Peeled posted and wrung

Here’s a post and rung stool I’m working up for an exhibition coming up in April (Ah, joyous month!) at Farfield Mill at Sedbergh.  The event is Working Woodlands and is intended to show the range and quality of products that come out of coppicing woodland.  There will be a special section devoted to products made from Moss and Heights Spring Wood timber.  I’m making my stool above with peeled oak from there, and it will have an elm bast seat woven from bark from Strid Wood (West meets East kind of style!).

Do call in if you can get there.


Mark and a half and another half – Roughing it.

I’m listening to “Roughing it” by The Most Excellent Mark Twain, courtesy of Librivox an excellent service which provides volunteer-read out of copyright stuff for free.  I listen to it in the LandRover on my commute to & from the woods.  As it was rather a poor sort of frosty then wet, but thankfully not blowy day, the following extract seemed particularly good on the way home this evening.  Why my son & his wife moved from there to New York, is something of a mystery!

Now read on! And don’t miss out on the paragraph on Fort Yuma at the end.

An extract from CHAPTER LVI. Of Roughing It by Mark Twain

San Francisco, a truly fascinating city to live in, is stately and handsome at a fair distance, but close at hand one notes that the architecture is mostly old-fashioned, many streets are made up of decaying, smoke-grimed, wooden houses, and the barren sand-hills toward the outskirts obtrude themselves too prominently. Even the kindly climate is sometimes pleasanter when read about than personally experienced, for a lovely, cloudless sky wears out its welcome by and by, and then when the longed for rain does come it stays. Even the playful earthquake is better contemplated at a dis—

However there are varying opinions about that.

The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You wear black broadcloth—if you have it—in August and January, just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the other. You do not use overcoats and you do not use fans. It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you choose—three or four miles away—it does not blow there. It has only snowed twice in San Francisco in nineteen years, and then it only remained on the ground long enough to astonish the children, and set them to wondering what the feathery stuff was.

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During eight months of the year, straight along, the skies are bright and cloudless, and never a drop of rain falls. But when the other four months come along, you will need to go and steal an umbrella. Because you will require it. Not just one day, but one hundred and twenty days in hardly varying succession. When you want to go visiting, or attend church, or the theatre, you never look up at the clouds to see whether it is likely to rain or not—you look at the almanac. If it is Winter, it will rain—and if it is Summer, it won’t rain, and you cannot help it. You never need a lightning-rod, because it never thunders and it never lightens. And after you have listened for six or eight weeks, every night, to the dismal monotony of those quiet rains, you will wish in your heart the thunder would leap and crash and roar along those drowsy skies once, and make everything alive—you will wish the prisoned lightnings would cleave the dull firmament asunder and light it with a blinding glare for one little instant. You would give anything to hear the old familiar thunder again and see the lightning strike somebody. And along in the Summer, when you have suffered about four months of lustrous, pitiless sunshine, you are ready to go down on your knees and plead for rain—hail—snow—thunder and lightning—anything to break the monotony—you will take an earthquake, if you cannot do any better. And the chances are that you’ll get it, too.

San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in “the States” rear with such patient care in parlor flower-pots and green- houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses—I do not know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow. And I have heard that they have also that rarest and most curious of all the flowers, the beautiful Espiritu Santo, as the Spaniards call it—or flower of the Holy Spirit—though I thought it grew only in Central America—down on the Isthmus. In its cup is the daintiest little facsimile of a dove, as pure as snow. The Spaniards have a superstitious reverence for it. The blossom has been conveyed to the States, submerged in ether; and the bulb has been taken thither also, but every attempt to make it bloom after it arrived, has failed.

I have elsewhere spoken of the endless Winter of Mono, California, and but this moment of the eternal Spring of San Francisco. Now if we travel a hundred miles in a straight line, we come to the eternal Summer of Sacramento. One never sees Summer-clothing or mosquitoes in San Francisco—but they can be found in Sacramento. Not always and unvaryingly, but about one hundred and forty-three months out of twelve years, perhaps. Flowers bloom there, always, the reader can easily believe—people suffer and sweat, and swear, morning, noon and night, and wear out their stanchest energies fanning themselves. It gets hot there, but if you go down to Fort Yuma you will find it hotter. Fort Yuma is probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at one hundred and twenty in the shade there all the time—except when it varies and goes higher. It is a U.S. military post, and its occupants get so used to the terrific heat that they suffer without it. There is a tradition (attributed to John Phenix [It has been purloined by fifty different scribblers who were too poor to invent a fancy but not ashamed to steal one.—M. T.]) that a very, very wicked soldier died there, once, and of course, went straight to the hottest corner of perdition,—and the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets. There is no doubt about the truth of this statement—there can be no doubt about it. I have seen the place where that soldier used to board.

