Scything festival 2018 Part 2: Saturday

Our Leader’s meteorological prediction came to pass and on Saturday was glorious Mcweather. Richard Brown, aided by the Wimpole “Tuesday night is mowing night” regulars ran a one day scythe course for 10 people. Starting with the basics of assembling a scythe to fit their body and proceeding through mowing technique and finally to the dark arts of honing sand peening. It was a great success and many of the beginners were confident enough to take part in the mowing competitions on the Sunday and resulted in the McScythe stall doing a roaring trade..

There was a constant trickle of members of the public who came to watch some scything and to see what the greenwood workers were up to – quite a lot of us as it turned out, since in addition to a pretty full turn out from the Wympole group and Magnus our occasional weapon smith, Sue Holden, Will Wall (spoon carving) and Simon Lamb (gypsy flowers and treen) from the Suffolk group made guest appearances as did Alan Reeder – the APTGW (Bodgers)  insurance man and even he known as El Presidente das Bodgeros (Jon Warwicker or was it possibly Fred Wedlock of “the oldest swinger in town” fame?)

DSC_5307mf-Turners-Marquee-Jon-Warwicker-731x1024 images

Fred Wedlock?                         Jon Warwicker?

There was plenty of straight coppiced ash felled before the ash dieback had spread too far in them, that was excellent for splitting to generate rough blanks for a wide variety of furniture making projects by Valerie, Matt, Andrew and yours truly and, in Alastair’s case, break levers. The latter are for helping to apply and release the brakes on wagons and will be on the used on the Nene Valley preservation railway. Kate meanwhile continued on with her oak shingle marathon. Simon had also procured a couple of oak planks and had recently removed some more elm suckers from the hedges at the bottom of ‘the Sixes’ where we had the annual meeting of the Wympole strippers back in May (see and earlier blog). The elm was primarily for stripping the bark from for seating and this is usually best done when the sap is up and the wood still very wet in April and May, so this was a bit late. However, it worked well and we collected further supplies for the coming year.


Inspired by John Alexander’s seminal greenwood book from the 1970’s ‘Make a chair from a tree’ or ‘MACFAT’ which explains how to make a shaker-style, two back-slat chair from American red oak and hickory bark, our great and glorious leader had decided that this should be done properly and a chair made from truly only one type of tree – elm. Elm was often used for Windsor chair seats and wheel hubs because its grain is ‘twisty’ and so the wood is resistant to splitting, unfortunately this is something that needs to be done to it if you are going to make a post and rung chair from it! However, not being one to turn down a challenge last year Jim ‘mad-as-a-sack-full-of-badgers’ McVittie made a very wonderful English-style ladderback chair from a (single species of) tree, as you can see. However, a challenge can always be stretched a bit further and so this time we decided to try and build a chair from a single elm tree, namely the largest diameter one we had: this despite Jon Warwicker’s suggestion, that the wood was only fit for burning! Cutting it to length, allowed several of us to try out Will Wall’s superbly reconditioned two-man saw and to hear him shouting “look at those noodles” over and over. The splitting out was a painfully hard process and involved many people and even more wedges, but in the end we got there. As elm warps and twists as it dries, we decided to leave it to do its worst before trying to build something out of it in the winter (maybe by next scything festival is more likely ed.)


That just left the oak planks, with which Graeme decided to make a star gazer chair with only hand tools – again brave and ambitious and ultimately successful. By the end of the day, Sue and Will had made some very lovely spoons and Simon Lamb some exquisite gypsy flowers. Timber, however, was not the only raw material in use as we had both wool and willow work going on. Kathy used some Wimpole estate sheep’s wool and a peg loom to create some additional comfort for the stargazer chair.  Although the raw wool was still full of bits of the estate, once the resulting pads were washed in a pillowcase at home, they came out beautifully. Val meanwhile created a couple of wonderful tool baskets (one on each day) using various different types of willow (Dicky Meadows, Flanders Red and Buff) with a Catalan base rather than the traditional ones and some steam-bent wooden handles made from, you’ve probably guessed by now, Wimpole estate ash.


…and so to the evening after a hard day scything and wood working when the public had gone home, dinner was cooked. So that beer could be drunk and a fun and safe evening had by all, all tools and scythes were stowed away to leave only a pond and a few tall wooden poles stuck in the ground for making hay stacks, and you can’t get into any trouble with those can you Champ?…


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Scything festival 2018: A throne fit for a (scything) king

The weekend of June 23rdand 24thwas the Wimpole Estate scything festival, this year held as part of the Wimpole History Festival. The meadows out by the folly looked fantastic, the weather was set fair and to top it all Simon ‘The Champ’ Damant had regained his national scything crown


Simon ‘the Champ’ Damant

Everybody was looking forward to a glorious weekend of mowing and traditional rural skills. However, in order to make these events pass off smoothly, entertainingly but seemingly spontaneously, a lot of hard preparative work has to be put in. Simon and his team of volunteers had spent the whole week working hard, marking out plots, putting up tents, carting up equipment and tools, building an outdoor kitchen and collecting copious wood for the greenwood workers.

In fact the scything started very early, before 6am apparently (I was asleep ed.) with Kevin, Michael and Nigel all deciding to  mow a whole acre each, which would have been the amount referred to in the nursery rhyme “One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow”: a typical day’s work for a Victorian mower. As they mowed on after lunch the greenwood group’s great and glorious leader, Jim ‘the bargain’ McVittie set up his scythe selling stall, the craft area was set up and notices put up in an attempt to guide the public to our rather secluded location

…but not even this was the start of the preparations as several months previously, the Wednesday night splinter group of the Estate’s greenwood workers known variously as the Harston shed and dining club or the Wympole Strippers, Steamers and Benders Association, had decided to build a throne in which to crown the scything champions. Given the ancient traditions of scything and forest life, a design was hastily produced on the back of an old grant application (well it is Cambridge ed.) of a leaf-shaped structure, which the designers believed might pay homage to the ancient greenwoods and might have been found in Tolkein’s Lothlorien. The design arrived at was inspired by some small chairs seen at Bradfield Woods, when we visited there in the winter. This one, however, was going to be altogether bigger, more substantial and, as it turned out, a ‘right bugger to move about’.

It was created from the cheek of a single large ash tree from the estate wood yard and from some other appropriately over-sized lumps of Wimpole estate ash lying around Cobbs Wood farm: cheeks are the first part taken from the outside of a tree when it is planked so contains the curved outer face of the tree and are generally considered of little use. A few problems were encountered during the build, such as the getting the auger out of Jim’s back, when we accidently left him in the chair during mortice boring and the fact it needed 3 people and a couple of sledge hammers to get the supporting arms in under tension: it was meant to be able to be quickly disassembled for storage but that idea rapidly hit the dust after the assembly process!

The final construction contains no screws or nails, being held together only with wooden pegs and wedges held in with glue. It is, in fact to our surprise and due to its ‘rudder’ at the back, remarkably stable and indeed comfortable although it is certainly not designed for slouching in or watching a match that goes to extra time and penalties without a cushion being added (the world cup was on when this was first drafted ed.).

The one acre mowers finished their task in between 9 and 12 hours and promptly collapsed and along with some other recently arrived mowers and a handful of greenwood workers headed for their tents as the evening closed in. Food was cooked and people sat around chatting and watching the sunset.

I read a few chapters of Roger Deakin’s “Wildwood”: if you haven’t read it I strongly recommend you should ). We all wondered if our leader’s McWeather forecast would be correct and Saturday would be bright and sunny with some light cloud or whether there would be a repeat of the famous Burwash Manor Apple Day fiasco…


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The Wympole Strippers ride again!

