40km Southeast of Moscow in the back corner of Zhukovsky International Airport, there is an an interesting remnant of the space race just left to rot. These are a set of 15 pictures taken by Aleksander Markin on this Flickr album. It shows a 1/3rd scale model of the Buran Orbiter. According to Markin, the replica is made almost entirely out of wood, and was used as a wind tunnel test when developing the aerodynamics.
When the Buran shuttle program fell into disarray, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, these prototypes and test were just left behind in the change. In the intervening years, they have been left the rot. Many shuttles and tests have been found by urban explorers, but many are still out there. In another recent post I talk about a similar Buran prototype left to rot away in an impressive warehouse. You can find that post here.
In this particular post, we are going to talk about the Oak tree, or more specifically the English Oak tree, and how we can use it. The Oak is one of those classic English trees, its a recognisable name, and most people will have things in their house that are made from Oak. How can it be used though? Well in this post we will go over some interesting uses, and what makes it special.
How to spot it
Before we can use it, we have to be able to identify it. There are some distinctive points about the Oak tree, to help you distinguish it from other trees. The Oak is a large tree, about 20m-40m tall when fully grown. It is also deciduous, so it loses it’s leaves in the autumn. When the Oak gets older it forms a broad crown on top, so no spike. It grows big sturdy branches underneath, so overall it forms a nice rounded tree, which is quite distinctive. The canopy it forms is actually really good at letting light through, so you generally find lots of plants growing underneath them; these can include primroses and bluebells, and other woodland floor plants. Young oaks have quite smooth and silvery bark, but as they get older, they get huge cracks and crevices throughout, this is a great way to differentiate from other trees.
The leaves are also pretty recognisable, they tend to be about 10cm long, with 4 or 5 big deep rounded lobes along the edges, these are smooth. Be aware though, that the amount of lobes can change between different forms of oak, in fact this is one big way of differentiating between them. The leaves generally don’t have much in the way of a stem, and grow in bunches, close together. They really grow around mid may. The Oak also flowers, the long yellow hanging catkins distribute pollen into the air. In the winter, the tree can be identified by bunches of rounded buds, with each bud having 3 or more scales.
Technically the Oak has fruits, although we know them as acorns. They are generally 2-2.5cm long, on fairly long stalks, and have a little cup that they sit in (called a cupule). While they grow they are a green colour, but as they ripen they become a more autumnal brown. At this point they loosen from the cupule and fall to the floor. Anyone who has walked around an oak tree knows there can be many of them. These acorns are a rich food source, so they don’t hang around long. Many wild creatures come along to feast on them, like squirrels, jays and mice. For them to germinate, they need to root quickly, before they dry out.
The Oak is generally found in the northern hemisphere, in cool regions as well as tropical climates. In England they are found in southern and central woods.
Why are They Useful?
In terms of wildlife, the Oak tree is rich in biodiversity, and arguably support more life forms than any other tree native to Britain. In the autumn the falling acorns are often eaten by badgers and deer. These acorns are technically edible, but read up on ways to prepare them first, they contain tannins, which should really be removed before eating. 10,000 years ago, humans used acorns to make flour. Also during autumn, beetles and fungi take advantage of the fallen leaves. The leaves are soft, and break down easily, forming a rich environment underneath the tree. Birds are often found nesting in the Holes that the Oak’s bark provides, bats also use some of these holes, mainly due to the rich supply of insects.
The Oak tree has forever been known as a hard and durable timber, even it’s latin name Quercus Robur means strength. So it has been used for centuries as a building material, up until the 19th century, it was the primary ship building material. Unfortunately, it takes up to 150 years before an oak is ready to be used in construction. For those who want to tan leather, the bark of the Oak contains Tannin, and has been used for this purpose since roman times. This Tannic acid is also found in it’s leaves, and is poisonous to horses, and humans, damaging the kidneys.
If you wanted to plant your own acorn, it needs to be as soon as it falls to stop it drying out, if its right, a sapling should arrive the following spring.
Best Uses for an Oak Tree
For the keen bushcrafter, here is the main uses for oak trees.
Harvesting acorns, although these need to be processed before edible, its a great free source of food.
Plenty of insects to eat living in the tree, they also attract squirrels, birds, badgers and deer. So depending on how brave you are, there could be some good meals to be found.
Strong wood, things like digging sticks, tools, or anything that needs strength or impact resistance.
The inner bark of a dead branch is a good tinder.
The leaves do not rot very fast, and are often the last left on the forest, so could be used for shade, huts, or maybe even flooring.
