A Cornishman's Random Ramblings on Rambling (and other topics)

I hope everyone’s successfully slaying (metaphorical) dragons.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to celebrate today, what with me assuming the lineage of the “Celts” ‘n all; but lets face it, we’re all mongrels and try as we might to ignore it down here in Cornwall, we’re still technically English!

King Doniert's Stone near Liskeard

King Doniert's Stone near Liskeard. A broken cross. A bit like the Cornish relationship with England.

 

Today is the Spring equinox. That means we have an equal length of day and night. It’s also one of only two days in the year that the sun truly rises in the east and sets in the west.

Even better than all this though, is that it means from tomorrow onwards the days will be longer than the nights!

For a brilliant explanation of why all this is happening, take a look at Paul Kirtley’s latest blog post – he explains it much better than I could.

(Warning: the above link contains gratuitous use of the terms ‘celestial’ and ‘ecliptic’.)

Zebra Billy Cans

I wanted a cook pot with bail arm that I could suspend over a fire for outdoors cooking. Specifically for the Wilderness Survival Skills Bushcraft Course I’ve got coming up. A quick bit of research and it was a toss-up between a Zebra or Tatonka billy can.

I plumped for the Zebra and ordered a 12cm model from www.raymears.com. It soon turned up (great service Ray!). Here are a few pics of me opening it…

Review to come soon.

So I’ve been a bit out of the blog loop in the last month or so. I have excuses.

As well as a beautiful new daughter, a day job and more hobbies than… umm… someone with a lot of hobbies, I’ve been starting a new business!

I’ve freelanced as a graphic designer and web developer for a number of years and have now decided to pursue that with greater intent. If you’re so inclined you can pop over to any of the following links to find out more:

www.moortor-design.co.uk

blog.moortor-design.co.uk

www.twitter.com/moortor

www.facebook.com/moortor

…And back to the usual program. This is the first winter season that I haven’t made a trip (or several as the case used to be) to the more mountainous regions of the UK to indulge in a bit of winter mountaineering. But I did manage to pop out one Saturday in search of ice on Dartmoor. I’d heard reports that the Slipper stones, near Meldon Reservoir sometimes rime up with ice in winter. Conditions seemed to be as good as they were going to get in this mild winter, and myself and some friends (a couple of whom were crampon and ice axe virgins) were pleased to find they were indeed iced up.

As true ice climbs, they’re really nothing to write home about. They’re easy angled slabs, which for the most part, you can forego your picks entirely. But they’re never-the-less an hour or so’s fun and a good training ground for anyone not used to wearing crampons or carrying ice axes.

Go check ’em out if you’re in the South and at a bit of a loss for wintery delights when it’s cold.

Anybody else got any tips for places to winter climb on Dartmoor?

This is just a little teaser to say I’m booked onto the next stage course with Wilderness Survival Skills – the Wilderness Awakening!

This five day course is the next step up from the Bushcraft Weekend that I attended back in September.

I can’t wait!

I went for a bimble through Highwood (some woods close to me in the town of Liskeard in Cornwall) this afternoon. It was ostensibly a dog walk, but I also had my eye out for a bit of winter tree identification practice.

Unidentified Fungus Object

Unidentified Fungus Object

My tree ID isn’t the best, but it’s gradually getting better. I thought I’d share a couple of resources I’ve been using recently, and a couple of tips I’ve picked up that have helped me with figuring out what’s what in the woods (especially in winter).

First up, the two resources I’ve found useful recently:

  1. Bark & Buds: How to Easily Identify 12 Common European Deciduous Trees in Winter
  2. Twigs and Buds

The first link goes to Paul Kirtley’s blog. There’s loads of great bushcraft related material on this site and I’d thoroughly recommend subscribing to it. Paul is Ray Mears’ old head instructor and now runs his own bushcraft course outfit – Frontier Bushcraft.

The second link is to a page on The Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives site. The downloadable PDFs have really great photos of a range of common British tree branches with their winter buds. These are some of the most distinctive and useful photos I’ve found for identifying bare deciduous trees.

When it comes to identifying trees, I’ve found that the bark, branch structure and buds are actually a much easier way of learning the distinctions between species than making assumptions based on leaves. Leaves can vary wildly from the pictures you see in text books and can be very similar from species to species. However, the colour, shape and size of buds and the way they are arranged on the branch is far more consistent between  trees of the same species and hence easier to discern from trees of a different species.

To this end, I’m actually finding it easier to learn to identify trees in the winter than I do in the summer, when the buds are in leaf and obscuring the branches and bark.

Back to the walk, I was surprised to see the first hazel catkins of the year – one of the first signs of spring. I guess they’re out this early because of the mild winter we’ve had – I’ve seen daffodils already this year as well.

I also came across the bracket fungus in the photo at the top of this post. If anyone knows what it is I’d be interested to find out.

