Tag Archives: five senses

Ahh sod it, just write

I have decided it better to write anything, to break the log jam, rather than wait for divine inspiration / great pictures / fantastic headlines to grab your attention.

in Flow, busy me

in Flow, busy me

So, I have been busy, in my head if not always in body because that is what my mind likes to do and I have a lingering knee injury. I manage to ride the bike, walk the cats, do the occassional few hours walk and was in the Cairngorms teaching fire making, bivouacing out in the snow some nights. All good, healthy fun. But no blog posts because I keep forgetting to get photos – and in the internet, pictures are worth a thousand, million words.

Keep it sweet. And short.

March 20-21 without electricity, join us!

Life is good. The next Power Off weekend is March 20-21st which is also the Spring Equinox. Had to get Mother’s day out of the way, first.

I have been busy with Twitter – little messages, both on orkneysurvival and touchwoodproj – have a look and follow if not already doing.

Rachel has been busy writing on the Touchwood Project blog, as we come out of hibernation. See http://www.touchwoodproject.com there.

I’m also still using Facebook and have recently revisited Tribe. My music is on Last.Fm

I am barefoot still. It is raining. The cats are cute as ever. Rachel is wonderful and goes from strength to strength. She works on a new website for Five Senses as I type here.

Caper on my shoulder, Hoy behind

The focus of the coming year? Touchwood environmental and happiness projects, pilot projects, friends and a growing tribe. Five Senses – fire teaching classes around the country, wherever we can arrange a venue and 6 people to make the travel worth while. Guided walks around Orkney, navigation classes and trying to fin land, build a stone and turf shelter, make enough money to live off and grow the dream – the Stone Age centre for Touchwood Project.

Also some gardening, seaweed gathering, learning new plants, new skills, soap making, and more on the Power Off activities. THis months copy of i-i Orkney has a bit about the last Power Off. Read it, please, if you can.

Ok, tea and real work now.


The Orkney Dream – DAY TWO – by Joanna Tinsley

It was 8oC and it was hammering it down. Yet here I was, fully gortexed-up, barefoot on a beach on Orkney and heading for the sea. After a lifetime of stomping about the countryside in hiking boots, walking barefoot is a strange, but bizarrely enjoyable, experience. “Walking barefoot is a metaphor for how we should treat our environment,” explained our guide for the day, Malcolm Handoll from Five Senses, who had just persuaded us to throw off our socks and shoes and head down to the rocky, seaweed-covered beach in the rain. “It teaches you to tread carefully and engage with nature rather than trample all over it.” It also teaches you that that’s no stranger sensation than feeling bubbles of bladderwrack between your toes and, more conclusively, that when you’re at a latitude parallel with St Petersburg, the sea is painfully cold.

Back in the house, our numb feet began to thaw as we wrapped our hands around a mug of hot tea and watched as Malcolm demonstrated how the Neolithic people of Orkney made fire. After a quick lesson, which was interrupted when a hen harrier hovered inches from the window (wildlife always finds you when you’re least expecting it), it was our turn to create nature’s more basic yet elusive element.

First we constructed a tinder nest by tying a tight knot of dried grass, thumbing it out into a cup-shape and lining it with cotton grass. We then crouched over a long, flat piece of wood with an indentation and a notch, while Malcolm wound a wooden spindle into a primitive bow made from a branch and a rope. I clamped the wood with my newly-thawed foot, steadied the spindle with my left hand (using two limpet shells as a bearing) and held the bow with my right, while my friend Rachel grasped the other end of the bow. The idea was to push and pull the bow, thus spinning the spindle and creating enough friction to generate heat. It was trickier than it looked, but after a few wobbly attempts we saw smoke – lovely thick curls of smoke as the charred dust fell onto a piece of goat skin under the notch. After letting this smoke happily away to itself for a few minutes we gingerly tipped the embers into our tinder nests. Cupping our hands around our nests we then blew gently until the smoke grew thicker and a orange glow appeared. “This is it,” whispered Malcolm, “now take one deep breath and blow gently at first, then harder…” We did as we were told and within seconds were holding our very own flaming ball of fire in our hands. It was a truly a magical moment, exhilarating but a little bit scary. After much whooping we dropped the flaming nest and extinguished our handiwork in one quick step. Strangely satisfied, we were left babbling and smiley and smelling nicely of campfires.

Visit www.allfivesenses.com or wait for the August issue of the magazine to find read more…

Sat, 02/05/2009 – 23:42

Submitted by Joanna Tinsley

Go to BBC Countryfile Blog for more of Joanna’s adventures in Orkney.

