An adventure in learning…

This week we have been working with students from South Dartmoor college. The woods have provided the rich resource for learning skills including fire making, spoon carving, nature connection and black smiting. Fire making by friction, leaning to be invisible and exploring what it really takes to work as a team have been some of the highlights!

Everything led to the resilience challenge where students had a wonderful adventure. Working in groups they built a shelter, foraged and cooked their dinner; sleeping wild with very little adult help. One group managed to put the skills they learnt into action; lighting their own fire by friction and cooking a two course meal!

Let us know if you were on this programme and how you found it?


A conversation with … July 2014

A conversation with…

Nomsa Fakude: Catalyst participant

Nomsa is 18 years old and took part in Catalyst as part of her GAP year, which she is spending travelling to the UK for six months, from South Africa.


What did you expect from Catalyst?

My gap year is essentially a year just to find myself and to discover (as clichéd as it may seem) my purpose. Unlike most people my age, I am certain where I would like to end up in life, I am just not sure of how to get there, and I think doing a program like Catalyst, will help me to discover the necessary steps to take in order to find my way there.


What was Catalyst actually like?

For me, Catalyst was nothing short of extraordinary. I had an incredible time not only learning about those around me, but about myself. Every single day was a different journey which all came together in the end as one whole amazing adventure.


What did you learn about yourself by taking part?

I came out of Catalyst possessing a level of self-expression that I had never had before and I am quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to gain it otherwise. The week was challenging at times, which it had to be in order to have the impact that it did.


What will you take back into the world now?

I want to become writer and director of feature films and use it to somehow make (if even a little) difference in our world. I am going to study Film and Journalism next year, but this is a year for me to do some things that are completely different and that I never would have done otherwise. I have spent some time at various companies doing internships which has been an amazing learning experience.


What made Catalyst special for you?

I am extremely grateful for the generosity of my sponsors without whom my journey at Embercombe would not have been possible.

Kitchen blog July 2014

Local Wild Rabbit Pie.


How we do meat here has been a slow evolution and is always up for debate, currently we are having wild meat about once every 2 weeks. The animals are brought by a well known hunter to us, sometimes coming from our own grounds or currently from local farmer’s fields as they are being culled to help protect the farmers crops. It’s common place for the programs we run here to be involved in the skinning and butchering in a sacred process of reconnection. A few weeks ago we culled some of our egg laying chickens, they had become to old for what we have them here for and to really meet the dark side of our egg consumption, many took part, including a school group, residents of Embercombe and volunteers, in culling the birds. I’m sad to say I didn’t take part, I hid away in the kitchen making breakfast for the group. But I’m glad this sort of stuff goes on here and next time I get the opportunity I hope not to be so easily distracted.



Rabbit meat, either cut of the bone and fried or boiled untill tender.

Finely chopped carrots, onion, potatoes and anything else rooty (not beetroots!)

Garlic chopped

Thyme (fresh annual is great at the moment) and dried parsley

Couple of bay leaves

Some wine/cider (optional)


Chicken Stock

Wholemeal shortcrust pastry


Fry up the onions and veg, let them sweat it out until just tender. You don’t want it to be on a high heat, start hot then go low and keep the temp down from then on. You don’t want to burnt anything on the bottom of the pan.

Throw in the garlic.

At this point you can add some wine/cider if you fancy, let it steam the veg for a few mins.

Add the herbs, be generous, especially with the thyme.

Time for the rabbit, just pop it in there (in bite size pieces), then add some cornflour, not loads, you don’t want it to taste of it, just help the sauce to thicken a little.

Stir it all up, then slowly add the chicken stock, it’s a good idea to heat the stock up first to help speed up the process. Add enough so it’s as moist as you like your pies to be. Season with Salt and Pepper well. Taste it, it should taste good.

Blind bake the pastry in a tin and when it’s starting to harden, pop the filling in and roll out the top. Make some fun patterns on the top and pop it back in in the oven, gas mark 4-5, untill the top is nice and golden.



The garden blog July 2014

Tuesday 22nd July

The first tomatoes of the season is always one of my favourite times of year.  It is late January when we start them off in heated propagating trays – hundreds of plants that will produce hundreds of kilos of tomatoes, all in 2 small trays!   Then it is a labour of love, as they are potted on through the spring, and eventually out into the tunnel and some outside.  Then the relentless side-shooting begins – it is just incredible the tomato’s desire to grow into a bush!  Also, we are very careful not to get the leaves wet at all whilst watering, so as to minimise the conditions needed for fungal diseases like blight to take hold.  And so, by this time of year, they have made a jungle of the polytunnel – a gorgeous place to retreat to on a summer’s evening with a cold drink!  This year we are growing about 12 different varieties – including some rare heirlooms – with a great range of colours, sizes and flavours.  I very much hope you enjoy them!

