To all my wonderful buzzard friends who have joined me down through the years I just wanted to thankyou so much for being a part of the Buzzard family, I love and appreciate you all wherever in the world you come from, may you have a blessed christmas and a happy and healthy new year.
Tried something different this year instead of a wreath I hope you like it.
The solstice, this year, fell on the 22nd december and we made the trip to county Meath as the northern tribes have done for thousands of years to celebrate the turning of the darkness into light. Older even than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Giza, Newgrange has been a focal point for those who watch nature and feel compelled to follow its calling. The site faces south east and has a light portal that shines into the chamber at sunrise on each winter solstice, a few lucky ones get to see inside when this happens.
Facing south east just as the sun crests the horizon
The light reflects on the site facing it..
And casts our silhouettes upon the stones
Entering the chamber at sunrise
The roof of the burial mound.
I hope the tribes from the north and indeed the rest of the world continue to visit at this remarkable time and honour those of us who have gone before.
I think the one thing I'll take away from this trip was the beautiful scenery and colours of the landscape, it really was quite breathtaking, not much else I can say best just to let the pictures do the talking.
Another unusual plant find was this lovely looking thing, pyracantha or firethorn. When I first noticed it out of the corner of my eye I thought it was hawthorn but the berries were very crimson red, on a closer look the leaves were similar in shape to blackthorn, I'd never seen it before so had to do a bit of research on it. The berries are very astringent but good when cooked and made into pies or jam. It is often grown as an ornamental and I'm sure could be confused with cottoneaster. Still one I hope to find again and I'll make use of the fruit this time.
Continuing on with the unusual plants to be found on this side of the pond, I found in a graveyard overlooking the Esk, a holly tree bearing yellow berries. This I have never seen before. I had to do a bit of research on this and apparently its quite common in America and Asia but is a non native to the uk, lovely plant to find at this time of year and I would have loved some of it to put in a Christmas wreath, maybe next time.
One of the things I hoped to find on the expedition were a few plants that cant be found in Ireland, one of them and one I'd wanted to find for many moons was Dogs Mercury.
Covering large amounts of the forest floor, this poisonous plant is quite common in lowland scotland but I've never found it in Ireland.
It's quite a non discript little plant with a rather unpleasant smell. Though poisonous the poisons can be negated with heat or by drying and it has been used in herbal preparations, though to be honest I'd avoid it.
You can get a blue or yellow dye from the plant depending on the mordant you use and lore has it that the sap was blessed by the god mercury and that it glistens a shimmering silver if extracted in moonlight.
I'm rather glad we took the wagon instead of tents as for the first days and nights along the coast there was torrential rain and strong winds, there was no way we could have stayed out all night under canvas in that. However the weather did pick up after a couple of days and we foresook the coastline for the woods.
We found a lovely little creek and decided to have a small fire and some outdoor cooking as a change from cooking inside the van
Fortunately we found we were not the only ones to have camped in this little spot. We used the fire pit that had been originally made by someone else but cleared it all away before we set off in the morning.
The sunsets through the woods were lovely, and as we looked to the west we thought of home.
For as long as I can remember I've wanted to tour around the sights of scotland incorporating a little bushcraft and wild camping along the way. After years of being let down I decided this was the year to do something about it, this journey is intended to be a recce for more and longer journeys in the future. At this time of year we couldn't really decide whether to go ultra lite or bring tents, but with the weather the way it was and wanting to cram in as much as possible we decided to just take the silver surfer and see where the wind blew us....
The mighty, all contained ( fridge, cooker, bed etc), silver surfer.. let the journey commence.
At this time of year most people have long given up fishing for mackerel off the shore and in the rare event they are targeted at this time of year its normally out in deep water from a boat, however there is a place along the Antrim coast that still produces in November. We headed up yesterday and had a great day with over 30 mackerel caught though they were all very small. The one thing special about them was their colour. Most mackerel we catch have a beautiful iridescent blue back but these ones were the most spectacular colour of electric green I have ever seen, not a single blue mackerel among them, all were vibrant emerald.. I have no idea if these were a sub species of scomber scombrus but I really hope I catch them again, it was worth the trip for their magnificent colour alone!
