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  • P for Pleistocene.

    Day 01 Friday

    “They’ll be waiting at Gretna Gateway, Mike,” she’d said. “You can’t miss them.”
    “Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled. “Thanks, Sandra! Come out, come out, wherever you_”
    I slowed the weather-beaten crew bus, checked the group of teens I’d glimpsed. No, these weren’t mine. Their sign read ‘614’, and all six had big sport bags. I went around the coach park twice more, dodging intercity and tour buses like a dolphin between whales. A fourth circuit offered a new group of candidates. As I slowed, they held up a sheet with the Prince’s Trust logo. Though I could only see half a dozen, they were dressed for hiking. The rest might still be indoors.
    I braked, pulled into their bay, called, “Camp Out crew?”
    “That’s us!” a plump girl shouted back.
    “Where’s all your kit?”
    She patted her modest rucksack.
    “I’m sorry, I meant food and such.”
    “We’ve had lunch.” Her wave found two lads finishing takeout cheeseburgers and fries. “We’ve sandwiches and picnic stuff for tonight.”
    So had I, but they should have brought a double hob camping stove plus kettle, pans and their week’s food. Warily, I asked, “Are the others still inside?”
    “No, this is all of us.”
    “Four missed the connection.”
    “They’re travelling up on Monday.”
    “You’re not Pete.” The slight girl had eyes like grey gimlets, deep doubt in her voice.
    “I’m Mike Jones. ‘Mister Mike’ if you want formal. Pete has gone sick. It’s either colic or a grumbling appendix. Colic just needs a shot in the backside and he farts for England. Other’s a keyhole op, but he’s grounded.” I shrugged. “I was the only one available to cover this weekend, so I’ll do three days then hand over to a trained Camp Leader.”
    “You’re not a Camp Leader?”
    “I’m a Field Archaeologist.” I shrugged again, took a few moments to devise a Plan B. “My speciality is ‘Early Iron Age in the Western Provinces’. I’d planned some fell walking, but I’ve bossed a couple of isolated rescue digs so here I am.
    “Good news is I’ll get you settled into the Camp Out barn. Bad news is you must tote the others’ kit, too.” I grinned at their glum expressions. “First, though, you get a trolley dash! Jump in!”
    They eyed my mucky crew bus with dismay. A sizeable roof box was clamped to the roof bars. The nearside rail ends carried a three metre alloy ladder and a bundle of four two-metre wooden poles. I’d secured the extras with synthetic rope plus lots of bungee toggles.
    “Box has a dozen each foam bed rolls and sleeping bags,” I said. “Also six, two place pop up tents.”
    “But we’re based in a barn, Mister Mike!” The stockiest youth looked very puzzled.
    “A big, cold, damp, draughty, leaky barn with a ferocious Autumn storm due?” I shook my head. “We’ll need these indoors.”
    “But a dozen beds?”
    “Contingencies. Pete turns up. Roof leaks. A bag zip breaks. Someone falls in a bog and gets soaked. So, hop in, hang your bags beside my pack then buckle up.”
    They grumbled, but slowly found seats and latched their seat belts. I opened my clip board.
    “Okay, who have we got? Call out by your seat number!”
    Jenny Overleath, the plump blonde, seemed blessed with a permanent smile. Dave Brown, the stockier of the two shorter lads, had a dour expression. Alys Potter was Jenny’s opposite. Too thin, she wore her brunette hair in a short bob, her lips in a tight scowl. Sue Dean was so lanky, so plain, I’d initially mistaken her for a young man. Her mousey hair, cut boyish, and her clear contralto lent ambiguity. Henry Wright, thinner than Dave, seemed haunted.
    That brought me to the third lad. A clear foot taller than my six, he was dark as old oak, knife thin. He moved like a preying mantis. “And you are?”
    “O.”
    “Oh?” I checked my list.
    “O.”
    “Aha.” I ticked off ‘O (Only)’ and closed the cover. “Welcome aboard! We’ve some shopping to do, so we’re not going far.”
    I drove around the Gateway estate, pulled up between a big-name superstore and its adjacent DIY warehouse. Opening my wallet, I found three tens.
    “Team as pairs, please.
    “First buys nine of potatoes, bagged even three ways, plus carrots to ten.”
    Dave and Henry grabbed the note, waited to see what came next.
    “Second gets pearl barley, split peas, split lentils, pine nuts. Toss in some onions and cloves of garlic. Fresh, mind you, not dried.”
    Jenny and Alys took that. The third, I handed to Sue and O.
    “Pasta, milk powder, rolled oats and two big tubs or bags of cooking salt. Meet you back here.”
    “Basics do, Mister Mike?”
    “Just fine. The more, the merrier.”
    “Are we allowed to trade stuff?”
    “Sure! Or put everything through together. Just keep receipts.”
    “Cool!”
    “Sounds like fun!”
    “What are you going to get, Mister Mike?”
    I tilted a thumb towards the ladder. “Barn needs some attention. Hammer, nails, a few odds and ends. Won’t take me long.”
    I watched them grab trolleys and scoot into the store before I strode to the adjacent DIY warehouse. I was back before my amateur gleaners, but only by a minute or two.
    O handed over four receipts and seven pence, said, “We got extra carrots, Mister Mike!”
    “That’s good thinking.” I nodded thanks, checked their haul, nodded again. “And you double bagged everything. Thank you.”
    That drew appreciative nods and grins. Their eyes explored the crew bus’ load space as I opened the tailgate.
    “What are those?” Henry pointed.
    “Hazard tape spikes.” I hefted one of the five like a spear. “Metre of rebar, tape wraps around the top’s ‘N’. But, three and an O ring gets you a camp fire’s tripod. There’s some chain, shackles and S hooks, too.”
    “We get a real camp fire?” Jenny seemed pleased.
    “Open hearth,” I said. “That’s why I got three metal paint kettles. Think stew pots.”
    “Mister Mike, all this stuff is Veggy.” Dave seemed rather dismayed.
    “One more stop,” I promised as they transferred the shopping to the load space, threading bungee cords through the bag handles to prevent them sliding about. I drove to a specialist shop on the edge of the trading estate. The six followed me inside like a bizarre comet tail.
    “Smoked bacon. Two smoked hams. Smoked cheese. Smoked sausage. Smoked fish.”
    Smelly lumps, whether solid, slices, links or fillets, they all went through the heat sealer, emerged hermetically packed. I swiped my credit card, filed this receipt with the others. We double bagged the packages for carrying, secured those for travelling.
    “Thank you all. Now we’ve fifty miles to go. I’d like to stay ahead of the big weather front that’s swinging through.”
    When the traffic was quiet, I talked.
    “Next week’s Camp Leader will bring your briefing packs, but I’ll tell you what I can.
    “The Camp Out barn is about a mile up the Leat path which runs through Odin's Gorge.
    “That began as an underground stream making a zigzag cave beneath the limestone and moraine ridge.
    “The roof eroded then collapsed, leaving a narrow, winding valley with a stream at the bottom. Like famous ‘Cheddar Gorge’ in miniature.
    “The scarp to the East had been mined for lead and Blue John fluorite since prehistory.
    “It was artisanal until the Victorians. They tidied Odin’s wild stream to a millstream, the Leat, and drove a narrow-gauge mineral railway through.
    “When those valuable seams ran out, the rails and sleepers were removed.
    “A century later, the National Trust reused the bed of the former railway, laid a strong path.
    “The short path to our Camp Out barn meets this just beyond the gorge.”
    Though the crew bus was stuck behind a slow panel van for a dozen miles, we made fair time. Finally, I turned into our destination’s dead end lane, halted by the stile beside the Leat’s National Trust sign.
    “The barn is about a mile from here.” I pointed towards the nice path. “I strongly advise against two trips. The storm is less than an hour behind us. I really, really want to be under cover when it arrives.”
    I scrambled up the rungs of the tailgate, opened the roof box. Piece by piece, I handed fabric bundles to O, who handed them off to the others. Their rucksacks had gradually swallowed most of the food, leaving both hams, the potatoes, the carrots and most of the salt fish.
    “We’re going to be loaded like donkeys!” Henry had realised how much we must carry.
    “I’ll be humping twice yours. I get the big First Aid kit, some tools and anything over. Besides, we’ll have the poles to help.”
    They each tied a bedroll and sleeping bag on top of their full rucksacks. I handed down the six mini tents, closed and secured the roof box. After I untied the back of the pole bundle and ladder, I switched to the side door, from where I was able to release the middle and front. I reused several short bungee toggles to gather the poles to pairs.
    “Hang stuff from these.”
    Each pair got two tents, plus two extra rolls and bags. I tied the rope around the ladder to make two odd sized slings at each end. Hams, tents, bedrolls and nail-laden paint kettles hung between the rungs. The five tape spikes tied along. The flat sealed salt fish tucked in my pack between my laptop and its folded solar panel. That left the potatoes, the carrots and assorted tools.
    “Dutch auction time! Who’d like a lovely bag of potatoes? Just think_ When you eat them, you’ll know that you carried them! Thank you! Who’d like a neat hammer? Thank you!”
    With male pride at stake, Dave and Henry took two bags of potatoes and one hammer. Alys and Jenny took the carrots and second hammer, leaving the third bag of potatoes for me. I checked the bus, sighed and took the screw jack with its angled nut wrench and winder lest they be stolen. They made a heavy and most unwelcome lump on the laden ladder.
    At last, I could make a final check of the bus and lock up. Having an odd number made the stile easier to negotiate than the youngsters expected. With the laden poles and ladder handed across the fence, I took the back end of the ladder, while Sue and O took the front slings. We followed the others up the even footpath beside the busy millstream flowing from the winding defile.
    I was minutes off in my estimate of the weather. We were barely a quarter of a mile up the Leat, just passing an overflowing litter bin, when the first rain began to fall. Big, slow drops that splatted on the dry path, they were unwelcome harbingers. A glance back showed a squall line approaching.
    “We’ll be soaked!” Alys moaned.
    “Not if I can help it!” I called ahead. “Fifty yards on, there’s a rock shelter! See it?”
    The two metre opening was about eight feet up a slippery slope. With the ladder’s front resting against the rise, Sue and O hastily unloaded the contents. Then, we could lay the ladder up the slope to the entrance.
    “This is Woden’s Cave. The Western side is lower and damp,” I warned. “So, hold to the right as you go in.”
    Again, the laden poles were handed up more easily than expected, and a hasty ‘bucket brigade’ shifted the ladder’s load. I scrambled up last, then hauled in the ladder barely seconds before the squall hit. The gourd shaped outer cave widened to almost ten metres diameter and nearly three metres tall. At the back, it rose and narrowed towards a sloping seep with a small, natural skylight above. There was ample space for me to swing my ladder across the lower damp zone and rest it against the lumpy wall beyond. That gave our laden poles something to lean against.
    “There we go! This squall should blow through in fifteen, twenty minutes, then we’ll have a weather window to reach the barn.”
    As rain danced on the threshold, we edged back.
    “Stay clear of that seep,” I warned. “Stay uphill of the drainage.”
    They grumbled, but complied. It was better being a bit crowded than skidding on the muddy, algal slick or getting soused.
    “Look at that rain!” Jenny gasped.
    It was heavy, it was loud and it was outside. Well, some was bouncing in, but we were dry.
    “There’s thunder, too, Mister Mike,” Dave said.
    I nodded. I’d glimpsed the flash, heard the rumble. “Two miles away, but approaching.”
    “Two miles?”
    “Count five seconds from flash to bang per mile. One thousand five, one thousand six, one thousand seven. Getting closer. We’re okay in here. Just stand with your feet together. No one touches the ladder. One thousand four. Closer again. One thousand two. Going to be on top of us! One thou_”
    The storm was right overhead. Bang after bang followed flash after flash by only the echo time across the small gorge. Each brought a tingle through the ground, a ghostly flicker from quartz inclusions.
    A dozen streamers rose from the further rim. One reached higher. It connected with a leader snaking from the cloud. The thunderbolt lanced down, blinding us for a vertiginous instant. The shock wave slammed our chests and guts, reverberated within the cave. The very ground seemed to drop.
    Then, silence, as the thunder abruptly ceased.
    “Wow!”
    “Did you see that?”
    “Slam dunk!”
    “Hey? What’s that gurgling?”
    “Stand clear of the gulley!” I warned, herding them back. We’d just pressed ourselves against the Eastern wall when the seep burst to a flood. First, a torrent of mud, muck and detritus spewed down the slope. Then clean water washed it all out of the cave. The flow diminished to a stream, to a trickle, to a fresh seep.
    “Yeah!” Sue said, lowering her camera phone, “And I thought a camp out would be boring!”
    “That had to be a Century Flood,” Dave offered.
    “Stay clear of the gulley...” My admonition tailed off as the cave brightened.
    “Storm’s cleared, Mister Mike,” Jenny called.
    It was impossible, but the storm had indeed gone. The falling rain thinned, ceased. I ventured to the wet threshold, looked out at sunshine, fluffy clouds and a strange, dark, lenticular cloud dispersing downwind as straggly tufts.
    “That was a strange storm,” Henry muttered.
    “Weather window,” I reckoned. “Time we were going.”
    They grabbed their poles, backed up to let me manoeuvre the ladder onto the muddy slope outside. Going down backwards was tricky, but we managed to transfer the poles and the loaded ladder to the drying path without slipping. Dave and Henry were ready first.
    “Want to get started?” I asked. “The Camp Out barn’s path meets the Leat about a quarter mile ahead. It is well signed. You could wait for us at the turn.”
    “Okay, Mister Mike!” Dave said, led off. The two quickly disappeared around the next bend.
    Alys and Jenny helped Sue, O and me to load the ladder. We were almost done when Dave and Henry returned in a rush.
    “Path’s gone, Mister Mike!”
    “The Leat path’s gone!”
    “Washed out?” I adjusted a nails-laden paint kettle.
    “No, no!”
    “It just stops!”
    “Like it never was!”
    “There’s a tree where the path should be!”
    I hesitated, looked around at the others, said, “Take five while I check this out.”
    I glanced at the folding shovel attached to my pack, sighed. That was no tool for a landslide. Besides, I’d need to see the damage. My long stride took me around the bend in moments. As the sight line opened, I stopped. The pair were right.
    A hundred metres ahead, the path simply ceased. Beyond it, Odin’s Gorge was as wild as before those Victorians drove their narrow railway through. There were scrubby trees, saplings, boulders, even a tall pine. And, yes, there was a tree just where the path should be. They’d been carried by no avalanche. They belonged there.
    I walked to the end of the path, studied the demarcation. The unstable slope beyond was tumbling debris to my feet. I eyed the line of cleft rocks, hesitated, looked a second time. The line curved. It swept across the gorge, forcing the stream to a tumbling zigzag. It arced up the gorge face on both sides. Rock slides, half boulders, a sliced tree and orphaned roots bore witness to the phenomenon.
    After patting the first tree to be sure, I checked my basic phone. It found no service. I checked my tough little ‘Garmin’ GPS. It found no satellites. I stood for a while, deep in thought. At last, I selected several fist sized half-rocks and turned my back on the impossibility. Counting paces to estimate the curve, I returned to Woden’s Cave and five very pale faces. Even dark skinned O had gone grey.

  • #2
    Interesting, though I will admit some of the Brit verbiage/ slang is a bit lost on me. looking forward to next installment
    I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you!

