This summer has been quite remarkable after the washout of the last couple of years. Woods have dried out and we've been able to get the wood out of Dixon Heights.The trailer I bought from Estonia last year has sat in the barn while I tried to figure a way of getting enough hydraulic pressure to make the 4wd rollers work. In the end I gave up and have been using it at Moss and Height Spring to move 3 metre long poles without using the rollers. It works very well and the rocking beam axles flow over stumps and rocks very easily.But handballing 3 metre long poles on and off is still hard work.
After eight years great service Arnold the landrover has been sold for a younger less milage L200. Its obviously been a farmers car and stank of sheep droppings. My son has christened it sheeppoojitsu and it seems to have stuck (the name not the sheep poo).
August saw us completing a big cleft oak tapping rail for the National Trust on Derwentwater. It had around 200 posts on it, and while putting the points on with a chainsaw Sam suggests he could do it faster with an axe. Having tried axing the points on before I was dubious and decided on a race over 5 posts, chainsaw against Swedish broad axe. Sam managed to just beat me, but it was pretty amazing to see how fast it can be with a powerful axe technique.
Tried a different design for Molly's bench, with angled square through mortices which I'd vowed never to do again after a rather poor attempt a few years back. This time getting the morticer on the job to see if that works better.
One of the more unusual jobs has been for some 'viking planks' for a replica of longship being built at the Barrow ship museum. This involved cleaving down 8foot long planks to just under an inch thick and then adzing the triangular clefts to a more rectangular shape. Turned into a bit of a major job.
A tree blew over in Catcrag and the root plate levered up the deer fence. The deer found the small gap and have gone munching bonkers on the new hazel growth causing an enormous amount of damage.
This screen worked really well with cleft peeled oak cross bits and adzed frame, sweet.
May has been quite a busy time. We have,at last ,had a dry spell that has dried out the mud and allowed us to get into inaccessible places like Craggy Woods.
We've been able to finish the last of the charcoal burning and remove the kilns to a new spot Dixon Heights where Saul used to live.
You would think I would know better than to put the kilns in another awkward place, but here we are winching kilns up very steep hills.
Luckily I managed to avoid squashing Sam with kiln largely due to his strength. We were winching the kiln up a particularly steep bit, with Sam guiding the kiln from behind when the pole we had through the kiln broke.luckily Sam was strong enough to resist the downward thrust of 250kgs of kiln till I could get it hooked up again. Stan who I bought the wood off has had a Unimog up there, which is impressive considering the terrain. I've bought a trailer with 4wd from a company in Estonia that I visited a few years back. It arrived on the back of a massive truck too big to get in the yard, half an hour before I was due at the dentist, without warning. Frantic scrabbling around trying to get the tractor going and then digging out slings.
The truck was so high we had to virtually drag the trailer off. I had the local tractor expert rejig the hydraulics on the little tractor and we expectantly hooked it up to find the tractor hydraulic pump is 40bar short of pressure to operate the 4wd. Not sure what to do now, but it will probably be expensive.I should probably have kept on using Sam to snig out the wood
Apologies for the long wait, I have been trying to build a new version of the website (slowly) and there is only so much looking at a screen I can put up with these days. The winter was a very wet one with about 120percent of normal rainfall with brief periods of weird weather inter spacing it.
One such episode was an ‘ice storm’ where rain fell onto frozen ground coating everything in a layer of ice. It was just about impossible to move around with 100 accidents being reported in Cumbria that morning. I needed to put some hand split bits of firewood into a bag but it was like trying to lift large ice cubes and they kept slipping out of your grip.
An event in February called New Green Woodwork brought together craft workers and young professional designers for a long weekend trying to come up with contemporary greenwood products. It was quite a challenge but the designers really got into it and came up with some inventive ideas. I was working with a lad called Jack Smith who works for Studio Tord Boontje in London and he came up with this novel idea for steam bent legs on a stool. I had a lot of trouble getting my head round what he was after and even more trouble drilling the holes at the correct angles although Jack did offer to draw it all on a laptop program that could work it all out. The legs were hazel and I don’t know if we steamed them too long but there was some breakout of the grain. One of the consequences of this course organised by Charlie Whinney and Grizedale Arts was that I briefly got onto Facebook to look at the pictures of all the pieces made (see Grizedale Arts). This became a huge waste of time and luckily the account got suspended and released me from its icy grip.
We have also been working on a post and rail fence for York Castle Museum which I got a chance to see when delivering some more fence, and it was looking rather lovely and is in a very prominent position by the river so will be seen by millions (well tens at least).