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”.

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

Orkney wild life and nature watching whilst on tour

The past 24 hours have been good – watching seals, a whale, cattle in the fields, oystercatchers on the lawn and a mouse squeeking its last gasping breath at my cat’s behest. And lots of clean air!!!

Cattle watching in Orkney fields

Cattle watching in Orkney fields

I took guests on a Five Senses tour of the West Mainland, here in Orkney, and in addition to all the ancient sites and World Heritage (Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, etc), we managed to lie in the heather sunbathing – delighting in the twittering antics of the skylarks.

We explored Stromness and out at Ness Point we watched the seals at close range, within 20 feet of us, diving and entertaining us. However, we were really treated to a glimpse of whales off the Yesnaby cliffs in the late evening, when no one else was around. That is the fun with my tours – going out at the times best to see wild life and avoid the crowds – instead of boring old stones, unmoving and silent.

friction fire lighting

friction fire lighting

Earlier in the day we made fire by friction, cordage from stinging nettles and lamp wicks from soft rush – so bringing the past to life and history blending with environmental issues.

We called in at Andrew’s pottery and he kindly threw a few pots for us, there and then, demonstrating his mastery of the skill, making it look so easy. We ate delicious Orkney ice cream outside St Magnus Cathedral, we sampled local cheeses, salmon and oatcakes and had a tasty home made soup (lentil).

We crawled inside Cuween Hill chambered cairn (tomb) in the dark and waited until our eyes adjusted to the light – just this side of being scared! We told stories of skulls and nasty things, to tease ourselves more. We listed to local music, we laughed, we paddled barefoot in the Atlantic ocean, we smelt the meadowsweet and currant leaves and generally explored Orkney using all our senses!

Stenness Standing Stones - Over 5,000 years old

Stenness Standing Stones - Over 5,000 years old

This morning I was awoken by the oystercathers going crazy on the lawn and the cattle bellowing in the field beside our house – it is full of yellow buttercups and maybe something was hiding in the grass – like one of our cats – cos certainly nature was agitated – and I could only get up and watch it all from the window – better than any hide – I didn’t even have to put on clothes, let alone a jacket!

The Hamnavoe ferry steamed (well, powered, as it is diesel) out of Stromness and the sun burned its brightest so far this year. Summer solstice has been and gone again, so with each day now the time of the sun is depleted a minute or two, and we gently decend into the long draw down for winter.

In the distance a neighbour hammers nails into the roof he is building, as the casual tap of summer rain announces the coming new air. There is always new air here in Orkney, always clean and fresh. How can you ever have too much of a good thing? Thankfully this is still free. Humans have for a long time had to buy food instead of harvesting it from nature (though some are still lucky enough to produce some for their needs) and water is gradually being priced (supposedly for pipes and purification but always with a healthy profit for shareholders). Only the air is still free – as it should be – yet still many people find their air polluted and impure. It is so easy to take this purity for granted, here in Orkney, and to bemoan the lack of heat or the cost of fuel – but I’d rather this any day than a life of breathing fumes. That is like a prison with no escape – unless you escape to here, I suppose!

lichen loves the clean air of Orkney

lichen loves the clean air of Orkney

All Five Senses Orkney Survival Skills and Tours

Orkney Tours and Survival Skills Courses in Scotland, using your senses

Five Senses runs tours of Orkney and teaches survival skills in Scotland.Learn survival essentials from fire to navigation and wild foods. Malcolm teaches stone tools and making fire
Identifying wild food like limpets

Bushcraft and Wilderness Survival Skills

Use your senses: Gain skills and confidence to roam the wilderness through our Independence Outdoors two-day course. Arrange your private courses anywhere in Scotland.

Navigate the outdoors with fun and confidence

Tour Orkney and 3 Day Orkney Experience

Five Senses Day tours can visit Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar and Viking villages as well as off-the-beaten track places. Stay longer and try the 3 Day Five Senses Experience.

Student blows tinder nest to flame

Ancient Fire Making

Connect with your ancestors by learning the secret of fire making. Make fire with a bowdrill and explore natural tinders. Learn to use all your senses and develop skills in depth.

Young Archaeologists learn the secret of fire making as a team

Children’s Education

Breathe life into school subjects such as Environment Studies, Chemistry, Maths, Geography and History. Hands-on, fun sessions conducted at schools or organisations throughout Britain. Full risk assessment and insurance provided.

Feel free to download our Orkney desktop wallpapers or any of our photos as a souvenir.

More About Five Senses