Over the last few years one of the changes I have seen at the Wilderness Gathering is the quality of the music in the evenings – this year it was particularly great.
Roger Harrington of Bison Bushcraft and Dom Harvey (they run the Wilderness Gathering) had great music playing each night however I was particularly struck by one young musician – Vojta. He is a violinist at heart but somehow brings in many other instruments to his sessions.
Here is the last number he played at this years Wilderness Gathering.
This last week I have had a great time at the Wilderness Gathering here in the UK with Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival. I will write a more detailed report on the Gathering later but just wanted to share with you today a little video I grabbed just before I left.
I was approached by Ian Cresswell from Lonescout Bushcraft and told that he had heard that the Coyote Kids group had planned to ambush our friend JP and dunk him in the lake. So at the appointed time I was on hand to see the snatch and witness the dunking – enjoy the video 🙂
Catching up with friends, learning skills and getting some new kit – that is what the Wilderness Gathering is to me.
Coastal Survival has been attending The Gathering for quite a few years and this was a busy one for me as they went. I could tell that as most of my pictures this year were of what we were up to and not about what everybody else was up to. I was working alongside Fraser Christian, Danny Stocks and Chris Lundregan (we were also joined by Lorna Stocks).
Food and skills were the order of the day for us at this years show.
Over the weekend we kept a hot smoker going producing smoked mussels and mackerel. This kept a steady stream of visitors coming up to the stand. So much so that I did not get a great deal of time to wander around the rest of the show.
There is something quite beautiful about the simplicity of smoking food that is attractive to folks that makes them want to just come in and try some – it certainly is not for our good looks 😉
There was some time to get out though and catch up with folks. I missed Steve’s class on prepping rabbits but by the look on his face it went well.
Dave Budd was as usual working away but unusually he was having to be his own pump monkey on the forge – Where were you Emily? He needed you 🙂
Our neighbours at the show were Sonni and Angela from Beneath The Stars Leathercraft – the nicest set of neighbours than you could wish for.
Also spotted frequently was Jason bowdrilling away for the visitors. I sat beside him for one of his demonstrations and got some cracking pictures that I made into their own blog – Jason and the Ember Extender.
Regular readers will know I am a fan of Damp Log Rocket Stoves and Des was there this year firing them up. This particular Log Rocket was very damp but he persisted and soon had a hearty stove that produced plenty of brews.
As well as producing smoked food we spent time giving various classes such as this one on making a Bamboo Fishing Spear. This simple device does not take long to make and really packs a punch.
No Coastal Survival course would be complete without a bit of net making. Once again Fraser was up in the classrooms demonstrating his skills and getting the audience netting – I was meanwhile back tending shop – except for sneaking out to take some pics 🙂
The Masterclass this year was on constructing a Stick Fish Trap. This was planned to take 3 hours but it took most of the day for the students to complete (and for some part of the next day) but it was worth it, These traps are designed to work and do the job of catching your dinner.
These Stick Fish Traps are featured in Fraser’s new book Coast Hunter. This is the 2nd book in his coastal series and his copies sold out at the Wilderness Gathering. Look it up in Amazon if you are interested in all things coastal hunting.
I have been attending the Wilderness Gathering every year since 2005 so here’s to seeing some of you there in 2017 – An extra day I am told for next year 🙂
Fraser has a couple of books out now called Eat the Beach and Coast Hunter (he is currently working on his third book called Castaway on the Seashore). In the book Coast Hunter Fraser goes into detail on many coastal hunting techniques (including making this trap) and I encourage you to get a copy of these books if you are interested in the art of coastal survival.
Fraser uses this type of trap on the coast weighted down with stones in the inter-tidal zone to catch fish, crabs and lobsters. You can make the trap with many different woods found in the woods and hedgerows – just make sure it is pliable. As he was running a class for 8 people he brought in some commercial willow from Musgrove Willows.
Step 1 – Set Up
I will go through the steps as I saw them on the day but for more detail on this trap have a look inside the Coast hunter book. To form the shape Fraser used a paper plate and a tent peg to create a circle of willow. He tried to maintain an even distance (about two fingers width between each piece of willow) as he inserted the willow (thick ends) into the ground, They were pushed in about 10cm’s and the tent peg really helped as the ground was hard.
Once the willow was secured in the ground he tied of the top ensuring the willow sticks all came in at the same angle.