    Comment


    • #3
      Day 01 Friday (Part 2)

      “Folks, something weird has happened.” I showed the clean cleft stones. “The big curve takes in a hundred and twenty, hundred thirty metres that way. If it is part of a circle, that puts the centre over by the gorge rim, just about where that monster bolt struck.” I inclined a thumb back towards the crew bus. “Have you looked that way?”
      They nodded.
      “The path just stops, Mister Mike.”
      “Like it never was.”
      “Our phones don’t work.”
      “There’s only one mast in range. That could have gone away. And the remaining minerals hereabout may mask GPS signals.” I drew a slow breath. “Okay, we can’t carry all this kit through the wild gorge. That’s a given. If this phenomenon is just local, like a ring doughnut, we’ll need the local ‘Mountain Rescue’ team to drop a line from the gorge rim and winch us out. So, we make camp here until someone comes looking.”
      They nodded.
      “But we need to know how much is affected.”
      They were still nodding.
      “Henry, Dave? Would you unload in the cave? Keep your poles as alpenstocks. Head upstream for about fifteen minutes. That should take you past the Leat’s zigzags. You should be able to see a good half a mile ahead. Whatever, watch out for firewood on the way back.”
      “Gotcha, Mister Mike.”
      “Take it slow. Don’t rush. Mind your footing.”
      “Okay.” They began working their load up the ladder.
      “Sue, O?”
      “Mister Mike?”
      “The same, alpenstocks too, but the way we came.” I tried to find calm words. “You should be able to see the Castleton bypass, the tips of the wind farm near the coast.”
      “Or something.”
      “Yes.”
      “And look for firewood on the way back?”
      “Please.”
      With those four gone, I turned to Alys and Jenny, said, “I’m so sorry.”
      “You’re sure something wild has gone down?”
      “Almost, Alys, almost. I’m hoping, but things don’t look good.”
      “My Aunt Mary had a wood burning stove,” Jenny stated. “We’ll need a lot of firewood.”
      “I know.” I nodded. “I’ve got a light bushwhacker blade and two wire saws. Better than nothing, I suppose. We’ll spend a lot of time and effort hauling dead wood and fallen branches. We’ll have to store it all dry, but clear of the fire.”
      “Of course! We’ll need a fire burning all the time!” Jenny whispered. “There could be anything out there!”
      “Pointy sticks!” Alys hissed. “We’re back to pointy sticks!”
      “Very pointy sticks!” I grinned. “I’ve a big box each of two and four inch nails.”
      “Ooh!”
      “And I can knap flints,” I said. “It was a bit of fun, and they made great gifts.”
      “You don’t look happy, Mister Mike.”
      “My group, my bad.”
      “You couldn’t_”
      “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I said I’m an Archaeologist. Well, now we’re a hunter gatherer band. Only_ Only we’ve no clan settlement to return to.”
      “Oh.” Jenny had worked it out. “A dozen would be so different...”
      “Yes, but a dozen would exceed the local carrying capacity. So, small groups range out and return with stuff. At least they have a support group, an extended family.” I shook my head. “There’s only seven of us. We’ll have to run like crazy for the first year or so. We’ll have to be really, really clever to figure out the simplest things.
      “And that’s why I wanted to talk to you two apart. The standard template would relegate you to Squaws. Well, I’m not having that! Instead, you’ll be our ‘Guardians of the Hearth’. You’ll keep the fire just right. Not too small, lest a splash quench it. Not too big lest it burn high and throw sparks. Keep the stock of dry firewood turned and aired. Keep giving the gleaners the ‘heads up’ to haul more. Keep pots of embers and tinder handy for ‘carry out’ or ‘relight’. Keep enough ready fuel for emergencies, if we need a big fire in a hurry.”
      “Flaming torches!” Alys shivered. “Eyes in the dark!”
      “True,” I said. I didn’t think either my little wind-up LED lantern or my laser pointer would spook a cave bear. “And we’ll need a slow fire in the smoke box.”
      “Smoked bacon? Kippers?”
      “Perhaps venison and trout. There’s fish in the stream.”
      “Ooh!”
      “Downside is you get sooty and slightly scorched.” I took a breath. “Upside is you stay warm and, when you say ‘frog’, we ask ‘how high’.”
      “Do we get a kitchen garden?”
      “I hope so, Alys.”
      “Here’s hoping some of the pips from my lunch grow,” Jenny said.
      “Yes. And if this isn’t an area of ‘Special Scientific Interest’ any more, we can change the environment. We can make steps, cut ledges, build walls, chip handholds. We can fell trees, build weirs, make cairns and ovens, even add a chimney to the vent.”
      I waved up at the cave entrance. “Cut and tie lots of poles to make drying racks and airers. Make some sort of wicker screen for the opening. Later make a timber slab door. Jam poles from floor to ceiling to make dividers or support a fire screen. Chip proper drainage grooves across the floor. Perhaps lay slabs to build up the lower slope by some inches, culvert the seep. Certainly clean up the threshold.”
      “With all our stuff, we’ll be very snug in the cave, Mister Mike.”
      “If this is Autumn, we’ll be so glad to share body heat when the nights draw in.” I shivered. “But, you’re right. Long term, we’ll move up onto the plateau. Perhaps roundhouses, earth sheltered. Or duns, souterrains and their ilk. Like the stuff I studied on the Orkneys and Shetlands. And we’ll need to cut a trail up both sides of the gorge, bridge the stream somehow.”
      “Mister Mike?”
      “Hopes and options, hopes and options_”
      “Mister Mike?”
      “Jenny?”
      “You’re twice as scared as us.”
      “Yes.”
      “Did you know we’re the D-Team?”
      “What?”
      “Four were too dozy to catch the Gretna bus.” Jenny shrugged. “I’ve had a couple of breakdowns. Alys_”
      “Partner went psycho, messed with my head.”
      “Sue thinks like a boy. Henry is borderline Schizo. Dave is Mister Gloom. O_”
      “Was a Safari Souvenir.” Alys nibbled a thumb nail. “Get the picture?”
      “Yes.” I managed a tiny grin. “Just your everyday bunch of students on a dig, really!”
      “Honest?”
      “All human life.” I nodded slowly. “Not just the students. I was half way through my Doctorate when my thesis supervisor plagiarised my draft, then accused me of sexual harassment when I complained.”
      “Your word against hers?”
      “His.” I still seethed at the memory. “I lost my grant. My fiancée dumped me. Faculty banned me from field work.”
      “Ugh!” Alys pulled a face.
      “Took two years before my appeal went through. They found against him, cleared me.”
      “So you’re Doctor Mike?”
      “No. I paid my way writing web pages. Doing it full time, I earned too much to go back. Each time I think ‘Maybe Next Year?’, a new commission arrives.” I shrugged. “But I’m welcome on digs, and the bastard lost tenure.”
      We just looked at each other for a while.
      “Mister Mike, where do we start?”
      I turned over a dozen options, came back to the primeval.
      “A hearth. You build a hearth under the cave’s roof vent. I’ll fetch some stones from the scree slope and bring them up.”
      Five minutes found me struggling up the ladder with a roughly round slab.
      “This will do for the base.”
      “We’ve begun unpacking.” Alys pointed to the seven neat stacks and an opened tent with the spare bedding. Its hoops made it free-standing. “Why the stone?”
      “Cave’s bedding plane is limestone. It doesn’t take heat well.”
      At a head sized rock per trip, progress was slow. Soon, though, Alys and Jenny had a tripod of hazard spikes assembled over the hearth, a kettle with stream water patiently hung.
      Jenny looked up, asked, “Is that Dave shouting?”
      For a moment, as I clambered down the ladder, I thought Henry and Dave brought good news. That was before I saw their grim expressions, their head shakes.
      “The rest of the gorge is wild.”
      “And the hills beyond.”
      “Looks like no-one has ever been here before.”
      “Brought you some firewood.” Their white weathered branch was a respectable size.
      “There’s lots more. Most is too big to carry.”
      “Well, that’s a good start.” I said, dragging the branch over a low stone as anvil then easing a wire blade from its pouch. “Sawmill time!”
      Five careful minutes reduced the timber to neat chunks plus a pile of splinters and sawdust on the pouch. Five more minutes, one brief flare from Dave’s disposable lighter and some coaxing started a small, smoky but cheerful fire in the hearth. I took our water bottles and my two folding gallon containers to the stream, returned with them full.
      “Boil a little in each kettle several times to take away the taste of new metal,” I warned.
      “Just like any new kettle!”
      They soon discovered that the fourth and fifth spikes were very useful for hooking kettles on and off tripod hooks. The scalding rinses, they threw onto the seep, blanching its traces of algae.
      “Hello, the cave!”
      Sue and O were back. Sue was dragging an improbably large branch, while O was lugging something that looked like the back end of a young fallow deer.
      “Good heavens!”
      “Where did you find that?”
      “Well done!” I called as I scrambled down the ladder.
      “Loads of dead wood for the taking, but most is too big to pull out.” Sue parked her branch near the ladder.
      “This must have been caught on the boundary. I noticed the buzzing flies as we returned,” O explained.
      “What did you see?”
      “Mister Mike_”
      “You’re never going to believe us_”
      “So Sue took some photos_”
      “Road’s gone,” Sue said. “Everything’s gone. Even the air smells different. Hills are covered in trees. Lowland looks like a safari park. See?”
      The herd in the first shot could have been archetypal hairy Scottish longhorn cattle, but local farmers kept sheep. The second photo had more of the same. The third had a herd of deer. The fourth was badly framed, at the very limit of the camera’s zoom, but I could not mistake its unlikely subject.
      “That is a straight-tusked elephant,” I whispered. “A real, live Palaeoloxodon antiquus. Late Pleistocene Interglacial.”
      “Interglacial?”
      “No ice cap.” I waved a hand above my head. “Did you stay in cover?”
      “Too right!” Dave had followed me down. “Megafauna draws mega predators!”
      “We stayed in cover, Mister Mike,” O confirmed
      “Mister Mike, what do we do?”
      “Survive?” I offered. They looked to each other. “We’ve got a camp started, a nice fire burning. The water should soon be hot enough for weak coffee. I’ll gut and clean_ Oh, you’ve done it! Thank you.”
      “My stepfather is a Halal butcher.” O lifted his loose shirt to show a large sheath knife on his belt. “I buried the offal under rocks, rinsed the meat in the stream.”
      “Again, thank you.”
      “Do you have a larger blade?”
      “A light bushwhacker_ think medium machete.” I shrugged. “If you can use it, you’re welcome.”
      “Please, Mister Mike. My knife is too light.”
      “Okay. Sue, could you show the others your pics while I saw your branch? Dave, I’d be grateful if you could fetch the sheathed bushwhacker from the right side of my pack then steady the wood.”
      “Sure thing, Mister Mike!”
      Dave brought the blade and a scald-rinsed paint bucket. “For the meat.”
      Our patient work reduced the branch to fuel, the young deer’s hindquarters to portions in the pot. O disarticulated the joints, said, “These long bones must be cut or broken, then boiled for soup.”
      “May we have the third kettle and a hammer for soup bones?” I called.
      “Sure!” Sue scrambled down the ladder. “Wow! That was fast work!”
      I settled for scooping the sawdust into the saw’s pouch to keep it dry. We put the rather sad skin in the stream under several stones, hairy side up.
      “Coffee’s ready!”
      Rather than risk wood splinters, we used a pair of carrier bags to move the fuel. I found a suitable rock as anvil, chose my aiming point and split the bones with careful hammer blows.
      “Boil these up for stock, Mister Mike?”
      “Sure, Sue!”
      I watched O rinse and wipe the bushwhacker, nodded thanks when he returned it.
      “Nice blade, Mister Mike.”
      “I’ve only cleared brush-wood, bracken and nettles on digs. Nice to see it used well.” That earned a smile. “How many syllables follow the O?”
      “Too many.” O’s smile widened. “They sound better chanted to drums.”
      I nodded, sniffed the air. “Weak coffee or not, it will be hot and wet.”
      It was very, very weak coffee, barely tan rather than black, but it was still very welcome.
      “We don’t really have enough firewood for the night,” I warned. “Which way had most nearest?”
      The gleaners conferred.
      “We found a dead tree, Mister Mike,” Sue stated. “Trunk, branches, roots and all.”
      “Then that’s where we start. Alys, Jenny? Will you be okay for a while?”
      “Sure thing!” Jenny brandished the fourth spike. Alys patted a burning branch, sending up sparks.
      “Then the rest of us fetch wood.”
      “We’ll need the poles again, Mister Mike. They were real handy.”
      “And a carrier bag for kindling,” I remembered.
      The mood was subdued as we walked down the path. I noted the overflowing bin, decided its smelly investigation could wait. Counting my paces to this boundary’s curve matched my earlier estimate of distance from that lightning bolt as ground zero. One by one, we clambered off the path into the wild gorge. Our four poles did help, playing staffs and handrails by turn.
      The dead tree lay with its roots up the slope. A gouge out of the gorge rim showed where it must have broken away, perhaps six months back.
      “Think safety,” I warned. “Let the saw do the work. Don’t force it or let the wire pinch. Cut a wedge as a guide notch if necessary. Pile stuff on the path to save time.”
      “Okay, Mister Mike.”
      We set upon the mass of gnarled timber with both wire saws, lopping branches and roots, trimming them to manageable lengths, handing them along our trail, stacking them on the path. The twisted trunk was too big to tackle today, would need wedges and a maul. There were enough cracks and splits, but it would take patience and a lot of sweaty work.
      I took a breather, used the chance to look around. A difficult dozen metres further down the gorge, there was a twin pine, with roots locked over a knoll. Their height would bridge the stream nicely, even in Spring spate. Felling them was possible if laborious, but I’d thought of a trick.
      “May I have a saw, please?”
      “Sure thing, Mister Mike.”
      “Bridge building, Mister Mike?”
      “I hope so.” The tree roots were conveniently anchored and exposed, so didn’t need sawhorses.
      “I see what you’re doing! Neat!” Dave had come to investigate. He stayed to help. We attacked the uphill roots alternately, steadily increasing the strain on those remaining. Twenty minutes sufficed to leave both trees swaying ominously.
      “Today, tomorrow, Monday, a gust will hinge them across the gorge.”
      “And they stay half-rooted!” Sue looked over my ploy.
      “Nice one, Mister Mike!” Henry added.
      “We can trim the tops to length, weave branches so they’ll lock it together.”
      “You did not get that out of a book.” O’s careful gaze was exploring possibilities.
      “A documentary showed a ‘Live Bridge’ in India, up in Monsoon country.” I made my way back to the fallen tree. “Okay, folks, where will this saw go next?”
      “There’s just this root, Mister Mike. And here’s the other saw, back in its pouch.”
      “Thanks, O!”
      I tackled the last root of the dead tree while the others moved their cut wood hand to hand. Mine was finished in time to join the ‘bucket brigade’.
      “You reckon it was that last strike, the big one?”
      “Yeah, Dave.” I scooped small stuff into the carrier bag.
      “Why don’t I feel like the world’s ended?” Sue wondered.
      “Me, neither?” Henry muttered.
      “Because I’ve kept you busy?” I offered as I followed the others to the path. “We needed shelter, fast. We don’t have the barn, but we’ve got the cave. We moved in, we lit a fire. Now, we must cook supper and make plans.”
      They just stared at me.
      “Look, we’ve only a few hours more daylight, then we’ve got problems. Are you with me on this?”
      “Yes, Mister Mike,” O said. “We need the cave or a thick thorn hedge for safety. We need a fire to hold off the flies and night hunters.”
      “Come on, then!”
      I grappled a good pile of wood, headed up the path. We needed another ‘bucket brigade’ on the ladder, but the cut wood made a sizeable stack at the back of the cave.
      “We’re simmering the meat and bones,” Alys reported. “Third kettle’s more coffee! Wow! That’s a good haul of fire wood!”
      Our coffee was barely flavoured, smoggy rather than brown, but we didn’t care. We shook open the other tents and layered their bed mats. There was no argument when I insisted on the one nearest the entrance. We unwrapped a sleeping bag each, folded them as cushions. One by one, we went out and used the small latrine I hastily dug, well downstream of the cave. Then we sat in our little tents, watched our small fire heating the kettles, made conversation.
      “We’re going to need a guard for each latrine trip,” I warned. “And a wicker screen.”
      “And roof,” Dave noted.
      “Like a safari camp,” O added. “There could be a leopard in the bush.”
      “So no-one drinks too much too late,” Alys warned.
      “With a bit of luck, there’ll be an emergency pot in that waste bin.” I was being optimistic.
      “Just be candy wrappers and apple cores,” Dave grumbled.
      “Apple pits, tomato pips, or whatever. We save them, we plant them,” I stated.
      “How? We’ve no greenhouse!”
      “Wrappers as seed trays? Then carrier bags with a shovelful of compost? We can bring them in from the cold at night.”
      “Cold? You said ‘Interglacial’!” Dave sounded disappointed.
      “Elephant, rhino, hippo, wild horse, three kind of deer. You name it, they’re probably out there. They’d tolerate occasional frosts, but you’re talking mid-Winters like our Octobers and Aprils. Ten, eleven, twelve degrees Celsius, mid-fifties Fahrenheit, about what it was today.”
      “Cold enough for hypothermia, Mister Mike?”
      “Spot on, Dave.” I hesitated. “My speciality is the Iron Age, but so much of their landscape was sculpted by the Pleistocene ice ages. Widespread moraine deposits swamped the old watersheds and drainage, controlled access to resources.”
      “How on earth will we manage?” Dave grumbled. “We’re city folk!”
      “We learn. We hunt. We gather. We glean. And, if necessary, we steal kills.”
      “Pointy sticks?” Alys shivered.
      “If that’s what it takes.” I nodded. “Fire hardened, of course.”
      “Ugh.”
      “But we can do a bit better.” I winked. “We can tip ours with nails.”
      “How?” Dave looked puzzled.
      “I bought a big box each of two and four inch nails to mend the barn.”
      “Ah!”
      “And I’ve got the original cordless drill, an old-fashioned bit ‘n’ brace. So, drill across at an inch and a half. Drill down to that. Split to that, slip in a four-inch nail, bind it tight_ Two and a half inches of steel spike!”
      “Ugh,” they chorused, except for O, who nodded.
      I continued, “We can go one better than hand thrown, one step short of bows and arrows. The atlatl.”
      “What?”
      “Spear thrower stick!” Jenny burst out. “I saw that on Discovery Channel!”
      “I bet they still had to get really, really close.” Dave was correct, of course.
      “There’s another trick,” I stated. “Bolas.”
      O grinned like a shark, said, “Mister Mike, you have a wicked mind!”
      “Easier to stop then hunt, than hunt then stop,” I quipped.
      “Spears, atlatl, bolas?” Sue nodded. “I think we might have a chance.”
      “Just one more thing,” I remarked. “We’ll need lots of straight sticks for spears and wicker. We’ll have to poll or pollard lots of trees.”
      “Poll? Pollard??”
      “Cut the top off trees above grazing height.”
      “So they grow hair?” Henry’s simile was odd but accurate.
      “Yes. Cut and come again, year after year.”
      “And the tops for firewood?”
      “Near enough.”
      “Mister Mike, we must plant a thorn hedge along the boundary,” O warned.
      “Good idea, O! By the time we can move up onto the plateau, they’ll have grown!”
      “And we can do lots to improve this cave,” Jenny mentioned.
      “Such as?” Dave took the bait.
      “Well, we could scrape or chip grooves to drain the damp patches.”
      “Now there’s a thought.” Dave nodded.
      Jenny waved at the slab that formed the fire hearth. “Lay slabs to build up the lower part, cover the drain.”
      “I didn’t think of that!” Alys was being strictly truthful. “We’ll need steps to the entrance to free the ladder. And steps up both sides of the gorge.”
      Jenny waved at a stray billow of smoke that eluded the roof vent. “A chimney up top for that. Just needs a bit of dry stone walling.”
      “Anyone done that course?” I asked.
      “Me, Mister Mike.” Dave lifted a hand. “Repairing sheep walls.”
      “That’s a start,” I allowed. “We’ll need something like a cairn.”
      “I reckon I can manage that, I suppose.”
      “And we can bow poles, wedge them from roof to floor, support wicker screens.” Jenny waved. “We’ll need a big one by the door, a half-height one by this fire.”
      “And crossbars for hangers and airers?” Alys offered.
      “A smoke box for making our own kippered trout and venison?”
      “Yeah, Jenny, they would do nicely!” I grinned.
      “Up on the plateau?” Sue’s growing puzzlement broke to a smile. “Up on the plateau, we’ll have to build into the ground. Like those old duns in Scotland!”
      “Exactly.” I nodded. “Four to six metre diameter rings, unless you go ‘wheel house’ with piers and up to ten metres across. Think a stone half-igloo with a thatched or turf roof. Simple, but effective. Successive rings share walls, need less stone.”
      “Uh, Mister Mike,” Dave warned, “we’d still need a lot more stones than we’d dig from a hole that size.”
      “We’ll raid the scree slopes, Dave, and dig rubbish pits.” I grinned. “It’ll make a change_ I’ve excavated enough of them!”
      That got a welcome laugh. Jenny fished the bones out of the stock pot, added some pasta. We sipped more coffee-tinged water, tried to sit comfortably on our bed pads as the shadows stretched outside.
      Jenny asked, “Should we save our suppers for breakfast, Mister Mike?”
      “Unless it will keep, I don’t think so,” I decided. “Save everything, though, however silly. Especially pips.”
      We ate our picnics, kept wrappers, yoghurt pots and such. Several were promptly recycled as apple and tomato nurseries.
      Just as dusk fell, Alys decided the pasta was ready. It was more ‘oxtail cuppa-soup with noodles’ than a dish meal, but we didn’t care. We got half a cup apiece, enjoyed every morsel. As long shadows began to darken the gorge, we trooped down to the stream, washed our plates, cutlery and cups. Then, of course, we took turns at the basic latrine. The stream provided wash up for that, too, but further downstream.
      At last, we settled for the night. We jammed two poles at the sides of the cave mouth, tied the ladder across. They would not stop a predator, but should make one stop, sniff and take note of the fire. I took first watch. I switched my little LED lantern to its glow-worm night light setting, cranked it whenever it dimmed, fed wood into the low fire. Nothing happened before I handed over to Dave at one in the morning. I heard him moving about from time to time, but slept through both his handover to Henry at three, and O taking watch at five.

