Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Courses at Assington Mill

I will be running two more courses at Assington Mill this summer;

A weekend Bushcraft course

and a Wilderness Weekend for parents and children

Making a coracle part 2.

Now that the frame is completed the coracle frame can be removed from the ground and turned the right way up.

Here Olivia is demonstrating how to break down the fibres in a willow wand by twisting it and moving along its full length.

Four of these wands are used (one either side of the seat) to tie together the the three rows of twisted willows and so secure the seat inplace.

The frame can now be covered with cloth (we used Jute) and sewn around the rim to keep the cloth taught and secure using a blanket stitch.

We pre-heated a tin of Bitumen and then applied two coats to the cloth (allowing each coat to dry) to waterproof it.

Once completely dry the coracle is completed. Then all you need is a paddle.

I am now awaiting pictures of me and the coracle in action on water and will add them here once I receive them.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Making a coracle part 1.

Firstly, to Treewright, Mungo and Suburban Bushwacker...... thanks for you comments re my recent laptop problems.

Last weekend I was at Assington Mill again to learn to make a coracle with instructor Olivia Elton Barratt. I should point out that there are many different designs and ways of making them and this is just one;

The seat was cut from sawn timber, a hole drilled in each corner and placed on flat ground. Pairs of willow wands were then selected for construction of the framework.

Four large wands were inserted into each of the seat holes and then the shape was measured and marked out with the rest of the wands, starting with two pairs either side of the centre of the coracle

Once all the wands were in place, weaving between the wands could start to form the rim and help strengthen the frame. The weave starts under both ends of the seat and after one complete diameter of the coracle the second row is woven below the seat.

The wands are woven in pairs, criss-crossing between the upright wands.

As one wand runs out, you add in a new one to replace it and continue weaving until three rows have been completed.

The vertical wands (or ribs) are then lashed together in opposing pairs to begin forming the shape of the coracle.

until the basic shape is completed.

At this stage slight adjustments to the shape can be made and once the shape looks good, a square lashing is used to secure each point where the pairs of wands cross.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Assington Mill

Last weekend I spent a very enjoyable weekend at Assington Mill near Colchester; where they run a variety of courses.

On Saturday we had a "Food for free" course

which involved a walk in the morning to collect plants and fungi, then following a pleasant lunch of rabbit stew, the afternoon was spent learning recipes such as this pigeon salad

and how to prepare game.

On Sunday I ran a one day bushcraft course there, so having set up the parachute and prepared teaching aids, I settled down for an evening by the fire.

It rained heavily all night, but I managed to keep dry under the parachute and kept the fire going all night for warmth. By 7am I was up and preparing breakfast.

The students for my course arrived at 10am and after tea and coffee, we began with firelighting; covering different ways of making fire, tinders and fuel to use.

Everyone managed to get an ember with the bow-drill.

At lunchtime we had soup and cooked sausages on and bannock on sticks.

After lunch we moved into the woodland where the students made a lean-to shelter and a bough bed.

This weekend I will be back at Assington Mill on a Coracle making course.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Common Reed

Those who know me well or have been on one of my courses will be aware that my favourite tinder for firelighting is the seed heads of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) .

It is available for 9 months of the year, and because the seed heads are so far off the ground it tends to dry very quickly even after rain. Unlike some seed heads it does not "flash burn" burn instead burns quite slowly as you can see in the piece of video ( I am using a firesteel to ignite it).

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Butterfly transect

From the 1st April to 30th September we do a weekly count of butterflies along a transect. The transect route has 8 sections and covers all the different habitats on the nature reserve. We have to note the start and finish time, end temperature, wind direction and at the end of each transect section the percentage of sun. Both butterfly species and the number of each species have to be recorded and this will vary during the summer months.

The most common species today was Peacock butterfly. The one below was one fresh Fox droppings, obtaining moisture and minerals I would imagine.

To fine out more about the method used and national results from the scheme visit

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Fineshade log shelters

A few months ago I was offered the opportunity to assist with the construction of three log shelters for the Forestry Commission at one of their woods at Fineshade in Northamptonshire. Unfortunately I was unable to get time off work at the time, but today i was invited to visit to see the end result.

There are three shelters around a fire-pit and there is a small table.

An expert from Denmark was brought over to advise on their design and construction and all the materials were sourced from local trees.

The shelters are set in beautiful surroundings and each shelter will sleep up to six people and they are available to hire via the visitor centre. More information about Fineshade can be found here;

Top Lodge Fineshade Wood

Friday, 11 April 2008

Bulrush/Reed Mace/Cattail

The young leaf shoots of Bulrush/Reed Mace/Cattail (Typha sp.) are now appearing above water level.

They make a tasty snack either eaten raw ( if the water source is clean) or blanched briefly in boiling water.

The gelatinous substance found between the mature leaves can be applied to treat burns and of course the mature leaves can be used to make dolls.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008


In this previous post I made a typing error which may have confused people. Referring to Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) I said.....

"The leaves of this plant can be dried and burnt, then the resulting ash residue used as a salt substitute for stews. I have used Butterbur leaves in the same way and it does work."

What I meant to say was......

The leaves of this plant can be dried and burnt, then the resulting ash residue used as a salt substitute for stews. I have used Coltsfoot leaves in the same way and it does work.

My apologies for any confusion and I have now edited the original post.

I am told that Butterbur is so called because the leaves used to be used to wrap butter in to help keep it cool.

Here is a picture of Butterbur flowers and a very young leaf.

The leaves grow incredibly large (over 12 inches in diameter) and I once used them as a shelter cover. They dried and shriveled the next day, but were good for one night.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Weekend gathering

I hosted a gathering this weekend at my woods for a friends 50th birthday party.

The plan was to practise skills and to do some green woodworking, but we seemed to spend most of the weekend eating and drinking!

I made a chocolate bannock by using a cooking pot as an oven.

Here's the end result.

Although I had a sleeping bag, Saturday night was by far the coldest night I have ever had while sleeping outside! I did not sleep much and was up at first light making coffee and preparing for breakfast.

On Sunday I made a parachute tepee to enable people to shelter from the wind.

Friday, 4 April 2008


Frogs have been out and about for sometime now, but toads are still emerging and travelling long distances across land to their spawning ponds and ditches.

While frog spawn is produced in a large clump, toad spawn is produced in long "strings".

Both adult toads and their tadpoles are foul tasting to predators.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Removing Birch Bark

Having made a bark chisel, it was time to remove the bark from Birch logs which had been cut and stacked by the path.

Using the opposite end of the chisel as a batten I beat the outer bark to help separate it from the inner bark.

Once this was done I scored along the length of the log using my knife and the batten.

The majority of lenticells (the parallel lines running across the bark) should be shorter than an inch for bark craft. If they are long, the bark tends to split along them as you work.

I used my knife to raise the edge of the bark to enable me to get the chisel under.

A second pair of hands are helpful now to help support the bark as it is gently chiseled away from the inner bark.

This bark is destined to be used for making knife sheaths.

In Canada I found that the bark of Birch trees growing in wet conditions, would literally pop off the tree.