Here’s the rails completed and ready to be shipped out.
The other major event of recent times has been the Coppice Association North West’s exhibition at Farfield Mill in Sedburgh. This was on for the whole of April and involved taking over a large part of the mill. I decided to make a pixilated picture of Bill Hogarth using wood from Moss and Height Spring which was the last wood he worked. 2000 mini shakes later and the picture was finished but it took 9 days of tedium to make. Anyone want an enormous shakelated picture of Bill Hogarth?
Happy new year to you. It can only get better. The winter has been a return to the normal winters of a few years back with mild constantly wet weather. My brother insists there is a drought in Leicestershire and if you travel about 10 miles south of the Lakes you can usually find better weather. In fact we had a spell going off to Silverdale to extract the firewood from Eaves Wood because it was the only place we could get into.To catalogue more Apprentice abuse I had Sam dragging firewood out of Eaves Wood like a snigging pony.
He is an incredibly strong bloke and while its very useful for a lot of ‘wood moving’ tasks a lot of equipment seems to fall apart in his hands, to the extent that I’ve nicknamed him Desperate Sam. In the Lakes it has been raining seemingly every day since the brief dry spell in November. The shear weight of water has made woodland tracks knee deep in mud. When desperately trying to extract wood from Stoney Hazel for the Christmas rush, the loaded land rover and trailer slid sideways such an amount that I got a tree between the trailer and land rover so nothing was moving backwards or forwards. This sort of thing always happens late on in the day when you are just wanting to go home, and you need to make sure you don’t make a daft decision. Anyway I cut the tree down and went home. Our biggest paling fence to date went in at a nice farmhouse near Clitheroe.
This didn’t quite go to plan when we found the old fence was concreted in with huge chunks of concrete that I hadn’t realised was there when inspecting the job. However we survived and the finished fence looks great. A brief spell of clear cold weather has allowed us to cut the willow patch and we’ve got a good crop of willow. After a few years of cutting using chainsaws we used billhooks instead and it seemed to be just as quick and a lot quieter.
At the start of August it started raining and but for a few days relief, been raining since. The charcoal season came to an abrupt standstill and moving around the woods returned to battling muddy slopes. My brother keeps telling me its really dry in Leicstershire and they badly need some rain, hmmm. But its not all gloom. After a drought of cleft oak orders a veritable deluge came in and we have been busy with cleft oak fences, gates and gate kits. We have had some activity at Stoney Hazel. We’ve finished extracting the wood from the previous section and been squaring up poles for fence posts.
The 10th anniversary Woodland Pioneers was on in September and turned out to be quite challenging. Despite high winds, lots of rain, rotten and twisted oak butts, a small group of very practical people produced a cleft oak bridge to replace a slimy railway sleeper.
The group had two timber framers amongst it who came in rather useful, and I think they taught me more than I taught them. The bridge was duly opened in the rain by Walter Lloyd cutting the barrier tape and sixty people then trooped across the bridge. Despite most of the cleft oak deck not being pegged down no one died, result.
In October I went over to Hexham for Saul and Sophies wedding. Saul started as an apprentice with me (see early diaries) and went on to become a very competent swill basket maker before moving to Hexham to work woods and breed fell ponies over there. Here they are coming back in their cart from the ceremony. Blooming great day all round.
A strange couple of months. We have moved the kilns to Craggy Woods now above Staveley and have even borrowed one of Brian Crawley’s old kilns. I learnt to charcoal burn with Brian so this will be the kiln I learnt on. Its now owned by Mike Wallwork over near Blawith. The kiln had to be recovered from deep in Torver common. By where the kiln was sited is some of the best remains of a charcoal burners pitstead that I’ve come across, with the fireplace still pretty much intact.
I had no idea when I went to collect the kiln what a tortuous track it would have to come out on. Pulling the kiln out on the trailer I came to the top of one really steep narrow bit with a steep edge on the right, so steep I couldn’t see the track in front of the bonnet. After a bit of girding of loins I went for it without mishap and a round of applause from some walkers. Getting the kilns into Craggy woods is difficult because its up a steep slope with very slippy grass.
Rather than risk a repeat of when trailer and rover were sliding backwards down the hill to eventually jack knife and end up going down the hill the right way. I used some thin rope up to a pulley to pull the kilns up the hill to platforms laboriously carved out of the hillside by James and Sam. The borrowed kiln has been christened Molly for the duration of its stay and has been performing very well, it has larger chimneys and seems to burn noticeably hotter than Maureen or Margaret.
