Sunday, 1 November 2015

Back at Cherkley Court

On Saturday SHG were back at Cherkley to lay 80 meters along the road by the main entrance. The road was conned off and lights controlled the traffic flow. A bright sunny morning with higher than normal temperature for the end of October.

The hedge had an odd mix of species, with very little Hawthorn and a lot of Spindle and Field Maple. Most of the stems were two to three inches in diameter with the few of four or more. There were some large multi-stemmed plants, and some that had been damaged by road-salt and pollution that presented a challenge, and some large gaps that will need planting up.

This is one of the better sections, mostly Spindle with some reasonably sized Field Maple., but note the variation is stem size.

Rather a poor shot of the finished hedge but with nice autumn colours.

There are several ways to approach the laying by hand of a stem of a reasonable size and yesterday presented an opportunity to photograph one of them.

This is a Field Maple of some 4 inches in diameter at the base. I have just removed the remains of the spiral guard, hence the markings on the trunk.

What I have done here is to make a straight saw cut about two thirds into the stem a few inches above where the final heal cut will be made. I have then used my axe - in this case a 4lb Elwell topping axe - to make the pleaching cut. The saw cut I made allows the chips to fall away easily, allowing a clean line of sight when using the axe and reducing splitting of the heel.

Having cut in to the required depth for the pleach, I then used the axe to cut downwards and lever over the stem, leaving a nice hinge. The heel was then cut off at an angle to allow water run-off - this may look a bit high from this angle but the bank is very steep and there is only an inch or so of the heal above the soil on the other side.

This technique is often referred to as 'using a safety cut' and can be very helpful when working in confined spaces, especially on 'South of England' style hedges. In circumstances where you can swing a felling axe, experienced hedgers will cut the pleach and the angled heel at the same time using downward and upward cuts. A good example of this can be seen in this YouTube video of Peter cutting a Midland style exhibition hedge in The Netherlands - he only had a 2.5lb axe with him so it was no easy task, and you can appreciate why we now use chainsaws.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Nationals 2015

This year's Nationals were held at Chew Valley Lakes, Stoke Hill, Bristol. 

In complete contrast to the recent weather it rained all day, or at least for the whole time we were cutting, and as a result I took very few photos. However, here are a few shots of the day.

This is a shot up the hedge line before the off. unusually the cants were pre-drawn with the SoE Vets nearest the camera, then the SoE Open extending almost to the corner at the far end of the field. Along the far side were the various Midland classes.

This is my cant, second from the end, well third really as we had a 'no-show'. Almost entirely Hawthorn with a couple of self seeded rose and some bramble. The front and back had been mown off, and presumably the stock fence removed, so there was little clearing out to do. There was little of any size in our section, with only a few stems over three inches but much of it was multi-stemmed from ground level and being under the pines it had grown very much to one side.

It started to drizzle before the off and heavy showers passed through on a regular basis making for a very wet session. Being rather warm it was impossible to work in a coat so most cutters just got wet. I find the worst thing is wet gloves, and so I wore a gripper glove on my right hand, which gave a good purchase on the hand tools but was in no way thorn proof - my hand still bears the evidence of this.

This is my finished cant. Not too bad but notice my silly mistake - last week at the Hampshire competition we had laid to three and a half feet and I did the same here. I realised my error before banging in the stakes and lifted the binders but you can see that  the top of the hedge is rather low, leaving a bit of a gap under the binders - did the judges notice?

Looking back up the finished cants we have Clive nearest the camera, then mine and then Dave and Frank, there being only four of us (plus the one no-show).

I manged second slot behind Dave's winning hedge seen below. Nicely done with a thick even build.

And here is a picture (by Jackie Gilligan) of a very happy Paul having won the SoE Open AND Supreme Champion. I think this is only the second time a SoE cutter has won Supreme and it has been many years since the first. Well done Paul.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Hampshire Competition

Just a few shots from Sunday's competition at Hattingley. 

It was a continuation of the hedge we laid last year, so we were laying left handed again,  towards the camera. A light hedge, planted with an amenity mix, with perhaps only 30% Hawthorn. My cant contained Hawthorne, Hazel, Dogwood, Buckthorne, Spindle and Privet. So a lot of small stems to lay with just a few of 3 inches or more in diameter. Although some were using chainsaws I stuck with billhook and axe.

There were several standards in the hedge and in my cant was this straggly Ash, which I was originally told I had to keep despite it having been damaged in the past.

This is the SoE veterans section and there were four of us laying - all the usual suspects! Being just over eight yards and light we all got it down in good time and were able to spend time fussing over the stakes, binders and trimming.

Reasonably stock proof, given the species mix, and the stake-line was almost straight. They decided that the Ash should come out so I turned it into a stake.

Further up the line the SoE open cutters were finishing off and a splendid job they had made. Don't know the results as I had to leave before the prize giving (found out that Nigel Adams won the SoE Open and I got the SoE veterans but don't know any others).

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Belmont Wood Fest

A quick shot of the dummy hedge created at today's Belmont Wood Fest looking away from the event towards the wood.

I was in a bit of a corner but not cut off from the main event being between some stick makers and Kent Woodland Employment, some of whose machinery can be seen on the right. I did get a good number of interested visitors and some possible leads for work, although some people did want me to build one of these in their garden!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

What did you do on your holidays?

Over the summer I finally finished the wall I have be re-constructing at our cottage in Co Mayo, Ireland.

The original was probably built over a hundred years ago but has most likely been partly rebuilt during that period, as the section furthest from the road was of an old and unusual style known locally as feidín, where the base and lower part of the wall is built with small stones, often with large uprights at regular intervals, with larger stones used for the upper part. My understanding is that this particular style is only found in walls in parts of Galway and Mayo, but oddly also in Galloway in Scotland. Several local people were able to name this style but no one had a translation from the Gaelic or a reason why it was used in this area - more research needed.

