Archive for June, 2011

Warning this is a long and rambling tale of grass, spoons, eggs and shameful mowing! I went to mow, went to mow a meadow at Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge over the Weekend. But somewhere along the line things got a little more complicated and I found myself teaching a spoon carving course on the Saturday.  In my defence I’d like to point out that I thought I’d managed to say no – but to no avail as it turned out. In the event I’m very glad that Simon Damant (our host at Wimpole) talked me into it as it made for a great weekend.

The mowing started early on Saturday morning with the 1/4 acre endurance mowing. Simon and Richard Brown mowed a 1/4 acre and an 1/8 acre respectively. No mean feat and luckily the weather was still cool, particularly at 6am though I’ll have to take their word for that! George finished faster than Simon but with the complex negotiations on quality of cut Simon won the day (though there might still be some dispute over this).

I’d like to have participated but I had six novices for the spoon carving course and I’m pleased to say that everyone went home with at least one spoon – and all of their fingers at the end of the day. My inadvertant demonstration of paring with my thumb in a poor location and drawing first blood worked very well in minimising the number of cuts throughout the day! I think I might have converted at least a couple of people to the world of greenwood working and quite possibly to Ben Orford’s excellent crook knives as well.

I was far too busy to demonstrate polelathe turning as well (it was a weekend off after all) and after some discussions a local lathe appeared complete with its personal transportation system – words fail me – almost – I’m clearly going to have to give this some serious thought!

The food was great if you like lamb and luckily even the vegetarian amongst us approved of Simon’s hogget ( a hogget is a sheep between one and two years of age, larger and with more flavour than a lamb).

The success of the spoon carving course seemed contagious and before long plenty of people were spooning away to enter the spoon making competition by noon on Sunday. By Saturday evening a good dozen spoons were being made and we continued whittling late into the evening – the competition had turned serious.

Now if you thought this post would be mainly about mowing and scythes – I’m going to disappoint you a little for a while  as eggs now enter the proceedings.

At some point in the evening I thought it would be a good idea to make use of all these spoons and with talk of the rural Olympics the idea of racing with the spoon we’d just made was born. I’d vaguely imagined next year but Simon is not one to hang around and had just collected a bucket of duck eggs – and one goose egg – now I wonder who he’s going to give that one to? I began to smell a rotten egg if not a rat!

A great line up of spoons in the competition – especially as several were from first time spooners!  Unfortunately in blissful ignorance that I’d soon be racing with it I’d made a small spoon from a cleft of wild cherry (thanks to some overly enthusiastic axe work slicing off half the bowl).  Pretty much a no hoper with the duck eggs let along the goose egg I suspected would come my way.

Time for a cunning plan, a very cunning plan! Clearly the first rule of the spoon race will be bending the rules, so at the last minute I fashioned a simple spoon, aka the Giant Goose Egg Holder, and slipped it into the competition – it’s at about 2 o’clock in the photo.

Chaos ensued as Simon issued rough directions for the course and handed out eggs – the Goose Egg fitting neatly into its holder- and plenty of choice language to match as my subterfuge emerged! My plan was nearly thwarted by the substitution of a ringer as a runner (from HM Forces) but amidst the carnage of collision and not so subtle trips on the return journey the ringer wobbled and the Giant Goose Egg Holder won the day!

I’d come up to Wimpole aspiring to a medal position in the mowing finals but with all of the spooning I had little time to prepare for mowing. As in Somerset a relatively good performance in the team mowing lulled me into a false sense of security and when it came to the individual mowing I went to pieces.  Do you want to hear the bad news or the good news? The bad news is that I managed a shameful performance in the finals. Descending from the realms of fast but crap to TRUELY SHAMBOLIC! The good news? Well at least I made my peformance in Somerset look reasonable!

But then I wasn’t the only one whose plan was blown off course. On the day a real live Dead Ringer appeared – or Ded Ringer in this case, as Ded from Albania showed up to show us his scything talents. Ded walked off with the title and the Quality cup to boot just pushing Richard Brown (great mowing Richard) into second place and George Montague into third(Ed – I think I have that right now-apologies for inadvertantly promoting Andy Coleman) with George winning the ‘fast but crap’ cup.

George wasn’t too happy with the ‘fast but crap’ cup as he mowed well – apart from the badger hole.  But it’s strange to see someone else walking off with the cup in a class that I created while I am struggling to finish!

Really not my year for Mowing competitions but by next year I’m going to know a lot more about preparing my blade and the less said about my fitness (or lack of it) the better. I’m also not going to try peening my blade 10 minutes before the competition starts with no time left for honing.

Andy and Ded went head to head in the Scythe versus Strimmer race. This time in two rounds with Andy first on the scythe, winning comprehensively and later in round two Ded took the scythe and won – which goes to prove that the scythe really does beat a strimmer hands down!

All over, it’s time to relax in the cut grass and consider that its the taking part that counts not the winning – and on this occasion that’s entirely true except of course in the Egg and Spoon race where anything goes in order to win and cheating is mandatory.

I almost forgot the cider drinking competition. Ooops, sorry I meant the Cider Making competition and these are the judges( faces mostly obsured by glasses to protect their identities) not the participants. I’ve never entered so many competitions before . It was really good to see so many home made ciders taking part- and even though I didn’t get placed I’m very glad I wasn’t a judge!

To round off a great weekend we had a guided tour of the estate including the vast length hedges laid in recent years – here a section laid in South of England style if I remember rightly.