…Apologies for the time it takes to get these on the blog – sorry (ed.).

May is the optimal time of the year for obtaining elm bast. The bast is the ~1/4” layer consisting of mainly the phloem just under the rough outer bark, which carries sugars from the leaves to the rest of the tree. When this layer is removed from the tree it is somewhat flexible, and so can be woven, rather like leather, to produce various products including chair seats, baskets and bags.


In order to collect it the outer bark has to be draw knifed from a felled elm tree leaving behind the cream coloured bast layer visible. This rapidly, over the space of a few minutes, oxidises to a golden brown with a visible grain-like pattern. The bast is then scored along the length of the tree with a sharp knife, trying to work round any knots and flaws, and then peels away in long strips. These can be woven wet but it is better to dry them out thoroughly so they can be stored almost indefinitely. When needed the strips can be soaked in water overnight and then woven.

The use of bark for weaving has been practised in Europe for thousands of years, although it was usually birch or lime bast that was used. In fact Otzi, the copper age mummified ‘ice man’ carried a bark bag. The use of elm bark for seating greenwood chairs and stools has come down from American settlers via the shakers, the arts and crafts movement and the American greenwood workers of the 1970s lead by John/Jennie Alexander with whom many in leading greenwood workers in the UK, like Mike Abbott, worked with. The American settlers though, used bast (from hickory in their case) for weaving in turn as a result of watching the native Americans.(Ed. Sadly died John/Jennie Alexander earlier this month



Alexander-Design ash shaker chair seated in elm bast

Although there are a few big elms left on the Wimpole Estate following Dutch elm disease, there are many many suckers but these tend to die when they get to around 25’ high and often have to be felled for safety reasons. These provide an excellent source of good 2-3m lengths of bast for seating and round-wood timber of an ideal size for making elm frames for all manner of projects. Sometimes as part of agreed thinning projects we have been able to source elm hidden from the eyes of the public from within the woods but this year we had to come out into the open in the full glare of the sun and the public taking elm from beside hedgerows near the old common ‘sixes’ where they were encroaching on the grassy field margins. So about a dozen of us variously appeared on a hot Saturday in May to take down and process bark from half a dozen hedgerow elms – under the careful supervision of our senior managment, who held court in the buggy whilst we all slaved away.

Elm bark stripping in the ‘sixes’ under the eye of senior management in the buggy (right)

In the end we all got a good supply of bast for the coming year, so all we need to do now is make frames to use it on. The first bit of which has already been put to use in seating a footstool-making course that Jim, Andrew, Jon and I ran at Orchard Barn near Stowmarket shortly afterwards.


Some of this year’s harvest drying

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Making a Tudor chair : Trying something a bit different

One of our friends is an experienced Tudor living historian but due to Sciatica would find it tough to stand up for day after day. So after a brief discussion over dinner, a quick spot of research on t’interweb and an even briefer planning session, we decided to attempt to build a three-legged Tudor hall chair, or if they were more ornate it was often called a turner’s chair. The three legs allowed stability on the various uneven Tudor floors of brick, beaten earth and warped wooden boards. The most highly decorated of these chairs showed how many hours of a wood-turner’s time the well off could afford. However, as our friend portrays somebody of the reasonably well off artisan class, minimal decoration was decided on…this decision had nothing at all to do with my turning abilities (ed. ahem!).


So with plans drawn on the back of a note pad, a 4ft 9” diameter log of Wimpole estate ash, some paper rush rope, no experience and some enthusiasm we set to work…


A log, a shave horse and some enthusiasm

First out, we split out the log into quarters and used two for these for the main legs and split the remaining two into 8ths and 16ths for the rails, rungs and supports. All were roughly draw-knifed and then turned part-green to cylinders of the right dimensions and decorated where and as we felt like, and then left to dry.

Once dry, tenons of the correct size (if created when the wood is dry they won’t shrink further later on) were created on the components’ ends and the triangular base assembled whilst we were helping out the people from Orchard Barn at the Weird and Wonderful Wood festival. A woven seat was created using the paper rush packed out with brown paper as padding. If you think square rush seating is difficult, then don’t try triangular seat rushing: The air turned blue!

The seat crest was made from an offcut from a 2” thick plank and then the drilling of angles holes for the arm and crest supports carried out. This was the most difficult part of the whole thing as it needed all the holes to be aligned using string lines and the human eye, drilled with a brace and bit and the whole lot assembled in one go with five tenons going into five mortices simultaneously and all at differing angles…time to get out the MkII persuader.

A few coats of oil and it was finished. All in all it was a really interesting and fun challenge and resulted in a piece of furniture unlike anything any of us had made before: although substantial to look at, it was surprisingly light and reasonably comfortable.

…and all that remained was to find a Tudor to sit in it at the Kentwell re-enactment weekend.



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The Land Rudyard Kipling


So to the land. E. Wydale

A vey good friend Chris Preston enlightened my one evening when returning to Wimpole by train from London. He shared this poem by Rudyard Kipling and after reading it you realize how observant this man was. An explantation to the poem can be found through this link at the Kipling society

The Land
“Friendly Brook” A Diversity of Creatures
When Julius Fabricius, Sub-Prefect of the Weald, In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field, He called to him Hobdenius—a Briton of the Clay, Saying: “What about that River-piece for layin’ in to hay?”
And the aged Hobden answered: “I remember as a lad My father told your father that she wanted dreenin’ bad. An’ the more that you neeglect her the less you’ll get her clean. Have it jest as you’ve a mind to, but, if I was you, I’d dreen.”
So they drained it long and crossways in the lavish Roman style — Still we find among the river-drift their flakes of ancient tile, And in drouthy middle August, when the bones of meadows show, We can trace the lines they followed sixteen hundred years ago.
Then Julius Fabricius died as even Prefects do, And after certain centuries, Imperial Rome died too. Then did robbers enter Britain from across the Northern main And our Lower River-field was won by Ogier the Dane.
Well could Ogier work his war-boat—well could Ogier wield his brand— Much he knew of foaming waters—not so much of farming land. So he called to him a Hobden of the old unaltered blood, Saying: “What about that River-piece; she doesn’t look no good ?”
And that aged Hobden answered “‘Tain’t for me to interfere. But I’ve known that bit o’ meadow now for five and fifty year. Have it jest as you’ve a mind to, but I’ve proved it time on ‘ time, If you want to change her nature you have got to give her lime!”
Ogier sent his wains to Lewes, twenty hours’ solemn walk, And drew back great abundance of the cool, grey, healing chalk. And old Hobden spread it broadcast, never heeding what was in’t— Which is why in cleaning ditches, now and then we find a flint.
Ogier died. His sons grew English—Anglo-Saxon was their name— Till out of blossomed Normandy another pirate came; For Duke William conquered England and divided with his men, And our Lower River-field he gave to William of Warenne.
But the Brook (you know her habit) rose one rainy autumn night And tore down sodden flitches of the bank to left and right. So, said William to his Bailiff as they rode their dripping rounds: “Hob, what about that River-bit—the Brook’s got up no bounds ?”
And that aged Hobden answered: “‘Tain’t my business to advise, But ye might ha’ known ‘twould happen from the way the valley lies. Where ye can’t hold back the water you must try and save the sile. Hev it jest as you’ve a mind to, but, if I was you, I’d spile!”
They spiled along the water-course with trunks of willow-trees, And planks of elms behind ’em and immortal oaken knees. And when the spates of Autumn whirl the gravel-beds away You can see their faithful fragments, iron-hard in iron clay.
Georgii Quinti Anno Sexto, I, who own the River-field, Am fortified with title-deeds, attested, signed and sealed, Guaranteeing me, my assigns, my executors and heirs All sorts of powers and profits which—are neither mine nor theirs,
I have rights of chase and warren, as my dignity requires. I can fish—but Hobden tickles—I can shoot—but Hobden wires. I repair, but he reopens, certain gaps which, men allege, Have been used by every Hobden since a Hobden swapped a hedge.
Shall I dog his morning progress o’er the track-betraying dew ? Demand his dinner-basket into which my pheasant flew ? Confiscate his evening faggot under which my conies ran, And summons him to judgment ? I would sooner summons Pan.
His dead are in the churchyard—thirty generations laid. Their names were old in history when Domesday Book was made; And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line Have seeded, rooted, fruited in some land the Law calls mine.
Not for any beast that burrows, not for any bird that flies, Would I lose his large sound counsel, miss his keen amending eyes. He is bailiff, woodman, wheelwright, field-surveyor, engineer, And if flagrantly a poacher—’tain’t for me to interfere.
“Hob, what about that River-bit ?” I turn to him again, With Fabricius and Ogier and William of Warenne. “Hev it jest as you’ve a mind to, but”—and here he takes command. For whoever pays the taxes old Mus’ Hobden owns the land.
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Estonia, an excursion into mosquito valley!!!!!!! Part one

