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Even at my advancing age I am still learning new things. And what is great is that as I pass some of these things on to Little Boots, I am being taught things in return – this weekend the difference between tundra and taiga was explained to me – I had some idea, but it was I confess a bit muddled.

Of course children become their parents’ teachers from an early age, in for example such fundamental knowledge as the joy to be found in simple things and the delight that the world presents to eyes that are unjaded. But there’s another stage where information that you have passed on comes back to you with bells on.

Here’s an example. Whilst camping together LB took charge of lighting the fire. Using a ferro-rod and scraper with a piece of cotton wool as tinder it was fairly simple to get a light, but since we’d camped out in an epic thunderstorm getting the fire to “catch” was proving difficult. So I explained a little cheat. By taking a ball of cotton wool and smearing it with Vaseline, a firelighter is created that burns longer and hotter than the wool alone. This quickly did the trick and as we watched the flames take hold I explained that if Vaseline wasn’t available in an emergency you could mash lip salve, or even lipstick into cotton wool to to get the same result.

This came back to me when Little Boots conveyed this information to my OH with the added suggestion that in a survival situation where you didn’t have cotton wool you could collect sheep’s wool from barbed wire fences. This was a great idea and innovation. Whether it would work I don’t know and we will have to test it, which seeing’s that LB loves to pick scraps of wool off of wire fences when we are out wombling, shouldn’t be hard.

So what have I myself learned lately? Well lots of things, most of them not worth knowing, but there are two that will be of use when are out wombling and having adventures.

The first is that in order to make as quiet as sound as possible when whispering do so only after completely exhaling. This does work, though I think maybe only marginally. The difference is probably more marked if you are short of breath from running or something. This tip I picked up from Dead Centre by Ed Kugler, which is the autobiography of a Viet-era US marine sniper.

The second tip comes from another book, but one that is several worlds away from the aforementioned biography. Wanderings With The Woodman by Hugh Brandon-Cox. It’s a romanticised ramble through an English countryside that’s long gone, if it ever existed at all. The tip here is how to estimate the height of a tree – it goes thus – Stand with your back o the tree. Walk away from the tree, stopping from time to time to bend over and look through your open legs back at the tree. When you get to the point at which you can just see the top twigs from between your legs, mark that point by pushing a stick into the ground. The distance from tree to stick is the height of the tree. Of course you need to know the length of your foot or your stride in order to measure this distance. This seems like a simple method and I was prepared to accept in on trust until I read a couple more things later in the book. Firstly that pike go to sea to spawn and at that time estuaries are full of them. Whilst I admit the pike is not a fish I know much about I am very sceptical of that idea. The second thing is something I do know quite a lot about – wood and fire. The author quite rightly says that Ash is one of the best fuels and also, quite rightly that it will burn when green (that is freshly cut). But he says this is because it is so dry. This is not correct. Whilst it is not as wet when cut, as say sycamore, it is not especially dry. No, the reason Ash will burn when freshly cut is because is that it contains oil, it is after all a relative of the olive. So I am therefore a bit doubtful of the veracity of the tree height method.

That said, having found out a little about the author I won’t discount it entirely.

I think a field test is called for.

Over the weeks of the school hols Little Boots has crossed off a few more entries from the National Trust “Things To Do” list.

I queried one ‘Go Bird-watching’ (number 44).

“We’ve never been bird watching”, I said.

“But we’ve watched lots of birds”, came the reply. Woodpeckers and nuthatches were cited and true enough on a walk a couple of years ago we’d spied a nuthatch and earlier this year we were very close to a woodpecker (a Lesser Spotted one we later discovered – barred back) and watched him for some time as he searched a tree for food, just a couple of yards from the path where we stood.

“And the Wagtails” added Little Boots.

Immediately my mind went back to late May when, taking advantage of the only dry day of a soggy Bank Holiday weekend, Little Boots and I set off for a womble. We took a route that was new to us identifying trees and plants as we went. Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness books have made knowledge of trees and such pretty cool indeed. Cutting across a field and over a railway crossing brought us back to more familiar territory. With a view to making some casts of animal tracks we explored the waters’ edge of a couple of old gravel pits. This did not yield any good prints, but LB did find some coins no doubt dropped by some bivvying angler. Almost enough to buy a bag of elastic bands, since weaving them into bracelets was the latest craze. We wove back towards the village before joining the riverside path. Insects, mayflies mostly, were visible in the sunlight hatching and dapping the water’s surface as they completed their cycle of life. Whist we ambled along I showed the munchkin some mayflies clinging to reeds as the sun dried their wings. This wasn’t deemed very impressive, and so I explained Duffer’s Fortnight, which did at least raise a snort of amusement.

