For the last few weeks the weather has been somewhat unsettled and the meadows that could only be cut after the 15th of July still had to be mown. So, with a more settled period forecast, Albert set off in his mighty Claas and with two drum mowers to mow a meadow or two (actually quite a few including one tucked away near Cobbs Wood).
A job for us was to clear the vegetation from Cobbs Wood bridge so that the scaffolding could go up and the repointing done to the brickwork ( had to be lime mortar as that was what was used before).
Then there were all those weeds to deal with. With the delivery of the Lazy Dog tools our job was made a bit easier AND there were enough to go around as some had a specific weed they controlled (namely the creeping thistle chisel hoe). Tom seemed to like this one more than the others but I preferred the fork thingy as it ripped out spear thistle and ragwort quite easily.
Tuesday evening and we were going to mow the Chevalier barley but rain stopped play; however we did mow some grass that had loads of knapweed in it. In fact it did not take the scythe mowers very long to knock down a quarter of an acre. John obviously worked too hard and had to retire for a nip. The next day all the cut grass was collected up and taken to Folly Field and dispersed all over the field.
Another job, and one we have done for many years, was to collect different wild flower seeds from all over the estate. Over on Cobbs Wood Farm there was a lot of sainfoin, wild basil, St Johns wort, cowslips and crested cow wheat. The latter prefers to grow along hedges and woodland edges so we’ll put that seed in the appropriate places but the rest will go in Folly Field.
While working up at the Folly a quick walk about to find what flowers were around revealed some of the chalkland species grown from the seed I collected many years ago on a chalky bank by the road in the parish of Orwell next to Wimpole.
From just a few seeds and a bit of time (well actually quite a bit of time) you can make a difference and improve the environment; however it does take time and some flower seeds have not worked or have died out. One plant I thought should do well on the drier, chalkier bits was the kidney vetch but, alas, I could not see any this year.
A good place to go if you want to see a native chalk grassland only fifteen minutes away from Wimpole is Therfield Heath near Royston. Here the land has not been cultivated for many hundreds of years and, more importantly, it has not been sprayed with herbicides.
At the moment the carline and dwarf thistle are out as is the clustered bellflower, then there are the knapweeds, kidney vetch, agrimony, spineless rest harrow, wild carrot, wild basil and St Johns wort to name but a few. This year has also been an excellent year for the chalk hill blues and I suspect the ones we occasionally see at Wimpole have probably been blown over from Therfield Heath as the caterpillar larvae only eat horseshoe vetch plants and there are none on the Wimpole Estate.
As part of the work up at the Folly we have been felling some dead elm near the nag’s stable. Not as glamorous as the Folly this nice little building has the potential to be used as an information centre for the folly complex. Trouble is all the money is spent and there is none left to restore the nag’s stable (not glamorous enough I guess). However I had noted that the floor was covered in concrete and it had been badly laid and was breaking up. Under the concrete there seemed to be a cobbled floor so we gently pried up a bit of the concrete floor and revealed the original flooring. I sort of guessed that this would be the case as at Valley Farm the same happened and I bet if one was to break up the concrete at Home Farm they would find a more traditional flooring underneath too. Cobbles tend to have been the earliest form of flooring as children were sent into the fields to stone pick pre modern agriculture. I guess they didn’t throw anything away in those days, unlike today.
All the concrete was removed and taken to the farm track at Cobbs Wood Farm for reuse. We then had to fill the gaps between the cobbles as for some reason what had been there had disappeared. We used sharp sand to fill these gaps and stabilise the cobbled flooring. Other jobs to do here – cut some elm planking to restore the hay trough and splice in a section where the posts have rotted away. Then there is the little bit of subsidence in the corner made worse when some vandals many years back smashed the walls down (not a job we have time for at present).
The roof has a few loose slates that are easily repairable and the Victorian diamond window is broken- will have to source a replacement though. Eventually, once all this work is done, it would be a good idea to use the space for interpretation as at present there isn’t anywhere else to put it.
While the others worked on the nag’s stable I went and cleared some more timber from the Folly woods. That done it was then time for a quick turn around as we had a delivery of limestone to put in the Cobbs Wood Farm track. This time the MF390 was brought in to help with the aid of the winch as it had a dozer blade on it. Need another 8 or so 20 ton loads to get this job done… but, once done it will help to reduce the winter mud.
Thought we’d better get some of the spelt wheat before it was combined as we’ll need it for the Harvest Festival in the autumn and the parish church at Wimpole also wants a display. The only thing that’s a problem when using spelt is that the ears of wheat come off very easily so we used sickles to cut the straw as far down the stem as possible. Handy old things these sickles and, when you get used to them, they are very quick at reaping the corn.