Alam-Pedja reserve

So where did Richard Brown and myself disappear off too leaving behind a grotty wet English morning. (note to self, managed to just board the plane despite Stansteads efforts to undo all our timing schedual unlike 2016!!!!!). Well it was back mowing the meadows in Estonia but this time in the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve which was established by Estonian government in 1995 and then in 2004  it was designated as a Natura 2000 site.

Flood plain of the Emajogi river

The protected area is also recognized as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1997. Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve is the fourth largest protected area and the second largest nature reserve in Estonia. It is located to the northwest of Tartu and northeast of Estonia’s largest inland lake, Lake Võrtsjärv. The natural environment of the area has been hardly affected by human influence over the years, providing suitable habitats for many protected and rare species. With its large size and various habitats, the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve’s objective is to protect the diversity of ecosystems, mainly through preserving the natural development of forest and mire communities and securing the management of floodplain grasslands.

Driving past the woodland

So after spending a day or two in the lovely capital of Estonia, Tallin which I wholly recommend to anyone wanting to see an almost intact medieval city we hired a car and zoomed off into the direction that Piret had instructed us. Handy old things the iPhone and mapping systems, put the address in and follow the directions! Past meadows and woodland and over umpteen rivers until we eventually arrived in the village of Palupophja.

Pity we didn’t bring the canoes!!!!

Now where was that forest school, oh down the road to the last river crossing. Oh blast was the polite way of describing our predicament, the road just stopped at the southern bank of the Emajogi river, no way across and we could see the school *%£$@*!. Was there a ferry? nope, was there another way to get across the river? nope, could we swim, not bloody likely, so a quick phone call revealed our folly. The mapping app I used did not know how to get to the address we typed in and when we did use the right app it revealed another two hour drive back where we had come from, oooops.

White water lilly

The Võrtsjärv lake and basin are dissected by more than ten larger rivers however the Pedja, Põltsamaa and Emajõgi Rivers are the most famous. In addition, there are over fifty oxbow lakes in the floodplains that have become unique ecosystems with a rich variety of fish. During high water, the rivers overflow the river banks and can flood nearly one-third of the protection area. Now one of these rivers was to prove our undoing, little did we know when we took a shortcut that one of the bridges over the Emajogi river was closed, well in fact it wasn’t there! Curses yet another detour.

Whizzing past the forests

Off to the bog

After some more diversions we did eventually arrive on the north side of the Emojogi river but before heading to the reserve there was a lovely nature trail that went into the acidic peat boglands. The Scots pine woodland was gun barrel straight and tall, there was also birch but as we ventured into the heart of the bogland the Scots pine became stunted and gnarled only just hanging on to life. Apparently these small trees were around 300 years old!!!!!!!

A vast bogland

Although the bog plant life had few species the transitional zones between the forest and bog did actually have quite a variety of wildlife  especially near woodland rides. Butterflies and other insects abounded and the tea coloured bog pools were astonishing.


The first evening at the Alam-Pedja nature school

The cheff

 The area we were in is almost uninhabited, which makes it attractive to human-fearing bird species and offers good hiding places to large game. This mosaic of old forests and bogs is a home for wolves, white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, Ural owls, pygmy owls, grouse and black storks. Various birds may be seen on the large flooded meadows, especially during spring and autumn migration. So it was with great delight that we were woken up by a pair of Golden orioles on our first day, wow what a beautiful song, deep and melodious voice these birds have.

The forest meadow

So our first mowing excursion was into the forest meadows within the reserve and a delightful morning it was with mist swirling through the forest and dissapearing as the sun appeared above the horizon, that was when the mosquitoes arrived. My god the were ravenous and all methods of preventing them from sucking the life blood out of you were futile, it was like the Borg, “You Will be Assimilated. Resistance is Futile”  MY god these buggers were big.

Below are a few photos from that mornings work.

An excusion into the swamp woodland

Later Robert our host gave us an introductory walk through some of the forests in the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve which are extensive and include swamp forests, carrs, floodplain and wooded meadows (with oak) and alluvial broad-leaved forests that are of particular botanical value.  The species diversity in these alluvial Alnus glutinosa – Ulmus laevis –U. glabra forests is high; these relict forests have persisted in only two other places in Estonia.

Birch bog

Other large areas are covered by permanently wet, birch-dominated swamp forest without any drainage. The integral complexes of five mires are separated by unregulated rivers with floodplain meadows.  The mires are represented by bogs (Põltsamaa, Umbusi), fens (Karisto, Ulila), transition bogs, and their complexes (Laeva).  These bogs are of a continental type, with abundant bog-pools.

One of the oxbow lakes

The climate of the area is in a zone of transition from a maritime to continental climate, and is influenced heavily by nearby Võrtsjärv Lake in the south and the Sakala uplands to the north.  Mean annual temperature is 4.5°C, precipitation averages about 560 mm per year, and snow cover lasts approximately 110 days, with rivers and lakes covered with ice from December until April.  Regular and predictable floods cover large areas and last for relatively long periods of time.  Flooding typically occurs during spring, and during autumns with high precipitation.  Such flooding does do not occur elsewhere in Estonia or in the other Baltic States.

Water everywhere

These floods have formed the natural alluvial sediments and relief forms present in the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve today.  The hydrological cycle is important for the recharge and discharge of groundwater, and for the maintenance of water quality.  Further, there are very few similar regions where the natural hydrological system has been as well preserved within Europe.  Thus, Alam-Pedja, due to its large territory and natural hydrological regime, is of national and international importance.

A paddling excursion on the Emojogi

Wildlife abounded in the forest and meadows but we also had an excursion along the natural Emojogi river. In the daytime you won’t see beaver but at night, well thats another story. However we did see what they had been up to. Boy can these beavers fell trees.

A brief stop to inspect a beaver lodge

One gnawed tree!!!

So how many species roughly, there have been 640 species of fungi recorded within the reserve which includes 135 species found primarily in Estonia, and includes one recent new discovery (Tremella estonica), and 9 species listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.  158 species of lichens (Lichenes; 2 species in the Red Data Book of Estonia), and 184 species of bryophytes (Bryota) have been recorded within the reserve (7 species listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia), although most of the bryophytes have not yet been completely surveyed.  485 species of vascular plants have been recorded, including 433 species of herbs and 52 species of trees and shrubs.  15 vascular plant species are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.

