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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.

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.

 

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

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.

can 002

There’s always a small judder of excitement on receiving a parcel through the post and this probably explains a good deal about the success of eBay/Amazon because, even when you have paid for the item enclosed, it still seems like a present.

This raises a notch when the package comes from overseas. Consequently I was delighted recently when a parcel from the United States was delivered. Inside was a T-shirt (available here) from a site called  Arizona Wandering, which is run by a great guy called Ben.

It’s nice to have something a bit unique and as with the T shirt from Vintage Hiking Depot I mentioned while back I may be the only person (at the moment) with one, on this side of the Atlantic.

Of course it’s not all about exclusivity, it still has to have good design quality. In this case both are more than good, they’re great. Added to that the trout is by an artist by the name of KC Badger – a fact that itself pleases me for reasons I’m not entirely clear about.

However Little Boots who has yet to catch a “Spotty Herbert” is less enamoured and clearly feels it is some kind of T-shirt-based taunt.

coke

The plan was to get up before the sun and get to the river.

However I had not reckoned on friends turning up and a spontaneous drink or two, which put paid to any hopes of an early start. By the time I’d got a few chores out of the way the weather had turned grotty, and that, plus my gammy leg put me off going any adventure that woudl involve getting cold and wet.

But I was bored. I could have read a book or something, but I needed to occupy my hands as well as my mind.

So I made this little meths stove out of a couple of coke cans. I’d read about them a few days before on an outdoorsy blog, and never having heard of such a thing found myself searching for more info and soon turned up instructions for making them.

It looked like a fun thing to do and so it proved. It was fairly simple to create, but did take some care and concentration. And a little bit of thought actually because the instructions were not completely clear.

Having made one, I suppose I should try it out, but I might make a better one first. Plus I’d need to make a pot/pan stand for it and that will take some thought, because all the ones I’ve seen so far have been a bit ropey.

mahonia 002

Owing to endless rain and the consequentially swollen rivers I had not been fishing for over a month. But this lack of activity had at last really got to me and I thought I’d try a small river I know.

It was my hope that since it was not a grand watercourse, even if it was double its normal flow it would not be completely unfishable. So last week I slipped out of the house in the dark, caught a train and was at the waterside as the sun came up. The river was running very high and much faster than normal, but I thought it was worth trying.

The experience was odd and a spot I knew so well was very different, yet still familiar. If I can make a crude analogy it was like bumping into a good friend who’d spent a long afternoon in the pub. I fished all morning, but only landed three fish – a brace of grayling and a brown trout, though one that was a good size for the river. All seemed much larger, until netted, owing to the strength of the current. A couple of fish I hooked and lost seemed bigger still, but that too was probably due to the force of the flow. Many times I struck at what may have been bites or just the capricious effects of the swirling water.

Despite a strong sensation that something interesting was soon to happen, at midday I packed up, because Little Boots had some friends coming round for the afternoon. A jay scoffed at me from the treetops as I left the water, but it had been a good session I reflected as I strolled back to the railway station. I’d caught fish, good fish, spent a good few hours in air both fresh and filled with bird sound and flight. But what will make the memory linger is the overwhelming scent of Mahonia flowers from a single bush. Its smell pervaded the whole of the park I walked through on my way to and from the river.

Heady stuff.

(Apologies for the quality of the photo, but the light was quite murky twenty minutes before sun-up.)