Tree down

Quickly dealt with

I arrived back from Romania to find a number of trees had been blown down by some strong winds. The trees had been in full leaf which makes them more vulnerable because of the increased sail effect. Without the wood chipper and timber crane this job would have taken the best part of a week to clear up but, with the right machinery and resources, it was only a couple of days before all was ship-shape and clean.

The mowing season has started

The grass was fed to the cows

Having mowed in Romania I came back to find the Wympole scythe mowers had also been active. First meadow to mow was at Cobbs Wood Farm. The flower seed wasn’t ready so, to avoid extra hay drying work, the herb rich green grass was fed directly to the White Park cattle who, after spending the winter in the sheds, appreciated a change of diet.

Fence painting

It was a full week back at work as the CNTV came in on the Sunday to help paint the park rail fence at Arrington- a grand help when you consider that it would cost £15/m if outside contractors had to be employed to undertake the work. Seem to remember about 100m of fence being painted. Brilliant job.

The lakes in the late evening light

Track building

After last winter some of the farm tracks were in a sorry condition and the first to have a facelift was the track going north above Cobbs Wood Farm. It will take a bit of time to do as we use this job as an infill when we have some spare time, hopefully it’ll be finished by late August.

Ragwort pulling

Ragwort pulling time… not the nicest of jobs but  a necessary one if you have hay meadows. Not that you have to pull all the ragwort out because it is of great wildlife value but, in a hay meadow, you don’t want it invading in large quantities as it can be poisonous to some animals.

Wild flower seed collection

Baled up

The major work for June and July was grassland management which of course included the Scythe Festival in late June which I reported on in an earlier blog post. Matt Radford from Burwash Manor Farm came with his baler to bale the four acres of hay mown purely by scythe- this was very good quality hay and we ended up with 300 good bales.

Even the horrible mown mess in front of the stables

Even managed to bale some rubbish fluffy grass in front of the Stable Block  which helped tremendously as I had thought we would have to remove it manually. Turns out that this small area produced twenty bales which quite frankly was rubbish but the cows seemed to like it in the cattle yard. WASTE NOT, WANT NOT.

Patches of thistle weed removed from the mown grass

Great Cobbs Meadow was also mown but by tractor… due to a problem removing some large hay bales last year that noxious weed creeping thistle invaded (and I for one hate hay bales with large amounts of this horrible weed in them) so we removed the worst and seeded the area where they had been as it was by now bare earth, hopefully this will reduce the thistles by next year.

Meanwhile flower rich green hay spread in less rich grasslands

The Wympole scythe men and of course women continued their Tuesday evening sessions mowing flower rich grass which was then taken to other sites on the Wimpole Estate to help spread the seed. We have been doing this for quite a few years now and this year we started to see the fruits of all our work – there was a stunning early summer display of colour along with millions of butterflies… and they keep coming as the common blue has now just started to fly.

All in all a busy two months what with the Scythe and History Festivals plus the Young Farmers Show.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Romanian traditional rural life ebbing away


A small trip to Rasca in Romania

Matis family home

It’s been quite a while since I last visited the Matis family in Rasca so this May I took the chance to spend seven days with them.

Traian

Their home is also a guesthouse and is situated in the Apuseni mountains and has a number of small meadows surrounding it for the production of milk, some potatoes, some mixed wheat/barley grains, a little vegetable garden and some fruit trees.

Jenny

Cristina and Adela aka Romana and Gina

Traian and granddad (now passed away) taught me how to use the kosa (scythe) over fifteen years ago. Spent most of the first week rather more “ploughing” the meadow much to their amusement, however I did eventually

Grandma Sabina

cotton on to the technique and even passed as a Romanian on several occasions. People would pass me by and enquire as to this or that ( I had no idea what they were saying), so I guess I must have been mowing rather than ploughing  by then and who’d guess an Englishman would be mowing a meadow in Transylvania?!

 

Special mention must go to Jenny and the girls who cooked some wonderful Romanian dishes and supplied the working men (and

Pudding

tourists) with nourishment all day long. Grandma Sabina is the most excellent baker I know and this was one of many of her jobs  including feeding the homestead recycling system- the pigs and chickens. As in the old days in England swill is made from the household waste food and heated up to sterilise it, nothing is ever wasted and even the chickens get the final scraps. Oh to have this system again back home…

Johan and Florine who help

The homesteads in the Apuseni mountains have tended to be small, about five hectares each, but some are slightly larger, some smaller. The reason for this is because they have been traditionally farmed by the family unit (grandparents, parents and young adults/children) and in most cases without horses, so all the work was undertaken by human muscle power alone.  This would have limited how much land any one family unit could actually manage. Interestingly, when researching Wimpole’s past, I found that most family units (up until the industrial revolution ) were about ten acres or a yard land, which again is as about as much as any family homestead can manage without horses or the new fangled iron horses of today.

