Archives for the month of: October, 2011

The woven barrier at the edge of the gallery in the Speckled Wood building was completed last week. The southern end of the building is open all the way up to the eaves. The other end of the building has a first floor where two of the bedrooms are, to get to the bedrooms the stairs lead up onto a gallery which looks out over the open end of the building. We had to create a barrier at the edge of the gallery so it was a safe space, there had been a few ideas about how to do this using the locally produced materials we had to hand. In the end we decided to use some of our hand cleaved chestnut laths. Most of the laths are going to hidden under our earth plaster, so having some on display fealt like the right thing to do.

One sharp whack with the mallet on a nice sharp chisel was the quickest way of cutting them to length.

They were then woven into position.

Piece by piece they built up to make a woven panel, not dissimilar to weaving a hurdle in the coppice. It took a little bit of head scratching to get the weave to work in a pleasing pattern on the spindles, due to the laths being much shorter than the width of the gallery. But I think it went ok in the end.

What I really like is that they create a solid barrier, but because of the way they are woven they also let the light shine through. When the sun shone in through the big glazed sections in the gable end it created some really pretty patterns across the floor and walls.

We had another working holiday on the building project last week as well. The guys did a fantastic job on lathing partition walls, earth plastering and painting, you could really see the progress being made. Thanks very much to all of you.


Our Spiral Staircase got its finishing touches last week, Dylan did most of the work on it, with some help from Andy, and made a fantastic job of it.

The newel post for it went in back when the building was just an empty timber frame. Below you can see the guys winching the post into place. The post was made of larch, we felled it back in the spring in Valewood when we were fetching the ridge pole and wall plates.

The post was tied in to the roof structure at the top, and onto one of the underfloor oak beams at the bottom.

For a couple of months the post sat within the building as floors, ceilings and walls were built around it. There was barely any time to think about stairs, but, eventually attention was turned back to the staircase and what it was to be built of. We needed air dryed timber to ensure the wood wouldn’t warp over time. Our woodshed provided most of the elm, beech and oak. Ben’s provided a bit of extra beech for a couple of treads we couldn’t find enough properly dry timber for. Every one of the treads has a story behind where the wood came from, especialy the elm. Its a staircase with connections to some of the people that have worked here over the years, as well as the local woodlands.

It is also a staircase of many colours. The newel is larch, the first and last three treads are elm, the supporting frame for the first couple of steps is oak, the treads in the middle are all beech, the spindles and handrail are chestnut. I even managed to find a shapely piece of rhododendron we used as a hand hold by the side of the first two steps, an amusing irony really putting a bit of rhodi in the building as we spend a great deal of our time trying to eradicate this particular problem species. It sounds like it could be a complete mess of different types of wood, but somehow it really works. It is definitely one of my favourite parts of the building.

The stair treads are securely morticed into the newel post and wind around it like turbine blades.

Large coppiced chestnut spindles then bind the treads together and provide the main support for the handrail.

We wanted to find a piece of naturaly twisted wood to use for the handrail, in the end it had to be made out of two twists jointed together in the middle. For most of the building we were hunting for nice straight pieces of timber, looking for one growing in a nice graceful curve was a different challenge alltogether.

Chase Woods on the edge of Black Down provided the answer though, on one edge of the wood there were some coppice stools whose shoots had been twisted by the direction of the light and the slope of the hill.

Smaller spindles then filled in the gaps to make it safe for anyone to use. It is on full view in the heart of the main living space in the building, displaying the products of the woodlands around Haslemere.

Last week the Roundwood Timber Framing Company came to the end of the main works under their contract and Ben’s team finished up on the site. There is still lots of work to do, but its now down to the Black Down countryside team and our volunteers to finish off the rest of the project. Its been kind of strange not having the team here, they have been a real pleasure to work with and over the summer became very much part of life at Swan Barn Farm. Thanks very much to Ben, Dylan, Chris, Sam, Andy, Rudy, Barney, Adam, Nick, Kris,Ian, Georgie, Dave, and Rich. I hope you will all get chance to come back at some stage and see how the building progresses.

