Sunday, 8 September 2019


I often find online recommendations and comments about goods can be a blessing and a curse; Typically you'll get a one star review that complains that a product arrives broken but these things happen and may not reflect the supplier getting another out double quick and the replacement being superb, or the five star review that says something looks shiny out of the box and may well be a lame product.

I try and give a product a decent amount of time/ use before committing any thoughts but my Vivobarefoot barefoot walking shoes are a slight exception.

Ed Stafford and Ben McNutt from Wild Human are big fans of the brand but initially I  became aware of this brand through JP and Pablo from Woodlife Tracking and Bushcraft School who did some initial trials with there footwear. I therefore tried to get some in the summer of 2018 but the above picture was a general state of affairs across all the designs I liked.

I then revisited in late Spring of 2019 and quelle surprise, more of the same lack of availability. I doggedly stuck at it, checking the website and finally, in early August, I got hold of some black Primus Lite minimalist shoes. With such a convoluted pursuit of a pair, along with a hefty price tag,  I was hoping for big things. By the way the above picture is from Autumn 2019 so the lack of stock at certain stages seems cyclical.

Another grumble: I logged in and looked at my purchase history to double check that I was putting the correct type as my purchase, the sites suggests that I haven't ordered any!

I paid for express delivery because I was close to going on holiday to Crete and wanted them with me for a workout, but I will usually have them on in an urban and woodland setting but more on that later...I want to talk about my holiday.


 It was a holiday by the coast with mixed shingle and coarse golden sand shoreline and initially I found the sensation of the cellular-like sole took a little getting used to  but once I got to grips with them I was off and running (but not literally).

Despite the cost and the difficulties experienced whist buying I have to say that they do live up to their billing and they became my go to footwear pretty much all the time save the odd bit of flip flop action by the pool. The mesh on the top of the shoes does help to keep your feet fresh but it also acts as an effective sand trap as the above left hand side picture demonstrates.

They are supremely comfortable over smooth ground and when transversing rough or stony terrain you find that you sense the unevenness rather than feeling it as an uncomfortable experience.

Whilst by the sea I decided to test them in the drink. They functioned rather well as beach shoes but I didn't stay in long because the laces keep coming undone repeatedly and I didn't want to lose one. I am a decent knot tyer however laces are my perpetual downfall but tied rightly or wrongly these laces don't stay secure for long. I double tie them but I'm seriously considering using some plastic cord locks as it is getting on my nerves.

Do you know your double looped reef from your double looped granny when it comes to laces? This  knotting blog covers it towards the end.

When I returned home the left hand inner sole started to come away and then detached, I can't say for sure if this was due to the one-off dip in the sea but it is now a bit more of a job taking the shoe off without pulling the inner totally out. Even if I hadn't been in the sea surely dew and rain would have a cumulative effect in time?


Back in blighty I will be using them mostly in the British countryside as I'm not near the coast. Much like the rough or stony ground experience uneven woodland isn't a problem. I took the footwear on this recent overnighter and whilst investigating a new piece of woodland it dawned on me just how quiet and lightfooted it is possible to be in a pair.

I also used them in the evenings when mooching about camp, I certainly wouldn't recommend any axe work with them on but they are the perfect tonic to a day wearing walking boots or hybrid cross trainers. They are also a light option to hang up on a cord run just under my hammock if you need to get up in the night.


In an urban setting they are great too but the one surface that I've found you can really feel through them is the raised slabs that indicate to a blind or partially sighted person that they are near a drop kerb by a road.

With all this constant wearing of the Vivos I feel justified in reviewing them. The experience of using them out and about is exactly what I had hoped for, the wait for them, the laces and the detached inner do rather tarnish the purchase. There are also online reports some of the sealed sole shoes (like this) coming apart in time, this could be good honest wear and tear but it would be good if the company could offer a re-soling service which would re-enforce their green credentials.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Church Farm, Ardeley Camp #2

Having camped solo at Church Farm for the first time last year I was rather surprised to find that my youngest son wanted to tag along for my second visit recently.

