05.01.05

Strangely , in the five years I've been doing this job there has been quite noticeable changes in the area where I work . The most obvious has been in farming not surprising as soon after I started the area was hit by foot and mouth . Farmers had a huge amount of extra paperwork to do with every beast having its own passport to keep updated , every farmer will tell you they can't do without their computer . This year the methods of farm subsidies changed to the single farm payment with extra payments for keeping the landscape in good heart . While this sounds like a good idea in practice it meant that rather than do lots of paperwork the farmers have sold off lots of their stock (resulting in a collapse of the prices ) and laid off any paid help . The constant stream of farmers leaving the industry has led to lots of farmhouses being sold off to rich incomers . In particular Phillip the farmer now runs his farm in the evening and weekends and is spending his days working for a builder installing a hellipad in an ex farmhouse in Troutbeck . The increasing urbanisation of the Lakes is a bit worrying as traditional rural farming methods will be seen as too smelly and dirty for the be-slacked Mercedes drivers that seem to make up a lot of the current incomers . I can see the Lakes turning into a farming museum with fiberglass cows eating plastic grass tended by students dressed up as comedy farmers , still good for the tourists. . I went on a visit to Danny Frosts sawmill and furniture spot up at the back of Skiddaw before Christmas . Danny is obviously very passionate about wood and makes brilliant furniture and has got me fired up again after a bit of a low spot when I cut my arm .

05.12.05 It's been a few years since we have had such a long frosty spell before Christmas. As a result firewood sales have been brisk. I had an email asking if I had any other weather forecasts after pointing out the oaks coming into leaf well before the ash forecast the very dry summer here. Well no. The only other local forecasting technique was that if you could see Kentmere from Kendal it would be raining in 15 minutes, if you couldn't it was already raining. Saul the apprentice has unfortunately cut 3 inches into his leg with a billhook which has put him out of action for a couple of weeks, luckily not severing anything important. He was coppicing some hazel in a National Park Authority car park at Waterhead. What was interesting about this hazel was it looked about 10-12 years old but was in fact 6 years old. Very fast growing and the only reason we can think is that they are growing under sodium vapour street lights, I will have to install street lights in all my coppices. Rhubarb the Landrover has had to be traded in for a new model, Arnold the new Landrover ( well 5years old ) goes like a train and pulls trailer loads of wood like they aren't there . Other improvements are the door locks work and you don't get a howling draft blowing in round the doors . Its taken me so long to write this diary that in the meantime I've managed to cut into my forearm with the 2ft saw blade on my firewood processor . I thought originally I had just caught my jacket on it , thinking phew that was close I looked further to see my fleece had a big slash in it . Further investigation revealed that my thermal vest has also cut a big slash in it ( closer than I thought ) . Moving the remains of my vest showed a nasty bloody mess , actually not bleeding so much but it was off to Westmorland General where a couple of student nurses were treated to the site of seeing the tendons in the arm working ( terminator style ) . I was very lucky indeed as you could see a nice flat surface cut onto the outer tendons , in fact non of them were severed , I found out after a long wait at Lancaster to see the consultant there .He thankfully sent me home with no further surgery . Anyway I've got a couple of weeks wait to heal before going back to the rat infested farmyard to do some more firewood processing .

The t-shirt days of summer are starting to seem like a distant memory now , only the age of the pictures on my digital camera is reminding me how long its been since the last update . We have suspended burning at Haverthwaite Heights as we've run out of room in the barn to store the charcoal . Our wholesaler stopped taking it in August , a month earlier than usual despite dry weather . Autumn has seen a few good fungi days but not as many as last year so it must have been drier this year . This haul was gathered by Saul and James at Sow How and includes a massive parasol mushroom . We have managed to get another sawmilling day over at Coniston , sawing up four oak butts with our chainsaw mill and we are also well into firewood season . I didn't expect to sell much firewood this year because of the amount that came down in the storm last January , however we seem to be inundated with orders and have been caught without enough prepared . This job is one of constant surprises and never seems to follow the pattern you would expect . To finish off I have just finished teaching a green woodwork course at the Woodland Pioneers week . The object was to make a rustic stool from a single log and we got some very imaginative stools made including a few with backs on . Everyone managed to get a stool done . One of the more professional turned out to be made by a coppice worker from Dorset , Terry Heard and his son . Terry turned up with a load of his own tools including a small curved drawknife that turned out round legs in no time . On the Friday I rigged up a stock knife so that Terry could give a master class in tent peg making , his record to date is 800 in one day and he was certainly quick even with a different stock knife .

