Saturday, 9 May 2015

An orphaned song thrush chick

Meet the first (and hopefully last) of this year’s rescues; a song thrush chick.

Every year we get birds nesting in the most inconvenient of places (for us) such as the log splitter, the wood pile, the mini digger and even the pickup, meaning we have to leave the area alone for several weeks.

This year a pair of song thrushes made their nest in a machine in the yard. Luckily it wasn’t one we needed but meant giving the area a wide birth so as not to disturb her. Just over a week ago I snuck a photo of the eggs while they were away from the nest. Each day we would glance into the next to check it was still there. Magpies, crows, squirrels and mice destroy many nests in the wood each year, so we regularly check nests we are aware of, hoping they are still there.

A week last Friday the chicks hatched and, while the parents were away collecting food, I snapped a photo of the tiny naked chicks in the nest. Comparing the eggs to the chicks in the photo below makes one wonder how just the day before they were inside the tiny shells.

On Bank Holiday Monday Ian checked the nest as usual but was horrified to see just one lifeless naked body inside the nest. He gently nudged the small body and it  was clap cold to the touch. Thinking the chick was dead he carefully scooped it out to see if there were any signs of the attacker. The chick made a slight movement indicating it was still alive so he rushed it inside to warm it under a lamp and hot water bottle. When chicks, especially such young ones, get cold it’s a sign death is just around the corner.  The chick had some blood on its head and after closer inspection it looked like bite wounds, most likely from a mouse or rat. Luckily it didn’t look to severe but it’s hard to know with it being such a small animal.

This photo was taken on Bank Holiday Monday

Thankfully the chick warmed and started to move more but didn’t open its mouth to ask for food. Normally small vibrations and sounds make chicks think a parent has returned to the nest so they will open their bright coloured mouths (known as their gape) to receive food from their parents. At this age their eyes aren’t yet open so they can’t see.  The chick didn’t respond and was very weak. Ian gently opened the chick’s beak and fed it boiled egg, which it swallowed. This was a good sign.

When I returned from work the chick had more strength and suddenly opened its gape. I quickly grabbed some egg with the tweezers and place it in its open mouth. The chick enthusiastically swallowed the food. Wahoo!

Six days on the thrush has grown in size, has started to grow feather, has one opened eye and has started to tweet (not the 140 character type). The speed at which the chick is growing is fascinating. I have been taking one to two photos each day to compare growth. After comparing the photo from this morning, around 9am (left photo) to this evening’s around 7pm (right photo), there is a clear change in the length of the wing feathers.

Caring for chicks is very demanding. The thrush needs feeding roughly every 30 minutes to an hour apart from night time but one of us has to get up at around 4am to give the chick its breakfast. The thrush will be just an eating and pooping machine for the first couple of weeks of its life. Food goes in which triggers a poop to come out at the other end, which we catch in a spoon and dispose of.

We’ve hand raised a number of birds in the past including crows, magpies, ducklings and blackbirds. It’s rewarding to see the grown bird we have helped fly away but along with success stories there are also failures. Sometimes little ones just don’t make it, despite our best efforts.

This photo was taken this evening (Saturday).

The future for this little thrush is looking more positive each day. Hopefully in a few weeks it will take to the sky.

If you have found a chick that you think is is trouble, please read the useful information from this RSPB first. Chicks with feathers have normally left the nest and will soon learn to fly. They are referred to as fledglings and it's perfectly normal to see them on the ground and their parents won't be far away. If you find a featherless chick or an injured chick, keep it warm and contact a local rescue center or the RSPCA. (The RSPB don't have facilities to treat birds).

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Making charcoal, the traditional way

Ian, my step dad, has been a traditional charcoal kilner for over 25 years.  He spent the first two years living in a Showmans caravan  in the middle of Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire,  felling trees and producing charcoal using the traditional kiln method. I am often asked if he is the guy who built a home in the wood on Grand Designs several years ago (Ben Law) but he actually started out several years before, in 2000. It was then he bought the woodland we live in today and created a yard where he produces charcoal and cuts logs to deliver to customers in the local area. 

I've helped out with kilning a few times over the years but last weekend Ian gave Dave a practical lesson in charcoal making.  Here are a few snaps of the kilning process:

Wood laid in a lattice ensures air can be drawn in and forced out through the chimneys.

The smoke created when the fire is ignited in the bottom of the kiln is 

 Sand is ideal for blocking air holes because it doesn't burn.

Thick smoke bellows from the chimneys for over around 15-20 hours as the charcoal cooks within the kiln.When the smoke gets thinner. it is a sign the charcoal is almost ready. 

 The smoke created a beautiful light show as the early morning sun shone through trees and illuminated the dense plumes.