By now we had reached a bridge and stopped beneath it for something to eat a drink. Not that Little Boots needed the latter, having been sipping all along from a long-wished for camelback. It had been my hope that we would see a fish rising to take a fly. A Brown Trout perhaps, I knew there was at least one in here, or more likely a Chub.

That wasn’t to be, but we did see something pretty amazing as we stood eating and contemplating the river. A pair of yellow-chested birds, their long tails hanging down, were perched on reeds that stuck out from the opposite bank. We watched them flitting back and forth searching for hatching flies and acrobatically taking them on the wing. At one point one came within four feet of us, spinning and hovering at the same moment as it snipped its target from the air. Occasionally one of the birds would disappear up under the bridge. “There must be a nest up there” said Little Boots. I agreed, adding that I thought that they might be reed warblers.

How wrong I was. When we get home I looked them up in our bird book and found that they were in fact Yellow Wagtails. A summer visitor to this country the book said and that “Observers of the yellow wagtail are lucky to get within 50 yards of this extremely cautious bird….The nest is particularly difficult to find even when parents carrying food for their young are watched. Rather than reveal the nest site, the adults will refuse to deliver the meal until the danger has passed or the intruders have gone away.”

When I told LB this it was met with a widening of the eyes that always greets something special.

Even more special I now realise, having subsequently read that their numbers are on the decline.

 

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Up until about a month ago if you had asked me if I knew Brendon Chase, I would not have had a clue and might have said that the name had a vaguely familiar sound of something once well-known, but now forgotten.

Perhaps like a someone who had played for Watford in 1993, becoming the League’s top scorer, before disappearing into obscurity.

Brendon Chase is not however a who, but rather a what. It’s a book by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, a writer who under the nom de plume “BB”, is much loved by the traditional angling fraternity.

(I confess that is about all I know about him, apart from the fact that he was also an illustrator).

It is a tale of three boys who run away to the woods and I can’t believe I had not come across it previously, as that’s exactly the sort of book theme that I’d have loved as a child. Perhaps it’s existence was kept from me by adults worried I might take it too much to heart.

My ignorance is all the more astounding since there was also a TV series of the book made and broadcast by my local childhood  ITV station. Starring Christopher Biggins no less.

So, having belatedly become aware of this paean to childhood adventure and the natural world I got hold of a copy and took it with me the week before last when we went camping. With a campsite that was both field and woodland, and a trip that featured campfires, cooking over coals, whittling, woodland wombling and even managing to light a fire with steel and stone, it was the perfect choice of reading material. It really is a ripping, yarn, though often thoughtful, and featuring butterflies as much as the red in tooth and claw stuff.

Several times in this blog I have mentioned strange coincidences, and so it was that the day after I finished reading Brendon Chase and we returned home, the BBC’s programme Countryfile did a feature on the book, the author and kids doing outdoorsy stuff. unfortunately with an ex-Blue Peter presenter leading it, it felt like….well Blue Peter, which is not to my mind a good thing and I suspect that the Brendon Chase outlaws would have agreed.

 

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 My baseball cap is getting pretty worn and battered, not to mention sun-bleached. It’s a golden rule of clothing that just as a piece starts to get really comfortably, then that is the point at which it develops a hole, splits or otherwise starts to fall to bits. Mine will last a while yet mind you, although if I was in the market for a replacement I’d get one of these fish hats from Ben at Arizona Wanderings. Last year I bought one of his K C Badger t-shirts and its always bought me luck (and a trout) when I’ve worn it fishing.

On the subject of sartorial items, recently discovered on the internet, that I’d quite like are Auxiliary Outside Projects t-shirts, deigned by Anthony Oram, who’s interviewed here.

Though, given the current fiscal position at Boot Hall I might only be able to stretch to one of their patches.

Sew-on patches are something I’ve been giving a bit of thought to lately, because I’d like the womble bag to have a slightly less military surplus look.

Another vendor of outdoor-themed patches is Miscellaneous Adventures. The general “honours” patch is OK, and there is also a cycle one that I can’t find just now, but the one I really like is the woodland woodcarving one. Not sure I can justify the costs of going on a course to get one though.

loaf

 

More on the theme of adventure, when a blow-in slid out of a newspaper last weekend. From the National Trust, it was entitled “50 things to do before you are 11 ¾”.

 Six were listed inside – Go swimming in the sea, Track wild animals, Make a daisy chain, Roll down a really big hill, Catch a fish with a net, Build a den and as I chatted to Little Boots we discussed the flyer, the six activities listed and since they could all be claimed how many of the others might be too. So I went off, looked up the NT site and printed the list.