Mowing the hay meadow

Hired help is also an alternative, although wages have to be paid, and with Traian and Jenny’s daughters now working and living in Cluj, they rely on Florine and Johan for the muscle power although Traian has now bought one of those iron horses.

I must mention Johan who at 75 jumps about like a spring chicken and has a wealth of knowledge and spends quite a bit of the winter cross country skiing- something he has persuaded me to do with him this coming winter, no slacking here you know!

Abandoned

So, after fifteen years away from Rasca, it was very noticeable that changes were occurring… places where I once passed through and saw men hard at work mowing the meadows, women and children bringing out the food, mown grass drying to make hay and hay ricks springing from the ground, I saw none but abandoned homes.

Silver birch where meadows once bloomed

Mowed, dried and stacked but forgotten

Meadows are slowly losing their grip to the ever advancing forests and old ricks are withering away unused. All the hubbub of a small farm- dogs barking, cockerels crowing, chickens scratching around- is long gone in these abandoned places. However, in its stead, the stealthy fox stalks this changing landscape, deer venture forth and wild boar seem to be beginning to roam more confidently. As one way of lifestyle ebbs away so another comes forth.

A changing lifestyle, how long will this last?

So what can the rural change in England over the last few hundred years predict? At the time of the industrial revolution in England in the 17th and 18th centuries things began to change… young people left the land, sometimes because of changing climatic conditions, but mostly to find better paid work in the blossoming cities and new industrial heartlands.

Only ghosts walk here now

This in itself made life harsh for those left behind, the parents and grandparents,  because the raw power from the young vibrant adults had gone. Without this power land became harder to manage and more so as the older generations passed away. The only way forward was either to give up and find work elsewhere or find other sources of power. The power then was the horse but these were expensive and only those with money could afford to make the change.

Once a vibrant homestead, now a place for cows to pasture

One major result of the demographic change was the abandonment of the homesteads resulting in changes to the English landscape- some benign, some not. Those that could afford to finance alternative power could also purchase the abandoned land at a low price and thus extend their own lands, five acres here, five acres there. With more meadows and fewer people it became easier to graze livestock and turn the rich, manmade, biodiverse meadows into pastures or arable land. Time eroded memories until most never knew how some large farms managed to acquire such large tracts of land.

Wimpole Estate once a vibrant village

In fact Wimpole is an excellent example of land abandonment in the 17th century with the Chicheley family engrossing such land but also purchasing from those that wished to leave (like Robert Finch who lost nearly all his family including his wife and second born child); Chicheley bought eight acres of free land and the right to common for the princely sum of £400, not a small amount in the 1640s. Climate, pestilence, war and the industrial revolution all had a hand in shaping Wimpole during this period but it has resulted in a fine landscape full of wildlife.

Some changes are benign and move slowly, others change whole landscapes for the worse, in some cases in less than a decade; worse still the advent of inorganic fertilisers and chemicals has wreaked havoc upon the once beautiful English landscape. Whole farms are now just green deserts where not a sound can be heard except for the roar of the combustion engine. One can only hope that Romania manages to subdue the worst consequences of western global farming practices with imagination and forethought so that their children’s children can wander through meadows full of flowers and sound.

Milk products

Waiting expectantly

Traditionally an Apuseni homestead in Transylvania would have a few milking cows (Traian has two) which are  normally kept inside… there’s a good reason: if you have limited land you need hay for the winter, the longer the winter the more hay you need so Traian needs four ‘farcituri’ (a hay rick and a very good one too),  which should last until the new hay is made. I guess that’s going to be about a ton, ton and a half for each rick and, as he only has two cows, that’s about 15 ton of hay per year (as a rough rule of thumb) which means about 4/5 hectares of meadow.

Farcituri aka hay-rick

It’s a lot of work to make all this hay by hand and one can understand that, when labour is short, you have to find other ways to feed the cows and that usually means more fertiliser, chemicals, a tractor eventually and possibly acquiring land close by to out pasture them during the summer.

Hay and fresh cut grass

Carrot supplements

Interestingly, when Traian feeds the cows he adds fresh grass to the hay which stretches the hay out and adds more taste and moisture to it making it more palatable for the cows. Another advantage of adding fresh grass is the fact you don’t have to turn it into hay thus saving labour, a real advantage when you actually make it by hand. I am reliably informed that in Sussex, England this was also the norm and it was called ‘sweetmeat’.

Milking

Another important note to mention (as some people may think keeping cows inside is unkind) is that when you graze a grassland/pasture it becomes heavily infected with intestinal worm eggs which in turn reinfect the grazing animal and until recently there wasn’t an effective way to treat chronic worm infestations. Once cows have a heavy worm burden milk yields are drastically cut and, when you depend on the milk to live, that is not a small consideration. Feeding cows inside keeps the grassland/meadow free of intestinal worm eggs.

