your life a little trip comes along that really lifts your spirits. This happened to me last September when my good friend Dave Lewis invited me along to a camp he had organised for Enfield Sea Cadet unit. The camp was at Tolmers Activity Centre near Potters Bar (just North of London) and turned out to be a quite magical weekend.

Dave was leading a training session for his older cadets for the upcoming Chosin Cup competition and he wanted me to work with his Junior cadets on their campcraft skills. After setting up camp I spotted a load of folks heading down to a small pond so I decided to follow on and see what was afoot.

As I approached the pond I could hear a story being told about the ‘Lady in the Lake’ and all of a sudden the skies lit up. As I was just approaching the pond at that time I managed to get these two cracking shots of the fireworks going off.

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Friday fireworks and our playground

In the morning I took the cadets with some other staff members out towards Northaw Great Wood (a local nature reserve). Along the way we had to scramble over some tricky terrain but managed to have a bit of fun when we found an old World War 2 Pillbox.

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Scramble and a dance

Once we got into the woods we found a lovely spot by a dried out stream to try out our hammocks. The Juniors had never tried hammocks before but soon got into the ‘Swing’ of things.

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Chillaxing

Our task on the weekend was to introduce the Juniors to basic Adventure Training skills such as using the map and compass, and to get an understanding of their natural surroundings.

So as we were learning to use the map and compass we carried a Journey stick with us. This stick had string and elastic bands wrapped around it so that we could add different items we found along the way to it.

The aim of the Journey stick was to ensure that the Juniors kept a good look out for different plants and objects so that they could add some of them to the stick and so tell a story of their journey when they had finished at the end of the day.

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Green module learning

In amongst all this learning we took time out to climb the odd tree or two and just relax (the staff just tended to relax though).

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In touch with nature

We spotted many different types of flaura and fauna on our travels and played a little naming game on the way. I got the Juniors to spot different trees and name them something they all agreed on – so the Sycamore became the Star tree, the Ash tree was named the Centipede and so on. They would walk through the woods shouting “There’s a Star tree” or “There’s another Centipede”.

At the end of the day I gave them a chart so that they could figure out their given names. This method I find works well as I find that kids learn best when they are having fun along the way.

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Journey stick stuff

When we got back to camp we had a very full Journey stick with no two items the same. The Juniors really worked hard to finish the stick and each took it in turn to walk with it.

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The Journey stick

Back at camp we had a very busy campfire on the go with some great food being prepared by Alan and Dave Lewis. On the Saturday night we had a barbie and marshmallows, and each morning Alan cooked a fantastic breakfast with some lovely pancakes.

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Bust campfire

On the Saturday I had taught the Juniors how to light a fire using Firesteels so on the Sunday they all helped me to get an ember using the bowdrill. Each junior took part and we soon had a great big glowing ember.

One Junior said that he had watched the recent programme by a ‘well known survivalist’ where it had taken the contestants two days to get a fire going so he was over the moon to get an ember in just a couple of minutes.

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Team bowdrill

Once the ember was stable we popped it into a tinder bundle and everyone took it in turn to blow it into flame.

I think the smiles on their faces kind of say it all about the experience they just had.

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Flammage

Once we got the fire going properly Alan Lewis took the juniors on a cookery class. He got them to cook sausages over the fire and then to make up a bread mix. The bread mixture was then wrapped around the cooked sausages and in no time they all had their own hand made sausage rolls.

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Morning cooking

While the Juniors were cooking their sausage rolls I wandered over to where Dave was working with his older cadets. They were practising some ropework to set up a retrievable rope system for crossing a river. All this was in preparation for the forthcoming Chosin Cup competition in early October.

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Older cadets practising for Chosin Cup

To finish the course off for the Juniors I set up the Atlatl range on an open slope. It was not long before they got a hang of this primitive hunting technique and were soon landing darts on the targets.

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An Atlatl finish

I finished the weekend still feeling as fresh as I started. It is not often I can say that about Sea Cadet weekends (I usually need a day or two to get over them) but the juniors were so keen to learn and were a real bright and keen bunch that I look forward to being invited again next year.

