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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.

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Not the sort of sign you see often in the UK

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An occasional series on a few of my favourite things.

This, like an earlier favourite thing, is a knife that I inherited from my grandfather.
Whilst that one was given to him by his father-in-law, this one is of less certain provenance. He never showed it to me when he was alive and it came to me when we were clearing the house after his death. I made the assumption since it was an old knife that he’d had it since he’d been a boy. After all for my generation, my father’s and beyond most boy’s aspired to own a sheath knife. And my grandfather had been in the Scouts and I knew that in the Thirties some Scouts carried a knife on their belts. A knife is after all an essential piece of outdoors kit.

Thus I thought no more of it until recently when I put the maker’s name through an internet search engine. (The details – Joseph Rodgers & Son, Cutlers to His Majesty, Sheffield, England do not show in the picture – the blade is stamped on the other side).

The result identified the knife as those issued to Auxiliary Units in WW2. This shadowy bunch of warriors was set up when the threat of Nazi invasion was very real. They were something like the Special Forces wing of the Home Guard: recruited with the specific intention of creating mayhem behind enemy lines, should Britain be invaded. Such was the secrecy surrounding these units, and so resolutely did those involved take their oath of secrecy, that very little is actually known about these units.

So whilst I was pleased to find out something about this knife I was faced with a number of questions.

Had my grandfather been in an Auxiliary Unit?

Is that why he was not called up at the earlier in the war?

If not, where had the knife come from?

I asked my mother if she knew anything of the knife’s history. She did not, but when I explained what I thought it was, commented that she’d always thought it unusual that he knew where all the defensive pillboxes were on the (local) Kennet and Avon canal.

From looking on the internet it would seem that the Auxiliary Units were all based in coastal counties which would put paid to any suggestion that my grandfather was a member of one. I think he probably picked it up somewhere, like a few other bits and pieces he had, however I guess I will never be certain.

So I have inherited a knife, a piece of British wartime history, and a mystery.

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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.

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.

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.”