Not Spring yet

Although March is now with us and it also stopped raining about two weeks ago, the temperature is still dropping to below freezing most nights.  However, it’s sunny, and last week I enjoyed a couple of luncheons at my Riverside Canteen:

SAMSUNG CSCThe river looks good and even has a blue cast in the sunshine:

SAMSUNG CSCWhile actually the water is a tannin brown:

SAMSUNG CSCCoppicing continues at Wood Nook as there are only flower buds, but no leaf-burst as yet.  David did some good dead hedging to keep the deer from getting at the new growth and nibbling off the ends. It looked rather good.


SAMSUNG CSCI don’t think he was too impressed with my attempts, but then we were running out of brash to use as material, it is rather time-consuming to build, and there is more hazel to be cut down this year.

SAMSUNG CSCI used my wigwam construction on the large stool previously mentioned:

SAMSUNG CSCI’m sure the best plan would be a deer-proof fence around the whole coppice land parcel, but the management plan, strangely does not seem to provide for that.



Servers deer course

Pigs and deer, that’s what the green visitors to Strid Wood have been making this weekend.  All adults this time, two birthday presents, two ladies and three gents.  A jolly good bunch with handsome woodland animals to take home.

This is not a skills course just a couple of hours of fun making something for the garden.  The main work consists of drilling one inch mortice holes with a hand auger and then fitting legs, necks heads and antlers with matching tenons using a draw knife and rounder plane.  I guess some of the skill for beginners is understanding that any skill at all is required to make something by hand.  It requires concentration to make the tools jigs and clamps work effectively, and the result is so free-form that (sometimes with a little tweak from my Silky saw) it always pleases.

It’s a different day for me, baking the rolls first thing, getting the soup ready, making sure the stove is roaring away to heat the soup, tidying up, making sure the right tools are available, and then splitting my time several ways between the participants to make sure everyone progresses.  As I know, it can get a little cold standing around (mental note to self; long johns compulsory on course days!)

Very busy now with Christmas orders as well as courses.  Made a set of salad servers:

A bunch of wine carriers (this is getting a bit like production runs):

They’re being collected today.  I need to replenish supplies of deer, foxes, bird tables as well as complete a half-dozen split ash hurdles.  There’s a small table on the stocks too.  Got a load of logs home last week so should be OK until Christmas now.

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas,...

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas, (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Busy, busy, busy!

Veteran oak and smoke

I’ve just done the first charcoal burn of the year.  Turned out not bad.  Half the load was pre-sold and it was a good outturn 13 hefty 5 kg bags and 20 handy 2.5kg bags, or, technically, big and little bags.

One of the trickiest parts of making charcoal in a steel kiln is judging when to shut it all down by sealing out the air.  Too early and the charcoal can be smoky when burning as all the tar hasn’t been burnt away and more brown ends are produced.  Too late and you’ve burnt some of the charcoal away into the air.  One way to judge the state of the burn is to look at the smoke.

This smoke is dirty-coloured. At the start of the burn the smoke is just about white as the wood’s moisture is driven off as steam.  Then towards the end the smoke gets dirty as the built up tar burns and evaporates away.  This is the sort of smoke you don’t want to inhale.  Next comes the critical point.  The smoke starts to clear a bit.

However, if it is left too long at this stage and the smoke turns blue, then you’re loosing money as the charcoal production starts to go up the chimneys! Notice ruined Bolton Priory in the background?  What a place to work!

The final sign to heed is what is happening at the base of the air intakes.

The tar can be seen burning a pink colour here and it’s about time to shut down.

Theo and I delivered part of the bagged up out turn to Howgill Lodge caravan site and on the way we pass The Laund Oak.  This is a veteran tree that used to mark the boundary between the forests of Barden and Knaresborough.  You can see it’s a veteran from the hollow trunk, the massive girth and the dead limbs.  There is still life in it though, its buds have not burst in this photo but there will be a modest display of oak leaves shortly.

Interesting word Laund; it means a clearing in a forest where deer can graze, and the legal definition in England is an area where deer were raised, principally for hunting by the king and his cronies, and occasionally poached by us peasants on pain of severe consequences at the hands of the verderers, who enforced the king’s law in the forests.