The Brummigum Bodgery

I’m just back from the National Exhibition Centre where I was exhibit A in Chris Myers’ show garden which was inspired by my workshop in Strid Wood.  I must say he made a fine job of putting his garden together and just about all the thousands of passing public loved it too – the judges agreed and awarded him a gold medal and best in show to boot.  The garden was full of details that were a feast for the eyes:

Even a rabbit hole.

The workshop area was smaller than my extensive ranch in Strid Wood, but workable, and provided that little extra interest for passersby, who often stopped to chat.

A lady said she’d bought a bodge at Damson Day earlier this year, “Oh yes?”  I asked. “Yes a basket.”  She replied.  “Hum .” I thought, “maybe there’s another meaning to bodging.”

The Kentish Bodge

Later that day another gentle lady chatted to me about her father who had owned 150 acres of chestnut woodland in Kent, now owned by the Woodland Trust.  He used to make chestnut paling fencing, and she was delighted to learn that there were still people making it, using those great old engines that run on wheels and twist the wire between the pales.  She thought she might still have one of these engines in her garage.  We chatted away and got onto bodges, which I discovered in Kent is what they call a trug, furthermore that chaps who used to make ’em were called bodgers – well I never!  She also told me her father used to makes fore-lighting pimps (see here).  He’d take some by train to Buckingham Palace and when they had been stacked he’d get breakfast on the House!

I just love these conversations, often sparked off just by people seeing me and my tools.

I had another interesting conversation with a chap whose grandfather was a shipwright.  I said I bet he used an adze, “Oh yes, we still have it.  He used to work on wooden masts, making them round with the adze.  Two of them would start at opposite ends and hope it worked out when they met in the middle.”

Well it’s a poor day when you don’t learn something!

Goose-stepping horses

We were at Otley Show at the weekend.  This is a very old-established agricultural show mixing all sorts of attractions: pole lathe turning ( – obviously!); vintage tractors, rabbits, fly fishing demonstrations, dry stone walling, farrier competitions, goose-stepping military bands (well one cornet player anyway). And that was just what I could see from my stand.  There were reportedly lots more including ferret racing, sheep shearing, heavy horses, micro breweries … but those tied to their pole lathe have to work.  And chat.  Occasionally eat a sandwich … and chat at the same time (Why didn’t I sit at the back of the shelter like I planned to do when I left that space for the very purpose? Love my public too much?)

And another rhetorical question – why is it that every time I put up the shelter it’s always different?  This time I was using the white tarpaulin, so it was a different colour from the more usual green.  But also I tried to copy the Sussex APT group’s shelter erection by fastening the main pull-up rope to the A-frame before offering it up to the ridge pole, and thus avoiding having to stand on the chopping block/horse/bench and lash the top of the A-frame together.  Of course it didn’t work out, producing an out-of-level cross pole on the A-frame, so I still had to climb up and not only lash the poles from a teetering position, but also unlash ’em first.  This probably means nothing to anyone who has not erected a pole shelter before, but, dear reader, it will mean something to you soon.  Next show I’m going to run a video camera of the setting up.  Then, using some technology I’ve not yet discovered, speed it up to a frantic pace, should be quite amusing, but if not, at least it will be certain to be different from the last time I put it up.  Ah well, variety is the spice of life.

The horse breeding season seems to be going quite well.  Jane was using her new gypsy flower pony and got a few take-ups on the have-a-go front, here she is:

Took an order for a heavy-duty horse at the show too – that’s a first. I have another horse out at grass preparing for its debut at the Gardener’s World Live show at the NEC.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch … Philip had an enjoyable day today (he tells me) making a stool – it’s actually four-legged, he’s working on the last one at the horse.

Amazing what a sheet of tarpaulin can do, this was on a day of torrential rain and gale-force winds (but as they were in the West, filtered by the trees).

A note for Mr D – the rocket stove performed admirably drying the leg tenons in short order, and even providing hot water for tea toot sweet.

Tail piece

Whilst getting hazel for gypsy flowers I discovered some broomrape, I’m afraid I only had my ancient phone (remember when taking a photo with a phone was a novelty?) so the picture quality is a bit dodgy:

I’m working on finding out more about this variety as there are 200+ in the species.  Looks like it paracitises hazel.

Harlow Carr

I’ve spent the last four days at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate (or Harrowgate as we spell it in Bolton Abbey!), busy on the pole lathe

It was a very good four days where I met lots of interesting and interested people.  But I was struggling a bit with the lathe for the first couple of days.  Then I realised that it wasn’t just the unfamiliarity of the knock-down travelling show lathe, but the fact that it was out of level on the sloping ground.