Milking

Every day, twice a day, the cows have to be milked by hand, each one producing about 20/25 litres a day. My efforts in helping to milk the cows was soon curtailed as I was ushered out with the kind words of “you should go and explore the valley”!!!  To be truthful I was pretty slow… it’s not so easy actually.

 

Milk

One asked as to the value of the milk as some was sold…  quite a bit is used for home consumption ( cheese, milk and butter), the whey is fed to the pigs and what is left is sold at the global market price – the  princely sum of 25c/litre. Bearing in mind that for six weeks the cows go dry until they have another calf, one can work out the maximum value of the two cows to the homestead. Depending on the amount milked per day the income would amount to approximately €3000-€4000 per annum. Not a lot and, without other income, you can see why small farm homesteads are becoming abandoned in the Romanian countryside in favour of much better paid jobs in the city.

The dung door

The work doesn’t stop there either… the dung has to be mucked out and later spread on the meadows to provide fertility for next year’s grass. Some will also be spread on the land earmarked for potatoes and, of course, the vegetable patch.

 

The barn door to the cow shed

The recycling bin

Then there are the pigs, these need feeding with swill, potatoes and of course a ration of fresh grass.

Heating the swill

When fat they will be slaughtered and nothing but the squeak will be wasted; my favourite part of a pig now is the smoked fat with some fresh peppers. Funny how the western world now shuns fat because of its link to heart disease, odd thing is I saw a lot of very fit older people  in Romania and they eat a lot of fat, drink palinka (another favourite of mine – plum brandy ) but work hard.

The guard dog

The chickens

Others who benefit from those that don’t clean the plate (and are actually very glad of it) is the guard dog who remains anonymous ( I called him ‘dog’) and the chickens whose job it is is to lay eggs for the table and fine ones they lay too – lovely deep yellow yolks because they have an abundant supply of nutritious insects to feast on. When mowing they dart hither and thither snatching the escaping crickets and grasshoppers.

One man went to mow a meadow (note the word MOW)

Of potatoes

The new cash crop

One very obvious change I also noted was the increased cultivation of potatoes. A change in land use now that tractors have become more widely available. For the small farm homestead this provides the new power and a new source of cash. Inevitably there will be an increase in potato production as more land becomes available for those that can afford to buy the land that others no longer want.

Even potatoes

Some of the smaller potatoes that can’t be sold are used by the families but some are also fed to the pigs and cattle although they do need cooking, “waste not want not” is my motto. Of course with more potato production comes the disease potato blight which needs agrichemicals to keep it at bay but also various other herbicides. Unfortunately both chemicals and the containers are sometimes unwisely used and discarded- a problem in a developing modern agricultural system and one the West still needs to address itself to.

Chemicals

Plastic

Unfortunately the same applies to plastic bottles discarded as recycling systems aren’t in place. This will come as a young developing country learns to deal with it. Even now England still can’t cope with the increasing use of plastic.

However there are still many traditional meadows adorning the Apuseni mountains and long may it last. One can only hope that the agricultural changes are more benign and plans are put in place to make global farming more friendly. The gallery below shows some of the flowers seen in the Matis family’s meadows surrounding their house.

Anyone wishing to visit Rasca (which I thoroughly recommend) can make contact through Romana +40743567782 or email Matis_cristinaramona@yahoo.ro and you can also go to the Romanian tourist information here although it’s only in Romanian unfortunately.

A gallery of some of the views in and around Rasca

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ancient trees, forest law and foresters


Interesting blog from Charter, for trees, woods and people. The job title ‘forester’ isn’t quite what you think, in fact it is a person that had and can have a very varied job for the King no less. In the medieval period a forest wasn’t necessarily a forest as we know it today but rather a royal hunting ground where the forester protected the game but also apportioned the nature resources of a said forest whether or not it actually had trees or not on it. Read on below and enjoy.
<

Ancient Trees Saved by Ancient Laws

How did the Forest Charter of 1217 save trees for the future? Andrew Dunning, a curator of medieval manuscripts at the British Library, explains. Some of the most stunning creations of the Middle Ages are still alive. Think about that for a moment: there are things living today that are over a thousand years old. Britain is dotted with trees planted centuries ago, with over 120,000 listed in the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory. This didn’t happen by accident. These trees were preserved for us by ancient laws.The creation of the Tree Charter this year harks back to an important medieval document: the Forest Charter, originally issued in the name of King Henry III of England on 6 November 1217. It’s different from how we might write environmental legislation, but like the Tree Charter, it was founded on balancing rights.

The Forest Charter, in the version reissued in 1225, with the great seal of King Henry III.The Forest Charter can be thought of as the younger sibling of Magna Carta. One of its primary aims was to regulate the royal forests created by William the Conqueror. These blanketed around a quarter of England during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Today, we think of forests as areas covered with trees, but royal forests also included pastures and even villages – indeed, almost the entire county of Essex was declared a royal forest. William wasn’t exactly a conservationist seeking to safeguard England’s trees, and had a specific purpose for his conservation effort. He wanted lands for the crown to hunt wild animals and game, particularly deer, and that meant preserving their habitat.

The Savernake Horn at the British Museum, which once belonged to the wardens of Savernake Forest, Wiltshire.

 

To regulate these vast tracts of land, a special ‘forest law’ was created to promote their use as royal game preserves. Magna Carta originally included several clauses covering these. They were enforced by a small army of foresters, who could impose enormous punishments on offenders, up to capital punishment. But it was easier and more profitable to issue fines, making the forest an important source of income for the crown. Henry II vigorously expanded the forest borders, to the point of creating hardship.

The forest law became a point of contention for barons living under this rule. They drafted the Forest Charter, which sought a new balance of rights, and eliminated the most severe penalties:

Henceforth, no man shall lose his life or suffer the amputation of any of his limbs for killing our deer. If any man is convicted of killing our deer, he shall pay a grievous fine, but if he is poor and has nothing to lose, he shall be imprisoned for a year and a day. After the year and a day expired, if he can find people to vouch for him, he shall be released; if not, he shall be banished from the realm of England. (Translation from the National Archives.)

Most crucially, the charter sought to expand common access to the forests. In this period, people relied on areas of woodland to provide fuel for heating and cooking, as well as pasture in which to graze livestock. The charter also rolled back the area of the forests to their boundaries at the beginning of the rule of King Henry II in 1154, after which many lands could be shown to have been taken wrongfully. The Forest Charter had implications for everyone.

Animals romping in the margin of a Gerald of Wales manuscript.

 

The charter was repeatedly confirmed as part of English law, and was not replaced until the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act 1971. Many copies were made over the years: the British Library’s is a reissue from 1225, which survived only by chance. It was in association with the Forest Charter that the name ‘Magna Carta’ was first used, to distinguish it as the large charter as opposed to its physically smaller sibling.

The Waste Act in the Statute of Marlborough, 1267.

 

Environmental legislation has been acknowledged as key to the functioning of society nearly as long as law itself has existed. Roman law, for example, designated rivers and their banks as public property. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the oldest piece of law still in force in England deals in part with the environment, celebrating its 750th anniversary this year: the Statute of Marlborough, issued 19 November 1267. A section now known as the Waste Act ensured that the tenants of farms managed their resources responsibly.

The Forest Charter represents a pragmatic attempt to define the value of forests and ensure that they can be accessed as a resource crucial to the everyday functioning of society. This approach can be seen not only in the Tree Charter but in conservation around the world, such as in attempts to calculate the natural capital of forests in economic terms. When it comes to saving the planet and ensuring that future generations will still be able to live with the same richness as we do, we have the proof of centuries that legislation matters.

Find out more

The Legal Sustainability Alliance and the Woodland Trust will be hosting Trees: 800 Years Later at the British Library on 14 September 2017, and the charter will be on display through the autumn in the library’s free Treasures Gallery. Another copy is on permanent display at Lincoln Castle.

The royal forests are the subject of a new book published by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Aljos Farjon’s Ancient Oaks in the English Landscape.

Blog by Andrew Dunning

 

More information can be found on Wiki here

here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You sow the seeds and wait and see what turns up in June


Looking north from the South Avenue

What a difference!

A long time ago, thirty years actually, I walked down the South Avenue and it was bare. Small lime trees were struggling for life, hedges were succumbing to glyphosphate (well the hawthorn was) and the grassland  was full of creeping bent and thistle. A terrible walk, one that disappointed, a barren desert for biodiversity. Ten years later I tried to spray out the thistle with MCPA- what a waste of money and  time; an absolutely useless agrochemical, it merely burnt off the green but left the roots to spring back to life whilst eliminating any wild flowers that had tried to venture forth into the wasteland they called a grassland. We mucked the limes, laid the hedges and sowed as much wild flower seed as I could afford to buy from Emorsgate seeds . Since then Richard Brown, who manages the business, has become a very good friend and adviser and we have had many trips away to far-flung lands to look at their pristine and biodiversity rich meadows. To supplement the meagre amount of seed I could purchase the countryside team and I have collected a vast array of wild flower seeds over the years from the roadsides of SW Cambridgeshire.

How to change a landscape

Not only that, we have moved tons and tons of green hay from one flower rich meadow to another in dire need of it. Time and patience reward those who wait…

Now the grassland is coming to life- by no means complete but, getting there. This year the butterflies and bees adorned the grassland in their thousands, a sight I have never seen in England and normally only one I see in Eastern Europe. It’s been a grand year for butterflies too.

 

An arable weed

Common poppy

Even the farmland is blossoming since it went organic. Many years ago I used to see common poppies in abundance, now there are few to be seen, however the fields do occasionally turn yellow with flowering charlock. This year these poppies were to be found on the Burwash Manor Farm in Barton which is also organic- just couldn’t resist taking photos of this fabulous display of red. That said I have also spread wildflower seed on the margins at Wimpole to good effect especially the chalk slopes where you can now find species again that were once a common sight- rock rose, dropwort, clustered bellflower,  small teasel and the like. With care these chalk land species and others will proliferate and one will start to see even more species of butterfly at Wimpole like the chalk blue, small blue and maybe one or two other real rarities. One little butterfly I would like to encourage is the small copper, a very rare sight at present at Wimpole so we need more sheep’s sorrel.

Other plants we have nurtured are the wetland species- some have always been here in low numbers but have now increased, others we have added like purple loosestrife and, rather oddly, hemp agrimony has turned up out of the blue and this year we have recorded corn parsley and blue fleabane which have appeared in numbers (these have not been introduced and tend to be plants more at home on the coastline, wonder if they know something!!!!!!!! Wimpole-by-sea?). Arable weeds seem to be springing up too- weasel snout, Venus’ looking glass, night-flowering catchfly amongst others.

Pyramid orchid

One real bonus that has appeared are the orchids, these have increased exponentially but we only have pyramid, bee, common spotted, twayblade and broad-leaved helleborine (woodland one) at present. One can only hope others will follow like the green winged or the lesser butterfly… we will see.

Crested cow-wheat

Finally, I collected some crested cow-wheat from Barkway many years ago and many thanks must go to Sarah Dawson who had spotted the clump. A few seeds were collected and duly put in a pot to grow… of course nothing happened as I didn’t realise they were semi parasitic, very disappointed I threw the soil into a hedge at Wimpole and forgot all about the whole episode until, a few years later, my father enquired as to the plant he had photographed… it was crested cow wheat! “Where did you find that?” I asked. Turns out the soil I threw away still had viable seeds… how lucky! Now this rather rare plant can be found in many small corners on the estate. Meanwhile, the little clump in Barkway still exists but has never spread.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Making hay with Vikings, Norway


 

Making hay with Vikings by Shane O’Reilly
At about the age of twelve I recall my mother explaining to me the reason for algebra and how, suddenly, the penny dropped and its usefulness became clear. I experienced a similar moment on a trip to Norway and the Naturforvendbund annual gathering to carry out a “Hesjing”.
We are fortunate, at Wimpole, to have flower meadows and vast expanse of grassland to mow; I have also tried to mow at Mucheleney on the iron weed they call grass and so thought I understood the what and the why. So when the opportunity to mow in Norway arose, Jayne jumped at the opportunity and I was dragged along. I knew what mowing was about, you cut the grass and stacked it up, where’s the difficulty in understanding that.
Per-Øystein Klunderud had sent explicit instructions; how to get to Rygsetra, a small community 50 kms north of Oslo, what to bring and a programme of events. It worked like clockwork. We were met off the train by Kjell and then realised we had been travelling with about 6 others also attending but we were in the wrong carriage. The motor transport promptly dropped off at the site where Per-Øystein showed us our accommodation and let us settle in. But we weren’t allowed to relax, Gunnar appeared on the scene and insisted on us viewing the grass meadow that we were to mow the next day. 
A 5 to 6 hectare (25 acres?) expanse of light grass and flowers, set on a steeply sloping hillside and surrounded by thick birch, pine and other woodlands. With a farm at he bottom of the hill and a lake beyond that, the setting was idyllic and in my limited knowledge of the country seemed typically Norwegian. Gunnar was not there to show us the grass to cut, oh no, he wanted to show us his pride and joy, the Gentianes. He had discovered a patch of these blue beauties and had carefully cut around them and marked them with posts so that they would be spared the butchery that was to come. His enthusiasm and friendliness set the tone for the weekend.
As we toured the site with explanations of the various flowers and constant references to a large tome of wild flowers we were joined by other members of the group and our informal tour was only brought to a close when a bell sounded for dinner. A selection of salads, Norwegian cheeses and meats followed by cake and coffee outside where we were introduced to each other and began to attach names to faces. We were a group of approximately 40 and of those, most were from Norway, Sweden or Denmark and spoke a common enough tongue.
At breakfast the next day we were divided into 2 groups Norwegian and English speaking, of which the latter group was composed mainly of Swedes, Spaniards and us 2 lonely English. Our group had a session with both flora and fauna experts, Arne and Evan, and toured the meadow examining all the various habitats and their inhabitants. The explanations included how to find insects from the plant behaviours and what to find where. After lunch we swapped over and our group became the mowing debutants. 
First was the safety lecture, followed by how to sharpen both types of scythe blade, hard by grinding and soft by peening and then blade and snath set-up. With that we were sent out onto the meadow with instructions to ‘dance’ and breathe but it was more like havoc. Little by little we all fell into the beautiful rhythmical method of mowing taught by Mats with him giving instruction and encouragement. In my case this included showing my faults on video taken on his phone (sneaky Mats). So I had to mow with a ball of grass under my left arm to stop it swinging out wide.
After dinner most retired and slept the sleep of those who had done a hard days work, especially as the next day was an early start – 6 o’clock prompt – to get the meadow cut in time for the open day show in the afternoon. With the mountain dew still heavy on the light meadow grass, the group set to. Newly learnt techniques were being put to the test as metre by metre the uncut area was reduced. As the newbies were mowing, the old hands set to on the “Hesje” (pronounced Heshay) making. Lines of posts were driven into the ground and a steel wire strung between them about 250mm off the ground.
Once secured, the helpers layed cut grass onto the lines and once the entire length was laden, a second wire was strung about 100mm above the first layer. And so it continued until the poles were fully laden to a height of about 2 metres. As the mowers moved to newer areas, so the helpers moved and erected new Hesjes. Eager to learn, some mowers also began to fill the wires and quickly gained the knack of laying on an armful of grass so that it didn’t slide off to either side. Not easy when the lines were being loaded from both sides. Quickly the hillside was being denuded of its lushness and more Hesjes were taking shape as helpers and mowers continued their work. More poles and reels of wire were brought out from the farm barns as required and the holes in the ground located by probing, as the grazing sheep of the previous year had closed them over. Due to the calcareous geology (yes I was listening) the hard ground required re-using the same holes every year. The early start meant we had to halt for breakfast and to make our own packed lunch as we were to work through until all mowing was complete. All ingredients were provided even the wrapping paper and a pen to record your name on the packaging. The organisation was incredible and us newcomers learnt by watching the regulars or were given instructions on how to wrap a lunch (thanks Sidsel) properly. Then it was back to work on the hillside, taking turns mowing, raking and stacking.
By way of a break, demonstration of tree pollarding for animal fodder was given. A large elm was selected and after instruction the group set about demolishing its branches. It was the one moment that I felt limbs (human) were in danger as men up ladders flailed bill hooks in all directions. Happily there were no fatalities. The severed branches were tied up with elm bark and piled onto an old farm trailer which was dragged down to the open day site. I hadn’t seen this before but apparently it provides good nourishment for livestock.
The other extra curricular activity was the bread and cake making. “Look out for the oven smoke” we were told as this signalled the making of the bread. Sure enough the smoke puttered up into the clear air and we all trouped down to “assist”. Under instruction we allowed to knead the bread and stack it alongside the now increasing heat of the oven to prove. Cake was also prepared and I am grateful to Aud for letting me into her kitchen and help. The smell and atmosphere were both incredible and just added to the potency of the day prior to guests arriving to witness the ceremonial “mowing charge”
Lunch time loomed and our pre-packed parcels were brought out to us. We ate in the field with a musical accompaniment on the fiddle, such a great feeling of work and play coinciding. Nothing can beat eating a door-stopper sandwich on an open hillside with Norwegian jigs wafting over the now warm air, washed down by Norwegian coffee. Being a bit of a lightweight, I had to dilute mine 50/50 with hot water but once I discovered this I quickly became addicted to it. Just as well as we were forced to have ‘coffee and cake’ at every opportunity. By lunchtime the meadow was cut apart from a lower hillside section that opened onto the Open Day arena, this was saved for the Open show mowing “charge”.
With the public seated at the lower level, mowers formed up with the Romanian contingent in national costume leading the charge. As the first mower cut enough ahead the second would start behind and so on until the whole hillside was filled with a phalanx of mowers. Instructed to stop and sharpen when the lead mower did, the effect was one of a team working in unison and harmony. Indeed I felt completely relaxed and was enjoying the way my blade followed the terrain running over  obstacles and leaving bare earth in its wake. As each mower finished their cut at the bottom of the slope the spectators broke into applause and the mower returned to the top of the slope to start another row at the far end of the charge. 
To celebrate the end of the mowing, that evening we had a dinner with specialities brought from Spain and Rumania alongside more traditional Norwegian items such as Rummer Grot and a brown cheese. I didn’t quite attach myself to these delights as much as my hosts but I’m sure that’s because of my bad taste and not that of the food. To top the day off, we were all invited to sit around a campfire up in the meadow and having started at 06.00, yours truly finally called it a wrap at midnight leaving the others gossiping under the semi daylight that is Norwegian summer.
Sunday, the final day, the last chance to finish the Hesje and the cleaning of the rooms before a farewell lunch and departures. We also managed to squeeze in a dip in the lake, bracing but memorable. It was then as we returned to work that I had my moment of Epiphany, the whole event seemed to gel, I got it. That grass meadow mowing and tree pollarding provided much needed winter fodder and were not just stand alone activities, they were part of the whole picture. The drive to finish the Hesje before departure was like completing the summers activities before winter set in.
If you are lucky enough to take part next year, I hope that like us, you will enjoy meeting some lovely people and relish the completeness of being in a team where the only competition is to finish the Hesjing and make hay like the Vikings.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wimpole Scythe Festival 2017