24.08.05 A lot has happened in the last couple of months and as usual I've forgotten most of it however a few things stand out including the business nearly coming to an end as a result of a series of setbacks . It started off quite comically as I was coming out of the agricultural supplies in Kendal and an Irishman said 'I've got your generators for you ' 'not me mate you want to see the shop people'. When about to drive off another Irishman drives up alongside and starts asking me if I want to buy a generator . No thanks I don't need one . Think no more about it . Next day getting back home , Irishman trying to flog a generator to the next door neighbour sees me ,'would you like to buy a generator ' 'you asked me that yesterday ' . For some reason I looked in his van at the shiny red generators and apparently became hypnotised by this bloke because I bought not one but two . After he had left I thought I've bought two generators from an Irishman out of the back of a van just after Appelby horse fair . Strangely my wife did not divorce me on the spot but now has a massive air of superiority while I stump around red faced . After that self inflicted blow my Landrover failed its MOT needing a huge amount of welding . The chasis was so bad that the mechanic actually called me in to decide if it was worth continuing with as he pointed out the foot long hole . This meant the Landrover off the road for 2 weeks at the busiest time for charcoal , a rare dry spell and Booths sending out barbecue recipes to homes round the North West . Just as we needed to get the kilns moved to a new site at Haverthwaite Heights as we ran out of cut wood at Sow How . One of the interesting sides of this business has been well ... running a business and I was quite amazed at how something chugging along quite nicely could seemingly fall apart overnight . I have been very lucky on the whole getting started with this and quite often I find things dropping into place in wonderful way . But these two weeks turned into a nightmare with everything going against the grain . Anyway I seem to be back to normal now , Rhubarb is back and we have got the kilns moved up the big hill into Haverthwaite Heights . This is a nice spot , you have to go across the Haverthwaite steam railway to get to the wood and the background noises to the kilns burning now include the whistles of steam trains . The kilns are up a very steep track ( low range 2nd gear at full throttle to get up) so steep we had to get Phillip the farmer to tow the kilns up with his monster tractor . We also had a tv crew from Border television who wanted to see James the apprentice working with the kilns and the reporter turned up in high heels which sank without trace in the soft ground . On being asked if Border tv was her first job in television as we came back down the steep slope the camera man said it could be her last . ps anyone want a generator very nice 2300 watt 6.5kva red .

23.5.05 Two years ago now Saul and I spent a huge amount of one winter hand axing and adzing a gazebo that was to go in a garden in Burton in Kendal . When we eventually finished it the client decided that the corner of the garden where it was to go didn't need it . Last year we sold the gazebo to a village near Bicester to go over an ancient well in the village . Last weekend we were invited down to the grand opening of the new construction . I must admit I was quite surprised by the community spirit of the village as seemingly most of them turned out for the ceremony which included the vicar doing a short service and local school children singing a song and reading a poem about the history of the well . The finished project has been very well done with reclaimed clay tiles for the roof and handmade bricks at the back of the gazebo and I was really quite proud to have been part of something so wonderful . One of the things that struck me about me previous existence as a computer programmer was that there was nothing solid that you could point at and say 'I made that' . With this gazebo it should see me out !