In your box this week:

New potatoes, beetroot, onions, garlic, courgettes, cucumbers, a mixed bag of salad, basil, kale, mixed french beans, mixed variety tomatoes and a bunch of grapes.

Looking for new members and salad nicoise!

We are looking to take on a few more members for the veg box scheme this year, so if you are enjoying this weekly dose of fresh produce, please do spread the word to your friends.  We’ll even give you half a dozen bottles of our delicious cider if you can find another member to join the scheme!

And finally, I’m sure it is a recipe that you know already, so let’s call this a reminder.  I couldn’t help but think of salad nicoise as I was packing the boxes this week.  What a perfect summer meal – green leaves, new potatoes, fresh tomatoes, cucumber and french beans.  A little sliced onion and garlic in the dressing! Just have to find your own eggs and a bit of fish!


Can horses teach us leadership?

Here at Embercombe we have two working Dartmoor ponies. Their presence contributes to our community in many ways.



Our two lovely ponies.

They are a natural part of the landscape, just to see them grazing in the fields connects with something special in people, they have an ethereal quality; they are the perpetual dreamers.

They are also for us to explore the working relationship that has existed between people and horses for thousands of years.


I am continually learning from Natalie (who rescues many ponies from the moor and re-homes them). Her insight, her experience and her deep intuition and wisdom about all things equine makes it a privilege to spend time with her.

Our relationship with the ponies is based in natural horsemanship; the understanding that they are prey animals and they see us as predators. So our role is to reassure them that they are safe with us, based on the premise is of passive leadership; that through our kindness and consistency they trust us and because of that trust they will do as we ask, rather than us making them do what we want.

I find it a very graceful and exciting way of working with the ponies (it also a great foundation for interacting with people!).

When they arrived they were semi-wild, my main task was to sit in their field, so that they could assimilate me in to their herd. They needed to get used to my presence, to feel safe. They aren’t goal based, so in all of our work I am mindful that the outcome of each session is that they have learnt something because they wanted to, not because they were forced to.

Over time they have aquired many skills, they wear harness and panniers to carry vegetables, compost and wood. They manage many challenging environments; they have done a tour of Centrefire, been to the top of the mound, met many inquisitive people, dealt with chainsaws, vehicles, a variety of loud noises and many other things.

This passage from ‘The Power of the Herd’ by Kinda Kohanov summarises much of what I am becoming increasingly more aware of;

‘In recognizing that animals have much to teach us, that they have (as recent scientific research suggests) been tutoring, empowering, healing and transforming us all along, we will have to let go of the idea that we are the only intelligent species on the planet.

Imagine if all of us could bring these lessons out of the shadows and employ them consciously, creating a form of shared leadership that taps the talents of the entire herd – what we might accomplish if we finally understood how to be powerful together’.

Horses bring their socially intelligent, non-predatory approach to leadership, innovation, collaboration and power.

By Fi Barnes


Elsa Hammond – an incredible woman rowing for other incredible women

Rowing solo and unsupported 2400 miles across the Pacific Ocean through the plastic garbage patch, in order to raise awareness of plastic pollution. She is also rowing for gender equality, and on behalf of Global Ocean and the Plastic Oceans Foundation.

 Watch Elsa’s film and be inspired! Elsa set out to complete the Great Pacific Race 2014, rowing alone across the ocean for up to three months. Bad weather conditions and unexpected setbacks mean that she will soon touch land in Mexico instead of Hawaii as planned, but we still think her achievement is outstanding and inspirational.

 Along the way Elsa has been collecting samples for research into plastic pollution with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. You can support Elsa to complete this final leg of her epic journey by donating a mile or an oarstroke

 Celebrate the incredible achievements of Elsa and women everywhere by sharing your stories and congratulations to her on our blog here elsa

A messy education is good for you

Learning can be a messy process, both physically and emotionally. The bumps and shocks and grazes, literal as well as metaphorical, are all part of what we at Embercombe see as the learning journey. Sometimes there are emotional spillovers too and its in these moments, when you look for it, that the most lasting and impactful learning can be found.

The questions that come out of these moments are especially important. “Questions are magnets that draw us towards our teachers” Ramsey Musallam, TED Talks Education

IMG_ (45 of 78) making cob

Embercombe asks all our visitors to engage with three questions – What do you love? What are your gifts? What are you responsible for? In the exploration of those questions, often many more emerge. From our youngest visitors aged 7 on a school trip, to professionals undertaking The Journey – these questions bring to life learning that is fun and filled with energy.

As the new academic year begins, Embercombe will be working in Higher Education to bring an experiential learning program to staff delivering PGCE and Education degrees. We hope that these questions will inspire future teachers to challenge their students with questions that place curiosity at the heart of the learning journey.

