Pressing seaweed

Following in the bootsteps of intrepid Victorian seaweed hunters, Melanie Molesworth and Julia Bird collect and press specimens along the Cornwall and Dorset coast 

As natural history was coming into its own in the 1800s, the biggest clubs for the ‘gentlemen sciences’ still banned women. While hunting was seen as too dangerous a pursuit and digging up plants too sexually loaded, gathering seaweed was deemed relatively safe. A popular pastime for both Queen Victoria and George Eliot, it was not, however, without risks. Margaret Gatty advised wearing men’s boots and, due to the dangers involved (especially on low-water mark expeditions), the protection of a gentleman companion may be necessary. She warned he might require some enticing by proposing he “fossilize, or sketch, or even (if he will be savage and barbaric) shoot gulls”, while his lady collect her crop. 

With their crop, which they gather along the shores of Cornwall and Dorset, Melanie Molesworth and Julia Bird create beautiful pressings and artwork. They kindly share their secrets with us:

1. Start by gathering your seaweed in a bucket – low tide is the best time.

2. Rinse well before placing them in a large plastic or metal tray dish filled with a couple of inches of fresh cold water. 

3. Place a piece of watercolour paper in, then float your chosen piece of seaweed on top. 

4. Swirl and arrange your seaweed over the paper until you are happy with it – you may want to snip a few bits off to make a cleaner shape. 

5. Slowly lift the paper out and lay it on kitchen paper or cloth to help soak up some of the excess water. Blot with kitchen roll or blotting paper. 

6. Place a piece of greaseproof paper on top and then a layer of newspaper, followed by a sheet of cardboard, before adding the next specimen and repeat steps 4 and 5. 

7. They will then be ready to press – you could use an old-fashioned trouser press or pile books on top. 

8. Check seaweeds daily and replace the newspaper layers and paper until dry. 

9. Carefully peel the paper off (some pieces are more fragile than others) and fix them in place, to display, using thin strips of masking tape. 

10. Seaweed identification can be tricky as there are hundreds of species. Try Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland published by Seasearch, £16.95. 

You can see more of Melanie Molesworth and Julia Bird’s beautiful seaweed pressing and artwork at MolesworthandBird.com and on Instagram.  

This originally featured in issue six of Ernest Journal, on sale now. 

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TrailFit adventures on the High Peak Trail

Terradora is a robust yet nimble boot that embodies KEEN's TrailFit philosophy – versatile footwear that promises to be just as comfortable for working out in the city as for a light run on wild, open terrain. Ruth Allen embarks on the 17-mile High Peak Trail in Derbyshire to put a pair through their paces. 

Words and photos: Ruth Allen

Words and photos: Ruth Allen

Seventeen miles. Yes, I’ll take that. Those were the words in my head as I settled on the idea of running the High Peak Trail end-to-end last month. The Peak District has its fair share of county-crossing trails, but the High Peak’s biggest draw is that it offers plenty of history, big views across Derbyshire and ends a stone-throw from my house.

The plan was to test out KEEN’s new Terradora – a lightweight, waterproof boot designed especially for women that combines the support of hiking footwear with the flexibility and vigour of a trail runner. The boot embraces KEEN's TrailFit movement, which is all about finding your own path to fitness, however and wherever you choose to do so. The Terradora is aimed at women who live adventurous, hybrid lifestyles – whose exercise routines migrate between urban and wilder spaces. As I was planning to run, hike and seek headspace in the Peaks, I’d say this was definitely hybrid adventure territory! 

The length of the High Peaks Trail make it possible to fit into my work schedule, because whilst I love those long ranging, free-floating adventures that holidays bring, I’m always on the lookout for something interesting to do on the weekend that has the flavour of adventure (a story behind why you’re doing it, a feel for the unknown and the sense that it might not work out!) but in manageable proportions. 

The trail follows the former trackbed of the High Peak Railway, beginning – without fanfare – just outside Buxton and winding up in the historic mill village of Cromford. My decision to run its length was confirmed when I noted that the final stretch of the line was closed in 1967. Not only would my run be a new way of exploring my local area but it would also be a personal nod to the 50-year anniversary. 

Saturday morning. Having packed a bag of snacks and warm clothes for the day, I parked at the start of the trail and got on my way. I like to run like this: no start lines, no fellow runners, no deadlines and no noise. It’s just me and the trail, in a quiet agreement that I will show up and make an effort and it will provide me with something to notice along the way that will take my mind off my feet, my legs and my overworked heart. 

