Mucking about on the river

Mucking about on the river

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This weekend we created 25 origami boats, each with a small beacon, and set them afloat at night on a stretch of water at home near Northumberland. The results were magical. I've long been a fan of Northumberland Lights. Each December it uses incredible locations around the county as a stage for a creative lighting and projection show.

Venues in the last few years have included Kielder Forrest, Cragside need Rothbury, and most recently Alnwick Gardens. The shows delight and surprise in equal measure.

Another installation along similar lines took place in London for one night at the end of last year.

Winter Lights by Aether & Hemera, a partnership of architect Claudio Benghi and lighting artist Gloria Ronchi consisted of 300 paper boats illuminated on the Thames. The installation was an interactive experience that people can engage with from their mobile phones.

Inspired by Northumberland Lights and Winter Lights we built our own flotilla of paper boats with small LED beacons this weekend and headed out into the countryside near home to launch them on a stretch of still water.

I'm not sure I ever learnt how to make origami boats as a kid. Google has the answer of course in the form of a 90 second video on YouTube.

It takes five or six attempts mangling a sheet of A4 paper before you become sufficiently proficient to build a craft that will float. It's incredibly satisfying when it does eventually glide across the kitchen sink.

Origami boats

eBay is biggest and best stocked hardware store that you could ever image. We regularly use it to source odd nuts and bolts and other items of hardware. I bought 25 different coloured LEDs for £3. These are small electronic lights that are a common feature of electronic products.

LEDs glow brightly when power is applied. 25 watch-style batteries, also from eBay, cost another £5. Pound stores are also a good source.

A battery and LED are sandwiched together and fixed with insulating tape. We built 25 boats and LED beacons.

Making LED-beaconsAt dusk we headed out to a still stretch of water near home in Northumberland. An initial trial was aborted because it wasn’t dark enough.

Pitch black skies aren’t hard to find in Northumberland. In fact there are moves afoot to create Europe’s largest dark sky preserve in the region.

We lined up the boats in the dark.

LED boats

And then set them sail. The results were stunning and all the more special since the project cost so little.

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We’ve now derigged and dried out the boats, LEDs and batteries for another evening’s fun later in the year when we hope to increase the size of the flotilla to 100 or more boats.

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