The wood is good to burn for a fire. It burns wells, and produces a heat good enough for cooking.
The tannin found all over the tree is good for stopping bleeding, it does it by making the capillaries contract.
So browsing the internet recently, I came across a great blog by Ralph Mirebs. He classes himself as an urban explorer and photographer. In this blog post, he has some awesome photographs that he has taken in an abandoned hangar in Kazakhstan.
The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is currently the only place where astronauts can be sent up to the International Space Station. They get sent up via the Soyuz rocket, after the USA’s Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. Now the European space agency, and NASA both use this launch site to send up astronauts. On the subject of the space shuttle though, one hangar in the Cosmodrome holds some great pieces of history, captured by Mirebs in photographic form.
The hangar in question is knows as the MZK building. Designed by the Izhevsk Institute “Prikampromproekt”, the building is 132m long, and 62m high. Its fairly run down now, but in it’s day it was at the pinnacle of the Soviet space effort. The doors on the front measure 42m by 36m. Big enough to transport the rocket systems needed for the project. On top of that, these doors were perfectly sealed, so the building could be kept at a higher than normal pressure, to keep dust out. They weren’t really doors, they were just structures that just happened to move.
The building itself is fairly close to a heavily used launch site, so naturally it was made from a special form of steel, and was designed to withstand a rocket exploding on the nearest launch site. There are offices and laboratories on either side, four stories high. They hold testing equipment and controls. Inside the main part of the building are 3 cranes that are able to lift 400 tons each.
So what is this enormous secret Soviet era building holding? Well it houses 2 Buran class rockets, of only a few left in the world. The Buran programme was the Soviets reaction to the NASA’s space shuttle system. Although the Buran programme didn’t really take off (if you’ll pardon the pun!) it still holds some historical significance today. The reasoning behind the Buran system will be saved for a later post.
Looking at them, you would be forgiven for thinking that these weren’t really important. They have years of bird poo and dust covering them. Of the two ships in the hangar, one is the second flying prototype. Known as “little bird”, although never officially named. At the time that the Buran programme finished in 1993, it was about 97% ready. Unfortunately, the ship is now showing signs of wear, with the heat tiles falling off, and smashed windows. This ship started to be built in 1988, and was meant to fly in 1991 and 1992; with planned flights to the Mir space station.
The second ship is known only as OK-MT, simply made as an engineering mockup. It has the same look, and shape, but was never designed to fly, it was for use by engineers to test functions on the ship, so they don’t accidentally break the real thing. This one was a mockup for the other ship, known as OK-1k2, which was the only Buran calls shuttle to have the red bars on the cargo bay. This one seems in better condition, still holding onto many heat tiles, and most of it’s windows.
Unfortunately, most of the insides of the shuttles have been torn out, likely salvaged to be used on other projects. Some think they could have been salvaged for precious metals. Although it is a bit of a mess there is still a quality about the way it looks. A ship that was so close to being a massive part of the space age, and missing out by just a few years. Imagine if the Chief Designer had these ideas a few years before, these ships could have been the way we send astronauts into space.
It is sad that these pieces of equipment are just the remnants of the late Soviet Union, just left to rot. Hopefully one day they will end up in a museum, along with the other important parts of the space race era. Until then, we can only use these pictures to get a glimpse into the Buran Shuttle.
So today I was out with a group of friends in a local estate near Plympton. The owner was there and while we were talking, he told us to just stop and listen for a second. So listen we did. Behind the bushes and the trees, we heard grunting. This grunting was the sound of Fallow deer. Apparently there are around 100 Fallow deer in the area, and for this 2 week period, its mating season. The sound we heard was a rare one, it was the sound of the buck’s grunting and thrashing around in the ferns. Why do they do this? Apparently, they try and make as much noise as possible, so they sound big and scary, so mates will be attracted to them. The louder they are, the more likely that they will find a mate. I found this quite interesting, I thought you guys might too. I wouldn’t try and go up against a Fallow deer at this time of year, you are likely to lose. Lots and lots of testosterone flowing.
As an interesting side note about Fallow deer, they are the only British deer to have palmate antlers, so they have that bit in between the horns, like frogs feet.
So as we discussed in a previous post, Plymouth wasn’t always the power that it is today. In fact, in 1066, during the norman conquest, it was still called Sutton Pool, and had a population of 18 people. So realistically, there was no real need for any sort of fortification. The only place with a need for protection was just up the river at Plympton. Here, there was a Motte and Bailey Castle. Basically a small keep on top of a big hill, surprisingly effective at the time.
