At Swan Barn Farm the sun was shining and the birds were singing today. You could feel spring threatening to burst onto the scene.

At this end of the winter we are always struggling to try and get everything we wanted to get done finished, sooner or later the season will overtake us and we will have to surrender to the sun, but for now it is all hands on deck.

Our orchards are getting their annual prune, and today we planted a new apple tree.

planting tree 2

It was kindly sponsered by Transition Town Haslemere, it is a Cornish Aromatic, it has rather wonderful red flushed, smooth, sweet flesh. I will look forward to some of its apples making an appearance over the next few years.

planting tree 1

I am so pleased to see the trees in our orchards growing well. Orchards are cultural landmarks. They give us a direct link with the past as well as the ability to provide food for the future. They are havens for wildlife and genetic variety, at blossom time they provide sights smells and sounds to stir the soul. We do everything we can to look after the orchards in our care, and would encourage local people to get involved, even simple actions like eating English apples, drinking local cider and apple juice and making a nice apple pie can directly support these treasures of our landscape.

In the background of the picture above you can just make out the progress we have been making recently on our Orchard House. We are building it to house our historic apple pressing machinery and over the winter we have put in the braces and rafters.


It has been hard work with frost on the ground and on the timbers. But progress has been steady.

The braces hold the frame steady and stop it from racking in the wind. I am so pleased with the way some of them look, especially these triple ones holding this upright in place.


The rafters form the frame on which our roof will sit. Putting in roundwood rafters on a roundwood frame has been quite a challenge. Especially in the cold, but I am so proud of how they look now they are all done.



There are plenty more challenges to come to get it finished, but the main frame is now complete and freestanding, and that feels like an achievement. For now I am looking forward to the warmer months, and seeing the blossom in our orchard soon.


On Friday 23rd January from 7-9pm we will be hosting our annual Wassailing event at Swan Barn Farm. It will be a family friendly event and all are welcome.

A Wassail is a traditional way of giving a good luck blessing and banishing evil spirits from your Orchards to promote a happy, healthy and fruitful year ahead. It is great fun and a lovely way to see the countryside on the doorstep of the Town in a way you wouldn’t ordinarily get chance too.

Park in Haslemere Town centre and then walk in to Swan Barn Farm either down Collards Lane or through the farm on the footpath behind the Collingwood Batchelor Car Park. Bring wellies to ward off the winter mud and pots and pans to bash and clatter to ward off evil spirits!

We will meet outside Hunter Basecamp at 7pm and then follow a torchlit procession to find Old Man Apple, our oldest apple tree. We will sing songs and read poems in the orchard before offering traditional good luck blessings of toast dipped in cider to the trees.

We will then head back over to the basecamp where refreshments of apple juice, cider and burgers produced here on the Black Down Estate will be available. Entertainment will be provided by local band The Burning Glass. it should be a great way to see in the new year and look forward to the longer days and sunshine of spring and summer.

Hope to see you there.

2014 wassailing



The bees at Swan Barn Farm have done really well this year. We have two colonies, and they each have very different patterns of foraging behaviour. The bees from one of them are always busy, always out and about gathering, making and doing. The other hive’s bees rarely get up early, they often don’t stir till mid morning, and even then take some time to get into the swing of the day. For a while I was worried that one must have some form of disease, but we have been making careful inspections all year, and nothing has shown up. It still might of course as we get into the winter, but for now we just have to conclude that they have different characters. Oddly they both still managed to produce a crop of honey, the busy bees more than the lazy ones, but even the lazy ones have provided a better harvest than I expected.

Watching the bees from the hive entrance is always fascinating, there is a great book on the subject out there that is well worth finding and reading. It can tell you so much about what the bees are doing, what they are like, and what is going on the the countryside around the hives.

A few weeks ago we made our apologies to the bees and took our share of this years harvest.

removing honey from hives

In the frame above you can see where the comb has been filled with honey and then capped over with beeswax. We took the frames into the basecamp kitchen and cut the cappings off with a sharp knife

uncapping honey

The frames then went into our new extractor (a centrifuge for getting the honey out of honeycomb) where the frames were spun to liberate the golden harvest.