Just time to fit in a quick Landrover repair before heading home. Luckily not to my landrover but to Simon’s which had mysteriously run out of clutch fluid over the weekend. We managed to stop Simon trying to fit a cable, topped up with fluid and a few minutes of frantic pumping something like a clutch returned.

Many thanks to Simon, Jim, Andy M, Catherine, Graham and Olga for making us so welcome and putting on such a great show. There are loads of photos I could not put up here – so I will shortly be posting at least one gallery and I’ll link to it as soon as its up.


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A desperate attempt to break the blog block and write something. I’ve got a load of articles to write up but somehow I never quite manage to get anything written before I am absorbed in the next job. A lot of them are smallish jobs to fit in and today that included a bit of woodturning, fetching and bagging charcoal and putting a landrover in for its annual test. Oh and preparing to go up to Wimpole hall near Cambridge for the festivities there this weekend.  No pressure then.

The priest in question is a wildfowler’s or fisherman’s club. I make them to a traditional victorian (or older) design. sometimes I weight them and sometimes I don’t. This one, made from wild cherry is not weighted but the wood is reasonably dense and the head of the club is reasonably large and dense so it feels well balanced. This one is destined for Germany where my international marketing reprentative has been busy drumming up business (thanks Rich).


The flying colours are because I spent most of the morning replacing a seatbelt, rejuvenating a windscreen wiper motor and fixing the washers on my 1965 SIIa landrover known as Georgina. The old test ran out while I was in Somerset helping with the scythe festival and it’s taken a few days to get her booked in. In the event she passed the test with flying colours – not even a single note – quite a relief.

The foxgloves were caught in the evening sunshine out on the commons. It’s been raining most of the week, particularly when I tried to bag the charcoal and no matter how much I shouted – it didn’t want to stop. Hard to complain, after all we do need it, and maybe we’ll be lucky at the weekend and have good weather.



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It seems an age since I posted on the blog. After spending some days at the Weald & Downland museum for the Heavy Horses show I’ve been in Somerset for a week helping to set up the Seventh West Country Scythe Festival.

What a shame! We all hoped it would not happen but for once the forecast did not waver. After a week of preparations the weather on Sunday  turned diabolical – entirely suitable for some very grim reaping indeed.

The rain started in the middle of the night and the wind steadily increased through the day. It got so gusty that at one point one of the green fair tents took off and landed in one of the team mowing plots.

I didn’t take these photographs on Sunday. It was worse on the day – but it gives you an idea of the conditions and I didn’t want to get the camera soaked. An underwater camera would have done well when I was mowing!

In the event I was much slower than last year mowing my 5x5m plot (though most people were slower in the conditions)  and to add insult to injury my quality was much better – so not ‘fast’ and no ‘crap finish’ this time – my reputation lies in tatters! I’d like to claim that the thick, wet and heavy grass didn’t suit my style – but let’s face it – sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

Clearly the tent in most need of support was the beer tent and it was in such a perilous state that some hardy souls undertook to keep it propped up even during the worst of the conditions.

The practice on Saturday was almost serene by comparison. George got to grips with his new 7ft long snathe and a blade strong enough to match which stood him in good stead for the competition where he came in third, just a tad behind Andy Coleman (Second) in quality and as usual, Simon Damant came first.

Down but not out. In two weeks time we head up to Cambridge for the Eastern Counties championship where I hope to resurrect my reputation for ‘fast but crap finish’ cutting!

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I’ll be at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum for a few days and over the weekend for the Heavy Horses show, one of the highlights of the year. So posting will still be erratic for a while yet.

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I don’t often get the opportunity to attend local shows, normally they clash with long established dates in my diary. But I was pleasted to be able to attend the wildfire awareness day this year held at the National Trust’s Devil’s Punchbowl only a mile up the road from me at Hindhead.

I’ve not been to the Punchbowl for a few years (I don’t seem to have the time for walking and mountain biking that I used to) so it was also an opportunity to see the work the NT has been doing in restoring the heathland and revealing the startling shape of the natural amphitheatre of the Punchbowl basin overlooked by the 900ft Gibbet Hill and Hindhead Commons. There are plenty of local legends regarding it’s name. One involves the Devil, coming from the Devil’s Jumps at nearby Churt, scooping up earth to throw at the Thunder and Lightning of Thor (in nearby Thursley) and making the Punchbowl in the process.

Back to the show for a moment. The small, but quality (ok so I’m biased), display of local woodland/heathland crafts included myself, Justin and Freddie with coppice products and Robert on Besoms.  Justin works the Chestnut coppice close to Hindhead and on this occasion was making shingles (or shakes if you prefer) for the Speckled Wood project, a new cruck framed wardens house at the NT base in Haslemere.

Here Robert is ably assisted (I think that’s the right word?) by son Felix as he makes up besom brooms. A very apt occupation for the show as Hindhead and Punchbowl were famous for their ‘broom squires’ and at one time in the 19th century the parish boasted over 45 working broom-squires. Imagine how much birch scrub they would cut in one season!

Although I didn’t expect much interest at the event I was taken by suprise there was plenty of interest and once again Rounders Bats turned out to be popular.

At the same time I managed to fit in a froe handle for Justin.

While Justin and Freddie were turning out shingles and oak pins (for timber framing).

The event was organised by the local fire service in Haslemere and it was useful to see just how much more gear I could really cram into my landrovers if I tried hard enough.  Must try harder in future!

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