      Comment


      • #4
        Day 02 Saturday

        “Good morning, Mister Mike!” Jenny handed me a hot cup as I unzipped my tent.
        “Ugh.” I’d had a ghastly dream about getting stuck in the Pleistocene with a bunch of students. “Ah. Thank you.”
        Her coffee was only that by suggestion, but it was very welcome.
        “There was a big, slow crash about an hour ago, Mister Mike,” O said.
        “Sounded like our bridge trees were toppling,” Henry added. “What do we do today?”
        “Breakfast, I hope.” My wishes were granted. We got modest portions of pasta and diced venison. The latter was a bit tough, but we were hungry.
        “So, Mister Mike,” Henry asked, “what’s the plan?”
        “We’ve enough firewood for now.” I worked my dozy brain. “O, Sue, could you go out of the gorge, then work back to above where we are? Watch for firewood. Watch for the makings of spears and wicker. And, if the event brought any moorland, watch for rabbits.”
        “Huh?” Sue looked puzzled.
        “They were thought to have been introduced by the Romans. If we’re lucky, a pair came along yesterday. They’re easy enough to trap for meat and skins.” I remembered something else. “Could you take a look at our vent hole? Dave will need to see what’s required.”
        “What are you going to do, Mister Mike?” O asked.
        “Check out our new bridge, trim the other end, then whack some wedges into that trunk, try to split it.”
        “Henry and I could fetch some more deadwood from upstream,” Dave offered.
        “We’ve dry stuff soaking, then we’ll cook it,” Alys reported. “We’ll take turns stirring soup and scraping a notch along the floor.”
        We downed our water with its few granules of coffee, unbarred the entrance and set about working our plan. First, I handed Dave and Henry a wire saw, waved them off. Then I laid my opened solar panel beside the entrance, trailed its two metres of cable into the cave and attached my closed laptop.
        “How much charge will that collect, Mister Mike?” Alys wondered.
        “Averaged three hours a day in High Summer. Overcast or raining, I’d be lucky to get half an hour. I can get some more time if I turn the clock speed down.” I thought about it. “The panel has a packet of adaptors, so should be able to charge phones, too. I may be able to network those via Bluetooth, but I’ve never tried. I might need to write drivers. Not something we need to do soon.”
        Sue and O were waiting with their poles. “Could you put spikes on these, Mister Mike?”
        “Sure!” I only needed five minutes to weaponise both their staffs. For binding, I untwisted two feet of rope end partly unravelled by wind flutter. That gave me a dozen lengths of ‘string’, of which I used two. As a precaution, I ‘corked’ the spikes with partly hollowed lengths of firewood. O tried to wiggle the spike, nodded satisfaction.
        I followed Sue and O downstream with the second saw and the screw jack. The twin pine had indeed toppled, but both tops had hung up in scrub against the gorge’s cliff. I crossed on hands and knees, climbed off, chose my spot, cut notches then warily beheaded each pine. The trunks sagged, settled. The scrub was slowly collapsing under the load so I left the rest to gravity. Given time, my offcuts would become resinous firewood.
        After a wary recrossing, I turned my attention to splitting yesterday’s trunk. Sawing the roots’ and branches’ stumps skew gave me half a dozen wedges. I tapped them into the biggest cracks, whacked them with a hammer stone. Millimetre by millimetre, the splits widened. I rearranged wedges, cut more, kept hammering. I was still at it when Sue and O called down from the gorge rim.
        “Hi, Mister Mike!”
        “Hello!”
        “Hi! What’s the landscape like?”
        “Really weird, Mister Mike!”
        “Some pine trees, lots of silver birch and other trees, tangled thickets, bushes and scrub.”
        “Then a step down onto the big semicircle of grass that came with us!”
        “Other rim’s the same!”
        “Can you see our roof vent?”
        “Sure!”
        “There’s a whiff of smoke!”
        “Hole’s a funnel.”
        “Starts as a dip about six feet across, then shrinks to a sooty hole.”
        “And we’ve seen rabbits!”
        “There were deer grazing, too!”
        “We could have got close enough for a bolas, I think!”
        “With three, certainly!”
        “Watch for stick makings and firewood!”
        “We’ve some of that, Mister Mike! Stand back!”
        I retreated. They tipped a large, sun-bleached branch over the rim, so that it slithered down in a cascade of gravel, stones and dust.
        “Thank you!”
        I gave my trunk’s wedges another whack, turned my saw on the branch. It was reduced to firewood on the path by the time O and Sue worked around to the gorge’s entrance then made their way up the Leat.
        “Ooh, thanks, Mister Mike!” Sue was delighted. “Gosh! You’ve done a lot!”
        When a split reached a couple of inches, I’d deployed the screw jack. The trunk had finally yielded lengthwise to two rough halves.
        “We can drag a half between us,” Sue decided. We could. We did. Getting them up the ladder was exciting but, with careful trimming, we soon had a rough pair of curve-topped benches.
        “Ooh! They’ll seat six!” Jenny was happy. “And emergency firewood, Mister Mike?”
        “That, too,” I admitted. “That, too.”
        I made several trips to collect the sawn branch, finished as Dave and Henry brought two branches from upstream. I helped saw theirs smaller, finishing as Alys called us in.
        “Coffee!”
        Though the ‘coffee’ was but a few, precious granules in a kettle of boiled water, it was most welcome.
        “Ooh! You’ve got photos!” Jenny filled our cups as Sue displayed her survey.
        “Aha! Mixed deciduous!” I only needed one glance. “That broadleaf is oak. They’re elm. This is hazel.”
        “Where the nuts come from?”
        “Yes. Here’s alder and birch.” I watched several more photos build a shaky panorama. “See how they’re bunched across the landscape? And, interspersed between each copse, more open grasslands where large herbivores will graze.”
        “They’ll come to us?” Jenny worried.
        “We’d need a thorn hedge to stop them.” O had a distant, hungry look. “We’ll need a hide, a ghillie coat.”
        “Plenty of young trees to make poles.” Sue pointed. “Tomorrow, may we take the bushwhacker?”
        “Okay,” I decided. “What about the vent?”
        “Here you go.” She tilted it to let Dave see, too. “That dip is about six feet across. See the pole for scale?”
        “I’ll need help to dig it out then build up,” he said.
        “We’ll have to shift a lot of stone, Mister Mike,” Henry warned.
        “Like steps up the gorge.” I put the task into context. “Not something for today or tomorrow but, when we’re settled.”
        Lunch proved to be lentils with a few venison lumps each. Alys spooned servings, going around twice to get our meals even.
        “Delicious! Lot of work gone into this!” My praise earned grins.
        “Floor’s drier, too.” Alys pointed. Sure enough, several grooves wicked the low spots towards the mouth of the cave. “How about hauling some floor tiles this afternoon?”
        We had but one possible reply to that. “Yes, Ma’am!”
        The upstream scree slope provided a convenient supply of flat ‘paving slabs’. These proved to be remarkably tractable. Given hammer and nail, they split like slate, a trick I’d learned for finding fossils. Bedded on sand, with their careful jigsaw’s gaps filled with fine stuff, they formed a clear, wide path across the low area, a place for one of the log benches. We were making the place our home.
        We were very glad to stop for another cup of hot water, now with the merest hint of coffee. After a latrine visit, I took the chance to walk the Leat’s remaining path from end to end.
        “What are you looking for, Mister Mike?” Jenny asked.
        “Somewhere to build steps. How are you doing?”
        “Not too bad. I wanted to run away from home. I wasn’t planning on going this far!”
        “Family troubles?”
        “Just your usual dysfunctional snarl. Bossy Ma, blustering Pa, noxious sibs.”
        “How’s Alys handling it?”
        “Better than I expected. Her horrible Ex can’t reach her here!”
        “That’s a bonus, I suppose.”
        “More than that. He’s doing seven to ten years, kept sending her scary messages. After the prison blocked his letters, he smuggled some out. Real psycho stuff, it cost him remission. Now she’s finally free of him.”
        “That’s a bonus_” I’d spotted a sloping path across the gorge’s face, perhaps a sure-footed animal’s trail. “Yes, this is where steps could go.”
        “If you say so, Mister Mike!”
        “But the priority is steps to the cave mouth,” I admitted.
        I made a dozen trips to the scree slope, brought enough blocky stone for the lowest steps. When, curious, the others arrived, I took a breather and just picked slabs from the scree for them to carry.
        “Will we need steps up the gorge to tote stone for the chimney?” Dave asked.
        “I’m afraid so.” I couldn’t see any alternative.
        “What’s that other heap? The fist-sized stuff?”
        “Struck me that we have pointy sticks, but no stones to throw.”
        Not many minutes later, we had a neat pyramid of hurling cobbles in the cave. I checked the sun angle, nodded. There was just enough daylight for another chore. I had to tackle the base of our cave’s entrance slope. I’d already had enough of landing on ankle-twisting rocks or dank grass trodden to slippery, squidgy mulch. The best part of an hour spent shovelling, prising, shifting and setting meant we now had a fairly smooth, dry, stone approach. It would also serve as a firm base for steps.
        “Oh, well done, Mister Mike!” Jenny was delighted.
        “Thanks, Mister Mike!” Alys was impressed, too.
        I nodded appreciation, wiped sweat from my brow. “We must keep our wood ash, leach it, then boil it down for alkali to saponify fat for soft soap.”
        “Gosh! Can we really make soap that way?” Jenny wondered.
        “Won’t be pretty, won’t be fragrant, won’t be soon,” I warned. “Still, it’s the start of Chemistry.”
        “What else can we do?”
        “I can’t think of anything specific,” I admitted. “The heart drug Digitalis came from the Purple Foxglove, but that’s a rare plant. I know ‘Natural Aspirin’ came from ‘Oil of Wintergreen’, and a lot of essential oils can be got by steam distillation, but that might take glass blowing or such.”
        “Like an old-fashioned Apocathary?”
        “Apothecary, from an old word for a store of herbs and spices. Yes, think Chinese Herbalist, with lots of little drawers and bottles.”
        “Ah. Do you think any of the pips will grow?” Alys wondered.
        “My guess would be most of them. Getting them to fruit is another matter.”
        “Apples will take years and years.” Dave was, of course, correct.
        “Something for the future.” I shrugged. “We may need wicker screens to prevent browsers nibbling saplings, plus a thorn hedge for the kitchen garden. For now, they’re pot plants to be cosseted.”
        “Dinner’s in about half an hour,” Jenny said.
        “Okay.” I spent most of that fetching more stone from the scree slope.
        “Dinner’s ready, Mister Mike! Wash up and come in!” Henry called to me. “Oh, that’s a fair pile of stone!”
        I nodded. There was a good stack by the scree, almost as much by the ladder. “Gives me something to do tomorrow. Now, if you don’t mind, I need a private moment at the_”
        “I’ll let them know you’re on your way.”
        After climbing back to the cave, I checked the solar panel’s charge rate. The indicator showed its Watt-hours had fallen to zero, so I took the kit inside and stowed it in my tent.
        Dinner, as the shadows lengthened, was venison stew, thickened with mashed potato and two diced carrots. After that, while the kettle warmed some more ‘coffee’, we sat and talked.
        “We’ve kept the carrot tops, Mister Mike!” Alys pointed to two lonely yoghurt pots. “Hydroponic until they sprout roots, then we plant them in compost. Oh, and Henry’s uncle had an allotment. He remembers how to chit potatoes!”
        “I’ve washed and dried all the small ones, put them aside to sprout.” Henry shrugged. “We’ll need somewhere to plant them in a couple of weeks.”
        “We’ll need to dig rows?” I pointed to my small, folding shovel.
        “Uncle Stan used to grow ‘Earlies’ in big buckets.”
        “Would wicker tubs work?” Sue leaned forwards, intent. “We should be able to make those.”
        “I suppose so.” Henry looked unhappy. “I don’t want to put all our seed in one basket, if you see what I mean.”
        “We can only store ours for so long, so there’ll come a point when we’ll have to try,” I said. “If we can grow them all year round, that would be a real bonus.
        “Dave, tomorrow, you and I must work on the cave’s steps. Henry, could you, Sue and O go gleaning? We need poles, sticks and withies or wicker. If possible, try to choose stuff that would cut and come again. Could you watch out for thorny bushes with berries we could plant?”
        “Okay if we toss long stuff down rather than carry it around and up the gorge?”
        “Just watch for weak edges,” I warned. “I prefer bodies a thousand years dead.”
        “Mister Mike, any chance of a bolas?”
        “Funny you should say that.” I produced six flat, palm-sized stones. “I’ll work on them while I’m on watch.”
        We drank our hot water, watched the sunset’s shadows engulf the gorge. After visits to the latrine and some hasty washing, we settled down for the night. Again, we blocked the door as best we could, laying the nearer bench across the lower part. Again, I took the first, long watch.
        I had several ‘general purpose’ drill bits, intended to make pilot holes for re-nailing the old barn’s loose planks and shingles. I only had one lonely 10 mm ‘masonry’ bit, packed against contingencies. Fortunately, the local stone was soft enough that, even hand wound, that tungsten carbide tip soon gnawed near-central holes in my half-dozen weights. I bevelled each hole’s edges with other stones’ corners. Then, two metres untwisted from the rope gave me six cords. I tied them to the weights with bowline knots, the name reminding me of another non-nautical use. A Figure 8 Flemish knot secured each prial of ends and I was done.
        Twice, I thought I saw an owl glide by. Once, I thought I glimpsed a pair of eyes glint from the other side of the gorge. I mentioned those when I handed over lantern, spiked pole and fire duty to Dave at one o’clock. Tired, I slept through to Jenny tapping a kettle to bring us to breakfast.

