Friday, 21 February 2020

A Kelly Kettle Brew From Poo

I have had an outdoors itch that I needed to scratch for a while, and that was to experiment to see if I could power a Kelly Kettle with dried horse poo to give me a brew. I collected some frozen horse droppings (probably, no certainly to the disgust of my family) and in the accompanying Youtube video that I did I couldn't recall how long the poop had been drying...I guessed at a year, it was actually three! 

As I did the video I pretended to eat a piece of the poop on the pretence of seeing it mentioned as a possible survival food on the internet! I declare that is wasn't so at the end...

I don't know what the dried weight of the 'fuel' was but I had around a dozen of the 'biquette' style fewmets (when likened to Deer scat) and initially I tried lighting them with a single match. They scorched the droppings but didn't quite take.


I then introduced a piece of waxed card firelighter which will of course have added a little additional heat but I wasn't being too scientific, just curious with the fuel source, this had the desired effect.


With only  a small amount of water to heat the efficient Kelly Kettle had me some boiling water within 2-3 minutes-Success. I probably won't be rushing out to collect more poo but I'm glad I did this little test.

Having had a post experimental internet hunt I found this bbc link regarding the burning of horse poo. And if you are interested the video is below.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Wood Pile Bowdrill Challenge

A while ago now I challenged myself to make and sucessfully use a Silver Birch bowdrill made from fire wood I had.

Recently I decided to tidy my wood pile up, it's located in my gardena nd is a mix of fire wood from my in-laws (the had a chimney fire and got shot of it), and various a.n.other wood that I've had the fortune to get hold of...A real mix and match.

With the Silver Birch challenge coming to mind plus the lack of recent bowdrill practice I decided to keep an eye out for any decent bits of wood that I could try again with.

Whilst I was involved in Scouting I used to collect every single large and small straight sticks with a view to adding them to my A frame shelter building kit


Time had taken it's toll on a fair few of them so if they survived a forty five degree pressure bend they lived, if it snapped the bits went into my Frontier stove which was both handy for getting shot of the wood and a source of warmth on a clear but cold winter day. A great excuse to get it out and fired up! I have to say thanks to Canvas Tent Shop who put this up for a prize which I was happy to win.

With bow drill in mind I was obviously keeping an eye out for straight sticks to fashion a drill out of, I actually found some very early ones which in the main were fat, short and rather punky. A bit embaressing to say that I did copious reading before starting my self-taught bowdrill journey.

This discarded spoon blank was an interesting find as it wasn't a bad shape at all and was a puzzle why I'd ditched it half done.

 I'd previously found mice in the pile which made me jump a foot in the air so I was wary of more encounters, but I suspect a Grey Squrirrel had started a midden mound by de-shelling and troughing peanuts in there. Interestingly I don't put nuts in shells on my bird table so a furry-tailed rat must have come from another garden.

A couple of other interesting pauses were to look at a woven Wren's nest that did actually get built in. Apparently males build several nests to attract the ladies and luckily he didn't use this one as it was really near the wood and I needed the shelter stuff for Cubs around that time. The fungus is a Cramp ball which appeared on what is almost certainly Ash whilst it was in the pile. It's a useful  addition to a firelighting kit as it takes a spark well when dry. Upon further examination of the wood it showed a decent colony of them.

Towards the end of my tidy the rain started coming down so I did a bit of a bodge-it set up of my 3 x 3 tarp to finish off, it certainly gave it a bit of a camp feel.

So with the tidy up finished attention turns to the bow drill set. The bow is curved but a bit short and the wood of unknown origin and is powered by the paracord that was securing the wood bundles, the bearing blocks looks to be coniferous and whilst seasoned it is very damp, the drill is almost certainly Hazel and the base Lime which is actually a decent drill/ board combination. 

The set bedded in nicely and smoked well but the board was just the wrong side of punky and two efforts on it resulted in corners pinging off the depression. I wondered as well if the first length of paparcord I used might have been an old worn bowdrill length relegated to stick tying duties as the cordage slipped a few times whilst bowing. I changed it for the second attempt but I ended up with worn cordage which I've put down the the drill being really rough.

I decided to change the key componants completely, I'm fairly sure I found another piece of Lime for the base although not 100% because there wasn't any tell tale bark on this piece like the last, and the drill was again swopped for another Hazel length that had less abrasive bark. I was pleased to get to a sucessful ember but having not practiced in a while I felt my technique rather ring rusty, and videoing it was interesting for me to look at and critique (my eldest son has said that making Youtube videos is very narcissistic!).

Monday, 20 January 2020

Winter Walk in Wendover Woods

I discovered Wendover Wood on the interent by chance. The wood's website has next to no information concerning possible flora and fauna and an internet  search for a detailed list was lacking but for a single, and rather neglected blog called Walk Among Flowers


The (last) entry dated 21st June 2011 details a walk that takes in the wood and suggest that it is mostly a mixture of Beech and Fir, the above shots of Scots Pine and Beech mast were taken in and around the car park and whilst the two species are common it doesn't paint the full picture.


After a coffee at the decent but soon to be busy café we elected to try and find the designated Firecrest Walk (one of the few species mentioned on the website). My son confidently lead us in the right direction...Or so he thought and we end up on the Hill Fort Trail. As we went along I took a picture of all the tree types that I saw after the Scots Pine and Beech so quickly I recorded Yew, Holly, Ash, Spruce... 

...Horse Chestnut, Lime, Hazel, Hawthorn... 


...Pendunculate Oak, Box, Alder and Ash.

A lot of the spruce trees had copious amounts of resin issuing from wounds, I gathered token amounts from several trees for a forthcoming project which I need a bit of pine pitch glue for.

From a distance this non-coniferous tree in full leaf had me puzzling, but closer examination revealed a specimen covered in a big Ivy growth.

The website suggested that there would be the chance to see the surrounding countryside and this  slightly misty view was near the site of the Boddington hill fort. 

It is hard to visualise the true extent of this ancient site but it took some time to traverse it, and whilst there's not much to signify the areas former usage there was a tantalising glimpse of the mount that surrounded it towards the back end. Imagine camping on such a historic site.

When discussing what time to leave home I'd come up with the earliest suggestion which  I argued was necessary to have a decent chunk of time to walk before dinner. We did this route quite quickly and as we headed back found a path the join the Firecrest walk which we had originally aimed for. 

Having seen plenty of tree types on the first walk we saw or heard little sign of any animals and birds, the Firecrest walk was different. Initially the trees were mostly Beech but gave way to a mixture and we stopped to look at the bird activity high up in the canopy.

We saw Blue, Coal and Great Tits, Nuthatches, Treecreepers and what we are fairly sure were Firecrests. Being high up you barely get a flash of the crest to distinguish them from Goldcrests but we had several encounters and have had to assume we've successfully seen Firecrests.

Whilst straining our necks we could also here a gruff Corvid like call a way away, it turned out to be a small unkindness of Ravens (one of the collective noun names). I only had the idea to try and capture it on my camera once most had left but one is better than none. Click on the above image with the volume up. Despite their size and number we only briefly saw one fly away.

It was whilst scoping for the Ravens that I noticed that the trees in front of me weren't Spruces, they were actually Balsam Firs which brings the tree list up to thirteen. 

Note the little horizontal blisters which, if you pierce, are full of resin which has a smell sort of similar to honey. You can see that a couple have burst a while ago. there's a very good blog post on the tree resin's medicinal property by Paul Kirtley here).

It wasn't all about trees and birds. We also saw lot of Bracken, Travellers Joy, Brambles, Arum, Nettles, Cleavers, Clematis, Wood Sorrel, Broom, Gorse and even a lone Herb Robert flower. And to top it off, some Elder leaves out.

 Having visited to see what the wood was like I consider the fact that I am lagging behind my family taking pics to be a successful visit, much like the first picture in this blog actually. We stopped at the now heaving café for a bite and got out of the carpark before hitting the next price band by eight minutes.

If you visit and will be heading eastbound down the A41 then turn left not right out of the one way exit road because by the time my sat nav caught up I had, shall we say, the scenic route. 

As a place to visit will be a guaranteed return in warmer and more verdant months as any trees I missed will be betrayed to me by their leaves (I didn't see any Birch or Willows for instance) and the blog I mentioned earlier listed many interesting plants and flowers in and around the locality with the Wildlife Trust run Aston Clinton Ragpits nature reserve boasting many orchid and butterfly species close by.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Jack Raven Leatherwork Day

I'd has this leather working day booked for almost exactly a year but suddenly I found myself  having to get a wiggle on to get some bits prepared top take down to Kent. I'd previously been down to Kent to do a medicinal plant 1-2-1 day in 2016 as part of my long leave award work sabbatical.

Gary was hosting Paul (The Bardster) and Bob (Paul's leather work and wood turning Facebook page can be found here) and as the attendees met up, mingled and made a brew we all had a look at a fulsome display of Paul's work.

Soon after ten o'clock we convened around one of the two large work tables to get the tuition started.


The main part of Paul's talk was centred around the types of leather and the saddle stitch that utilises two needles. Previous attempts of mine have used a round awl, rather than a diamond shaped one but future attempts of mine will be undertaken whilst armed with a pricking iron (above left). It was useful seeing proper stitching done at first hand.

There was a decent spread of leather types available for people's chosen projects which were everything from wrist bands to knife sheaths...

...Talking of sheaths...I also forged this tapered tang knife with Kaos Blacksmiths (who doesn't appear to be doing regular sessions any more) which I then handled at home using Birch, Walnut, horn and vulcanised spacers.

So I started marking out a template and, after a false start of which leather to use, I started cutting the leather.

Followed by a session of marking and pricking the edge of the leather template with a view to getting some stitching underway.

I've got a roll of decent sized salmon skin leather pieces that I was going to sound Paul out about incorporating in the sheath...But annoyingly I couldn't find it so I did ask with the view to making some more and using it.

Now I ended upcoming away with an unstitched Mora knife sheath via one of Paul's templates. So hat happened to the plan to make a sheath for the afore mentioned knife? Basically I came to the conclusion that the squarish profile of my knife wasn't conducive to making an easy, and indeed a nice looking sheath so I pulled the plug.

Unfortunately this was after soldiering on to the point where it wasn't worth starting to stitch it. Hugely frustrating but it wasn't meant to be. I still came away with a better understanding of leather work and Gary emailed all attendees a list of leather working suppliers and information that Paul had written out so I know how to improve my tools without spending a fortune. 

So what am I going to do about sheathing my little knife? Have a look at the Youtube video above...

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Kevan Palmer Carving Workshop

I've previously attended a couple of Kevan Palmer courses and both revolved around food; one was a foraging talk and three course evening meal in the now closed Foragers in St. Albans and the other was a fermentation day in Milton Keynes.

Now when this carving workshop ad appeared on his  Live Primally social media feed with a mobile phone number and almost seemed like a small ad in a shop window. I rang and got myself booked in because it is an event that is, for once, really close to my home (less than ten minutes), and it gives me a chance to concentrate on actually putting in the hard yards on a carving project or two.

Incidentally Amanda, the host, held a Druid ceremony at the site and one of the attendees knew Kevan which ultimately lead to the workshops happening.

Y'see, I am fairly competent at spoon carving (the above one is from spalted Birch firewood) and can knock out one that is perfectly functional, what I usually lack is the ability to stick at one to the end or at least to do one in one sitting.

I had decided to have a go at making a Youtube video on a recent camp so I messaged Amanda the organiser to see if she was happy for me to do a bit of filming if attendees were happy, she was and I also asked Kevan if he would be happy to do a quick question and answer session pre-workshop-He was too. So I prayed for a wind free day.

I got a heads up from Kevan that he was close and headed off promptly to the event, knowing where it was but not a lot about the site which is actually on the same road as Danemead WoodDanemead Scout Campsite and this leads on to Paradise Wildlife Park. Incidentally the campsite is one I suggested whilst helping to produce the Outdoor Adventure Manual book.


Once greeted by Amanda's other half at the entrance (which is just past some pink gate posts if you are coming from the Hoddesdon way) which you take the left fork of once you've turned off the road).  The site I'd arrived is the Flopsy Wood Community Project, which up until recently was a Donkey sanctuary.


The site isn't dense woodland like much of the local area but it looks like it has potential nevertheless and Amanda said that she wants to develop the site to host a growing number of events and courses. The building was built by a neighbour and could house a workshop during inclement weather.


Kevan had already done the minimal set up and had put out a selection of his spoons in various shapes and sizes for attendees to see.

So with us both armed with a cup of tea we sat down to record an introduction, followed by a Q & A session. I was pleased to keep the flow going as up until recently I've taken stills not footage so wasn't used to talking and through Kevan a humorous flanker of a final question which was related to this fermentation day which spawned a spoof video from my wife admonishing Kev for all the bubbling jars I'd suddenly filled the fridge with. 

I had a  gusty wind blow up every now and then which meant that I had to subtitle and edit the chat for the Youtube video so I've since purchased a standalone microphone with a 'dead cat' cover.

And once everyone had arrived Kevan got the workshop underway by the fire pit, which remained as an unlit backdrop.


He had brought Sycamore to split and the example piece had some beautiful multicoloured spalting running through it. There was an odd number of attendees so I offered to buddy up with Amanda and started by splitting our Sycamore length, absolutely into two equal parts I'm pleased and relieved to say.


And with that I got stuck in in between doing a little filming and helping Amanda with her spoon from time to time.


The wood carving experience of the attendees varied but everyone seemed quite absorbed and chatted to both each other and Kev as they worked. It does help having a nice group of folks.


As folk neared the crook knife part (to make the bowl), Kev went round with a spare length of wood and demonstrated good practice and gave everyone a box containing a crook and two fine detail knives, these he sourced on amazon for £8 a box which seemed excellent value.

Once the group had got a rudimentary spoon made Kevan did a Lime wood spirit carving demo. I decided to use the time to get myself a second spoon roughed out.  


We laid out our various creations for a photo opportunity and then we all did the almost obligatory group pose with said creations.

I noticed some Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) and Thorn apple (Datura stramonium) on the way back to the car and I'm sure if and when Kevan returns (we has also done a basket workshop) there will be more flora to see.

And here is the video of the workshop which starts with the said Q & A with Kevan about his professional career, his freelance and Live Primally activities and finish by ambushing him with the aforementioned  light hearted on the spot question at the end which drew both a smile and an apology!