Tag Archives: bushcraft

How to make Scallop Shell oil lamps using only natural materials

Today, in the spirit of being frugal and eco-friendly, I am going to show you how to make your own lamp using only natural materials.

[Note from Rachel: These also make great presents, so this is Part 4 of my Frugal and Green Christmas Gift series, on the Touchwood Project website. You can find all the projects by clicking on this tag: Christmas.]

Decorating the fireplace for Christmas

Decorating the fireplace for Christmas

This I believe to be one of the earliest of human inventions and in all honesty, it is superior to the man-made, metal equivalent.

For one thing the parts are white and shiny, so reflect more light. For another there are many flutes thus allowing multiple wicks and thus variable brightness (the world’s first ‘dimmer switch’). Oh, and they are free, recyclable and beautiful.

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Top 10 Survival Bushcraft Books

What are the best books to buy about survival and bushcraft? The best 10 books on the subject from my library, are listed below:

Fire by friction - a helping hand from the survival instructor

Fire by friction - a helping hand from the survival instructor

Mears, RayOutdoor Survival Handbook

Brown, TomTom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival

Kochanski, MorsBushcraft: Outdoor Skills and wilderness survival

Gatty, HaroldFinding your way without map or compass

Akkermans, AnthonioBushcraft Skills and how to survive in the wild

Mabey, RichardFood for Free

Wiseman, JohnSAS Survival Handbook

Grylls, BearBorn Survivor – Survival techniques from the most dangerous …

Montgomery, DavidMountainman Crafts and Skills

Wescott, DavidPrimitive Technology: A book of earth skills

These books are easily accessible, cheap and well written with clear diagrams and instruction. Not one is perfect and in the end you still have to put the work in and get your hands dirty – but these have been well tested. The authors often have other books but I like these as being down to earth and not of the “coffee table” type. Comments or suggestions are welcome, if you have other books you woud strongly argue for, I’d like to hear.

Follow the links for more info on the books – links to Amazon.co.uk or write to me for advice.

I live in the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland and specialise in natural navigation, survival in hostile environments, wild foods, shelters without wood and practical problem solving (ie, when it is not written in a book).

What they are saying about Five Senses in Orkney, Scotland

Following yesterday’s post about attention to detail, here are some quotes from testimonials, feedback and letters of thanks, posted to me at Five Senses, here in Orkney, Scotland. I was preparing to put them up on the website but they also seem appropriate for the current blog theme, so excuse the praise and read the detail – it is all about the detail. [Italics and bold added by me].

Malcolm of Five Senses with Stinging Nettles

Malcolm of Five Senses with Stinging Nettles

What is being said about Five Senses:

(See also The Scotsman Newspaper article)

Guests write:

“We cannot say enough about Malcolm and Rachel of Five Senses Tours. We had a great tour of the Highlands and Orkney and saw and experienced so much more than we would have on our own. Tailored to our needs and flexible, educational and fun! I can still taste the local food and drink!

***

“I want to thank you for the day my daughter and I spent with you. Your tour was quite remarkable.

The Five Senses Tour experience certainly engaged all our sense, as promised, but it did more. It engaged our minds. As a guide you presented us with the tactile, olfactory, aural (I shall never forget the acoustics at the Stones of Stenness), and visual feasts, along with a terrific lunch. But you also asked us to consider what we saw, not to take it on face value. Too often a tour will tell you what the experts say and leave it at that. With Five Senses, you offered us competing theories and then you asked us what we thought, what we saw. I left enriched and excited…and my brain was wonderfully full.

Would that all tours were that wonderful.”

***

“‘Twas the most memorable experience of my two weeks holiday in Ireland and Scotland…”

***

“Just spent three amazing days in the Orkney Islands with the wonderful couple from Five Senses of Scotland. Learnt firelighting with a handmade wooden bowdrill, explored ancient sites – including singing and drumming inside a stone tomb until we found a pitch that caught its natural frequency and amplified our quietest voices many fold – hiked and camped through the lush island of Hoy, drinking delicious fresh water from a rippling stream, while learning to navigate with a compass, and sharing an old stone bothy with passing hikers and a roaring fire (and much more).

If you want to immerse yourself in the land and culture of the Orkney Islands, I would highly recommend this group. Both Malcolm and Rachel are deeply friendly and caring about the people they work with and the land and work it self.”

***

“Thank you very much for giving us such a fantastic time, so much information, new skills and much food for thought, so, in a way it was an intellectual experience too!”

***

“Just want to say how fantastic the new Orkney Experience was. You are both such an inspiration.