As before I booked the site and a bag of fire wood with kindling, matches and starters but instead of Squitmore Wood where I had my visit I asked on my booking form to pitch up in Lowany End Wood which is still a young wood but is older than the other one I was in.

Once I'd booked in I headed off to find the wood. The start of the route is similar to the one detailed in my previous blog but for Lowany End Wood we turned left by the cow shed...


...And across a large field to the wood which is accessed through a central gate. Note that as I type this the wood doesn't have a name on said gate. I meant to pack some atlatl darts in case there was room and forgot, I could have chucked them in this field leading to the woods to my heart's desire.


The wood has a central access for vehicles and conveniently has several areas clear to park vehicles in so you are well away from things but equally you can unload your gear quickly, efficiently and get going in quick order. There are also two water taps along the access but they are slow thinkers which I guess is the price you pay for being away from things and certainly not a deal breaker. 

There was a noticeable Southwesterly blowing so we elected to set up on the left hand side to maximise the shelter offered by both the right hand side and a decent Hawthorn hedge  along the bit we'd chosen.

I'd offered my son a choice of two one pole lightweight tents, a regular or closed tarp tent  or a regular tent and he chose the latter. Well if he thought I was going to do it he was mistaken! There was plenty of animated chat going on with this inanimate object with my favourite being 'You are just a tent, you will do my bidding!' as I set about sorting the rest of our camp.


As with my first camp I decided to remove the top of my chosen fire site, even though there is no onus on me to do so. It was rather problematic this time as the top soil was dry and rather crumbly but eventually I got a win.

The firewood supply consisted of a large piece firewood bag, a fairly small amount of kindling, some eco firelighters and two packs of matches. 


 Whilst the top soil was dry, the stuff below was damper and therefore I used some kindling as a platform the ground was damp I did a base and effectively used nearly all the supplied kindling in one go. I left my son lighting it the kindling  blitzed a couple of pieces of the supplied firewood with my trusty Justin Burke tomahawk to make some more kindling for the next morning and to produce a few smaller sized firewood pieces to get us going.


For my lodgings I'd gone for my usual tarp and hammock set up and used my 3 m x 3 m one as an admin area which I don't usually use when alone. All in all quite a tidy camp for entertaining a youth and also a chance to use my Frontier Stove which hadn't seen the light of day recently, I initially used it to get a quick brew in whilst the fire got going. The admin tarp was aligned South West to North East which meant the smoke drifted harmlessly past our seats although my son argued that the smoke had it in for him  wherever he was.

I had my tarp angled slightly diagonally to the admin one because a) It is longer and therefore needs the diagonal space between the fairly uniformly spaced trees and b) It meant I could pop a chisel closure at one end to defeat the small breeze still reaching us.

As this was a slightly different camp I'd brought a packed lunch to save on time but I was going to some Dutch oven chips to go with it. I carved two pieces of bamboo that I'd brought back from holiday to make some simple tongs but we decided to hold them off 'til tea as we had enough to eat. Curry and chips for tea it is.

I'd also made  a bread dough using Khorasan and Spelt flour (both ancient wheats) after dinner to make a loaf for  breakfast the next day.

The bread rose well, so well that the dough ended up being annoyingly a shade too developed for the Petromax FT1 that I'd used. I attempted to carefully lift into the slightly larger FT3.

It was actually tasty but I took my eye off the ball and it got a rather burnt posterior which I had to surgically removed. The burnt base did however double up as a camp frisbee as the small video above demonstrates (click on the picture or here). Well it would be boring if everything turned out perfectly, even Ray Mears has his this one.

Once the bread was dealt with and stashed I positioned my reflector oven a little way back from the fire to help because my previously prepared curry needed a little help to be fully defrosted.

