Hedge Steeping at Billany

By Don Gaskins

We had a cool dry Autumn day for our visit to Billany Farm, Dartington on the 17th of October for the first hedging course of the new season.

Following the introduction and safety talk instructor Jeremy showed us several hedges which he has laid over the past few years on the smallholding. We also inspected some turf hedging which Laura and Alice had completed on a training day last year. Owner Judy has a very fine semi circular horse engine outhouse – typical of many farms in Devon. Originally constructed of cob it has been rebuilt in local limestone with a slate roof. We were very impressed with a massive elm beam running across the building, above head height,supported at one end on a stone wall and at the other by a retained section of cob.

We worked on a very nice length of double comb hedge running alongside the drive leading up to the farmhouse. The far side had been flailed so we worked on the roadside comb. The hedge was mainly hazel but also contained blackthorn, hawthorn, holly, elm,dogwood, dogrose and spindle. The bank was at a comfortable height for steeping but the brash had to be dragged down the lane and stacked in a nearby field. Jeff gallantly volunteered for this onerous chore and spent the day dragging a large tarpaulin containing the cut material up and down the lane. Crooks were in short supply so we used stakes, Dorset bonds and living stakes to secure the steepers. Mick spent a couple of hours in the morning chainsawing back a massive old dead oak stump lying across the bank so that we could put in the cut stems.

Steeping the hedge

Laura, Mitchell, Alice and Sean elected to work on their own lengths in preparation for the forthcoming hedging competition. Newcomers Amy and Jack (who both work for Devon Wildlife Trust at Cricklepit Mill, Exeter), Angus and Dave linked up with MIck, Jonathan, Nick and Don to work further along the hedge. It was an ideal hedging day weatherwise and the hedge was perfect for beginners. Refreshment breaks were very convivial and the time passed quickly.

Lunch by the hedge

By four thirty we had completed 60 yards of hedge and cleared away the brash. Jeremy took us on a walk along the hedge to inspect people’s handiwork and Judy came down and expressed her satisfaction . She gave us a generous donation to Trust funds and invited us to come back in the Spring to lay more of the hedge.

The next course is Hedge Laying on the 14th November at Ham Farm, Loddiswell, TQ7 4RX. More details can be found here.

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Dry Stone Walling at Buckland in the Moor

By Mitchell Fawcett

Devon Rural Skills Trust held a stone walling course on Saturday the 26th of September run by Jeremy Weiss. On a sunny ‘perfect September day’ we arrived at Buckland in the Moor to learn and develop skills in granite stone walling. Once getting to the top of the hill on site, the clear day gave way to stunning views with a warm early autumnal light. A well-earned reward for tackling the hill.

After going through a brief of what was going to be completed that day and health and safety, we cleared back a working space, slashing back bracken, removing stone and pulling up fences so that we could get access to the wall. We slowly took down the wall , sorting through stone and placing them behind a 3 ft. line to give good space to work in, or as far as they could be rolled up and down.

Once getting to the bottom we had to establish a foundation for the wall, looking for largest of rocks with a good surface to build on, this process of moving and placing large rock took us way up until mid-day, hopefully trying to use the largest of rocks without moving them too far. The foundation building was the most challenging part, trying to find ‘through stones’ to hold the wall together.

The wall goes up...
The wall goes up…

Once the foundation was down it was easier to fit smaller stones but still challenging to think about each individually stone finding it a solid home. Some rocks defiantly did not want to be placed and some left out altogether, but with many different eyes on each stone, looking and calculating positions, the wall was built. There were cuts and rolls  but no lost fingers , and over all a great day out, highly recommended, beautiful scenery, lovely weather, great people and a truly hands on experience.

Pole lathing at Steiner School

By Nick Dawe

A beautiful day sprung forth and so did seven attendees keen to learn or hone their skills. The pole lathes are now mounted on a plinth to stop them rotting in the shavings and the Worshipful Guild of Turners have donated money for the complete overhaul of all the lathes along with over £250.00 worth of Ashley Isles chisels and gouges. Well done Almutt.

After a brief introduction by myself Almutt took over and introduced the tools and methods to all. Having suggested a couple of projects people got stuck in splitting, cleaving and shaping billets with axes. There was then a move to the shave horses and by break time most people had their pieces on a lathe. Mick and I provided portable lathes as some of the Steiner lathes were unuseable and Colin brought along his homemade version which to my utter surprise worked quite well considering it had no pole. But a bungee strung from the roof did the trick.

By lunch Mitchell was well into his rattle, Jeremy, having found a lathe that worked, had begun his mallet, Colin was nearly finished with his beetle handle, Ray also making a fine mallet from maple, Dave and Geoff a candlestick each and Chris also a mallet.

By three most people had finished so we did a wood whistle demonstration for those who were interested and by three thirty the tools were packed away and we called it a day. My thanks to everyone who made it an interesting experience and for the great atmosphere which always seems to pervade at a DRST course, Our thanks also to Almutt who as always was a source of good advice and skills.