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Well we are slightly off the pace with the #30DaysWild thing. It started 1st June and we managed to do nothing that, or the following day.

However, we had spent the previous Friday to Monday at The Bushcraft Show, which covered lots of bases on the outdoors front, so we are not fretting too much. We will just double up on a couple of days to hit out 30 activities.

So Activity #1 was actually on the 3rd June. Little Boots and I were in town sat on a bench having something to eat prior to going to the cinema. We heard chattering.

“Know what that is?” I asked. Little Boots said that he did not. “Magpies. Now where are they?”

We narrowed it down to a nearby Whitebeam, at which point the three of them burst out of the foliage and flew in a loop, around us and back to the tree, where they started chattering again.

We looked at each other. “Magpies!”

Activity #2 – Saturday 4th June. I went for a long walk along the river (21 miles). Little Boots was excused this for two reasons. Firstly, the distance – it was way too long – I was doing it as part of an effort to get in better shape, and knew it would be fairly arduous. Secondly, with Half Term drawing to a close the young fella had a lump of homework to get through.

It was a warm, but cloudy day and I walked through some lovely scenery along the Kennet valley. However, this also meant that walkers and cyclists were out in force, so that I did not spot much wildlife. There were plenty of young Rabbits who seemed delightfully incautious as I approached, something which accounts for the fact that I also saw the remains of several. The best wildlife spot was on a quiet stretch where about 20 House Martens were wheeling and diving at the river. At first I thought they were picking off flies, as they had been a couple of weeks back when I watched half a dozen picking off Mayflies. But the Mayfly hatch is over and as I drew closer I realised that they were taking it in turns to drink from the river. Amazing.

Activity #3. Sunday 5th June. We went to the small playing field behind the village hall to try out the bow and arrows that LB got at the Bushcraft Show. Whilst we were there we went to the small woodland next to the field to inspect the camp that LB had built a few weeks ago. With the warm weather and rain the herbaceous plants have all sprung up and ruined the stick based structure. Rather than write it off I suggested he fix the camp using some of the Willow branches that were stacked at the front of the wood, to make a living structure.

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

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.

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.

tradition
In the few short years that I have returned to fishing a few traditions have developed. For the opening day of the season I go to the monastery ponds that I fished as a child.

I get up an hour before it’s light (which means about three in the morning) and make my way there by bicycle. This mode of transport is not a nod to days of yore, but rather something that allows the OH to have the car all day. It started as a necessity but has become a tradition.

For the closing day I go, mid-afternoon, to the river that is a short walk from where I live. The tradition that I have control over is that I stay until the bats are out.

There are other traditions which I do not have any say about.

Firstly the penultimate fishing trip of the season will have been better than average, perhaps ridiculously so, which will raise glorious hope that the last day of the season will be an absolute cannonade of angling achievement

Also I will see some amazing wildlife. Last year it was an eerie owl encounter.

And the final tradition is that I do not catch a single bloody thing.

So last Friday found me sitting on the bank hoping the milder weather might produce results. This was countered by the fact that the water was still extremely high. And fast.

I was trying to ignore the signs and omens, not helped that I’d had an amazing session the week before and achieved a personal best by quite a margin.

Anyway I set off with a hopeful heart, and buoyed by a week of dry and sunny weather.

After an hour and a half as the heat began to fade out of the sunlight I heard a bird begin to call loudly. It was immediately apparent that it was coming from a large alder and it took only a moment or two to locate a big bird of prey sitting towards the top of it. The calling carried on for at least ten minutes and although I could not tell what the bird was (smaller than a kite or buzzard, but big) it was a wonderful thing to witness.

I tried to ignore the portent of this remarkable avian encounter and told myself that things would pick up as darkness fell.

So I fished on until the bats came out, the first one wheeling past as it was barely twilight.

I did not catch anything.

I did not expect to.

And tradition was honoured.

PS – My arris was less honoured and took a long time to thaw out.