AUGUST:Down on the Muddy Banks of the Ouzel..lurks nuggets of crustacean protein

In the murky fulsomeness of Leighton’s canals and river, armoured, scuttling food lurks.  I dont often go in for animal protein, more due to the fact I am crap at catching stuff rather than having any ethical boundary on this.  However, in a survival situation, (or if you, like me, have overspent this month on stupidly priced gym trainers and passport applications ) the Signal Crayfish forms a lifeline that makes a nice change from baked beans.

Signal crays are an invasive species, carrying a fungus which is killing off our native White Clawed crayfish.  Its easy to  tell the difference – signals have red underneath their claws and are bigger.  Indeed, you are legally obliged NOT to throw them back in if you catch one (though i am not sure what happens if you do…maybe transportation to Australia 😉

However if you plan on catching them to sell to restaurants you need a licence.

So how do you catch them?

If youve got a spare day to sit about and do jack all, hang a baited line in the water, any scraps of meat or smally fish will do.  just pull them up and they will hang on the bait, not being too bright.

If, like me, you have things to be getting on with, your best option is a trap.  Easy option, got o a fishing shop and buy one for £5.  But why do that when you can have fun doing it the hard way?

I made several 7 foot traps from hazel, osier willow and weeping willow.  Also crack willow, which I wish I hadn’t as it lived up to its name.

You need a bait bag held in the centre of the trap and a removeable entrance funnel or door in the side to get the little blighters out afterwards.  The willow also needs soaking beforehand.  bait the trap by shoving some sardines or bacon rinds etc into the bait bag, close it up and weight the trap inside with something, I used a cast iron chimney collar but a brick  or rocks will do.  attach ropes at each end and sling it in for 2 or 3 days.

Pull up, try not to smell the slimy brown gunk that covers the trap or it will seriously put you off your dinner.  wear strong gloves.  Open the trap and grab the crays at the back behind their claws…i got a nasty slash right down the meat of my thumb when i didnt wear gloves once…those critters don’t want to die and I cant blame them.  Chuck them in a bucket of clean water.  People told me to leave them in for a few days, I did, and they always died…til i realised all the lovely fluoride and chlorine bleach in our nice drinking water was making them shuffle off this mortal coil.

So how to end their lives amicably as possible, and how to cook them?  for that you’ll need Part 2, as this has gone on rather a long time!!

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AUGUST:Down on the Muddy Banks of the Ouzel..lurks nuggets of crustacean protein

Great Bushcraft Classics:’The Swiss Family Robinson’ by Johann R Wyss

My beautifully illustrated (by Mervyn Peake) copy is gifted to ‘Lynn, from Uncle Gordon, Istanbul, 1955’, with a golden tan cover printed in rich burgundy and dark green palms, ships and huts.  Dogs, guns and ‘savages’ grace the inside cover.

Throughout this swashbuckling family adventure our heroes master the tropical island they become stranded on by, in a nutshell, shooting dead anything that moves and carrying back to treehouse/cave camp anything that doesn’t.  while possibly not the best choice for the sensitive or vegan reader, if you can be prepared to look beyond the white supremacism and hypocritical exploitation of its time, this book delivers some bushcraft gems.  Here they are in all their glory.

  • Myrica cerifera berries for candle wax tallow – boiling the berries in a gourd container then skimming off the wax, then heating wax again, then dipping cotton or similar wick until many layers are built up’Myrica_cerifera_main
  • Cassava/tapioca root preparation – squeezing the poisonous sap out and making bread from the flour
  • Sharkskin armlets and anklets and rope for harvesting coconuts fom palm trees
  • Agave plant as a source of tinder and thread (from leaf filaments) and as a healing wound dressing.
  • Calabash gourds to make crockery and spoons
  • Caoutchouc/india-rubber tree oozes a resinous substance which the Robinsons make waterproof boots out of by painting on layers over a clay foot mould.
  • Sago palm – gives a flour and sago grubs for roasting on  a stick over the fire.
  • Tobacco smoke to harvest honey
  • New Zealand flax (Phormium Tenax) for fibre and rough clothing.  they prepare this by retting it in a pool of stagnant water for 2 weeks then bleaching in the sun, then carding the fibres with combs made of long nails.
  • making a canoe from the cork like bark of a mystery tree in one sheet.
Great Bushcraft Classics:’The Swiss Family Robinson’ by Johann R Wyss

DIY Mugwort Smudge Stick

So around our lovely River Ouse (and in the back yards of various businesses, and on most waysides) stands the tall silvery turquoise spears of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris).  Mugwort is related to Wormwood -remember Kylie Minogue’s Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge!, hence the distinctive deeply lobed, branched leaves with silvery undersides, and small flowers bunched on spikes.

Rub the flowers between the fingers for a burst of incense, a clarifying, intoxicating scent on a par with lavender in power.

This herb, sacred to Artemis and therefore of all women, encourages menstrual flow and can be used in lucid dreaming and dream divination. (NB: DO NOT USE INTERNALLY IF PREGNANT)  On  a more fundamental note, it also dissuades insects from where it is hung or burnt as a smudge as it contains strong essential oils.

Its easy to make your own smudge, to use in purifying ritual or as mossie repellent, you decide!

Step 1: Cut the top most 20cm off the top stem of each mugwort plant.  Dry them in a rack or dry dark place til they are dry but still flexible.

Step 2: Pack them together all facing one way til you have a bundle 3cm in diameter.

Step 3: pick the leaves of the last few cm to make a handle (otherwise the stick will burn down to your fingers…ouwchie…

Step 4: Take red (or whatever colour really) thread and bind tightly in a spiral from base to top.  then go from top to base again, in a spiral.

Step 5: Tie firmly at the base.

Step 6: Leave to dry completely (when it cracks off at the touch).  if it is properly dried it will light.

To use: Light the far end of the stick then blow it out after a few seconds, move the stick around the room and around people (just not too close or they may singe!)

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DIY Mugwort Smudge Stick