Step 2 – Weaving
The willow had been left overnight in a lake to ensure it was as pliable as possible however to make sure Fraser pulled each piece of willow he would weave with around his knee. This makes the weaving process so much easier and less tiring on your hands.
Starting with the thick end of a piece of willow he threaded it in and out between 4 or 5 uprights, Once that was secure he raised up the thinner in to carry on that in and out weave (raising the tip of the thinner end really makes the weaving easier).
In the picture in the bottom left you can clearly see that raised thin end being woven in and out of the uprights. He stopped the weave when he judged that part was too thin (the excess would be trimmed off later).
Once one piece was finished it was a case of repeating the process with a new piece of willow but from the next upright along. You can see in the picture in the bottom right below these staggered start points. Frase ensured that the ends stuck out proud so that they would not slip off the first upright while weaving. These would be trimmed down later.
Step 3 – Wrapping the Top with willow
Over time the trap started to develop (a height of 50 or 60 cm’s) and the string at the top was replaced with willow. I have put the steps for you below. The thick end was slid through the middle of the uprights then wrapped tightly around the uprights for about ten turns, through the uprights again, a couple more turns and back through once more to finish.
Step 4 – Closing the Gap
Finishing the top section can be quite difficult as you have less room to push the willow in and out of the uprights. Make the willow as pliable as possible and experiment with smaller thinner pieces and with starting with the thin end and threading through the thicker end.
Depending on what you are hoping to catch will decide how much of a gap to leave but ideally the gap should only be a couple of centimetres.
Step 5 – Locking off the Opening
When the top has been finished pull the trap out of the ground slowly and it is time to lock off the uprights around the opening.
Take one upright and bend it over in front of the one directly to its right but behind the 2nd one on the right. Repeat the process with the upright on the right and so on. Before long you will be left with just one upright standing vertically. Twist it back and forth and you can thread it easily through the laid uprights to its right.
Look closely at the pictures below and you will see how this works.
Step 6 – The Lid
The lid is about a third of the size of the main body of the trap however the opening is the same size. Use the paper plate, peg and string in the same fashion as before to set up the skeleton of the lid and weave in the exact same way as with the main body of the trap.
The difference though is that the top is not tied off but left open as this will become the opening that your catch will enter the trap through. When the hole in the top is about the size of your fist repeat the process of locking off at Step 5. You will also need to lock of the rim around the bigger opening when it is pulled out of the ground.
Step 7 – Trimming
When you trim off the ends of any piece of willow when making this type of trap try to leave about a cm or so sticking out so that the end of the willow does not slip inside the trap. The outside should be quite prickly but the inside should be smooth.
Step 8 – Attaching the Lid to the main body of the Trap
The lid should sit in the opening of the main body of the trap with the small opening in it well inside it. We split and soaked some willow (soaked in a cup of water) to make it really flexible and used that to tie the lid and the main body of the trap together.
They were tied together at one point only to ensure that the lid stayed attached but could be opened easily to remove any catch or to place any bait.
This project would take a confident weaver/basket maker a few hours to make however our students took most of the day (and one or two came back the next day to finish off) to complete theirs.
These traps are not just for show but tools for living as comfortably as you can on the coast. If you are interested in making these traps under a bit of guidance do contact Fraser at Coastal Survival.
As with any trap do check out whether it is legal to use it in the place you want to set it. In the UK check out the Environment Agency.
Jason is passionate about fire lighting and passing this skill onto others. I decided to sit back and watch his progress. I cannot remember the combination of wood types he was using but he did spend a minute gently warming everything up with some slow rotations of the spindle.
Once he felt everything was a dry as he could get it where the spindle meets the hearth board he really powered up to produce a hot ember. The day had been really wet so all this preparation was essential – all the while he was talking to the visitors explaining what he was doing.
To help himself along in getting his flame Jason had a piece of Cramp Ball fungus (Daldinia concentrica) on hand. He gently laid the piece of Cramp Ball beside the glowing ember to get it alight. This is a handy trick to remember in damp conditions as the ember created from the bowdrill can easily die out if you are not careful.
After a few seconds and a few puffs of breath the Cramp Ball was well alight then………………………
He added to some straw and huffed and puffed for a bit 🙂
Jason’s straw was also a bit damp so he spent a few moments just drying out the area around the cramp ball by gently blowing into it. It is at this stage that many embers disintegrate if you are not careful or they simply die out as they are too small to overcome the damp material.
After a minute the centre of the straw was well dried out and smouldering nicely. Normally, I notice a sudden increase in smoke at this stage and the colour changes slightly telling me I am about to get a flame………………………
Which he did – one impromptu looking candle in fact.
It is always a pleasure to watch Jason at the Wilderness Gathering teaching visitors fire lighting, so if you are thinking of coming along next year check him out.
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.
Recently I came across a video on You Tube from my friend David Willis who runs his own company called Bushcraft with David Willis. David teaches outdoor living skills, natural history and woodland crafts. I thoroughly enjoyed the video so decided to write this blog post, share the video and tell you a little about this excellent fellow bushcrafter.
Last year at the BCUK Bushmoot David ran a number of classes for us and the Backwoods Baker class proved to be a hit. I was photographing lots of classes that morning but kept on coming back to David’s class just to take in the smell of the baking and get the odd morsel or two.
A week later at the Wilderness Gathering I met David once again and he asked if I could take a few pics of him running a class on Backwoods Baking – needless to say I readily agreed, got some great pictures and some lovely bread.
Keep an eye out on David’s website for his free Family Friendly Guided Woodland Walks. They are becoming increasingly popular and David will guide you through the beauty of the Chiltern Hills.
I am hoping that I’ll see David back once again at the Bushmoot and the Wilderness Gathering but in the meantime here is the video on one of his Backwoods Baker courses to enjoy.
I have been going to the Gathering so long now that I feel part of the furniture (I did miss the very first one) but I would not miss it for the world.
Work kept me busy this year so I did not get down to West Knoyle until the Friday so the guys had set everything up before I arrived. I also met Danny’s wife Lorna for the first time this year.
The Friday for me was a relaxed affair setting up my tent and catching up with old friends. That evening found us all relaxing to the music and light show from the band area.
Throughout the whole weekend we would spend time weaving a willow trap for catching crabs and lobsters. This was harder than it looked and I must admit that Danny did the majority of the weaving.
Last year Fraser had a cold smoker set up on his stand and this year he decided on setting up a hot smoker made out of a cardboard box.
It is called a hot smoker as the small smudge fire that generates the smoke is inside the box as opposed to the cold smoker that has the smudge fire located outside of the box.
Due to an algal bloom along the Sputh West coast of the UK we could not get fish for smoking however Fraser did get some delicious cockles from Scotland that he smoked. After smoking the cockles Fraser explained how he further preserved them using either oils or vinegar.
The class he ran from the stand was well attended and I did not manage to get a taste of the cockles before they were all eaten by an appreciative audience.
Being the Coastal Survival stand we spent time demonstrating net making and Fraser managed to get himself filmed by what looked like a very professional looking film maker. I do not know who he was but he did look the part and Fraser being a bit of an extrovert loved it.
The whole weekend was very busy however I did manage to get out and see the rest of the Gathering a few times.
Across from us I found Jason demonstrating his bow drill skills and getting the kids to join in with him. It was also great to catch up with Pablo, JP, Hannah and Richard from the Woodlife Trails team across the way from our stand.
I had a great chat with Jon Mac (of Spooncarvingfirsteps fame) and was really chuffed to be allowed to handle many of the new knives he and Chris Grant are jointly working on. Jon has since gotten married since I spoke with him to Sarah so I want to extend my congratulations to them both now.
While I was on the stand my friend David Willis asked if I could take some pictures of his baking class. David had a busy time demonstrating and teaching folk to bake bread over an open fire. The good thing about being his photographer was that I got to test all the bread.
Saturday night was another night of great music and catching up with friends and the light show was again very impressive.
I spent quite a bit of time taking many pictures of the flames of our fire and was rewarded with these cracking Fire Faces. I can see one howler in the left hand picture and at least three faces in the right hand picture.
How many can you see?
Later that evening I spent some time with Martin Burkinshaw learning the art of low light level photography. Martin gave me some great tips and let me try out his tripod to capture the picture of the Milky Way you can see below.
Sunday found me catching up with our friends Rich and Dave. Rich had recently broken his wrist however that did not stop him getting out and about, though he did take a bit of flak for his nice new black armband.
I spotted some movement on the lake on the Sunday afternoon and managed to get these great snaps of this father and son combo out for a cruise on their newly crafted coracle.
I did not get out to see as much of the Gathering as I did last year when I managed to film much of it however I had a great time teaching lots of kids how to make fishing spears and chatting with our neighbours Sonni and Angela.
