Sep 11

Winter Camping

I'm planning on going camping during the winter. This is the first time I will have been camping during the winter and I'm really looking forward to it. I think it'll be a greater challenge that camping in summer as you have to contend with a lot more than you would normally such as keeping warm, snow, fire, cooking, navigation etc.

Also, the thought of being snug and cosy inside a tent when the snow falls outside or sitting in the evening round a campfire with good friends, a stew cooking in the pot, and a glass of whisky, surrounded by a white wilderness just sounds great.

Any hints and tips you guys can give would be great. Also, if you want to join up and make it a group camp, then let me know.

It'll really be a back to basics camp. Cooking our breakfast/dinner on open fires, practicing our bushcraft skills etc.

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.

May 11

Activity - Learning Proper Compass Use

It's District Camp this weekend in Park Woods near Brighton. I've been racking my brains trying to come up with an original activities base for Scouts. In the end, I decided to do a base to cover compass bearings and orienteering. It is expected the Scouts have knowledge of the compass rose before attempting this exercise. They should know the cardinal and intercardinal points on a compass. The "compass rose" is the fairly common picture of a compass. It looks kind of like a star. Cardinal points are N, S, E & W and Intercardinal points are those in between, such as NE, SE, SW and NW. The Scouts should have previously learned the associated degree bearings for these points (N = 0 & 360 degrees, NE = 45 degrees, etc.). They should also understand magnetic north for the location of this activity.

At the start of the activity, the first Scout is to stand at the first cone and reads out a bearing from a sheet prepared by the leader (NE in this example), the Scout then turns to what he/she believes is NE and takes the required numbers of paces to a coloured floor spot. The Scout then marks down (on a record sheet) the colour of the floor spot and the number that has been written on a card and placed under the floor spot.

The Scouts then move to the next cone and repeats the procedure at each cone (read the bearing from the sheet, position themselves, record the colour of the first floor spot on this bearing)

Once the course is complete, each Scout must hand their record sheet to the leader who will mark their score and record the time it took to complete the course.


There are some variations that can be used in this exercise. You could use compass bearing such as 0 = N or 45 = NE etc to encourage good compass use. You could also reinforce compass direction and bearing use without a compass.

You could also use this exercise as a competition. e.g. 20 seconds added to total time for each missed colour. This is recorded on a penalty section of the record sheet.


Ensure the leader has prerecorded all the colours at each cone and hold the master sheet with all the answers.

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.

Mar 11

Wild Camping Weekend 2013

This short wild camping expedition to Loch Laggan will take us around one of mainland Scotland's most rugged and inspiring wilderness areas. The trip will include an ascent of one or more of the many 3000ft mountains surrounding the campsite on the shores of Lochan na H-Earba as well as exploring the forest of Dunkeld.

The area between Loch Laggan in the north and Loch Ericht in the south is a great tract of upland wilderness with no roads and few tracks containing numerous munros, lochans, mountain rivers and streams. Wildlife is plentiful especially grouse, mountain hares and deer and being situated in the central highlands the views are vast, stunning and 360° panoramic. We will be leaving urban life and modern comforts behind - the only way to experience and appreciate wild Scotland at its most glorious!

Day-by-day plan:

Day 1: Lochan an h-Earba. We will be heading via Newtonmore to Loch Laggan. On arrival at Laggan, we will walk for an hour along easy tracks to the shores of Lochan an h-Earba where we will set up the first nights camp.

Day 2: Geal Charn. After breakfast, we will head up the shapely munro Creag Pitridh (924m/3031ft) before heading over to the higher Geal Charn (1049m/3442ft) which has wide ranging views over much of the central and eastern highlands. If the weather is good we will descend to the lochan for a bracing swim before dinner at our campsite.

Day 3: Loch Laggan. Our final day will be spent either heading up Beinn a Chlachair (1087m/3566ft) or exploring Ardvreckie Forest before breaking camp and descending back to Loch Laggan. On the way home, time will be spent looking around Dunkeld and the tallest trees in Scotland at the Hermitage before having a post-trip meal and heading back to Glasgow in the evening.

A full report with pictures will be posted later.

Jun 10

Wilderness Camping - Isle of Arran

In a couple of months, I'll be packing up my camping gear and heading to the Isle of Arran just off the West coast of Scotland for some back to basics camping combined with some serious hillwalking. Arran is an incredibly varied island and I believe it is one I have neglected over the years. I've been spending time planning my route, equipment list, camp menu etc. I'll be taking some photos and maybe even creating some videos when I'm there to document my trip.

May 10

7th Paisley JNI Scouts in Inchmurrin, 1975

I discovered an old video posted by Gordon Barr, the son of my old Scout leader, John TK Barr (Ian) from a scout camp in Inchmurrin, just off Loch Lomond in Scotland. I wasn't there (I would have been only a few weeks old at this point), but I do recognise some of the leaders (love those glasses Roger) who are still there to this day.

1975 Scout Camp - Inchmurrin from Gordon Barr on Vimeo.

The video was created in 1975 by Ian who was an avid film maker and has made several films over the years. I think it's interesting to look at these videos and realise how much Scouting has changed over the years. I hope some old members of 7th Paisley JNI Scouts will look at this video and maybe bring back some long forgotten memories. Thanks to Gordon for posting this.

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