Malcolm you are a talented person with such a special gift to see the world in all its wonder and be amazed. Thanks for sharing it.

Rachel, thanks too, for sharing your smile, warmth and sincerity.”

***

“Thank you again for such a memorable day!”

***

“I have arrived home from my wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland. What an amazing adventure it was! I wanted to thank you for hosting such a wonderful day in Kirkwall. It was so nice to be shown around by someone who truly loves their country and enjoys sharing this joy with others. I will be posting your contact information on the Cruise Critic web site. Perhaps a few cruise tours here and there may be helpful to you. Please stay in touch and let me know how your business plans are going. If there is anything I can do to promote All Five Senses on my end please let me know.

Again, thank you for a wonderful day.”

***

“Thank you for an absolutely brilliant evening yesterdayEllie hasn’t stopped talking about it since. We have tonight made fire at Birsay and even demonstrated
it to someone else.

Thanks again.”

Making fire by friction - using your senses

Making fire by friction - using your senses

“What an outstanding, thoughtful, insightful and unusual introduction to Orkney. Including tea on your fabulous sun porch was an added bonus!!

Thanks so much for a wonderful day.”

***

“We cannot thank Five Senses enough for our trip to Orkney and beyond, we saw and learned far more than we thought we would and ten times what we would have it we had done it on our own. Our only regret is not having more time. What probably sums it up the best is what happened at the Inverness airport, as we were leaving and they asked how many of us where flying we answered “six”, to which the seven year-old replied “yeah, six, we’re short one now”.”

***

“Well, I’m home now and looking back, the day spent with you in Orkney was the highlight of my trip. Thank you so much for sharing your stories, the fire-making and the special magic of Orkney.

It was such a blessing to meet you and to feel welcomed by your spirit to these ancient sacred places. I will always look back on that day with gratitude.”

Burnside cottage, Rackwick, Island of Hoy, Orkney

Burnside cottage, Rackwick, Island of Hoy, Orkney

And there is more …

“It’s an amazing place; however, this can only really be appreciated if you do it with Five Senses. Out of all of the experiences that we had on our trip to the UK, meeting Malcolm and his wife Rachel and going to all of these ancient places and learning so much was the highlight of the trip. Not to mention actually being able to touch a part of the past.”

***

“We had a picnic with Malcolm on the last day in this field of heather. I still to this day remember what the food tasted like. It was incredible — we can definitely say that we experienced Orkney with all five senses. Not to mention we now know a lot of survival techniques that we learned from Malcolm while visiting Orkney.”

***

“Touring the island with Malcolm was truly a five sense experience. He not only introduced us to the topographical, geological and spiritual aspects of the environment, he and his lovely wife, Rachel, made us feel like family – one well worth a return trip.”

***

“Having used Five Senses I have to say that the quality of interaction with the children, the content of the experience, and the high motivation factor were all really impressive.

So much was this the case that I have booked a half day for my own school to launch our Fuel and Power Topic with a spark! Several other of the commonly used cross-curricular, science- or history-based Topics in Primary would be greatly augmented by such an experience as we had, especially several involving past civilisations or prehistory, or those considering materials and their properties.

The level was right, the risk assessment and health and safety issues were addressed, the personnel were SO enthusiastic and engaged the children without exception and for the whole duration of the afternoon. The children worked as a team eagerly, each having hands-on experience and all gaining so much knowledge, in theory and in practice, about materials, past times, the creation and maintenance of fire, its significance to various times, cultures and peoples, its dangers and safe management.

I have no hesitation in recommending colleagues to take a look at what these people have to offer.”

Limpets are survival food

Limpets are survival food

***

“Planting a naked foot on a board, Malcolm used a bow and hazel ‘drill’ to create flame. Even in these hi-tech days fire still has a magical power to thrill.

These are experiences the children will never forget. Science is all about seeing, enjoying, discovering, trying things out – and, sometimes, being so enthralled by a moment that it changes the way someone thinks for ever.”

Fire Making Class with Malcolm

Fire Making Class with Malcolm

***

“Five Senses showed our family of 4 plus my sister and her husband around for a week. It was incredible. The highlight of 3 weeks in the UK – and we plan to return. We could not have seen 1/3 of what we saw without Malcolm. It was not a “okay so look at this for 20 seconds” type event. Malcolm asked us all kinds of questions for weeks before we arrived. Once there, he learned more about us — and surprised us with a stop off at a rare breed sheep farm, as well as a combination wool shop / bookstore, to satisfy all 6 of us. I would highly recommend Malcolm and Five Senses to anyone. It is not costly when you realize how much you end up doing, seeing and experiencing.

