Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Lime Bast Cordage

I've recently just had my first play with willow bark cordage and managed to knock out a few good lengths. I sought out a few small technical details but there are lots of basic similarities with lime cordage with I've made before.

This length of lime I processed is a bit special because it was generously given to me by Will Lord who brought it to the Wild Food and Chilli Fair for me. Not only has it provided some decent lengths of bark but I've also got a good amount of bowdrill baseboards too. If you look at the picture above on the left hand side you'll see the ends are wet, The wood I got was one long length (minus a small length I chopped off to get it in my car) and I stood it in a bucket of a water for a few days to see if it helped the bark to come off and set about doing so with a Stanley knife.

Whether standing it in water helped our not I'll never know but it mostly came away with ease. Maybe it's just me but I love seeing bark come away (or a knife cut) that reveals fresh wood.

I soon had some really good quality lengths of bark in a very short time, and one naked length of lime to convert to friction fire lighting baseboards at a later date.


I could have got the length in my car at the show in one piece but elected to chop off a baseboard sized bit to get it away from my front window (I had a Bahco folding saw stashed in the boot just in case this scenraio presented itself). Interestingly I had a bit more trouble de-barking this smaller length and had to chop into it at the end. You can clearly see the lattice like pattern of the upper layer of bark.

Now at this stage, called retting, most books say something like 'Tie the lengths together and place in a stream' because the cells between the bark layers need to burst to harvest the usable strips. Well I've looked hard but I don't appear to have a watercourse of any description in my back garden so plan B is a hefty hose filled 75 litre plastic box with two or three blocks to weight the bark down.

The time this cell bursting process takes can vary but it is measured in weeks so it isn't a quick win cordage by any means. As you can see the bacterial action makes for a crust covered stagnant container and checking the bark needs a stout constitution. You'll know when it's ready by gently twisting a piece, the inner bark layers will spread out if it is, or indeed may be found separated. To retrieve the bark I used a medium sized milk container to decant as much of the water as possible and then when  the container was slideable I carefully slid it to the drain and tipped the remainder down.  Please note that any contact with the water and bark at most stages will cause a slight smell to linger on your skin, even after copious washing... 

Taking a picture of the separated layers in the water container proved hard due to the reflection so here is what you'll see when it's ready to give them up.


This arguably the easiest stage because it takes little effort to remove the usable inner bark layers from the woody outer but do note that the pong may attract a few visitors!

The final result is a tidy amount of lime bast lengths (the word bast refers to the bark). I washed the lengths in a couple of changes of water to remove any bits of the stagnant water crust and to generally freshen them up a bit after getting a Paddington Bear stare from my wife (yes, it is that stinky). There is still a slight smell to them which reminds me a bit of ground up acorns...A much better smell than before that's for sure!

Depending on the age of the branch that gave you the lime bast you will have several layers, the exact number of layers will vary. In the pictures above You can see the lime drying over my washing line next to some willow bark cordage I'd made earlier. It drys very quickly. I've got two pieces from different parts of the process held together. The top piece has a honeycomb pattern running length ways and is from the outer part of the bark nearest the surface, the smoother length is from the inner part, nearer the centre. The latter is the stronger of the two.

The finished bark is a pleasure to roll into cordage and I think it's easier to use than the willow bark cordage (which admittedly I don't have much previous experience with) that I produced earlier in the month. It is also really flexible when it comes to storage; either hung up and graded, or folded and yet to be graded like this batch.

Now this is a hobbyist preparation of lime bast cordage and to be fair it gets a result and does negate the need for a watercourse, indeed you can find it naturally shedding when out and about.. For further reading may I suggest Bushcraft and Survival Skills issue 40 where Dave Watson talks at length in an article, and Sally Leaf  did a similar detailed one in the Winter '07/ '08 issue of Bushcraft Magazine. There is also a pictorial article by Patrick McGlinchey in the short lived but rather good BushcraftUK magazine from Spring 2006 but this is somewhat tricky to find.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Woodlife Trails 'wild camp' trail cam footage

Having had a successful nights of trail cam footage from this weekend I decided to add a few more shots to a separate page rather than the one or two I've used in the blog of said weekend.

This one has had arrows added to highlight what appears to be a small creature on the left, and maybe a fox on the right...

In the very next shot both have moved to the left from their position in the previous shot 

When I set the trail cam there was some bat activity and several images appear to have a random  'tracer round' bright image in them. I wondered if the squiggle in the bottom left was a bat and it's wing beats?

This fox hoovered up the peanut bait I set and whilst I have other footage of foxes making short work of them I'd hoped for a bit of badger action too! In the right hand side shot the fox looks at something which appears to be a fallow deer, one of which is just about visible on the right hand side of the picture.  

The fox sitting down with two deer visible. 

Two deer, one staring at the camera (they glow red when activated so I guess this catches their eye) and a smaller creature nearby.

Two deer and the bat?

Another fox appearance as the sky starts to lighten in the right hand side picture.

Pre dawn sees three fallow deer with one heading towards the scrub... 

Three deer then start to run (incidentally the wild camp base camp is at the other end of the ride they start running up). There appears to be a movement blur near the scrub, there is a picture on the corresponding wild camp review page that appears to show another small deer emerging from the scrubby area which may well be the blur)..

Dawn and one fallow deer.

This represents a portion of the wildlife shots I got of varying quality but I'd estimate that there were around 60 shots with something in, and it's only a short walk down a ride from where the camp was. There are a few additional shots on the camp review page.