From the extractor the honey was filtered into a settling tank, before being bottled. This is the only processing it gets. No heat treatment, no mixing or blending, just fresh from the hive and about as local and wonderful as you can get.

honey pouring from extractor

Swan Barn Farm Honey

The posts of the timber frame of our Orchard House rest directly on stone pads. In order to keep their feet out of the damp, and (hopefully) keep the rot at bay we are using a little trick kindly donated by local timber framer and woodsman, Ben Law. The idea is to use a piece of slate as a damp proof course.

I couldn’t stand the idea of using imported slate under our lovely local timber frame, but being on the sand and clay geology as we are had to use a bit of initiative to find something suitably sustainable. A trip to see Arthur Rudd, who runs a building reclamation yard (and always has something fascinating to tell you) a few miles away on the other side of town provided the answer. In between telling me stories of how he used to thatch cottages in the neighbourhood with heather as a lad he showed me to a quiet corner of his yard where he had several neatly stacked piles of slate. He showed me how to tell where they came from by looking at the different colours, the way they split and the way they can be worked. We looked at slates from all over the place, before finding a pile that had (prior to spending a lifetime on a roof somewhere nearby) been hewn from the ground in Delabole in Cornwall.

slates at arthurs

I could hardly turn this opportunity down. A little piece of Cornwall proping up our timber frames, almost to good to be true. Arthur kindly donated 12 slates to the project, and they headed back with a smiling Dave to Swan Barn Farm. Back on site we jacked up the posts…

jacking up posts

And popped the slates underneath.

popping in slate

A bit of chipping with the hammer and chisel later we had a nice neat damproof course.

chipping slate

post on slate

Handy really, as not too long after that the weather broke and it started to rain.

Over the last few weeks we have been hosting and taking part in a number of community apple pressing events. I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who made their way down to Swan Barn Farm with their apples to take part, and get involved.

Apple washing

In the introduction to the fantastic Common Ground “Apple Source Book” Sue Clifford and Angela King say “Over the years we have bred or chanced upon hundreds of varieties of apples that suit the vagaries of the British weather, the mysteries of our locality and our taste. In half a lifetime we have squandered this cultural inheritance. Monoculture has taken over our countryside and monotony our shops… Yet we should be as proud of our orchards – as protective of them, the hills, valleys and the people who support them, and as imaginative about the food, drinks, songs and stories they generate as the french are of their vineyards and vines. Traditional orchards are cultural landmarks, the source of genetic variety, local recipies and customs. They are beautiful to be in and are Havens for wildlife.”

apple pressing day

I couldn’t agree more, I am so proud of the two orchards we have planted at Swan Barn Farm. On our apple pressing and Wassailing days they come alive, they are filled with the promise of bounty, taste, blossom and life. To see people making their way to us from the High Street with their bags and bucket fulls of apples makes me smile. I know that the way to properly protect a landscape, and ensure it lives on into the future is to give it value and relevance in the minds of local people. Making apple juice and cider might be a bit of good fun, but more importantly than that, for me, it is the best chance we have of giving our orchards a future.

 We pressed over a tonne of apples this year, the fermenters were all lined up in a row.


Most of them were carried back up the farm track with the people that brought the apples. We kept a few to ferment out though, watch out for our events over the coming year, where if you are lucky you might get a chance to taste some cider made from the apples that grow in our orchards.


Our historic apple pressing and scratting machinery was a big hit again, people love using it to squish and press the apples. You never grow tired of seeing the fresh juice flow straight out of the press. It tastes better than anything you could ever buy in a shop.

I am sure lots of the juice was drunk over the next few days, but I know that lots of people wanted to make it into cider. We try to explain to people the process on the day, but I have had a few requests from people asking for more information, so I thought I would try and post something useful.

We took the juice from the press and put it into the fermenters, where we added yeast, and nothing else. Over the next week or so the juice started to froth and bubble and come to life. By now the fermentation should have started to slow, and the pulp in it will be starting to settle out.

 ready to rack

The whole process is completely temperature dependant, so if your fermenters have been in a colder room than the one above you could still be weeks away from this stage. Be patient, it will all come good in the end!