 Back in the living room LB and I went through them ticking the ones that had been accomplished. When we’d finished, I asked LB to guess how many had been done.” About twenty came the reply”. The actual total was thirty. It was a number we were both impressed with. The fifty were divided into five groups of ten headed Adventurer, Discoverer, Ranger, Tracker, Explorer and on the first of these LB had ticked nine off, with the one remaining being Play Conkers and this high-lighted something interesting.

Whilst LB had done several things I could only dream of as a child (Canoe down a river!), there were a number of things that we did all the time as kids, that my modern child does not. it’s slightly curious, although I am genuinely pleased LB has done so many of the activities on the list.

Completing some others might be a good way to plan some adventures this summer. It’d be nice to get up to fifty, and perhaps even beyond by inventing some extra categories of our own.

This is the full list & the NT site is linked above

Level 1 – Adventurer

1.Climb a tree

2. Roll down a really big hill

3.Camp out in the wild

4. Build a den

5. Skim a stone

6.Run around in the rain

7.Fly a kite

8.Catch a fish with a net

9.Eat an apple straight from a tree

10.Play conkers

Level 2 – Discoverer

11.Go on a really long bike ride

12.Make a trail with sticks

13.Make a mud pie

14.Dam a stream

15.Play in the snow

16.Make a daisy chain

17.Set up a snail race

18.Create some wild art

19.Play pooh sticks

20.Jump over waves

Level 3 – Ranger

21.Pick blackberries growing in the wild

22.Explore inside a tree

23.Visit a farm

24.Go on a walk barefoot

25. Make a grass trumpet

26.Hunt for fossils and bones

27.Go star gazing

28.Climb a huge hill

29.Explore a cave

30.Hold a scary beast

Level 4 – Tracker

31. Hunt for bugs

32.Find some frogspawn

33.Catch a falling leaf

34.Track wild animals

35.Discover what’s in a pond

36.Make a home for a wild animal

37.Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool

38.Bring up a butterfly

39.Catch a crab

40.Go on a nature walk at night

Level 5 – Explorer

41.Plant it, grow it, eat it

42.Go swimming in the sea

43.Build a raft

44.Go bird watching

45.Find your way with a map and compass

46.Try rock climbing

47.Cook on a campfire

48.Learn to ride a horse

49.Find a geocache

50.Canoe down a river

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Berghaus the outdoor clothing/equipment people are running an online competition at the moment based around the question – “What does adventure mean to you?”

Competition aside, it’s a question that interests me because I think my life is one where we seek adventure albeit at a low level, lower even than Alastair Humprey’s Micro Adventures. Nano-Adventures perhaps.

I say we because Little Boots is most often my partner in action where adventuring is concerned. So undoubtedly the place to start with that question, as far as I’m concerned was to put it to Little Boots.

The answer I got was -

“Bushcraft and tying knots and things. And firecraft. And setting up camp.”

An interesting answer. We have probably used the word bushcraft whilst wombling around and doing stuff in the woods. Tying knots is something LB has been interested in for a while, and is accentuated by the current craze for loom bands. Firecraft is a word I’d never use, and I think must have come from the Bear Grylls book that LB takes on every camping trip.

But it’s good to know that my child equates the word adventure with being outside, and doing outdoorsy stuff.

For my part I would answer the question “What does adventure mean to you?” by saying it’s something to do with the spirit of life itself. The things that make you glad you are alive, even if they are tough going along the way. The things that make up for all the rubbish of modern times we have to endure.

Recent adventures include a hilly, five-mile yomp through woods and fields to a remote pub with a wood-fired pizza oven, another trip where we slipped across a railway at a crossing that I’m still unsure we should have used and battled through chest-high nettles the other side, a three a.m start to cycle to the water on the opening day of the fishing season and a virtually sleepless night in a small tent in the woods during the worst thunderstorm to hit the county for a good few years.

Fun, exciting and perhaps slightly dangerous experiences that will live in the mind as well as the heart for a long, long time.

That’s what adventure means to me.

 bookyates 

Last year I subscribed for a book and it was really nice to be one of the first to get my hands on a new piece of writing by angling guru Chris Yates.

The book was The Lost Diary and I have to admit that raising subscriptions for a publication did seem to me a bit old-fashioned, mainly I guess because it’s something I associate with Victorian times. But the more I thought about it, it seemed like a really good thing., after all so many books are published that I think have no real market and are just bought for the sake of it – usually as a gift.

How many of us have received a “humorous” or “little-known facts” book on our chosen hobby that is useless and terrible and immediately binned, or sent to a charity shop?

There is also an added perspective that “The public want, what the public get” with a lot of books being published with publishers deciding what readers want, rather than vice versa. Or so it seems to me.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying I’m going to put my name down as help kickstart Dave Hamilton’s prospective Wild Ruins book.

Go here to see what I’m on about.

 

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