Bark peeling has been continuing at Stoney Hazel and we’ve now got a pretty good heap of bark for the tannery, and Sam has been demonstrating how to ‘grind’ down a peeled oak pole.
The weather seams to be following a similar pattern to last year with a winter finishing and summer starting a day later. August will probably see a succession of lows battering everyone huddled in caravans and tents and charcoal sales finishing early.
Anyway charcoal burning has started in earnest and we have quickly finished the remains of the pile of wood at Dalton Crags. Charcoal sales are going bananas at the moment and we have very quickly got through the pile stored from the end of last year. We are helping out with bagged charcoal that is going to Booths and we have had to borrow a stitching machine to close the bags. It’s a bit alarming as it appears to career towards the fingers that you are holding the bag with at high speed. So most of the bags were sealed to the accompaniment of wild screaming although it actually looks like it would be difficult to get your fingers into the stitcher. The early nice weather also caused the oaks to start peeling early, and we were able to peel from the start of April.
Eaves Wood is finished and we have started on a new section in Stoney Hazel.
It’s a slightly different to our other sections in Stoney as its more thinning than coppicing but its right by the track which makes life a lot easier to the other sections. The section has 300 trees in it , mostly birch and oak. We are cutting the understorey hazel and birch first, then setting about the oak which should be peeling soon. There is very weird looking depressions round the wood other than the usual charcoal pitsteads and Alex Todd has got the amateur archaeologists in to see if they can make sense of it. The run of mishaps continues after my LandRover was broken into and my chainsaw stolen, downside being having to fork out £500 for a new one, upside got a new chainsaw to use which is always good. It does seem to be a gang going round targeting forestry businesses as Rebecca Oaks has had saws stolen and I’ve heard of other yards being broken into around the same time. Sam has helped to cut the willow patch this year, the yield seemed slightly down because its starting to get a bit shaded.
Sam the apprentice continues to enjoy himself and has been dabbling in curing a deer hide to make a skin for the banjo he is making. He started up at the barn in Windermere soaking the skin in water with ash in to make the hairs drop out. The mix was in a large plastic ‘tubtrug’ and Sam then carted the whole lot back to Kendal on the train and walked it back through Kendal on a borrowed shopping trolley.
We’ve moved into our winter felling phase and started with another section at at Eaves wood. This area had been cut around 98 so the material is quite small and not particularly straight. It probably got chewed by deer early on. An interesting feature of the coup has been evidence that layering is working.
This is a method of leaving a shoot when you cut a stool and then pinning it to the ground with a peg,log or stone. When we were doing this last year I was a bit dubious that it would work as the soil is so thin and dry, but it obviously does. We’ve also been extracting wood at Stoney Hazel where the wildlife continues to amaze. After sightings of Koaties a couple of years ago (related to racoons ) James has now seen a group of three Red Kites sat on a tree near Rusland church. While I’ve seen a white stoat scurring around in the grounds of the church. The prolonged snowy spell must have been great for it, but when the snow went it stood out like a sore thumb. Sam the apprentice has been doing well and turns out craft items on a regular basis. A ‘spoon off’ last week between the three of us resulted in a poor third for me so I will have to practice more.Most of the cutting is actually finished in Eaves Wood except for thinning out a few standards and the views are tremendous over Morecambe Bay. On the subject of Sam you may have seen him briefly on Countryfile on 9th January when he spent the day working with Rebecca Oaks.
The roller coaster ride that is a small business has seen some particularly hairy moments during the last month.
Its mostly due to one order for a cleft oak paling fence that while being a good job had to be completed before Christmas.
The fence had particulary long 1.6m palings and everything had to go perfectly to ever achieve the deadline. As it happened nothing went right. We had heavy snow that slowed everything down and restricted us getting in the woods. Actually James and Sam managed to extract some wood out in a heroic attempt to keep the job on course but this ended up being a futile exercise as the trees we had cut weren’t good cleavers. Having spent two weeks with all three of us beating our heads against the weather and the material trying to keep job on course the client then cancelled the job. Some people don’t realise the amount of physical effort that goes into making a bespoke cleft oak fence. At least with the job getting cancelled we could get back to the enormous back log of firewood orders that built up while we were otherwise engaged.
