This month I have been mostly repairing my website. I am sorry for the loss of service, at one point I had no website and no emails and my phone wasnít working properly either. It was like being back in the eerrrrr well 90s. In the end my website was transferred to a new server which took a dislike to anything with capitals in so it ended up taking forever to get the thing re-jigged back to where it was at the start of November. Back in the real world the rain has been falling with an intensity even greater than is seen at most bank holidays. Delivering firewood has been fraught with trying to find routes above water and I eventually stopped trying.
I also had a phone call telling me my sailing dinghy at Cragwood was afloat and I ended up spending Friday afternoon up to my waist in cold water wearing a pair of cycle shorts I had left in my bag trying to retrieve the waterlogged boat. In the picture we usually launch the boat down a ramp into the lake from beside the boat house. The road trailer for the boat had disappeared possibly floated away (is that possible?) .
In a rather nice sunny spell before the deluge we managed to get the tree shelters in at Holme Park fell. The finished cleft oak shelter look great and in the end were not too difficult to put in. I had been planning to weld up a jig to hold the posts at the correct angle while we knocked them in. In the end we did it by eye and plumb bob.
Its been an interesting few weeks, in particular there was the return of the Coppice conference at the start of October.
It was very well attended with around 60 people there each day and a more practical theme to the talks this time. Walter Lloyd kicked off the event with his recollections of coppice work between the wars and the rather incredible observations on hazel ships fenders while being shot at during D-day. Most of the other talks were more contemporary on the day to day problems of modern coppicing. Well most modern coppicing because it became clear that the sweet chestnut coppicers of Kent and East Sussex are a different breed. This is not surprising as the chestnut coppice trades have been in constant demand and skills passed down in a continuous line, while trade collapsed for hazel,birch and oak coppice after the war and has resulted in new markets having to be found by largely new proponents finding out for themselves how to make a coppicing business work. While the chestnut coppicers are still operating on an industrial scale they donít think they have anything in common with the rest of the coppice world. Well thatís the impression the two people with some knowledge of them gave. More likely they are too busy making what they have always made and so canít be bothered, but Iíve found that just talking to other coppicers and woodworkers throws up lots of good ideas. Actually it would be good to talk to them, might learn something. At the same time as the conference Brian and Kay turned up in their enormous lorry to collect the oak bark.
It wasnít collected last year (not enough bark), so two years worth of bark looked a bit more impressive and we managed 750Kgs this time.
The never ending succession of lows and accompanying rains has stopped at last (probably no more water left) and we have had a couple of weeks of dry and sunny weather. This has coincided with doing the Westmorland County Show for the first time and also the Woodland Pioneers course where for just about the first time there was no rain all week.
The county show was very pleasant and seams to be more a chance to meet old friends than any serious attempt at selling stuff, and also a chance to chat to some interesting visitors. One Irish chap from county Meath was telling me of a craftsman he knew that made nothing but barrows for wheeling peat about. The wheels were solid oak, the arms cleft ash and the finished barrows would last for many years despite heavy work. He would probably have made a lot more barrows if it wasnít for the pocheen still that also inhabited the workshop.
Woodland Pioneers was bought forward a bit this year after the week of rain last year and managed to fall on a dry week. I was doing two, two day courses this year. After the frenetic scrambling of 12 people last year to get the gate and fence finished I decided on an easier target this year of just doing a stretch of fence and hewing a fence post. Consequently there was a lot of rough tea drinking in the wood and standing around watching someone doing something. Everyone seemed to enjoy it though and the finished fence looks great. Finally I returned to retrieve the shake off cuts from Renny Park to find that mice had been nibbling the plastic knob on the hand brake on the tractor, oh well could have been worse, they could have nibbled through the fuel pipe like they did at Stoney Hazel. As I turn it on diesel pours out of the engine compartment, oh well easy enough to mend, I just wonder what it is about diesel fuel lines that mice like.
31.08.09There are some signs of the mad rush starting to abate, and Iíve even been able to have a week on holiday in Dorset. The latest mad dash was to get 2,500 shakes out for the early part of August, and we managed it with James setting a new record by knocking out 204 in a day. Iíve not really found out how he manages to be so much faster than me (my p.b. is 111) but itís a good job he is, we even had Saul reappear for a couple of days to help out. We have also been carrying on with the tree shelters for Holme Park but had a bad day where what looked like an easy tree to fell turned into another hung up nightmare. The tractor winch eventually gave up after 7 years of abuse with the drive chain breaking, and I had to get the hand winch to finish the job. Final score one tree down in one day one broken winch two knackered blokes, landrover cooling system breaks on the way home to the tune of £600. While we were breaking things a steady stream of firewood orders has been coming in, together with charcoal orders, no time to go on holiday really and I fell off me bike(broke that) and damaged my wrist. Daft accidents like that remind me to be more cautious as there is no sick pay for the likes of me. I have also been busy getting my knapsack spraying certificate. Iím pretty anti-spraying in general and only decided to get it because of the amount of Japanese knott weed appearing in some of the woods I work. Initially I thought it would be quite a straightforward course, but it turned out to be quite involved with you having to calibrate how much spray comes out of the nozzle, how wide the spray is (a function of how long your arm is) and how fast you can walk when pumping the lever. Because I have arms like an orang utan and didnít walk very fast I ended up having to use three times as much water as everyone else, the aim being to accurately apply the pesticide over a measured area to within ten per cent (donít worry we practice with water). I also went down to the RHS Tatton show on the BHMAT stand which turned out to be a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting but pretty tiring during the busiest times.
