Courses at Assington Mill

I will be running two more courses at Assington Mill this summer;

A weekend Bushcraft course

and a Wilderness Weekend for parents and children

Making a coracle part 2.

Now that the frame is completed the coracle frame can be removed from the ground and turned the right way up.

Here Olivia is demonstrating how to break down the fibres in a willow wand by twisting it and moving along its full length.

Four of these wands are used (one either side of the seat) to tie together the the three rows of twisted willows and so secure the seat inplace.

The frame can now be covered with cloth (we used Jute) and sewn around the rim to keep the cloth taught and secure using a blanket stitch.

We pre-heated a tin of Bitumen and then applied two coats to the cloth (allowing each coat to dry) to waterproof it.

Once completely dry the coracle is completed. Then all you need is a paddle.

I am now awaiting pictures of me and the coracle in action on water and will add them here once I receive them.

Making a coracle part 1.

Firstly, to Treewright, Mungo and Suburban Bushwacker…… thanks for you comments re my recent laptop problems.

Last weekend I was at Assington Mill again to learn to make a coracle with instructor Olivia Elton Barratt. I should point out that there are many different designs and ways of making them and this is just one;

The seat was cut from sawn timber, a hole drilled in each corner and placed on flat ground. Pairs of willow wands were then selected for construction of the framework.

Four large wands were inserted into each of the seat holes and then the shape was measured and marked out with the rest of the wands, starting with two pairs either side of the centre of the coracle

Once all the wands were in place, weaving between the wands could start to form the rim and help strengthen the frame. The weave starts under both ends of the seat and after one complete diameter of the coracle the second row is woven below the seat.

The wands are woven in pairs, criss-crossing between the upright wands.

As one wand runs out, you add in a new one to replace it and continue weaving until three rows have been completed.

The vertical wands (or ribs) are then lashed together in opposing pairs to begin forming the shape of the coracle.

until the basic shape is completed.

At this stage slight adjustments to the shape can be made and once the shape looks good, a square lashing is used to secure each point where the pairs of wands cross.

Assington Mill

Last weekend I spent a very enjoyable weekend at Assington Mill near Colchester; where they run a variety of courses.

On Saturday we had a “Food for free” course

which involved a walk in the morning to collect plants and fungi, then following a pleasant lunch of rabbit stew, the afternoon was spent learning recipes such as this pigeon salad

and how to prepare game.

On Sunday I ran a one day bushcraft course there, so having set up the parachute and prepared teaching aids, I settled down for an evening by the fire.

It rained heavily all night, but I managed to keep dry under the parachute and kept the fire going all night for warmth. By 7am I was up and preparing breakfast.

The students for my course arrived at 10am and after tea and coffee, we began with firelighting; covering different ways of making fire, tinders and fuel to use.

Everyone managed to get an ember with the bow-drill.

At lunchtime we had soup and cooked sausages on and bannock on sticks.

After lunch we moved into the woodland where the students made a lean-to shelter and a bough bed.

This weekend I will be back at Assington Mill on a Coracle making course.

Common Reed

Those who know me well or have been on one of my courses will be aware that my favourite tinder for firelighting is the seed heads of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) .

It is available for 9 months of the year, and because the seed heads are so far off the ground it tends to dry very quickly even after rain. Unlike some seed heads it does not “flash burn” burn instead burns quite slowly as you can see in the piece of video ( I am using a firesteel to ignite it).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Butterfly transect

From the 1st April to 30th September we do a weekly count of butterflies along a transect. The transect route has 8 sections and covers all the different habitats on the nature reserve. We have to note the start and finish time, end temperature, wind direction and at the end of each transect section the percentage of sun. Both butterfly species and the number of each species have to be recorded and this will vary during the summer months.

The most common species today was Peacock butterfly. The one below was one fresh Fox droppings, obtaining moisture and minerals I would imagine.

To fine out more about the method used and national results from the scheme visit

Fineshade log shelters

A few months ago I was offered the opportunity to assist with the construction of three log shelters for the Forestry Commission at one of their woods at Fineshade in Northamptonshire. Unfortunately I was unable to get time off work at the time, but today i was invited to visit to see the end result.

There are three shelters around a fire-pit and there is a small table.

An expert from Denmark was brought over to advise on their design and construction and all the materials were sourced from local trees.

The shelters are set in beautiful surroundings and each shelter will sleep up to six people and they are available to hire via the visitor centre. More information about Fineshade can be found here;

Top Lodge Fineshade Wood