As always the summer holidays seem to be flying by at an alarming rate. I've now got a couple of weeks away from my paid employment so trying to progress Livvy's room and have some fun with her too.
Yesterday we took part in a Bushcraft event at the wonderful Gunnersbury Triangle Nature Reserve which was organized by the London Wildlife Trust. The trust is the only charity working throughout the London area to help London's wildlife. As well as managing a whole range of nature reserves, the Trust campaigns to save green spaces from harmful development and provides information about wildlife and works with schools and local communities.
Image courtesy of London Wildlife Trust
Being a huge fan of Bushcraft expert, Ray Mears I was really keen for Livvy to give this a go, particularly as I was pretty keen myself and judging by the high proportion of other adults there, I wasn't the only one :)
Our ranger for the event was a lovely Spanish guy called Enrique who was blessed with infinite patience. He showed us a variety of natural tinder, which can be easily harvested from the wild without causing damage to the natural environment. With just a small bundle of silver birch bark, a firesteel and a knife, he very quickly impressed us - by running the blunt edge of his knife quickly along the fire steel an array of sparks appeared, reminding me somewhat of fireworks - "Wicked!" exclaimed the 11 year old boy sitting next to Livvy and from that point on he was absolutely riveted. Apparently the silver birch bark contains an oil which makes it a great natural fire lighter, once it ignites the flames will last long enough for you to build up your fire.
Enrique also demonstrated how to create a portable ember using a cramp ball fungus or King Alfreds Cake, these are the fruiting bodies of a fungus which decays the dead wood of an ash tree. The inside can be ignited by a spark from the firesteel and it then burns very slowly, somewhat like a briquette used in a bbq, it can then be used to light some tinder to get a fire started. Apparently they make good hand warmers too, as the exterior is warm but not too hot to handle.
Another ingenious piece of kit was the fire piston which works on the principle that when the air within it is suddenly compressed, the heat in the air in the cylinder is concentrated enough to ignite a small piece of tinder which has been inserted into the lower end of the piston - magical!
Anyway, after the demonstrations, it was our turn. Enrique led us to another part of the reserve where there were several silver birch trees and showed us how to gently peel the bark - this doesn't harm the tree as silver birch naturally shed their bark.
This was the point that we all realized just how easy he had made it look! Several attempts with the knife and firesteel and I couldn't even produce any sparks - Livvy, who was using a pair of scissors in place of the knife, as you need to have a fair amount of strength to hold the very sharp knife very still, was producing some very impressive sparks . Even when you have mastered creating the sparks you've then got to get them to land where you want - i.e. on your tinder! It took some time but we all managed it in the end and the sense of achievement was absolutely wonderful, even though it had started to rain again at that point!
Needless to say, after the event we went straight to Blacks and purchased a firesteel, cannot wait to put this new found skill into practice on our next camping trip - I really really want to go here!