Last week Little Boots and I spent a couple of days on a wooded campsite. It was nice to get away, as life has felt rather too hectic of late, and great to spend some time outdoors.
We cooked over an open fire, whittled sticks (me an atlatl/LB somekind of ninja weapon), climbed trees and even rigged up a hammock using a tarp, paracord and walking poles.

I’m always astounded by LB’s climbing skills, but was also impressed that my child can now single-handedly pitch a tent, light a proper fire to cook on and self-administer first aid following a slip whilst whittling.

These are useful skills and things that no amount of time playing computer games can give you.

I am a very proud parent

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Last year, for the first time, I started a fire using just a piece of steel and a piece of flint. The steel I used was a chunk of old file and I enjoyed this challenge so much that i bought a proper firesteel for future use.

Now I should clarify here that by firesteel I mean a piece of hard steel fashioned for the purpose, rather than a ferrocium rod which some people call a firesteel.

“Ferrocerium is a man-made metallic material that gives off hot sparks at temperatures of 1,650 °C when scraped against a rough surface, such as ridged steel”.

It’s the same material as the “flint” in cigarette lighters and using a rod of the stuff to start a fire with is only marginally more difficult than a box of matches.

Having spent a few quid on my firesteel I wanted to protect it from rusting and also given its hook-shaped ends stop it from getting snagged on stuff.

So I made a little pouch for it, using (as before) the leather from a pair of gardening gloves from the Poundshop .

The “button” is a double-six domino piece that I found when camping last year. We pitched our tent as it was getting dusk and noticed a bit of rubbish, but it wasn’t till the next day that we saw the full extent. There were fag ends, bits of paper, food and loads of scarps of wood all over the pitch. Much as I hate clearing up after other people – or rather littering pigs – I did, over the couple of days, tidy it all away via the campfire and whilst doing so found the domino. It seemed like a nice little thing and so rather than bin it, thought I’d keep it as a good luck piece. After all a double six has to be lucky right?

So when I was making the firesteel pouch and pondering what to use as a fastening, the idea popped into my head to re-purpose it. A bead was needed, as a securing device, to complete the lace fastening and so I used one I had made from a piece of spalted birch.

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This is an update to a trio of posts from last year detailing how I rehandled a little Sheffield blade.

One, Two, Three.

Having given the blade a new lease of life two things seemed important.

Firstly making a sheath and secondly giving it a useful role.
So this is what I came up with, a small sheath that allows it to be worn around the neck.
I made the sheath by making a wooden covering out of thin wooden spatulas – think tongue depressors. This I then covered with leather. And then added a leather lace, to allow it to be hung round the neck, with a bead to hold the sheath in place.
The leather came from a pair of gardening gloves from the Poundshop – which is why the colours are slightly off. The lace is something I bought off Ebay and is the only new/non-recycled item in the whole thing,set . The bead I made from a piece of apple wood. Overall I’m really please with it. Having never worked with leather before, it was definitely a process where I gained some experience.
As for the second bit, being useful, well it just is. I have found that when camping, or doing other outdoorsy stuff it useful to have a knife quickly to hand. Of course you may have a penknife in your pocket or a bigger sheath knife on your belt. One takes time to deploy (and two handed) ; the other is often to big for the task. This knife therefore often has the edge – as well as being razor sharp that is – hanging round your neck makes it quick to get hold of and its size means it’s just the thing for the times you need to quickly slice, dice or nick something.

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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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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.

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Taking a brief holiday the week before last, we went camping to a site that allowed fires and was surrounded by woods. Taking timber from them for burning was frowned upon and firewood was available from reception. This was some softwood that had clearly been dead-standing. It should have burned well, but was somewhat damp and so didn’t. Not only that, it came in overly large chunks which didn’t help.

I broke these down using a Fiskars X5 axe that I took with me. This took quite some doing as the hatchet has a very short handle. Fine for chopping small pieces of wood, it was not suited for splitting bigger lumps. The wood was soft enough and it would have been easier if the handle was at least twice as long. It did occur to me that it would be simple enough to fashion an extension from a piece of ash or something.

But then it would be simpler still to get an axe with a longer handle. I already have a couple at home, but because they are valued family pieces that have been passed down, I don’t want to take them out “in the field”. This set me wondering about the small axe I bought earlier in the year.

When I blogged about it I wondered what the hole in the blade was for. I have since decided that it is something for dealing with wire, or nails. I also speculated on the handle and a longer replacement.

Maybe with a new shaft that should be my camping axe?

Whilst we were away the kids all took to whittling, creating (in their eyes) all manner of objects (walking sticks, swords, wands, etc.) by simply removing the bark from a variety of sticks. Because of a lack of experience with blades the tools they were allowed to use for this were an old, blunt kitchen knife and a couple of Pound shop potato peelers. Of course the sticks immediately became precious items and were brought home.

On our return Little Boots asked if it would be allowable to continue whittling with a birthday present from two years ago (LINK). This was agreed with the proviso of only under close adult supervision.

Not that close though, because in a few short minutes that I was otherwise occupied, the saw blade was opened and used to cut the end off one of the sticks. It was safely and efficiently done, so I could not be mad, even though a small amount of censure for acting without permission was called for.

After a bit more whittling and sawing the project seemed to have been abandoned as Little Boots disappeared off up the garden. However this was simply a sourcing exercise for an axe blade which, with a little help from my drill was soon set in place.

I’m not sure you could chop much with it, but as an independent piece of tool-making I couldn’t help being impressed.

If you are one of the small, but select, band that makes up regular readers of this blog, you may recall a post I did about a year ago on the subject of Little Boots’ knife.

Even if you don’t recall the blog post per se, you are probably likely to remember that it featured a rather spiffy illustration courtesy of the Vintage Hiking Depot.

Well, I’m happy to report that the VHD designs are now available as posters, either individually or as a set. They’re marvellous I love’em.

Can’t help but think they should also be used on T-Shirts