SDC10072 (2)

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.

Picture 097

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.

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.

 

cone 1

The insides of London phoneboxes are often decorated, though sadly only with flyers showing bare ladies and offers of lurid excitement.

Sometimes there is something a bit different as I blogged about recently, and this sticker of a pine cone is another example.

Quite what it’s all about I don’t know.

Not that it needs to be about anything of course; it’s a fine thing in it’s own right and for fine things just existing is reason enough for, well….existing.

I would like to know what the story behind it is though.

cone 2

r dige

More favourite things.

Some years ago a relative, knowing of my interest in British flora gave me three field guide books from the Readers’ Digest Nature Lover’s Library series, covering British Birds, Wild Flowers and Trees & Shrubs.

They became immediate favourites and I have learned so much from them. In fact I still do.

With that in mind it was odd both that I never came across any other titles, or even considered that more might exist.

Three months ago, out of the blue, I found a copy of Butterflies and Other Insects of Britain, which I had to have even though I have butterflies and moths covered reference book-wise.

And then, during the Christmas hols Little Boots and I found Animals of Britain during a book-wombling expedition around local charity shops.

I was pleased to have what I knew would be a decent reference book and one to add to others in the series. Little Boots, curiously was also pleased with it. I soon learned why. Towards the back it has a section on animal footprints.

And LB reckons to have good tracking skills.

Personally I’m not so sure but, whatever the reality, it’s an unusual ability for a nine-year old to profess to have.

As for me – I’ve some tracking of my own – there’s sixth and final book – Waterlife of Britain – I must have it.