With the incredibly cold weather people are getting through firewood at a remarkable rate. Luckily with the ground being frozen hard we can get wood out of Dalton Crags where our pile of beech is coming up to two years old and fantastic firewood. On the subject of cold weather more moaning. The heater in a landrover is virtually non existent and the –9 temperatures we are having is making driving excruciatingly painful at times even with two pairs of gloves on. Also its so cold that the lid on the teapot froze shut along with the water carriers. Oh and Windermere is freezing over. Sorry for the moaning, I feel better now , happy Christmas.
In the blink of an eye another six weeks goes past and I’m trying to remember what I’ve been doing. Well its actually been quite busy, I went down to the South East coppice Conference near Petworth which was very enjoyable, particularly looking around the coppice that Alan Waters’ is working. Alan has been coppicing since Roman times and has a set of products that use just about everything produced. Alan is a compulsive communicator and is selling traditional products for thatching , hurdles and resurrecting some such as pimps and faggots. Pimps are a collection of 25 individual firelighters made of hazel and birch tied with tarred string. This is a picture of Alan’s ‘boy’ (the trough holding the birch tops) and his table where the individual bundles are compressed and tied with tarred string. You can also see Alan’s enormous ‘pimp cleaver’ a heavyweight cleaver for chopping through the birch tops. And this is my take on the boy with the chopping block built in. We also saw Alan’s faggot compressing jig which worked well. Faggots are two metre bundles of tops tied in three places with baler twine and used for riverbank restoration, the faggots capturing silt and rebuilding the bank. I was rather taken with the pimps which look really nice while working well, and decided to demonstrate them at the Greenwood fair at Leighton Hall ( I didn’t quite have the bottle to display a sign like Alan does ‘pimps, faggots and benders’). I still think the main benefit of the conferences is just getting together and networking with fellow woods people. They are quite a diverse bunch with some great characters amongst them. The weather in the lakes is now quite cold and murky and we’ve had the first snow, so it looks likely to be another hard winter. I got to tramp around Stoney Hazel with Alex Todd during the heaviest rain we’ve had since last year looking at which section to cut next. It will probably be the last remaining section inside the deer fence that was actually cut by Bill Hogarth when it wasn’t deer fenced. This section is quite different to the others inside as there is little regeneration from being browsed by goats and deer. The hope is a bit of thinning, desturbing the soil will get some new growth going. Failing that Alex is getting some pigs in to clear out the bracken. We have been getting a good stream of cleft oak jobs that are keeping us busy and Sam has the pleasing talent of getting fast making something very quickly. Here he is knocking out mortise holes in fence posts, I don’t like to tell him I’m thinking of getting a chain morticer.
I have also finally managed to get to Dan Sumner's wood to give him a charcoal burning masterclass (tractor burning bit left out). So there is now a new charcoal burner in the central lakes which should be a good spot for campsite sales.
‘Forever’ was the answer I got when I asked Andrew Parr how long the tannery had been where it was in Colyton, Devon.
I managed to persuade the family to have a trip over there while I was on holiday in Dorset and was really glad I did. I’ve been meaning to try and see where the oak bark ends up for a long time and wasn’t disappointed. Surprisingly the tannery doesn’t smell as it just uses steeped oak bark and Veronia acorn cups. It takes a year to pass through the process and various after processes where the leather is dried, rolled scraped and dubbined to produce a piece of leather suitable for the household cavalry.
While you think of a tannery as being a producer of lots of noxious bi-products, Bakers can pour the spent liquor into the river and the used bark goes for compost. The building does have the air of being there forever, the floors are covered with old leather in places and the oak bark is ground by water wheel, windows yellowed by the tannin cast a subdued light. That was the highlight of my week in Dorset as the weather was a bit rubbish. September ended up very busy with first aid refresher, county show and Woodland Pioneers all coming at once. Woodland Pioneers was once again sold out and a great week despite windy weather. I was teaching how to make a rustic stool out of a single block of wood and had to go around with a name tag saying ‘stool tutor’ which sounds a bit like Gillian Mckeith to me. On the Friday afternoon I decided to join in with a taster course communing with trees. This had me walking very slowly through the wood noticing five things with every step. I looked a bit daft but its quite an interesting exercise as you start taking in small details around and trying to use more than just vision.
Its been an exciting month as I’ve now got Sam the new BHMAT apprentice started with me. There is always some worry about how you will get on with someone new, but Sam is easy going and is picking things up quickly (then putting them down over there).He has some good ideas for what he wants to do with the apprenticeship. His big problem will be finding somewhere to live in Kendal on a pretty small income. My big worry will be keeping us all busy and paid as work seems to be dropping off a bit at the moment. Luckily Sam’s arrival coincided with a big order for cleft oak palings, so Sam has been straight in to learning a useful skill.
