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.
[the dinghy by Windermere]
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?) .
[cleft oak tree shelter]
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.
[Ed Mills introduces Alan Waters at the coppice conference]
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. [James compacting the 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.
[Lorry full of bark]
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 shelter at the county show]
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. [the gates and second group]
[shake making encampment] There 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. [shakes] 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).
[Twiggy and Rebecca on the BHMAT stand] 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.
[Cleft oak enclosure at Holme Park Fell] The 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.
[peeling oak fence posts] 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.
[Derwent oak festival] Derwent 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. [Derwent oak festival] 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.
[James making shakes] 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.
[Tree climbing at Rayrigg] 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. [Mike Carswell]
[frame under construction] [the finished frame]
05.04.09 [cleft oak fence at Holme Park] 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. . [James takes a break ] 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 [barn in the snow] 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. [frozen poles 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. . [Geoff carving the gate]