Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Woodlife Trails' Woodland Feast weekend

As far as outdoor course providers go, the 'traditional' course window is probably not far off the classic May to September as the time that clients are more inclined to book up. So off I went to Hatfield forest to up with the Woodlife Trails crew for the Woodland Feast weekend in off season February.

As I walked to the basecamp I wondered if I'd see any fresh nature sightings as I'm going to attempt to record all flora and fauna seen and heard during 2016. Well that would have to wait because I got there before first light, and armed with a small faggot to get the campfire going, so once the fire was started, the kettle went on and we were some way to being ready for the day as folk rose.

As the morning brightened it became clear, as JP set up the game for the day, that any attendee would not go hungry on this woodland feast weekend. I was particularly taken by the breast feathers of the cock and hen pheasants...One of those details that we perhaps take for granted...

The early morning chill prompted me to get this bad boy on the go and get some fuel for the fire for socialising, warmth and most importantly cooking.

The woodland feast is a season starter and predictably based around a Saturday of food, but it also a certain informality to it as well. The attendees gathered to be given an outline...And as it was food based Pablo had asked me to make some jerky, but more on that later.


Even with the informality there was a suddenly a lot happening. JP got going on the game prep talk and as he was going to get to the venison promptly I fired up my homemade jerky tower...So JP some venison please...

...Er JP, the venison?

Er J...Ah that'll do, a nice piece of venison backstrap which I cut across the grain (or the pieces can be prone to crumbling) and simply marinated in a shop purchased herb and spice jerky mix. Just using a dry mix gives the added advantage of any liquid seasoning not needing to dry out first.


Whilst the prep and jerky stuff was happening, Head chef Vince cracked on with the start of two fine dishes for dinner and tea...


The dinner time offering was a slow cooked game pasta which had pheasant, rabbit and pigeon in, accompanied with manly pieces of crusty buttered bread.

The forecasted rain came in the afternoon and the wind was somewhere between frisky and obnoxious for some of the weekend but the show went on. After dinner it was  a varied bag with a little air rifle action...

A extended hedgerow bimble with a handsome looking edible showing through the dogs mercury and lords and ladies... 


JP showing how snares are made...about the same time that the jerky was ready to be attacked. I have a decent amount of jerky pictures but I've been asked to do an article on the homemade stand so they are being saved, including a very humorous shot I have to say.

Whilst all the above was happening it's only right to chuck in a fire close up. Some decent pieces of oak, hawthorn, cherry and hazel made for a great bushcraft TV. It was especially appreciated as the rain and wind made it a little chilly at times.

And to tea with a concentrated stock which became a rich venison casserole for the evening. Just before tea time I took my trail cam out to the sound of three buzzards 'meowing' and still looking graceful in a rather spiteful gust. There's no picture of tea on a plate as it was dark but trust me it was gorgeous and I've got a bit of a wimpy 'lame game' palette. Vince's son also provided a good pudding too. 

And to the Sunday morning. A quick pre dawn walk and a lot of crows and jackdaws noisily landed in several trees during the bimble which prompted an almost Hitchcock like moment, which quickly followed with around eight fallow deer bolting into the treeline. Jackdaw and fallow (along with a tawny call) duly added to my previously mentioned 2016 flora and fauna list. When I got back there were some small glowing coals to be had so the larch and clematis bark tinder and kindling I'd prepped on Saturday was quickly up and running with the help of a handful of old fire dogs. Kettle on again, rinse and repeat...

You may have seen Des and his catapult base at a show near you (such as the Wilderness Gathering), well he took some folk through the construction of a functioning catapult starting with, almost inevitably, a forked stick.

And after dinner a spot of target practice ensued using premade and new catapults. Sadly, several tin cans were harmed during the time the base was running. The weekend finished with an extended nature walk back to the cars whilst the final camp admin was sorted. The whole weekend had unfolded at a steady unrushed pace and I'm sure everyone got a lot out of it. One advantage of the wind was that all tents, tarps and the chute were dry and packable. Did I say that the food on Saturday was great?


One disappointment was that the trail cam that I'd set up only had some bunny action to show for it's efforts, oh well you can't win them all. Interestingly I had a 'living tree' style coat on and I've never noticed that the patterning doesn't show up on the trail cam footage before. Now I have  a small amount of the jerky left, I could use this natty device and bring it back on the next course, or I could just scoff it...But which one? As we were on the verge of leaving I noticed a red kite circling on the Eastern edge of the forest which is a first for me at this site. Never a dull moment.

All sound good to you? Have a look here at the Woodlife Trails website.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Overhand Knot and it's Variants

I'm a member of the 1st Facebook Scout group and there's usually a steady stream of leaders asking about making knotting evenings a little more engaging. Well I happened to notice by chance that I'd replied to a cub section one from February 2015 suggesting that they could do a lot worse than teach the cubs the simple overhand knot with all the variations and other knots that can stem from it The particular thread is here and mine is the penultimate reply but I've added a couple of screen grabs below just in case you can't access it (it's a closed group).

So I thought 'Why not do a blog page and expand on this? Actually, some months after my post I noticed that Paul Kirtley did a similar(ish) article in this online magazine so it was pleasing to know that my suggestion may have been on the right lines. In fact Paul and Simon Ellar helped me to compile a pro-knotting article for the Scouting magazine's now defunct cub supplement.

