Outdoor Living

Advice for Wild-Walkers of Britain

So you want to go walking, without a mind for turning round and going home?

You seek a land of stream, forest, hilltop castle and storm-swept chapel?

You want to trust your life to the skill of your instincts, the luck of your blood and the kindness of strangers?

We know just how you feel.

The Way On Foot

On our very first long walks, our heads were filled by strange childish hopes and unreal expectations. We made the mistakes of foolish infants, overfilled by naiive optimism. This was of course necessary. Slow-learning is full learning. And we’ve a very long way to go yet.

But all the same, we would not have minded a little good advice to set us on track. So now we will offer you some of what we’ve learned.

Reality is a good teacher, the very best of its kind, but advice is golden.

So please read on for the good stuff…

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Keep Your Knife Sharp, with Barn the Spoon

Barn the Spoon has a unique way of doing things. He finds his way by experimentation and observation, a process to which he is fully and joyfully committed.

So he’s done a lot of knife sharpening, trying many configurations and possibilities. Always, his trials are informed by a thorough grounded understanding of the tool itself, and the job it has to do.

Barney Spoon at Work

Man at Spoon

And having found a good way to ensure a sharp blade, Barn on this video shares with us his findings in keeping a knife keen.

Many thanks to Barn the Spoon. Look out for him on a footpath somewhere, fresh green spoons lining his smock, small knives glinting in the wooded sunbeams.

Our Compost Loo

When we first arrived in the woods every poo needed its own hole, which took a lot of time, and could be awkward in desperate moments.

A compost loo was the best quick idea we could see to solve this problem, a big hole in which the rich nightsoil (we like that word) could break itself down, and harmlessly enrich the local earth.

First was the hole, which as we’ve mentioned, provided clay for the window-cobbing. Next, we placed 4 straw bales around the trench, and pegged them down with hurdle rods, so there could be no dreadful tumbling accidents. The bales also heightened the action position, meaning our hole did not have to be so deep.

Then a specially designed hurdle was made, with a hole in it.

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Rejecting the Thomas Crapper method

This meant our loo was a squatting only contraption, which everyone knows is the only way to poo wholesomely. For guests who couldn’t handle this, there was a traditionally seated compost loo ten minutes walk away, at the other end of the wood.

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pleasant and delightful

Lastly, a hazel dome frame was dug in and woven over the top of the bales and hurdle, which was itself covered in canvas, to keep the our heads, and the composting deposits, dry.

What we dropped therein, we covered with either wood-ash, a useful double use for our regular stove clean-out. If wood-ash was short, then leaves sufficed. This helped with the breakdown.

We often wonder how people justify dispatching their poo with drinkable water, when there is such a shortage in this land, and in others. For one thing, water is expensive! And it is heavy. Having to carry our water only a quarter of a mile made us appreicate the daily duty of water.

Toilet paper was something we initially did without, but the regular guests in our winter home meant that this odd luxury was brought in, and often lingered after guests left. Certainly, the most local moss supplies ran low, and we were often glad of our toilet roll stash.

the best loo for miles
two log rounds to step up on

We can recommend heartily the act of compost-loo building, as an alternative to wasting gallons of good water a day. Every other living creature lets their excrement fall to earth, and we believe humans can do this too.

A film of house-building in the woods

This winter, we made all sorts of things from the wood around us. When we arrived, we had some rudimentary hand-tools, but nothing electric or powered. Good axes were brought from home, and a boot fair provided us with hand-drills and bits, an iron digging stick, a good shovel and a bow-saw, the best of available technologies.

us in zone

the finished job

Materials-wise, we were coppicing, so hazel rods were plentiful, and standards (timber trees) were also being felled, so ash and oak were available too. Everything but the roof of our house (which was of secondhand canvas) was made from immediate resources – except for parts which we liberated from the local tip. We prided ourselves on using no metal or plastic in it, until the perspex slabs were donated for window use. The breaking of resolve on this point meant that we did finish one window with 10 little metal tacks. It was 20 times quicker than carving hazel pegs ourselves, and by then we were really getting tired.

Rose and Ayla were driving forces in the ‘free-time-equals-craft-time’ paradigm, and we are well grateful for all they taught us this winter, in practical and motivational terms.

Here is a short video compilation of the house, as it pops up to nestle us. Please enjoy.

Press MORE to see more crafty details of the house, built from ideas, sweat and hazel.

