Archives for the month of: July, 2012

Well, sometimes I thought we would never see the day, but at last we are there, Speckled Wood has been officially opened. Jane Cecil, National Trust General Manager for the South Downs, without whom the project would likely not have got very far, kindly agreed to open the building.

She cut a ribbon of bark from a Sweet chestnut tree and declared the building open. It was quite a moment, thanks very much to everyone who came along to help mark the occasion. As I tried to say at the time so many people have been involved and have worked so hard to make it become a reality, thanks very much to all of you.

After the opening Ben and I led a tour round the building, I hope everyone liked what they saw, they certainly seemed to like the look of the building as well as being interested in the processes and ideas behind the construction.

This all took place as part of our Green Woodworking Day, an event for all the family where woodland and countryside craft skills were on display for the public, it went really well, and there were lots of fascinating stalls and crafts for everyone to see. Particularly popular were all of the hands on activities where kids could get involved in making their own stools, pencils, woven willow decorations and much more besides, lots of fun was had by all.

There were all sorts of crafts and skills on display, from pole lathing, to spinning and dyeing, to willow weaving and even log hewing.

Before I forget, Amber, if your mum or dad read this we found the pencil you made near my spoon carving stall. I heard you were looking for it, if you want it back we have it here at Swan Barn Farm in our office.

The event had a really freindly atmosphere, and it was great to meet up with old freinds and new. If you missed out you could always look out for our Apple pressing event in October, or make sure you try and catch it next year.


The sheep that graze in the Orchards here at Swan Barn Farm have been having a bit of a miserable time of it recently, the weather had been horrible for about 6 weeks, and they were starting to look like slightly soggy sponges. Getting them shorn is a priority at this time of year, as if you don’t the fleece can attract flies that will lay eggs that hatch out and cause all sorts of horrible medievel type nasty problems for the animals.

The problem is you can’t really shear them when they are wet, so I have been hoping for the weather to turn (admittedly as much for my own sanity as for the sheep!). On saturday the sheep finally dried out and the weather looked set fair, so it was time for an appointment with Rob the shearer.

Willow the collie is making a very enthusiastic looking face int he picture above, those of you who know her will know she was next to no help in rounding up the sheep…

My shearing is awfull I’m afraid, they tend to look like they have been through the mincer when I do them (and it takes ages), so a bit of help was the order of the day.

They look like completely different animals after they are done, half the size and with a bit of a dazed look.

Since they were done the sun hasn’t stopped shining here, I reckon it was just in time.

The fleeces will be going to my freind Polly, who in her spare time is a very accomplished knitter and spinner. She will be here at the Green Woodworking day this saturday demonstrating her skills, so if you are interested in that sort of thing I would recommend coming along and having a chat to her, as well as seeing all of the other countryside skills and crafts we will have on display. If the weather holds it should be a fantasctic day. Hope to see you there.

On Saturday July 28th here at Swan Barn Farm we will be holding our annual Green Woodworking Event. As we have now finnished our new building, this year it will also include the official opening of Speckled Wood.

The event is open to everyone and is aimed at all the family. We will have a variety of different craft stalls showing off all manner of woodland skills and produce. Refreshments and a hog roast will be available for hungry visitors and there will even be a bouncy castle for the kids.

There will be pole lathing, charcoal making, blacksmithing, spinning and dyeing, beam hewing, whistle and stool making, carving and all sorts of other skills on display along with the chance for kids (big and small) to have a look around some of the tractors, land rovers, machinery and livestock that we use whilst managing the local woodlands, meadows, orchards and heaths. You will get chance to try your hand at some of the crafts as well as soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the green open spaces that are right on the towns doorstep.

Last year it was great fun, we hope to build on that and have even more for people to see and get involved with this year.

In the picture above you can see in the background the frame of the Speckled Wood building. We have come a long way since then, and this years event will include our official opening ceremony at 3pm. There will be opportunities to take a tour around and inside the building throughout the day, as well as to speak to the people who built it.

The building has been put up to accomodate our long term volunteers, and although we welcome people coming to look around the site there are only limited opportunites to get a proper look inside. It will be a really good chance to have a snoop around for those who are interested. I know I’m biased, but I reckon its well worth a look.

We were really lucky that so many people were willing to get involved and help with the building, especially the shingle roof, which is looking fantastic. If you were one of those people I hope you will come along and take a look at what we have all achieved together, its quite something.

Hopefully I will see you all on the 28th.


Finishing touches on the building now.

The bridge and steps have been the main things, along with a visit from the National Trust Council and our Regional Director. Was a bit nervous about the visit, which was on tuesday, but it seemed to go well. They were certainly an interesting bunch of people and they seemed to really enjoy looking around the building and Swan Barn Farm. I hope they liked it, I like to think the Speckled Wood project is something the Trust is going to be able to be proud of.

Its been a real relief to get the bridge and steps finished. After all they are the ways you walk on to the veranda and access the building, getting them done has started to make the whole thing feel like it is nearing completion.

The bridge had consisted of a plank for some time, it couldn’t be built until the landscaping around the project had created the finished level of the track.

As soon as that was done we could get the joists in. They were douglas fir with the outside ones made of oak, from our own woods of course. This means they will match the pattern of the ones we used for the rest of the building.

It took a while for us to decide quite what shape to make the bridge. Somehow at right angles to the veranda the look of it seemed off. But then I remembered a converstation I’d had a while ago with our Curator. She had suggested building it at an angle, we gave it a go, and I really liked it, you can judge the results for youself, but it looked pretty good to me.

One of the nicest things for me about the building is the way the roundwood reflects the landscape and gives a direct link with the woodlands we manage. Unfortunately this does mean whenever you are working on it there are not a lot of square edges and there is lots of scribing and measuring and cutting out to make things like floorboards fit around posts… its all part of the challenge.

Spindles and handrails were next, pretty pleased with the results.

Then it was on to the steps on the other side of the building. I had a bit of a brain freeze at first and for some reason cut the supports the wrong shape. A bit of adjustment soon had them in order though and put us back on track.

I like the way they work with the slope and lead you up and on to the veranda.

Sometimes the practical details of a living space take a while to get right, things like places to store boots and hang coats, I guess you just don’t think about that too much until it gets near to people moving in. A coat and boot rack was knocked together in an effort to sort out some of these issues.

Meanwhile in the garden the first of our home grown produce is nearly ready. The salad has been doing well for a while. But I was really chuffed when I saw the peas were swelling in their pods.

I tasted a few raw straight from the pod, they were so sweet and delicious. I know they aren’t the most exciting vegetable in the world, but there is something really pleasing in the way they grow, and the act of podding them. Plus you just can’t beat some fresh pea soup.

We really thought we had the place pretty much finished this week. Unfortunately a visit from the building inspector on friday turned up a couple of issues we still had to address before it can all be signed off. Its nothing major, we need to put in some extra higher handrails outside and spindles on the staircase inside to fill gaps in order to satisfy some of the health and safety regulations. Its a bit frustrating to be honest, it wont take us long to get it put right, but it just fealt like it was finally done. Never mind, wont be long now.

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