On this occasion, I had no reason to think of my feet at all. If I had departed with any concern about what it would be like running in boots with ankle support, I needn’t have worried. These were the comfiest shoes I have run in for a very long time. It’s fair to say I have a fleet of trainers for different surfaces – most with a fairly aggressive sole – so this was the first time I had ventured into hybrid territory.  

The Terradora bridges the gap between hiking boot and trail runner, offering the support and grip of the former with the vigour of the latter; it was flexible enough for my pounding feet, while providing the ankle support needed for such rugged terrain. It’s also designed specifically for women’s feet: narrower through the heel, cushioned panels to reduce pressure on the Achilles tendon and a low-density midsole to give lightweight support for steep descents.

Given that I’d not so much as broken them in around the house, I was amazed to realise that I had barely been thinking of my feet at all. I kept expecting the rub to come but the Terradora handled the trail perfectly. I suspected they would be good on either the undulating gravel paths or on the steep, damp descents through woodland. To my surprise, I didn’t need to adjust my approach to either terrains. The soles were grippy, the insides cushioned and the foot-bed wide enough to accommodate warm feet all day. 

Having no shoe concerns made the whole thing a joy and as the miles flowed quickly beneath me, I found myself with plenty of time to take in my surroundings, have a think about the coming week and enjoy the day with a sense of playfulness. After all, who doesn’t love the nostalgia of messing around on railways sidings, whistling in damp, deserted tunnels and hopscotching over limestone boulders?

The Terradora is robust and durable footwear that ties into the TrailFit movement, inspiring women in their quest to challenge themselves mentally and physically. It’s all about finding your own adventurous ways to keep fit and not complying with standard ideas of a what it takes to be a cyclist, a runner, a hiker…

This definitely ties in with how I connect with outdoor fitness. I am not a runner, I am a person who runs. For me, this is an important distinction. I suspect many of us hold back from things we fancy trying in life because we don’t feel that we fit the brief or meet the definition. Perhaps we imagine a runner should be fast, full of energy and endlessly charting their interval times. Perhaps we have an idea of how we think they should look, what gear they wear and the things they eat when they’re not running. We might also think they’re highly disciplined people who wouldn’t dream of stopping to talk. I’m none of those things. 

For me, moving our bodies how we can and when we can, should be a joy. Sometimes it might feel like a punishment, but it’s actually kind to ourselves to celebrate our bodies and what they can do. We might do well to spend more time moving intuitively – running when we want to, walking when we choose to and not being afraid to sidle up to the kiosk for an ice cream at the end. This is the freedom of the trail. This is the freedom of having a body that can run if you ask it to.  

Terradora: the tech part

  • Specifically designed for women’s feet 
  • Cushioned panels reduce pressure on the Achilles tendon
  • Low-density EVA midsole provides lightweight support for high intensity workouts and steep descents
  • KEEN all-terrain rubber outsole for high traction grip
  • Dual-density PU foam footbed
  • Lightweight mesh upper
  • KEEN.DRY Waterproof breathable membrane. 

KEEN’s Terradora comes in a mid (£109.99) and low (£99.99) style. Head to keenfootwear.com/trailfit for more information, watch the Terradora video at bit.ly/ErnestTerradora and check our online directory for more stories from KEEN.

Leicester Balloon Riot

On a summer's day in 1864, 50,000 people gathered at Leicester racecourse to see a balloon display of gargantuan proportions. It didn't go as well as hoped...

Come the late 1700s, Balloonomania was in full flow. The French Montgolfier brothers’ inaugural flight in 1783 started the craze, and before long, fierce competition spread throughout France and across the Channel, with people constantly striving to break last week’s record. Some flights ended a little more destructively than planned. Jacques Charles’ attempt to rival the Montgolfiers ended in his balloon crash landing in a small village, where it was torn apart by petrified locals. 

But it wasn’t always fear that induced riotous scenes at ballooning events, as witnessed in Leicester during the flight of Henry Coxwell’s new state-of-the-art flying machine. Coxwell, founder of The Balloon magazine, climbed to an altitude of 35,000 feet in a vessel of his making, named Mammoth. In 1864, Britannia, his largest balloon to date, attracted tens of thousands to witness its ascent. Alas, before it could leave terra firma, an onlooker claimed the balloon was a smaller, older model, and great swathes of disgruntled spectators turned on Coxwell, some even attacking the pilot. Before long, Britannia was reduced to little more than shreds and scraps. From this day, the people of Leicester gained a new moniker: Balloonatics. 

Words by Lewis Coupland

This originally featured in issue 6 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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Essence + Alchemy: the relaunch

Lesley Bramwell of Essence + Alchemy spends a lot of her time in her laboratory mixing batches of rapeseed wax candles that crackle and smell of wild gardens and the sky above the clouds. We've spoken to her about her relaunch...