Over time though, the river changed, and the need of Sutton as a main port suddenly became of strategic importance. Around the start of the hundred years war in 1337 it was attracting unwanted attention from continental forces. It’s thought that earthwork defences were built around this time on the hoe and waterfront. There was also likely to have been similar works on the other side of the river at mount batten.
The most important part of this defence was Plymouth castle. In 1377 a murage grant was received, this is basically a tax specifically for castles, walls and other defences. The exact date that it was built is unknown, but it was first recorded in the early 1400’s. The castle was on the western side of Sutton Pool. It had 4 sides, with round towers on each corner, with curtain walls, 4 meters high. The main need for the castle was to control a chain that was raised to stop access to the harbour. If a ship got caught in this, it would be subjected to the castle’s cannons. The castle’s entrance was shielded by a barbican, which now lends its name to a part of the city.
There is no official date that the castle is said to have been built, but based around events we can give a good range. In 1340 during the Hundred Years’ War, the town was attacked by a flotilla of french raiders. Although they burned a manor house, and took some prisoners, they failed to get into the town. It was said to be due to an effective defence, this could be the castle, or it could just have been earthworks. There was another attack by the french in 1377. This lead to the murage grant to fund fortification, this may well be the money used to build the castle, but it could also have been used to fund walls or earthworks.
In 1400, it was likely that the castle was in existence, as it allegedly drove off a fleet of french ships. It was said that an english force of ships were being pursued by James of Bourbon, Count le Marche. The english forces sought refuge in Sutton harbour and scared them away. In august 1403 the castle was definitely present, and provided refuge when a Breton army landed at Cattewater and attacked and burned the town. This attack is still remembered today, by a part of the town known as Bretonside. This is the point where the invaders were stopped by the citizens marching out from the castle to attack them.
After this the castle saw very little real action. Other parts of the city were being fortified, and the castle became less important in the grand scheme. In 1549, it did play a part in the Prayer Book Rebellion; where cornishmen rebelled against the law created to have all church services in the land to be conducted in the english language. The Cornish at the time rarely spoke english, and so a rebellion started. At a point during this time, the town was besieged by rebels. The town quickly surrendered, but the castle didn’t, it held members of the crown and protestants, likely targets by the rebels. Eventually the rebellion was defeated, and the siege was lifted.
In 1588, the castle played a small part in the attack on the Spanish Armada. The English Navy took shelter from the wind and waited for the tide in Sutton harbour. The Castle gave the Navy a good defence. Unfortunately after this, in the Elizabethan era defences had moved on from simple castles. Sir Francis Drake (kinda famous in Plymouth) built an artillery fort on the Hoe. The structure, eventually known as Drake’s Fort was partially built using stone from Plymouth Castle. After this the closest it got to any action was during the civil war, when it held a parliamentary Garrison. Although, because Royalists controlled Mount Batten, Millbay on the west side of the harbour was used over Sutton Harbour so the castle wasn’t used as a military structure.
That is basically the History of Plymouth Castle. The castle itself eventually fell into disrepair, actually described as ruinous. It was used as a prison, and also a workhouse for a time. Unfortunately, in the 19th century, during the population boom, the remains were slowly robbed to be used in houses and other building projects. There is only a small part of the gatehouse still existing, and it has been turned into a part of a garden.
Fun fact: the four towers of Plymouth Castle are said to be remembered in the towns coat of arms, with 4 towers separated by st. Andrews cross (the patron St of Plymouth). The towers are said to be protecting him.
A famous person in the history of Plymouth is Sir Francis Drake, i’m sure many of his expeditions will make it into this section of my blog in the future, but today we are going to talk about a famous ship that he sailed, the Golden Hind.
So in 1577, Queen Elizabeth chose Francis Drake for the most daring challenge of the day. To lead an expedition, passing through South America via the Strait of Magellan. Exploring the coasts that lay beyond it. Before setting sail, Drake met the queen face to face for the first time. She reportedly said “We would gladly be revenged on the King of Spain for divers injuries that we have received.”
Why was this important? Well this basically meant the queen backed him. He had official approval to benefit himself and the queen (the queen had shares in the expedition). On top of this he was told to cause maximum damage to the Spaniards. The problem was, Drake took this too far, and acted more like a privateer. They weren’t to know at the time, but this would eventually lead to the Anglo-Spanish war.