I also stumbled across a line of three plastic jerry cans rigged up as what I can only think are either feeders or traps. These were set a distance apart in a marshy stand of alder (which I had just learnt to identify from their lilac coloured, club shaped buds). They were suspended from said alder, with a roughly cut hole in the top and were filled with what looked like bird seed. The spout had a metal mesh tube attached into it hanging about 6 inches off the ground. I’d love to know what these are!

Unidentified Feeding Object

Unidentified Feeding Object

If anyone knows the answers to either of the above questions, please let me know in the comments.

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and here’s wishing you all a great New Year. May 2012 bring you everything you desire and enable you to achieve all your walking / climbing / dog training or bushcraft related goals!

I took a walk in my local woods with the dog yesterday. It was a damp old mizzly day, so I thought it would be a good chance to practice some fire-lighting in unfavourable conditions (there’s a silver lining to every cloud after all!).

I wandered through a bit of native decidous woodland in amongst the planted pines and noticed a badger’s sett in a steep embankment. I clambered up to look for any evidence of the badgers and so it took me a moment to notice some cramp balls growing on a fallen ash above the sett. After staring for a few more seconds I realised there were a lot of cramp balls. A few more seconds and I realised there were a heck of a lot of cramp balls! There must have been 200 of the little hard black mushrooms on just these two fallen trunks.

Cramp balls growing on dead ash above a badgers' sett

Anyone for cramp balls?

I ‘harvested’ a few of the mushrooms – cramp balls make excellent tinder and ember extenders. You can throw a spark onto one and the ember will smoulder for ages. Whilst I was doing this, Man’s Best Friend was intimately acquainting herself with the grisly remains of something so big it could only have been a cow (what it was doing in these woods I’ve no idea).

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Everyone tells you a newborn baby will take up every moment of your spare time – but that still doesn’t prepare you for when it actually happens!

Anyway, that’s my excuse for this post being late (again). Back to normal programming…

In light of my recently rekindled passion for bushcraft, I bought myself a few books on the subject. I wanted to expand the small grounding I had in bushcraft and build some sound knowledge on top of the extras I learnt on the recent bushcraft course I attended.

I bought 4 books which I thought were a nicely rounded selection of old classics and more recent takes on the subject. The books I chose were:

Outdoor Survival Handbook: A Guide To The Resources And Materials Available In The Wild And How To Use Them For Food, Shelter,Warmth And Navigation by Ray Mears

Outdoor Survival Handbook: A Guide To The Resources And Materials Available In The Wild And How To Use Them For Food, Shelter,Warmth And Navigation by Ray Mears. Ray needs no introduction. Synonymous with bushcraft, he pretty much single-handedly invented the genre in the UK. This is one of Ray’s earlier books setting out his philosophy for time spent outdoors.

Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival by Mors Kochanski

Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival by Mors Kochanski. Mors is a Canadian bushcraft superstar. Not generally known in this country, he is none-the-less highly respected in bushcraft circles.

The Wilderness Survival Guide: The Practical Skills You Need for the Great Outdoors by Joe O'Leary

The Wilderness Survival Guide: The Practical Skills You Need for the Great Outdoors by Joe O’Leary. Joe runs Wilderness Survival Skills, the outfit that ran the recent bushcraft course I attended. He is a well-known and respected instructor in the bushcraft community.

Collins Gem - SAS Survival Guide: How to survive in the Wild, on Land or Sea by John 'Lofty' Wiseman

Collins Gem – SAS Survival Guide: How to survive in the Wild, on Land or Sea by John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman. Lofty is a legend… the original ‘survival’ expert. A long-time member of the SAS he wound up running the survival school for the regiment. The SAS survival guide is a hugely successful book that distills the knowledge he has accrued over the years. The version I am reviewing here is the Collin’s Gem pocket-size edition.

So how did the books compare?

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I’ve come across a couple of interesting bushcraft related series’ online recently. I’ve greatly enjoyed watching them, so thought I’d share them on here for anyone else with similar interests.

The first series I came across was Alone in the Wild. This is about British cameraman Ed Wardle. He decides to pit himself against the Canadian wilderness, trying to survive alone and unaided in the Yukon for three months. Without spoiling things for anyone who decides to watch the series, it’s fair to say he is out of his depth.

I next came across a series by Norwegian adventurer Lars Monsen called (I think) Across Canada. It’s subtitled in English from the original Norwegian. This series blew me away! Forget surviving for three months in the Canadian wilderness, Lars spent 2 years and 7 months (including two arctic winters) crossing the whole of Canada on foot, by dog sled and canoe! Go and watch this series (6 episodes) right now.

Lars also has another series that’s been subtitled into English and is well worth watching – Nordkalotten 365. In this series he spends a whole year travelling through the Nordkalotten region of Norway, Finland and Sweden.

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