In my last post I mentioned Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine.
This is a publication I very much enjoy. Little Boots also likes it because it has features on tracking and as I have mentioned before, we are always on the look out for tracks and animal signs when out wombling in the countryside.

The September/October edition is out today and I’m delighted to say they have kindly published a short book review I did of Lost In The Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg and since it’s on the very last page it’s nice and easy to find.

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Last year I read Jungle Soldier Brian Moynihan’s fascinating biography of Freddie Spencer-Chapman, which I enjoyed, although I am still slightly perturbed by the sudden demise of the subject. He was a remarkable man.

I have been reading a few jungle-based adventures lately and so acquired a copy of Spencer-Chapman’s book The Jungle Is Neutral which I was reminded of by an article in Bushcraft and Survival magazine by SAS Handbook legend Lofty Wiseman, where it was referenced after the following statement:
“Survival is easy in the jungle and if you have a chance out of all the environments, sea, temperate, desert, arctic or jungle – choose the jungle.”

As an aside I also coincidentally stumbled across a site of the same name, which is interesting, but alas appears to have been discontinued.
The Jungle Is Neutral blog.

Now that is a small coincidence, and I have mentioned such things in previous posts, especially where they appear somewhat uncanny. And here is another.

Just as I started reading the Spencer-Chapman book I also started researching some of the background of Captain Gurowski who I posted about a short while.

Imagine my surprise then when just after I had learned that Captain Gurowski was apparently in France in early 1940 as part of a Scots Guards battalion that was learning to ski, I discovered, whilst reading the first few pages of his book, that Freddie Spencer-Chapman was one of the instructors brought in to train those troops at Chamonix, in Haute Savoie. He would therefore presumably have known Captain Gurowski.

This has inspired me to discover more about the Captain.

Another adventure book and another fire-lighting technique. This time from Ed Stafford’s Walking The Amazon (no need to explain what it’s about, although he was the first man to do so – an amazing feat).

So this is the technique used by one of his South American companions in the very wet Peruvian jungle. Splitting wet wood to get a a dry core, producing shavings and building a platform are all fairly common techniques, but this still seems quite remarkable given the sodden environment. My thoughts are that there are possibly two key factors at play here. Firstly using tree resin as an accelerant. Ed doesn’t say what size of piece was used, but a biggish lump would certainly burn well for some time. Secondly I wonder whether the type of wood was a factor. For instance in the UK I would use Ash if I wanted to be sure of a good fire, probably with softwood for kindling.

Whatever the case here is the described method:

“Jaun’s firelighting technique was different from most as he didn’t use ant sticks at all. He found dry wood that was two to three inches thick and he made a base to raise the fire off the wet ground by splitting the logs in half and laying the inside side face up. Next, he shaved one of the logs repeatedly to produce dry shavings that he piled up on the platform. Then he just arranged the large logs around the outside of the shavings like the spokes of a wheel and lit the fire using a lump of resin that he’d chipped off a tree with his macheteThe result was a roaring fire in about ten minutes even though it had been raining for days.”

Currently I’m reading a book that I heartily recommend and will review in full at some future point. Eric Hanson’s Stranger in the Forest (on foot across Borneo) is remarkably good for many reasons.

One small one that I enjoyed is that I learned something, actually two things. First, that you can create fire from bamboo. Now I have seen on TV people using bamboo to make a “fire plough” but I have never seen, or even heard of making a fire using bamboo and flint. Flint?!

You don’t believe me? This is the excerpt.

“Bo ‘Hok showed me how fire was made before the Penan discovered Bic lighters. He cut a two foot length of green bamboo with his parang and from his tin tobacco box produced a smallish flake of flint. He called it batu api, the fire rock. Holding the flint and a thin mat of tinder between his thumb and first two finger-tips, Bo ‘Hok vigorously struck the smooth surface of the bamboo at an oblique angle. To my astonishment sparks appeared. The tinder soon glowed red in patches and was then placed into a prepared handful of dried fibrous sago bark mixed with ash from burned leaves. This mixture, he explained, was tidak takoot angin, not afraid of the wind. Bo ‘Hok added wood shavings, blew two or three times, and within seconds we had fire,”

As someone who manged to light a fire using flint and steel for the first time last year (that’s flint and STEEL! STEEL, not bamboo. And another thing – it wasn’t exactly simple) I find this astounding. I just can’t see how this works.

Using burned (or part burned) leaves as part of a tinder bundle is also something I’ve never come across either. It makes sense though. Fire dogs (part burned logs) are quick to take when lighting a fire and something we put at the centre of a new fire at home. When we go to a campsite that has fire pits one of the first jobs, once we’ve set the tent up is to go scavenging around old fires for any fire dogs.

Using leaves like this is something I plan to try out soon.

We went away for a short break a few months back and for reading matter I bought the latest issue of Bushcraft Magazine along with the first book from my “to read” book stack. The mag included a piece by Lisa Fenton on The American Frontiersman this included such famed explorers as Henry Kelsey, Samuel Hearne, Alexander MacKenzie and Anthony Henday.

Coincidentally the book, which I’d nabbed without looking at, was Ray Mears’ Northern Wilderness.
The book and the article had plenty of common ground, both featuring Hearne and MacKenzie and others among the American mountain men.

And if that weren’t enough in terms of odd coincidences, I had just the day before we left, finished watching a series on US PBS channel about the expedition of American explorers Lewis and Clarke.

I find this sort of history, both fascinating and awful at the same time. The European explorers were clearly men of resourcefulness and fortitude who achieved some amazing feats. However for me that is wholly tempered by the fact that these were not unpeopled lands and their ventures created the prelude to what feels a lot of the time like a genocidal wave of “progress” under which the First Nations peoples (and they were Nations) suffered massively.

I must confess I find it difficult to separate the two viewpoints.

As is often the case things become even more “real” when one has some personal peg on which to hang it. Mine is that some of my ancestors were called Field, which is the name of two of the members of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and they were doubtless of English stock. And of course many of these people sailed the Atlantic to get away from a society where they were the rural poor and counted for little more than slaves.

All of which was some quite heavy thinking for a jaunty weekend away.

Next time I will take a joke book and The Beano.

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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.

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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.