The website seems to be working very well at the moment as I'm getting quite a few orders for interesting jobs . One of which was a rush order for a beam . This started out as an 8inch by 11inch by 14foot beam , the largest we had ever made and having said we would do it expanded to a monstrous 11inch by 14inch by 15foot beam . The project seemed to be cursed from the outset when having bought a more than large enough wind blown tree from the storms last January on cutting one end off we found an enormous crack so we had to squeeze the beam out of the wood on one side of the crack . When we cut the other end there turned out to be some rot from a dead branch at the top of the tree . Never mind it doesn't look too bad . We cut the beam using our Alaskan mill and I then realised that the sawmill wouldn't go past 12inches deep so I had to set up the rails to do another 'first cut' . Because of the shape of the log I had to ax off quite a lot of wood to get the rails to fit . In dragging the 15foot long sawn beam onto the 8foot trailer with the tractor winch I managed to severely bend the trailer and break several welds as the 500kgs of beam landed . When I got the sawn beam back to the yard I went over it with an adze to give a bit more authentic look and it became obvious that the rot in the top end was too far gone . James and I had to spend a frantic day removing a large chunk of rotten wood and scarfing in a bit of elm that we had lying around that was the right size . When eventually ran out of time and I had to deliver the beam late Sunday after having driven 500miles to North Maston at the weekend . The beam was going to a house at Chapel Le Dale where the cattle grid had collapsed a few days previously so I had to tow it around a (very beautiful) back track up hill and down dale . How the builders will manage to maneuver this enormous lump of wood through a window would be worth seeing . I've gone on a bit here sorry

08.05.05 The beanpole festival went very well and it was great to see so many woodland business' in the same place . Saul had got hold of an ex army parachute which he has made into a shelter for these type of events and it worked very well . The parachute is enormous but packs down very small and got a lot of interested comments from the public . I got talking to an old boy who's hands were in a very bad state as a result of using early chainsaws which apparently weighed loads and had no anti vibration mounts . The largest tree he cut down was nine feet across . Talking of which Saul and James have been on a medium trees course last week and I have been left to me own devices which has meant a lot of oak peeling ( the season started a couple of weeks ago ) . The peeling tool I made at the 'weekend in the woods' blacksmithing course is working a treat and I am very proud of it . The blue bells are magnificent in Sow How at the moment and a perfect day is bark peeling on a sunny day with the bluebells out and the cuckoos calling .

21.04.05 still trying to get some stuff ready for 'The great Cumbrian Bean pole festival' (this Sunday 24th April at Rayrigg Meadow) . Also I've been on a waterways and spilling course which involves stabilising stream and river banks with living willow woven walls. It worked very well ,and if the willow takes properly will result in a living barrier that doesn't rot away .We also seem to be generating some good potential orders for shakes and peeled oak poles . We will also have to get burning again as we are now almost out of charcoal. I also had a meeting with a product designer ( Peter Foskett) who has been coming up with some great ideas for charcoal packaging which at the moment must remain top secret , you ain't heard anything from me right! But they were really good and revolutionary .

2.4.05 There is something about time at this point of the year , another month has wizzed past and everything is bursting into leaf and blossoming . We are trying to get things made in preparation for the Beanpole Festival (April 24th) but the usual problem is events conspiring against me . This month we have had to get some larch trees milled up that I have been given and this has taken longer than expected but we've got a good stack of 8 inch square posts for a timber framing project that I would like to do . We have also been getting a steady trickle of firewood orders which tend to be more trouble than they are worth at this time of year because we have to prepare each trailer load individually rather than having a great pile of processed wood in the barn . Its also been a busy month for meetings including a trip to QES school at Kirby Lonsdale who have been doing a project on the use of fines and have come up with the novel idea of mixing the fines with shredded wet paper and then making 'snowballs ' out of the mixture which then dry out and can be used as fuel for fires . Out in the wood the Ransoms are coming up and every where is smelling of garlic . We have also been cutting some of the biomass willow at Newton Rigg for stick chairs, when you come accross dense in rotation coppice like this you can see how it is possible to make reasonable money at coppicing .

