This year I have cut down the proposed amount of hedge laying as I now only have volunteers to help with the work. For the last four years or so the team were able to do at least 500m per year but this year we had just under 100m to do and it wasn’t going to be a very nice job as it was full of blackthorn. I knew we would get stabbed to hell and if blackthorn thorns break off in your flesh and get left in for some reason they go septic, nasty little devils.
Not only that …it was full of ivy, tall and very wide so we had to cut out quite a bit of rubbish including some humongous bramble. It took a day just to cut thirty metres of this section of hedge and chip up the rubbish (which was an awful lot).
The next section was easier but eventually we came to a very big thorn tree and a massive gap we needed to bridge. With a lot of huffing and puffing we laid it one way and then the other way which, amazingly, filled the gap exactly.
More chipping ensued and, with the help of the gardeners, we soon filled a number of trailers for them as the wood chip was required for the Adventure Path in the Pleasure Gardens. Of course we then had to clean out (‘scour’ was the term used in the old days around here) the ditch which was somewhat wet, however once cleared the water ran much more freely.
A bit up and down but it followed two contours, we also pollarded two sycamore trees as they were not the best specimens; now the track and outbuildings will have sunshine on them which will aid them drying out after any rainfall.
Remember those rabbits we saw when out surveying the deer at Wimpole with the infrared scope? Well we went back a week later long netting at night and managed to clear a few areas of significant amounts of rabbits. Caught nine that night.
Once again we have had some very variable weather, mostly dry for March but the early mornings were sometimes frosty or foggy.
In the evenings we also had some exceedingly beautiful sunsets (if only we could see the Northern Lights though). About fifteen years ago I did actually see them as far south as Cambridgeshire on the Wimpole Estate- it must have been one of the darkest spots in the whole of the county. Now we are suffering from more and more light pollution and the stars don’t seem to be as bright as when I first came here thirty years ago. Turn them lights off!!!!!
This is the month to see the antics of the wild hare otherwise known as the Mad March Hare. We are lucky here, I see dozens of them and absolutely love watching them box. This brings me on to the Easter Bunny, in fact the bunny is a usurper and the chocolate egg has more to do with the hare. In medieval times the “Easter Hare” originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behaviour at the start of the season of Eastertide. As far as I know, the egg connection was because people at that time thought that hares laid eggs in the fields little knowing that the eggs were laid by birds like stone curlew and lapwings. Follow this link to the Easter Hare
Back to work… You have to be a little mad if you like climbing trees and then dismantling them with a chainsaw; it’s bad enough using one on the ground let alone halfway up a tree. Perhaps there should be a day off for the “Mad Tree Surgeon” who comes in the night dropping sawdust throughout the house!!!!!!
It’s a very expensive job especially if you have to work alongside a busy ‘A’ road. Traffic control for a day can cost around £800 plus the cost of using the tree surgery contractors. In this case I will have to spend about £2000 per day to remove the worst of the trees and one oak overhanging the road is going to take a whole day, ouch! Money doesn’t go far these days. To reduce the days I have to employ contractors capable of dealing with difficult operations alongside busy ‘A’ roads and needing safe traffic control we do the easier trees that won’t need traffic control ourselves; however I do employ a good friend Ben (who I have worked with in Jordan and on some pretty nasty jobs over the years) and Ciaran and Matt (who work in the gardens).
One method we use when felling to make sure that some of the trees fall the right way is to use the Igland winch- it’ll pull six tons so will easily deal with many trees. Had to repair it though as when we pulled the wire rope out it would not winch the cable back in… hmmmmmm, wonder what was wrong? Ah, after taking off the inspection plate it seemed a pin had come loose.
Some of us just sat about while others worked or were they just having a break ? (Shane & Ben !!!!!!)
When using the winch to pull trees over you have to take into account the species of tree as each species has different timber properties. Ash and elm are easy, they can have a terrible lean towards the road but can be pulled back into the woods because they have very strong stringy wood that hangs on when you fell them. On the other hand, trees like maple and sycamore and even beech which have a very brittle wood can just snap off when you fell them and spin back across the road. We left all those ones until I can get some specialist contractors in who will use traffic control just in case something did actually go wrong.
Had a trip to the seaside with Justin Anderson to see an auction of horse-drawn equipment. There were some very interesting items but the best one for me was the timber jill. There was something not quite right about it though… it should have had one central pole and, with further investigation, I found that it had broken and been replaced by two shafts either side. The reason it broke was because whoever made it used oak for the pole, not a timber that can take those stresses; not only that, the outer rim(fellas) was made of oak, not the traditional ash. The wheel hubs were made of elm as it is the only wood that can do this job. This made me think that the makers made most of it out of oak because they probably knew it would be left outside most of the time and heartwood oak is very resistant to rot unlike ash which, if left outside, would perish fairly rapidly. Below is a gallery of some of the other items up for auction.
The next best item was an original shepherd’s hut of a Norfolk design-nothing had changed since it was last used, it even had the original fittings including the fire, definitely a museum piece as most get renovated as live-in huts, garden sheds or offices. Dare say this is what will happen to this hut, that would be a shame. Another item I should have bought was the horse gin- never seen one so complete and it would have made a magnificent working display running the chaff cutter.It sold for only £350- an absolute bargain. I liked the huge digger plough and it was nice to see a hay sweep as these are quite rare nowadays (that sold for £19). Then there was the elevator which is exactly the same as the one at Wimpole Woodyard albeit in much better condition. All in all a nice day out even though it was freezing!
Did another hedge laying course at Cobbs Wood Farm with two very nice gentlemen- Derek and Mark. Amazingly Derek was nigh on 85 years old and my God I hope I am doing that well when (if) I manage to attain that age.
Had a good day and with Ashley’s help we managed to lay about 25 yards all done with axe and billhook. I also took Mark and Derek to see the other hedges we have laid especially those which were done when we had the hedge laying competitions at Wimpole.
This month Jim ran a course on pole lathing that was well attended by beginners. The rest of us? Well we busied ourselves using various bits of wood cut on the estate which varied from blackthorn, some small field maple and sycamore burrs to large lumps of English walnut. The challenge for this month was the boxwood I collected a month ago but the only person to submit an item was Debbie- a crochet needle (but what was more impressive was the skirt she made with it!) Needless to say she won this month… by a country mile.