Aug 11


One of the most important Scoutcraft, or bushcraft skills you can learn is preparing and lighting a fire. With a fire, we can dispel the darkness of the forest if we’re lost, stranded or injured and with it, dispel the negative spirit that could come into our minds and plant thoughts of defeat.

We can drive away the cold, which causes hypothermia, we can purify our water and cook our food. It is light, from the darkness.

These are the basic principles when starting to light a fire. The first thing is to find a suitable location where there is access to fuel. This is very important. Secondly, clear the ground down to the bare earth, if possible. This will help you to ensure your fire is manageable and is in no danger of becoming an uncontrollable fire.

Next, always lay down a platform. Preferably made from dry wood. This has several reasons. Firstly, it will help to ensure your tinder is protected from the moisture on the ground below. Secondly, it allows air to come up underneath the fire, and it provides insulation from the cold ground below. Even on a hot day, the ground may be cold, but the wood is warm. When the temperature drops to -50, this could mean the difference between success and failure at fire lighting. But, the most important purpose for this platform is that it’ll start to burn early on and create embers and a good heart to the fire which makes it certain to start and light properly.

The next step is to provide kindling. Thin dead twigs are exactly right, and a good thick bundle as well. What I like to do, is to split it in half into 2 bundles and to cross them, over the pile of wood.

The next step is to place tinder. The tinder is placed under the sticks. Now, you can use different types of fibrous materials such as dried grass, moss etc, but one of the best tinder is birch bark. I like to find a good birch log that has rotted, but not the bark. This is because of oils in the bark. The oil acts as a preservative and also burns very well. So this will make very good tinder to place under the kindling. I just just shred it down so its very thin and will take very easily when I introduce a flame to it.

The next step is to get ready to introduce fuel to the fire. I can add it to the kindling once we've ignited the kindling. The fuel goes upto little finger thickness. I won’t need anything else thicker that for the time being. There should be plenty of other thicker fuel within arms reach that I can just grab if and when I need it.

To start the fire, I’m going to use sparks. To turn the sparks into flame, I’m also going to use some of the birch bark. I have to prepare that for lighting. The best way to do this is, with a sharp knife, to shave the inside of the bark until you have fragments of birch which will light when I introduce a spark to it. The device I’m going to use to light the fire is called a ‘firesteel’. It’s basically an alloy of metals that, which, when a striker is scraped against the metal produces a shower of white hot sparks. This can be used to ignite many different materials. The way I use it is I point the firesteel towards what I want to ignite, and with the back of my thumb with the striker near the end of the firesteel, I push down on the striker. This will shave off pealings of metal. So what I do now is to drop the sparks onto the shavings and when they catch alight, I’ll move the flames underneath the kindling.

Once the flames come through the top, you can add more fuel. And that is one of the most important skills in Scoutcraft. Lighting a fire.

Apr 11

Sphagnum moss for water purification

I've been doing a bit of research on Sphagnum Moss and it appears to have iodine in it's chemical make up. In the US, they are using Sphagnum moss as a water purification method with spa's and swimming pools instead of using Chlorine. In WW1, the Russian doctors used it to treat wounds, the wounds treated with the moss healed faster than wounds that were simply bandaged.

After wading through god knows how many research papers and what not, I've come to a conclusion....

Sphagnum Moss can kill off bad bacteria due to the iodine present.

Now comes the biggie... does it kill off enough bacteria to make unsafe water, safe? To be honest no one seems to have researched that.

I think that if you got some moss, bruised it up and let the water sit in it for, say, 15 minutes, the iodine would make the water safe to drink, all you would need to do after is filter it to get rid of the floaty bits.

Jan 10

Weekend foraging in Kent

Originally posted on Monday, 26 October 2009 at 15:0

My partner and I decided to spend out Saturday in the lovely Kent countryside. We took a train to Otford, near Shoreham and followed a guided walk around the area. It is a surprisingly hilly area with a lot of woods and rolling hills. I have an interest in wild foods and was keeping my eyes open for the beech tree and it’s nutritious nuts, but I failed, however, I did find other wild foods which were very tasty.

A plant I have always admired is the evergreen Yew Tree. It has a distinct red berry with the seed visible inside it. Everything apart from the red berry is extremely poisonious and this plant must be treated with respect. The juicy and sweet red berry is delicious, but ensure that seed is removed from the berry before tasting. I was extremely cautious when tasting this plant as it is widely known that the Yew plant is THE most poisonous and deadly plant out there and death can occur very quickly (within minutes) if you eat the wrong part, so only eat the red berry and nothing else.


I also found an abundance of red currants. These berries grow in bunches and are slight transluscent. They are quite sweet and very juicy.

I also found some berries that seemed to be somehow related to the plum fruit called Sloe. These berries were dark coloured and have a seed surrounded by plum-like flesh which, when bitten into, have the most bitter taste I have ever experienced, however, I did enjoy the taste from them.


Of course, the common elder was everywhere and I was frequently munching through a bunch of them during our walking.


Next time, I will be foraging for mushrooms which is a skill in itself and great care must be taken.

oh, and I recommend the Fox and Hounds pub near Shoreham, Kent. We stopped there for lunch for a couple of pints and a sandwich (I had the bacon and brie, lovely)

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