Since the earliest days of spring I’ve been visiting the pond on Old Plawhatch Farm, to document a project that grew out of a beautiful mentorship. A handmade boat. To celebrate the solstice and long days at the water, swimming days, boating days, I bring you the launch of the Flying Terapin.

When Callum, our 9-year-old mate in bushcraft, woodwork and art, first showed me the coracle, it was a skeleton of young coppiced branches stuck deep into the banks of the spring and woven together along the earth. Logs from a major pruning round the water (the algae on the pond needed to be reduced by exposing it to more sunlight!) weighted the top to create the boat’s shape as the young branches aged.
the coracle wood
This is the coppice where the new, bendy, sprouting branches were cut from. I love the tradition of building a boat beside the water where it will be set afloat, and using the materials found around it.
<the coracle woven
On my next walk on to the farm the framework had been woven together with more young shoots. In the farm shop one day I ran into Callum’s mentor, the affable Daniel Yabsley, and asked him about the project.
the coracle
Calico would be a traditional cover, but being fairly expensive, Dan helped Callum attach a tarpaulin to the framework instead. Canvas or animal skins were also used for these types of boats. One beautiful day in June a crowd of us joined the boatbuilders down at the old spring to launch the coracle. We flipped it over, off the bank and into the water. You can see the seat wedged in, not an easy project in itself.
the coracle launch
I think a mentorship is such a brilliant way to learn. One into the boat, two into the boat;
the coracle - they're off!
And they’re off! The boys used just one paddle and a wiggly sort of rowing.
Once round the pond and to the bank for passengers. The coracle is astonishingly stable! A race with the rowboat, and just about everyone (and their dog, truthfully) had a go.
the coracle © elisa rathje 2012 with thanks to james mccabe
Even me. What a thrill, to be out on the water on a beautiful day, in a handmade boat. Callum popped open a bottle of sparkling blueberry juice to mark the occasion.
the coracle © elisa rathje 2012 with thanks to james mccabe
(For the coracle thrill-seekers amongst you, you might like to know that one can spin round in circles rather quickly.) Such a wonderful old British tradition, coracle building. Happy summer solstice!

charcoal filter

Clean water is clearly an essential, and my favourite solution to filtering water is extraordinarily simple.

water filter © elisa rathje 2011

A charcoal filter. Simply a stick of charcoal, boiled for a few minutes to open its pores, and set in a pitcher of water for a few hours to filter it. Activated charcoal is an ancient filter and purifier.

binchotan water filter © elisa rathje 2011

Every few week I boil the stick for 10 minutes to clear it out. After a few months, when the charcoal is less effective, I move it to the copper kettle, pop it into the rainbarrel, or toss it on the compost. Nothing to throw away. I love that our water is held in glass, it tastes wonderful. I keep a few pitchers around the house, upstairs by the bath, on a ledge by the table, on my night table and fill them when they get low. Beautiful. The ones I have are called Binchotan charcoal sticks. There’s a long history of making charcoal from sustainable wood sources in England, and many other parts of the world. I’d love to see local charcoal producers making this simple solution.


A few toys from my childhood have not only lasted long enough for our children to enjoy them, but are just as exciting to them as they were to me, for all their simplicity.

sailboat © elisa rathje 2011

In fact it is quite possible that I enjoy some of them even more than I did as a child. I have great memories of taking our little wooden sailboat down to the ocean with my sister and my father.

sailboat © elisa rathje 2011

It’s such a pleasure to do that again with him, and the two little sisters in my own family. My sweetheart would love to do this with us too. We’re all missing him.

sailboat © elisa rathje 2011

How delightful to watch the boat in the water! It is a well built little thing, so graceful, and in all these years it has only grown more beautiful. It needs nothing but a walk to the water and sturdy string for us all to play with it. The children have declared themselves sailors.

Do you have a tried & true toy somewhere in your house?