Recollections of Summer
After last week’s beautiful sunshine, there is now the distinct feeling of autumn in the air. The summer is drawing to a close and I thought this the perfect time to finally update my blog again and look back on a hectic but enjoyable season. Unlike winter, my summer work is more sociable with shows and festivals taking up alot of weekends. Its also mostly out of the woods, often back at the workshop making products out of last winter’s harvest for sale or commission.
Shortly after my last post I finally acquired a motor vehicle for the first time in my life. Having always relied on my bicycle I had been reluctant to give in to fossil fuelled transport for a long time but the requirements of work and a need for flexible accommodation led me to bite the bullet and buy this:
A converted 1994 Ford Transit Minibus, complete with double and single bed, woodburner and kitchen. From wooded hillsides in Worcestershire to muddy festival sites in Somerset, carrying everything from bicycles and sound equipment, to 12 ft logs, as well as being a surprisingly comfortable living space…this vehicle has already proved itself invaluable and has been host to some of the most memorable moments of my summer.
In early May, I did some work for local farmer John Furze, building a hazel revetment (woven fence designed to retain the soil) around the banks of the farm pond. I had help from my friends Pete and Jonny and despite wind, rain and a lack of proper waders, we managed to complete the job without getting too wet!
One of the main projects I worked on this summer was the building of two wooden structures for the Valley of the Antics stage at Secret Garden Party Festival. A group of friends and I used timber from Hales Wood to construct a pair of structures designed to lure people in to the stage’s area during the day and to provide somewhere to sit down and escape the dance floor in the evenings.
The first step was to select and peel aspen poles. These trees were felled in the coppiced area of Hales Wood in the winter and are the result of events that took place roughly 15 years ago. When the coppice at Hales was deer-fenced a small number of deer were actually trapped inside the fence. Despite their captivity they had free reign of 25 acres of coppice and wreaked havoc on the freshly cut coup before they were dispatched. Because they favoured hazel shoots over the more bitter aspen, the latter species was given a head start and therefore this area of the wood was left with a large number of tall aspen poles.
These proved the ideal material for a temporary structure and working the aspen with a chisel was a real pleasure. Once the preparatory work was done off site, the frames had to be assembled at the festival. The main structure was designed to be a chill-out space in one corner of the dance floor and was constructed around a large log which supported all the rafters.
Once in place, the rest of the frame was built around it. The roof was made from hazel, hornbeam and aspen brush. We left the roof deliberately sparse as the structure was undercover and we thought a more solid roof would make it too dark and encourage climbing! The ‘walls’ were constructed from woven willow around hazel uprights, giving solidity and a sense of enclosure as well as being convenient back rests for the straw bale seating.
The second structure was an archway designed to be the entrance to the straw bale arena that housed the stage. This was a smaller structure with a pole frame and a faggot bundle roof.
We were all extremely pleased with the way the structures turned out and enjoyed the feeling of pride we got from seeing hundreds of people pass through them, dancing, sitting, chatting and generally having a lovely time! I particularly enjoyed working as part of a group of friends and rediscovering my love for roundwood timber framing; this project has inspired me to do more of this sort of work, making temporary and permanent structures from larger round poles.
Shortly after the festival I attended my sisters wedding, where the archway structure made another appearance, this time decorated with my sister’s homemade bunting and elder, cut from my brother’s forest garden…
I also made a bench for the happy couple. Constructed from woven willow and built on the same principle as some of our fences, it has a hazel seat and is surprisingly sturdy. I was really pleased with how this turned out and hope to refine the design and make more with next years willow harvest.
This collection of recollections is concluded by last weekend’s Woodfest. This festival, organised by the redoubtable Ian Pease and his team at Hatfield Forest, seems to be going from strength to strength. A perfect combination of woodland crafts and music (along with a generous helping of real ale!) I had a great weekend, with my traditionally made kid’s broomsticks proving as popular as ever (thanks to unending Harry Potter fever). I’m already looking forward to next year!