3.3.05 A month goes past without an update , the loyal readership is revolting and sending emails from 'disgruntled of dungerness' and the like . Whats happened in the last month , loads . The major happening has been that Saul decided that he wants to concentrate more on the craft side of coppicing and doing more shows and feels he is better able to do that outside the partnership . It is unlikely this will make much difference to Lakeland Coppice Products as Saul will still be around doing work for us , but it will be more focused on particular activities . Back to more interesting things the weather has been great this month , the rest of the country has had snow but we have had nice cold clear weather with the woods being nice and dry and we have managed to get charcoal burning up in Sow How . The cold weather has led to a resurgence of the firewood market and with the tracks being dry we have managed to get firewood out of Sow How as well . We went to a monthly machinery sale at the auction mart last week and noticed a reasonable looking chainsaw . Saul fired it up and it went very nicely . We decided to have a look inside to see if it had been kept well maintained . It had , at this point the cold got the better of Saul's fingers so I took over putting it back together , unfortunately I trapped the choke switch in the cover ( not realising at the time ) . Subsequent punters were unable to start the chainsaw and Saul got the saw for a knock down price . I'm sorry for the owner but the number of times sellers have had ringers bidding against me at auctions means occasionally its nice to get one back . Today we finally finished the remaining bits and bobs of clearing up house and hotel gardens after the storm in January , including the enormous remains of a birch stump which we have had to winch , manhandle chop ,saw and swear at for a day and a half before managing to get the beast out of the garden . February also saw my first B&Q charcoal delivery of the year to Bolton and Bury and a lot of driving round a large conurbation looking for the stores . The towns all seem to merge with each other and at one point I had no idea where I was ( not even which town I was in ) . Anyway back to real life , here is a charcoal burn getting under way at Sow How. That'll teach you to complain Disgruntled of Dungerness .

30.1.05 Usually all the various machines and Landrovers work without a problem . However when they do decide to go wrong they seem to all decide to go wrong together and usually when you need them to do something . Last week was lovely dry weather and we needed everything to be working to make the most of it . The week turned into a disaster as first the Landrover battery was flat , then we had a flat tyre on the Landrover . Then the little tractor wouldn't start so we couldn't use the winch to get two trees out of a hotel garden . Saul's chainsaw wouldn't start despite changing just about everything on it . The landrover got another puncture . The trailer got a flat tyre . The trailer light socket got the wires pulled out . The jockey wheel bracket got broken trying to turn the trailer in a tight space delivering firewood . The space being tight because the householder couldn't move their car because it had a flat battery . In the end most of the week seemed to be spent chasing problems . However a few things got done , Saul has managed to get the second kiln up into Sow How and James and I have cut the willow patch . We left the willow an extra year to help it get established and its looking a lot healthier . Here's James starting on some golden willow.

16.1.05 Last Wednesday saw the annual humilition by accountancy when old friend Mick the accountant came to finish off the lakeland coppice products books to April 2004 . There are always dark mutterings about not having everything organised and about journal this and posting that . The end result is that I feel like I've been 10 rounds with a boxer but end up paying no tax . The bright side however was that turnover doubled last year and at this rate I might one day pay tax.After the grilling we had a pleasant walk up Fairfield , a brief interlude from wading through areas of windblown trees . The Forestry Commision estimates that half a million trees have been felled by the storm in one day , more than the number cut annually .

10.1.05 I hope you had a good Christmas , just before Christmas I took a one day firewood course for Cumbria Woodlands . This rather exposed my teaching ability and by dinner time I had run out of things to say so everyone went home . They seemed to get something from it , but they could be just being polite . Not a lot happened over the holiday period except the odd load of scrabbled together firewood . However January 8th saw a mighty wind in the Lakes that has flattened an incredible number of trees . Rayrigg woods seem to have been very badly hit with two hotels receiving a number of fallen trees in their back gardens . Catcrag had two trees over the deer fence and a third hung up precariously over the fence . It took most of the morning to get this tree down as we just didn't like going near it . I would imagine that the firewood market will be a bit subdued next winter as just about everyone will be near a fallen tree .Here's a couple of pictures of the devastion in Rayrigg woods .

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