One of our main tasks recently has been putting together the timber frames for the Orchard House. It is being made using roundwood Sweet Chestnut which was sustainably grown in National Trust Coppiced woodland around Haslemere. We always try and use our own timber wherever possible, we know it comes from well managed woods packed full of wildlife. I also think it lends a feeling and reflection of the local landscape to the project.

We are learning and developing useful and transferable skills as the project develops. We are very lucky to have help from well known local woodsman and author Ben Law who is advising us on timber framing and green building techniques. He will be helping us with the frame raise too, making sure we get it all right.

First job was to transcribe our plans onto our framing bed.

Marking out the bed

Each of the frames for the building is put together on the framing bed. These marks, along with the timbers of the bed themselves give us a map to ensure all of the frames are the right size and shape as well as consistent with each other.

Timbers on the bed

The timbers themselves are then put onto the bed and set out in the position we want to joint them together. Above you can see our first frame coming together. If you look you can see where we have already half lapped together the cruck blades (the crossed timbers) which support the roof of the building.

In some ways cruck framing is quite an old fashioned form of timber framing, but it lends itself really well to working in roundwood. It gives solid strong buidings which are ideally suited to the kind of materials we produce in our woods. Ben has developed methods for jointing together roundwood into cruck frames, and has been helping us by passing on these skills.


Here you can see Matt transfer scribing the profile of one round timber onto another.

Transfer scribing

This method enables us to cut clean tidy joints which hold together these beautiful round timbers in a very elegant and strong way. Below you can see where some of these joints have been cut into a tie beam, and further back in the frame you can see where round timbers have been joined together using these techniques.

tie beam joints

It has been wonderful working on the frame as it has come together in the field behind the office. We have scheduled the build so we can work on it for a few days here and there as well as getting on with the rest of our job of managing hundreds of acres of stunning countryside around Haslemere. this means that the build will go up slowly over time, but I think that makes the process much more interesting for the people that come to visit Swan Barn Farm. They have had the opportunity to see these timbers arrive, and then see the way they are put together. This thursday, 11th September, we will be raising our frames to form the skeletal structure of the building. It is going to be really exciting, I can’t wait to see them go up, visitors are welcome to come and watch the process from our Orchard. On 13th September we are taking part in the Heritage Open Day scheme, it will be a fantastic opportunity to see both our new timber frame under construction, as well as to have a look inside Speckled Wood, a similar timber framed environmentally freindly building we put up a couple of years ago to house long term volunteers. You will also be able to see all of the green technology we have installed which means we now generate 80% of the energy we use here at Swan Barn Farm on site from sustainable and renewable sources.

Frames laid out

At the moment the frames are all laid out in the field behind the office waiting. Soon they will be moved up onto the padstones to sit ready to be winched up into place. I feel full of nerves and am hoping we have got everything right and that it will all slot elegantly into place.

Last week as we were working in the sunshine finishing off the last of the frames I looked up and saw a Speckled Wood butterfly landing on an offcut of wood at the side of the bed.

a speckled wood

We chose the name of this butterfly for the last building that went up here at Swan Barn Farm. It thrives in the glades created in the woods by the management we carry out to produce the timber we use. It hung around for a couple of days, flitting along the woodland edge with the sun sparkling off its speckle’s, occasionally landing on the timbers next to the framing bed. A good sign I hope.

Of course before you can put a building up you need some foundations. Usually these days that means poured concrete, which is pretty sturdy, but environmentally disastrous, not what we want for Swan Barn Farm’s new Orchard House. In keeping with our last build we are using local natural stone as a foundation. It comes from a small sandstone quarry a few miles down the road.

First though the site needed to be prepared. It was pretty exciting the day the first sod of earth was cut.

The first sod

Soon the site was level and it was time to dig the foundation pits. There is a 3/4 metre square pit under each post of the building and each one was filled with compacted local sandstone.

Compacting foundations

This provides a really firm footing for the building. As two of the bays of the building form what is effectively an open barn we needed a floor as well. This was made of compacted fine sandstone.

Setting in padstones

Into this floor and directly on top of the filled pits we set our recycled York Stone Pads. These are what the posts will rest on, they have been set into the floor to ensure they don’t present a trip hazard. To make sure they rested level and true on the foundation pits and stayed firm for the frame raise we bedded them on lime mortar.

Then came the dreaded maths…

taking levels from the padstones

We needed to work out the releative levels of all of the stones against a set datum point. This is how we work out how long to cut each of the legs of the frame. A dumpy level and measuring staff along with much head scratching and note taking gave us the numbers we needed to take over to the framing bed…

Next came the timber framing (more on that soon)… Which I am pleased to say we have just finished, so we are all go for the frame raise next thursday. Wish us luck!

back to the frames


I have got a little bit behind with news on our Orchard House project lately. Mostly because we have been so busy building the timber frames for it. I will try to set that right over the next week or so. First though I just wanted to let everyone know that, providing we manage to actually get all of the framing work done in time (all fingers and toes crossed!) we have a date for the frame raise. It is going to be on 11th September, and if you are in the neighbourhood and in interested is seeing the frame being raised into position visitors will be welcome to watch the process for themselves from our orchard.

I will never forget watching the frame for our last building going up. It was such a privilige to see frames made of timber from our woods, put together by local craftsmen and people we knew being raised upright to form the skeleton of a wonderful building.

Speckled Wood frame raise

Before we could start putting together the frames for the Orchard House though we needed to build a framing bed. Its a bit like a map of the building combined with a giant work bench all in one. We built it on larch posts which were levelled accurately to provide a solid and stable base.

Supports for frame bed

On top of the posts went beams made of Western Red Cedar from a nearby NT woodland.

Top on frame bed

These frames for the building are jointed together on top of theses beams. As I said they act partly as a workbench, but also as a map. They are positioned at points which give us the positions of the beams in the finished building. By having all of the measurements we need marked out on the framing bed it should (if we are any good at our job) mean that the finished building will sit level and true, with all of its beams and posts in the right places.

To make this happen we had to be really careful to make sure the bed was completely level and true and straight. It all had to be accurately measured out before being fixed into place.

Putting together framing bed

Next we lowered the round chestnut timbers that make up the building onto the bed, ready for being jointed together.

Poles onto bed

We have been hard at work jointing together timbers on our framing bed for the past few weeks. I will post more on this soon. If you are around on the 11th and are interested feel free to come along and watch as the frame goes up. Fingers crossed it should be an exciting day.

This Saturday from 11-5 at Swan Barn Farm we are hosting our annual Countryside Craft Day.

GWW day 1

It is a fun day out for all the family with traditional woodland and countryside craft skills on display. There will be opportunities to get hands on with some of the crafts as well as to chat to and learn from the knowledgeable demonstrators. You will also have chance to get a taste of the countryside with burgers for sale from our herd of rare breed cattle.

Stalls and demonstrations at the green woodworking day

The Black Down countryside team will be on hand to answer questions about the local landscape, and you will be able to see some of the animals we use to look after that countryside in the livestock pens.

It is just a 5 minute walk from Haslemere High Street, follow the path through the Collingwood Batchelor car park or take Collards Lane off the Petworth Road to find us.

We are hoping it is going to be a fun day for everyone. Maybe I will see you there.




Regular readers will know how important I think it is to look after our countryside and the things that live in it. This year on Black Down a very important project has been taking place. We have reintroduced a species. The species in question is the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly. This kind of thing doesn’t come along every day. It is only the second time I have seen it in my career. In fact it is only the second time the National Trust has ever reintroduced a butterfly to site where it has disappeared, and I am a little bit excited about it.

Male 2 low res

The Silver Studded Blue is a proper little marvel. It makes its home on heathland, but it needs heathland in really good condition in order to be able to survive. Heaths have been disappearing at an alarming rate for more than a hundred years. The type of varied age structure within the heather that this butterfly needs is even rarer. The Black Down countryside team have been working hard for over 15 years restoring the heathland in this special little corner of West Sussex. What was then a landscape swamped in Rhododendron and Pine is now an open, grazed heathland full of wildlife with incredible views out across the South Downs National Park and beyond.


Despite heathland being a wonderful place, it has to be said that sometimes in June and July before most of the heather comes into flower it can sometimes be a little brown. The butterfly in question is a lightning bolt of blue for your eyes within the brown heathers. It is tiny, about the size of your thumbnail, but it has enough colour packed into its delicate wings for a species 5 times the size. The male is a wonderful blue, the female has to make do with a more everyday brown. She shares with him though the characteristic silvery blue studs that can just be seen inside the black dots at the back of the wings of this mating pair.