He set sail in December 1577, with 5 small ships with a total of 164 men manning them. Reaching the coast of Brazil in early 1578. Note at this time, Drake’s flagship was named the “Pelican”, and it was small only displacing around 100 tons. Mid way through the journey, Drake had the inspiration to rename the ship the “Golden Hind”. Named after his patron (the man who payed for most of it) Sir Christopher Hatton; who was at the time, one of the queens favourites. His crest was a Golden ‘hind’, another word for a female deer.
The date that made the Golden Hind a big name was the 1st of March 1579, when they were in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Ecuador. The ship challenged and captured a Spanish galleon. Named Nuestra Señora de la Concepción the galleon had the largest treasure ever captured up to that date, at over 360,000 pesos. The six tons of treasure took 6 days to move between ships.
Why is Plymouth important in this story? well it is the first harbour that the ship sailed into when it got home, on the 26th september 1580, a famous day in Plymouths history. Note that of the 80 people the ship left with, only 56 were left aboard.
Even though Drake basically acted like a pirate, the Queen herself went aboard the Golden hind when it sailed to Depthord in the Thames Estuary. There Drake got bestowed with a knighthood, and went into the history books. What did the queen get, around £160,000. This was reportedly enough to “pay off her entire foreign debt and still have £40,000 left to reinvest. The return to all the investors came to £47 for every £1 invested, or 4700%, a good return in anyone’s book.
What happened to the Golden hind in the end? well it basically stayed in Deptford. Maintained for public display, incidentally the first ship to be kept and displayed in this manner because of the historical significance. It remained there for around 100 years, and eventually rotted away and was finally broken up. It’s still not gone or forgotten though, parts were reportedly made into a table in Middle Temple Hall in london, and a chair in Buckland Abbey in devon, also the Pelican Inn in Gloucester claims to be made with some timbers from the ship.
So I have been living in Plymouth as a student for the past few years, studying at Plymouth University. It’s a great place, but I realised I don’t really know anything about it, or it’s history. So I have decided to start finding it out. I intend to post all the interesting stuff I find out here on my blog.
Where better to start that.. well the start! Or at least as far back as is recorded. The early history of the Plymouth area.
There have been many excavations and archaeological digs conducted over the years, with one of the most notable by Barry Cuncliff in 1988. During excavations in local caves in the Mount Batten area, Homo Sapiens were found, along with artefacts dating from the bronze age through to iron age. According to Cuncliff, this shows that it was one of the main trading ports of the country at that time. He goes on to state that Mount Batten was the site of the earliest trade with Europe yet discovered in bronze age Britain.
Ptolemy’s Geographia talks about an unidentified settlement named “TAMARI OSTIA” which translates to mouth/estuaries of the river Tamar. This could be the the location of the modern city of Plymouth, it could also be Mount Batten, or even potentially the settlement of Plympton just up the river.
The modern name of Plymouth is thought to have come from the fact it is at the mouth of the river Plym. Just up the river is the old town of Plympton, was recorded as Plymentun circa 900. There are many theories about where this name comes from, some say its from the old english word for “plum tree” (ploumenn). Other theories include the Latin for tin (Plumbum), or the Cornish word for lead (Plomm). All we know is that the first recorded name for the river was the Plyme in 1238. About this time are the first recorded name of Plymouth as a settlement (Plymmue in 1230, and Plimmuth in 1234). Previous to this though, and area known as PlymMouth was noted in a Pipe roll in 1211.
Plympton was at one point an early trading port, up until around the early 11th century, when the river became very silted, and forced merchants and mariners to trade instead in modern day Plymouth, around the area of the Barbican, much closer to the rivers mouth. At this time there was only a village there called Sutton, an old English word meaning “south town”. Although the town has been mentioned in many documents, Plymouth officially replaced the name Sutton in a Charter of King Henry VI in 1440.
I hope you find my first post about Plymouth informative, and interesting. I plan on doing quite a few of these posts, comments would be appreciated, and ideas that people want would also be great. Thanks for reading.
So my sister decided to do the Dorset Doddle this year, a crazy 32 mile walk between Weymouth and Swanage. Being one of those challenge walks that is “not a competition” she carried basically nothing. We were there to meet her at checkpoints, and give her food an fill up her water bottle.
One of the scheduled checkpoints was Lulworth cove. A lovely little cove, just east of Durdle Door. We have been here many times, so we had already seen all the shops a million times. Having a quick look at the map. we saw there was a trig point just up the hill. Now this hill doesn’t look very formidable from the bottom, but it’s like all the hills in the area, deceptively steep.
The name of this hill is Hambury Tout, and not much is known about it. It’s seems to be pretty empty of history, except there is a burial mound of some description on the peak. Also known as a round barrow, various remains, including a skeleton were discovered during an excavation in 1790. This means that the trig point is not actually at the very top of the hill, it’s on the northern side of the mound. You can’t actually see the sea from it!
