So, what on earth have cleft oak posts, sawing oak timber, charcoal and the forge got to do with a bridge? Never one to not utilise unwanted items around the estate we bought an Alaskan chainsaw mill last year and have been producing some very think planks (also extremely heavy!) out of old oak trunks that could only otherwise be sold for firewood. I do not sell oak for firewood point blank- a total waste of a most excellent durable timber- at worst it can be used for fencing posts. So, next on the list we made some cleft oak posts of varying lengths to suit (very sturdy and durable especially if cleft). A real bonus is that these posts can be left to rot once finished with unlike the hundreds of treated softwood ones which have to be disposed of properly at a real cost.
So, with the oak parts now made we had to think how to use them in a traditional way. This required some charcoal for the forge (all the wood used to make charcoal is sourced from the estate). We also needed to raid the metal scrap bin for suitably sized iron. Everything was in place, just some pins and nails to make in the forge and the job was on…
The first task was to remove the old elm footbridge which had seen better days, then it was a case of manoeuvring two very heavy oak slabs into place, by no means an easy task as we couldn’t get the crane closer than about ten yards.
Actually I have forgotten about the two short sweet chestnut beams we had spare from last year’s demonstration up at the Folly. Kept the two beams because I didn’t have the heart to throw them away, sure I would find a use for them eventually… Well we did, at both ends of the two oak planks we inserted the short beams for the oaks planks to sit on, this would help stop the oak planks from rotting away so quickly as the planks were then not touching the soil.
The iron pins were made to hold the two planks together, we were going to countersink them but why not leave them proud so they could act as a grip for walkers in wet weather?
To hold the planks in place four oak posts were then knocked in, rails attached and some limestone type one added at each end to fill the holes that had developed over time. This bridge was taking shape and was double the width of the previous one. “Oh” said a walker “the stakes are wonky”. Blimey! Don’t you hate it when someone criticises before the job’s done?!
To finish off the bridge we used up some of the oak cleft pickets. This is a very traditional way of making stock proof fences and would give the bridge a finishing touch. There are references to the use of wrenched picket fences at Wimpole in the nineteenth century with, of course, the handmade nails to fix them with.
When you pass by this bridge you’ll find out why the posts were put in at an angle… It’s so that the way through looks more inviting and open rather than giving you the feeling of being hemmed in.