Mating pair low res

Over the past few weeks the Ranger team, working in close partnership with Butterfly Conservation, Natural England and the MOD have been visiting donor sites, collecting butterflies and taking them up to an area of specially managed heath on Black Down for release. This is the first of a planned 3 years of reintroductions which we hope will see the butterfly make a sustainable return to a very special place.

Male and female low res

Over the coming years we will be fine tuning our management of the heath hoping to ensure we continue to provide the ideal conditions for our new inhabitants. Of course there are no guarantees it will all work, but we will certainly be doing our best.

Seeing something like this is a real icing on the cake kind of moment, only possible because so many people have worked so hard to make everything that was required come into alignment. Huge thanks are due to so many people for all this work, easy to forget on a peaceful summers stroll across the hill when a wonderful blue butterfly flits across your path and takes your breath away.

Male low res



It sounds a bit unpleasant I suppose, but don’t worry, it is nothing nasty.

We are building our Orchard House from roundwood Sweet Chestnut poles. They came straight from our coppice to Swan Barn Farm, completely sustainable and with all the character of the woods in which they grew.

They do need a little bit of preparation before we make a building out of them though. We need to peel the bark off them. This inhibits rot, helpng the wood to last longer, it also makes them look lovely.

Anyone who has worked in a coppice knows just what is like peeling bark from roundwood poles, hard work, and not great for your back either. Our building poles are pretty big, and none of us fancied having to bend over all day to work them on the ground… A minimum of head scratching and repositioning of logs later and we were making a peeling bed.

Making the peeling bed

We arranged four likely looking logs into shape, drilled and pinned them together and cut some handy notches to stop the logs from rolling around. A bit rustic, but it certainly does the job.

Peeling chestnut 1

When the chestnut is fresh it peels like a banana, these poles are a little bit older so take a fair bit of effort to work. They are looking really nice though. Really looking forward to starting to join some of together into frames.

Chestnut peeling 2

This summer the National Trust is opening up some of its most special places for a one off event where people will get the chance to go camping in a place you would never normally be allowed too.

At Black Down we are joining in and on 19th July (for one night only) we are offering the chance to sleep out on the highest hill in the South Downs National Park with an incredible view across 3 counties towards the setting sun. It is going to be a really special evening.

Big camping site

We are going to be joined by local band “The Burning Glass” who will be singing songs for us as we enjoy the summer evening air.

There will also be nature walks led by our Countryside team and refreshments in the form of beefburgers from our herd of rare breed Belted Galloway Cattle and cider made in our Orchard at Swan Barn Farm.

Places are limited and as you can imagine are going fast, to book your pitch email

Big Camping 2

I think it is going to be a really wonderful evening, I cant wait.

It has been lovely hot weather lately, perfect for growing vegetables in the garden, but not so great if you are a sheep with a big thick woolly coat on.

Shearing 2014

A quick visit with from the man with the clippers provided the answer yesterday. I discoverd years ago that I am the worlds worst shearer and am therefore only too happy to ask someone to come along and weald the clippers for me, better for the sheep, and better for my back.

Shorn sheep 2014

Its no good hiding at the back sheepy, you are definitely next for the clippers!


Sadly, last year, the colony of bees at Swan Barn Farm died out. I was really upset about it at the time, we were never quite sure what had happened, but for some reason they rounded on and killed their own queen. This is really unusual behaviour, I wouldn’t even have realised what had happened if I hadn’t found the old queen’s body and observed the workers aggresive behaviour toward her, even after she was dead. We tried to rear a replacement queen, but for a variety of reasons it never worked out.

That was last year though…

This week it was time for the return of the bees to Swan Barn Farm. There is nothing so wonderful in life here as a day on which new livestock arrives. I will never get bored of it. It makes the place feel whole and complete, the place truly comes to life on days when new life arrives.

We have missed our bees.

It was a lovely sunny day on friday when I went to collect them. We had ordered 2 nucleus colonies (small new colonies that will need building up over the course of this summer). I have no doubt there was a big grin on my face as I drove them back from the bee breeders place.

The bees arrive

Lauren met me and helped me to move them onto their hive stands.

Pulling the plug

We put the roofs on, took out the bung and let them fly so that they could get used to their new home. These were the first few bees out of the door.