This year has also been a good year for Fraser’s book Eat the Beach as we managed to sell quite a few copies for him over the weekend.
To finish up we got given a lovely Lemon Drizzle cake for free by the kitchen staff at the Gathering and somehow it ended up as a birthday cake for our own Stephen Herries. I have no idea how old he is but he was happy anyway :-).
Another year over for the Wilderness Gathering however I hope it is nowhere near my last one.
I am told that if you keep doing the same thing each year, such as going to the same holiday destination, that time will seem to speed up as you get older. I agree with that to a point but as far as I’m concerned it’s what you get up to at your favourite destination that’s important.
I missed the very first Wilderness Gathering but have been to all the rest since and to combat that sense of time passing quickly I make sure I do something new each time. This year my focus was on the art of filming (there are five short videos in this blog post).
For the third year I helped out Fraser from Coastal Survival, mostly in the role of cameraman for him (filming has been my ‘learn’ for this year) but occasionally doing some one-to-one instruction on making fishing spears and nets. Also in the team was fellow Scot, Steve, and new to the team Leo and Max.
The Gathering is also a time for me to catch up with old friends, such as the selection pictured here: Phil from Badger Bushcraft, JP and Pablo from Woodlife Trails, Pete, Martin (in the Billy the Bushcrafter mask) and Mark from G-Outdoors (there are quite a few more friends pictured later). Also it is a great time to meet new friends such as Phil’s partner Charlie.
Over all the days there were plenty of workshops going on but due to helping Fraser out I did not spend any great time at one workshop. In a way it was great to flit from class to class and grab a snapshot from as many as I could. Below you can see Will Lord expertly knapping, Steve and Paul from the Bushcraft Magazine giving some great demonstrations on the stage and I even managed to catch one axe in flight.
One of the things I like about the Wilderness Gathering is all the art you can see in all its different forms, from the grass mat made in a day to the beautifully crafted kayak made by Patrick from Backwoods Bushcraft.
Once each day’s crowds had gone home it was time to tidy up, cook tea and relax. The stage was well attended this year with different acts and it was good to hear the music from most of the site.
I slept up in the main car park in my hammock suspended from my own home-made freestanding hammock stand. I packed it this year as I turned up a bit late and knew there would be no space left in the woods.
As usual I brought one of my Scandinavian candles along and managed to get one picture showing a couple of great fire faces.
On my wanderings I found that if you were patient enough you could get some great shots of some of the best bushcrafters and woodland workers practising their different arts. In these pictures you can see Peter Whiteman carving a yew bow, Ben Orford effortlessly creating a spatula, Jason Sears perfectly demonstrating the art of making cordage by rolling it on his thigh (I have never mastered this) and Jon Mac showing the art of chip carving.
Fast becoming a regular feature at the Wilderness Gathering is the Bowdrill World Championship challenge and this year it was run by Phil Brown of Badger Bushcraft. The challenge is to light a fire using a bowdrill set as quickly as possible. I have entered this on a number of occasions. My quickest time ever from start to flame is 1 minute 13 seconds, but sadly not this year. The best I could do after four attemps was 2 minutes and 6 seconds. JP won this year with a time of 1 minute 20 seconds.
Running alongside all this competitive spirit was Jason teaching people all weekend how to use the bowdrill.
So the main job for me on the weekend was to take pictures of all the activities Coastal Survival got up to. I was very happy to do this as Fraser is a good friend of mine and I am continually learning from him.
The video goes into more detail on how you make one of these very simple but effective spears for fishing.
Fraser has spent time over the winter and summer developing his own knife for use in the coastal environment. It is still in its development stage but I was very impressed with its versatility and particularly liked the rubber handled model.
I put together a short video showing it in use over the weekend.
As usual the net-making classes proved very popular and Fraser and the rest of the crew ran a number of classes on making a pocket gill net and a full-sized gill net. The kids particularly liked making the pocket version.
The video is not a step by step guide to making nets but it will give you a feel for their construction.
A very popular class that Fraser ran was his cold smoker class. The device was set up in front of the stand all weekend and we smoked some wood pigeon in it.
Have a look at the video and see how easy it would be to make one for yourself.
A few other snippets from the weekend: Theresa Kamper in the top right picture (below) is an expert in a lot of primitive crafts but particularly in different types of leather that primitive cultures would have used and is currently finalising her PhD in the subject.