We shall be back”.

***

“The rest of our trip was nice but we really feel the highlight was the week we spent with you and can’t stop talking about it. Kudos to you Malcolm”.

Miracle Thread: Bog Cotton – July Harvest

The annual gathering of Cotton Grass / Bog Cotton took place today – a day late but no great disaster.

Cotton Grass / Bog Cotton

Cotton Grass / Bog Cotton

I went up the hill this morning for my annual gathering of bog cotton or cotton grass, as it is also known. last year I had delayed going out to gather it, waiting until it was perfectly dry and just ready to drift on the wind (the fluffy seeds) when in the night I was awoken by sudden storm – wet and windy! I knew then that it would scatter the white cotton everywhere making it impossible to harvest. Sure enough, the next morning I marched up the hill to find it white, like there had been a frost or light falling of snow – but it was the bog cotton seeds, released by the plant or pulled away by the wind, scattered! That day I trudged back down and set my sights upon the later thistle and rosebay willowherb harvest, which are easier to find, being lowland plants.

This summer I have been paying close attention to the condition of the bog cotton and the weather, waiting. Last night was perfect: It had been dry for days, the wind was light but a new front was due, so the seeds were ripe for picking – still bunched on the plant so easy to gather but ready to release and dry! I should have gone. It had been a busy day and the forecast was for the winds to remain light, so I slept.

With a groan I again awoke to the sound of wind and rain. Surely not?! I set off up the fields, soon soaked by the wet grasses and made my way to a good, healthy patch of white tufts. There were still there. Some were gone, strewn across the ground, seeds that have escaped. The rest were there still, hanging on but soaking wet.

I got a bag full in 10 minutes and returned home, relieved and happy, my nose clear and scenting the distant cattle, the odd smells of things unseen. The cotton is now in a pillow case over the solid fuel stove, slowly drying so I can keep it dry and use all year, until this time next year. There is no supermarket for this sort of stuff -just like the old days, the weather and season matter greatly. Be lazy and stay in bed and you miss it for at least a year!

Bog cotton actually had many uses, one of which was as a stuffing for pillows, so my harvest over the fire looks appropriate! Of course, it has also been used like commercial cotton to make thread and cloth, described in the Great Exhibition of 1851 as “garments woven by crofting women … much admired for their beauty and fine texture” (the fabric, not the women, alas).

Bog cotton is also reputed to have miracle healing powers for the sheep that eat it, though I do not know how accurate this observation from the 19th century is.

There are a number of traditional Scottish stories that refer to shirts made of this plant, known locally as canach or caineachan. I’ll quote from Flora Celtica:

“such as the tale in which a girl refuses to marry her suitor unless he procures a gown of canach down.”

“In another story a prince is bewitched and becomes a creature, neither man or beast. His distressed father calls on the local maidens to weave 3 shirts from canach down but only one girl sees it through to the finish. When the prince receives his 3 shirts he turns back into his handsome old self and marries the lass, and they all live happily ever after.” (p159 Flora Celtica, Milliken and Bridgewater).

So what do I want with the downy, white seed heads? I have not the patience to weave a shirt, though I will try spinning some thread from it. I do not believe it shall make me more handsome – though I suspect the stories demonstrate just how hugely labour intensive making garments from this lovely, soft material would have been. It is hard enough to gather it, let alone clean it, spin it and then weave it. I sit here in my cotton t-shirt bought pre-made and I am grateful.

What I want the bog cotton for is making fire – as a very fine, fibrous plant material it is perfect for helping the most stubborn ember to glow bigger and grow into a ball of heat! A dry bag of it in my pack weighs next to nothing and it also makes fantastic down-like insulation, which could just save a hand from freezing – and in the outdoors that is the sort of advantage that might save my life – just being able to open a karabiner or a rucksack for precious food. I’ve been there so I speak from experience.

It is interesting to note how many plants associated with wet ground are helpful in making fire – how these are our friends and not weeds. Today we stick close to the land, rarely venturing out in a boat, be it on sea or a lake, so it is hard for us to imagine how our ancestors lived close to and on water. They had no roads, no metal tools – so they thrived at the water margins. Land we have either built cities on or drained for farming – little remains, to our loss.

Bog cotton is my friend!

Note: I only gather small quantities from any one location allowing natural processes of seed germination to carry on unhindered. To take too much from any one plant or area breaks to rules of aesthetics and nature (one and the same).

Bog Cotton is the common name of Eriophorium vaginatum.