First bees out

Today the time was right to transfer the frames out of their travelling boxes and into their proper hives. We are using WBC hives, the design is a really nice one which fits in well at Swan Barn, but they are also unmistakably “bee hives”, a WBC says “bees” in a way that more modern designs of hive never quite manage to replicate.

It is such a pleasure to see them back, and to think of the polination services they are already providing for us and our neighbours.

On a not unrelated note… (I know I post on this most years!) I just thought I would share these photos of our fantastic orchids in Winding Meadow at Valewood on the edge of Black Down. If you get chance to go and have a look they are simply stunning this year, and this week they are at their absolute best.


It is a magical place, tens of thousands of orchids in one single field, the air heavy with the scent of an early summer hay meadow. Watch out, if you get chance to go and sit there and soak it all in it could very well overtake all of your senses.

Field of Orchids

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about our exciting Orchard House Project. This year we will be putting up a building that will be used to house our historic apple pressing machinery as well as a much needed store for our orchard and veg garden related activities. We also plan to use it on our community apple pressing days when people come from the surrounding area with apples to be pressed and juiced.

The building will be a roundwood cruck framed structure, a bit like Speckled Wood, but with an open fronted aspect. It isn’t going to be very big, but it is going to be really interesting. I am really looking forward to seeing it come together. We are lucky to be working with Ben Law again on the project, hopefully between the Black Down Ranger Team and Ben we will have all the skills and experience needed to make it come together well.

Although we only got planning permission recently the cycle of the woodland year meant that we felled the timber for the building back in the winter. It is all coming from managed National Trust woods around Haslemere, and all of the timber has been sustainably produced. Recently one of the main tasks has been fetching this wood back from the woods to Swan Barn Farm.

loading poles

Thanks goodness for our timber crane, it makes my back muscles grateful every time I use it!

marley coppice loading

The main frame of the building will all be made from coppiced Sweet Chestnut, these were the rafters ready to be brought back, the block of coppice the tractor is driving through was cut a year and a half ago, and as you can see the regrowth from the stools is almost as tall as a tractor already.

On the way back I spotted an oak that had been brought over in the storms during the winter. It caused us a bit of greif at the time… but looked like it would come in handy now.

storn felled oak

Our cladding and beams will be made of oak, and these two lengths made a useful addition to the pile.

We needed a some particularly long straight poles as well, for the ridge and wall plates. Another of the storms over the winter had skittled over some larch trees on the edge of Black Down, and we had put the most useful looking ones to one side whilst clearing up.

long timbers

Matt from Hindhead very kindly came over to help us move these with his long bale trailer, we were very grateful of the help, it would have been very tricky otherwise. Even then getting them in to the build site was difficult, we couldn’t come the main way in to the farm as the timbers were too long, so we had to come in across the fields and use a bit of initiative…

passing through hedge

At one point they even had to be passed through a hedge with the crane as they were too long to get around the corner!

All the wood we need is now ready and waiting in the field next to the basecamp at Swan Barn Farm, over the next few weeks we will be starting work on processing it to get it ready for framing. Pop in and have a look if you are passing, its going to be an exciting summer.

Next month sees a relaunch for the Serpent trail. We are working with the National Park, Surrey County Council and a number of sustainable transport organisations to help publicise this fantastic long distance footpath. We are also hoping to encourage people to use Haslemere as a gateway to the South Downs National Park and the fantastic countryside it has to offer.

guided walk

The Serpent Trail follows the heaths and woods along sandstone ridges on a wonderful winding route all the way from Haslemere through Midhurst and Petworth to Petersfield with more stunning views than you could shake a stick at. It is well waymarked, you can find the official route booklet here:

The Haslemere end of the trail has been resurfaced and updated, to celebrate this on 13th June there will be a relaunch. Places are limited, but if you want to come and take part contact

We will meet at 10am at Haslemere Train Station and then head over to Swan Barn Farm for a bit of a get together and some tea and cake before heading off along the trail. Guides will lead participants on 3 walks of either 6, 7 or 11 miles. returning either on foot, or by bus or train deoending which walk you are on.


If you don’t want to come to the event though I can very much recomend the Serpent trail as a way of getting to know this end of the National Park, as it follows the ridgeways it gives fantastic views across the surrounding countryside, which is looking particularly wonderful at this time of year.




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