30.06.09The weather has warmed up considerably and we are sweating buckets. You would think that this is a good opportunity to wear shorts and short sleeved shirts, however wearing shorts amongst tick laden bracken is something I stopped doing a long time ago. Last week we were installing a cleft oak fence out in the open and I got bad sunburn and had to wear long sleeves for the rest of the week. Usually we are working in woods which stay cooler and shadier so working in direct sun proved to be hard work. The fence is up near Farlton Knott and there are huge numbers of High Brown fritillaries, which are quite rare these days. We have also been doing an experimental day making peeled split oak fence posts for the National Park authority. Having settled on a price of £3 each we thought we could make 100 in a day so making a reasonable return. We ended up making 66 posts between the two of us and exhausting ourselves to the point where I could hardly lift my arms at the end of the day. Other than the incredibly humid weather I canít think why this ended up as one of the hardest days Iíve ever done in the woods. With the warm weather we are also getting the full range of biting insects and the kamikaze Ďcleggí in particular. These are like ĺ size horseflies and donít hang about hovering around looking for the best bit of skin but arrow in and have to be batted off quickly before they get their painful spear buried into you. Luckily the fly repellent mostly keeps them off your skin but they can spear you through the back of your shirt. On a more alarming scale I had a hornet land on me in Stoney Hazel but knew nothing off it till James told me.
20.05.09Derwent oak festival up near Keswick was my first show of the year. The peeled oak shelter was dusted down and put up in sheep field at Portinscale right next to the footbridge with droves of walkers strolling past. It was looking like there could be a good turnout. Unfortunately they carried on walking past rather than come in (even though it was free), although large groups would watch from the footbridge. Martin Clark who had set up the event as part of the Bassenthwaite Reflections scheme had a posse of Rumanian fashion students sashaying up and down a sheep field in the clothes they had designed, mostly to a crowd of sheep. I was demonstrating oak shakes and had some interest from the few people coming round but the good thing was I was being paid to demonstrate making someone elseís shakes. This is one of the few times when you get to make real money and is a method that Owen Jones has found to make a living. Owen is paid to demonstrate swill basket making, makes three baskets a day and then sells them. The shakes were for a roof in Sunderland, and we were using some marvellous windblown oak that weíve purchased. This oak comes from another wood that the Pattinson Estate used to own. The Pattinsons built large numbers of fine houses round Windermere and had large areas of woodland planted with oak which they put a lot of effort into pruning each year. The oak was used for beams for their house building, and the resulting trees are tall and straight. In the background behind James you can see one of the windblown trees, which was hung up in another tree and resisted all efforts to pull it out of the other tree, including having the whole tree airborne. Eventually we got it down by attaching a rope close to the top and winching the top out. This tree had nearly 30 feet of clear trunk which cleft beautifully and produced loads of nice shakes and cleft oak rails. While having dinner in the wood James was whittling when an extravagant slice with the knife was followed by a lot of swearing as he cut into his left index finger. After patching up the cut he thought he better go and get a tetanus jab, and ended up being sent to Lancaster to have his partially severed tendon stitched up. That put him out of action for a couple of weeks. In the meantime Iíve been helping the tree climber clear the trees along the boundary of Rayrigg woods in Windermere. I must confess to not liking this sort of work, a mixture of boredom interspersed with moments of terror. More enjoyable was a weeks timber framing course with Malcolm Lennon to make a frame for a compost toilet Rebecca Oaksí yard at Silverdale. Malcolm has lots of experience and showed us how to layout the English tying joint which I hadnít seen before having learnt my timber framing from an American book. The week before the course I was milling the larch for the timber frame and helping Mike Carswell (Rebecca's apprentice) prepare the foundations. It was at the point where we got the cement mixer going that we realised we couldn't remember the proportions of the mix and after several phone calls to my chartered engineer brother found the various mixes printed on the cement bag. We were in danger of taking the instructions a bit too literally, here is Mike making sure only 20mm aggregate went in.