When the mixture of gases emitted from the chimneys easily ignites when a flame held above them, it indicates the charcoal is almost ready 

 All chimneys and gaps are covered to put out the fire then the kiln is left for a day to cool down.

The messy job is shoveling the charcoal out of the kiln. Even though we had masks, the soot still managed to get in down our throats and up our noses, as well as in our hair and all over our faces. The charcoal is then sieved to remove the dust before packaging into bags or storing in containers.

In Briton, we buy 60, 000 tonnes of charcoal each year, with around 95% being imported. Buying locally produced charcoal is more environmentally friendly than buying the imported bags generally sold in supermarkets as it hasn't traveled as many miles and has most likely been produced on a small scale, like we do. You will  be supporting small local businesses too.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Introducing Outdoor Bloggers; a network for everyone who blogs about the outdoors.

I’m super excited to announce the launch of Outdoor Bloggers, a network for anyone who blogs about any outdoor topic and wants to chat to, and meet, other outdoor bloggers in the UK.

The concept for Outdoor Bloggers was born from a conversation between Zoe of Splodz Blogz and I on Twitter. We feel the bloggersphere lacks events and opportunities for like-minded bloggers to meet (virtually and in person), share ideas and, ultimately, enjoy being in the outdoors together. That’s when we decided to create a network so outdoor bloggers have the opportunity to do these things.

Zoe and I welcome everyone who enjoys and blogs about any aspect of the outdoors. You could write about nature, sports, activities, sustainability, the environment, farming, outdoor education, scouting; anything really. Whether you are a professional in your field or just a novice, you are welcome.

By nature, Zoe and I are ladies who don’t take life too seriously. We believe life is all about seeking and experiencing adventure and ultimately, having fun. And this exactly the ethos we are bringing to Outdoor Bloggers. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the most expensive outdoor kit, the most popular blog or thousands of Twitter followers- we aren’t about that and neither is Outdoor Bloggers. It’s about everyone who has similar interests having the chance to meet others and enjoy something we all have in common; the outdoors.

The Outdoor Bloggers premier event takes place Friday 29th to Sunday 31st may 2015 at Edale in the stunning Peak District. We will enjoy two nights of camping at a local campsite and spend the Saturday hiking to the top of Kinder Scout, the highest gritstone peak in the Peak District.

If you are a blogger who writes about the outdoors, we would love to have you join us. Book your place here –

Join the Twitter conversation with #OutdoorBloggers and #OutdoorBloggersWeekend

Thursday, 9 April 2015

And then there were eight

Today is a sad day. While stuck in traffic on the way back from a work meeting, I received a call from Ian to say that 4 hens had been taken. 

I suppose it was better that I was prepared for seeing the clusters of feathers in patches around the wood when I got home. Until this week I had only been allowing them out on a weekend while we are all around as I was concerned Mr Fox would visit. But this week I have been letting them roam free. They look so happy when they are scratting around the wood and basking in the sun and I didn’t want them to miss out on this week’s gorgeous weather. I took the decision to allow them out, knowing there is a chance the fox could take them but felt the benefits outweighed the con. I caught a fox in the wood on camera around what could have potentially been an earth, but there hasn't been any activity around there in recent weeks so thought it would be ok let them out in the day. Obviously now I regret the decision but trying to tell myself I did what I though was best for the hens.

We’ve spent the evening looking for the bodies/survivors, but to no avail. There are many clumps of feathers pinpointing where then hens had been grabbed and struggled to get away. Seeing them is upsetting, but they will blow away in time. I suppose they will be utilised by the birds for nesting material. The four hens taken were from my original 6.  One of the remaining hens has been bitten but it doesn’t look too bad- just tiny punctures in the skin under her leg. She’s walking, eating and drinking fine but has her tail is down and she’s been sulking in a corner. I hope she is just a little shaken and sore but will pull through with some rest. The other 7 hens don’t appear phased by what has happened.

I’m not angry with the fox; they are natural wild predators. I don’t believe in persecuting foxes because they attack livestock. It’s a human’s responsibility to ensure their animals are secure. Our pets and livestock are not wild and we have a responsibility to protect them against wild animals.

I’ll definitely stick to keeping the hens in their enclosure during the week from now on.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Views from Snowdon

A couple of weeks ago Dave and I visited Snowdonia for a long weekend along with 23 other friends and friend of friends. Our home for the weekend was the magical eco-village of Cae Mabon. Nestled away in oak woodland, seven beautiful hand built dwellings constructed from reclaimed and sustainable materials, centre around a thatched roundhouse. To see photographs of the village and read about our stay, check out this blog post.

Our main expedition was a hike to the summit of Snowdon on the Saturday. With 25 people making up our group, all with varying levels of ability and a toddler on my brother-in-law's back, the Llanberis Path was the safest route to take. It's the easiest ascent and doesn't have any steep sections and doesn't require any scrambling. Some of us planned to leave the main group and descend via a steeper, more challenging route, but the ground snow and poor visibility forced us to abandon these plans.