        Comment


        • #5
          Day 03 Sunday

          “Porridge, Mister Mike, and a hot cuppa!” Sue brought mine, saw the two bolas. “You made them!”
          “Swing them by the knot, or the smallest stone, as you prefer. You’ll have to experiment, of course.”
          “Of course!” Sue turned, called, “Folks! Look at these!”
          “Wow!” Jenny gushed.
          “Nice, Mister Mike!” O looked very thoughtful. “You’ve given us a fair chance of catching something.”
          “Remember hunter gatherers don’t catch big prey very often,” I warned. “If a party got lucky, they might have too much to carry. So, they’d have to cook and eat as much as they could, rather than leave it.”
          “Camp fire equals smoke signal?”
          “Could be, Henry.” I shrugged. “If there’s several groups in the field, they’d converge. We’re too few for that, so smoke could mean ‘Feast Time’. Or they’re smoking out a den.”
          “Den?”
          “Wild dogs, wolves or even hyenas. We do not want them as neighbours.”
          “Be fun to have a puppy,” Alys mused.
          “When we’ve a garden and roundhouses up top,” I said. “That’s how domestication began.”
          “We’re taking a saw, the bushwhacker, two spears, a pole and both bolas today, Mister Mike,” O reminded.
          “Sure.” I nodded. “I don’t expect you’ll catch anything. Just remember you’re not the only predators out there, and watch your six.”
          The porridge was nice, the hot drink welcome. Jenny served a second hot drink before Sue, O and Henry gathered their kit for the day’s outing.
          “You take care,” I warned. “Watch the wind direction, keep track of the nearest wolf-proof tree.”
          “Poles, sticks and withies, cut and come again, firewood at least. Watch our backs,” O summarised. We gathered to wave them off. With my solar panel freshly angled to harvest a few Watt-hours, I had no excuse to delay.
          “Okay, Dave. Let’s have a go at this slope.”
          Two long, hard hours digging, prising, chipping and thumping gave us the bottom four steps, taught us the knack. We were very glad to stop for the hot drinks and compliments Jenny brought. “Doing well, there!”
          “Thanks, Jenny!”
          Alys brought her drink to the entrance after we resumed and, careful not to shadow the solar panel, sat watching for a while. The next three steps easily slotted into the slope we’d cleaned. Two more soon followed. That exhausted the stones to hand. Dave headed for the latrine while I went to fetch those stones stacked by the scree slope. Then it was my turn ‘behind the bush’ while Dave carried.
          Gradually, our stonework crept up the slope. Alys brought more drinks to celebrate the halfway mark, found Dave and I sat on the lower steps.
          “I seriously underestimated how much stone was required,” I apologised.
          “It’s the packing,” Dave stated. “I forgot, too.”
          “I never learned to build, only to excavate,” I quipped, earning grins.
          We enjoyed our drinks before trooping off to the scree slope to mine some more. We had another three steps in place when Sue called from above. “Hello, the Cave!”
          “Hello, you too!” I replied. “How did you do?”
          “Very well, thank you!” Sue shouted. “Wanted to warn you before we threw stuff down!”
          “Okay!”
          “Okay, fire away!” she called aside. Somewhere downstream, stuff tumbled. “With you in twenty. Be glad of some help!”
          “Okay!”
          Dave and I managed to place another step. After tidying our work area, we headed out to meet our gleaners. Just short of the Leat path’s end, two large bundles of cane-sized sticks lay on the verge, each tied around a core of four longer saplings.
          “Well, they’ve been busy!” Dave nodded as he grappled the nearer onto the path.
          “I’m impressed_” I stopped as I glimpsed the trio battling up the gorge. “What the_”
          “Hi, Mister Mike!” Henry greeted me with an enormous grin. “Bolas worked a treat!”
          “Venison on the hoof!” Sue waved before helping to hand the headless, pole-slung carcass across a difficult step on the trail.
          “I gutted it and buried the offal, left the skull for the ants,” O reported. “It was more luck than anything else.”
          “He calls it luck,” Sue began.
          “Can it wait to tell?” I pleaded. “You’ve done wonders, but you’ve done too much to tell twice.”
          “Sure thing!”
          Dave and I took the two bundles of sticks like a stretcher, trailed the proud hunters’ procession.
          “I do NOT believe it!” Jenny was almost dancing in the cave’s entrance. “Alys? Come and look at what they’ve caught!”
          “Oh, wow!” Alys was lost for words. “Wow!”
          “Mister Mike, I’ve got to skin, wash and joint it.”
          “Hot drinks first, O!” Alys dived back inside, returned moments later. “Kettle’s on! Now, you must tell us_”
          “Gosh, Mister Mike! You and Dave have been busy!”
          “Mostly Dave’s work, Sue. I don’t have the knack, yet,” I admitted. “O? Do you need a hand with the butchery?”
          “Please, Mister Mike.”
          “What else do you need?”
          “We cut eight poles. I figured we could bow two so they overhang the fire, tie some cuts to smoke or dry.”
          “Sounds like a plan to me, O!” Jenny grinned.
          “What do we do about the bark, Mister Mike?”
          “There’s a small spokeshave in my pack, Henry. We’ll peel strips, twist them and use them as ties on the screens’ frames.”
          “A spokeshave.” Dave shook his head. “What were you going to do with that?”
          “Round off a few rough corners in the Barn. I’ve a pocket multi-tool, and I brought a palm plane and 20 mm auger, too.”
          “Any more magic in your pack, Mister Mike?” Sue wondered.
          “Well, there’s the First Aid kit. It’s more of a yacht’s, includes stitch-up stuff, two orange smoke cartridges and two flares.”
          “You have pyros?”
          “I bossed a couple of really, really isolated rescue digs. We were a yomp, a four-drive and two ferries from the nearest hospital. Worst case, the Coastguard would send a helicopter.”
          “Would Pete have those?” Alys asked.
          “No.” I thought about it, shook my head. “No, Pete was lucky. He always had good weather, fun camp outs.”
          “Looks like he hit the jackpot with us, Mister Mike!” Henry chuckled.
          “Looks like he did.” I was glad they could laugh about it, because a small, lost corner of me wanted to curl up and gibber mindlessly.
          “Ooh, that’s the kettle ready! Time to pour the drinks!” Jenny and Alys handed out hot ‘coffee’, sat on the sun-dried cave threshold. We spread across the bottom steps. “Okay, what happened?”
          “We headed for the nearest copse that looked like it had new growth,” Sue began. “Tell them about the bolas, Henry.”
          “Ground was fairly open, so we tried the bolas. They’re harder to aim than I expected.”
          “Henry wrapped his fifth try around a tree,” O admitted. “I kept missing.”
          “There’s a jog as the weights separate, Mister Mike, so you gotta aim off.”
          “I can’t make boomerangs come back,” I joked.
          “Anyway, the copse was one of several strung along a little dry valley.”
          “A winterburn, probably,” I said.
          “Only wet in Winter or storms?” Dave asked.
          “Yes. Sometimes they have swallet holes, and the real river is underground.” I shrugged. “Don’t camp in them or the next flash flood will so get you.”
          “Yeah, that’s it, Mister Mike.” Henry nodded. “We worked our way along, cut lots of first and second year growth, plus a bunch of poles.”
          “We made two bundles, left them to collect on the way back.”
          “There was a bigger copse with deer grazing.”
          “We spread out, then the wind shifted and they bolted towards Henry.”
          “I took a wild shot with the bolas, thought I’d missed, but a deer just ran into it, went flying head over heels. Dumb luck, really.”
          Sue produced her phone, showed a very dead deer, its legs still tangled. “O turned back some turf and did the bloody business, then we got out of there before the smell of blood carried.”
          “You’ve all done amazingly well.” The simple truth sounded so pompous. “I’m very proud of you.”
          “Thanks, Mister Mike,” they chorused.
          “Venison stew again tomorrow,” Jenny said.
          “O, I’ll give you a hand cleaning it up.”
          “Please, Mister Mike. We’ll need a kettle for trimmings.”
          “And the shovel.” I thought ahead.
          As soon as we’d finished our drinks, I took the other end of O’s venison laden pole and followed him to the stream bank. After a rinse to dislodge spatter and the too-few flies, O set about the carcass. By the time he’d finished boning and filleting, it looked much smaller. The kettle Alys brought soon filled with small cuts and scraps. The big bones, we rinsed and hung to dry. The skin went into the stream, weighted with rocks. That left me with a skeleton the size of a big dog. There was only one way to be rid of it.
          I picked a spot near the downstream boundary where the verge was wide and sandy, began to dig. It was a small shovel and a large hole, but I was a Field Archaeologist. My business was making holes, I knew to pace myself. The ground was well drained, moraine rather than clay. True, a lot came out as stones, some of which were almost big enough to require independent excavation. At last, though, I could dump the skeleton into the hole and backfill it. The leftover stones made a nice pile by the path. They’d be handy for our work on steps.
          After washing myself, I slowly walked back to the cave.
          “Gosh, that was quick, Mister Mike!” Alys greeted me.
          “I’ll be so glad when we have a regular rubbish pit,” I admitted. “So much easier to have a convenient hole!”
          “Come in and see what we’ve done!”
          Two poles were of a length to make an arch above the fire place.
          “We’ve tried them for size, but didn’t want to fasten them while their bark was still on.”
          “I slit and peeled the little sticks with my knife,” O said.
          “Thanks, O!” I fetched my spokeshave, peeled bark and green wood in long, snaky slivers. “There you go!”
          Within moments, both were tightly wedged between floor and ceiling, making a Norman arch, with two cross-bars tied to stop them wriggling. Several joints of fresh meat soon hung in the wood smoke plume.
          “Oh, well done!” They’d made a neater job than I dared hope. Then I glimpsed their pile of split sticks. “And you’ve made a start on the door screen!”
          We peeled and tied a rectangle of poles as a crude frame. The fifth and sixth poles crossed midway as both braces and dividers. A crude weave of the still-pliable split sticks partly filled all four panes. Not yet weather nor even windproof, it did block the doorway and could be improved incrementally.
          We were very glad to sit down to dinner as the gorge rim’s shadow lengthened.
          “Venison stew!” Alys announced. “All you can eat!”
          She wasn’t joking. It was the second haunch from yesterday. It provided seconds, then thirds until the pot was empty. After, stuffed to the gills, we lolled around.
          “Phew! I’m full,” Dave admitted. “I could sleep for a week!”
          “We should make a map,” Henry said.
          “Could you find us something to draw on, Mister Mike?” Sue wondered. “Did you bring your clipboard?”
          I did, but I could do a lot better. I pivoted my well charged laptop to tablet format, said, “Sorry, this will run slow to save power.”
          “It’s a nice machine, Mister Mike.”
          “Industrial strength. IP65, yet.” I patted the power switch. “You can hose off the display and keyboard. Just the thing for a muddy, numb-fingered rescue dig.”
          My quip earned a welcome laugh. Fifteen seconds brought up the welcome screen. “I was going to take you all walking from the barn, so downloaded a detailed local map. If I’m lucky, I can turn off some of the layers. Gotcha! That’s got rid of the road and fence lines!” I turned the tablet towards her. “Here’s the Leat path and our cave.”
          “Winterburn ran here.” Sue traced her index finger across the screen.
          I peered at the contours. “That fits.” I brought up a list of Archaeology symbols, tapped an icon, pulled it onto the map then added an annotation via the virtual keyboard.
          “Oh, wow! That’s neat!”
          “Have you got any movies, Mister Mike?” Alys asked.
          “Sorry.” I shook my head. “It only has a solid-state drive. No room for multi-media.”
          “What do you have?” Dave asked.
          “Just odds and ends. DigSoft_4.2, utilities, couple of PDFs, some educational material.”
          “Would it play MP3 files?” Henry almost pleaded.
          “I suppose so. Have you some?”
          “I’ve a couple of albums, but I was afraid to waste the battery.”
          “Does it have USB?”
          “Sure!”
          “Okay!” I saved the map then unlatched a compartment on the laptop’s side to reveal two USB sockets and a short jumper lead. “Plug in to this.”
          Henry fetched his rather battered player, fumbled the cable into place. Both player and laptop pinged. The player was taking charge, the laptop had registered the player as a storage device.
          “I see them.” I copy-pasted the albums to a new directory, watched as data slurped across. “All done.”
          “Could you play one?”
          “I don’t see why not.” After Jenny served ‘coffee’, I dimmed the screen, clicked the first album and let The Black Eyed Peas’ music fill the cave. It was quiet, punctuated by the occasional crackle of our fire, but an aspect of civilisation we’d managed to keep.
          After a couple of tracks, I apologised for fading power and turned off the laptop.
          “Thanks, Mister Mike.” Henry nodded. “At least I’ve got a part charge, something to listen to in my tent.”
          “You should be able to get a full charge from my solar panel.”
          “Oh, yes, please!”
          We took advantage of the last of the daylight to queue for the latrine. Then we hauled in the ladder and set our basketwork barrier against the cave opening.
          “Less impressive than it looked,” Dave grumbled.
          “Better than two poles and a ladder,” I corrected, setting the ladder across behind it. “Easy enough to upgrade coverage by threading thin stuff through the gaps. We’ve done the basics, the rest is detail.”
          “There is that,” he agreed.
          I took the first, long shift, used the time to weaponise the second pair of poles, to ponder our options. Twice, I heard sobs from tents. Once, I thought I saw a glint of eyes through the crude barrier.

          Comment


          • #6
            Have to admit it's a unique story line as far as prepper/ survivalist story-lines go... a few comments, meant to be positive and to consider if u ever go rewrite

            The story seems to jump around and all the characters (teens at that) have all accepted, within mere minutes of finding themselves on what is effectively an island and that somehow they've been transported back in time 10's of thousands of years, cut off from the world, society and family yet they have fully, completely and happily accepted this is their future and they're here for the long haul and they jump in like Robinson Crusoe. I'm surprised that some of the first things to happen wouldn't be to sit down and explain to all of them what appears to be happening and then quickly after that having everyone shake out their gear so a full inventory could be taken to know what all gear you truly have to work with.

            A few things like the mentioning of the trash can that transported along yet they never checked it out for valuable things like bottles or tins, plastic wraps, etc... And those wire saws, they appear to function like and as quickly as a Stihl chainsaw with 20" bar. Anytime I've ever used them they're useless on anything bigger than 2-3" limbs and only good on green wood. Dry wood seems too hard and cause the wire to heat up quickly and contributes to their worst trait, breaking. I could more believe a bow saw in the pack, a camp or roof hatchet(since he was going to do roof work on the barn I believe. Heck, one of those chainsaw chain type pull saws would be better believed but even they are a lot of work and hard on the hands. Also rather than sawing firewood into neat short little pieces it makes more sense to break it into pieces between 2 trees or to use large rocks to smash small to med diameter branches and then into only 4-6' pieces that can be steadily pushed into a fire to help in feeding and maintaining a small fire with minimum energy input. And instead of carrying rocks, it would make more sense to quickly fashion a rudimentary drag sled they could load with many rocks and then use 2 people to drag them, again reducing energy output as they would soon realize life has boiled down to a battle of energy input vs energy output.

            I do have to ask, why are they putting the hides in the water, is this some method to de-fur them, to prep them for tanning?

            Oh and then there is Mr Mikes magic backpack where so far he has everything in it (including a spoke shaver) but the kitchen sink and food. Not sure what the need to charge a laptop unless it has a huge battery and is then being used to charge other useful USB items like lights or cell phones (to use their lights). listening to music... not so much. Maybe someone has a survival app?

            Guess I'm having a few issues of getting the images in my head, especially trying to clearly see the layouts of the area and cave. To me the descriptions are in flashes and jump from one spot to another and are getting muddled together. So for me it's been hard to "map" the scene in my head and to connect everything.

            Again, please don't think I'm trying to nit pick. I'm enjoying the story and I'm only trying to point out some items that might help improve it for others. Others might tune out if they are having some of the same issues of connecting to the scene and storyline.
            I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you!

            Comment


            • #7
              HI !
              All good points.
              In my experience, if something is sufficiently obvious, it gets noticed. They have O who makes the grim parallel between African bush and their current situation. Also, Mike keeps them productively busy.

              They haven't studied the trash-bin *yet*.
              The laptop ? Mike is keeping a blog, has a local map and is building a wiki. He's fond of his tech. A Field Archaeologist by training, with a Masters degree, half way to a doctorate before scandal wrecked his 'arc', it's in his blood to keep a record...

              ( He'd planned some fell walking, wanted to look for a 'lost' Roman road which he reckoned had been buried by the Victorian spoil heaps. And, surely, he was going to write about it. As he'll say, he could do the article- finding a WiFi hot-spot is the problem... )

              The wire-saws are good quality, not the el-cheapo variety. I've seen 'good' wire saws in action, and the rest are toys...

              Here's a plan of Woden's / Odin's Cave, which is mostly real, set in Odin's Gorge, which is also real but much smaller. Plan adapted with permission. The Leat etc is adapted from elsewhere...