05.04.09 The winter has been a lot harder than usual with more frosts and snow, and as a result people have been keeping up a steady demand for firewood. But as usual winter seems to give way to spring overnight. One minute you are wrapped up with snow driving into every crevise then the sun comes out, the daffodils burst out in huge numbers and you are aware of the birds making lots of noise and grabbing moss for their nests. The birch stumps start pumping out sap at an incredible rate and the mud starts to dry up as the trees start taking moisture out of ground. We got our cleft oak fence installed during the last of the cold weather and got off to an ignominious start when we took the Landrover into the field which looked pretty sound near the entance but was incredibly soft further in and we made a huge mess trying to get out. Luckily the farmer over the road kindly got his enourmous tractor to pull us out, the first time I've had to be resued from a mire. . Anyway we got the two fences in and they liked them so much they ordered a load more. While we jump at the opportunity the realisation dawns that we've got to source a load more oak and fit in a hundred and one other things that have been put back because of doing the original fence. As luck would have it Roger Cartwright happen to ask me if I needed any oak as there were loads of windblown trees left from the storm several years ago. I had a look and they are brilliant, obviously been pruned regularly and dead straight. The only problem being that they up hill and down dale. Anyway should keep us in oak for some time. We've also been working a new section of Stoney Hazel. It's always interesting going into a new bit of wood and trying to work out where the extraction routes are. Previous coppice workers have done exactly the same thing, and we usually come to the same conclusions. Owen Jones the swill basket maker works the same woods and was telling us about his appearance on 'Victorian Farm'. The same night he was on he started getting emails enquiring about baskets and courses and now every one of his planned courses is full. We've also got a lot of work on with Rebecca Oaks who wanted some larch felling and dragging to a gateway. The larch is for an extension to her barn buildings. An interesting thing we noticed about the larch was the little red flowers that look like little raspberries. They taste quite nice (well they taste of larch).
20.1.09 December has seen a prolonged icy spell. Quite unusual these days, last year we had about a week of frosty weather and that was it. The sub zero temperatures have gone on for several weeks making the ground rock hard. Unfortunately I received the news that my mother had a terminal illness and one week later she passed away in hospital. My brothers and I all managed to pick up flu in the hospital to add to an already miserable time. So there hasnít been much done while the weather has been so good. Within half an hour of hearing about my mother I got news from the Italians that their charcoal consignment was underweight and they needed extra charcoal sending to start their experiment. It really was the worst afternoon of my life. Not surprisingly things came to a standstill over early January and Iím only just getting back into the swing of things. We have nearly finished making our big cleft oak fence and soon the fun will start trying to get the posts into bed rock. A few of the Woodland Pioneer people came back to finish off the cleft oak gate we were making and the finished gates are looking stunning. .
1.12.08 Its been a pleasant couple of weeks getting back to some green woodwork after the seemingly endless grind of firewood production. We have been back to the cleaving breaks we set up in Chapel House woods to make a large cleft oak fence order. The process of splitting a large log down using just wedges and cleaving breaks is still something I find magical, and when doing it find it easy to imagine someone doing the same thing thousands of years ago. Well last year at least. The weather while we were cleaving last week was superb with cold clear days, by far the best days in the woods.
Its strange how you get two large horticultural charcoal orders coming in at the same time and shortly after two cleft oak fence orders. Probably followed by most of the population wanting firewood.
18.11.08 One of the interesting aspects of having a website is that its working as free advertising all over the world. Iíve had emails from Africa asking about the design of my kilns, been offered Polish hurdles (quite tempting) and Eygptian orange wood charcoal. When I got an email looking for the price of a tonne of horticultural charcoal to go to Italy, I sent off the price fully expecting the enormous cost of transport to knock the idea firmly on the head. When they accepted the quote I suddenly started thinking Ďwhat does a tonne of horticultural charcoal look like, how do I send it, how do you export stuff?í Well a couple of weeks later the answer is:- it looks like 2 high pallets worth heat sealed in coal bags. Sending it seems a pretty fraught process as you wave goodbye to the pallets and they disappear to who knows where. The charcoal is going to a research institute looking into its use on wheat fields. The research into biochar seems to be gathering some momentum and there was an international conference in Newcastle last September. While it seems a hopeful new market at the moment I think as the science matures they will become much more demanding of a consistent product, probably produced by a retort or more industrial process. Just to sound like Iíve been hobnobbing with the scientific elite, I also went to a meeting about the new Windermere Catchment Renovation Project. The highlight was a talk by the director of the Freshwater Biological Association who said that there had been a huge increase in the number of roach in Windermere. You wouldnít think this was a bad thing but they are eating all the insects and water fleas which in turn arenít eating the algae (because theyíve been eaten). The algae eventully dies off and drops to the bottom of the lake de-oxygenating the water so forcing the artic char up into an ever narrowing strip of water between the de-oxygenated and the surface water that is too warm. On the coppicing front we have finished our section at Stoney Hazel, here are some before and after shots.
this view looks quite severe but is probably nearer to the correct canopy density for coppice with standards. And due to the extra light and deer fence the re-growth is coming through at great rate.
