Burwash Manor Apple Day 2018


 

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7514ca5a24The time of the annual Burwash Manor apple day had come round again and the Estate Greenwood Workers had been asked to appear as a rural craft demos for the seventh year running. It is a fantastic event and raises lots of money for the Sick Children’s Trust so we had a good turnout from the group.

A few of us had agreed to meet at Burwash Manor to put up the big National Trust tent but “NO” said the McWeatherman. “My seaweed, my left knee, the prevailing winds and cloud formation (not to mention the Met Office) say high winds tonight. As we didn’t want to spend Apple Day wandering around the Cambridgeshire asking people if they had seen a large brown and pink tent fly past, we decided to hold off on the tent until early next morning. The McWeatherman was right yet again – it blew a gale half the night.

 

So at 8am several of us got there for a coffee and a croissant and popped up the tent – very easy for something so large and just needs a rope equilateral triangle and a sledge hammer. By 8.30 the tent was up and most peoples’ kit had been unloaded and a beautiful rainbow appeared overhead…Five minutes of frantic scurrying to get tools undercover were just enough before the heavens opened for an hour. More coffee!

After an hour the clouds blew away and the weather was set fair for the rest of the day. We had many visitors and spent a lot of time talking to the public about the wide range of things we were doing. Simon’s horse-headed yew shave horse caused much delight, though possibly not as much as the mountains of shavings Jim generated from making chair parts non-stop for 6 hours. We also had shingle making, spoon carving and relief carving on the go. Finally a small group lead by Ollie who ran a have go splitting and draw knifing for children.

We were joined in our corner of the field by some other crafters including another bodger, Bic and his array of beautifully drawknife-only made lath back and ladder back chairs, a walking stick maker and our old friends Harriet and Tilly with their popup furniture workshop.

Craft was not the only thing on the menu, the Raptor foundation were there with a series of beautiful birds, John and Alexander Reid with a steam roller, a miniature steam engine not to mention all the apple related stalls, apple pressing and the fun fair.

5pm came round all too quickly and we packed up at the end of yet another successful Burwash Manor Apple day that in the end raised around £5000

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A final note added in press: on Sat 27th Oct, Tim Radford of Foxcotte Fencing/Wonderwood, who were demonstrating making more of their wonderful woven willow fences and whose family run Burwash Manor, won the 2018 National Hedgelaying championship, that was held in Barton. So now in our tiny neck of the woods, we have the National Scything champion (Simon Damant) and the National Hedgelaying champion!…does anyone do ditching around here?

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Wimpole Estate Produce Fair


Following the last few years’ events in awful weather up near the gardens, the produce show shrank and shifted to near the stable block. The weather was glorious as predicted by the McWeatherman and so a lot of people casually dropped buy to watch, eat, drink, buy produce and listen to the wonderful variety of music that was on offer.

…and of course the Estate’s rural craft group were out in strength on both days ‘entertaining and educating’ the public. Simon brought the portable forge and with lots of noise made a series of iron age axe heads, which were then appropriately handled. Shane and Jayne were making split hazel baskets following the piquing of their interests at the Foresters show – very skilful, time consuming work but the outcome was beautiful and well worth it. With Kate focussing on turning the world’s largest ever toilet roll holder, it fell to Mike to make oak roofing shingles, which he is going to be using to weatherproof his new pizza oven (when’s the group invite for trying the pizzas? -.ed)

Our McLeader was, as so often, the star attraction turning bowls on his lathe and keeping up a constant banter with the  public whilst also finding time to teach Ollie, our newest recruit, the mysteries of the pole lathe. Jon Baily was also ‘bowling’ up the other end of our tented area and Graeme was producing replacement parts for an Arts and Crafts period chair he had acquired.

Our challenge was to rush a 16″ square-topped stool. This was an attempt to increase the group’s repertoire of seating techniques beyond elm bark, and various cords. Rush seating has been traditional in this country for hundreds and probably thousands of years.

The rushes, actually English freshwater bulrush (schoeneplectus lacustris) were cut in June and July from the River Great Ouse in the traditional manual way that goes back many centuries by Felicity Irons of Rushmatters (http://www.rushmatters.co.uk) who works out of a glorious ancient barn in Grange Farm, Colesden near Bedford. The bulrush is cut from 17ft long punts using rush knifes, a slim scythe-shaped blade 3ft long fixed to a 6ft handle, enabling the rush stems sometimes up to 10ft in length to be cut from the river bed. They are then stood against a hedge to allow sun and wind to dry the rush over a few days.

Although we have used paper rush, real rushes are an altogether different level of complexity and the air was often tinged slightly blue! Rushing starts at a back corner and works round each corner in turn towards the centre with a  new rush being spliced in every side on average with a half hitch. It took most of Saturday and some of Sunday but in the end we got over the finish line with something that looked reasonable and that we were pretty happy with.

Sunday afternoon came round all too quickly and as the sun set there was time to make one last cup of tea amid the mounds of shavings we had generated from some feverish end of the day draw-knifing of chair parts. As ever thank you to Simon and his gang for setting up all the tents and bringing over the kit and collecting the wood

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Scything Festival 2018 Part3 : Sunday


The weather was again glorious and many mowers both local and from further afield had turned up to take part in the many serious and not so serious competitions of the day. The most popular was, as ever, the 5m x 5m sprint mow. There was the 10m x 10m blue ribbon event (a term derived from The Blue Riband prize awarded for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by passenger liners – who says you never learn anything new and irrelevant here), 1/8th and 1/4 acre endurance event, and various team events including a three person competition where each team had to contain mowers of difference experience and a mow, collect and build a hay rick.

Here are some images of the day and apologies to anybody who didn’t get into a picture

Although we had built a chair for the winners of each category to sit in and be awarded their prizes, which were lovely leather ‘medals’ made by Simon’s father Graham, it was a general consensus that more silliness was required. So, on Saturday morning, Simon decided a ‘crown’ of sorts was needed and so made a sort of bucket from the bark stripped from a recently felled ash tree whose diameter was about that of human head. However, once seen, the design, rather like Tolkein’s tale of The Lord of the Rings, grew in its telling. First the sides were sewn up using elm bark laces made from the left overs from the previous day. Then some gypsy flower adornments, kindly donated by Simon Lamb, were sewn on to each side and finally some cordage added as either decoration or to be tied under the chin – nobody can really remember why…

…some wore it with elegance and panache and some looked positively debauched in it, appearing as an all-conquering, despotic monarch. Simon won the 10m x 10m (these two sentences are completely unconnected – ed.)

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The 5m x 5m was the most popular race with some of Saturday’s trainees entering, although you can’t enter it if you have won at this distance before so Simon, Kevin and Shane (veterans’ cup) were excluded. The times and quality score are listed below and resulted in Nigel winning the open class with Terry and Joe second and third respectively. Jayne won the Wimpole cup and ladies’ event with Helen and Viv second and third. Rami won the juniors’ and Olga dn Simon Lamb shared the quality award. Incidentally, our glorious leader Jim ‘the McReaper’ McVittie, was doing many other things with both mowers and the greenwood worker so could not enter but a few weeks later secured the Northern Veterans’ mowing championship. The results for the 5m x 5m were as follows:

Name                 Time (mins.secs)     Quality

Alastair                          4.34.                   4.5

Valerie                          10.00                    7.5

Rami                              13.28                   4.5

Simon F                           4.45                   5.0

Darren                             6.51                   5.0

Simon L                          11.12                  9.0

Dave J                               8.43                   3.0

Jayne                                4.47                   6.5

Nigel                                 1.38                   5.5

Joe                                     2.12                   5.0

Terry                                 2.15                   5.0

Anne H                              8.13                   3.5

Mick                                   2.59                   6.5

Neil                                     6.34                   3.5

Dave H                               7.12                   6.5

Helen                                  7.46                   6.0

Viv                                       8.22                   4.0

John                                     5.40                   7.0

Adam                                   3.40                   5.0

Richard                                3.05                   5.0

Colin                                     4.04                    8.0

Matthew                              2:59                    7.0

Olga                                      11:08                  9.0

Sunday evening was upon us and as the sun set people said their goodbyes and left. It had been a wonderful weekend enjoyed by all and it wouldn’t happen without all the time, effort and organisation that Simon Damant and his team of Estate volunteers put in: THANK YOU!