On of the rushes

22 species of mollusks (Mollusca) have been recorded in the meanders, ditches and rivers of the Reserve.  32 species (54 in Estonia) of dragonflies (Odonata) are found in the reserve and potential suitable habitat could mean that 40 dragonfly species live in the reserve of which 2 species are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.  410 species of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) have been recorded

Forgotten the name of this but it is very rare and very poisonous

(about 900 in Estonia), and more than 100 species of beetles (Coleoptera) have been found, mainly long riverside areas and river floodplains.  Blethisa multipunctata and Pterostichus anthracinus are abundant beetles in the reserve, yet rare within the rest of Estonia, and 2 species (Leptura nigripes and Agrilus mendax) are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia.  25 species of fish (Ichyhyes) have been caught (number of fish species may even reach 30).  The floodplains and old river beds are important spawning sites for various fish species such as Aspius aspius, Siluris glanis, Abramis brama and Esox lucius.  The reserve is home to 6 species of amphibians (Amphibia) and 3 species of reptiles (Reptilia).

Hoverfly and bumblebee

Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve is the most important breeding area for Great Snipe (Gallinago media) in Estonia, which also supports a rich assemblage of breeding species of mire, forest and wetland, notably the globally threatened Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga).  Breeding species of global conservation concern that do not meet IBA criteria include White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla; 2 pairs). Significant proportion (about 1%) of national population breeding at Alam-Pedja include European Honey-buzzard (Pernis apivorus; 5-7 pairs), Black Tern (Chlidonias niger; 150-200 pairs), Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus; min. 20 pairs), Gray-faced Woodpecker (Picus canus; min. 15 pairs).  Numbers of breeding Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix; min. 75 pairs) are also notable.  A total of 193 bird species have been observed in the reserve (153 breeding, 24 transit migrants, and 14 vagrants or others).  Of these, 35 species are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia and 40 species are listed in Annex I of the Bird Directives.

Fen ragwort loads of it

43 species of mammals have been recorded in the reserve. Many small mammals can be found within the reserve including the East European Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor), 4 species of shrews including the rare Musked Shrew (Sorex caecutiens), and the Lesser Weasel (Mustela nivalis).  8 of the 11 bat (Vespertilionidae) species found in Estonia are present in Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve, and most notably healthy populations of the Pond Bat (Myotis dasycneme).  Large mammals breeding in the reserve or rare or protected in other parts of Europe include the otter (Lutra lutra), Stoat (Mustela erminea), wolf (Canis lupis), bear (Ursus arctos), and lynx (Felis lynx).  Elk (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and wild boar (Sus scrofa) are common as well as non-native raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and American mink (Mustela vision) species.  5 mammal species present in the reserve are listed in the Red Data Book of Estonia. We didn’t see any mammals, all to shy apart from the bats by the river in the evening. Oh and those mosquitos, I asked Robert was it the worst year, “No out of ten this is about three” My god they’d drain every last ounce out of you in the 10/10 year

Sporting the mosquito protection head dress

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Here we come a wassailing

On Saturday 14th, the Greenwood group were invited to demo some of our ’skills’ at the Trumpington Community Orchard Wassail and to join in the celebrations.

Wassailing refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards usually in cider-producing regions, drinking (with mulled cider, which is called wassail), reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year and scare away evil spirits. The word is thought to come from the Anglo Saxon greeting “wes þú hál”, that is “be thou hale” and the correct response is “Drinc hæl”.

All wassail ceremonies have the same core elements: A wassail King and his Queen to lead the singing: The placing of toast soaked in warm wassail on a tree’s branches as a gift to the tree spirits: Incantations are recited and then the wassailers sing and shout and bang drums and pots & pans and generally make a terrible racket until the gunsmen (if health and safety permit and the correct risk assessment forms have been filled in) give a great final volley through the branches in order to scare off any evil spirits that may still be lurking about.

On arrival in Trumpington, we were rewarded with some wild cherry cut that morning, which Kate, Matt and Mike carved into spoons and kuksas and Tony turned into chair parts. Jim ‘the leader’ McVittie demonstrated bowl turning whilst Val began wrapping the seat rails of an ash bench, prior to seating it in a mixture of willow and rush rope (watch future blogs) and David made gypsy flowers for all who wanted them. We also ran a ‘have a go’ at splitting and draw knifing and helped those who had brought their own knives with spoon making.


The wassail ceremony is associated with wassail bowls, which are often more like a goblet with a lid. So Jim ‘the wassail’ McVittie had made this wonderful wassail bowl for display, which as mentioned in the Christmas carol “Wassail, wassail all over the town”  is made of the white maple tree. White maple, or field maple as we would call it is a pretty much flavorless wood and so was traditionally used to make kitchen utensils.


Jim’s Wassail bowl

After some delicious soup and cheese provided by our generous hosts, it was time for the Wasail itself. Armed with a variety of traditional and not so traditional equipment we joined the forty or so people who had come to sing to the oldest apple tree in the orchard, the traditional songs including ‘Here we come a-wassailing’ and  ‘Old apple tree’. The tree with decorated with toast soaked in wassail and then we all finally processed around the rest of the orchard still singing and playing: The wild life all ran for cover but we enjoyed ourselves and hope to get invited back another year.


Thank you to Susanna, Li and the Trumpington Community Orchard group for organizing such a fun day and hopefully we will see them and their musicians at the Wympole scything festival in June.

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Wimpole park & Home farm 1828

Filling the barn with wheat sheaves, G.Soper

Delving into the vast archives I have on my computer this christmas I realised that there is an enormous amount of information about Home farm through the ages. However in this blog I’ll deal with the period around the early nineteenth century when the Third earl of Hardwicke became very interested in the modern farming practices of his time.

Part of the  new drive in farm improvements of the time included Modern farms. Home farm at Wimpole dates from this time, 1790, when the landscape architect W. Eames along with Sir J. Soane designed the farm we see today (these buildings used

Flailing the sheaves

red brick, whereas the Fourth earls additions are indicated by the yellow gault clay brick). The main feature of the farm was and still is the Great barn which was built as a traditional thrashing barn that used the traditional man and flail method with a thrashing floor now long gone. This was the ancient method of degraining the wheat ears in the sheaves and winnowing the grain once thrashed.  It was probably one of the last thrashing barns ever built for shortly after there were many other new agricultural inventions, this was the beginning of the agricultural revolution. One such invention were the horse gin gang.

Gin gang building

A gin gang, wheelhouse, roundhouse or horse−engine/gin house, is a structure built to enclose a horse mill, usually circular but sometimes square or octagonal, attached to a threshing barn. Most were built in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The threshing barn held a small threshing machine which was connected to the gin gang via wooden gears, drive shafts and drive belt, and was powered by a horse which walked round and round inside the gin gang. At Home farm a much larger  four horse gin was added to Great barn shortly after it was built and its position can be seen as a round addition to the north side of the Great barn. This was used to thrash the wheat sheaves that had previously been stored in the barn at harvest time, a less arduous job for the men but one of the many new inventions that put farm labourers out of much valued winter work and in part led to the Swing Riots.

Wimpole park and Home farm 1828 J. Dunstone Cambridge Library

Of interest you may note that the farm barn complex was not completely enclosed, the reason for this is that the Great barn had to have a breeze through the two massive doors and the prevailing wind was and is from the SW. This allowed the farm labours to thrash and winnow thus separating the wheat from the chaff. The cow sheds you see today which now block the SW winds were added by the Fourth Earl as the thrashing barn had in all intensive purposes become redundant due to the new farming thrashing and winnowing inventions.