Cheers

George

30 Days of Wildness – Day 26 – Story Sticks

Day 26 0f the 30 Day Challenge was one of beauty.

Finlay and Catherine had their friends Lisa and Finlay ‘D’ around for the afternoon. I took them out to the woods near Silchester and we brought along some Story Sticks. I have heard them called Journey Sticks but their job is to tell a story of a journey.

I had made them a Story Stick each with twine and elastic bands wrapped around them. As we went for a walk we started to find interesting and colourful stuff to attach to the sticks so that they could at the end recall their journey.

We started off next to some of the most beautiful poppies I have ever seen.

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Off we go

As the kids went off finding stuff I took a closer look at the flowers. The inside of the Poppy flower seemed quite psychedelic with all its strong colours.

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Beauty

We had a great time munching on Bilberries, scrambling on fallen trees, finding what looked like very fine sheep fleece and just watching the pond.

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Finds and fun

We took a break at the pond to have a snack and take in the view. The boys wanted to be zipped up in the hammock and the girls took the opportunity to tickle them without fear of retaliation.

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Chilling

On the way back we took time to gather more finds for the sticks, watch the sheep and flowers, and to just run.

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Heading back

Our completed Story Sticks ready to take home – quite beautiful.

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Story Sticks finished

Next time you go for a walk remember your Story Stick.

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

Family Fun at Frasers

‘Snug as a bug in a rug’

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

Family Fun at Fraser’s

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

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

Fantastic Food

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

Fireside Fun

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

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

Adventuring

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

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

Spotting Spring

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

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

Seaside Snaps

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

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

Being Busy

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

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

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

Hammock Heaven

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

Sun, Sand and Sea

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

We found a nice beachside cafĂ© to rest up in and a lovely grassy slope for the kids to roll down – perfect.

Together Time

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

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

Airborne Arrows

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

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

Farewells

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

Cheers

George

Bushcrafting at Lews Castle College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stripping and prepping the nettles
Stripping and prepping the nettles

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

Splitting the nettles
Splitting the nettles

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

Making some good cordage
Making some good cordage

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

Silverweed - The Seventh Bread
Silverweed – The Seventh Bread

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

Hammock time
Hammock time

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

Parabolic Mirror
Parabolic Mirror

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

Firesteel session
Firesteel session

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

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

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

First tinder bundle
First tinder bundle

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

First flames
First flames

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

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

Bowdrill teamwork
Bowdrill teamwork

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

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

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

Everyone had a go
Everyone had a go

Even the boss John got involved and before we knew it we had flame again 🙂

Even the boss Angus got a go
Even the boss John got a go – then we got flames again

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

Flamage
Flamage

The final activity was to get the Atlatl darts out. I could not bring any with me on the plane so I just bought some bamboo canes locally and made flights out of tape. All in all the set cost me about ÂŁ6.

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

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

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

Boys having fun
Boys having fun

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

Some good Atlatl throwing
Some good Atlatl throwing

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

My brother ready to shoot
My brother ready to shoot

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

Dart away
Dart away

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

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

Cheers

George

Spring Weekend with Coastal Survival

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

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

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

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Arrival in Bearminster

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

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

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My home for the weekend

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

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Breakfasts were good

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

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Figwort, Horsetail and Scarlet Pimpernel

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

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Ramson forage

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

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Ramson tortilla lunch

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

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Post-lunch relaxing in my EDC hammock chair

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

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Coastal Forage

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

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Man’s best friends

I made a couple of videos on the Saturday:

Easter with Coastal Survival – Foraging

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

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Seafood risotto and pork chops

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

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Fire faces

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

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

Easter with Coastal Survival – Day two walk

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

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Bringing up the bows

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

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Archery time

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

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Wonderful finds

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

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Spring bloom

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

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The classroom

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

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Wood gas re-burner

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

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

Easter with Coastal Survival – Bimbling and Bows

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

Cheers

George

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 🙂

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Not that the staff were competitive 😉

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

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 😉

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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 🙂

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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 🙂

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Had enough and just zipped them in 🙂

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