Teaching Sea Cadets

Last Friday evening I left work and headed down the M11 to Hoddesdon, to help teach Sea Cadets bushcraft and outdoor living skills as part of there Expedition Leaders Assessment, at the invitation of my friend George and the London North East District Sea Cadets.

I arrived just before dark, to a deserted campsite, so walked around to find the best location to set up, under a dense area of Holly. I found the two longest logs I could find and put them parallel to each other and then filled the space between with 18 inches of leaves as a mattress. The picture below was taken the following morning hence the compressed leaves.

My Reindeer skin provided additional insulation

and then I used my summer bag and bivy bag from the US Sleep System.

As the evening progressed cadets and leaders arrived, as did a large number of Police cadets and leaders using the site at the same time as ourselves. It was a good chance to catch up with old friends (I ran a course for some of the instructors 18 months ago) and make new ones. Advertised as “one of the UK ‘s leading bushcraft and outdoor skills instructors” I felt a little nervous on Saturday morning but thankfully I would be working with “one of the UK’s second best bushcraft instructors”……… ;>)

After breakfast we started the day with shelter building. We split the cadets into two groups and made two different shelters

One group made a lean-to

The other group made a kennel shelter


After lunch we spent the afternoon teaching firelighting. Methods included firesteel, flint and steel, bow-drill and pump-drill.


This is Chris who at 14 is one of the most enthusiastic students I have ever had and already posses a variety of skills.

He achieved his first fire using the bow-drill.

Unfortunately I had to depart late afternoon (missing out on navigation, tracking and cooking over/in a campfire) to travel to rural Norfolk for a very special event which I will write about next time!

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Felt making Part II

The weekend before last I was at the home of my friends John and Val Lord of http://www.flintknapping.co.uk/ and they were having a family gathering as their daughter Gina was over from Canada for a couple of weeks.

One of their other daughters (Steff) showed me a really nice felt bag she had made and I told her about my failed attempt to make a bag here. Steff offered to teach me how to make a felt bag and as it was something Gina had never done, she was also keen to give it a go. We would be using pre-died and prepared wool this time.

The first task was to design a shape and then cut out a pattern to work the wool around.

Once the shape was cut out, one side had to be lightly covered with wool, ensuring all the fibres were laid in the same direction.

Then using soap and warm water the wool was dampened

and bubble wrap placed over it and with soapy hands the bubble wrap was gently rubbed to start manipulating the wool.

The pattern was turned over with the first layer of wool now face down and the process was repeated, folding in any wool that overhung the edge of the pattern. Then the whole lot was turned over, but this time a second layer of wool was added with the fibres laid at 90 degrees the the first layer and again the wool was wetted, bubble wrap laid over and gently manipulated to start the process of interlocking the fibres and different layers. In total three layers were added and after the bubble wrap was removed for the last time, the wool (particularly the edges) was worked with soapy hands. At this stage we cut open the top of the bag and removed the pattern and continued to manipulate the wool to help the fibres interlock. At this point the wool fibre layers could still be pulled apart with the fingers and needed to be “hardened”.

To do this the wool was rinsed in clean water to remove all the soap, then put into hot water and then manipulated very vigorously which required great effort and concentration!

Being serenaded by John helped to relax us as we worked (more about John’s musical talents later in the week)

and the transformation in the wool during this process was quite amazing and at the end, it was impossible to pull any of the wool apart.

For some reason my bag shrunk considerably more than Gina’s and ended up more like a woollen cup than a bag!

I must concede that Gina made the better bag which isn’t surprising when she demanded most of Steff’s attention and in fact Steff did most of the work for her!! (though I’m not bitter), but I was still impressed with my end result and as you can see below our tutor was very pleased with our work too!!

(sorry Steff….had to do it!)

Autumn in Lapland 27th – 29th September 2008

Snowing first thing this morning, but then changed to rain. The cloud cleared mid afternoon and then it was clear and sunny.

Cleaned the cabin this morning and put the boat back into the boat shed.

Using some off-cuts of wood I made a simple frame for a hacksaw

which I wanted to cut off some parts of the reindeer antler to take home.

This afternoon I went fishing with my friend Anki who wanted to show me the best places to fish. Unfortunately neither of us had a bite.

As it was such a lovely clear night I decided to test my camera for photographing the stars. In England you can use the Pole Star or North Star to help you navigate at night as when you walk towards it you are travelling true north, but here the Pole Star if directly above and to photograph it I had to lay the camera down on its back.

If you look at the bottom of the above picture you can see the saucepan shaped “Big Dipper” and if you take a line from the two stars at the right hand end (about six timed the distance between those two stars) you come to the Pole Star (it’s the brightest star on the right of the picture).

On the horizon, to the north I noticed a pale glow in the sky and as I watched it gradually became brighter and it was clear that it was the start of a display of the Northern Lights. It certainly wasn’t the best display I have seen, but was still a nice farewell on my last night at the cabin.



