Saturday, 18 October 2014

Camp spoons

I've been working on this design for a while. Its the subtle little details that make these chaps work. I like the way these cook, eat and work in the hand. There very simple really, which suits me fine. A "jack of all trades" spoon for deep billy cans with tight corners, frying pans with sloped corners and hungry mouths whist in camp. The flat helps to scrape the bottom of pans clean.

All 22-23 cm long and made from Norway Maple.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Hunter Gatherer challenge - Part Three

Bow hunting day! Will it work?

Dinner time! :)
That hinge stayed like that all the way through the session but snapped on the next shot after this picture, but the bow delivered 12 fast arrows with a few hitting Bambi. 
The bow felt around 30lbs draw weight and took about two hours easy work to make. Im going to improve the design so it wont break next time.. Ive a lot of work to do on archery skills to become anyway near good at 20 yards.

My water routine. Millbank bag, followed by boiling. Simple and effective.

After the excitement of the archery, I settled down to another stew and made a quick spoon while it cooked, using a piece of Hazel cut from the fire reflector. Burnt out the bowl with embers and hot air. Well there was no one else to talk to!

Spoonage. Half cooking half eating. As with all bushcraft kit, a jack of all trades.

I then made a few digging sticks and a walking stick for my ever increasing collection. I had an area for these, and it was like a coat rack, stick/hat stand in a house and it made the place feel like home. I have to say I was ready to go further afield by now. I got them hardened off in the fire and went out for a four hour solo foraging walk all the time getting a little higher as I munched my way through  most of Wiltshire's last crop of blackberries. Bevis would of been proud of my great cornholio impression around an hour later.

Pretty things stand out after a while in the woods

Fir needles for tea. They smelt amazing. My scenes and myself were really in the zone now. I was very happy and enjoying the experience very much. 

After finally finding a Beech tree in full mast and grabbing a pocket full, I finally found the site of my goal. A rare beast to track down and a good walk away, the Burdock. Check it out, the root was huge, and full of Carbohydrate. Shouting "Panama, TP and bunghole" loudly as I dug tripping on natural sugurs, I soon had the sucker out of the ground.

Then it rained like stair rods for 45 minutes, again, but I was rewarded with this on the way back to camp. To say I was cheerful was an understatement. There was the thought of a ful belly to look forward to after a top day.

This evening sir, we have sliced oak smoked cured venison haunch, with fresh nettle tops, sliced burdock root, in an elderberry sauce.

I dribbled a bit at this stage

While it was cooking I had an ember roasted nut starter helped down with some hawthorn berries (pips removed of course)
I ended up roasting some of the burdock on the embers, which sweetened them greatly. I was almost in Parsnip territory here. 

Early the following morning I went for a walk, and watched this chap go down...

...and this one pop up. 

I walked out with my buddies after dismantling the shelter and putting out the fire, back to the main camp area to join the others for tea and medals. What a most excellent adventure!

Hunter gatherer challenge. Part Two

The next day i worked flat out as the sun had popped out for a bit, giving an opportunity to get everything finished off. I had more thatching to do to the shelter, more bedding to collect, a fire reflector to build, firewood and kindling for another long night, and attempt to preserve and start to cook up the venison meat.

I just about managed to pull this off before having another real low. Energy was gone by late afternoon, but I had managed to get a stew on of meat and nettles, and started to get more water filtered, boiled, cooled and into me. A quick 30 min break, the first all day, followed by food and a nettle brew and I had my epiphany moment. 
I realised I had done it, all the hard work was done. All I had to do now was enjoy the routine as I normally would do on trips that normally involve energy giving noodles, bread, potatos, coffee and chocolate (Oh how I missed this wonderful substance!) only I had to find my food, and water. Something I like to do anyway. Also there was a major craft project to complete with a deadline. I wanted to make up for the bowdrill, so I went balls out for the next 2 and a half days only stopping to sleep.