On the edge of Llanberis this gate marks the start of the path that leads to the summit. The path is reinforced and easy going but the gentle, consistent incline was enough to get me breathing heavily from the start.

The sky was blue and the temperature was pleasant for the speed we were going. From the path the surrounding mountains looked soft and calm in the still air but in reality they are anything but. As we gained altitude the temperature dropped and the winds picked up.

Kiteshack kindly set Dave and I Buffs especially of Snowdon hike. I chose a Hoodie Thermal Buff which, effectively, is two Buffs attached together; one thick and very soft hood with a second thin Buff on the inside for covering the neck and can be lifted to cover the mouth and nose. The draw strings make the hat part adjustable and I tightened it as the wind picked up. I am super pleased with how well it kept all the normally exposed body parts-head, neck, mouth, nose- lovely and warm.

Dave chose a Polar Buff which has a fleecy layer within the normal fabric. His camouflage colouring will be great for when we are shooting as it will keep half of his face camouflaged. When we climbed the snow-covered Cheviot in Northumberland at Christmas Dave suffered from the cold. With his neck and ears covered he felt much warmer on Snowdon thanks to his Buff.

This is Bertie, a one year old Cocker Spaniel belonging to our friends Sara and Tom. One of the last times we were on a walk with him he had to hitch a ride in Sara’s rucksack because his little puppy legs were worn out after a mile or so. Now he’s climbed the highest peak in Wales!

The snow line was as dramatic in real life as in this photograph. One minute we were walking on a clear path and the next we were treading carefully in snow. Looking on ahead we saw other walkers struggling on the deeper, icier snow on the higher ground. Like many others, we chose to follow the train track for the mountain train when it crossed over other path on which we walked. The tracks provided better footing and felt safer. The snow wasn't deep but it was slippy from the hundreds of people who has stepped on before us that day.

The path was busy with walkers sporting adequate gear but in contrast we saw many people dressed in casual clothes which would provide no protection at all if the weather closed in. Most of these people didn't carry bags either so presumably they had no fluids either. Just before the snowline we passes a man in his late 20s wearing work trousers and shoes! I doubt he would have gone on much further. When researching the walk I read many other witness accounts of people attempting the hike without the adequate gear but it was more shocking when I saw it in person. Sometime Dave and I would snigger as we passed poorly dressed people where as other times we just glanced at each other with shocked faces.

Our typical embarrassing couple pose we do for the camera. For some reason Dave looks like some sort of extraterrestrial or scarecrow gone wrong.

In this photo the Llanberis path can be seen running parallel to the train track on which we walked as we came closer to the summit. As it got colder I put off getting out my phone to take photos. Taking my gloves off was fiddly because the ends of my fingers were tingling from the cold. Getting the gloves back on again was even harder. After reaching the summit and capturing some terrible shots of my wind-stricken face I left the camera in my pocket for the rest of the expedition.

Here, bodies can be just made out on the ridge on the right, heading to the summit. The summit itself was in fog. If it wasn't for the bustle of the crowds it would have been an eerie place to be, but the magic was quite far removed from the experience. I knew it would be busy so my expectations weren't diminished. The buzz from the crowds lured me into a false sense of security on the mountain. Mountains can be very dangerous and I am always conscious of this fact but having so many people around me subconsciously settled my mind.

The decent inevitably felt colder and the group had dispersed into smaller groups so we picked up our pace to get past the snow. Once back on dry ground we took the time to take in the stunning views across Snowdonia before celebrating our accomplishment the way any walking accomplishment should be celebrated; in the pub.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Reboot to get 20% of new walking boots at Mountain Warehouse


My boots have walked their final mile.

Last summer one boot got ripped down one side. I’ve been filling it with silicone and covering it in wax since then (see the pics), which has held up quite well. However on my last walk I got that feeling in my feet that made me stop, wiggle my feet then wiggle some more. Wet. That’s what I could feel. Damn.

 I trudged on to the finish then removed my boots. My socks we damp down both sides of each foot. They had let water in and I was devastated. The seams must have broken and let water in.

Good fitting, long lasting and, of course, comfortable shoes are very important for hiking and to meet these qualities one has to dig deep into one’s back pocket.

When I heard about Mountain Warehouse’s Re-Boot campaign I was super pleased because they are offering 20% off a new pair of walking boots when you hand in your old ones to be recycled. Funds raised go to their chosen charity, British Exploring Society- how fab is that?

Mountain Warehouse is also running a competition across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to win a new pair of boots. Just upload a picture of your well-worn boots to one of their Social channels along with a story behind your laces. Last of all hashtag with #MWReboot and a winner will be picked at random each week.

Here’s my entry I uploaded to Instagram.