Woodlife NT wild camp August 2015

Woodlife Trails ran a 'wild camp' this weekend on behalf of the National Trust who maintain the 1049 acre, 1000 year old Hatfield Forest where their courses are run. The camp was pitched on Friday evening and I headed out in the early morning on Saturday to go and help them for the weekend. For a variety of reasons I hadn't been out and about with them so I was looking forward to catching up.

This shot across a ride is just before the area where the camp is and the long shadows show how early it was. It was cool but not cold and it was going to be a sunny day although there was a localised biblical rain warning over the area for Saturday!

I'd come prepared to light the fire but it had already been done and provided and excellent opportunity to capture a rather fine smoky canopy I slowly started to meet the clients and crew before getting a brew and sorting out the woodpile without further ado.


Now the wild camps aren't advertised through the Woodlife Trails website but the National Trusts one and basically it's sold as a chance to spend time in the forest with the team simply overseeing them. However JP, Pablo and the team are very giving of their time and experience and whilst the pace is a laid back one it really does seem at times like a bushcraft beginners course because the families are given so much more than fresh air and a basic woodland camp. Pablo started them all off with a detailed look at knife usage and safety for any potential future weekend usage. I also pleased to see that one family had been on this weekend before which speaks volumes.

Whilst Pablo was doing that JP briefed the diploma students on their weekend task and sent them off to start sorting it. The promise of a sunny day had been confirmed by this stage of the morning.

JP then showed the clients a whole range of firelighting techniques which all came from that rather voluminous brown bag in front of him. I'd sourced some peeling clematis bark to buff up for Sunday's fire and the children on the course did similar having seen me do it which was nice.

And shortly afterwards the clients and diploma students went onto one of the rides and spent time in the sun working on projects, there were times when wherever you looked everyone was actively doing something.

All the time JP and Pablo were on hand to keep and eye and offer advice. See what I mean about it looking like a bushcraft beginners course?

The project the diploma students had been set was to construct a working bowdrill set. For the record they used hazel for the drill and willow for the baseboard. Also for the record all the students achieved an viable ember under JP's watchful eye. whilst this was going on I showed the children on the weekend how to make nettle cordage and got shown another load of partially buffed clematis bark.

A break in proceedings gave me the chance to knock up a tarp tent for the night near a badger's sett, see how to make one here. Straight after I'd got my bedding sorted for the night I headed out with a trail camera to set it up near a convergence of five paths and rides to see what I could capture in the night.

As with most folk who like the outdoors I do enjoy cooking food over a fire and as usual made sure that I didn't go hungry in the night. Not a single morsel of this tea lasted any length of time or lived to tell the tale.

Pablo asked me after tea to take the kids out for a tracking game, it was the one where the participants have to grab keys silently without being rumbled by the blindfolded individual. I briefly explained about slowing down and the consequences of not doing so when tracking and it was quite a challenge to get the kids to not quickly grab the keys and run as opposed to slow and silent. Still, they asked to play two rounds so must have enjoyed it. You can see from the picture above that I added a  crinkly crunchy zip lock bag from my pocket (which had the buffed clematis in) to enhance the pointer's chances. They also asked me to have a go with the blindfold and initially I said no because I thought they'd just run away and leave me stood pointing on the ride!

After a brief social around the fire I headed for the sack with the view to getting up early to re-start the fire. I had a quick bimble first and came face to face with a fallow doe which was a pleasant start. when I went to the fire pit I noticed a viable fire dog or two and criss crossed the kindling over it, shoved the much talked about clematis bundle under the kindling apex and blew it to flame.

Predictably the kettle went on and I don't often help on a Woodlife Trails course without knocking up a bannock or two and this weekend was no exception. I was rather pleased with these two actually, I used a little rising agent and they had sultanas and vanilla sugar in. 

After a leisurely  start to Sunday morning the clients struck camp after breakfast and whilst the localised biblical rain threat had passed without incident the day before, there was heavy rain forecast later. The clients were going to finish with the camp by going on an extended bimble to see what flora, fauna and sign they could find on the way. Before that they participated in a quiz to see what they'd remembered from the weekend and the only team without children got tougher questions, don't know how that happened...Well I do actually.

The gap between quiz and bimble was used to strike the base camp and return the site to as it was. It goes without saying that a is preferable to take a chute down dry.

After a glorious weekend I have a slight suspicion that some of the weekend's attendees were a little demob happy as the chute came down!

So with everyone's geared packed and the base camp all tidied away I took the chance to get a quick shot of the crew and clients togther...

...And one of just the crew. As well as having copious amounts of sun and fresh air the clients really did have a memorable and full weekend of hands on stuff which, as previously stated, Woodlife Trails aren't obliged to deliver but still do to enhance the experience. 

Now that just about wraps up the weekend but there is the small matter of the trail cam footage. I baited the trap with peanuts and knew the next morning that I'd had some business because every last peanut had been consumed. Surprisingly there was no badger footage, which the peanuts were primarily for, but it looks like a fox hoovered them all up (which I've seen on trail cam footage before). I'm guessing that the 'tracer round' in the first two pictures may be a bat (or possibly a bug) due to there being a lot of activity when I positioned the trail cam and it appears on a lot of the hundred or so recorded images, of which around sixty featured nature.

And me coming to retrieve the trail camera on the Sunday morning. The ride diagonally over my left hand shoulder is where the base camp is so it's not like I've walked miles into the middle of nowhere to get this footage and it shows why courses like the Immersion weekend are so popular. I've added more trail cam pictures on a separate page here.