A lot of our skills have been learnt through hard experience and so Sam will have a short cut on some of that. Considering its been such a dry start to the summer charcoal sales have been pretty flat, is everyone moving onto gas barbecues? The new firewood processor is now installed on the back of Tomski tractor and its very nice to use a tight sharp machine again. The drought did come to a sudden stop and I am now regretting not extracting the firewood from some of the wetter woods.
It's taken a few weeks to get back to anything like normal after the fire. It's a combination of the sheer waste of time talking to insurance companies,tracking down a replacement tractor and processor and a certain amount of naval gazing as I ponder the best way forward. Tom tractor has now been replaced by Tomski tractor, a yukoslavian version of a Massey 135 and about 20 years younger than Tom. Our major task of the last few weeks has been making an oak arbour for Holehird gardens. The finished structure is looking good but it has seemed like I'm rubbing against the grain trying to get the thing finished as event after event conspires stop its completion. One of the happy events was the birth of James and Victoria's second child (George).They are all doing well, congratulations to them both.
Its been a remarkable dry spell in the area, and driving past Thirlmere there are beaches I've never seen before.
Disaster has struck the kiln site at Dalton Crags. I got a phone call from the area forester and then the chief fire officer at 11.00pm on Wednesday night telling me that a fire had broken out near the kilns spreading down a line of brash and eventually reaching the tractor and firewood processor about 25 yards away. When the tractor got going the heat was so intense that the timber stack set alight and started running along that. When the fire brigade got there the stack was well alight. The local farmer Mike Smith was called with his loader to get the rest of the stack out of the way and another farmer brought a silage tanker with water up to the site to put out the fire. I went to a meeting with the fire officer and Martin Colledge the next morning, and we were somewhat baffled where the source of the fire had come from. I had closed the kilns down earlier that day and they were cooling rapidly when I left them. There wasn't any sign of fire by the kilns but it is possible that some tar in the chimneys had been fanned by the strong winds that came up in the afternoon. Anyway a very unpleasant situation and it leaves me without a tractor and firewood processor for the moment. Thats the facts but I'm finding something akin to bereavement for the loss of Tommy the tractor who has been a reliable and willing servant for nine years and survived mishap since 1966.
I must say thankyou to the fire service of Arnside, Sedbergh and Kendal who turned up to the fire and to the two farmers whose help has saved a large proportion of the timber stack and to the local forest craftsmen and area forester for their help.
25.04.10Socks! If anyone wants to get rid of a few old socks I’ll have them. We’ve moved the kilns finally from Witherslack to the new pile of wood at Dalton Crags ( near Burton in Kendal). The only problem being, that the socks we use stuffed with sand to close the kilns down are looking a bit ropey. Having raided the sock draws for any holey socks I am still short of a few. The pair I get every Christmas isn’t really keeping up with demand.
We are still working at full speed at the moment flitting about the area finishing off the two coups we have been working at Staveley and Silverdale and clocking up a lot of miles.
But there are some high points. I have been making a pair of peeled yew benches for the National Trust at Townend. They requested copies of some old yew benches that were becoming rickety and having looked at them decided they were peeled yew. I’m not actually sure now, the bark may have just dropped off. But the interesting thing was that I found yew peels very well, which I wasn’t expecting. You would think that with it being evergreen and slow growing that the bark would stop attached. A bit of research on the web came up with an essay by a man in the USA who was cutting yew trees that were then peeled by a gang of assorted oddballs for the bark, which was being used in a pharmaceutical experiment looking for a cancer cure. This essay was from 1995, as there doesn’t seem to be high demand for yew bark it must have been a failure. A strange coincidence came to light when Sam Ansell (Rebecca Oaks’ apprentice) was having a family get together which included his cousin and girlfriend. When Sam talked to cousins girlfriend it turned out she was the woman who has been leading the biochar experiment in Italy. The swallows have been three days late this year, possibly due to the northerly winds but they have finally arrived. The first burns at Dalton Crags have been very successful with 21 fertiliser bags coming out of each of them, but the one kiln re-ignited when we took the lid off and had to be shut down another day. This bodes well for the future as the kilns usually take 2-3 burns to settle in.