What do you think?

It will be sad to see them go. They have been with me up Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn. Cadair Idris, and up Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Gehnt when I did the Yorkshire Three Peaks, among many others.

This year I'll be walking the 40 miles across the North Yorkshire Moors that make up the Lyke Wake Walk. I'll be taking on the challenge alongside the super adventurous blogger Zoe of Splodz Blogz and the aim is to complete the walk in under 24 hours. It's a long, long long way and my new boots will be the most important piece of kit I take.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Staying at Cae Mabon, the Welsh Shangri-la

A couple of  weekends ago we stayed at the wonderful Cae Mabon; an eco village hidden away in stunning oak woodland close to Llanberis on the edge of Snowdonia, Wales.

Dubbed the ‘Welsh Shangri-la’, Cae Mabon is a peaceful haven made up of hand built huts constructed from sustainable materials.

We arrived before dark, following the comprehensive instructions from the website. We were directed down a back road which proceeded to get narrower and narrower before taking a steep decent to the car park. The view from the car park was stunning. It looks over Llyn Padarn lake, the town of Llanberis and Snowdon.

After a short walk under a green man carving and downhill on a slate path we reached the village.

The village circles a magnificent thatched Celtic roundhouse where visitors can choose from an array of drums, tambourines and maracas to play around the central open fire. Seven individual huts surround the roundhouse, each with their own unique construction and characteristics.

The owner, Eric Maddern, built the village with help from volunteers and has since been named ‘the number one natural building project in the UK’.

Cae Mabon can cater for up to 30 people. There were 25 in our group plus a toddler, which we felt was a comfortable limit.

I started a group on Facebook as a place to plan hikes and weekends away with my family and friends. In previous years we have scaled Helvellyn and Scafel Pike and this year we wanted to reach the top of Snowdon. One friend is currently studying at the Centre of Alternative Technology, an education and visitor centre in Snowdonia demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability. His friend, who joined our group and brought several friends with her, recommended Cae Mabon as it just across the lake from Llanberis; the town that stands at the foot of Mount Snowdon.

The kitchen is located in a restored cow milking barn and is equipped with a cooking range and all the crockery and cutlery for 30 people. A verity of teas and even hot chocolate is provided, which we obliterated, so left a few pound coins on the shelves to cover the cost of replacing them. The building is a good place for visitors to gather as there are benches, a white board, a stereo and a couple of sofas.

Dave and I slept in the ‘Cob House’ which had a great view across the village, with the tops of the mountains rising above the trees in the background. It's the cream building in the photo above. The huts are basic but are fitted out with beds and mattresses. Visitors need to bring their own bedding and head torches are essential as the village has limited solar powered lighting. We shared our hut with 3 other friends. Dave and I slept in the bunk beds which I found surprisingly comfortable and cosy (and it was quite nice to have a bed to myself!).

The composting toilets are a novelty to those new to the experience. We are well accustomed to them but they may, at first, feel a bit weird to those who haven’t used them before. They are perfectly clean and comfortable, if a little whiffy.

The door of the hobbit hut in the above photo was modeled on the hobbit house in the Lord of the Rings films.

We were extremely lucky to have had dry weather. It wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if it had rained because the majority of the experience was being outside, enjoying the surroundings. And, of course, the hot tub!

The hot tub is made from oak with a snorkel stove to heat it. It’s filled from a hose pipe direct from the stream that runs alongside. It takes around four and a half hours to get hot. So hot, in fact, we couldn’t get in it! There was a fine balance between keeping the stove stoked with wood and cooling the water down with more water from the stream. It’s a satisfying and rewarding process. The challenge is to take a dip in the freezing stream in between soaks in the hot tub. I didn’t get past my feet but a couple of people laid down in the steam, fully submerged!

The construction of the dwellings is beautifully irregular; wonky windows and doors, and reciprocal roofs in several of them. These touches really add that magical, fairytale feel to the place.

I imagine the village is even more magical is summer time, with lush grass and leaves on the trees. But March was still beautiful. We could see the mountains through the leafless trees and the stars at night from the warmth of the hot tub.

This short video tells the story of Cae Mabon in the words of its owner, Eric. If my photos haven't yet made you want to be transported straight to this magical wold, then this video certainly will.

Cae Mabon is the perfect refuge for a break from everyday life and an opportunity to experience living with the just the basic necessities in a magical setting that truly brings you closer to the natural world.

The website has good descriptions of each dwelling and an abundance of information for anyone who is thinking about staying at Cae Mabon. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and can't wait to return in the future. If you are looking for a fairytale holiday right here in the UK then this is the place to stay. It's not luxury and it's not immaculate . But it is cosy, it is magical and it is down to earth.

P.S. I'll be posting about our Snowdon hike
 and my thrilling zip wire ride soon!