Fire your imagination

Fire your imagination

Published in The Scotsman, 12 April 2008

There’s a memorable film called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, which is a hilarious parody of the “ticking the boxes” travel package. Why people would choose to put themselves through such things in the name of relaxation is something tour guide, Malcolm Handoll, finds very hard to comprehend – which is why he set up Five Senses, a tour company with a difference.

Gathering firewood - Rackwick, Hoy

Gathering firewood - Rackwick, Hoy

If you join Handoll on his Orkney-based outings you’re likely to find yourself exploring an ancient burial site by candlelight, visiting a present-day Celtic drum-maker or learning to navigate using a compass.

It’s all part of what he terms “the Five Senses experience”, an off-the-beaten-track adventure that is different, imaginative, and fun.

Handoll grew up in north Wales, between the sea and Snowdonia National Park. “My childhood was one of playing on the hillside, exploring nature and getting lost in my imagination – the timeless meandering of summer,” he says.

Holidays were spent in old cottages “with wood fires, smoky tea, candlelight and rattling windows”.

It all affected him profoundly. So much so that certain sounds and smells take him back in an instant. The experience he says was the foundation for Five Senses.

“My enthusiasm for exploring is matched by my awareness of the environment and my ability to find my way, naturally and simply. Using all five senses opens a whole new world and I get a huge buzz out of helping others to find it too,” he says.

He is aided and abetted in all this by his partner, Rachel DuBois, who was an inveterate globe-trotter until five years ago. Encountering both Orkney and Handoll in one go upset her equilibrium so much that she got engaged and put down roots within weeks.

And for sheer hands-on enthusiasm you can’t beat the pair of them. Their Orkney tours last three days and in that time you’ll try out fire-making with an ancient bow drill (an experience Handoll says is guaranteed to be magical) and learn how to find your way through natural landscapes. You’ll visit artists crafting pots, painting, taking pictures and creating sculptures. You’ll see how bodhrans (Celtic drums) are made and played, and you’ll find yourself testing the extraordinary acoustics of an ancient Neolithic drum – in its original setting. You’ll explore cliffs, beaches, hill and moorland and learn to use your senses to connect with your surroundings.

Rachel DuBois and Malcolm Handoll - Five Senses

Rachel DuBois and Malcolm Handoll - Five Senses

Orkney can test survival skills pretty efficiently. “People can learn not just how to survive, but how to thrive in the outdoors,” says Handoll. To this end, your accommodation is an old stone bothy – mod cons not an option. Party-poopers can upgrade to a B&B by pre-arrangement, but if you’re the type who needs to do that then you’re hardly on the right wavelength when it comes to getting the most out of this kind of experience anyway.

If it smacks of New-Ageness, Handoll certainly doesn’t come across that way. He’s a former instructor at Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s national outdoor training centre, and he’s seen first-hand just how beneficial to mind and body these “back to nature” experiences can be. And no, you don’t have to be a fitness freak.

Because the groups are small, the activities are tailored to fit the level of fitness of the people involved. Those with mobility problems are catered for too, and the courses are child and pet friendly to boot.

Unsolicited testimonials on the internet are certainly complimentary. What comes across is the friendliness and enjoyment factor – which is the whole point, says Handoll.

“Our courses aren’t meant to be strenuous – unless you want them to be – they’re meant to teach you the skills you need to go outside and have fun.”

Five Senses tour exploring Dwarfie Stane

Five Senses tour exploring Dwarfie Stane

Variations on this theme include a Rites of Passage weekend to mark life-changing occasions such as birthdays, coming of age or forthcoming marriage. Built around the ancient rite of passage into adulthood that young warriors may have gone through, the course involves novices learning ancient life skills that they in turn can pass on to the next generation.

These skills include fire-making and night walking. It all culminates in “much celebrating around the camp fire” and the passing on of ancient secrets from the “elders” in the group. For those a little wary of what might be involved, Handoll – a qualified mountain leader fully versed in first aid – is in no doubt how much safer it is than the average booze cruise through the pubs that is the norm for most stag and hen nights.

Malcolm making nettle cordage - with tour car behind

Malcolm making nettle cordage - with tour car behind

And the fact that there are no central traffic reservations with lamp-posts to be tied to has to be a bonus.

For more information visit www.allfivesenses.com

By Kath Gourlay

Making Fire by Friction with Bow Drill, Hand Drill, Pump Drill, Plough and any wood-on-wood methods

So you want to make fire, without using matches or magnifying glass or even a flint and steel? Here are a few tips to focus you on the most important aspects … get a drink and settle down to read this blog …

(Also read other posts I have added here already) You will notice a lack of pictures – but you have seen many other sites, so you have any idea (otherwise you’d not be reading this!)