Lesley, tell us about what you've been up to in your laboratory the last few months.

It’s been a busy time, working on the E+A relaunch and designing the new store and products. I’m also in the process of designing and building a new garden laboratory. 

A garden laboratory, you say? Tell us more.

I was struggling to find a place in Sheffield that ticked all the boxes – clean, light, warm, nice view etc, so I decided to look into building a lab at home. My house is built on 1/3 acre – we have the space so it made perfect sense. 

Building starts end of July. A local timber frame company will erect the frame and my husband is finishing the external and internals. Hoping completion will be end of September.

It will have a dedicated lab store room, a desk area facing double doors onto the garden and lab area with benches under the windows facing the garden. Water used will be filtered and collected for reuse in the garden. 

The dream is to eventually grow and distill my own oils, which I can use in products. I like the idea of distilling my own rose essential oil but I might need to plant a few bushes before I can do that! 

What's been the inspiration behind your redesign?

The look of the brand has always been about my scientific background and the formula behind the name E+A.  I wanted a fresh and clean look that reflected this and with the help of local Sheffield designer Sean Coleman, I think this has been achieved - a combination of scientific text and pastel colours to reflect the natural scent of the products with a clean minimalist edge.  

Tell us about some of your new products.

There is a new handy travel size gold tin candle, great for popping into your bag or giving as a gift.  There are also candle refills for tea-light holders and large beaker candles and I’m also offering a candle refill service now whereby you can return your candle beaker for refilling.  

What is the candle club?

I created candle club to encourage the reuse of the large candle beaker and offer refills at discounted rates. Customers can either sign up to a 3 month or 6 month package and choose which candle scents they’d like and they also receive little gifts each month. 

What's on your bedside table?

A hardback copy of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and an E+A Aroma Mist.  At the moment I’m using Unwind with lavender and sweet marjoram to help create a relaxing atmosphere before bedtime.  

This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with Essence + Alchemy. Find out more about them in our Directory.

 

Paint it black

By applying an iron solution to carved wood, you can instantly ‘ebonize’ it, creating unique pieces with wonderful inky hues. Max Bainbridge turns to the dark side...

Max advises using either oak or walnut for ebonizing, due to their high tannin content. Image by Dean Hearne

Max advises using either oak or walnut for ebonizing, due to their high tannin content. Image by Dean Hearne

In this project I demonstrate how to ebonize a small oak bowl, using the natural tannin in the wood to blacken the surface. It’s a simple and natural process that gives an instant and completely transformative result. 

The ebonizing process is one that’s hard to believe even when you see it happening before your eyes. The basic principle is to create a chemical reaction between the wood’s tannin and iron oxide. Tannin is a tree’s natural defence against predators, and iron oxide is what we commonly know as rust. You can create an iron solution by steeping wire wool or iron nails in vinegar. Then, by applying this to the surface of a wood that is high in tannin, such as oak, you produce a chemical reaction that turns the wood black. 

Tools

Small oak or walnut bowl
Large jar
Water
White distilled vinegar
Iron nails or wire wool
Paintbrush
Cloths
Beeswax salve 

Method

1. Fill a large jar with two parts water to one part white vinegar, add the nails or wire wool and leave to soak. Do not keep a lid on the jar because while the vinegar reacts with the iron, a small amount of gas will be produced, which needs to escape.

2. Once the nails have been in the solution for at least a week, a layer of rust will form on the surface and the liquid will be brown or orange in colour.

3. Using a paintbrush, start applying the rusty vinegar solution to the surface of the wood and allow the reaction to take place. If you are using oak, the reaction will happen straight away and you will see the colour change in front of you. Observe how the colour develops and keep applying more solution if you wish to intensify it.

4. You can keep applying layers, allowing each layer time to dry, until the colour doesn’t get any darker. Once you are happy with the colour, give the surface of the wood a wipe down with a cloth.This may result in some of the colour rubbing off, but keep going until nothing more comes off on the cloth. Leave the ebonized bowl somewhere ventilated to dry and allow the vinegar odour to evaporate.

5. When it is completely dry, apply a coat of beeswax salve.You will need to use a clean cloth just in case any residual pigment comes off the bowl as you apply the salve. Leave to soak in overnight and then rub down the following day. 

For more carving projects and woodwork techniques from the team behind Forest + Found, pick up a copy of The Urban Woodsman by Max Bainbridge (Kyle Books, 2016), £16.99.

This features in issue 6 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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