Sorted it out with a couple of chocks.  This being the first outdoor event of the year (apart from work, which is always outdoors at Strid Wood!) I had a couple of teething problems, like forgetting the burning wire to scorch rings on the demo dibbers.  I had to improvise with some copper wire I had.

DON”T TRY THIS AT HOME!  The wire conducts the heat very well, right up to your fingers, it also gets hot enough to lose its strength and snap.  However, I got by until I could cobble up a new steel wire (brake cable from the bike) one.

I managed to get over and see Phil Bradley, basket maker.

He makes some fine stuff and I got this basket from him:

It’s based on a half bushel fruit basket.  Phil’s email address is, he’s based in Cumbria but works around the North of England.

Jane got to have a look around the garden and spotted a wall being made home for alpine plants – I think we’ll have another project in our garden soon.

Levens, two headed goats & stags’ heads

We went to Levens Hall yesterday.  Why do people think they need to fly around the world when there are places like this an hour’s drive away.  There was some fine craftsmanship and some outstanding tree-work. Look at this for walling! I think it is pretty recent. but the gates have been around for some time: I really admire what a smith can do with iron which, when finished looks impossibly unworkable. Here’s detail of another gate in he same garden. The work of the hall itself is fine too, we didn’t go inside – it was too sunny a day, but even from outside it is stunning, look at these downspouts and can head: The heart emblem is said to represent the winning card of a card game that acquired the house in days long past. These cylindrical chimney stacks with slate ‘pot’ took my fancy too! But the real craft of this garden took hundreds of years work to produce: Takes four gardeners a month to clip, feast your eyes and imagination! They have a blight problem with the small box hedges and considering the hundreds and hundreds of yards there are it must be a real headache.  The rest of the garden is stunning too with a magnificent fountain garden topped with pleached limes.  We chatted to two lady gardeners who were bending hazel twigs into natural plant supports.  We’ll be trying this at home. The whole place has a magical air (especially if you arrive before opening time) there is a surprise around every corner. Across the road is the deer park, fairly recently converted ( c 1700) from a medeval deer park into a leisure park.  There are many fine oak trees: And some examples of stag head oaks where drought has caused the trees’ branches to die back and then regenerate: The park has black fallow deer, sheep and Bagot goats (the current owners of the estate are called Bagot): Spotted a double-header amongst them The park is as interesting as the garden, the grass seems to be original unimproved pasture and full of flowers Some interesting replanting too, never seen a tree within a tree before! However, considering the amount of damage recently suffered from flooding in this district, someone really ought to be checking debris building up against bridges. Footnote Forgot my backup camera batteries and had to resort to the videocam for later shots, apologies for the poor quality.

Huntin’, Epping and buildings

We went to London last weekend to visit my daughter.  On the way we called in at a random part of Epping Forest. I noticed that Spring is a tad further on down there, so we were travelling forward in time, and will get a second chance as Spring progresses “Up North”.  Here’s some shooting Hornbeam, a species we don’t have much up in Yorkshire.

It makes for rather an unusual leaf litter, reminded me of home-made tobacco:

This 12 mile stretch of woodland has a fascinating history, sadly littered with enclosure and destruction of woodland by the rich and loss of rights by the poor.  Epping Forest was used variously for wood fuel, royal deer hunts and grazing cattle:

There has been a reintroduction of grazing in the 21st century in the shape of a dozen Longhorn cattle, but unfortunately they were still tucked away in their Winter quarters.

We spotted an interesting-looking building on a little hill which turns out to be Queen Elizabeth I’s Hunting Lodge, built by her father:

It used to be open at the top two galleries for shooting at deer passing by on Chingford Plain (driven there, I’ll bet!).  It’s a timber-framed building, and there are some mighty timbers used in its construction, probably brought in for the job from further afield

The upper floors have been made to shed water getting in through the open galleries and have an amazing bow towards the outside walls.  Like many buildings of this age it has gone through many uses but is now set out as a museum, and in a corner I found some authentic looking turned plates and bowls

On closer inspection I found they were the work of my friend Robin Wood (see link aside)!

There was also an interesting large elm bowl, I’m not sure of its provenance:

This leathern jug took my fancy too:

My late father used to be fascinated by these when he used to visit a friend at Chelsea Hospital for retired army chaps.

The roof timbers were very decorative and these sections were supposed to be reminiscent of deer antlers.

Down into London and we were surprised to see that there are no builders’ cranes over docklands!

Walked past a fine terrace, St John’s Church Road, on the way to the National Trust’s Sutton House, quite unlike the terraces in Brooklyn

Mind you a shed at the bottom of the garden takes a lot of beating: