Here we come a wassailing

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

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

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

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


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


Jim’s Wassail bowl

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


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

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Wimpole park & Home farm 1828

Filling the barn with wheat sheaves, G.Soper

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

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

Flailing the sheaves

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

Gin gang building

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

Wimpole park and Home farm 1828 J. Dunstone Cambridge Library

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

Ploughing the fields G. Soper

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

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

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

Thos.Wortham Jn – Elizabeth Newell

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

Before me
Gen Ventris
Testator died 8th July 1834

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

So to the land. G. Soper

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

Part of the 1828 inventory for Home farm

Collecting mangle wurzels G. Soper

Corn & Hay

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

Droving to market G. Soper

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

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

Three horse team E. Whydale

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

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

Harrowing the plough land G. Soper

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

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

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

Mill field
22 3 0 Ploughed once

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

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

New field for barley
9 0 0 Ploughed twice
Harrowd twice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the same field
2 1 20 Ploughed once

Great Dean field
14 0 0 Ploughed once

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

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

Fixtures in the house

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

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

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

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


Burning twitch G. Soper

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

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

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



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Greenwood group on tour at the Burwash Manor Apple Day

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

Unknown            101009_1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mowing a traditional English meadow

A rather delated report from early July.

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

Tom Lord

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

The farmhouse

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

Tom Lords farm is above the crag

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

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

How green is my valley

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

Of trees and limestone

Wood cranesbill

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

Hay gathering

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

Tom Lord’s other passion

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

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

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

Of walls and true men

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

Two on one, one on two

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

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

An early wall

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

The wolf wall

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

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

Later walls

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

Double walls as ally ways

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

The longhorn cattle gateway

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

The sheep gate

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

Below are a few more stone wall photos.


A variety of soils and habitat


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

Common spotted orchid

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

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


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

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

Ladies bedstraw

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



The semi parasitic Eyebright flower

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

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


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

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


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

Greater burnet

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


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

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

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

Helen and Heather

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

Herbal medicine


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

Hay mowing the traditional way

The raker

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

Peeing lessons oops peening lessons

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

Gill seems to be directing proceedings

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



The rakers clearing each plot

Prize giving

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

Ruth Pullan                3.25         8.5 Ladies 1st

Gill Barron                  3.34        7   Ladies 2nd

Fi Pollock                     5.37        7  Ladies 3rd

The Prize givers

Lucy Otto                      5.50       6

Sue Wrathwell             7.48       6

Simon Damant            1.05        8 Mens  1st

Steve Tomlin                1.25       7.5 Mens 2nd

Chris Riley                    1.26        7 Mens 3rd

Steve Tomlin entering a competition, never!!!!

Peter Blackwell            2.16        8

Charlie Quinnell          3.30       9   Quality

John Grundy                 4.06       8

Ian Forman                   3.48        6

Kiwi Ken                        4.21      6.5 Novice 1st

  Kiwi Ken

William de Hamel        4.48        7.5

Alistar Clark                   5.41        6

Nick Beighton                 6.49       6

Any mistakes let me know.

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

A bouquet of flowers

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





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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.

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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.


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.


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


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!


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’.


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.


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.



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.



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 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




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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


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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.

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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.
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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!).