Saturday, 25 October 2014

The 2014 Nationals

The Nationals were held near Grantham in Lincolnshire on a dry sunny Saturday. Having driven through very heavy rain on the way up on Friday I was expecting the site to be waterlogged but in fact the 'going was soft' rather than muddy.

The SoE section was alongside a farm track and opposite the Midland section, just a stones throw from the main event site. We were able to park in the field next to our cants, which is always a great help.

In the photo below, those cutting in the Open class were nearest the camera, with the Intermediate class starting in the distance. We veterans were lumped in with the Intermediates and in fact there was only one non-veteran in the class.

The cants were ten meters (eleven yards) for both classes, which was a bit of a surprise and the stakes and binders left something to be desired. However, we were all in the same boat and the hedge was even throughout with a few large stems in each cant, no difficult under-storey but very tangled at the top where it had been flailed repeatedly.

As usual the five hours flew by and it was a rush to get my bit finished, so no time for photos during laying. I could have done with another half hour to put some finishing touches but did get the basics finished. The build was OK but the stake line was rushed and could have been a lot better as it wandered out of the hedge-centre towards one end. 

My cant is below with the Midland cutters across the track and the event marquees behind them.

I managed a third place in the Intermediates behind Dave and Lex and all in all I was happy with that as a fair result. Below is a shot of Dave's winning hedge.

The SoE Open class was won by Paul with this...

 ...and his very nice stake line.

This is a shot down the SoE section from Intermediates towards the Open class in the distance.

And for something different, this is Gary's cant in the Derby class.

Despite the length of the cants it was another great event as the Nationals always are. A nice meal at the hotel and a few drinks in the bar afterwards completed the day.

Oh, and Ian won the SoE regrowth prize - hurrah.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Back to Back Weekend

A few months back it seemed like a good idea to do two hedge laying sessions back to back, good practice for the Nationals next weekend etc.; after the first session on Saturday it seemed like madness.

Saturday was SoE's first training day of the season at Scotney Castle. As there were only a few trainees most of the cutters were laying a nine yard cant on their own or in pairs. The hedge was rather odd as it contained some Hawthorne of twenty five or more years together with much younger Field Maple, Wayfaring Tree, Cherry and Hazel. Perhaps an old neglected hedge planted up more recently. it had been flailed a few times at about five foot and then allowed to grow on to about ten feet high.

Although it had rained heavily overnight the ground was well drained and did not turn to mud underfoot.

Except for the removal of a couple of heavy heals I laid with hand tools, finding my newly re-handled 4lb Kent pattern axe very useful.

Lunch time and most cutters were half to two thirds through laying stems.

I was quite pleased with the final result. A couple of pleachers showing but stock proof - and speaking of stock, notice some splendid Sussex cattle in the background.


The Hampshire Hedge Laying Championships were held on Sunday near Medstead. Fortunately the overnight rain had cleared by the time we arrived on site but the hedge to be laid had been changed due to conditions. The new hedge was not that tall having been flailed not that long ago but it was alongside a concrete roadway and with no ditch it was relatively dry. The down side was that we were laying right to left and there was a wire sheep fence on the other side of the hedge - so not good for right handers.

 There were classes for Novice, Midland Open and South of England Open. My cant was typical of the rest of the hedge; about sixty percent Hawthorn with a mix of Hazel, Dogwood and, as you can see in the left of the photo below, some Wayfaring Tree. Dogwood is not a favourite of mine when laying as it tends to be spindly and results in thin sections in the finished hedge - see later.

I laid with hand tools and though rather tired from the previous day, really enjoyed the cutting and building of the hedge.

About two thirds of the way through I was ahead of time and just about to get to the section of Dogwood. We were to lay at three foot six to the binder tops, which was helpful in view of the original height of the hedge.For a change this hedge contained very little bramble or rose and because of its age and height there was little extraneous material to be removed.

This is the finished product. Stock proof but lacking in material at the front in one section. I found that laying back to front meant that I was concentrating too much on building the back of the hedge rather than the front.

A reasonable stake-line and good build width. I was reasonably happy with what I had achieved and managed a third place.

Here is Clive's hedge with the man himself giving a final check to make sure the pleachers are well covered. Good work and worthy of his second place - and he was only a whisker away from first place.

And the winner of the SoE open, and overall champion, was Mike with this great effort. He does build a nice hedge and I must spend some time watching how he does it. There are some uncovered pleachers nearest to the camera but his neighbour was the last in the Midland section so there was little Mike could do about that.

Monday, 13 October 2014

From the other side of the water!

From the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland's annual competition!!
There are 200 photos of the event on their Facebook page -

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Speynes Mere

SHG were at Speynes Mere again on Saturday, laying another section of the hedge we started last year. This is a planted, double-row, predominately Hawthorne hedge of twelve to fifteen years. The photo below is of the section we laid last year and shows the lack of any substantial undergrowth which is a great boon for the hedgelayer. The section we laid on Saturday was very similar but had been flailed at about five feet a few years ago, which had left a lot of stag-horn growth and tangled tops.

It had rained heavily on my drive down to the site and I was sure we were in for a wet morning. However, the rain kept off until lunch time and we just got a drenching as we made our way back to the vehicles. Because of heavy rain in previous days we had parked some way from the hedge and I left my camera in the car, so only got a few shots at the end of the session. The cant I had was a joy to lay and was done with hand tools only. It's surprising how fast you can work with just a billhook, axe and saw when the stems are of a reasonable size, not too tall or old and brittle and there is little clearing out to be done; as someone remarked 'that's all the pre-war hedgelayers used on any sort of hedge'. 

The photo below shows the team staking and binding through the final few cants. In the foreground is a section of Hazel which was the only poor part of the hedge with just a couple of small stools to cover eight feet of hedge, so it was laid in both directions to fill the gap.

Looking in the other direction we see a finished section - well almost finished as Roy is just taking off the ends of the binders with loppers.

And then it rained!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Hurstpierpoint & District Ploughing Match

Saturday saw a dozen or so cutters take part in the Hurstpierpoint open hedgelaying competition. My previous experience of these early sessions at ploughing matches has been mixed. I know I don't have a hope in hell's chance of a place and they are often very hard work on less than ideal hedges - but hope springs eternal and one always thinks that this one will be different and you'll get a nice cant.

At first glance this particular hedge looked great, not too heavy and with plenty of material to make a thick stock-proof hedge. A mixed hedge of mostly Blackthorn with some Hazel, Willow, Spindle and Hawthorne. It was an odd mix and may have been planted up or just  grown up along the line of an old neglected hedge as some sections contained a lot of thin young stems interspersed with large old Hawthorne.

My cant ran through the right-angle intersection of another hedge that you can see in the background of the photo above and was a real mix of Blackthorn and Spindle with a couple of old Hawthorn stems all intertwined but with very little substance and a lot of the Spindle was diseased and had bracket fungus on the stems close to the ground.

Having removed the considerable amount of dead Blackthorn the layable growth was rather sparse, especially around the section where the two hedges met. It was going to be a challenge making a thick hedge.

And as you can see from the finished job below it was rather uneven having some bulk where the bushy Spindle had been laid but thin elsewhere. I felt that I made a reasonable job of the stakes and binders so perhaps I could scrape a few points in these categories. Although we had one heavy shower mid-session the rain held off until we were finished.

By way of comparison here is Tony's rather splendid hedge, although he did have to lay in some out of line stems to provide bulk.

And here is a view of some of the other contenders for the top places.

One pleasant diversion was the splendid teams taking part in the ploughing competition. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to watch them in action.