My son isn't a bushcraft skills type of person so we used part of the afternoon to look over a large Badger sett on the narrow road up to the top field, which I spectacularly missed last time, amongst other things and then made our way slowly back to get on with tea. The curry  being previously made left me fairly free to focus on making the  chips with junior. Here he is pressed into chipped potato production.

I used the Petromax FT3 Dutch oven that I'd made the bread in and half filled it with Sunflower oil, I then piled embers about a third of the way round it. The oil is then tested with a previously cut runty chip to see if it bubbles and when it does cook the chipped potatoes in small batches (to stop the oil cooling off) for about five minutes and then remove onto kitchen roll.

The embers are then piled up to around half way around the Dutch oven and the potato pieces cooked for around ten minutes to colour and crisp them. Perfect with salt and homemade Hawthorn Ketchup.

We didn't use all the potato so I re-invigorated the Frontier stove and par boiled the pieces so that they could be pan fried in my trusty Primus pan as in the morning for an extra for  breakfast. I had a pudding lined up but again we held it over to dinner the next day as we were stuffed.

 We also had a visit from the site's owner called Emma who had seen our set up and asked if she could take some pictures for publicity, three of which appeared on their Facebook page on august 5th. We had a good chat and she is definitely keen to get hobbyist bushcrafters to visit more and told me of a wood to go and investigate that doesn't often get used for camping.

After clearing up (yes, both of us) we had a quick drink and headed out to place my Bushnell trail camera near the previously reconnoitred badger sett near three entrances/ exits, baited the area with peanut and mealworms and decided to park ourselves on the opposite bank diagonally down from the camera to take our scent away.

We sat and sat and decided due to a bad case of numb bum that we would move about ten metres further down on a more comfortable looking ledge. After nearly two hours we decided to call it a day and placed our faith in my trail cam. I was more disappointed for my youngest as he really wanted to see one.

He did however capture this shot of some geese during the evening which he asked me to add to this blog.

Checking the fire over in the morning it was obvious that it had all but burnt out with not so much as a fire dog left. I grabbed one of the supplied eco fire lighter and some seasoned Birch that I had brought along and left the firelighter in the ashes to see if it took. It soon started smouldering and a gentle blow got the show started.

Once established I put some big pieces on as we had a cooked breakfast, dinner and held over pudding to do. I also slowly started introducing some briquettes because I sensed that my son was starting to have WiFi withdrawal and finishing off with them means that there is little in the way of solid material to deal with.

After breakfast I quickly went to grab the trail cam and investigate the wood mentioned by Emma last night. I reported back that pretty much all the peanuts and mealworms had disappeared and whilst looking out for them I smacked my head on a low branch but the trail camera didn't pick it up, just as well with the ensuing expletive! As for the wood I think I may have looked around the wrong half as it was a mature wood to die for but was nettle heavy. I'm back next month so I'll revisit. 

The one thing I noted was that there was recent evidence of badger, deer, pheasant and fox in a mud trap. Note the Vivobarefoot footwear for scale. I will be blogging about this newish purchase soon.


Upon my return I had a request to get dinner underway...The call of WiFi at home was kicking in. We had a simple to do Cajun chicken with onions, cherry tomatoes and peppers in some wraps. The held over pudding was to be an attempt at a recipe from issue 71 of Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine which was apple doughnuts.

They were blissfully easy to make with a couple also having peanut butter in and despite it not being something I'd usually choose to eat they were soft and tasty with a bit of cream and golden syrup.

With the car being close I'd started to slowly pack away bits and bobs away and the charcoal briquettes had reduced to nearly dust so I left the fire til last to allow the odd bits of wood to burn down too. I left my son striking his tent with more teenager-v-tent commentary.

I'd originally planned this as a solo trip but but I changed the itinerary to suit having someone along, so more poshcraft than bushcraft with not much in the way of a time slot to start any craft projects but it was still an enjoyable break and whilst the trees in the wood are only around twenty years or so old they are still serviceable for hammocking and the right to pick a spot for a fire pit is a definite plus. This is the leave no trace campsite as we were about to hit the road.