“If we have the courage to confuse our students, perplex them, and evoke real questions – through those questions we as teachers have information that we can use to tailor robust and informed methods of instruction.”

Follow our Education team and meet our facilitators to find out more about how you can work with us too.


Leadership, Lollypops, Laughter and Love

Nina Farr

At Embercombe we talk about leadership a lot. We talk about it with our children and schools, on our core programs for adults, on Catalyst with youth on the cusp of adulthood. We know that in each and every one of these individuals, a leader is already alive.

Watching these individuals grow in confidence and blossom into their power is one of the great joys of working here. Celebrating the wonder of this ability we all share is a vital part of what we do.

Despite our rich experience of witnessing emerging leaders, there persists a modern myth of leadership that says it is grand, aspirational – unattainable. Something only the special among us achieve or deserve. That we must first learn, then earn, the right to experience it.

Across the world this myth is being challenged, as more and more people determine to celebrate the wonder of our life changing, magical moments – whether we are trailblazing in some way, or simply here in our truth, authentically representing ourselves as we really are.

Drew Dudley talks in this lighthearted TED talk about the moment he realized that he personally had made a huge, lasting and incredibly positive impact in the world. It began with something as insignificant as a lollypop, and a laugh.

In reality, these moments happen to all of us, and we create them too. Each one of us has the ability to make a dramatic impact in our world. We both receive and share the gifts of leadership innate in us. Acknowledging that we are doing so is the next big step.

If you are ready to stand in your commitment and truly embrace your own powerful contribution to the world, come and explore The Journey programme, or join our debate here on the blog. Let us know the moments that have shaped your life, and the people and places you’ve made a lasting impression on.

The Decline of Play

Peter Gray speaks powerfully and eloquently on the decline of play in childhood. Highlighting the devastating social and emotional impact of the steady and gradual loss of time and space for play over the recent half century, this TedX talk is a call to action – to reclaim the world of play.

Here in the valley of Embercombe, we understand and passionately defend the right of all children to play. Play freely, truly engaging in self-directed, self-controlled activities. To learn through their own adventures how to explore their environment, their bodies, their relationships and themselves; to build, to uncover, to test themselves, to grow. Play is at the heart of everything we do.

We know that adults too, need and deserve a space to play. Playing is how we relax, how we learn, how we release tension and how we experience joy. It is not a luxury, but a necessity in modern life.

“Strong healthy children are nurtured by the loving and challenging embrace of sun, rain, wind, frost, and soil; by trees, streams, hills, horizons and birdsong; by dawn and dusk, wood smoke and the returning seasons.” (Mac Macartney)

Strong healthy adults are nurtured and restored by this connection to nature and to play as well.

In the academic world, the power of play is well documented, well researched and well understood. Here in the UK, the most recent Cambridge Primary Review (Sept 2013) made a powerful call to raise our school age for early formal education from four, to six.

And yet, as the evidence for the benefit of less school mounts, ‘all the hue and cry we hear everywhere is for more school.’

“Play is where [children] learn to solve their own problems and learn therefore the world is not so scary after all. Play is where they experience joy, and learn the world is not so depressing after all.  Play is where they learn to get along with peers and see from others point of view and practice empathy and get over narcissism….

“Play is by definition creative and innovative.” (Peter Gray, Play Researcher)

At Embercombe there are spaces for children, in our natural learning community who meet every Tuesday, through our schools programmes; and for families, at Summer Camp and Emberfest. For our youth, on the Catalyst programme and for adults yearning to embrace this fundamental truth on the Journey.

A gathering swell of outrage at the loss of our children’s freedoms, and our own spaces as adults to play, is being voiced across the world. Research, speakers and blogs on this topic are becoming viral messages on Facebook, trending on parenting sites and appearing on twitter feeds. Curious parents from all walks of life are beginning to question the choices available to their children.

Join the debate with us, and reclaim your right to natural, unstructured play.

Education day at Bristol Big Green Week

cob monsterLast weekend the Embercombe Land-Based Learning team packed a trailer full of materials and came down to the quayside of Bristol for the start of the Big Green Week. Against the backdrop of the Kaskelot, a three masted tall ship, we offered the opportunity for everyone around to get involved with hands-on making and creating. Adults and children alike used their bare feet to mix clay, sand and straw into cob, which was then used to build and create the sculpture of a sea monster.

Imaginations were stirred up, and the sea monster became Brizzle, the monster who famously protected the city from Viking intruders. A model of the Clifton Suspension bridge was built between its back and tale, and wood shavings were used to create spiked teeth within the wide jaw.

Alongside this, there was green woodwork to have a go at, and the cutting of chestnut shingles to go on our well roof back at Embercombe. The weekend was a great chance for people to not only see some of what we do in land-based learning at Embercombe, but to have their own experience of it. To witness so many engaged children mixing clay, modelling with their hands and awakening their creativity was wonderful.