All in all I had a great weekend working hard and catching up with old friends like Sonni and Angela from Beneath the Stars Leatherworking and Dave Budd our resident expert blacksmith, and trying out new skills like dowsing with Hans.
At some stage Fraser said he had been given a canoe to take away as a gift. I initially thought he was pulling my leg but it turned out to be true. I had to turn around his front passenger seat so that we could get the thing into his van but after a bit of huffing and puffing we managed it.
I had a fantastic weekend at the Wilderness Gathering and I was particularly happy that the filming worked out so well.
Here is my last video, with shots from as much of the weekend as I could cram in.
Last August found my daughter Catherine and I making our way down to the Wilderness Gathering. Located near West Knoyle in the beautiful South Wiltshire countryside is the Bush Farm Bison Centre. I have been visiting this gathering for the last ten years.
The Wilderness Gathering has a commercial feel to it though it still maintains its bushcraft origins. I love the fact that it is so close to where I live, there are organised classes all day for my daughter, I get to meet lots of old friends, make new ones, learn new stuff and get some more kit. For the last two years I have been helping out Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival as he is a good friend of mine (I have added all the links at the end of the post). This helps me out a lot as I get a chance to learn lots of new bushcraft skills I can use with my Sea cadets.
The first thing Catherine headed for on arrival was the farm shop to get some ice cream but she soon got into the bushcrafting spirit, particularly keen on doing a bit of carving (this still scares me).
There are plenty of stalls to visit such as the Bushcraft Magazine, to chat at, to buy from and to get some great ideas.
Fraser runs courses for the Coyote Kids Club such as making shrimp traps made out of recycled materials.
Like all the other visits I meet new friends such as the talented carver Jon Macof Spoon Carving First Steps and good friends of old such as Phil and Ben Brown of Badger Bushcraft.
The boys from Silchester – Mark Beer (Lupus), Nick Currie and from the Bushcraft Magazine Paul Bradley. I have learnt a lot from these guys over the years. Always good to catch up, chat and share skills.
This year I helped Fraser run a course on making fishing spears and nets (well, took a lot of pictures really). The fish spears are easy to make and the net making was run as a Masterclass.
A very popular class Fraser ran was how to cold smoke a fish in a cardboard box. Due to the damp weather the smudge fire kept going out but after a few hours we managed to smoke the fish and it was added to an excellent stew.
My daughter Catherine always has a great time at the Gathering as there is plenty for her to do with the Coyote Kids while I am working.
As per usual the food is good with Fraser cooking. I was trying out a new set up here on my fire pit using racks set at different heights for cooking different foods.
No big meals this time as we were kept too busy with classes but excellent all the same.
Caught this shot in one of the many showers this year, thankfully though most people just shrugged the rain off and got on with things.
Over the road from our stand was my friend Jason Sears teaching some group bowdrill. Every time he got the sets out he always had a good audience as folk knew they could participate. Rain was no barrier to this bushcrafter when it came to lighting a fire.
Other neighbours included Ben Orford demonstrating great green woodworking skills and JP from Woodlife Trails expertly taking the visitors through all the steps of creating fire by friction.
I try and get Catherine involved in as many activities as possible. She jumped at the chance to be a Pump Monkey for Dave Budd while he created some knives. I also got a present from my friend Stephen Herries of a burnt-out log – he claims I stole it off him 😉 – which gave me a chance to get my flint adze out and do a bit of primitive carving. The log is a rather nice long bowl now.
Steve Kirk of the Bushcraft Magazine ran an Atlatl making class this year which proved very popular. I learnt this skill at the gathering 10 years ago and have taught it to hundreds of people since then. The shooting of these darts make for some great pictures.
I don’t know what Sarah (of Wilderness Spirit) thought when the Gimp appeared one afternoon – he is harmless really :-).
Catherine was very chuffed to meet her friend Molly again this year. I think that Catherine will be able to turn her hand to many things as she grows up based on these pictures.
At the end of the Gathering I had a great evening with the guys from the Tribe watching Billy the Bushcrafter (Catherine really) being set upon by Beccy’s little ferret.
Last but certainly not least is the pond in the centre of the farm. This is one of my favourite places, I have spent many a relaxed hour sitting beside it.
There is much more to the Wilderness Gathering than the few pictures I took last year so check out some of the links I have put below.
I am looking forward to this year’s Wilderness Gathering and catching up with everyone again.