Oh, and I got a footage of a field mouse and rabbit eating the peanuts and mealworms...Absolutely no Badger action.


Thursday, 1 August 2019

Four Whistles for Four Seasons

For me one of the most satisfying things to make when out and about is a whistle, they are easy to make with minimal effort.

There are four basic whistles that can be made with one being seasonal and  so I have divided them into a whistle for each season.

The first is the Spring whistle which is the made of Elder

The Summer one is the truly seasonal one, the Sycamore whistle

The Autumn one is the bottle top whistle

And to finish with the drinks can whistle

Bottle top whistle-Spring

Whilst it is possible to occasionally find acorn cups on the forest floor to use for a whistle at any time of the year, outside of autumn they can often be a bit manky. If you can source one great, if not there is an everyday substitute.

The short stem of the leaf and the long stem of the acorn tell us that this is a Pendunculate Oak (think of a pendulum). It's Latin name is Quercus robur. The stalk arrangements of Sessile Oaks (Quercus petraea) are the other way round.

Pull the acorn from the cup. I aim for a fairly deep one as I find them easier to hold as a whistle, small ones are a bit bothersome.

 The 'Urban acorn cup', or one litre fresh juice carton lid. Actually pretty much any plastic lid will do as long as you can get a seal on it, but more later. Metal lids tend to be a bit sharp around the the rim for use as a whistle.

To start with place the cup/ lid between either your left or right  index finger and thumb as shown above. 

Place the other index finger and thumb (as shown) and position your digits until you have left a small inverted triangular gap at the top between your thumbs whilst making sure that the rest of the cup/ lid is sealed and airtight. You may have a bit of trouble with the last detail of the lid is too big.

Place this arrangement to your pursed lips so that your thumb knuckles are to your mouth (as shown) but with a slight gap at the top so that you can blow air towards the inverted triangular hole. You may find that you need to re-adjust your thumbs but it is quite shrill when you get it right.

You can also use a Squirrel bothered half of a Hazelnut case but it is a little more fiddly than the other two versions. 


This type of carved whistle is often referred to as a sycamore whistle but other tree varieties will work well too. The blog page is a bit of fun and some of the whistles are interchangeable in position, but not this one as it needs to be sappy wood to work.

First off you need to select a piece of wood that is about the diameter of a carpenter's pencil.

Chop a straight section out about five inches in length, then score the bark all the way round as seen by my thumb.  The large section to the left of the cut will become the whistle, the smaller bit to the right is a 'handle' which will be explained later.


Start to gently knock the larger left hand piece of branch with something stout like a length of wood or closed Swiss Army Knife, don't use anything with an edge because you don't want to damage the bark.

Make sure you don't hit the bark too hard, just keep working the whole area and then when you think you have done sufficient knocking (check the end to see if it is separating) grab the bark and gently twist with one hand on the whistle bit and the other on the 'handle' in a twisting motion. When it is ready it start to slide off.

 Don't take it all the way off but push it back and cut the slot as shown, I used to cut it then bash it and found that I often used to damage the bark around the freshly cut hole but soon changed to the other way round. Personally when it does separate it is a relief for me as I find this bit is easy to muck up.


Now slide the bark off and start to carefully cut the sound chamber as shown. There isn't a prescribed size but the cuts will determine the pitch. Once you have formed a chamber slice about 1 mm off the top of the inner wood between the sound chamber and the end that goes in your mouth.

Slot the bark tube back on and blow. If no sound issues try cutting the sound chamber a little more and the slot from the end to the chamber a very little bit...It'll come good eventually. As well as being Summer specific this type of whistle doesn't last that long due to it drying out and losing it's integrity.

Elder whistle-Autumn

Scout Survival Skills Badge resource sheet

Can whistle-Winter


*t shirts 
* visit Craig in Kent...get an in situ pic of current and zipped tarps and use Craig's 'usefulness.
* B and S S mag. Provenance article plus a prize pots some set ups?