As I went about my water runs to the bottom of the hill and back, and mooching about locally I improved my wild teas, greens other than nettles such as Plantains and Dandelions,  started to gather roots from Thistles & Silverweed. I gathered hazel and beech nuts for a fatty protein boost. My mood improved by the hour. I even gathered a good load of Ribwort plantain seed heads. Dried them out, winnowed, cooked and ground the seeds into a flour. Then made a nice fatty biscuit. I was ticking off projects on a list, moral was improving. Things were looking up. Small achievements meant a lot.

Raw state of plantain seed

Dryed and separated from husk

Ground into flour using the bowdrill hearth board. It had a use after all :)

It took a long time to make though, but it was packed with energy and more digestible than in a raw state.

Ground Ivy for Tea

Thistle. A fibrous chap the thistle be

More firewood, and tinkering with the shelter continued and I started to get the bits together for the bow and arrows.
I decided on a bundle bow, and to try and make two arrows with knapped flint heads, bound with natural products. I was lucky on the first night as I found a kill site of a pigeon ( by a bird of prey I think) so grabbed the feathers and squirrelled them away for fletchings. 

I found this old glass bottle side, quite flat too. So went with that as its much easier than flint and I'm only a novice knapper.

Knocked these chaps out during the long night by the fire of night three. Hazel shafts were prepared, dryed, straightened, and hardened over the fire. The heads were attached by the backstrap sinue from venison loin. Shrunk into place by the heat of the fire like rawhide on a cowboys forehead. Wouldn't that be a way to go (said in a mountain man Jake type voice ;) )

Nettle fibres for the fluffy end

Working on the bow the following morning

Da da!

Hunter Gatherer Challenge 2014 - Part One

Last week I completed a tough but very rewarding week living off the land. You could almost call it a re-wilding experience. The challenge was held in Wiltshire, UK and delivered by a company called Wilderness Survival Skills.

I could waffle on for ages about the trip, I'll try not to as I dont want to potentially spoil it for others that might want to attend on future occasions, but I'll give an account of my experiences and throw in some pictures as usual.

This survival/wilderness type of trip was to mainly be a solo affair. All the other trips Ive done like this, I have been working in a group with the exception of a few solo overnighters with minimal kit. Solo just means more hard graft, but that was the only problem, as being on my own most of the time meant I had no distractions and could crack on with all of the jobs. There were plenty to do as well!

First off, we were put in three teams of three, each team given a separate wood to navigate to using sketch maps drawn the night before. Here I look a little startled for some reason. Probably weighing up the huge task ahead of me. Most folks had decided to bring no sleeping equipment, no firelighting equipment, no food, and no water. Only Knife, Saw, Billy can, warm wool and cotton clothing, flint knapping kit, minimal wash kit and spare underwear allowed. Some safety items taken were phone, headtorch and first aid, and a notebook and camera were allowed to document the time out in the woods.

My team just about to head off on the first morning. It rained and the wind blew like mad, for most of the next five days! We had to make our separate shelters and beds from natural materials, light fire from our surroundings, butcher a deer, and make water safe to drink on the same day. I opted to go the whole hog and try to forage for all the firelighting  materials needed during several hours of prolonged rainfall. This was my biggest concern. More on that later.

The wood we were to stay in is on teh right of this picture. Here Dave is working out the other nearest groups position way off on the other side of the valley. We were already soaked to the skin and we hadent even started on making homes yet.

Once we knew we were in the right woodland, we went our separate ways. We kept in touch once a day or so to keep an eye on each other. This was important, as there were some dangerously tired blokes wandering about. The moral of seeing a mate was priceless at times.

As I said, drying a tinder bundle was going to be a mean feat, so after I found a spot for a shelter, I  set to looking in all the driest places for suitable combustible materials. Then collected deadwood for splitting down and feathering wood for kindling. I kept tinder close to the body and hung in trees trying desperately to dry it, while my heated body made the shelter.

I got the open fronted shelter OK for the first nights sleeping, and as a sheltered spot for friction fire-lighting using Hazel wood I had collected and carved as the rain slowed down, for the bow drill set. BY this time I was very low on energy having had no water all day or food.

Platform as a base for the fire, tinderbundle of various things, and a nice dry (on the inside) cramp ball found on Ash near the camp that day.