The hill is said to be made of chalk, making the pathway bright white, and extremely obvious. Also, considering the weather, there were an awful lot of people traipsing up and down the hill. Although, there were none at the trig point, which was only 50m or so off the path. The peak of the hill sits at 441 feet above sea level (134m) so it was a good trip for anyone who want a small challenge. The views at the top were also worth the effort.
Here are a few pictures from our trip up to the trig point!
So we had our aim, and a basic design based off we saw in the videos we had watched. Now we needed to start the process of making it. We made a list of materials we might need, and had a basic look around on the internet, and off we went to the shops. During our travels we visited Screwfix, Wickes, B&Q, Hobbycraft and even Homebase. There were some pretty simple things we needed. Listed below:
Plaster of Paris
Drill (and drill bits)
smaller plastic bucket
cheap measuring jug
Some of these items you might already own, (and we did) but it was listed as things we needed to complete this stage of the project.
Safety Notice (don’t ignore)
At this point I am going to stress a couple of those boring safety points. We have worked with some materials that could be considered quite dangerous if improperly used. So use safety gloves wherever possible (these can be as cheap as £1.50 in some stores, so there is no excuse!) and goggles and masks are a good idea, especially with dust, and when drilling. If you don’t understand why these are needed, maybe you should stop reading at this point.
We would recommend thinking about where you do this project, there is the potential for spillage of plaster of paris, and that can ruin surfaces; so kitchens are probably out of the question. We recommend outside on a nice sunny day. Its always a good idea to be in a nice open area with plenty of ventilation, even when not working with toxic chemicals, it’s just good practice. We chose out outbuilding, its airy, already has paint stains, and contains all the tools we need as it doubles up as a basic workshop.
So let’s get on to the bit you care about how we made the foundry. The method starts with mixing together a mixture of 3.5 parts plaster of paris, 3.5 parts sand, and 2.5 parts water. This can be scaled up or down depending on how much you need to make to fill your bucket. We used a standard 14 litre bucket, and a standard liquid measuring jug to mix parts.
A few good tips to add in at this point. You should probably get some friends for this project, a few extra hands can be really useful. while we were making ours, we had one person stirring the mix, and another adding in the parts. Notice below, how many hands are in the images. The other point is to add the sand and plaster of paris before the water. As soon as the water is added, the mix will start the process of setting and you need to get that stuff mixed as fast as possible before it gets too hard. The last point is to mix this a lot, you want it to be thoroughly mixed together, else it could separate in the drying process.
Also, it would be a good idea to wear gloves at this point in the making, plaster of paris can cause burns if it gets in contact with the skin. Read the packaging first, and be careful when handling the powder and the mix.
While the mix is almost at its fully ready state, somebody needs to get the smaller plastic bucket, and fill it mostly with water. The amount of water used will depend on your buckets and mix. The water makes it much easier to hold the smaller bucket in place while the main mixture sets. If you get it right, it should not need much force to keep it in place until sufficiently hard.
Once it is held in place for around 5 minutes it should be hard enough to let go of. if not, it may need to be held longer. You could always put heavy items on top to keep it in place. After a while it should look like the one below. Able to be left without touching, slowly drying.
Remember that at this stage, it still needs to be left for a long time before we actually take the bucket out, preferably for 24 hours, but it will depend on the mix you made, your climate, the temperature, all manner of things. We recommend leaving it overnight. When you touch the top of the mix, if it is moving then it isn’t ready yet.
The next stage is very fragile though. First empty all the water out of the inner bucket. Then we used a pair of pliers to slowly move the sides of the bucket away from the newly set mix. The bucket was slightly damaged, but with patience it is possible to remove the inner bucket to leave your new fire hole. If it doesn’t collapse in on itself it’s considered a success!
Thanks for reading this post, I hope to be posting some more updates about our foundry in the coming weeks, so watch this space. Also, if you have been making your own foundry, leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.
So the new term of university is here, and we have a couple of weeks to settle into our new house. As a house we felt we needed a big project to get us going, to inspire a bit of teamwork in us, and we think we have found it! After seeing this video by Grant Thompson, we have been inspired to make a similar forge. So, over the next couple of weeks, this is what we will be making. As much as this will be a little homemade enterprise, we should be learning about business skills, basic accounting, and some safety stuff along the way; so it wont all be fun! The idea is to achieve, maybe inspire, and to make something that works, but let’s just see how this ends up.