The fermenter above is ready to be “racked off”. This simply means seperating the juice from the pulp and yeast. You can either use a syphon tube or simply gently pour it into a pan, leaving the sediment behind, and then wash out the fermenter and return the juice to it. I will top it back up to the same level with water (to keep out excess oxygen) and then leave it to go through a second, much slower fermentation. If you want to either speed this fermentation up a bit, or add extra strength (rarely neccessary!) add a desert spoon or so of sugar as well. With the airlock back on it will ferment slowly for several more weeks before almost all of the rest of the yeast and pulp has settled out, the bubbling ceases, it clears, and is ready to bottle. I bottle it in recycled Newcastle Brown bottles, and add half a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle. This sugar will be acted on by the last of the yeast, bottle conditioning and adding a light fizz. Presentation is all when it comes to home made drinks. A chilled pretty bottle with clear liquid and a delicate fizz is always more likely to win people over, I think anyway.

finished cider

I hope that helps, if you follow that basic process you shouldnt go too far wrong, there is loads of information out there on the internet if you need it, the only thing I would recommend is patience and time, once it is in the bottle give it time to settle and mature, if it isn’t nice it probably isnt ready yet. Give it till next summer for the ultimate in local, sustainable, feel good, fresh, appley goodness.

Good Luck, Happy Homebrewing, and hope to see you at the Wassail!

Last Thursday was frame raise day for the orchard house. It is such a privilege to see a timber frame make its way up. They are born from the hard work and craftsmanship of so many people and the product of the management of the woods from where they grew. In this case the woods are on Black Down, and the craftspeople are the Ranger team and many friends of Black Down.

The frames had all been lined up ready the day before.

dropping off the frames

I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Ever a believer in (or hoper for) kind omens, the day started with the making of a wreath.

The wreath

Made from the fruits of the hedges at Swan Barn Farm, tied onto a base of apple wood. It was in hope for a good day, and was lifted with the first frame. The frames were lifted into place with a hand winch. As the first one slowly creaked upright I got a good feeling, it felt like it was all going to be ok.

first frame goes up

Because we were using hand tools, and because everyone was concentrating on their part in the lift, there was an atmosphere of calm and quiet while the frames went up.

matt and sarah on the ropes

Thanks to everyone who came along to watch, I found it spellbinding, I hope you enjoyed it too.

One by one they were lifted, tucking themselves underneath the ridge pole.

lifting frame 3

Up until now it had just been a collection of jointed together poles in a field. Now it was something different altogether. It will become our orchard house, a home and store for our apple, orchard, veg garden and beekeeping activities. I guess not everyone will like it, but we are really proud of it, I hope it will help give purpose and breath extra life into our orchards and the things we do with them.

Two of the bays of the building form an open barn, to maximize on space we mixed in a box frame along with the cruck frames. The box means there is space for people, but it still needs to meet the ridge pole. To answer this framing problem we pinched a traditional carpentry technique and made a king post. A king post is a bit of a special thing, requiring it to be made from something special. Ours is made from a piece of windthrown rowan, a species of much significance for a westcountry boy. I hope it brings us luck.

Shaping the king post

It was a nervy moment lining up its mortices in the ridge and frame. Whilst we were jointing the frames these two timbers had never been within so much as 20 meters of each other. In the event the tenon only needed a slight adjustment to get it  to fit snugly.

Seating the king post

As I was slotting it into the ridge I looked into the mortice and wondered. Spike must have had a similar thought. He chucked me a 2014 10p piece to pop in the heart of the joint. Evidence for the future.

The frame is now standing next to the basecamp at Swan Barn Farm, waiting for us to get stuck in to the next phase of the project. So much more still to do, but we have a building now, and that feels like an achievement.

This Saturday is a great opportunity to come along and have a look at what we have been up too. It is our Community Apple Pressing Day.


We will be there from 10-4. Bring along your apples and we will use our historic pressing machinery to turn them into juice that you can take away with you. If you like we will even teach you how to turn it into cider. The Black Down Rangers will be on hand to answer your apple, orchard, fruit tree or pruning questions. Even if you haven’t any apples of your own you can come along and help press ours. Refreshments will be available, and we will offer tours of our two (one finished, one far from!) new buildings. It is going to be fantastic family fun on what we hope will be a lovely autumn day in our orchard.


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.




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