The mowing is upon us

Mowing the quarter acre

So which bit of grassland this year? Well it had to be back at the Folly Field. The countryside team spent a large part of the week leading up the Scythe Festival event mowing all the large and small plots. For once the weather forecast looked pretty reasonable… dry! In fact it has been so dry the grassland was looking a bit thin, could be some fast times this year…

Mowing the eighth

First races on the menu were the large plots -the quarter acre (which is just over 1000 square metres) and the eighth (a mere 500 square metres). Most of the contestants elected to mow very early in the morning, 6 o’clock to be precise. Some undertook the challenge the next day but most had finished by lunch time on Saturday.

The gallery below shows photos from the early morning mow.

Dusk on Saturday night

The course

Later in the day, well actually at ten in the morning, the scythe course began and some eager students were soon mowing the meadow or I should really say a sheepwalk as most of what we were mowing was more akin to chalk land heath which is much drier. If grazed extensively then the flower richness can be retained but over grazing can lead to  pasture degradation, weeds and loss of biodiversity.

Wympole bodgers undertaking surgery

As well as the mowing, the Wympole Green Woodworkers were in attendance making all manner of things from chairs to shingles, spoons, bowls and knick-knacks. David spent most of his time weaving the elm bark seat for an ash chair while the forestry team planked some olive ash and  field maple but also showed how to make cleft oak posts with even a race between the  chainsaw and a hammer and wedge.

Saw milling

So who won? Actually, if you have a clean length of green oak timber then the sledge-hammer and wedges will probably always win, and so it was, although I think Paul will use the 120cc engine next time, over twice as powerful as the one he used.

Below is a gallery of the woodworking weekend photos.

Preparation for the main races

Peening away

The  lister engine and grinding stone also came in handy for those competing in Sunday’s main races with an English scythe; it was also rather useful for sharpening the knives too. Meanwhile there were a lot of banging noises from the peening tent, some oblivious to the noise they were inflicting on others (Mr O’Reilly!!!!!!).

 

Some much needed instruction from Phil

Oooh errrrr… looks like Michael has some work to beat this line up!

There were of course the group meetings about which was the best way to mow, the best snath, the best blades  and the best way to sharpen the said blades. Others were honing their scythes in readiness for the fossil fuel vs muscle power race. This was the first race and unfortunately the scythe came last (mind you the dirty cheating power hunger strimmer didn’t really cut the grass but just skimmed the top!).

Came to watch, we heard you’re in it Dad

Wonder who will win?

So, with rain threatening we started the five by five races a little early and this year I elected to change the rules! The five by five plots would only be open to those in the novice and intermediate classes, all others would have to go into the open ten by ten race thereby allowing fresh blood to win the five by five. It worked and there were some new winners and some old but I may still need to refine the rules…

So, for next year, we will do the same except there will be heats for those wishing to go into the open ten by ten race. It will be expected that the best mowers will compete for the six places available in the ten by ten and there will only be 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes (for which I will now put up some prize money, probably £50, £30, £20 as a reward for being the best mowers). Those that fail to gain a ten by ten plot will then have to compete in the five by five. I may need to refine this idea but this will help test the best mowers’ skill and will give a chance for others to win. Those competing in the ten by ten must peen/sharpen their own blades and will only be allowed one scythe- if it breaks, tough luck!

Results of the Wimpole 2017 mowing races below:

Team races:
Wimpole 2.20
Dexter 2.26
SouthWest 3.13
English 3.25
Sinister 4.44
Old farts 4.48

Five by five metre races:      Time        Quality
Colin Close                                    3.05                5
Ian Streeter                                   2.48                5
Mathew Robinson                       2.14                 4         Novice winner
Nick Fradgley                               2.38                4
John Grundy                                3.38                5
Mike Gerrad                                 1.28                 6         Overall winner
Matt Commin                              2.50                 5
Paul Martin                                  3.10                 5
Shane O’Reily                              2.18                 5         Wimpole, Veteran cup,  3rd overall
Mick Velasco                                3.39                 5
Matt Robinson                            4.00                 5
Graham Teece                             2.29                 4           Broken snath stopped for repair time not included
Darren Hulbert                          3.15                   4          English cup
Simon Lamb                               8.41                   9           Quality cup
Simon Farlie                               3.05                   7          Mens third
Olga Damant                              13.16                  8
Mary                                             5.45                    6
Beth Tilston                                2.12                    7          Ladies cup, 2nd overall
Gill Baron                                    3.47                   5
Jayne O’Reily                              2.46                   5          Ladies 3rd
Fiona Pollock                             5.07                   6
Helen Holms                               2.33                   6           Ladies 2nd