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              Comment


              • #8
                Awesome Nik, appreciate some of the clearing points and the map!
                I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Day 04 Monday

                  “Morning, Mister Mike! Hot drink for you!” Jenny would have been lying to call it coffee as the entire kettle contained two granules at most. No matter. It was hot, fresh, wet and very, very welcome. “What do we do today?”
                  “Uh.” I forced my wits to order. Digs came with issues like gales, flooding, rogue Detectorists and strayed livestock. I was no Survivalist. I hadn’t even packed a Ray Mears handbook. By good fortune, we had two quick-witted Hearth Guardians, a competent Halal butcher, an improving dry stone waller and several would-be hunters. I eyed the heat shrunken cuts suspended in the fire’s plume, decided we might have a chance. Putting it in words was a different matter. “Uh.”
                  “Drink this, and there’s porridge to follow.”
                  I was still pondering essentials when breakfast was gone.
                  “So, Mister Mike? What do we do today?”
                  I worked it backwards. “Can’t hunt, Sue. You might get lucky again.” That earned grins and chuckles. “Alys, Jenny, you’ll have some idea how much wood we’re using. Remember, a gale may blow for a week, and we’ve harvested much of the local supply.”
                  “We’d run short, Mister Mike.” Jenny had no doubts. “We’d be cutting up the furniture.”
                  “What about the dead stuff on the other bank?” Alys wondered.
                  “I wouldn’t like to drag anything across our tree-bridge. Not until it has really settled and we’ve woven or trimmed the side branches.” I thought about it. “Doesn’t stop us roping cuts.”
                  “Huh?”
                  “Rope’s just about long enough. Tie chunks in the middle, use it like a cable railway. Or just throw across, within reach of the bank.”
                  They nodded politely.
                  “While the weather holds, we should work on the cave steps and fetch more firewood from upstream. Perhaps combine gleaning trips.” I took a careful breath. “You’ve seen how much work the cave steps need. Steps to the plateau would be so much harder. The gorge cliff doesn’t lend itself to stone work and, without steel picks and chisels, it is a long term project. Almost easier to tunnel. But rain would erode it.”
                  “You’ve thought of an alternative?” Henry asked.
                  “Not exactly. We’ve used the twin pine as a live bridge. We could use another as a ladder.”
                  “If there was one.” Dave was correct, of course.
                  “And there isn’t, is there?” I sighed. “I don’t think we’re up to felling a pine and dragging the whole thing over the edge of the cliff.”
                  “A thirty foot ladder would be a bit scary, Mister Mike!” Alys had picked up on my idea. “Could we manage ten foot stages?”
                  “I don’t see why not.”
                  “Couple of candidates near the boundary,” Henry said, exchanging nods with Sue and O. “Fell, cut to lengths, part trim, drag to the edge, notch.”
                  “Peg them to anchors driven into the slope,” I suggested.
                  “And clean off the splinters,” Dave grumbled.
                  “First, we get these steps finished and collect some more firewood,” I stated.
                  “I’d like to help with the steps, Mister Mike.” Henry wanted in.
                  “Means toting rocks, too.”
                  “I can do that.”
                  “Sue, O? Are you okay with this?”
                  “Sure.” O nodded. “I’d like a look upstream.”
                  “Watch out for mineral seams, and don’t taste their seeps_ They may be full of lead or fluorite.”
                  “Uh, okay.”
                  “Seriously. The lead veins near here were mined for millennia. Artisanal diggers followed the surface outcrops into the hillside. Then the Victorians made enough lead waste to poison the local ecosystem. The fluorine from their crude smelters rotted the workers’ bones.” I took a careful breath. “That’s why we must be very, very careful about hearth and boiling stones.”
                  “Boiling stones?”
                  “Yes. These three kettles aren’t enough and won’t last for ever. I doubt we can make big fireproof pottery. So, we heat stones and drop them in. Same works with leather bags, I’m told. I don’t think local stones will do. Either they’re limestone or mineralised. So we use non-local igneous rocks from the moraine scree or river bed.”
                  “Isn’t Fluorine what got the Minoans?” Dave looked worried.
                  “That, and mesothelioma from the Santorini eruption’s ash.” I nodded. “Survivors got lung disease, then their kids took ill unto the third generation. They were a pushover for the Sea Peoples.”
                  “Don’t want that!” Alys shivered.
                  “Anyhow, watch out for trees we can poll. No harm in having resources close to home.”
                  “We can do that, Mister Mike!”
                  They made a trip to the latrine then, armed with poles and a wire saw, they headed upstream. After setting my solar panel in a sunny position, I followed Dave and Henry to the scree slope. We collected some rocks, carried them back and got to work.
                  “We need one a bit longer along that edge, so it butts to the boulder,” Dave directed, then, “Need one an inch deeper, save packing it.”
                  Again and again, we raided the scree. We must have dislodged half a tonne of debris to get enough pieces the right size. Slowly, piece by piece, we contrived robust risers and steps, pounded packing to place. Jenny and Alys kept us supplied with hot water to replace the sweat each nine-inch gain cost. At last, we hauled a couple of bigger slabs up and laid them across the threshold. We didn’t forget the seep. A notch at the side covered by another slab formed an erosion resistant drain from the cave. We packed the slope with debris, turned the ladder on edge and were done.
                  Alys was so pleased that she almost danced up and down the flight. “Wow! Real steps!”
                  Jenny brought hot drinks to celebrate. The cool breeze meant those were soon cool enough to sip. It also meant we were warmed-down from our exertions when we came to peel our sweats and wash in the chilly stream’s edge.
                  “Sure would be nice to have a pool,” Dave said, shaking his hands dry.
                  “I agree with Dave, Mister Mike. A pool would be handy.”
                  “Okay, Henry. Dave, add a weir to the list.”
                  “Cairn over the skylight, check. Weir, check.”
                  “Mister Mike?”
                  “Henry?”
                  “Autumn’s not the best time to poll trees.”
                  “I know. And reducing the foliage cover might spook some of the herbivores. But we’ll need a heap of firewood to get us through the winter, and it will take weeks to dry.” I hesitated. “We’ll need more if the winter is wet. Even more if we’re shivering on half rations because hunting is slow. And we’ll be eating a lot of lean protein, which lacks calories.”
                  “I hadn’t thought of that.”
                  “Another issue is salt. We’ve two bags, and that’s far too little to salt meat. At least it is iodised. Eventually, we’ll have to send a party to the coast to boil sea water for salt. That’s going to take a lot of time and effort. They’ll have to make their own shelter and salt pans, catch their own food, glean their own firewood.”
                  “Oh, wow!”
                  “Settled people would trade for salt, trade for salt fish. Upside is the coastline should be heaving with shellfish, jumping with shoals of herring. If we can make enough string, I can whittle the widget we need to make a net. And I have a ‘pocket’ hammock. With weights tied to the edges, that would make a fair net.”
                  “You’d only catch one fish at a time like that!”
                  “If that’s what it takes.” I changed the subject. “Would a weir by the scree slope do?”
                  “Sure!”
                  “Come on, then!” We detoured via the cave, filled and returned the water containers then headed up the path. I chose a spot between two bends, so we’d work out across the shallow riffles. We began passing rocks from hand to hand, forcing an isthmus into the stream. Stone by stone, we coaxed the water to go around. Then we put four big, flat stones as a boxed spillway with threshold. I was careful to incline the side stones so that they made a shallow V. Creating a small island beyond gave us footing. We kept hauling stones off the slope, toting them diagonally across the path to the weir’s end. Stone by stone, more of our weir appeared above the water line, more water gushed through the spillway.
                  I checked the stream bed’s consistency with a wary hand then took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants. With footing sheltered by the partly built weir, I was able to place stones more accurately, tuck smaller stuff into gaps. Ten minutes more took the weir up the other bank. I worked back, picked pebbles and cobbles from the stream bed and carefully dropped them into holes on the upstream face. I scooped a dozen double handfuls of coarse gravel into smaller leakage. Then, my feet numb with cold, I decided I’d done enough.
                  I clambered out, sat on the path, wiped and rubbed my feet dry. Dave and Henry continued, ‘armouring’ the weir with more flat stones, filling the body with small stuff. Neither were brave or foolish enough to go paddling, but their industry visibly increased flow through the spillway.
                  “Wow! Look at that fish!” Dave pointed. By its hue a fat trout, it shot through the spillway in a swirl of fins, was gone downstream. “The size of it!”
                  “We could make basket fish traps,” I decided. “I wonder if this is a salmon river?”
                  “Did you say salmon?” Sue asked from the path’s end.
                  “Hi, Sue!” Henry called. “Hi, O!”
                  “Nice little weir!” Sue took a photo.
                  “Will you be adding more stones?” O was less impressed.
                  “Certainly.” I nodded, drying between my toes with my socks’ hems. “This is just a start. We’ll have fish traps. If we’re really lucky, there may be a salmon run. I think it’s too small a stream for crayfish. How did you get on?”
                  “Brought some wood.” Sue waved towards the long, white branch she’d dragged. “O cut some poles.”
                  O patted his long bundle.
                  “Any candidate trees?”
                  “To poll? Not in the gorge.” Sue shook her head. “They’re too straggly.”
                  “Mister Mike,” O said, “I think we should haul the ladder up to the plateau by rope.”
                  “That is a good idea,” I agreed, pulling on my socks. I fitted and tied my shoes, then relieved Sue of her branch. It was even heavier than it looked, which perhaps explained why she made no protest. O politely yielded his bundle to Henry and Dave.
                  Half way around the bend, Sue spotted Alys and Jenny sunning themselves on the completed steps. “Ooh! Like the steps!”
                  “Thanks!” Henry grinned.
                  “You’re just in time for dinner!” Jenny smiled from the opening. “Today’s special is_”
                  “Venison stew?”
                  “Yes!”
                  “Delicious!” we chorused. Sue and O each got a drink of boiled water as starter, then we set upon the stew. There was no way to store it other than covering it with a weary plastic bag, so we had to eat until all was gone. That wasn’t difficult, as Alys plied us with a succession of small portions. After, stuffed to our limits with venison and a little pasta, we just lolled around on the steps.
                  “Sue, O, how far did you get?”
                  “About the same as Henry and Dave,” O reported. “The gorge is difficult. We spent most of the way climbing over and around tree roots and boulders”
                  Sue showed some of her phone’s photos. “Silver birch clumps, scrubby oak, some young pine. Nothing with fruit, nuts or berries. We had to clamber up and across the slope in places. There is no easy way through if you’re laden.”
                  “But you’ve brought us firewood and a bunch of poles.” I nodded. “Thank you.”
                  “Mister Mike?” Sue asked. “Tomorrow, if the weather holds, could we work downstream and then around onto the plateau with the rope, haul up the ladder? There’s plenty of trees we could poll for fuel.”
                  “I don’t see why not.”
                  “Autumn isn’t the best time to do this,” Henry said, then shrugged. “Not like we have any choice.”
                  We’d eaten later than lunch, earlier than dinner. That left us burning daylight, forced my decision. “Time I checked that rubbish bin.”
                  “Stinky!” Alys crinkled her nose, said, “Rather you than me!”
                  “I won’t ask for volunteers, but I’ll take them.”
                  Henry lifted a hand. “I used to sort the recycle at home, Mister Mike. I’ll give you a hand.”
                  We all had another cup of hot water. Dave wanted to talk to O. Sue had ideas to share with Alys and Jenny. Henry and I took a couple of weary carrier bags and my folding shovel, strolled down the path to the bin.
                  I hadn’t looked closely before, but it was a heavy-duty black bin bag in a coarse wire mesh basket hung on a two-foot stanchion. The latter wasn’t coming out, deeply anchored in a plug of concrete. At least the mesh had possibilities.
                  “Fish trap,” Henry said before I could. I braved the humming flies, lifted the mesh from its support and everted its bag onto the edge of the path beside the overflow.
                  “Grolsch bottles!” Henry retrieved those four, checked their over-centre frames worked, set them aside.
                  We rescued five plastic bottles, paired four with screw tops. To suppress smells, we rinsed everything thoroughly before laying them on the warm path to dry. A dozen assorted soft drink cans, five taller lager cans, nested sandwich cartons and a heap of torn sweet wrappers accumulated on the path. There were even some yoghurt and dessert pots which, after rinsing, I filled with loam and planted with apple pips from the cores we found. Near the bottom, there was a prepared salad bowl. Someone clearly disliked cherry tomatoes, as they’d left four, now wrinkled and shrunk. I rinsed and recycled the square bowl as a seed tray, planted one to each quarter. An extra apple core’s pips went into the centre.
                  “Wrappers are for emergency kindling, Mister Mike?”
                  “Worst case, yes.” I nodded. “But they’re also writing. We’ll lose so much language without referents.”
                  “You’re thinking that far ahead?”
                  “I’m an Archaeologist_ I must.” Then, while I had the chance, I asked, “How are you?”
                  “Ah. Better than I expected, Mister Mike.” Henry shook his head. “Parents wanted me to be an accountant, too. They couldn’t accept that paperwork just isn’t my thing. I don’t have a head for words or figures, couldn’t hack the exams. But I’m not stupid, and I’m good with my hands. That only made it worse! When I picked up a bunch of NVQs, my snobbish parents took them as studied insults. Apprentice Carpenter? Apprentice Plumber? Apprentice Electrician? Hey, look, I’m ‘Working Class’!”
                  “That is so petty!”
                  “Yeah!” Henry chuckled. “Got so we didn’t talk for weeks at a time. But all this is so different. I can be me!”
                  At last, there was only waste. I dug a shallow hole beside the bin’s pole, shovelled in the scraps and shreds, backfilled it. “Remember to watch for surprises!”
                  “Sure thing, Mister Mike. Something might root!”
                  The bin bag had dried in the evening’s sunlight, as had our other finds. One carrier bag took the seed trays, another now held bottles and cans. Wrappers and cartons went into the big bag, which I folded back for a handhold.
                  Alys and Jenny fell upon our gleanings. “Grolsch bottles! They’ll be great for keeping meat stock!”
                  “And those plastic bottles will be great for sawdust kindling!”
                  “And they’ve planted some pips!”
                  Lightly watered, those pots joined the others beside my solar panel at the cave mouth.
                  “Lots and lots of sweet wrappers!” Jenny hung that bag out of the way. “Uh, Mister Mike, we could do with wedging a pole or two across here.”
                  I nodded, fetched my brace and masonry bit, ground several holes into the soft stone as directed. O debarked and shortened a couple of the new poles, tapered their ends. I ran the spokeshave over their knots while a sharp-cornered stone served to bevel the holes. Seconds later, a pair of lightly laden rails were bowed across the empty corner.
                  “Could you manage some peg holes over on the other side, please, Mister Mike?”
                  I could do that, too. O’s offcuts were soon whittled to pegs, supporting implements.
                  “Gosh, what a difference!”
                  The others hadn’t been idle either. Sue’s branch was now in neat lengths, set aside to dry thoroughly.
                  “Mister Mike? While you have your drills out, could you make us some shanks, uh, hand spikes?”
                  “I should have thought of bodkins, O,” I admitted.
                  Choosing the best candidate from the remaining raw poles, I smoothed it with the spokeshave before cutting it to nine-inch lengths. Like the spears, I cross and centre drilled them, slitted to the cross-hole, inserted and tied a four-inch nail. Short offcuts ‘corked’ each spike.
                  “Here you go.”
                  “Thanks, Mister Mike!”
                  “Thanks, Mister Mike!” Sue echoed. “I won’t feel quite so helpless with this.”
                  I looked between her and O. Sue shook her head, stated, “After you throw your spear, you’re naked.”
                  “Metaphorically.” O shrugged. “Will you come with us tomorrow?”
                  “Weather permitting.” I nodded. “Whoever stays here will have to shift the ladder and tie it on.”
                  Jenny and Alys exchanged glances, shook their heads.
                  “I’ll stay,” Dave stated. “I’d like to lay a better walkway from the steps to the path.”
                  “You know the knots to use?”
                  “Er, no.”
                  “Okay.” I uncoiled several feet of rope. “Imagine this pole is a rung about a third down. Wrap to the left, then to the right, but led back under so it grabs.”
                  “Oh! I can do clove hitches!”
                  “Okay, then!” I grinned. “Just, this old rope is slick where it isn’t furry. That makes it unpredictable. Do two, on different rungs.”
                  “So one is ‘Tail-End Charlie’,” Henry quipped.
                  “Gotcha!”
                  Jenny tapped a spoon on the fire’s two kettles, said, “Alys has a hot drink to start, then venison soup with lentils!”
                  Again, we emptied the pot in small portions. Another hot drink washed it down, left us replete. They’d timed it well. The fluid worked through our systems before dark. One by one, we made our peace at the latrine, then settled down for the night behind the cave mouth’s flimsy screen.
                  I took the first shift. It gave me a chance to think, let me wonder what the folk back in our world had made of our disappearance. There was a null-hypothesis, of course. The Event could have cloned us, leaving twins to make their way to the camp out barn none the wiser to our predicament.
                  There was enough charge in the laptop for me to begin a blog. A few curt lines summarised what we’d done, my hopes and fears. I shut the laptop as soon as the battery display dropped one bar.
                  About midnight, I thought I heard movement outside, like dog claws on tiles. I grabbed for the nearest spear. I glimpsed eyes, hefted the spear. The screen twitched. A large paw felt around the edge. I thrust the spear point against its pads. Our visitor yowled, fell backwards off the steps and down the slope, charged off into the night.
                  “What was that?”
                  “Mister Mike?”
                  “Are we_”
                  “Okay, okay, it’s gone!” I tried to calm the crew. “Beastie put a paw around the edge, got a fright, ran off. Settle down, folks! Nothing to see here!”
                  “Mister Mike, may I smell the spike?”
                  “Sure, O!”
                  “Bear, I think, Mister Mike,” O reported. “Not Dog. Not Wolf. And there is a little blood on the point.”
                  “So long as Beastie takes the hint that this cave is ours.”
                  “I hope so, Mister Mike.”
                  We needed a while to settle down. Henry took the first shift after me, then O sat up from three to five. Dave watched until breakfast. All were without incident.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Day 05 Tuesday

