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.
We clocked up nearly 2000 miles on the road this summer galavanting around Scotland visiting friends and family. Every couple of years we travel up to the Isle of Lewis to visit my family however this year we decided to call in at a few more friends en route.
Our first port of call was to stop off at Balquhidder Church in the beautiful Trossachs in the Highlands of Scotland. This is where my Father’s side of the family come from and where Alison and I got married. Buried in the local graveyard are my Gran and Grandpa and the falls above the church are well worth a visit.
Isle of Lewis
Then it was off to Ullapool to pick up the ferry over to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. My mother Joan and stepfather Abby live in the village of Port of Ness at the northernmost tip of the island. This was to be our base for the next week.
Our kids Catherine and Finlay were really looking forward to this visit as they had not stayed at their Grannie Port’s house before.
Much of our time was spent down on the beach at Port or at Stoth as the weather turned out to be glorious. This is where I spent much of my childhood and it was great to see my children loving it as well.
I took the family and my brother Finlay to visit my Dad Freddie’s grave. It is located on the Machair right by the coast and the view are stunning. My Dad was also a part-time lighthouse keeper at the Butt of Lewis so it was a pity that it was closed to the public – the views are fantastic from the top.
It was great to catch up with everyone such as my old mate Peche and his wife Jean who I had not seen for many a year. The kids spent a lot of time with their cousins Kenny John, Courtney and Lauren. Kenny John in particular was very excited that Finlay was coming to visit and the two of them had great fun, playing hide and seek and climbing trees together.
We spent time most days with my sister Tina, my niece Natasha and her lovely little daughter Lily Mai. As we only get to go north every couple of years the difference in the little ones is always amazing – the last time I had seen Lily Mai she was still a babe in arms.
My sister Tina is a keen walker and is out for a five mile walk most days. I decided to photograph her one day on the coast and was really chuffed with the results. It is not all play though as the peats were calling and I went out a couple of evenings to lift and turn them with my brother-in-law Kenny – the midgies won in the end on both evenings and we were forced to beat a hasty retreat.
It was also great to catch up with Andy Burns each day as we were out and about. Andy is a great photographer and gets some incredible shots as his croft overlooks Port Beach.
While we were on Lewis my Uncle Dods was once again leading the annual Guga hunt. They arrived back the day before we were due to leave. I popped over to Stornoway to catch them offloading the Gugas. That night the kids, Abby and myself enjoyed a good feast of Guga.
Before we left we managed to get out to visit the Black House at Arnol where I had a great time talking with the wardens about traditional crafts and how they were made and used (for example making rope out of heather).
The time had flown by so fast and it was soon time to say goodbye to my Mum, Abby and the rest of the family.
After picking up the ferry back to the mainland we headed for Banchory over on the East Coast of Scotland. Our friends Kate and John live there now. We met Kate on a Raleigh International expedition to Chile in 1996 and have been great friends since. They have two lads – Chris and Matthew.
We spent three days exploring the local area and managed to get a real feast of blueberries on Scolty Hill.
Stopping off at the Thundering Falls of Feugh we were hoping to spot some leaping salmon however we were amazed to spot an otter fishing in the falls below our feet – it was quite a sight.
Our next stop wasThornhill in Stirlingshire to visit our friends Kate and Roddy. Alison has been friends with Kate since University and we always try and visit them when we can.
Located nearby is the beautiful Flanders Moss nature reserve. It is one of the last blanket lowland peat bogs in the country and is home to some rare flora and fauna.
The next stop was to visit my Uncle George in Crieff. It was also great to see my cousin Leanne and her son Robbi – another one who has shot up :-).
The we popped in to Callander to see my Aunty Catherine and Uncle Fred, who had just celebrated his 90th birthday the day before.
Our final night was spent back in England visiting Alison’s mum Beryl in Stockport. It was great to stop off there as no road trip North up the M6 would be complete without stopping off and letting the kids spend time with their Grandma.
It felt like we covered a lot of ground on this holiday however it was over in a flash. I caught up with many folk I had not seen in a long time (it was hard to recollect names at times) but I left Scotland with some great memories – I hope my kids felt the same as well.
Currently I am sitting in my mothers house in Port of Ness on the Isle of Lewis on holiday with my family. I have had a very busy summer however I have had a very fun summer as well. Over the coming weeks I will catch up on writing up all my trips however I have realised I have not posted in over a month so thought I might just summarise the last few trips.
I spent many a day over the summer wandering around my village of Bramley exploring all its nooks and crannies with my kids and their friends.
The Sea Cadets
The middle of July found me in East Sussex with the Sea Cadets and our annual Adventure Training competition. Even amongst all this navigational competitiveness we found time to spend listening to the rustle of the Poplar trees.
The first two weeks of August I spent with my family at the annual Bushcraft UKBushmoot in South Wales at Merthyr Mawr. We calculated that we had ran about 110 bushcraft classes in that two week period so the odd cup of freshly brewed coffee over a log rocket stove proved a must.
The Wilderness Gathering
Soon after the Moot I found myself helping my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival at the Wilderness Gathering in Wiltshire. It was a weekend of wind, rain, sun and great fun as we helped our friend run all his classes.
The Isle of Lewis
Straight after the Wilderness Gathering I set off with my family up to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. So far the weather has been great and my kids have been down swimming in the sea every morning. I am hoping for a few more great days before striking out to visit other friends on this trip across Scotland.
On my return I will be posting up more detailed reports on each of the trips but for now I will end with the hope that everyone else is having a busy and fun summer as well.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After the cotton wool balls I got the class to catch some sparks onto some char cloth that we then popped into some hay.
Everyone was happy when we got that first tinder bundle burning happily.
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.
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.
Everyone was keen to be involved in all parts of the process of making fire.
Even the boss John got involved and before we knew it we had flame 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.
The final activity was to get the Atlatl darts out. I could not bring any with me on the plane so I just bought some bamboo canes locally and made flights out of tape. All in all the set cost me about £6.
After a bit of tuition to each pair it was time to do some shooting.
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.
I think John is a possible convert to the Atlatl by the look of the concentration on his face.
I really enjoyed teaching my brother Finlay to use the Atlatl.
In the end they all got the hang of it and were happy to be chucking darts down the range.
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.