The white stag is the most magical of all of natures beasts, it has found a place in myth and legend beside dryads and sprites, the difference being the white stag truly exists if you are pure enough of heart for it to appear . It is connected to Cernunnos and the hunt, a symbol of the pathway between this world and the next, a harbinger of ill omen or good fortune depending on circumstances. It is said that he who sees the white stag receives a little of its magic, a better ability to connect to nature and a foresight to help on future journeys. Pictures and tales abound about the stag but few if any ever see his noble bearing, "have I ever seen one?" I hear you ask, funny you should mention that....
Not only have I seen the white stag but also his hind, I'm hoping blessed good fortune awaits.
By most accounts a pack is a volume of dried peppers that can weigh somewhere between 8 and 14lbs, I certainly didn't produce that but I'm happy with my first haul. I believe a bushcrafter or survivalist should be able to produce their own food not just hunt fish or forage it so this year I started with peppers and tomatoes, the Tom's weren't great but the peppers are still producing even now, below you can see the first crop to come off the plants and into the pickle, it's going to be a very merry spicy Christmas.
One of the common thong like seaweeds found around our shores and can be easily confused with other strap or lace like seaweeds.
Normally found in the low to middle intertidal zone it's quite easy to see around the northern European coastlines. It's also called whip weed, mermaids tresses and boot lace weed. It is edible and high in antioxidants but not often consumed by people, it's ok and worth a try if you're feeling peckish. It can be dried and then broken up and added to stews and soups to provide a deeper saltier flavour.
There is such an abundance of high fat foods this year and all the little furry critters are stuffing themselves that it's making me wonder what sort of winter we are in for. So not to be outdone and to give the squirrels a little competition I happened upon a great little hazel coppice near a lough and decided to take a few nuts for myself. I wasnt expecting to find anything so I didn't bring a bag but I did find a few nice butterburr leaves..
A couple wrapped into a cone shape and fixed in place with a twig made a very acceptable container
And another 10 or 15 mins collecting saw over a pound of hazel nuts gathered. They are still a little white but on the turn and will further ripen if kept inside.
Thinking of BlackBerry Charlotte for pudding. Yum.
It seems to be the season for meeting really inspiring characters. I was recently privileged to hear sir Ranulph Fiennes give a lecture and he was such a witty and inspiring chap. This weekend I got an invite to meet with Bob Harper and his lovely wife Christine.
I'm sure some of you will already know of these wonderful people, newspaper columnists, authors and most especially, round the world sailors.
I spent a wonderful afternoon in their company being told stories of wild weather, pirates, cannibals and hilarious mishaps. He shared some great stories of survival at sea, meeting indigenous tribes, weird food and local primitive skills and customs, I could have picked his mind for ideas for hours.
Bob, christine and oscar.
He also took the time to show me round his property and it had some of the most beautiful ancient trees I have ever seen including this magnificent specimen of an irish strawberry tree, the biggest one I have ever seen.
It's been a wonderful year for butterflies and the 3 which seem most prevalent are the red admiral, the peacock and the painted lady. So nice to see such a wonderful display of colour from mother natures palette box.
No matter where I've been lately, along the coast, hedgerow or mountainside I seem to see wheat growing everywhere, I've been noticing it more and more over the past year or so, so I thought I'd have a little trial just to see how easy it is to grind my own flour. I'll do it on a small.scale first then increase the production later.
Wheat stalks with kernels dry and ready to harvest.
Just to show the kernels ready before winnowing
4 heads produced this much wheat, I gathered more but I'll keep it for later.
I'll start with a little at a time in the pestle and mortar
Doesn't take too long to grind it up
Didn't take too long to grind it up. The flour is still a little coarse but I'll grind it further. I've another 6oz of wheat to be milled, when I've done that I'll try making something with it. I'm happy with it so far.
It's my favourite time of the year when nature's larder really starts to produce, from fruits and nuts to roots and seeds and fish and meat, it's time to take advantage and start to prepare for the dark winter ahead. My first haul of wild apples this year isn't too bad, 14lbs, that should be a start for jams, chutneys and puddings to come.