28th September

This morning I boarded the cabin windows and closed it up ready for winter.

I spent the next two days living with Ingvar and Anki learning more about life in Lapland, their family history and growing up following the family Reindeer herd in all weathers and living off the land. On Monday we visited Kiruna

and on Tuesday morning I left to return to England.

Autumn in Lapland 26th September 2008

Heavy rain most of the night and this morning, then sunny for the rest of the day.

I went walking around the marsh today to look for birds.

The marsh was very quiet apart from one Whooper Swan.

The marsh is covered with Cotton Grass. This picture was taken by Jon Pickett last year

I stopped for a brew mid morning

Making a fire is so simple here. I collect an armful of the lower dead branches of Spruce and Pine and put some Birch bark into them

and then spark into the Birch bark with the firesteel and with the help of the resin in the dead wood you quickly have a good fire.

I used some larger pieces just to rest the pot on.

Other birds on my walk included 2 Goldeneye and the Grey-headed Woodpecker again. I returned to the cabin and after lunch finished some of the items I had made from antler. Here are some examples of things I made.


From left to right; sewing needle, necklace bead, toggle and finally an awl.

Anki returned to stay at her cabin this afternoon and while we were chatting we met a guy from the Swedish Forest Company who told us that they have decided to preserve a large area of trees behind our cabins. Quite a lot of these trees are large and old, and unlike those in the managed forest, are of suitable diameter for woodpeckers and owls to nest in. This si really good news!!

Autumn in Lapland 25th September 2008

Overcast all day today.

Spent most or the day birdwatching around the cabin today as there were lots to see. 1 Grey-headed Woodpecker (a rare bird in Lapland) was moving around from tree to tree associating with a Great-spotted Woodpecker. There was a Reed and Rustic Bunting feeding around the cabin plus; Fieldfare, Redwing, Waxwing, Goldcrest, Redpoll, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Raven 1 female Goldeneye on the lake and a noisy Jay. There were also a family party of 7 Siberian Jays feedling on a piece of pork I put in a tree. I spent about 3 hours photographing and filming them.

They are such a beautiful bird.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I slit some logs this afternoon

spent a bit of time fishing but still caught nothing!!

Filtered some more water

and then I made a “Moose caller” for Anki’s grandchildren.

You can use a plastic cup or cut the top off of a bottle

then make a small hole in the base large enough to get a piece of nylon cord through (the inner line from parachute cord works well)

Now wet the string and pull gently between thumb and forefinger

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Autumn in Lapland 24th September 2008

Rowed to the far end of the lake this morning to do a spot of fishing. A Golden eagle lifted from trees at the lake edge, circled around and then as it gained altitude, drifted away. As I rowed back to the cabin a Sparrowhawk flew across the lake (which is a new species for my list there). I also noticed that all the Waxwings have gone today….presumably on the next stage of their migration.

I washed my clothes after breakfast.

then added another set of legs to the saw-horse

then spent most of the day cutting logs

I decided to make an apple and blueberry crumble for my evening meal.

Lined a tin with apples and then blueberries

and crushed digestive biscuits

then covered the alternate layers and apples and blueberries with the crushed biscuits

I baked it in the oven for about 40 minutes and this was the end result…..BEAUTIFUL!!!


As I rowed to the far end of the lake again this evening to watch the Moose, 62 Pink-footed Geese flew over calling, on their way south for the winter.

Autumn in Lapland 23rd September 2008

Cloudy first thing, then sunny but became overcast late afternoon and cleared just before dark.

This morning I sat and watched a Great-spotted Woodpecker wedge a cone in the crack of a tree trunk as a vice, so it could extract the seeds.

Here is the end result

I decided to make a bird feeder using bits I had found discarded by others. It’s amazing how long such a simple thing can take to make when you have limited materials and tools. The seeds drop out of holes at the bottom of the tube.

This afternoon I collected two fallen Birch for firewood for a winter trip I am planning. I cut the trees up using a sabre cut saw (a kind of hand operated chainsaw with teeth pointing in both cutting directions).

Then I carried the sections back to the cabin for cutting up and splitting.

some were too big to carry on my shoulder so using this piece of rope


I made a simple handle for dragging the logs back, which reduced the strain on my back.

On one of the trees there was a really nice bur (a bur in Swedish is called a “kasa” and so as I understand it is not the cup that is truly the kasa, but the item it is made from). In Finland they are called “kuksa”.

There has been a male Crossbill singing around the cabin most of the day and a pair of Northern Bullfinch appeared briefly. There was also a black form of the Red Squirrel around and when I rowed to the far end of the lake at dusk there was a female Moose feeding on Bog Bean. A male then appeared calling to her, she replied and then they both disappeared into the forest.