is coming to The Bushcraft Show 2017
By Olivia Beardsmore
Words fail me when it comes to write about my day with Will Lord. Most of what happened that day cannot be verbalised and I hope that the photographs accompanying this blog will capture what my words fail to convey. I would challenge any journalist to fully capture the essence of Will Lord in a two-dimensional format. Will is definitely best appreciated in real life, not because he is a larger then life character but because of his warmth, charisma and creative talent. My aim is to portray the real Will Lord, the spirit of this skilled, pre-historic expert.
I had never met Will Lord before, of course I had heard much about this talented primitive survival expert, but knowing about him did not prepare me for meeting him. I arrived at Will’s idyllic chocolate-box pictured home in Suffolk late morning and we greeted each other with a cordial handshake. He took me in to his home where I had the opportunity to meet his lovely wife Sarah who made us all a drink and shared how she met Will. Sarah is an archaeologist and wanted to attend a flint-knapping course to further her studies, but could not afford to go on Will’s course so she attended his father’s. Upon meeting Sarah, his parents told her that Will would be visiting and running a course at Butser Ancient Farm the following weekend where she volunteered and the rest is history. Their son Xander (age 7) introduced himself and I would later witness his flintknapping skills as a third generation flintknapper.
Will Lord grew up on the English Heritage site of Grimes Graves, a prehistoric flint mine in Norfolk, where his parents were custodians for many years. He returns there to breath in the essence of the site and remind himself of his true roots. On one of Will’s visits to Grimes Graves to teach flintknapping skills, dressed in his caveman attire and natural face paints, he said “I really didn’t want to put my face paint on today, the land knows me as me”. He questioned how he was going to deal with that and decided to paint himself anyway so he could show Grimes Graves what he does now. “It was fun to present the caveman side as there is value in both”, explained Will. Will feels that a lot of people like what he does for two reasons, one because it’s interesting and secondly, if you just stick directly with flintknapping the subject is limited. Will said, ‘the most amazing thing is how time rotates in circles and I’m now spending a lot of my time on the land I came from once more. I have been in orbit for 26 years and I feel at home right now’.
Will lives in a way that he never really knows what he is going to do tomorrow, so there is a freedom attached to his life every day. This year Will chose to study nettles. He explained, ‘Nettles were really important to me as my mum was really in to the fiber but we didn’t really cover that subject together, me and my mum”. From Will’s studies of the nettle, he desires to make a nettle waistcoat and a hammock. Will’s mum passed away last year and Will loves to feel close to her by practicing skills she enjoyed and extending his knowledge. People would say to Will, “I love your mum” and Will explained that that was because she was a mum to everyone. He described, “If mum was here, she would be taking you by the hand and gently caressing your face, she was very tactile”. His mum was a full-on hoarder, Will’s words not mine. He said you could barely sit down in the house, but people would travel to meet his mum and come out changed. Will chuckled as he reminisced how his mum had the ability to get a day’s entertainment out of anything. His joke to his mum was that a peanut was entertaining to her. She would study something for hours and hours.
Will is an encyclopedia of information and the conversation moves in a peaceful haste from limebark to tanning skills, all intermingled with a great passion for his subject, sharing knowledge and of course intermingled with humour. This man has such a zealousness for life, a respect for mother earth and the gifts she gives with a spiritual intuitiveness and peace. Will shows and expresses his gratitude on a daily basis.
Will’s dad is the talented and well-known flintknapper, John Lord. From 1975 Will’s mum and dad worked together as custodians of Grimes Graves, the Neolithic flint mining site at Lynford, Norfolk, working for the Department of the Environment (now English Heritage). During a 13-year period they mastered the art of flintknapping, sharing their skills with visitors and schoolchildren. Their expertise was highly sought after and they were employed by Ray Mears to teach on his Primitive Technology & Ancient Skills Course and Will now teaches on this course.
Will showed me around his double garage where he runs some of his workshops. We then walked over to his wooden cabin, which is an Aladdin’s Cave of primitive artefacts. I had the pleasure of handling a Neolithic hammerstone, dating from late Stone Age and a Mesolithic flake, which would have been used as a knife. One special moment for me was when Will handed me a meteorite. Will didn’t know this, but I had always wanted to hold a meteorite. For me holding a fallen star is magical. This is what it must be like for Will when he handles and selects each piece of flint and he explained that while he is working with flint, he feels connected to it. Will told us flint would start to cry as you held it and true enough as he held it, water came to the surface of the flint, making it wet to touch. Will explained that if you try and knap flint straight from the ground then it just crumbles due to the moisture content. It’s incredible to watch flint weep, it appears such an inanimate and cold material but seeing it weep really brings it to life. When Will teaches children he tells them that he has stones that cry, stones that start fires and stones that bleed. The children are fascinated.