There is still plenty of the story of Speckled Wood to unfold and tell and I am looking forward to that. But in the last week or two it has started to feel like the end might be somewhere in sight. The thing I like best about this building is that when I look at it, not only can I remember the woods and trees where the materials for it came, but I can also remember the many people who have come together to build it.

With the landscape changing to one of turning colours of leaves, misty mornings and honey coloured early morning sunshine, I’ve found thoughts have turned to my favourite hedgerow harvest of the year.

Yesterday the time came to make this years supply of Sloe Gin.

Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn bush, a relatively common low growing tree of woodland edges, hedgerows, tracksides and scrub. They are easily spotted in the spring due to their vibrant display of white blossom. I remember where I used to work on the cliffs in Cornwall sometimes in the spring there would be so much blossom it almost looked as if a blanket of late snow had landed.

In the autumn the branches of many sloe bushes are draped in sloes, and if you find a decent patch it doesn’t take too long at all to pick enough to keep yourself well stocked with my favourite fireside tipple. One word of warning though, watch out for the thorns, they can give you quite a splinter, and if left in your skin can turn a bit nasty. But with a bit of care you should be fine.

Some years the sloes can be few and far between, I think this mostly happens when a late frost has hit the blossom hard. But this year there seem to be lots around, go for a walk in the countryside that takes in a few hedgerows and you should be able to find a patch fairly easily.

Now, one of my friends (who I should add makes a fine sloe gin) will definitely be telling me I am too early with this post, he always waits until the first frost before gathering his sloes. But I reckon it doesn’t make much difference, as long as you have waited for them to ripen properly. (I might add I reckon my sloe gin is pretty good too!)

The recipe couldn’t be more simple.

Choose a bottle in which you are going to make it and add sugar.

A quarter is a bit too little and a third is a bit too much, I judge it by eye and reckon the picture above will give a fair idea.

Next add your sloes, roughly the same proportion of the bottle as you used for sugar should be fine.

Lastly fill up with gin. (For the last couple of years I have also been making sloe vodka, which if anything I find even finer than sloe gin.)

Over the next few weeks give the bottle a shake every now and again to help the sugar to dissolve. You will also start to notice the liquor turning a wonderful deep purple colour.

If you make it soon it will probably be ready in time for christmas. However it gets better with time and if you can bear to leave it until this time next year you will find it even better.

As with all home made alchohol I always like to follow the advice once given to me that if you make three times as much you will find it lasts almost twice as long.

Happy sloe hunting.

Today we topped out on the main roof of Speckled Wood, quite an occasion.We still have some work to go on the link and the verandah to be completely finished, but that should all get completed tommorow.

The last of the cleft shingles went on this morning.

And then it was on to the ridge. We are using what Chris tells me he has decided should be called a pie crust closure on the ridge. We were trying to avoid using any materials other than sweet chestnut, but we needed something a bit more close fitting than our hand cleaved shingles, so some were machined out of chestnut from the woodland you can see in the background of some of these pictures.

The idea is that these sawn shingles run horizontally along the top of the ridge with a slight vertical overlap so that they shed the water without allowing any in. We have also run a small strip of waterproof membrane under them just in case. I realise that description might not make much sense, but hope the pictures give an idea of how it works.

The pie crust ridge worked its way across the building throughout the day with everyone on the team taking a turn. Towards the end of the afternoon Sam nailed the last one on.

We’d had a target of four weeks to finish the roof, and frankly after week one it was looking pretty unlikely. But with lots of hard work from Chris, Sam, the Black Down team, Justin and his crew, our many fantastic volunteers and all those who came along to help out it has all fallen into place. I couldn’t be more chuffed, the roof is a thing of absolute beauty, reptilian in texture it wraps the building and keeps the elements at bay.