Ploughing the fields G. Soper

So what of the man who created the map. His name was James Dunstone and seems to have been born in 1790 but died in 1834 his will dated the 20th June 1834 is as follows:

This is the last Will and testament of me James Dunstone of Wimpole in the County of Cambridge Land Surveyor ( that is to say) I give and bequeath unto my brother John Dunstone the sum of fifteen pounds , to my brother Richard Dunstone the sum of fifteen pounds , to my sister Mary Dunstone the sum of fifteen pounds and to my sister Ann Dunstone the sum of fifteen pounds – I give and bequeath unto my dear wife Martha Dunstone all my household goods and furniture plate linen china monies and securities for money and all and singular other my personal estate property and effects whatsoever and wheresoever to and for her own absolute use and benefit and I appoint my said dear wife Martha Dunstone sole Executrix of this my will and hereby revoking all former and other wills by me at any time heretofore made do declare this only to be and contain my last Will and Testament In Witness whereof I the said James Dunstone the Testator have hereunto set my hand and seal this twentieth day of June one thousand eight hundred and thirty four.

Signed Sealed Published and declared  }
by the said James Dunstone the Testator }
as and for his last will and testament    }   Jas. Dunstone   (Seal)
in the presence of us who in his presence }
at his request and in the presence of     }
each other have hereunto subscribed       }
our names as witnesses thereto            }

Thos.Wortham Jn – Elizabeth Newell

18th August 1834 Martha Dunstone of Wimpole in the County of Cambridge Widow the sole Executrix named in the within written will was sworn to the execution thereof in due form of Law and she further made Oath that the Goods Chattels and Credits late of the written named Testator James Dunstone do not amount in value to the sum of Four hundred and fifty pounds

Before me
Gen Ventris
Testator died 8th July 1834

He now lies in the Wimpole churchyard and the link below is his inventory An inventary and valuation of the personal property of the late Mr dunstone gives you an idea of how he lived.

So to the land. G. Soper

Now onto the land, Robert Withers was the steward for the third earl and he left the terrier for the map and from this we know that the deer park (a darker washed green) contained 245 acres thereabouts and from the Cambridge Natural History book we also know it had 300 head of fallow deer in the 1880’s. So one can assume the count would have roughly been the same in 1828, so more or less one – one and a half fallow deer per acre. Then there was the Home farm, in total there was 459 acres more or less, this was split into grassland and arable land, the grassland would have been grazing and meadow land and amounted to 212 acres (lighter washed green) with a couple of acres of pond and spinners; interestingly there was also five ozier beds amounting to nearly four acres which more than likely would have been used for basket making to carry goods of all descriptions. As to the arable land there was 240 acres (lighter washed brown) more or less but unfortunately there are no records as to its use apart from a set of inventories spanning ten years, however they do give an insight to what was actually grown on the farm.

Part of the 1828 inventory for Home farm

Collecting mangle wurzels G. Soper

Corn & Hay

Wheat thrashed 28 lds
Wheat to thrash in 4 cocks and 2 —– stacks about 250
Barley in the granary 22 quarters
3 Stacks of barley and part of another in the straw about 140 quarters
1 Stack of oats and part of another in the straw about 120 quarters
1 Stack of peas in the straw 70 loads
1 Stacks of beans in the straw 160
Barley wheat in the granary 10 bushels
Pollack? and bran in the granary 5 quarters
Linseed in the granary 13 quarters
Oil cake in the granary 1/2 ton
Potatoes about 4000 bushels
Mangel wurzel about 400 tons
Growing tares 5 acres
4 Stacks of pasture hay about 140 tons
Mangle wurzel seed 350?

Droving to market G. Soper

From the same inventory we can also see what livestock the farm held in 1828, it is obvious that the livestock farm was principally undertaking milk production although I suspect those calves that were male were brought on for the meat market.                In total there was 67 cows, steers and bulls with 21 milking cows.                                   The sheep amounted to 486 in total with 330 breeding ewes with store sheep brought in. These would have come via drovers bringing sheep like Welsh, Cheviots etc from all corners of the Kingdom. Of interest the Third Earl seemed to be experimenting as in some of the other inventories mention Leicester long wool rams which were almost definitely crossed with the Southdown sheep. Elsewhere in East Anglia at the same time Norfolk horn sheep were being crossed with Southdowns which gave rise to the traditional Suffolk breed which is still used as a commercial breed even today. I sometimes wonder what a Leicester/Southdown cross would be like.                                                                                                                                      Also in the inventory are the pigs, quite a few actually and probably used to feed the labouring men.

Cows steers etc
9 Capital milking cows of the improved Shorthorn breed
3 Capital milking cows of the improved Shorthorn breed superior
4 Fattening Shorthorn bullocks
2 Fattening Shorthorn smaller
8 Fattening Shorthorn heifers
1 Capital in calve three year old heifer
4 Capital in calve two year old
4 Steers two year old
2 Heifers two year old
1 Heifer three year old
13 Yearling heifers and steers
7 Calves
6 Calves smaller
1 Capital bull rising four year old
1 Capital bull rising three year old
1 Capital bull rising yearling
330 Capital young Southdown ewes
45 Fattening Cheviot wethers
77 Store Welsh sheep
25 Southdown hogget’s
5 Southdown rams
4 Southdown ram hogget’s
1 Sow 6 pigs
1 Sow 8 pigs
1 Sow 10 pigs
1 Sow 9 pigs
1 Sow 7 pigs
1 Sow 7 pigs
3 In pigged sows
15 Fattening pigs
19 Store pigs
1 Boar
1   Bhorse thirteen year old Turpin
2   Black eight year old Drummer
3   Brown horse severn year old Punch
4   Grey horse severn year old Fergus
5   Black horse five year old Captain
6   Brown horse five year old Duke
7   Black horse five year old Venture
8   Chestnut horse four year old Boxer
9   Chestnut horse four year old Squint?
10 Grey colt three year old
11 Grey filly two year old
12 Brown gelding six year old

Three horse team E. Whydale

So to the work horse, no tractors then just horses, in fact 12 in 1828 although numbers varied in the other inventories by one or two. As a general rule of thumb you need 2 horse per 100 acres but on heavy clay land 3 would have been necessary even so it seems Home farm had more than it needed until you realise that some of those horses would have powered the horse gin and would have also been used for other general duties about the farm and parkland.

It is of note that fowl were either absent or not recorded which in either case seems unusual as eggs would have been in high demand.

Harrowing the plough land G. Soper

So how was the arable land farmed? as it turns out there are other sources from the tenant farms and one of these is dated in 1824 related to Valley farm aka Wimpole Hole farm and  was overseen by Robert Withers the steward.

