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Primitive Pottery Course at Guy Mallinsons Woodland Workshop with Adam Hendley

I've just got back from the Woodland Workshops first Primitive Pottery course run by Adam Hendley.  Adam was a fantastic teacher & we all had a great time! He has an incredible history in bushcraft. You can read about him here, and I recommend that you do.

The setting for the course was just beautiful. The photo above is the view from the kitchen table across the pond to a pole lathe shelter.

I was very lucky to be there with an online pal of mine, Karen of WildelyCreative. We shared this massive, at least 25ft diameter tipi! It had a beautiful old wood burner in there that kept us warm most of the night.

This is where we spent our evenings, drinking local cider & sharing our stories, dreams & ideas, generally putting the World to right.  It was just over the other side of the pond that we dug out the clay we prepared on the course. It was great recognising the seam of clay in the soil & getting our hands stuck in, knowing we were going to be turning it into a pot!

With the bucket half full we brought it back to the workshop & added water. Then we stuck our hands in and processed it by squeezing & rubbing the clay until we separated the clay, all the large aggregates & the silt.

After leaving it to settle the seperated water/clay/aggregate/silt mix was then poured through some hessian & left to settle again. Then more water was poured off & the clay was poured onto some old towels to dry out further in the sun.

While that was happening we learned about temper. Using a heavy stone & some slabs we crushed some old terracotta pots, the perfect size grain was between a fine & medium sieve. We also heated some quartz in an old paint pot (with punctures in the lid) which, when cooled, was crushable into temper.

My memory is terrible (which, incidentally, is why I keep a blog!) so the picture above just helps me to remember how to make the temper discs below!

Making pottery in this way is such a beautiful process. The shades of colour are very earthy & knowing you are ultimately going to have a stone vessel for cooking in, drinking from or storing things in is just amazing. All with just a normal fire.

We spent a wonderfully long & peaceful time making pots! Perfect to do in a group as we all chatted, shared what we knew, took the mickey & sang 80's pop songs.

Above are a couple of pots drying waiting to be burnished. (I ended up burnishing my pots with a shiny pebble, others used some small glass bottles. Burnishing is a primitive form of glazing).  We had to turn our pots every few minutes so they dried evenly & not too quickly.

Now, LUNCH!  Well, lunch was an astonishing treat. In the kitchen above, The Nettle Pickers made us beautiful 2 course lunches & cake for tea time. Using locally sourced produce they quietly conjured up stunning meals. Although it was hard to pull ourselves away from our pottery, the food was so good we went running to trough on!


In order to fire our pots we needed to split lots of wood into small pieces. The wood had to be light as it would be burning on top of our pots.  Above Guy is in his element, teaching best use of a froe to split wood!

Once the fire has a good heart it is pushed to the side & our pots placed far enough away from it to gently bring them up to temperature.  We placed the pots on small bits of wood to keep them off the hot ash and turned the pots every few minutes to make certain they were heating up evenly. We also made fire sculptures as an offering to the fire in gratitude for its work in firing our pots. Mine came out like an alien head, seemed to do the trick though!

Once the pots were too hot to touch with our hands we moved them into the middle of the fire pit on to bits of wood (again to keep them off the hot ash) & corralled them with bits of wood to stop them getting too hot too quickly. We moved the coals to encircle them & kept the coals burning hot by feeding them with wood shavings. Gradually the protective wood began to burn & after about 15mins we put a layer of wood over the top of the pots.


The pots were then completely encased with fire. This is where our thin bits of kindle twig came in handy by not putting too much weight on the pots as they fired. It did mean it needed constant feeding until we could no longer see the pots.


Once the fire burned down, the pots went from glowing red hot, to slowly cooling in the ashes. It was just amazing to see the patterns left by the ferns I'd pushed into the clay as decoration. Our fire sculptures made it through the firing too! You can see my freakish alien head on the left!

So, here are three of the pots I made. The one on the left isn't fired yet. The other two were fired in the flames of the photo above. We celebrated by drinking cider from our vessels!


Here's just a close up of the fern detail. There are about six leaves inside the cup forming a wee pattern. I just love it!
So, all in all I can safely & loudly say that the Pottery Course was extraordinarily good! Not just the course,  being there was an experience worth paying for in itself.  It ticked a lot of boxes... beautiful setting; comfortable & innovative outdoor set up; great food; relaxed, funny & informative teaching from Adam; genuine friendliness from both Guy & Adam; a real sense of achievement & wonder from the course itself!

As Adam has so much experience of bushcraft he brought along lots of the different bits of kit he's made over the years. I wont go into detail but make the photie above bigger & have a good nosey at some of it.

I made poor Adam pose with this primitive drill he'd made.  So beautiful in it's simplicity.

This is Adams Bow for his bow drill set. It's made of osage (the PERFECT wood for making actual bows). A beautiful bit of kit. He demonstrated for me how he uses the bow drill & in less than a minute, with what looked like no effort at all he had a flame. His technique is brilliant & I'm going to practice till I get it!

Here is one of the bags Adam made from bark. It's exactly the same principle as making an oak swill. So I'm going to give it a go at some point soon.

Finally... Adam had a throwing axe & some throwing knives & after a quick how to, he left me to play at chucking them at Guys massive wooden target. (oi! stop it! there's no other way to describe it!!).  Anyway, I found the knives quite hard to get on with but extra satisfying when I got them in the target. The throwing axe however was a revelation! I LOVED it!  Can't WAIT to get me one!!

*Phew!* This is a long one! Well, if you've managed to get yourself down to this bit of the post thank you & please, book yourself on one of Guys courses. I can't recommend them enough. That's not just me being a salesman, which clearly I am (I wish!!) I genuinely can't wait to save up my pennies & get back there. Preferably on an adult bushcraft course with Adam!



  1. I love, love, love this wonderful post. I would have loved to joined in this workshop. What a delightful tipi and the tree stumps as seats. So inspirational. I'd love my summer nature workshops to be set up like this...need to get my thinking cap on. Thanks so much for sharing.
    My latest blog post: Wind Streamers:

  2. Hi Hen
    Thanks for writing such a lovely report on your time here - I loved it too! Hope to see you soon & pls send a pic of your last pot once fired.

  3. Fabulous blog sweet Hen, almost felt as if I were there with you{I wish!}. I'd like to see more of the inside of the ferny pot. It looks lovely!

  4. Hen!!
    So wonderful to see your posts of what you have been up to. What a most beautiful place to spend your time, and the pottery!! I would love to learn to do pottery from scratch like this.
    We are hiking the Appalachian Trail right now, and will be at the half way point this evening. This trip is just flying by!! I truely look forward to catching up on your blog when we finish the trail and I have the time to sit down and read it.
    Have a most beautiful summer Hen!! Keep enjoying the beauty of bushcraft!

  5. Absolutely incredible, Hen!! Your pots are excellent.

  6. Sounds like a great course. I am really impressed with all of it.

  7. Looks like you had a brilliant time, and the photos are great! I haven't made pots since I was at school; I love the idea of pressing ferns into the clay for the pattern. I'd love to go on one of the courses, need to save up though! :-)

  8. Hello Hen

    Just found your blog.. What can I say.. A sight for sore eyes and you live in a wood.. I shall follow your wonderful journey..

    ~ Julie

  9. hello hen! stopped by here by chance and was thrilled to find a recent post! I wondered where you had got to, and now I know!
    belated blessings of the solstice to you

    Leanne x


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