This is the feidín section nearest the camera and I was able to retain the lower part, having removed a large tree stump from the middle of the wall. You can also see the remains of the ivy which had completely covered the wall and dislodged most of the upper stones. Additional stone came from some recently demolished sheds that were of a similar age to our cottage.

This is my first attempt at a dry stone wall and whilst it may not last 100 years I hope it will see me out.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Before, After and Regrowth

Paid a quick visit this morning to the hedge at Avery Hill that we laid earlier this year. This was not an easy hedge to work, having been planted more as an amenity line of shrubs and trees than a hedge - far too many Field Maples and ornamentals and too few Hawthornes. Some of plants had been 'pruned' in the past and others, mainly Field Maple, allowed to grow into medium sized trees.

All three photos are taken from approximately the same place and first up is the hedge as it was in November 2014 before laying. Tall Field Maples, some Hawthorne, shrubby Holly, dense areas of Dog Rose and some Hazel nearest the camera. There were also a number of large gaps and little growth under the maples - see earlier posts.

 This is the same section after laying on 29th January. A lot of wood has been removed as well as an assortment of bottles, cans etc!

 I was concerned that with so many large stems laid to cover gaps the regrowth would be patchy but I was very pleased with what I found today. As you would expect the Hazel in the foreground has done well as has the Hawthorne and the growth from the maple stools is also good. Whilst regrowth is not uniform throughout the hedge it is coming along nicely and with a trim up in the autumn should look good and provide a thick wildlife hedge for next spring.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Last session of the season

The last session with SEHLS was held on Saturday on the Angmering  Estate. This was a charity event and continued on from the hedge laid during the annual competition a couple of weeks ago. A lovely hedge to lay with hand tools; mostly Hawthorn with some Guelder Rose and Hazel in my cant.

The planting was quite widely spaced, with a few gaps and little side growth as it had been closely fenced. I was pleased with the cutting and the build was going OK.

I was one cant down from Peter (his is furthest from the camera) and we finished about the same time - only because he went for a walk - so we ran the binders straight through, as this gives a much better finish. As pleased with this as anything else I have done this season.

And I nearly managed a stake line as straight as his!!

Note the teeth marks of the Hares on the binder nearest the camera. Not sure why they would eat hazel bark that is not that fresh in preference to the young rape plants growing in the field.

Further down the line, at the bottom of the valley they had done a very nice switch from left to right hand laying.

In total the run is over 500 yards and is looking very nice.

So, with the exception of tidying up the coppice next Saturday, that's it for another season.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

SEHLS on tour 2015

I was fortunate to be able to join a small group of SEHLS hedge layers on a visit to The Netherlands. The purpose of the visit was to help with a training day and to take part in the annual Maasheggenvlechten festival of hedges and hedge laying.

The training hedge was a continuation of the one we worked on last year (link), about twelve years old and easily manageable with hand tools.

 Some sections contained nice stems of Beech, Hawthorne and Field Maple but others had block-planted Dog Rose and Guelder Rose.

After the lunch break Phil gave a short talk on tool care and sharpening.

 I was working with Sjoerd, who has some experience of hedge laying but wanted to brush up on cutting techniques and building the hedge. We drew the end cant that had a great deal of Guelder Rose in it and ended with a large section of tangled Dog Rose. It wasn't ideal but we worked through pleaching small and large stems, back laying and double pleaching.

 We were both pleased with the end result...

 ...and the stake line was nice and straight.

On Sunday we moved to Oeffelt for the Maasheggen festival. This is an area of land on the flood plain of the Maas River. It has been managed in a manner that recreates the field systems that existed before the last war and several kilometres of hedges have been planted over the last twenty years. This year is the tenth anniversary of the festival and its popularity continues to grow. The photo below shows the competitors getting their pre-session greeting and photo-shoot. I believe that thirty four teams, of between two and five competitors, took part laying the local style.

Gary and Phil entered the competition and Peter and myself laid Midland and SoE respectively as demonstration cants in an area set aside for international styles.

We got about ten metres each of rather heavy hedge (for hand tools that is) which had no field layer and good top growth. There was some rabbit - or more likely hare - damage and some rot caused by the use of the flail cutter.


The axe work was enjoyable although some of the stems had rot but were not particularly brittle.

As was the case last year, the weather was dry and very warm - so warm in fact that Peter was forced to remove his trade mark blue overalls!

The photo below is a close up of the cant laid by a couple from France who were laying their local style. The large stem has been sawn through to the extent that one would when cutting a pleacher and then laid over. I have seen this method before but never with this level of skill. Note there is no split-back and the hinge is of exactly the right proportions. We might say that the heal would be better cut at an angle to allow water to run off.

The style practised in Flanders is thin and sparse with small stems tied into the hedge with willow whips.

Although the International section was away from the main competition, good numbers of visitors came to look at our hedges. Visitor numbers were estimated by the organisers to be in the region of 10,000 - imagine that at our Nationals!

This is the local style. Rather sparse and very open at the bottom to our eyes but I am told that as this is a flood plain account is taken of debris building up against the hedge in times of flood that might sweep the hedge away. Live stakes (crops) give good stability and the tops of these are pleached along and woven into the top of the hedge.

This is the winning team looking very pleased with the Golden Heap.

Two of our champions discuss a great weekend. Many thanks are due to our Dutch hosts who made us most welcome and were very  generous with their hospitality.

A YouTube slide show of more photgraphs from the trip is available HERE