Valuation of tillage &c from Mr Robt Withers to Mr John Pearse at Wimpole taken February 5 1824

A R P Dove house close
16 2 0 Sown with red clover seed cost
Sowing the same

Mill field
22 3 0 Ploughed once

Dean field for wheat
9 0 0 Ploughed twice
Harrowd 3 times
4 boys 61/2 days each
Forking up pea stubble & picking twitch
2 men 1 boy with 3 horses a day & half drilling
Use of drill 1/6 per acre
2 days 1 man opening ditchs & furrows
27 Bu of wheat for seed  (best sort)

Great resevoir field sown with wheat
29 0 0 Ploughed twice
Harrowd 3 times
6 boys & girls 141/2 days forking of pea & bean stubble & picking twitch
2 men 1 boy with 3 horses half day drilling
Use of the drill on 4 acres
5 boys & girls 7 days springing wheat
1 man 3 days water furrowing
12 Bu wheat for seed drilled in
100 Bu do springed in

New field for barley
9 0 0 Ploughed twice
Harrowd twice

In same field
7 1 0 Ploughed once
1 man with 2 horses drawing and furrows 2 days
1 man 2 days shorching? at lands ends

For wheat
12 3 0 Ploughed twice
Harrowd 3 times
1 man with 2 horses 2 days drawg furrows
2 men 1 boy with 3 horses 2 days drilling
Use of drill 1/6
1 man 2 days shorching? lands ends

Of this piece
10 0 0 dressed? with gravesing?
2 men 2 horses 3 days carting and spreading gra?
38 B 1 —  wheat for seed
8 tons of grans? sown
cost £2 per ton in London
Breaking of Grains? cost 4/- per ton
carriage of the grans? from London cost e/g per cwt (note this seems to be another name for night soil)

In same field for wheat
1 0 0 Ploughed in with the other land viz
2 men 1 boy 3 horses drilling
Use of drill 1/6
3 Bu seed wheat drilled in

In same field
3 3 30 Sown with swedish turnips at per acre

Great sheep walk sown with wheat
24 2 0 Ploughed 4 times
Harrowd 4 times  with large twitch each time
Harrow & 6 horses a man & boy
Harrowed twice with light harrows
Rolled twice
5 men 10 horses 6 days filling & spreading dung
4 boys 6 days driving carts
1 man 6 days laying down dung
5 men 10 horses 2 days filling and spreading soap ashes?
4 boys 2 days driving carts
carriage of 25 tons of soap ashes from London (cost —– expenses)? 1/- ton carriage
1 man 3 days water furrowg
1 man 3 days shorching? lands ends
73 1/2 Bu wheat for seed
2 men 1 boy with 3 horses drilling the wheat
use of drill 1/6

In the same field for barley
25 0 0 Ploughed twice
Harrowed twice with large twitch harrows with 6 horses and man & boy
1 man 1 boy with 4 horses 8 days hoeing thistles
1 man 2 horses 4 days drawing of ridges
1 man 3 days water furrowg &c

Little Dean field with winter tares
7 2 10 Ploughed once
Harrowd 3 times
2 men & 1 boy with 3 horses 1 day drilling
1 man 1 day shorching? lands ends
Paid for opening the ditches & the —–
25 Bu of tares for seed cost 6/6 per Bu
Use of the drill 1/6

In the same field
2 1 20 Ploughed once

Great Dean field
14 0 0 Ploughed once

Horse pasture
3 0 0 Crop of Sctoch? thaile? turnip & small part? turnips cabbages at per acre
3 men with 5 horses & carts 3 days filling dung carting out of the yard into the lane
2 boys 3 days each driving carts
Paid man for turning up dung
1 boy 8 weeks keeping of crows
Paid for cutting 66 acres of halm?
Carting home & stacking the same (cash in all)
1 man 11 days washing & liming of seed wheat
1 man 1 horse & cart 11 days carting seed wheat
1 man 1 boy with 4 horses 5 days ploughing up hedge greens
2 men 3 1/2 days grubbing up roots before the plough

Eight acre field
2 0 0 Lay’d with lucerne last year viz
Ploughed once
Harrowd once
Rolled once
60 ld of lucerne seed
5d pence per ld
sowing the same

Fixtures in the house

West bedroom
A Rumford stove as fixed with 3 cast covers
Middle bedroom
Rumford stove as fixed with3 covers
East bedroom
Rumford stove as fixed with 3 covers
North bedroom
A small Panthion? stove not fixed
Rail with 6 pegs
A wind up bath range with spit racks and 2 round trevils?
Rumford stove as fixed with three cast covers
Drawing room
Rumford as fixed with 3 cast covers
Rumford stove as found with 2 cast covers
a shelf as fixed
Row of pegs
Blue painted cupboard
Shelf under the cupboard

Valuation from Mr Pearce to Mr Withers May 19th 1824
After feed of pastures from Michas 1823 to March 1 1824

5 2 0 Long Dane?
3 3 0 Little mead
5 2 0 Horse common
3 2 0 Little spring close
3 2 0  Nibbs? dane?
21 3 0 At per acre
5 0 0 Bush close old rye grass ley from Michas to 18 March 1824
Range in kitchenas it was sold in the sale
Small stove in North bedroom

2 3 30 Of Swedish turnips at xx
Deduct Mr Withers paid for digging up clamping & turning over once since 77 1/2 chains of borders at 1/-


Burning twitch G. Soper

It makes interesting reading as fertiliser was brought from London for the fields at Valley farm, seeds were lime washed to prevent fungal diseases like bunt and ergot, twitch and thistle were a liability and halm (long stubble and weeds) was mown probably by scythe so I guess the sickle was used to reap the wheat.

What is surprising is how many times the land was ploughed and harrowed, I suspect that this was needed to control the arable weeds. Also of note was the use of seed drills that seemed to be hired in.

Anyway this gives some idea of what farming was like at Home farm for most of the nineteenth century.



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Greenwood group on tour at the Burwash Manor Apple Day

The Burwash Apple day has become a regular autumn treat for the Estate Greenwood craft group as we have demonstrated their for the last 5 years. Burwash Manor is a group of converted farm buildings housing a selection of independent, unique shops including a tea-room situated on a working organic farm run by the Radford family (

Unknown            101009_1

Following last year’s lack of ‘shelter from the rain’ issues following Jim ‘the weatherman’ McVittie’s assurance of sun so we didn’t need any cover, this year we decided to take one of the Trust’s large star tent. The tent provided a focus, somewhere to keep tools, free advertising for the Trust and served to provide shade when it got too hot since the weather was wonderful.

Jon on bowl turning with our tent in the background and Matt on spoons

Hoards of people came all day packing the venue and causing queues back to the A603 for the car park. The children enjoyed the obstacle course, train and donkey rides and the funfair whilst the adults bought food and drink from all the stalls and shops, watched the cookery demonstrations, pressed apples and talked apples and watched the rural craft demonstrations. In addition to about a dozen of us doing all things woody, there was a walking stick maker, a coppice worker, veterans of many Wimpole events Harriet and Tilly making and selling furniture as well as Wonderwood and Foxcotte fencing creating woven willow structures.

Most of our repertoire of ‘skills’ were on display : Jim ‘the bowl” McVittie, his co-opted friend David from Herefordshire and Jon were on bowl turning, Matt and Valerie on spoons, Kate turned spindles and yours truly created artisan dog fetching sticks/firewood. On the furniture side Jim ‘the chair’ McVittie had brought his amazing ‘make a chair from a single elm tree (woven bark seat and all)’ chair, our resident willow weaver Val came and together with Andrew seated a hastily made stool frame in willow and Graeme created something we are yet to definitively identify (seen in the background) but we believe it to be a cubist giraffe sculpture!

Kate preparing to turn spindles. Artisan dog fetching stick manufacture with Graeme and his Dali-esque Giraffe in the background.

By five O’Clock all of Simon’s estate ash had been used up, we were all exhausted and hoarse from all the talking to the public but happy and most of us had achieved something we were pleased with. The event gets bigger and better every year and we had a great day out. In the end the whole day raised over £5,200 for The Sick Children’s Trust, which works to provide free high-quality accommodation for families with children in hospital to keep of seriously ill children together. If you didn’t come this year, come next year

Jim ‘the bowl” McVittie’s beautiful spalted sycamore bowl and the willow seated ash stool. Matt’s elegant feather spoon. Some of our wares on display at the end of a fantastic day out.
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Lower Winskill farm, Yorkshire Dales

Mowing a traditional English meadow

A rather delated report from early July.