Bow-drill kit for making fire

Ultimately, if you really want it bad enough, you will get it, you will master fire making … but don’t expect anyone else to do it for you … you have got to WANT to LEARN. You can read all the books and watch endless video clips … but in the end it comes down to how badly you want to do it. If you are in a real survival situation, freezing and dieing, it is a bit late to learn!

Fundamentals:

Think about your fire making to date – be it camp fires, bonfires, a stove, whatever. The basics are the same:

  • Water is a problem. It boils at 100 degrees C, well below the combustion temperature of wood or other fuels. As it evaporates off it takes energy with it (latent heat). Dampness means energy lost through evaporation. Water also can cause the material to rot (break down) and thus become too soft. Water also excludes a vital component of fire … oxygen.
  • Oxygen – in the air, 21%, most air being Nitrogen. The air you breathe out contains approx 16% oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapour. Your breath is moist (think of cold days) yet still has oxygen in it. Oxygen is essential for burning to occur! Not enough – it chokes, but too much air will remove the second vital component of fire – heat!
  • Heat – or energy – the spark, or the ember, an existing flame or the sun, chemical or electrical. You need this energy and enough of it for combustion. Not enough and you may only warm things, to much and you have either rapid combustion or other materials start to also burn, and you have a big problem – fire out of control. Making fire is about CONTROL.
  • Fuel – the material that is burning, combusting, giving off more heat and to you is the fire. Fuel has a certain amount of energy and you can release that (burn it) slowely or fast, depending whether you want an explosion, a flash in the pan or a smoulder. You control the rate of burn – but how?

The Rate of Burn is controlled by you – regulating the amount of oxygen and the size of the fuel, and how much energy is available – how much is being diverted to evaporate off moisture (say from green logs), or radiating or convecting away before it does any use / work warming fuel. (Don’t waste precious heat with a fast burning flaming fire – it looks good but all that heat is warming the atmosphere – not your next fuel which will be cold and damp. Even ‘dry’ fuel contains water!)

Fire in Orkney

Think of fires you have lit, or controlled. Think of the amount of air you let in, the fuel sizes and how you managed the fire. This is it – this is what you do – except, when making fire by friction you are doing it on a mini scale … with tiny fuel, a tiny amount of heat and some amount of water moisture. There is usually plenty of air about outdoors, maybe too much (wind) – so your job is to control this environment in which your tiny amount of heat and fuel is … look after it like it is a new life … protect it, feed it and help it grow.

OK – if you have got that – you are well on your way to making fire!

Practice safely – have water to hand, maybe an extinguisher and ensure the environment around cannot accidentally become fuel itself!!! Think of the wind direction and strength – think of the consequences and what might happen. Always be in control. Never leave a fire unattended until it is totally safe to do so – and if you don’t know that, do not start a fire!

Assess the risk – have you phone connection with the emergency services? Have you a safe exit? Who and what else is potentially in danger? Get it wrong, just once in your life, and you are an arsonist. Don’t!

Fire kills – never play with fire.

Some useful links:

The best books on the subject from my library:

Mears, RayOutdoor Survival Handbook

Brown, TomTom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival

Kochanski, MorsBush craft: Outdoor Skills and wilderness survival

Gatty, HaroldFinding your way without map or compass

Akkermans, AnthonioBushcraft Skills and how to survive in the wild

Mabey, RichardFood for Free

Wiseman, JohnSAS Survival Handbook

Grylls, BearBorn Survivor – Survival techniques from the most dangerous …

Montgomery, DavidMountainman Crafts and Skills

Wescott, DavidPrimitive Technology: A book of earth skills

That’s more than enough! Good luck – and don’t give up!

OK – a couple of pictures showing good bowing technique:

bowing technique with a guiding hand to keep spindle upright

bowing technique with a guiding hand to keep spindle upright

bowing using the full length of the bow = good

bowing using the full length of the bow = good

Careful transfer of charred dust "ember" into centre of tinder

Careful transfer of charred dust "ember" into centre of tinder

🙂 Write if you need help

Survival – Strategy for Energy and Nutrition

Survival – Strategy for Energy and Nutrition

Drink water!

Minimise energy use / loss:

Keep warm and sheltered, use energy from sun, fire and plants

Locate near resources, esp water, fuel and other heavy items

Be efficient, never go empty handed

Plan and think, use your brain

Forage and eat small quantities, don’t neglect micro nutrients

Avoid exertion and sweating, pace yourself, and get sleep

Cook roots and tubers to release energy

Sprout seeds and beans

Need >500 calories per day (mainly carbohydrates).