Spring is in full swing, my son Patrick took this picture of a lamb on Scout Scar
Officially its been the coldest winter for thirty years but I would take a winter like this any time over the usual wet and miserable offerings we usually get. To finish off the winter we have had the most incredible spell of fine weather and we have managed to get on well with the two woods we are working at the moment.Eaves wood has some very cute cows roaming round the patch we are working but they are getting quite adventurous now they have realised that we are cutting sycamores down and soon as the tree is down pile in to eat the twigs off the tops. This could become a new coppicing method “cow snedding” I will have to save up for the NPTC certificate that’s sure to follow. While dragging one bunch of tops off to the fire I thought it had got snagged and looked round to find a cow attached to the other end of the bundle. The other wood we are working is Dorothy Farrars wood at the back of Staveley and having finished cutting the coppice section we have been felling the section of larger trees, which will end up as mostly firewood, but there are some nice oaks amongst it and also some nice straight ash which should be worth planking. In amongst this we also had a quick diversion to cut the willow patch which didn’t seem to produce as much this year.
January has been hard work in the snow. We’ve been trying to extract wood at Stoney Hazel
but the tracks have been frozen and we ended up with lots of double handling of wood as we used the little tractor to extract to the ride. We then had to put it on James’ Hilux as this was the only thing that would go up a short icy slope to where we stacked the wood. Firewood deliveries have also been difficult with back roads being iced over. I was imagining myself in an episode of ‘ice road truckers’ going up the Rusland valley over roads thickly covered in ice. We have also been cutting at Eaves Wood in Silverdale for the National Trust.
They have a large grant for renovating coppice and are doing lots of work via a small army of coppice workers in the area. The message that commercial coppicing is good for wildlife and more sustainable is beginning to have some effect with the idea being to get the coppice back into a state that people will cut the wood for nothing or even pay if the quality is good enough. This is going to be a better idea than just constantly paying for coppice to be cut for butterfly conservation , which is done in a way that keeps the stools stunted and browsed and ultimately worthless. The commercial route was how the habitat appeared in the first place when there wasn’t any grants. A good example of this is Dorothy Farres’s Spring wood near Staveley which we have been cutting again (see 2002 for the last time we were there). Colin Simpson’s vision was in-rotation commercial coppice that would be great for wildlife and would be cheap to maintain.
A drier day at the start of December let us get Rebecca Oaks’ new barn extension up.
The process turned out to be painless as she had got a forwarder in to lift the 10metre logs into position. Except for one joint that was the wrong way round so we had to start building past the joint with no pin in to join it all together, it all sat very nicely together. The couple of weeks before Christmas are usually a bit hectic for firewood, luckily most of my regular customers are used to my ways and have got the firewood in well before. Driving round the lakes after the deluge has been interesting with streams diverting down roads and dry stone walls punched through by water running off the fields and piles of gravel across the roads.
The new weather problem has been snow. The pattern I’ve noticed this year is that whatever the weather its usually the wettest, deepest, hottest, coldest or windiest since records began. I think no one bothered keeping records till last year. Anyway snow upon snow has come down to make the final deliveries tricky. On the coppicing front we have finished cutting our latest coup at Stoney Hazel, so after a week extracting masses of wood we will be off to pastures new. Well new ish because after a quick bit of paid coppicing for the National Trust at Silverdale we are back to Dorothy Farrer’s spring wood in Staveley. Happy new year to you.
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 wasn’t 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 don’t think they have anything in common with the rest of the coppice world. Well that’s 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 can’t be bothered, but I’ve 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 I’ve 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. I’ve not really found out how he manages to be so much faster than me (my p.b. is 111) but it’s 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. I’m 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 didn’t 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 (don’t 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 can’t think why this ended up as one of the hardest days I’ve ever done in the woods. With the warm weather we are also getting the full range of biting insects and the kamikaze ‘clegg’ in particular. These are like ¾ size horseflies and don’t 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 else’s 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 we’ve 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 I’ve 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 Oaks’ yard at Silverdale. Malcolm has lots of experience and showed us how to layout the English tying joint which I hadn’t 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 hasn’t 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 I’m 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. I’ve 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 ‘what does a tonne of horticultural charcoal look like, how do I send it, how do you export stuff?’ 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 I’ve 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 wouldn’t think this was a bad thing but they are eating all the insects and water fleas which in turn aren’t eating the algae (because they’ve 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 I’ve 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. It’s still strange to see traditional flat cap and string round the trouser knee farmers getting text messages on their mobile “ George is the only one who texts me”. The APF forestry show was on this year (it’s 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 “ I can’t 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 I’ve 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 I’m 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 I’ve made myself a new bed out of some cherry boards that I milled up four years ago. Luckily there weren’t 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 don’t 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.