                    Breakfast was a thoughtful affair, with everyone suddenly aware we were not immune from attack. Our porridge portions soon vanished. After our trips to the latrine, Sue, Henry, O and I packed three poles, rope, bushwhacker and both wire saws, headed downstream. It was hard going.
                    “Mind your step here.”
                    Even O could barely make that traverse across those tumbled boulders, needed his pole for support. Sue, Henry and I went around the widest gap, shuffled across the others. I was very glad when the gorge opened out and I could put one foot in front of the other again.
                    “We go right here.”
                    Their trail zigzagged the slope flank, brought us out atop the escarpment. From the rim, it was a fast quarter-mile through mixed woodland to where our curious ring of moorland opened with scant warning. A slight plume and heat shimmer made the vent hole obvious. It would certainly need a cairn to prevent winter storms delivering an unwelcome douche with each squall.
                    “Hello, the cave!” Sue called from just back of the brink.
                    “Hello!” Dave called back. “When you’re ready!”
                    I uncoiled the rope, tossed an end down. Dave tied it to the third and fourth rungs, tugged them tight. “Okay! Haul away!”
                    The ladder pulled up easily, tipped over the edge, came safely in.
                    “Okay!” Sue called, catching the top rung and hauling it clear.
                    “I’ve got it.” I took the weight, then shook the knots loose and re-coiled the rope. “Where do we start?”
                    “Clockwise?” Henry pointed.
                    We carried the ladder to the perimeter, set about the first available tree. An elm, it was not a potentially valuable nut bearer. We took turns holding the ladder, notching and lopping huge branches, reducing the branches to manageable sizes, hauling them to the slide. A long hour and some very careful work safely brought down the last near-verticals, left the tree an ugly mess. Cleaned up, our lumber launched down the slope like a broadside of torpedoes.
                    “This is hard work, Mister Mike!”
                    “Beats doing it in the wet, Henry!”
                    Sue and O just grinned through their sweat. The next tree was an oak, with acorns set. We left both that and a beech, tackled a large ash. A more upright tree, the main trunk soon followed several branches onto the ground. We cut them to size, sent them down the slope. Then a towering poplar drew our gaze.
                    “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I wondered.
                    “That’s big enough for a ladder.”
                    “Sure is.”
                    “Nearer than those pines.” Henry waved to a clump of pine some hundred yards away.
                    “We can’t shift that much intact, even with levers.”
                    “No, we’ll have to do it like we planned.”
                    “Need a big wedge out of it, Mister Mike.”
                    “That we will.”
                    Even with our hard-earned experience of those other trees, that proud poplar put up a fight. Time and again, the saw wire came close to binding. Getting a clean angle on the wedge proved trickier than we expected. Still, we took our time, took turns, took care and the tree yielded. I made the last, weakening pass then plucked the blade from the widening cut and slid to safety down the ladder. Sue and Henry pulled the ladder clear, retreated hastily. The tree bided its time for long seconds before the wind caught it.
                    “Timber!” Sue cried as the top crashed to the ground.
                    Each ladder length had to be close to a tonne green, so we just left the side-branches on, the better to air-dry quickly.
                    “You reckon we can do that elm?” Henry asked.
                    I studied it, said,“Just about.”
                    A mid-sized elm, it came down in chunks. We subdivided those to barely manageable, wearily tugged each to the slope, watched them join the tangle at its base.
                    At last, I could say, “I think we’re done for the day, folks.”
                    Ten minutes later, the ladder was lowered, the rope tossed down beside it, and we were slowly hiking back to the gorge. Somehow, the way back seemed longer and steeper. Still, we passed the bridge tree which, to my relief, had stayed green, and gratefully clambered down onto the Leat path.
                    Seeing the vast heap at the foot of the slope, spilling as far as the path, Sue gasped, “We cut all that?”
                    “Too right we did,” Henry confirmed. “And we’ll have to cut it smaller.”
                    “Let’s get a drink first.” I retrieved the ladder, untied the rope and coiled that. “Please?”
                    A neatly cobbled path now linked the Leat path to the steps’ landing.
                    “What do you think?” Dave greeted us.
                    “I like it,” I stated. He must have used all the waste stone from the steps, then brought more, but he’d done a nice job.
                    “Lovely, isn’t it!” Jenny called. “I’ll bring hot drinks out!”
                    “We heard the branches coming down, heard something big felled,” Alys added. “Each time there was a thump, sparks flew.”
                    “Like a seismometer.” Dave grinned. “How did it go?”
                    “Two elms and an ash. We’ve got to cut the branches and bring them inside.” Sue showed ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ pics. “Then there’s a polled poplar we’ve left to lie.”
                    “Wow!” Jenny was impressed. “That log must weight tons!”
                    “Green, I reckon a third of a tonne per metre.” I’d helped excavate a carved bog-oak, had wished for a helicopter rather than our borrowed farm tractor and A-frame. “Leaving the foliage on will dry it a bit.”
                    A round of drinks quenched our thirsts and found appetites. Jenny served venison stew, of course, but the sprinkle of pine nuts and pasta made it surprisingly appetising. Another round of drinks sent us to the latrine by turns. I knew I’d soon need to dig another, did not welcome the prospect.
                    Fed and watered, five of us trooped down the path and deployed both wire saws again. Piece by piece, armful by armful, we carried cuts back to the cave and stacked them against the side wall. Thoughtfully, Dave had copied my trick with hammer and nail, had laid a second layer of flat stones to provide some air circulation. The cave’s stack slowly grew in width and height. The tangle of branches slowly diminished. We found ourselves taking smaller and smaller stuff until we reached an exhausted end.
                    “That’s good work!” Jenny greeted our last load. She was right. We had a wall of drying firewood, armfuls of small stuff piled on top, a carrier bag of sawdust and two carrier bags of stripped bark to dry for kindling.
                    “That’s thirsty work!” Alys poured hot drinks all round as we sagged onto the benches.
                    I’d just finished mine when I groaned, said, “I’ve something I must do. Anyone need the old latrine in the next half an hour? No? Going once? Going twice?”
                    “No, Mister Mike,” they chorused.
                    I grabbed the shovel, began an arm’s length upwind and dug a fresh latrine trench. Carefully backfilled and gently tamped, the other smelled a lot sweeter. I leaned on the shovel, rubbed my back and sighed. We’d need a wicker hut for the Winter, we’d need to peg or stake it, we’d need sacks of dry leaves or similar. We’d need to collect leaves from where we’d trimmed the timber.
                    “New trench dug!” I announced. “I’m going to take a look where the ladder could go.”
                    My first candidate already had a rough diagonal, barely more than a steep sheep path. On further consideration, perhaps it wasn’t the best place for three steep flights of ladders. I walked to the upstream end of the path, studied the natural gorge rim beyond the boundary. Had I remembered a gulley? Yes? I made my way the dozen difficult yards to where I could see how that notch spilled down the cliff. There, I sat on a boulder and considered the angles.
                    “Not as easy as it looked,” I told myself.
                    Access demanded significant spadework to carve a path. Including my seat, several substantial boulders would have to go, but wary jacking and wedging should topple them aside. Ladders would then lie in the notch, could be pegged to anchors driven into the soft ground. Well, first the wood had to dry from green to tractable. And, given the size of the notch, given gravity’s aid, it would be just as easy to dig a fresh cut, nearer the log above, nearer the cave. And then, of course, the facing cliff needed the same treatment.
                    I strolled back to the cave, stopping off at the scree slope for more bolas stones.
                    Sue met me halfway. “Deep thoughts, Mister Mike?”
                    “I may have set us more than we can handle.”
                    “Levers and rollers, a skidway of branches. We’ll manage somehow.”
                    “Thanks for the vote of confidence. How are you managing?”
                    “Wild fun, Mister Mike!” She took my astonished expression as doubt. “We’re cutting down trees! Making spears! Hunting! I was born to be a Pioneer! I’m not pink and fluffy like the rest of my family.”
                    “Ah. Wasn’t quite what I planned for the weekend.”
                    “You set up Alys and Jenny. Thank you.”
                    “Huh?”
                    “They didn’t organise the cave themselves. You primed them.”
                    “A bit.” I thought about it. “Nothing they or you would not have thought of, given an hour or two.”
                    “Er, no, Mister Mike! No way! Then you let them take the credit!”
                    “Had to be done.”
                    “Yes, but you did what was needed the first day instead of letting us skid around in damp muck.” She eyed the stones I held. “More bolas?”
                    “Two more bolas.” I nodded. “Henry was lucky last time.”
                    “That he was. Could we have more hand spikes, too?”
                    “If there’s suitable wood, of course.”
                    “At least now we’ll have firewood.”
                    “Given a chance to dry.” I shook my head. “We should put extra hearth stones on edge to reflect the heat back, but we need to warm the walls. After you.”
                    We’d reached the steps. Sue gave me a huge grin, scrambled up.
                    “Stew’s nearly ready, Mister Mike!” Alys tapped the kettle as I ducked through the entrance.
                    Henry waved to me, said, “Mister Mike, tomorrow, we’re hoping to scout South of the stream.”
                    “Your call, Henry.”
                    “The South side of the lower gorge is even wilder,” Sue reported. “There’s a couple of places outside the gorge where we could wade across while the stream is this low, but there’s a pine tree on the North bank. Could you do the bridge trick with that?”
                    “Most pines lack a tap root, so, yes, I suppose so.” I looked across to Dave. “Your plans?”
                    “I’ve stone to haul tomorrow.” He pointed to the cave mouth. “Side needs building up.”
                    “Okay.” I nodded. “I should be able to find some wood to cut until you three return.”
                    “Thanks, Mister Mike!” Sue said.
                    “And I’ll make two more bolas tonight.”
                    “Thanks, Mister Mike!” Henry echoed.
                    “Stew’s ready!” Alys announced.
                    Laden with venison, the meal was thick and filling. We had no way to store leftovers, so ate until the kettle was emptied. For the next hour, we were replete, fit only to sit around watching the evening’s shadows lengthen. Eventually, we headed out to the wash sites and the new latrine, did our business and settled down for the night.
                    As usual, I took the first, long shift. After our bear-scare, I kept all the spears handy. This time, nothing interrupted my quiet, patient rounding, drilling and knotting. I picked several suitable sticks from the fire wood stack, made half a dozen two-foot spikes into the bargain. A few minutes sufficed to blog the day’s developments.
                    “All quiet on the bruin front.” I handed over torch, sharps, bolas and watch to Dave, then slept soundly.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Day 06 Wednesday

                      “Morning, Mister Mike!”
                      “Uh.” I took the cup of hot water from Alys, bitterly regretting the lack of coffee. “Many thanks. Any problems?”
                      “All quiet, Mister Mike. And, when you’re ready, there’s some porridge.”
                      “Thank you.” I pulled on the last of my fresh smalls, knew I must plan to hand wash the others. The promised porridge came, was most welcome.
                      “Thanks for the new pair of bolas, Mister Mike.” Henry weighed them. “They should fly very well.”
                      I hoped so, too, then remembered my other work. “The two-foot spikes are a compromise. Safety versus stand off distance.”
                      “Understood, Mister Mike.” O nodded. “Best from what we have.”
                      After our breakfast and ablutions, I borrowed a rucksack before following Sue, Henry and O down the gorge. The toppled twin pine was still green, and had completely crushed the other bank’s scrub. Better, the growing tips of several branches had turned upwards. We worked past the upended root ball on what was beginning to form a trail. I was glad when the claustrophobic gorge opened out.
                      Instead of swinging right to the ridge’s flank, we followed the stream Westward.
                      “That’s the pine?”
                      “Sure is.” Henry nodded. “What do you think?”
                      “Hmm.” I clambered across its exposed roots, eyed the stream’s brisk riffles. “I suppose so.”
                      “Meet you back here?”
                      “Sure.” I remembered the preflight checklist. “Due care, please, and watch your six?”
                      “Will do, Mister Mike.”
                      Sue took a ‘before’ photo, then they took off their shoes and socks, rolled up their pants’ legs, crossed the riffles using their poles as alpenstocks. Five minutes after the trio were dried and re-shod, they were lost to sight.
                      I walked around the pine again. The tree had to fall skew, and the roots were not as conveniently positioned as my twin pine. I sighed, parked my spear, took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves and set to work. Not as bare as the twin trees’, these roots made access a bit harder. Fortunately, I was able to thread the wire saw beneath several. With those cut, tension rose on the others. That lifted them slightly, let me attack them by turn. At last, all the uphill roots were severed, leaving the tree swaying towards the stream. I retreated, wiped my brow.
                      A copse caught my eye. Some hundreds of yards away, it had a stand of young birch huddled near a middle aged oak. I gathered my kit, strolled over to take a look. After pushing my way through the surrounding scrub, I patted those possible poles. Sadly, at about three inches diameter, they were much too heavy for spears or use in the cave.
                      Then I smiled. They might be strong enough for a kiva ladder! A dozen birch had fifteen feet of length suitable for uprights. Another dozen, a season or so younger, could serve as rungs. Okay, I only had a 20mm auger, but two overlapped holes would take a nailed tenon.
                      One birch near the edge had met with an accident. It had four feet of three-inch trunk, then a knuckle where a two-inch diameter side shoot had taken over as stem. I cut it skew at about knee height, reckoning it would give me material to experiment. So as not to return empty handed, I also cut a bundle of thin stuff from the next copse, secured that to the odd pole with several bungee ties. The bridge pine was still wobbling when the scouting party returned to their ford.
                      “We got lucky again.” Sue waved to the headless carcass slung from the others’ shouldered pole.
                      “Ran into the third bolas, Mister Mike,” O reported.
                      “First two funnelled them, third took one down.” Henry nodded. “Fourth was swinging in reserve.”
                      “May I give you a hand?”
                      “Up the bank, please.” Sue waved. The three took turns shedding footwear, then worked their way across. The bank was low, but my outstretched arm was very welcome. “Phew! Thanks, Mister Mike!”
                      I held one end of the laden pole while they dried and re-shod their feet. “I haven’t much to show.”
                      They peered at the pine’s severed roots from a safe distance and Sue took a ‘during’ photo.
                      “That’s a lot of work, Mister Mike.”
                      “And you’ve a bundle of small stuff.”
                      My gleanings were ready to carry. Sue and Henry had the venison, so O took the other end of mine. Their kill was a larger animal than that first hunt, was difficult to manoeuvre up the lower gorge’s irregular trail. Twice, we needed three on it. At last, we scrambled down to the Leat path. As a result of the hand-overs, Sue and Henry had the venison again.
                      “Hello, the cave!” Sue called ahead.
                      “They’ve caught something!” Alys squealed. “Jenny! Jenny! Put the kettle on then come and look!”
                      Dave turned from placing a large stone on the entrance’s new stub wall. “Oh, wow! You’ll be needing the shovel!”
                      “Kettle’s on for a drink. Here’s the other two, ready for cuts and bones!” Jenny handed them to Dave who brought them and the shovel.
                      O and I repeated our butchery. Rinsed, skinned, broken to joints, the meat went up to the cave. The skin went into the stream. The remaining skeleton went into the hole I dug and tamped.
                      Our hot drinks were very welcome all around. I took a moment to inspect Dave’s work. He’d done well, neatly inclining the two faces inwards by that degree essential for stability. He’d also started with a wide enough base to carry the batter to the entrance’s ceiling.
                      “Nice work, Dave.”
                      “Thanks, Mister Mike. Ruddy hard work, though. I could have done with a wheelbarrow. At least all the small stuff goes in the middle. What have you got?”
                      “Just some withies to fill out the door screen.” I wasn’t going to mention the other notion until I’d had a chance to experiment.
                      “Ooh, you’ve brought us the start of a fire screen!”
                      “Sorry, Alys, not this time. The centre pole’s too short.”
                      “Never mind! Here’s a refill!”
                      Replenished, we sat on the steps while our three intrepid hunters told their tale. “… and it ran straight into the third!”
                      “Bravo!” I led the praise.
                      “Nice bit of walling,” Henry mentioned.
                      “It needs a few more layers,” Dave allowed.
                      “It’s made a difference already.” Alys waved towards the fire. “Changed the way the smoke swirls.”
                      “I’ve left a shelf for Mister Mike’s solar panel.”
                      “Thank you. Sorry, I didn’t notice.”
                      “It doesn’t show.” Dave looked pleased. “Nor does the mouse hole for the cable.”
                      “Again, thank you.”
                      “More hot drinks!” Jenny brought a kettle.
                      “Oh, thanks!”
                      “Could you put up the local map, Mister Mike?” Henry asked.
                      “Sure.” I turned off the modern layers.
                      “The stream has kept much the same course.” He followed it with a careful finger.
                      “Meanders migrate within the flood plain.” I hastened to add, “Like a snake in a tunnel.”
                      “Ah!” O nodded thoughtfully, pointed. “Your tree is about here?”
                      “Yes.”
                      “We cut across the ridge at a dry valley.”
                      “This wind gap?” I read the contours.
                      “Yes, Mister Mike.” Henry peered at the subtle crease. “We went downhill around that spur, swung back upwind. Deer didn’t notice us until we’d flanked them.”
                      “We got very close,” Sue mentioned.
                      “Sue’s right, Mister Mike.” O looked more thoughtful than usual. “As if they did not fear us.”
                      “How could they not know people?” Dave called it well.
                      “Could be the ‘Settlement Gap’,” I murmured.
                      “What’s that?”
                      “There’s a long gap after each ice age before the first trace of UK occupation is found. Those are only seasonal hunter gatherer camps, mostly along waterways. Then there’s another long gap before settlements start.”
                      “Long?”
                      “Centuries.” I shrugged. “Might be something to do with safe sizes of settlements. They’d have to grow big enough to fission safely.”
                      “And we’re well below that?” Sue asked.
                      “Yeah, Sue. Numbers, skill set, whatever.”
                      “So the deer are naïve,” Dave mused.
                      “You could call it that.”
                      “Stew’s up!” Jenny called, tapping the kettle. Alys handed out our plates and cutlery, while Jenny spooned. There were just enough split peas, lentils and pine nuts in with the meat to soak up the sauce. Yes, it was venison again, but there was plenty and we were hungry. Afterwards, we sat on the steps in the evening sun while the water kettle heated.
                      For lack of anything better to do, I opened my multi-tool and began splitting withies. Jenny and Alys cheerfully wove them into gaps in the door screen. Not ideal material, those strips still blocked a useful proportion.
                      “More hot water!” After our cups were sipped dry twice and I’d been to the latrine, I found the energy to saw my odd pole beneath the knuckle then peel the bark. A few minutes with the spokeshave smoothed the lower part to a two-foot ‘rolling pin’.
                      “What are you doing, Mister Mike?” Alys asked as I hefted the length. “Rollers?”
                      “Not exactly.” I cut a length from the upper, began to peel it. “I was hoping I could make a mortise and tenon joint. Means whittling the edge of an auger hole or overlapping two. I’m just sorry I didn’t pick up the set on offer_”
                      I stopped, dashed to my tent, dug in my pack, began laughing.
                      “Mister Mike?”
                      “Are you okay?”
                      I subsided to hiccups, got my breathing under control, held up my find. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just_ We’re in luck! I rushed shopping, the set of three cost little more than the one I wanted and, what with everything else, I just plain forgot!”
                      “Set?”
                      “I bought the set of three augers_ 10, 20 and 30 mm!”
                      “All help gratefully received,” Dave quipped. “What difference does that make, Mister Mike?”
                      “Watch!” I carefully drilled a thirty millimetre hole through the ‘rolling pin’, then thinned the other’s end with the spokeshave until it went through when tapped. “Nailed now, it could rust or work loose. I’d rather drill a ten hole crossways, peg it, then nail that diagonally.”
                      “Ladder rungs?”
                      “Kiva ladder.” I nodded. “Not pretty, but we can handle two-inch and three-inch timbers.”
                      “Better than half a tonne of log,” Dave agreed.
                      “There was a copse near your wobbling pine.” Henry nodded. “It had a lot of stuff in this size.”
                      “That’s what suggested this.”
                      “Gets up in two flights.” Henry’s glance measured the gorge’s cliff. “What happens half way?”
                      “I burrow two angled holes into the face with my trowel, place timbers.”
                      “Makes sense, Mister Mike.” Dave nodded. “Like the sloping legs of a stile.”
                      “If the weather holds,” I asked, “could we fetch the makings tomorrow?”
                      “That’s fair, Mister Mike.”
                      “If the tree’s down,” Sue suggested, “may we swing back up the ridge to opposite here?”
                      “That’s a good idea, Sue.”
                      “I’d like a photo of where the lightning hit.”
                      “Ooh!” Jenny bubbled. “I’d like to see that!”
                      “Me, too!”
                      “Me, three!”
                      “Could you transfer Sue’s phone’s photos to your laptop?”
                      “I suppose so, O. Bluetooth, Sue?”
                      “Sure!”
                      I fetched and opened my laptop, perused the lesser utilities. “Aha, a Bluetooth sniffer!”
                      “I’ve got a link, Mister Mike!”
                      “Just a moment.” I created and designated a target directory. “Fire away.”
                      Both devices chimed to announce that the transfer was complete.
                      “And here’s the local map.”
                      “Thanks, Mister Mike!”
                      After that, I turned the laptop’s display for the others to see, brought up the pics in IrfanView.
                      “Wow!” Sue’s camera had a lot more resolution than its smartphone display.
                      “That’s the winterburn.” Henry pointed, then asked of another, “Is this our smoke hole?”
                      “Sure is!” Dave nodded. “We may need a hod to lift stones for the cairn.”
                      “Perhaps an A-frame,” I suggested, “and the litter bin’s basket?”
                      “Or a shaduf, Mister Mike?” Sue offered.
                      “That would be better. And raid the middle of the scree slope instead of the bottom.”
                      “Rather you than me!” Henry chuckled.
                      “No, we lay the ladder against the slope, work from that.”
                      “It will still need a long lever, Dave.”
                      “We’ll find one.”
                      “And a counterweight?”
                      “We’ll seesaw some stones to start_”
                      “Yes, of course!” Jenny chimed in. “A rucksack full of stones as a counterweight!”
                      “We’ll have to haul the shaduf and ladder poles up the ridge then slide them down.”
                      “Same as we did with the firewood.”
                      “Travois,” Alys stated. “We make a travois.”
                      “Oh, yeah!”
                      “Of course!”
                      “Power’s getting low.” I’d noticed a green bar blink out, the next show red.
                      “Ooh, let’s look through the other pics quickly.”
                      “Gosh, you’ve done wonders with that tree, Mister Mike,” Sue said.
                      “I hope so, Sue.”
                      At last, I had to close down the laptop.
                      “How much time has it got when the gauge blinks red?” O asked.
                      “About fifteen minutes tops.”
                      “We’ve just used a whole day’s charge?” Sue sounded horrified.
                      “Not far off. But it was a bit cloudy today.” I opened the panel’s accessory kit. “Any of these look familiar?”
                      “That one, I think.” She fiddled with her phone. “Yes, it fits.”
                      “Your camera and Henry’s MP3 player should still get a good charge on a cloudy day.”
                      “When it is too dull to use with the laptop?”
                      “Yes, I’ve charged my handheld GPS in drizzle.”
                      “More hot water!” Jenny poured as the shadows lengthened.
                      We drank the kettle dry, then headed for the wash up area. The latrine saw us by turn then, as dusk fell, we settled down for the evening around the campfire.
                      “We should have a singalong,” Jenny suggested.
                      “I have to be drunk for Karaoke!” Dave shuddered.
                      “I play a mean air guitar,” Henry said.
                      “I know a few happy-clappy songs,” Alys admitted.
                      “Give it a go, Alys!”
                      “Okay, Jenny.” She lifted her voice.
                      “Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
                      Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah.
                      “My brothers and sisters are all aboard, hallelujah
                      My brothers and sisters are all aboard, hallelujah.”
                      I took up the chorus with my gentle tenor. Sue added her clear contralto. Jenny clapped along. Henry strummed a silent kerrang. Dave scowled. O just grinned.
                      “Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
                      Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah.”
                      “The river is deep and the river is wide, hallelujah
                      Milk and honey on the other side, hallelujah.”
                      “Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
                      Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah.”
                      “Jordan’s river is chilly and cold, hallelujah
                      Chills the body but not the soul, hallelujah.”
                      “Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
                      Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah.”
                      Sue and I exchanged nods as Jenny hugged Alys, crying, “That was so lovely! Thank you! Thank you!”
                      It signalled the end of the day. We positioned our improved screen against the narrowed opening, braced it with the ladder. Alys banked the fire. We settled down for the night. I took the first watch. After hastily updating my blog, I spent the time quietly drilling holes and whittling pegs. I handed over to O at one o’clock. Sue took the three ‘til five slot, but I slept through Henry’s stint.