OK, here we go. I failed:( There, Ive said it.
 I've never felt so rubbish!! I was doing everything right had smoke, embers and black powder in abundance but they just kept on dwindling away after a few seconds of promise. Ive done this successfully so many times, even on the day from scratch and in rain. But everything was so wet, including the air as the sun was going down, My energy was spent after nine attempts, a walk in, and building up and down a hill all day and two sets and bows carved. My right shoulder and knee was done in. I literally keeled over and said thats it. Then my mate turned up, and I reluctantly excepted the offer of some help as he had a fire lit from a dry set brought from home. 

I got the cramp ball lit, and luckily with a lot of blowing and steam, got all the prep lit too and ....


I decided from here on in not to let my failure to bother me because the tinder and kindling  had worked on the first go. Also, there was the deer to sort out, and several days of wilderness living to do. I was not going to give in!
It did mean I had work to do to sort this out skills wise for the future, in case I could have found better woods, carved more of the possibly damp wood away, been more efficient with energy expenditure etc. 
Don't give up until you really cant do it any more. One chap on the course persevered and succeeded. If he can, so can you and I. Well done Dave.

Next up deer skinning and butchery. Our only source of food, but we had to earn this by making a hunting weapon capable of actually killing an animal of this size, from only materials found in the woods. We would be tested on a target on day 4 to earn our meat and win a prize.

I collapsed by the fire, skewered some fillet of loin to cook over the embers, ate and slept next to a fire of bony Oak after gathering loads of wood for the night. I woke every 1 1/2 - 2 hours to stoke up the fire.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Elvaston Castle Woodland Festival 2014 - Derbyshire

 Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog posts of late. Its been an incredibly busy year for me working on tree inspection, running and supporting events in Derbyshire and assisting on Bushcraft and carving courses in Wiltshire for Wilderness Survival Skills. There are two children eager to get out and learn about the countryside too, so days have been long, but on the whole, fun packed.
This weekend I had a stall at the Elvaston Castle woodland festival in Derbyshire. Derbyshire County Council’s Countryside service (whom I also work for), organise the event which is held in a well-established mixed estate that they own. There is mature woodland, Tree collections, parkland and formal gardens to explore. Amongst all of this setting is one of the best woodland festivals around, because of all the brilliant demonstrators that attend each year from all areas of craft, woodland working, and nature based education.
I had a couple of tables rammed with spoons, kuksas, bowls, bark pots, baskets, and other crafts to display and sell on. Several spoon making demonstrations were completed over the two days, and lots of great folks met. The turn out this year was the best so far, and the weather, perfect. All in all a really positive event for all. Thanks to everyone who passed by the stall and stopped for a chat, it was great to see you all, and Im sorry if there wasn’t enough time to talk, everyone kept arriving in droves! 
A few pictures from the rest of the site.  I had to pinch these pics off a colleague, as I was glued to the stand most of the time. One day I’ll have to just go as a visitor to get round properly.

Spoon shop by day, bed by night

Rest of my bits and bobs

My footwear for the whole weekend. Buckskin Mocasin boots i made earlier in the year as a student on a course at Wilderness Survival Skills.

Jeremy Atkinson Clog maker
Alistair Hayhurst. A very happy chap making hurdles and many other crafts :)

Wildfood cookery with Dan Watson. One of my favorite stalls

Lots of great bodgers and chair makers on site. Sorry I havent many pictures of them all but I did manage to get hold of these lovely chairs by John Richardson. Peter Wood was also on site with the usual amazing turning skills on display.
Other folks I managed to speak too were Steve Tomlin and Robin wood, well known and very skilled craftsmen who have influenced me a lot via their blogs. They have recently used the site on the build up to the festival as a place to run a wooden Ladder making course. Really great to see these skills in practice and the finished ladders made a real focal point.

Some folks still swinging about for a job. Ahh the fun I used to have....

Hopefully funds and future allowing the festival will still be on next year at the same venue, so get yourself down there if possible, its well worth it.

Hopefully I'll get a few more blog posts up over the next few months.
Next trip is the Hunter Gatherer week, living off the land with a Billy can, knife, saw, milbank bag, cordage. Plus saftey items -  whistle, torch, FA kit, and phone.  

Should be another interesting experience