On the table there's lots of cordage and a tarp and a hammock which potentially need several  knots to function. The page being shown has an overhand knot on it.

The reason I put forward the overhand knot as a suggestion is it's simplicity, usefulness, pretty much everyone knows it and the fact that it's the base for a lot of other knots. I introduce it by calling it by it's proper name and then calling it the knot your parents will know as the Flymo knot and that the kids will know as the earbud knot because it manages to tie itself in both! The geeky side of this 'self tying' knot is that a stray one in a rope decreases the rope's strength measurably.

I then explain that it does actually have it's uses. It is called a stopper knot because it can be used to stop a length of rope running through a pulley for example,or is extra security to a knot with a loop in it. I also mention holding the seed of a horse chestnut tree on a length of string but that seems to get an ever diminishing acknowledgement...

This link takes you to a Scout Association knotting pdf which explains some of the basic knotting terms and indeed, the first knot on the pdf is an overhand. Wherever possible I've linked to  the  Animated knots  website to show the knot's construction but of course the idea is that the knots are easy to do with just the ability to tie one knot...

Overhand knot

So the first knot to teach them in it's simplest form is the overhand knot. It is easily tied by forming a loop  in the cordage being used, and then passing the standing end through the loop and pulling until sufficiently tight. I'm guessing pretty much everyone can tie this but see the highlighted hot link if not...

Double overhand

This is one twist away from being a simple overhand. The standing end is simply passed through the loop one more time but it does need a bit of coax to tie up neatly. It actually makes a really beefy stopper knot.

Overhand loop

Once the basic knot is mastered they are quickly going to master the overhand loop which is essentially the same process but the cordage is doubled up into a bight first. A loop is formed when the cordage crosses over itself, a bight is a loop formed in the cordage without it crossing. 

Double overhand loop

And again the double overhand is another twist through the knot and again, it needs a little help to form up neatly like it's simpler version earlier.

Running overhand 

This is a double overhand through which the working end (ie the rest of the rope that isn't in the knot) is passed through the loop to form a variable but non-lockable loop.

Running double overhand

Predictably as has gone before. Well I say predictably but that's almost the point, that repetition has so far tied us six knots from one basic knot and all have a use. You could make these as each of the  loops are formed instead depending on time and attentiveness. 

Fisherman's bend 


A bend is a knot that is made by joining two separate lengths of cordage but it is also called a fisherman's knot. This can make a secure loop to tie a climbers knot known as a prussic knot which is well known to climbers and also anyone practising tarpology (it acts as a ridgeline tensioner).

Just as a non-overhand aside this is the prussik knot in action. The two red arrows in the above picture indicate where the paracord loop is attached to the tarp ridgline loop via a gated metal clip. the right hand arrow is pointing at the loop's knot which is locked along the ridgeline. This not only gives the tarp a more aesthetic look and helps run off, but also stops it from flapping noisily in even the slightest wind. I must get round to doing a tarp knot blog...

Double fisherman's bend 

Essentially a fisherman's bend tied with two double overhands along each length. 

Slipped and double slipped overhand


I've squished these two together as they follow the pattern from before. A slipped knot is one that has a loop inserted into it to aid untying, and overhands can be a pain to undo but I have to say that I've never used slipped ones before. Ask your audience if they know any slipped knots...They will if they can tie their shoelaces because they use a double slipped reef knot...Tie a reef knot and slip the two ends into loops and try and make a bow. Incidentally a shoelace knot can be used to put up a hammock depending on the fixings.


The bowline-on-the-bight (bowline is pronounce boh-lin) is an overhand loop doubled back underneath itself. Basically you coax b to the left whilst encouraging a (x2) to form up tight but click the hotlink animation for a very clear demonstration. This is an easy knot to tie that looks quite complicated when finished.

Cobra weave

The cobra weave knot for making paracord items is essentially an overhand knot with cordage passing through it which gets repeated. The simple bracelet at the start of being made (above right) also shows the overhand loop around which the cobra weave is laid. The stopper knot qualities are used to hold the bracelet on as it fits snugly through the loop formed on the left hand side.

 For those that know some of their knots you'll rightly exclaim that the knot featured above right is actually a bowline, but the small knot tied in the middle is an overhand knot and is being used as a stopper knot as extra security for the main knot.

From the top lhs. Me showing the cubs who Paul Kirtley is, reading out the knotting emails, showing them a bowdrill board and tying an evenk knot.

Hopefully you'll agree that this is a fair few knots from the overhand stable. I found this collage on my Facebook page which is from the second of two consecutive knotting evenings I ran, the first was the overhand night and the second featured everything from bowdrill to tarps. The list below is a few more overhand realted bits of cordage bothering.

Stopper knot, water (or tape) knot, half slipped fishermans knot, surgeon's knotmarlinspike hitch, overhand shortening, capuchin knot, zeppelin bend, blimp knot, arbour knot, bowstring loop, neck halter...

Now I don't use/ know all of these variations and I had a quick read through several books to really maximise the overhand started knots list with Geoffrey Budworth and Des Pawson being involved in most of them. Depending on the age of the section then the amount of knots featured can vary. Anyway, that's this page done so it's *ahem* overhand out.