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Archive for January, 2012

I’ve been a little distracted of late and you will have noticed I’ve not been posting as much. Sadly my mother died suddenly just before Christmas and I’ve not had much time for posting on the blog as a result. Normal service will be resumed eventually and I will shortly post something appropriate, as if you ever received one of her hand crafted cards, you will know she was quite a talented caligrapher. Meanwhilst the seasons don’t wait and if I don’t get the birch cut soon it will be too late, particularly with the warm weather we’ve had.

On sunday we had a good sized group of Volunteers working on the commons and managed to clear through a patch of birch which yielded plenty of peasticks and few good beanpoles. I even managed to persuade our more enthusiastic burners not to burn them all.

We joined up with some of the Allotmenteers from the nearby Shottermill Ponds allotments so plenty of beanpoles and pea-sticks were taken away but there were still some left for me as well.

I particularly like this way of working on the heathland as it is a living landscape and this is the way it was created and has been managed as commonland for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Completely sustainable, it provides exercise and a sense of connection and continuity with the environment – and it might just have avoided the import of the odd bundle of bamboo or even worse, plastic poles. Not saved a shipload, or even a container load yet – but every little counts as they say!

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I’ve been a little distracted whilst trying to put together this view of the year just past, but it’s better late than never I hope. It’s always hard trying to select just twelve photos which together capture something of the year and it’s not a short process always taking me a lot more time than I imagined it would do. I think I’ve managed it in a small way for me, you will have to make your own minds up!

January means low sun angles through the leafless skeletons of the birch trees on the commons, never rising high, always a cold light and quick to fall below the hillside opposite whilst I am still cutting the young birch for poles, flower stakes, peasticks and besom brooms before the buds swell.

But February chills to the bone, and it was a bitter freezing winter which seemed it would surely go on for ever, perhaps we’d never even make it to the Spring. You need a fire (with baked potatoes) just to make it through the end of each day as the cold seems to seep up through my feet and into my bones.

But just when it seemed least likely Spring did arrive, and in the Gower on my annual beachcombing holiday it was scented with Coconut from the gorse flowers.

Working outside in April is rarely that much of a pleasure but as Spring got a grip, the days lengthened and the evenings spread themselves we had some wonderful sunsets – and not a drop of rain.

From a late start Spring was indeed Sprung rushing headlong into an early Summer with endless blue skies and talk of drought – yes this is still England I am talking about. By May and the Beltain celebration at Butser Ancient Farm, you could have been forgiven for thinking it had been warm and sunny all year. But Winters over the summer show season starts here.

Sadly the sunny weather was interrupted by the usual annual rainfall for the 21st  Bodgers ball (held at lower Brockhampton, Herefordshire) and again at the West Country (underwater) scythe festival at Muchelney, but the heat returned late in June, if only for the Wimpole Hall, Scything and Smallholders weekend near Cambridge. Andy Coleman is leading Ded on the brushcutter on a blazing hot afternoon on the lawns in front of Wimpole. The less said about my own shambolic performance the better!

Something of a building theme emerging in these photos and closer to home things have been afoot all year at Swan Barn Farm the base for the the National Trust team in Haslemere. A new cruck framed timber building emerges next to the barn. Built almost entirely with materials from the farm itself or a within a few miles it’s the vision of Dave Elliott the head warden and his team and the first cruck is raised guided by Ben Law.

By August the charcoal burning season is at it’s peak, the logs are good and dry (we hope) and the burns go fast and well, but in the back of my mind I know that time is passing and that this is the time to be starting to try and get ahead with both the charcoal and firewood before it’s too late.

The summer season has been busy with woodfairs, shows, work in the woods and scything reaching a climax in September as the end of term party season gets into full swing – plenty of work to do as well on polelathe and shavehorse – but a definite sense of the seasons shifting, heavy dews in the mornings and a chill in the evenings.

Which brings us inexorably to October and the apple harvest. Not mine this one sadly, these Kingston Blacks are waiting to go into the mill at the New Forest Cider Farm, Burley, though I did manage to press about a third of a tonne of apples myself this year.  Autumn is my favourite season with all the colours changing and all the senses of colour, smell, feel and texture all heightened by the inevitable end coming. A bitter sweet time of year, sweet with the harvest but bitter with chill of approaching winter.

Of course it wouldn’t be a true reflection upon the year without at least one landrover making it into the list and this year it’s got to be Puff (the magic landrover) who passed his MOT in April after a fairly extensive restoration. But with plenty of blue smoke billowing from the exhaust something had to be done and in November I finally managed to complete an engine rebuild thanks to Garry and Richard with plenty of boring, honing, torquing and bedding in to get him on the road in time for winter. Now got 100 miles on the clock, so running in should only last about another year!

We’re back in December with the sun lower in the sky catching on one of the leaded glass windows at the Weald & Downland Museum. I spent a lot of time with friends at the museum this year, demonstrating, teaching (drinking the cider – thanks Julian!) and helping out – it’s something of a spiritual home for me. I’m looking forward to spending more time there in the coming year and the reflection of the sun in the glass brings me back around the cycle to looking forwards towards the coming season. I wish you all the very best for 2o12.

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