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                      • #12
                        Birch... that'd make tasty tea with lots of health benefits... and the sap can also be captured for same or to make a syrup.

                        Those venison bones, if they were roasted some and then slow cooked for a day they could make an awesome nutritional bone broth. Bones could also be used to make tools or ground to make bone meal to help fortify your garden. Fat could be rendered to make lard for cooking or for later making soap
                        I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you!

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                        • #13
                          Day 07 Thursday

                          “Cup of hot water, Mister Mike!”
                          “Uh.”
                          “Oh! You’ve done the cross peg! Look! Isn’t it neat!” Jenny showed it around.
                          “I’ve made a couple of rustic fences, but a ladder is something new.”
                          “We’ll have to assemble them on the path.” Dave had it right, of course.
                          “Yeah, no room in here with the hearth and tents and seats,” Jenny agreed.
                          O asked, “Will you taper the ladders, Mister Mike?”
                          “If we can. Getting the angles right will be tricky.”
                          “Soup’s up!” Alys tapped her spoon on the kettle.
                          It was venison soup, of course, with a mild admixture of lentils and peas. It was still delicious.
                          After breakfast and ablutions, five of us set off down the Leat, equipped with saws, rope, staffs, the bushwhacker and assorted bungee ties. I was sure I’d seen Henry packing a pair of bolas, but I did not comment. If he was prepared to hump their kilo or two against the chance of a free shot, he was welcome. In any case, the stream was probably cold enough to act as a temporary fridge.
                          We helped each other through the lower gorge’s snarl, emerged onto the open slope with some relief.
                          “Tree is down, Mister Mike.” O had eyes like a hawk.
                          “Good.” I was still getting my breath back from the last scramble. “I just hope it fell well.”
                          “You certainly have the knack!” Henry reached it first. “That’s almost on target!”
                          It was off by about ten degrees, had twisted as it fell. Still, it made a fair bridge, was elevated enough to allow a safe crossing when the stream was in spate. Henry, Sue and O scrambled to the other bank then headed up the slope towards the other part of our moorland. Dave and I hiked along to the copse, eyed up our task.
                          “We’ll have our hands full making ladders for just one side, Mister Mike.”
                          “Yeah.” I scratched my head. “Four this size as poles. Another pair to make anchors. At least four of the thinner size as rungs.”
                          “Plus two as poles for the fire screen and airer,” Dave estimated. “Cross pieces can be thin stuff from the others.”
                          “We’ll need more withies, too.” I unpacked a wire saw, began culling the thicker birch. Luckily, these only needed a token notch to drop them clean. As soon as each fell, Dave dragged it clear and cleaned off the side shoots. We tied the two longest poles as a crude travois, leaving a large loop as a harness. I tied the rope tails with half hitches to keep the lighter poles aboard. Dave then attached a big bundle of pliable cuttings tied around a central pole. Our timing was excellent.
                          “Gosh, you’ve been busy,” Sue called ahead.
                          “Hi, Sue! How did you get on?”
                          “Same moorland, same step down.” She patted her phone’s pouch. “Got a perspective on our cave. And_”
                          “We found a blackthorn bush with some ripe sloes.” Henry showed his scratched hands. “Only picked a few.”
                          “We would need to strip the bush, Mister Mike.” O sounded concerned.
                          “Perhaps we can think of something, O.” I shrugged. “Do you reckon we’ve collected enough thin stuff?”
                          “That must be enough to make a fire screen, Mister Mike.”
                          “Thanks, Henry!” I crouched, shrugged the travois’ leading loop over my shoulders and stood. “Shall we be off?”
                          It was difficult, even with four helping. Still, the frame went easier once we managed to coordinate our efforts. We dragged the travois up the long slope, down the short step onto our moorland, past the smoke hole.
                          “Phew!” I was glad to shed the load. “That was hard.”
                          “Hello, the cave!” Sue called. “Look out below!”
                          We untied the poles and slid them down. I was afraid the bundle would burst with such treatment so we lowered that on a rope end.
                          “Back to the bat-cave,” Henry quipped. We nodded by turns then trailed after O. As usual, the lower gorge was uphill all the way. We were very glad to help each other down onto the Leat path. That still left the dozen poles to collect, the bundle to tote. Rather than reassemble the travois, we carried the bundle, dragged the rest.
                          “Hot drinks first!” Jenny’s call was very welcome. “Alys has soup on the go!”
                          Two rounds of hot water sent us to the latrine by polite turn. The soup was, of course, venison, but this afternoon’s scattering of greens, noodles and tangy, freshly pitted sloes made it appetising. Their seeds had been put aside for Henry to plant.
                          After the meal, Henry and Sue sat to splitting the bundle’s shoots. Alys and Jenny began assembling a fire screen. It helped that O could just reach the ceiling, could drill or scrape retaining notches to match those in the floor. Between them, he and Dave brought and blunted several sharp-cornered stones. The two uprights, stripped of bark, took slight trimming before being bowed to place. I drilled a series of 10 mm holes in the two crosspieces.
                          “Up a bit, up a bit_ That’s it!” Alys held them in place while Jenny tied off each joint with twisted bark. They threaded verticals through the waiting holes then began to weave withies. It wasn’t elegant, it wasn’t neat, but it kept the draft from the hearth.
                          Meanwhile, Henry and Dave were adding withies to the doorway’s screen. Their work covered another ten percent or so of the voids, enough to be noticed when the wind shifted.
                          Outside, O and I tried to match pairs of poles.
                          “This two, Mister Mike.”
                          “Yes.”
                          “And these?”
                          “Agreed.”
                          For stability and semi-triangulated strength, each kiva ladder must taper. I spent a while trying to gauge the angle. The top required a certain minimum to support both the climber’s feet. The bottom could not be too wide lest rungs sag or break. Then there was the interesting issue of imperfections in the wood. I kept turning each pair, eyeing the flaws, trying to keep potential rungs away from knots.
                          “Looks good, Mister Mike!”
                          “Thanks, O!” I unpacked the augers, set to work. The task could not be rushed. Drilling so slightly off vertical was harder than I expected. I just had to hope the rungs would accommodate my errors. I’d pre-drilled a block and tapered the holes so O and I had gauges for whittling rungs and pegs. One by one, we cut, peeled, whittled then tapped rungs into the first pole.
                          “Need some help here, folks!” I called. “Bring both hammers!”
                          “On their way, Mister Mike!” Dave led the reinforcements. “What can we do?”
                          “These go into those.” O pointed.
                          “Alys is stirring stew.”
                          “Okay, Jenny!”
                          We eased the second pole and its slightly bevelled holes towards the slightly tapered rungs. The hammers went from hand to hand as we tapped and guided rungs into their waiting holes. Those that sprang out again took more persuasion to mate with the pole. Interference fits, the rungs wriggled somewhat. At least, with the ladder poles flat on the path, we kept everything more or less in the same plane. After twenty minutes, the rungs were surely in as far as they would go, were showing beyond. My helpers held the kiva ladder down as I began drilling 10mm peg holes. O inserted the barely round pegs, Dave tapped them home. My last task was to drill a diagonal pilot hole. Henry tapped a two-inch nail through each joint and locked it.
                          The kiva ladder stayed intact when we stood it, survived being leaned against the low cliff’s face.
                          “Looks good, Mister Mike!” Sue took a photo for the blog.
                          I nodded slowly, remembered an essential caution. “If we can, only one person per ladder.”
                          “Fair enough, Mister Mike!”
                          Making the second ladder was much easier for we’d learned the knack. It stood beside the first, looked good.
                          “Casserole’s ready!” Alys called. “Hot and fragrant! Come and get it!”
                          Despite being venison again, it was just as described. With that kettle emptied to smears, we sat on the steps while another kettle heated water. Two rounds of drinks gave me the energy to say, “I must measure for the anchors.”
                          Even for a walking holiday, I’d packed my trusty trowel and dusting brush. My plan was to dig two arm’s length, near-horizontal ‘rabbit holes’ into the cliff’s soft face. Inserted timbers would support a crosspiece to tie the lower ladder’s apex and support the lower ladder’s feet. It was a nice plan, but it depended on the ground. I shuddered. I’d sunk enough test pits, sondages and borings to dread the lumps lurking in moraine or boulder clay. At least the crosspiece allowed some wriggle room.
                          I sighed, warned, “We’ll need another pair of piles or stakes at the top.”
                          “Yes, Mister Mike,” Dave agreed. “Another round of hot drinks are on the go.”
                          “Oh, please.” After the drink and a trip to the latrine, there was still ample daylight for me to make a start. We leaned the first kiva ladder against the face of the low gorge, set the commercial ladder beside it.
                          “About here.” I chose my spot, deployed my trowel and began to burrow. I aimed slightly upwards to allow drainage, rather diagonal for stability. I went in six inches, one foot, a cubit, reached two feet plus the trowel’s inches without problem. Dave and I manoeuvred a suitable length of pole into the hole, tapped it home. We repositioned my ladder. Within six inches, the second hole hit stone. Some investigation found it was just a cobble. Wiggling loosened it, the trowel tip coaxed it out. There was another cobble behind it which fought back, but finally fared likewise. That fright passed, the hole progressed well. With the second timber in place, I dared relax.
                          “Here’s the crosspiece, Mister Mike!”
                          I laid it across the timbers, scribed it with my multi-tool, lowered it down. Dave held the work steady while I used the wire saw and spokeshave to carve matching notches. At our third try, it sat level.
                          “That’s a relief!”
                          “How do we fasten it, Mister Mike? Peg and nail?”
                          “Peg and nail,” I agreed. “First, we fit it to the feet of the ladder.”
                          That took some wary boring and whittling. Then, we hoisted the kiva ladder and set it to place. Five minutes more work secured it with a pair of pegs. Now the problem was that the ladder was rather steep. Its top was unsupported, could bounce away from the cliff.
                          I moved my ladder, reached up and began to burrow another pair of holes. By the ground’s nature, this had smaller stones. I was able to dig diagonally, then slide in both anchors. Wedged and pegged, they secured the top ladder. We placed the lower kiva ladder to overlap the upper, pegged it to the cross-piece, too. There was just one more thing. Very, very carefully, I ascended the new ladders with the rope’s end, clambered onto the plateau. After hauling another pair of stakes, I drove them in to anchor the top.
                          “Done!” I called down. “Ready when you are!”
                          “Climbing!” Dave replied, soon appeared over the rim. “Phew! That saved a hike! Ah! There’s the smoke hole.” He inspected the small swallet, paced the rim. “Do you reckon we’ll have to turn the turf back, Mister Mike?”
                          “Yes.” That was a given. “I reckon several feet each way. Then we should pile it around the cairn to deflect surface water.”
                          “Shall we start tomorrow?”
                          “I suppose so.” I shrugged. “Weather permitting.”
                          “Let’s go tell the others!”
                          We collected our tools, ladder and rope, hiked back to the cave.
                          “Ladders are up!”
                          “Wow! That was fast work, Dave!” Sue bounced with glee. “Let’s go and look!”
                          “Could someone keep the pot stirred?”
                          I smiled. “I’ll do that, Alys.”
                          “Thanks, Mister Mike!”
                          Jenny and Alys trailed after the others. I located the spoon, carefully stirred the venison casserole. I was glad to note how the fire screen improved heat transfer. Though set over a smaller fire, the kettle stayed bubbling hot. About fifteen minutes passed before they all trooped back.
                          “I’m impressed, Mister Mike!” O’s teeth almost glowed in the dusk.
                          “It’s really nice work.” Jenny added her grin.
                          “That will save us so much time fighting through the lower gorge.” Henry nodded.
                          “Long term, we’ll need a path through.” I thought for a moment. “Cut down the ridges, shift some boulders, stake and backfill the dips.”
                          “Long term.” Dave nodded. “Both ways?”
                          “I don’t know.” I considered our options. “If we are based on the plateau, the gorge is just a nuisance. Cave will be somewhere to stash spare firewood, smoke stuff.”
                          “That’s really long term, Mister Mike, isn’t it?”
                          “Year or three.” I shrugged, gave the casserole a stir. “We’ll be so glad of the privacy. Snag is we’ll have to dig a ton of earth, haul tons of rock for each roundhouse.”
                          “Uh?”
                          “We’ll get a taste for it when we cairn the smoke hole.” I tried to find an analogy, went for the maths. “Walling run goes by linear radius, floor space by the square.”
                          “Pythagoras?” Henry quipped.
                          “Ah, the other square guy.” I matched him. “Limit is timbers for roof span. Hence wheel-houses and their piers.”
                          “You really are thinking long term.” Dave nodded slowly.
                          “Yeah, like watching out for pottery clay.” I stirred the casserole slowly. “Beaker People managed it. We should be able to_” A careful breath let me continue. “At some stage we’ll need durable writing material.”
                          “Huh?”
                          “Clay tablets at a pinch, just to keep track of stuff. Bake them to ‘lock’ the memory card.”
                          “Oh.”
                          I decided that talking about maths and science basics for their grandchildren might throw a damper on the day. “How’s this casserole coming along, Jenny?”
                          “Getting there, Mister Mike!” Her grin almost lit the cave. “Isn’t the circle of moorland so weird!”
                          I nodded. “I’m not sure what to make of its step down, though.”
                          “Could it be erosion? The land used to be higher?”
                          “Fair point.” I thought about it. “I’d have to make a transect across the boundary, see where the native rock starts. But all this area is moraine and boulder clay. There’s no real strata to match unless I dig a well.”
                          “Remember how we seemed to drop a bit?”
                          “That too, Henry.” I shook my head. “Felt like a small earthquake or the ground-shock from an open-cast mine blast.”
                          “Had a word with O and Sue.” He sniffed the casserole appreciatively. “We’d like to strike inland tomorrow.”
                          “Weather permitting.” Sue warned.
                          “The kiva ladders should save us almost an hour coming and going.”
                          “Henry is right, Mister Mike.”
                          “Fine by me, O.” I remembered something. “My local map includes all the spoil heaps from the lead mining. The land will be a bit different.”
                          “All the more reason to go look!” Henry hovered over the casserole. “I wonder if this will taste as good as it smells!”
                          “You’ll find out soon enough!” Alys shooed him away. “Take a latrine break, wash your hands then grab your plates!”
                          “Yes, Ma’am!” we chorused.
                          The casserole was as good as we hoped, and we ate it to drying smears. Jenny put the kettle on to heat water and we sat around.
                          “Anyone done any pottery?” I asked.
                          “I made some simple bowls in school.” Jenny cupped her hands. “Potter’s wheel and all.”
                          “Before the wheel?” I waved in circles. “Coil ware? Pinch pots?”
                          “I suppose so.”
                          “Commercial clay?” Dave asked.
                          “Yeah. I’ve no idea how to prepare it.”
                          “I’ve seen it done with clay kitty litter, Jenny.” Dave shrugged. “Slip ware and stuff.”
                          “Bentonite?”
                          “I suppose so, Mister Mike!”
                          “The stream banks here are too sandy for clay.” I scratched my head. “You need red, grey or black, but sticky when damp.”
                          “That’s something else for us to look out for.” Henry nodded.
                          “We’ll do that, Mister Mike.” Sue grinned. “I used to love playing in mud!”
                          “Take a couple of extra carrier bags.” Alys pointed to the cache then stood. “Hot water’s ready. Cups, please?”
                          By the time we’d sipped them dry, the next kettle was hot. We’d had a busy day, earned the third round of drinks Alys poured. After that, we took turns using the latrine and wash-up as the shadows lengthened, settled down for the night.
                          I took the first, long shift. The improved screen blocked my glimpses of the other bank, the bracing ladder and stub wall stopped it flapping in gusts. After updating my blog, I had nothing to do but wind up the lantern when it dimmed. I tried to puzzle how a traditional potter’s kick wheel could be made using our resources. The simple answer was that it couldn’t be done yet. The pre-wheel approach would have to do.
                          I stopped, grinned. But there was an intermediate step. I could make a crude turntable to allow shaping with a tool or template. A baseplate and a rounded platter would do the trick. I could saw both from that polled poplar, use one round nail as pivot.
                          I was very glad to hand over to Jenny at one o’clock.