A time to mow a meadow in the on the Lower Winskill farm in the Yorkshire dales, note the word ‘mow’ I need not say anymore on this subject 😉

Tom Lord

Lower Winskill is a working farm set in spectacular Yorkshire Dales limestone landscape overlooking Ribblesdale and is owned by Tom Lord who farms the land in the traditional manner. That is to say he farms both for commercial gain through his livestock but also farms to look after the wildlife of the Yorkshire dales. Especially the wild flowers and associated butterflies.

The farmhouse

With the advent of modern farming techniques (fertilisers and herbicides plus past over grazing) much of the wild flower meadows of the Dales have drastically diminished along with the associated wildlife. The rich flower meadows are now a nationally rare habitat but on the Lower Winskill farm native flower rich habitats abound, a rare sight in the Dales these days.

Tom Lords farm is above the crag

A historical context of the farm taken from the Lower Winskill farm website.

‘The hay meadows at Lower Winskill are recorded in late sixteenth century documents, they belonged to three smaller farms than.

How green is my valley

These farms were basically small dairy farms each with a few cattle kept inside over winter in stone built barns. Small scale dairy farms became widespread in the Yorkshire Dales in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Milk cows were kept all year round on the farms, and their milk made into cheese and butter. The farmhouses nearly always contained a purpose-built dairy where the cheese or butter was made. The cheese and butter were stored and sold on to feed growing urban and industrial populations. The development of this upland dairying economy needed ever more hay meadow to produce food for the milk cattle which were kept inside from early November to early May each year.

Of trees and limestone

Wood cranesbill

The presence of bluebells in the hay meadows at Lower Winskill is especially interesting. Bluebells and other wild flowers such as wood anemone, wood cranesbill and primrose suggests the meadows formed at a time when the locality was wooded, and some of the plants which originally grew in open woodland have been preserved as part of the meadow flora. It is very likely that this woodland was managed as wood pasture, and the meadows were created and enclosed where there were deeper and more fertile soils. The annual cycle of upland hay meadow management is the key to understanding how plants which naturally grow in open woodland survive as part of the meadow flora.

Hay gathering

The annual cycle of upland hay meadow management begins in the spring when the meadows are grazed by lambing sheep so that the first flush of grass is eaten by the ewes and lambs. This is very important as it prevents the taller grasses shading out the wild flowers which begin to grow a bit later. These include bluebells and other wild flowers originally present in woodland. It also encourages the growth of wild clover which naturally promotes soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil. In mid-May after a few weeks of spring grazing, the ewes and lambs are taken out of the meadows which are then “shut up” to let the grass grow to make into hay in July. This provides the vital window of opportunity for the wildflowers normally found in woodland to flower without being shaded out by grasses and gives them protection from grazing by livestock.  The meadows are not mown for hay until after the middle of July to allow the wild flowers to set seed which then falls back onto the ground as the hay is made.’

Tom Lord’s other passion

This next section is unashamedly taken again from the Lower Winskill farm web site as I could do no better.

‘The ancient dry stone wall field pattern at Lower Winskill is made up of walls built at different times. There are obsolete styles built-in the medieval period when Winskill was developed as an upland sheep farm (bercaria) by Sawley Abbey, a Cistercian monastery.

A reconstruction of the enclosed area (infield) of the medieval Sawley Abbey sheep farm (bercaria) at Winskill circa 1300 based on dry stone wall evidence.A reconstruction of the enclosed area (infield) of the medieval Sawley Abbey sheep farm (bercaria) at Winskill circa 1300 based on dry stone wall evidence.

Of walls and true men

The Yorkshire Dales National Park contains extensive and sometimes well-preserved medieval dry stone wall landscapes. It appears dry stone walls were being widely built-in the Yorkshire Dales by the thirteenth century. The earliest walls are technically complex structures, and possibly represent an agricultural innovation brought from continental Europe after the Norman Conquest. In the Yorkshire Dales dry stone wall construction continued more or less unchanged until the sixteenth century when new styles appear, and it is basically forms developed from these latter styles which have continued to be built to the present day.

Two on one, one on two

Because they are constructed in obsolete styles, medieval dry stone walls are unfamiliar to dry stone wallers today; and where they survive in a decayed state usually go entirely unrecognised.

Medieval dry stone walls have distinctive structural characteristics. In cross-section medieval walls stand nearly straight up with hardly any batter. They were generally built to a height of at least ~ 1.6m.

An early wall

Their tops are relatively wide, and the width across the face stones at the top of a medieval double dry stone wall is nearly always ~ 0.5m., equivalent to the archaic unit of measurement called a cubit. Standing nearly straight up, they frequently utilise up-ended slabs (orthostats) set vertically on edge for footings, and these sometimes survive where the upper part of the wall has been rebuilt in a later construction style. The top stones are laid flat and usually project on one or both sides to form a continuous overhanging lip projecting some six to nine inches which acts as a deterrent to jumping animals.

The wolf wall

This was clearly intended as a functional device, it appears to have gone out of use by the sixteenth century. It was a device to stop large predators especially wolves getting into enclosed areas holding domestic livestock, and become redundant once wolves were exterminated in the region. It was also useful in sheep management, in the medieval period keeping sheep for their wool, and making cheese from their milk, were important economic activities in the Yorkshire Dales.

Profile of a medieval double dry stone wall at Winskill with the original top stones intact, this was part of the infield boundary built circa 1300. The projection formed by the overhanging top stone was intended to prevent wolves jumping into the infield area.Profile of a medieval double dry stone wall at Winskill with the original top stones intact, this was part of the infield boundary built circa 1300. The projection formed by the overhanging top stone was intended to prevent wolves jumping into the infield area.

Later walls

Medieval dry stone walls were built as infield boundaries; as divisions within infield areas; as outfield pasture boundaries, especially in limestone areas; to stock proof managed woodland; as shelter walls and as stock handling facilities. Shelter walls and stock handling facilities often survive incorporated within later narrow top double wall field boundaries. Once built walls were probably cheaper and easier to maintain than fences, especially in the later medieval period. Reduced maintenance requirements might be very important in areas specialising in livestock husbandry, especially if there were seasonal shortages of labour. Medieval dry stone walls were built by monastic and secular landlords. We can see that medieval walls were built in regular lengths and to strict specifications which imply careful estate management. They were not built in an ad hoc fashion, and were probably the work of specialist builders. On monastic estates belonging to the Cistercian houses, walls may have been built by lay brothers.

Double walls as ally ways

Medieval dry stone walls were built out different rock types according to the local geology: as well as Carboniferous limestone, examples are known of walls built from Carboniferous sandstone and Silurian sandstone. The stone was often got from surface field clearance, but stone was also quarried where bed rock exposures could be easily broken up.’

The longhorn cattle gateway

Tom also showed us the small gateway and explained that in the past Longhorn cattle were used to produce the milk but because of the long horns the gateways had to allow for a widening gap towards the top so that they could pass. Incidentally the milk from the Longhorn cattle was especially rich and made excellent butter.

The sheep gate

Another stone wall feature of interest was the hole that could be opened and closed. This was the sheep gate and from the photo you can see that the infill was rough and ready but enough to keep the sheep in until you wanted to let them out. Just remove the rough stones and out the sheep go.

Below are a few more stone wall photos.


A variety of soils and habitat


The soils at Lower Winskill are very variable and give rise to a wide range of plant communities. Wild flowers are abundant in the pastures and hay meadows, and amongst the limestone pavements and cliffs. By carefully controlling when the pastures are grazed many different wildflowers are able to flower and set seed from the spring through to the early autumn.