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Sourdough, for better bread…

blessing bread

Using your Loaf

Have you ever noticed how, in the old stories, people throve on a diet of bread and water?

And have you ever met a culture where bread is still a fundamental part of the daily diet?

Bread was once known to be valuable in Britain, too. The very word proves it: bread-winner, your bread-and-butter, etc.

So how do we reconcile these ideas of bread, against its modern incarnation, the plastic bag of thick sliced white?

For bread, it seems, is not what it used to be.

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The bicycle generator

How we make electricity

Being a detailed account of our experiences with electricity this winter, and how to build your own simple bike generator.

Peddaling hard

Food energy pumping directly into a battery.

Living in the woods, there are no convenient plug sockets. It is of course pleasant to live in a house without walls full of piped electricity – but it is also a fundamentally difficult thing. We know we don’t need much electricity to survive – our kettle, oven, hot tap and central heating are all provided by the wood-fire, and our lighting is most candle-powered. But, a little leccy does really make life easier.

Our daily focus, this winter, has been on the more obvious commodities – wood, water, fire and food. But the intangible force of electrics, in trying to document our findings, tell our tales and sell the CD, is still very important. We need power flowing into our two mini laptops, fairly alrmingly regularly. These devices are also used to charge our telephone. They are our main electricity requirement.

Everything else, such as head torches, cameras and voice recorders, are so infrequent to need charging that they can be carried to a local friend’s solar and wind inverter station.

But we wanted to become a self-sufficient group, and so for this electric issue we decided to put our faith in one of the cheaper and more hands-on forms of electricity generation – the bicycle generator.

None of us knew much at all about this sort of thing, but with Rose as our driving force of discovery, we soon found that it was very easy to bodge a machine that will gather (make?) the electricity we need.

To find out more, please read on…

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Carving a spoon

This is a series of pictures documenting Ginger’s process of carving a wooden spoon in the Ashdown Forest.

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Please click below to read more.

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Will’s Ashdown Forest Castle

An adventure, with storms and leaves and twigs, wherein Will tries to make a shelter from the detritus of the forest floor, that can replace, for a night or two, his cosy comfy sleeping bag and good reliable poncho.

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Birch Polypore

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Birch Polypore grows as a bracket like fungus on Birch trees.

The clean white flesh has anti-bacterial qualities and can be used as an emergency field dressing for wounds.

Here is a demonstration given by Alex while we were in the Ashdown Forest:

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Cut the bracket from the tree, making sure it isn’t too old and shrivelled.

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Cut a rectangle into the white flesh and gently lift the piece off, just less than a centimetre below the surface.


Take the rectangle, apply the spongy inner surface to the wound and bind it on with whatever cord or stringy plant you can find.

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This will help you to keep the wound clean and protected until you can find a more permanent dressing and some wound healing herbs.

Common Travelling Ailments and their Remedies

We give thanks once more for the incredible works of Juliette de Bairacli Levy, who was a great herbalist and traveller.

Biting insects

The most enduring protection from fleas, mosquitoes and other biting blighters is to have a bitter tasting bloodstream. You can achieve this by cutting down on sugar, eating lots of garlic (wild or garden), eating plenty of green leaves, especially parsley, celery, purslane and nettle. Bitter herbs like wormwood, hops and chamomile can be taken as tea….bitter tea, go easy.

Bee, Wasp and Hornet stings

Lightly brush the sting away without spreading the poison. Squeeze the sting and suck the area with plenty of spit. Apply either raw garlic juice, raw potato juice, raw egg white, course salt or vinegar into which marigold flowers have been crushed.

Wet clay or mud can be applied and reapplied every hour.

Headaches

We find Feverfew tea very effective, also rosemary, wild or garden mint (not peppermint) and lavender. Apply cold cotton cloths soaked with lavender or mint infused vinegar to the forehead.

Toothache

Ed had a time of getting toothache only when sleeping in church porches. Chewing a few cloves in the area of pain is very effective. Sprinkle tooth cavities with cayenne pepper (not too much!) or chew on the root of Yarrow.

Remove the outer skin of a large onion, heat it until hot and hold against the troublesome ache.

The Eyes

We were told by a fellow in Dorset that the deer eat the new beech leaves to improve their eyesight. We suggest you do the same, in early Springtime they are very tasty.

For grit in the eyes make a herbal brew from any above-ground part of Traveller’s Joy (Clematis) and use as an eyewash.