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                          • #14
                            Day 08 Friday

                            “Morning, Mister Mike! Nice cup of hot water for you!”
                            “Uh. Thanks, Alys.”
                            “Rained in the small hours, and there’s a heavy dew.”
                            I blinked at the sharp shadows. “Sun will soon burn it off.”
                            “Porridge for breakfast.”
                            “Thanks.”
                            I sipped my hot water, got dressed, spooned my porridge when that arrived.
                            The three gleaners didn’t wait around. After a quick trip to the latrine, Sue, Henry and O gathered poles, shanks and the bushwhacker, took some carrier bags and headed up the kiva ladders.
                            My first priority was to put the solar panel out to harvest Watt-hours for the attached laptop. Then Dave and I visited the scree slope with the shovel, loaded two rucksacks with usefully sized rocks. I took one rucksack and the rope, clambered to the plateau.
                            “Below!” I flung the coil down.
                            “Got it, Mister Mike!” Dave tied the first raw pole with a clove knot and two half hitches. I hauled it up, returned the end for another. Longer, this put up a fight. I had to use my weight to pivot it over the brim then haul it in. Dave climbed the ladders, helped me haul our would-be fulcrum arm a little further.
                            “What now, Mister Mike?”
                            “We cut the first pole in two, drive them in as crossed stakes about, uh, here.”
                            Their cutting and sharpening was fairly quick and quite easy. Driving them skew was much harder as we had to hammer them with the rucksack’s biggest stones. A quarter of an inch per blow seemed scant progress, left us sweating and winded. At last, with both set deep, I bound their crossover with several bungee ties. Dave helped me lift the long pole onto its pivot. We hung the laden rucksack from the butt, tied the rope to the tip and flung the coil into the gorge.
                            After a pause to catch our breath, we descended the ladders and hauled more rocks from the scree slope. When there was a goodly pile on the path, I climbed up and deployed our shaduf. Walking beside the pole, I tilted it down for Dave to catch the rope end. He tied on the second, laden rucksack. I turned, walked the pole up. Careful timing swung the load onto the grass. I added most of its stones to the counterweight, after which we were in business.
                            Load by load, a pile of stones accumulated near the brim. When the supply of stones was exhausted and Dave had to tackle the scree slope again, I began to move my pile nearer the smoke hole.
                            Jenny called us after a long, hard hour. “Lunch in five! Come and get it!”
                            The venison soup had a certain sameness, but we were too hungry to care. Several cups of hot water replaced our sweat, then we detoured via the latrine. I helped Dave attack the scree slope again then tote an assortment of rocks to the foot of the shaduf. A lump or two at a time came up. When Dave went for more, I moved those we had closer to the smoke hole.
                            At last, Dave came up the ladder with the shovel. Winded, he had to sit for a while. “I reckon that’s enough to start, Mister Mike!”
                            “Okay!” I used the shovel to stab into the grass, cutting it to turfs. Dave moved those clear as I worked my way around. Then I braced myself on the funnel’s rim and began to clear the topsoil. Fortunately, that only held grass roots, as I had a professional aversion to working beneath trees. I made rapid progress, each shovel stroke exposing more of the swallet.
                            “Doing well, Mister Mike!” Alys had come to watch. “I’ve refilled your water bottles.”
                            “Thanks, Alys!”
                            “Ooh, thanks, Alys!” Dave took a long swig. “I think I can start.” He placed a large stone on the steeper part of the slope. “Could you hold it in place, Alys?”
                            “Sure!”
                            He added one either side, then a fourth. Like an arch, we only needed to anchor the ends. Working quickly, Dave completed the ring. “There! They’ll stay up on their own, now!”
                            “That’s amazing!”
                            “Thanks, Alys!” Dave allowed himself a big grin, then began the second course. I ferried the remaining stones from the gorge’s rim, watched Dave complete the third course. “Mister Mike, you could put the turf back, now.”
                            I backfilled the low wall with topsoil, very carefully tamped it level then banked the turf upwards to shed water. Dave completed most of a fourth course, ran out of rocks.
                            “I left some more on the path, Mister Mike.”
                            “I can load them, Dave,” Alys offered. “Just a few at a time?”
                            “You got it!”
                            With three of us working, the stones came up in a steady stream until Dave completed a fifth course.
                            “Phew! I’m bushed,” he admitted, sprawling onto the grass. “Looks good, doesn’t it, Mister Mike!”
                            “Fire likes it, too!” Jenny’s call echoed up from the cave.
                            “Really needs three or four more courses, then a capstone.”
                            “But not today?” I offered.
                            “But not today.”
                            We pulled the long pole inwards until we could reach and untie the rope. I threw the end down then unloaded the counterweight. That done, I followed Dave to the ladders. Jenny had some hot water ready for us, but something nice was cooking.
                            “Ooh!” I followed my nose. “Something smells good!”
                            “Venison stew.” Alys waved at the kettle. “This is the last of the haunch.”
                            “Do you think they’ll be as lucky today?”
                            “I’ve no idea, Dave. Must help that the wildlife is naïve.”
                            “That won’t last long.”
                            “If they’re using the bolas each time, the rest of the herd may not connect people with trouble.” To stay honest, I added, “I hope.”
                            “What’s next, Mister Mike?”
                            “Well, Alys, the shovel and I have an appointment with a rubbish pit.” I did not relish the prospect. “The verge by the other skeleton will have to do for now. I really don’t want to start on the plateau just yet.”
                            “Like we’ve no use for a_ A dun? Not yet, anyway.”
                            “Not with Winter approaching, Dave.” I shivered.
                            “We could tell the difference as the chimney went up.” Jenny waved. “Even a few rows.”
                            “Five courses.” Dave shrugged. “But half were to bring it up to ground level.”
                            “Like the fire screen.” Alys grinned. “Stops it flaring when the wind shifts.”
                            “I could fetch some more stone, I suppose. Stack it ready for the next session with the shaduf thing_”
                            “And didn’t that work well!”
                            “Better than I expected, Alys,” I admitted. “Now, me and the shovel_”
                            I took my time, piled the earth to one side, the rocks to the other. The hole gradually widened, deepened. It was soon big enough for me to stand inside, improving the ergonomics. I stopped from time to time, caught my breath then worked on. Slowly, the shadows swung, stretched. I was close to the water table when I stopped, tossed out some more stones then sat on the brim.
                            “Wow, that’s a hole and a half!” Jenny had brought me a cup of water. “Pinch of salt to replace your sweat.”
                            “Thanks, Jenny, I really need it.” I wiped a rivulet, took a sip, nodded. “About a metre and a half cube. That’s a good day’s dig and barrow, or one big bite from a JCB backhoe if we’re clearing overburden.”
                            “Away team are late.”
                            “Yes.” I’d noticed, too.
                            “They might come up empty.”
                            “Statistically, they’ve been so lucky.” I racked my brain for the numbers on contemporary hunter gatherer tribes. “One hunt in three, they’re still doing well.”
                            “As few as that?”
                            “One in five would be my best guess.”
                            “Us being amateurs?”
                            “Yes. We may have to start on the shrink-wrap.” I sighed. “Ah, well, I’m done here. Time I washed up.”
                            “We could do with some clothes line, Mister Mike.”
                            “I know.” I shrugged. “But I don’t want to waste rope. Would you mind clothes rails?”
                            “I suppose.”
                            “If we drive some stakes and put rungs between?”
                            “That would do nicely.” Jenny nodded. “And a wide ladder or airer we could lean on the cave wall?”
                            “Or two?” I offered. “We’ll have to fetch in the poles.”
                            “Of course.”
                            “Of course, but we’ve got the ladders as our shortcut out of the gorge.”
                            “Perhaps tomorrow?”
                            “Might mean tagging along with the hunting party to that copse. Easy enough.” I nodded, stood, stretched, sighed. “I need to wash and use the latrine.”
                            “Okay, Mister Mike. Remember, the stew’s coming along!”
                            I washed my arms and face in the stream, then took off my boots and washed my feet. The shadows were lengthening when I returned to the cave. The faces were lengthening, too.
                            “What’s keeping them?”
                            “They may be stalking a herd,” I offered. “They may have got lucky on the way home.”
                            “They may be collecting withies or wood,” Dave grumbled, sniffing the stew hungrily.
                            “We’ll give them another hour, time enough for the potato to mush,” Jenny decided, stirring the kettle. “After that, we can reheat their portion.”
                            The rim’s shadows crept to the cave entrance. I brought the solar panel inside. After checking the laptop’s power bars, I put both away. The gorge rapidly darkened.
                            “Okay, time for stew.” Alys reluctantly began spooning servings. Though hungry, we ate without much appetite. Two cups of hot water later, there was still no sign of the hunters. We sat around until sunset without news.
                            “Hello, the cave!” Sue’s contralto echoed down the chimney and made us jump. “We’re okay, but we need some help and the rope!”
                            I grabbed the rope, followed Dave up the ladders in the twilight. Sue held a bundle. Henry and O had a deer-laden pole. All three looked exhausted.
                            “Ooh, are we glad to see you!” Sue sounded scared but exultant.
                            “It was incredible,” Henry began.
                            “Those wolves just appeared.” Sue waved. “Out of nowhere_”
                            “You’ve never seen anything like it. Sue got the first one_”
                            “Big and grey_” She shuddered. “Like a German Shepherd on steroids!”
                            “The alpha male,” Henry said. “Went straight for her_”
                            “It was huge. I mean, really, really huge.”
                            “You’re unhurt?” It didn’t seem possible.
                            “Not a scratch, Mister Mike.” Sue shook her head. “Lucky, or what?”
                            “Your nail-pointed sticks are good, Mister Mike,” O stated, lowering his end of their heavily laden pole. “But we’ll need more of them.”
                            Henry grounded the other end. “They sure cut up that wolfpack!”
                            “You stole their kill?”
                            “They tried to steal ours!” Sue giggled, brandished her bulging carrier bag. “Alpha male lost his head!”
                            “Ah.” I thought the problem through, tied my rope’s ends to the pole’s. With all five of us on the bight, we lowered the deer clear of the ladders, then climbed down by careful turn. Dave and I carried the carcass to the stream, splashed it with water to remove some blood and dirt then left it on the bank. The hunters washed their hands, faces and feet before clambering into the cave.
                            “Here’s a hot drink to start.” Jenny took charge as Alys returned the stew kettle to the heat and resumed stirring.
                            “Mister Mike, we need to wash and joint that deer.”
                            “Eat first, O.” Alys tapped the kettle with her spoon. “What happened?”
                            “Contours were all different,” Henry began.
                            “Slow down! You’re home now!”
                            “Okay, Mister Mike.” Henry stopped for a breath. “Sue, tell them about those deer.”
                            “Herd kept dodging around us!” She motioned.
                            “Wasn’t us they were avoiding, but we didn’t notice.”
                            “Then something spooked them.”
                            “They ran straight at us.” Henry twirled an invisible bolas.
                            “It was a good throw.”
                            “Wasn’t the one I aimed at, Sue!” Henry managed a weary grin. “Still, it fell.”
                            “I did the business.” O returned my bushwhacker blade with a nod.
                            “Then a wolfpack came out of the trees!” Henry whispered. “Like grey ghosts.”
                            “About a dozen.” Sue shivered. “Big. Mean.”
                            “We uncorked our spears and shanks.” O’s long hands remembered his. “Stood in a triangle over our kill.”
                            “Alpha male came right up, growled at us.” Henry waved an arm’s length.
                            “He didn’t seem to know people!” Sue puzzled. “Or spears!”
                            “Sue stuck his shoulder with hers.”
                            Sue laughed. “Wow! Did he jump!”
                            “Well, he wasn’t going to back down from one small bite! He lunged_”
                            “Ran onto my spear,” Sue hissed.
                            “Then I got him in the shoulder with a shank.” Henry thrust his empty hand.
                            “Like a picador.” O nodded. “Wolf spun.”
                            “Sue stabbed his neck.”
                            “Must have hit an artery.” Sue’s hands fountained. “Blood everywhere.”
                            “Staggered away yelping, fell down.”
                            “Rest of the pack took some convincing,” O reported.
                            “They tried to rush us_”
                            “Ran onto our spears_”
                            “Henry got a couple with his shank_”
                            “Half were limping before they backed off.” Henry grinned. “Then they stayed on the tree line.”
                            “We left them the deer’s offal and head.” O shrugged. “Took the wolf’s head as a trophy.”
                            “Very well done, all of you.” It still didn’t seem possible that our three had got off without a scratch. I had to ask, “Were they sick or starving?”
                            “Big and fit, Mister Mike.” O seemed to share my concern. “Perhaps they do not know people?”
                            “Well, they do now!” I thought of a way to celebrate the kill. “We’ll have to mount the skull somehow.”
                            “Oh, please!” Sue pleaded.
                            “We need more spears, Mister Mike.”
                            “Agreed, O.”
                            “Dinner is served!”
                            “Oh, wow!”
                            “I hope it tastes as good as it smells!”
                            “That’s a hunter’s dish!”
                            They tucked in, gave me a chance to think, then say, “Tomorrow, could we go down the gorge to that copse?”
                            “With all the birch?”
                            “That’s the one, Henry.” I nodded. “Jenny and Alys need racks and airers, we need more pointy sticks.”
                            “Lots more!” Sue hissed.
                            “Lots more.” I wasn’t going to argue. “Lots more.”
                            “Hot drinks all around!” Alys brandished a kettle.
                            When the hot drinks were gone, O, Henry and I took the lantern, shovel, kettles, bushwhacker and a couple of spears. Setting the lantern to its full dozen LED power, I illuminated and steadied the carcass while O reduced it to joints and cuts.
                            “All done, Mister Mike.”
                            We rinsed the skeleton before heaving it into the waiting hole and partly burying it. The skin and wolf’s head went into the stream, sunk by several convenient rocks. After ferrying our gleanings to the cave, we washed up then trooped back via the latrine.
                            “How about we put a bench across the entrance, too?” There was no objection to my proposal. I took the first, long shift. After relating the day to the blog, I slept fitfully.

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                            • #15
                              And they've met their first wolves...

                              This is probably the last episode I'll post here, as I'm preparing the tale for kindle.

                              Your comments welcome.
                              N

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