19.10.08 September has been a busy time for shows and auctions but Iíve only got to demonstrate at one of them. First off was the Westmorland County show where the rain held off for the day (many of the small shows have been cancelled due to bad weather this year) . For the first time ever I watched the junior Cumberland wrestling which seemed to pitch enormous youths against much smaller opposition. It was eventually won by a farmer boy from West Cumbria who looked like he spent his time carrying cows out to pasture. A quick trip over to the auction at York to look at potato bagging equipment for bagging up charcoal which I should have got but after waiting two hours for the auctioneer to get to the lot promptly froze when the auction started and missed getting the equipment for a reasonable price. Itís still strange to see traditional flat cap and string round the trouser knee farmers getting text messages on their mobile ď George is the only one who texts meĒ. The APF forestry show was on this year (itís every two years) and I found it very interesting this year. Besides drooling over giant forwarders there was a significant amount of equipment for small woods and also I got to see lots of people I met at the APF in Lockerbie and at the Royal show a few years back. The summer has been incredibly wet this year and most conversations seem to end up as ď I canít get any vehicles into the wood, onto the field or up a track. At the end of September was a flurry activity as I did the Silverdale woodfair where the highlight was talking to David Bellamy we had a conversation about an experiment he had on one of his first programs where the severed an oak tree which was in leaf and plonked it in huge bath of water to measure the amount of water sucked up. This was followed immediately by Woodland Pioneers, the BHMAT annual event. This year I volunteered to take the returners (people who had been on woodland pioneers before) and with Twiggy's help make a cleft oak fence and gate for Chapel House wood. This was quite an incredible group of people (we had 12 students on the course) and despite bad weather they produced three hand hewn posts a load of fencing and nearly completed two chunky oak gates in the four days.
31.07.08 Mid May saw me on a Coppice Association trip to Estonia. The best one of these trips Iíve been on with Estonia and particularly the island of Saameraa being a brilliant place for wood crafts and great woodlands. There is a much lower density of deer on Saameraa (wolves and people with guns) so the hazel grows lovely and straight and juniper invades the fields like gorse here. We saw a few small craft works making spoons and laminating lots of small blocks together to make place mats and chopping boards. The juniper has an incredible smell which scents any room you have these items in. Andres was our guide round Estonia and it was fascinating to hear about his time under Soviet rule. This ranged from the inefficient when he applied to go to Vietnam and was granted permission (17 years later!) to the rather sinister where a pupil at school doodled an Estonian flag in the corner of his school book and his mother was hauled into the local KGB office to explain how this could happen while the officer cleaned his revolver. Anyway to catch up its school holidays so Iím on short time working at the moment but I have been doing a few more charcoal burns for the brown bag market. On the cherry bed front that I made after Christmas, I've now put it together and lying in it. Its very comfortable and doesn't creek. Even when Moira lies on it.
12.05.08 10.3.08 January was particularly miserable this year with rarely a sight of the sun and huge amounts of rain bucketing down. For large parts of the month I withdrew to the barn where Iíve made myself a new bed out of some cherry boards that I milled up four years ago. Luckily there werenít too many firewood orders after Christmas as its taking me close on a day a load to extract it out of the mire at Witherslack and then transport it 20 miles to the barn for processing. This coincided with doing the accounts which seemed particularly bad for 06/07 with the vehicle costs (fuel repairs and insurance) virtually doubling for the year. This was probably due to burning at Haverthwaite and Stoney Hazel. As the economics are tight at the best of times its interesting that the location of the kilns can make such difference. However the signs of spring seem to start soon after Christmas. The shoots of daffodils start coming up, honeysuckle comes into leaf very early and the cut birch stumps start pumping out sticky sap. It sounds a bit strange but the smell of the woods seems to change overnight from a dormant decaying smell to a faintly sweet smell. I donít know if this is wishful thinking or hormones being given off by plant life as they detect the days lengthening. Just as business was seeming a bit slack I got the call to fell trees at a manor estate. They turned out to be very tall and overhanging a very expensive looking walled garden. We managed to get them all down with no mishaps but had a couple of heart stopping moments, one when the tractor with the winch on appeared to be dragged back by the tree falling over the wall. In fact the tree had just got caught behind another tree and the tractor was pulling itself backwards. The second was an ash tree that was very near the wall and I had left a thicker hinge on to make sure we kept control as it was winched over. As winching started the tree began to split vertically and the split wood at the back headed towards the wall eventually stopping about a foot away. They also wanted a large sweet chestnut sawmilling. This was about 3ft diameter and it took us two days to mill it up. Seemingly never ending you start getting an idea of how much timber comes out of a large trunk. p>