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Mowing poems


This year’s scything festival coincided and so was part fo the Wimpole Hall History Festival, which is itself linked to the Cambridge Literary Festival. As a result, Olga, Simon and some of the volunteers decided that there should be a smattering of poems that included references to scything, or mowing as it should really be called, displayed on boards for everybody to read. Here are some of them

 

Robert Frost – Mowing

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,

And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.

What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;

Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,

Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—

And that was why it whispered and did not speak.

It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,

Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:

Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak

To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,

Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers

(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.

My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

 

John Keats – To Autumn

 Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

 

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

 

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

 

 

Robert Frost – The Tuft of Flowers

I went to turn the grass once after one

Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

 

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen

Before I came to view the levelled scene.

 

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;

I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

 

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,

And I must be, as he had been,—alone,

 

‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,

‘Whether they work together or apart.’

 

But as I said it, swift there passed me by

On noiseless wing a ‘wildered butterfly,

 

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night

Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

 

And once I marked his flight go round and round,

As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

 

And then he flew as far as eye could see,

And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

 

I thought of questions that have no reply,

And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

 

But he turned first, and led my eye to look

At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

 

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared

Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

 

I left my place to know them by their name,

Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

 

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,

By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

 

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.

But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

 

The butterfly and I had lit upon,

Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

 

That made me hear the wakening birds around,

And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

 

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;

So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

 

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,

And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

 

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech

With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

 

‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,

‘Whether they work together or apart.’

 

Shakespeare – Sonnet XII

When I do count the clock that tells the time,

And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;

When I behold the violet past prime,

And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;

When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,

Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,

And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,

Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,

Then of thy beauty do I question make,

That thou among the wastes of time must go,

Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake

And die as fast as they see others grow;

And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence

Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

 

 

 

Stanley Snaith – The Scythe

 This morning as the scythe swung in my grasp

I thought of the sinewy craft my fathers plied,

Those men whose hedgerow name has come to me,

Those soil-bred Yorkshiremen who fashioned snathes.

They lopped and barked and seasoned the leafy staff

To bear the blade with balance. There is a stern

Puritan cleanness in a true-made scythe.

A scythe purges the hands of awkwardness.

It has its own instinct, a subtle weighting

That pulls it round in a rich curve of motion;

And when the steel, fined to a creepy edge,

Rips and rings through the stalks, and the swath sighs over,

And the cropped circle widens at each stroke,

What a singing power flows from the hands!

The old rhythm came smoothly to my wrist.

I seemed to feel my ancestry move within me.

Four though I left their soil, I found a craft

Nourished with a tradition choice as theirs:

They toiled in wood, I curb the grain of words,

Both winning grace and service from what’s wild,

Scythe and sentence share one craftsmanship.

 

 

 

 

Rudyard Kipling – The way through the woods

They shut the road through the woods

Seventy years ago.

Weather and rain have undone it again,

And now you would never know

There was once a road through the woods

Before they planted the trees.

It is underneath the coppice and heath

And the thin anemones.

Only the keeper sees

That, where the ring-dove broods,

And the badgers roll at ease,

There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods

Of a summer evening late,

When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools

Where the otter whistles his mate,

(They fear not men in the woods,

Because they see so few.)

You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,

And the swish of a skirt in the dew,

Steadily cantering through

The misty solitudes,

As though they perfectly knew

The old lost road through the woods …

But there is no road through the woods.

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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?)

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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

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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.

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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

See  https://blog.lostartpress.com/2018/07/13/jennie-alexander-1930-2018)

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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.

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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!).

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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…

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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


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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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