Will puts his humour down to his approach to life and shared that, “If I wake up, then I say good, I can go and play”. He has learnt not to worry about the things we often get stressed about and he shared many personal experiences where he had felt blessed. For example, on one occasion Will had a tax bill for £6500 to pay, he did not know where he would get the money from and instead of worrying carried on with life. A few days later he received a call from America from a man wanting to order some flint. When asking for a price, Will said, “that will be £6500 please” and the tax bill was paid. Will has had many experiences like this and feels guided throughout his life. He knows he is doing what he should be.
After our visit around Will’s fascinating Stone Age museum, he took us to his stunning Roundhouse, which he had made with his own bare hands. He carefully selected a piece of flint to demonstrate to us how to make a Neolithic Axe Head. I asked Will why he had selected that piece and he said, “Primarily there are not too many cracks and you can see that the shock waves are managing to escalate across the stone without running into things”. As he tapped the flint, a beautiful bell-like sound rang from it.
I watched Will in awe as with one movement a shard of flint would flake away. He said that the first strike is called a jumpstart flake, which means it broke where he didn’t hit it. Before his next strike, the flint pierced the palm of Will’s hand and it bled significantly. It was as if he had made a symbolic sacrificial offering for the axe head!
Will’s cut was quite deep cut and needed some dressing. People who know me will know, I’m not a handbag type of girl, I like to carry my phone, lip-gloss and debit card in my pocket and that’s it. So to have a handbag with me that day was surprising, but to be able to go inside it and offer Will a tissue and a plaster was in itself miraculous!
Once Will’s hand was dressed, within minutes he was back on task and performing with precision. He explained, “What I have done is to create a formula so that people get an opportunity to see a way to move forward over a random rock. What we are trying to do is get this sharp to the centre of the stone, so it means we are ascending flakes off in both directions, either side and you end up with something called an ovate bi-face. So technically, flintknapping is a high spot, or lump reduction exercise”. Will talked us through, step-by-step all the intricate detail and technical terms as the axe was formed. You will be delighted to know that Will is writing for Bushcraft & Survival Skills Magazine and you can read and learn from his vast experience in coming issues.
In what seemed like a short space of time, Will created the axe head with consummate ease as I watched in awe and asked questions. Upon examining the final result and checking he was pleased with it, Will stood up and said, “There you go” and presented me with the Neolithic axe head. This was a moment to treasure and we embraced with such affection, sharing the moment with gratitude.
After our heartfelt hug, I examined the axe head, looking at its detail, angles, colours and imagining the incredible power of such a tool. But what struck me was the temperature of the flint. You would expect flint to be smooth and cold, but this axe head was warm, particularly in the heart of it. It was like one of those disposable hand-warmers that you snap and they keep you warm for hours. I was so fascinated by this warmth, that I decided to put it down to the friction of the flint being struck like creating a spark for a fire, but when I felt the shards that were left, they were stone cold. I held the axe head and passed it around for others to feel and they were also surprised how warm it was. It was so unreal that I decided to leave it on Will’s garden table in the gentle breeze for about an hour. Believe it or not, when I went back to it, it was still warm. This warmth lasted for days and for me it only served to reinforce that there is something very special about this flintknapper.
Before we left, we got to meet the famous Primal Action Man and Neanderthal Nel. They comprise an Action Man and Barbie doll, who has been transformed into Neolithic characters. You may have come across them and their antics on Facebook as they have their own Facebook page. The detail and talent of each item that Will and Sarah have made are incredible. From snow shoes to their own cave, this prehistoric pair want for nothing. We had great fun discussing new storylines for Will to reenact with these characters.
The day ended with big smiles on our faces, rainbows in our hearts and a selfie with the man himself.
Will is coming to The Bushcraft Show 2017 – watch and learn from him in action.
Places on Specialist Instruction classes are selling fast – Book your ticket before it’s too late!
Make a Mesolithic Tool Kit with Will Lord – SOLD OUT
Palaeolithic FlintKnapping Workshop with Will Lord – SOLD OUT
For more information about Will Lord visit www.will-lord.co.uk
Photographs by John Potts.