Ten by ten metre races:
Kevin Austin                              4.38                    5.5
Phil Batton                                 5.47                    7
Simon Damant                          5.28                    6
Terry Standen                           7.11                    6
Richard Brown                         11.21                  7.5
Tim                                               11.50                  7

Eight of an  acre races:     hr/min
Phil Batton                                0.30                   6.5
Richard Brown                         1.05                   9
Graham Teece                          1.11                   7
Beth Tilston                              2.07                    8

Quarter acre races:
Kevin Austen                            1.16                      7

Terry Standen                          1.46                     6.5
Michael Gerrad                        1.51                     7.5
Simon Damant                         1.39                    6
Fiona Pollock                            5.14                    6
Tim                                             4.57                     9

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

May and the mulberry tree


To forge or not

How lovely it is to work in the old Victorian forge especially with people who are willing students. For my part, in between helping, I forged a small peening hammer. It’s a joy to make your own tools and one can say only a blacksmith truly is the master as he will make the tools for all and sundry.

Irons in the fire

Hammer and anvil

Ramshead hook cooking in wax

So it was the ramshead hook again but such a lovely project as it involves many blacksmithing techniques. Much to learn especially how to use a hammer effectively. “A hammer?” I hear you say, “what could be easier to use?”!!!!!!  Well, if you use it all day you won’t, not if you don’t know how to make it easy to use, plus you’ll leave big dent marks in your project. And then, at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than a bitter to wet your throat.

Spring going on summer

A month of fencing

The dragon’s teeth

On to May’s work… fencing was the main work of the month. Buttercups Field near The Woodyard was in need of some grazing animals so, after much ado splitting oak for fence and gate posts, we hammered them in with the trusty old Bryce Sumo post thumper – a work horse in the spring months. We even added in our dragon teeth gates in the ditches to stop livestock from escaping.

Removing the old fence

Recycling the iron

Other fences that needed urgent repair (well in fact complete renewal) were the ones surrounding the garden. The old posts were stripped of wire and skipped while the defunct stock wire was recycled. Spring is always set aside for the estate fencing.

Below is a gallery of the spring  vegetation and other wildlife seen on the estate.

Norfolk Horn sheep

The end of May is sheep shearing time and just before I departed for Romania my nine Norfolk Horn ewes had a crew cut and I honed my skills in readiness for the sheep shearing course when I returned. The course was full with most wishing to learn because they had a small flock of sheep but some just wanted an experience day to find out how hard the work actually was.

 

The Folly in evening light

Some architectural photographs on the estate, can you guess where they are? Some are much more difficult to place than others…

Community work

One small job we had to do was for the village community of Orwell. Andy Klose Engineering had been asked to fabricate a steel support for the old mulberry tree and we (Wimpole Estate) had been asked if it was possible to install the said item. No problem, always pleased to oblige and help the local community.

The Ford needs an engine recon

Could do with a decent trailer like this one

Darn! The Ford needed a full restoration of the engine, meanwhile John the engineer brought his trailer along to pick up some wood. What I wouldn’t give for a decent trailer for the countryside team.

Out for a walk

New Sportdog trackers

One new piece of equipment I bought myself was the Sportdog tracker trainer system. A lot of money but, having used it, I would thoroughly recommend it as my stress levels have somewhat disappeared.

 

Rye

Meanwhile the farm crops looked ok, the rye exceptionally so. However the spring wheat looks like it will suffer from dry weather, we shall see at harvest time…

Spring wheat

Blackgrass

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The 13th West Country scythe festival 2017


Coppersmith

As usual there were hundreds of stalls plying many wares, the coppersmith was a new one for me and I was rather taken by the bath! Andy Harris is the coppersmith.

Fan birds 

This year there seemed to be quite a lot of traditional tools also on display ranging from knives made by Oliver Davison (actually brought a couple of his spoon knives) to secondhand scythes, hammers, axes’ billhooks just to name a few. Then there were the hand made rakes, forks and stands’ many from the far flung corners of the globe.

Willow maiden

Willow herb ooops hare

The amount of willow work was also outstanding especially the willow maiden some ten or more feet high with a hare appearing from under her skirt. The music was brilliant as usual and the bar never ran out of beer or cider 🙂 much merriment was had.

The heats started in the morning with the usual strimmer scythe race, this year the trimmer won but was later disqualified on the grounds that the offending operator actually left most of the grass standing and just gave it a whisker job, in other words he dam well cheated!

Teatime

After that it was the team races and then onto the finals, he is a gallery of those taking part including all those people who do the raking, organisation, time keeping and judging, all very important jobs not least forgetting those who organised the kitchen for the mowers and all.