There are still a few more shingles to nail onto the verandah roof, but I suspect they will be a pleasure.

I justed wanted to let you all know about a some guided walks we have coming up.

First of all on 22nd October from 10.30 till 4ish as part of the National Trust’s walking festival we are offering the unique opportunity of a guided walk across the Milland Bowl from Black Down to Woolbeding. The walk will link together these two outstanding NT properties and cross the fascinating countryside between the two. Below is a view from Black Down looking towards Older Hill, which is en route to Woolbeding.

We will be meeting at the Car Park on Tennysons Lane and heading out past the Beech Hanger…

Towards the Temple of the Winds…

Before dropping down past Fernhurst, across the bowl and up to Older Hill. Once there we will have chance of some hot drinks before completing the walk down to Woolbeding.

Transport will be provided back to the start and participants need to bring a packed lunch. Booking is essential due to limited places on the transport back. Phone 01730 816638 to book, the cost is £3 per adult and £1.50 children.

The woods are looking fantastic at the moment, with the autumn colours just starting to show. Its a beautiful route (about 10 miles or so) and I am really looking forward to it, hope you can come and join me.

We are also taking part in the Chichester District Council organised Health Walks programme. The idea of Health walks is to get people out and about in the countryside getting fit and enjoying the fresh air, its good for any number of health issues and as I can testify, is about the best way of gaining some perspective on the hurly burly of life. They are designed to cater for all ages and abilities and offer an opportunity to excercise and meet new people in a safe and friendly way.

Our health walks are led by two of our wardens who will also be able to give you an insight into local countryside management and tell you all about the wildlife you encounter en route.

The next two dates to look out for are 15th November 10.30 am on Marley Common and 13th December 10.30am at Swan Barn Farm. You can find out more details by clicking here.

Over the past few days we have been putting the sponsored shingles on the roof of the Speckled Wood building.

Transition Town Haslemere have been doing a fantastic job at the local farmers market and other events raising awareness of the project and getting shingles sponsored at £5 a time. In return for their sponsorship money people have been putting their name, or a simple message on the back of the shingle. Its been a great introduction for people to what we are trying to achieve, and has been a really valuable fund raising source for the project.

Its been fascinating seeing some of the messages and names on the shingles. There have been a number of names I have recognised, as well as lots I haven’t. Some of them have been really funny, and a number of them have been very touching. Below is a picture of one of my favourites. The artist did sign it but I can’t make out the signiture, I especially like the way they used the grain of the wood to create the lines of waves in the sea.

If you were one of our sponsors, thank you very much. If you would like to know where your shingles ended up, they are in a band a few courses thick running just above the roof light on the western (high street) side of the building.

Transition Town Haslemere are holding a Sustainable Harvest Picnic this saturday night from 5-8pm at Imbhams Farm. This is the farm next door to Swan Barn Farm, and is a beautiful place. The picnic is going to be in their medieval barn, a unique opportunity to have a look at a fascinating timber frame. The idea is to get together to celebrate the fruits of the year and take along something locally produced for everyone to share. I went last year and it was great fun, I am hoping to make it again this year. You can find out more by clicking here.

Meanwhile on the roof we are reaching for the top. The shingles having been going on a treat and progress has been great.

The weather has really helped, but not as much as the extra help that has been coming in, both in terms of our volunteer groups, and the countryside teams from Slindon and South Downs East.

The building has really felt like it is coming together over the past fortnight, a number of tasks in it have started to be completed, when the roof is on I think we will all breath a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, the view from the top is fantastic.

Was just wondering if a post title like that would generate any extra hits from the search engines…

The inside walls of the Speckled Wood building are going to be of a lath and plaster construction. We started nailing on the laths a while ago and last week we started to do the earth plastering. Its a pretty messy job, but good fun.

Way back when we dug the foundation pits for the building we saved the clay we found in the bottom of these pits. This is now in the process of going back into the house to create the walls, rather neat and circular I think.