“…yet even from the wide tracts of forest, there was something more substantial to be gained than the pleasures of the chase. They were under the charge of bailiffs, who (in each bailiwick, as it was called) had their staff of foresters, verderers regarders, agistors, and woodwards, who collected and annually accounted for the profits of waifs, agistments, pannage … for the pasturage of hogs on the acorns, etc., … hollies, and perhaps other trees, for we have the word preserved in Anglo-Saxon, hirst, a wood), the croppiugs of which formed a principal article of winter fodder for cattle as well as sheep, and was valuable, as appears from an entry in Henry Younge’s, the forester of Barden’s book, a.d , 1437 : ‘ of husset sold to the amount of IV. iiis. viiid.’ (at least fifty pounds of our money), also of bark croppings, turbery (peat turf), and bee-stock. For in the old economy of the forest, wild bee-stocks were always an object of attention, and in France, as well as in England, officers called Bigres or Bigri (a byke was a bee’s nest in Chaitcer’s day), perhaps from Apigeri (bee-keepers) were appointed specially for pursuing the bees and securing their wax and honey. And it is to be remembered that those rugged districts, now stripped of their woods, are spoken of in the Compotus of Bolton as far from destitute of timber. The manor and chase of Barden comprised three thousand two hundred and fifty-two acres. The forest of Skipton. which comprised an area of six miles by four, or fifteen thousand three hundred and sixty acres, seems to have been enclosed from very early times with a pale, a practice indeed, introduced by the Norman Lord. Here the mast bearing and bacciferous trees, particularly the Arbutus, were planted ; and herein were nourished the stag, the wild boar, the fallow deer, the roe, and the oryx (or the wild bull), which, indeed, during the winter were fed with beans, even as the few remaining deer above Bolton are fed still. There was many a ‘ toft and croft ‘ also, as they were called (i.e., a homestead with a space of clear ground around it), where sheep browsed among the brushwood and glades. And so the forest furnished support for those who dwelt in it, either by fair means or foul.” Edmund Bogg. Extract from “Two thousand miles in Wharfedale; a descriptive account of the history, antiquities, legendary lore, picturesque features, and rare architecture of the Vale of the Wharf, from Tadcaster to Cam Fell. Three hundred and twenty illustrations.”

It’s a bit quieter in the forest today, and there seem to be about as many wooden deer produced as live ones.  Here are two people, Jo and Andy,  who came on a woodland course this week.


Five ton gates

This morning I went early to:

Five Rise Locks on the Leeds Liverpool canal where the lock gates have just been replaced and British Waterways (soon to become a charitable trust) held an open day to celebrate.  And what a thing to celebrate.  This is a section of the canal where the barges go through five lock either up or down using gates that weigh 5 tons each and are manufactured from green oak in BW’s Wakefield workshops.  The deal was a walk through the lock beds where you can only walk but occasionally, the gates are expected to last for 25 years, so I may not be around next time.  The turnout of people was impressive, a large queue had formed by the time I had chatted my way through attempting to make the many attendant employees’ day less than boring.

One of the otherwise hidden gems was the masons’ marks to show who had worked which stone and therefore needed payment:

See the two top stones with a half arrow pointing left and the star on the one below?  There were many different marks, it must have been a massive operation when they were first built in 1774.

There was a video playing at the canal-side showing in time-lapse photography the manufacture of the gates and their installation.  This is supposed to be on-line in April – watch this space!

I had today away from the woods, as I was there yesterday running a deer and fox making course: great fun:


Ah too much fun!  Back to felling tomorrow.

Cunning little vixen

A prototype fox is now hanging around the deer, and I’m rather concerned about his interest in this prototype mini deer.

My wife, Jane, developed the little deer and that’s what inspired me to try a fox, which has been mooted for some little time.  Recent visitors to the bodgery will have noted that the fox is now a gang of two, and the new recruit has a meaner, hungrier, sharper-nosed look, and looks fleeter of foot.

These should get round the stock problems such as “Can’t fit it in the car/Can’t carry it to the car/Not enough room in the garden for it, now the car has swallowed up most of it etc, etc.

Another deer course today with much auger wielding, shaving making, antler trimming, fun and as a bonus … mallet swinging (note these Bobby-socks feet!)

Squealing of the rounder plane

And of course the usual amount of sitting about drinking tea and eating soup and rolls.

By the way the “Twig Nook” name plate is now on its way to Wales, where it looks like sparking a house re-naming!