Common spotted orchid

The limestone pastures at Lower Winskill are home to a number of different orchids including the delightfully scented Fragrant Orchid. All the orchid species are becoming more abundant as a result of the management as part of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.

The Early Purple Orchid is one of the first flowers to appear in the spring alongside the Cowslips in the limestone pastures. With its vivid purple colour it gives an exotic quality to the high limestone pastures nearly 1000 feet above sea level. The purple colour is quite variable and occasionally a white flower spike is produced. The leaves are generally marked with dark spots and lie close to the ground making them difficult to see before the flower spike grows. The camouflage might be a defence against grazing animals, but the flower spike is sometimes nibbled off and toppled over at the base possibly by slugs.


Rock Rose is one of the characteristic wild flowers of limestone pasture. It is also the sole food for the caterpillars of the rare Northern Brown Argus butterfly which are now increasing at Lower Winskill. The increase in numbers of Northern Brown Argus butterfly at Lower Winskill is directly related to the greater abundance of Rock Rose.

Other rare plants in the limestone pastures include the nationally rare Ladies Mantle (Alchemilla glaucescens), Spring Cinquefoil and Grass of Parnassus. The latter is typically a plant of damp areas flushed with lime-rich groundwater. However it grows in fairly dry locations in the limestone pastures at Lower Winskill, suggesting that with the right management this beautiful wildflower can expand beyond its more familiar range.

Ladies bedstraw

As well as the many characteristic wildflowers of limestone grassland like the Ladies bedstraw,  the beautiful early flowering Blue Moor Grass (Sesleria caerulea) is common in the limestone pastures at Lower Winskill.



The semi parasitic Eyebright flower

The semi-parasitic Yellow Rattle along with Eyebright have an important part to play in the restoration of upland hay meadows. By checking the growth of the more vigorous grasses it helps other wild flowers get established. They are prolific producers of seed; the seeds of Yellow rattle are large and easily collected by mechanised seed harvesters for use in meadow restoration schemes unlike Eyebright.

Getting the right habitat for butterflies is a key aspect of how the pastures and hay meadows at Lower Winskill are managed.


Grazing is carefully controlled so butterflies have the right plants for their caterpillars and an abundant supply of nectar from wild flowers.

Butterflies have a remarkable life cycle. It begins as an egg laid by a female butterfly on a plant; after hatching there is a larval stage when the caterpillar eats leafy material for food, then a phase of dormancy as the caterpillar pupates until it emerges as a fully formed butterfly, and begins the final part of its life to find a mate, and so continue the cycle all over again during which time butterflies feed upon nectar from flowers.


In partnership with Natural England as part of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme we help butterflies at different stages in their life cycle. The Northern Brown Argus butterfly, for example, only lays eggs on Rock Rose, and this is the sole food plant for this now rare and threatened butterfly. So we encourage the spread of common Rock Rose by restricting sheep and cattle grazing on the limestone pastures where the Rock Rose grows. This will provide the colony of Northern Brown Argus butterfly which live in the Scar Edge pastures at Lower Winskill with lots of rock rose plants for their caterpillars to feed upon.

Greater burnet

By carefully managing where and at what times of the year sheep and cattle graze on different parts of the farm we make sure that butterflies have the plants they need to lay their eggs upon so their caterpillars have the right food to eat. More general caterpillar food plants such as nettle are left to grow especially where the clumps are in sunny locations. These provide food for the caterpillars of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies.


Careful management of sheep and cattle grazing is also the key to make sure that butterflies have a source of nectar from wild flowers throughout the summer. Some of the limestone pastures are not grazed until early autumn to make sure there are lots of late summer nectar plants for the butterflies such as Common Knapweed and Devil’s Bit Scabious. This also ensures butterflies have a variety of small-scale habitats in close proximity to each other with clusters of grasses and wildflowers at different heights.

Other insects such as bumblebees benefit too from having wild flowers available throughout the summer. Wild flower seed also provides food for small mammals and birds such as Meadow Pipits and Goldfinch.

Although Tom’s farm abounds with wildflowers much of the surrounding farmland has been drastically improved through the used of fertilisers and herbicides to increase grass yield, further more the constant grazing of these grasslands has increased the amount of weed species present such as thistles and docks which inevitably leads to more herbicide use. You do wonder what the future holds if we don’t reverse the declining trends of our biodiversity

Helen and Heather

On a more cheerful note we now come to the part about herbal medicine. Once upon a time herbs made up the armoury of the physician. Countless years of experimentation and observation from the early human civilisation led to a deep understanding of which plants proved useful for different ailments. For my part I only know a small fraction of the useful plants found in meadows, one of the most useful for me is the yarrow plant, it has many uses but the one which shines through is its ability to staunch blood flow. Pretty dam useful when you do not take enough care sharpening the scythe blade.

Herbal medicine


During the weekend  at Tom’s farm both Helen and heather gave lectures about the merits of the meadow flowers found on his farm. One very useful plant was Betony, in herbal medicine the leaves of Betony are used, it is very long-lived herb that grows widely in temperate grasslands, woods and thickets. Betony medicine has an intriguing taste, not especially strong or bitter but rather warm, lingering and multi-faceted. The name Betony comes from the primitive Celtic where Bew meant head and ton meant good; it is used for headaches but also has many other uses such as a medicinal poultice for swellings, sore muscles, varicose veins, and tumours. A medicinal infusion of the herb has also been used to treat sore throats, tonsillitis, cough and bronchitis, also used to treat dizziness, urinary, bladder and kidney pain. However although this plant is safe there is always a chance that someone could have an adverse reaction so if you want to use herbs take advice.  This is Helens webpage

Hay mowing the traditional way

The raker

The weekend also included lessons in mowing with a scythe, meadow management, making hay, peening etc. There were a few cut fingers but a foray into the flower rich meadows looking for yarrow soon remedied the flow of blood, a first aid box right under your nose!!!!!

Peeing lessons oops peening lessons

On the last day the farm held (I think) the second Yorkshire dales mowing competition, all were invited to mow a lovely traditional hay meadow. adjacent to the farm-house. Hay meadows were nearly always close to the farm in the old days so that the hay did not have to be carted to farm and the aftermath grazing was left for the autumn/winter with the hay-field then been closed to grazing animals from the spring.

Gill seems to be directing proceedings

Below is a gallery of the mowers in action along with timekeepers, rakers and judges.



The rakers clearing each plot

Prize giving

So what were the scores and who won what? There is a fifteen second penalty added on per quality point

Ruth Pullan                3.25         8.5 Ladies 1st

Gill Barron                  3.34        7   Ladies 2nd

Fi Pollock                     5.37        7  Ladies 3rd

The Prize givers

Lucy Otto                      5.50       6

Sue Wrathwell             7.48       6

Simon Damant            1.05        8 Mens  1st

Steve Tomlin                1.25       7.5 Mens 2nd

Chris Riley                    1.26        7 Mens 3rd

Steve Tomlin entering a competition, never!!!!

Peter Blackwell            2.16        8

Charlie Quinnell          3.30       9   Quality

John Grundy                 4.06       8

Ian Forman                   3.48        6

Kiwi Ken                        4.21      6.5 Novice 1st

  Kiwi Ken

William de Hamel        4.48        7.5

Alistar Clark                   5.41        6

Nick Beighton                 6.49       6

Any mistakes let me know.

So the men from the north who won? Steve Tomlin was first  Peter Blackwell second

A bouquet of flowers

I have to say a big thank you to all those that put the hard work in to make the Meadow connections possible at Tom’s farm and a big thank you to a man who has a passion and makes it work, a shining example to all those bigger and well funded organisations.





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