Some of our clay was put onto a tarpaulin on a level patch at the back of the building and some water was poured on. We then set to work on puddling, or trampling, the clay.

Its a childs dream, squishing about in mud and getting absolutely covered in the stuff. You just can’t help laughing while you are doing it.

Sand and straw, again recycled from the rest of the build are added to make a mixture that will be more stable as it dries on the walls. This is trampled into the mix and the whole lot is turned over several times by rolling it in the tarp.

Any stones we found were removed from the mix and placed in the hedge and gradually after half an hour or so of slipping, laughing, chucking the odd sod of clay at people, trampling and mixing a texture was arrived at which was deemed to be just right for daubing onto the walls.

This was then barrowed inside for us to start on the actual plastering. There were no trowels being used here, the mix is picked up in your hands squished about to check there are no stones and make it pliable before you slap it onto the wall.

The idea is to try and press it on so it just pokes through the gaps in the laths and hooks over the top of them to hold itself in place. It was really satisfying work, the plaster is smoothed out as you go and gets a wonderful texture from all of the hand prints in it.

I had thought it would be abbrasive on your hands, but nothing could be further from the truth, it was actually really gentle. After you have finished and washed your hands you find they have never been so clean.

Two “slip coats” of fine loose clay will be appled later to create a finer finish, but I think the wall already looks great. Its is gradually changing colour as it dries out, and I can confirm from the mud that dried under my fingernails that when it is dry it will be a sort of fawny light brown colour.

A BBC crew came over to visit us today to film a piece for Countryfile. I like the idea of the project getting a bit of publicity, of course standing in front of the camera and trying to tell people about it is a bit of a different matter.

I’m not really sure how it went, but am hoping that the building, and the wider project will come over well. The idea was to get across how we wanted a building that would link people with the local landscape. It has been constructed from the products of that landscape, and is being built to house people who will be starting out on a career of helping to conserve, protect and enhance access to the woodlands and open spaces from which the materials used to make and heat their house came.

The building was playing its part well for the day, the scaffolding had just come down around the verandah, and we had finished shingling this side of the roof only last week. The sun even managed to come out for a few minutes on what was otherwise quite a windy and overcast day.

We went out into the woods and cut some sweet chestnut from trees that had been felled earlier in the year, then came back to the build site where I showed Katie how to make a shingle for the roof. Ben then took her up onto the roof to nail on some of the shingles our volunteer groups have been making. By chance it happened to be the day on which we were nailing on some of the shingles that have been generously sponsored by local people on the Transition Town stall at the farmers market in Haslemere.

Its apparently going to be on the programme on the 23rd October. I will be watching with trepidation from behind the sofa.

I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who came along to our apple pressing day yesterday. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and it was great to see so many locally grown apples being put to good use.

We didn’t get chance to count, but reckoned over 150 people came along and brought their apple harvest with them. I reckon we processed over a tonne of apples. Stirling work was done on the scratter and press on a very hot day, a few people in particular put in some really hard work, thanks especially to you.

There was plenty of fantastic tasting apple juice being drunk, and plenty more went home with people to be turned into cider. My demijohns are now happily fermenting away in the kitchen, hope yours are too.

There were also a number of tours of the new Speckled Wood building throughout the day, the project seemed to get a very positive reaction.

On the roof of the building last week we passed a major milestone. At four o’clock on friday afternoon the last shingle on the eastern side went on.

The sunshine was pretty fierce up there last week, and it was hot work for everyone. We had lots of help on all sorts of jobs last week from a group of working holiday volunteers, they really helped us move things along, and the roof was just one part of that.

I know lots of people who read the blog have had a hand in making or sponsoring these shingles. I hope you like the way they look now they are in place.

Its on to the other half of the roof next week. We will be hoping we have made enough shingles, there aren’t enough to finish the southern verandah, that will have to be finished later, but we are all hoping we have enough to finish the main roof, otherwise we will have a few days of extra shingle making out in the woods!

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