Archives for posts with tag: haslemere


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



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.

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.

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.



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.


It seems like ages ago now, but towards the end of last summer we were busy in the orchard at Swan Barn Farm picking the apples.

Our volunteers worked with us to process them through our scratter and press to extract the apple juice.

We also held a community apple pressing day at which we pressed well over a tonne of apples from around the town. All in all quite a number of people left Swan Barn Farm last year with quite a lot of apple juice. Some of it was no doubt kept in the fridge and consumed over the next few days, but we also provided people with instructions for how to turn the murky looking (but delicious) juice into cider. If you were one of those people, I hope your cider turned out well. Most of ours is still sat in Speckled Wood waiting to be bottled, it fermented quite slowly as it was out in the cold, but I took a couple of demijohns home and fermented them out in the kitchen where it is warmer and the process works faster. I bottled it around christmas time, and figured today might be a good time to try it (In case you are wondering it is after midday and I have the day off!).

It has cleared really well, and because I put a tiny bit of sugar in each bottle is lightly sparkling. Now, I’m not claiming it is going to win any awards, but, it is definitely not completely awfull, which friends will know is where the bar is set for my home brewed efforts, and therefore I have decided to pronounce it a success and entirely drinkable! I hope yours turned out well too. If you missed out last year look out for our apple pressing and cider days later in the year at Swan Barn Farm.

Last year I also tried out something new with the products of the orchard. Towards the back of a cuboard I discovered a 2 litle bottle of undiscovered cider that had been pressed in 2010. Aha I thought, what about making some cider vinegar! In fact I had been saving the dregs of a couple of bottles of unpastuerised cider vinegar for just such an occurance, they had gone slightly cloudy and as such I knew contained the perfect starter culture to make some vinegar of my own. I’m no expert, but the following is my (probably pretty basic) understanding of the process and how to try it our for yourself.

Yeast turns sugar into alchohol, thats how apple juice is fermented into cider. At a certain alchohol strength the yeast dies, this allows the cider to clear and at that point it needs bottling and protecting from the air to prevent bacteria spoiling it. Some of these bacteria can be useful though. Acetobacteria live off alchohol and turn it into acetic acid thereby turning the liquid to vinegar. Fermenting and vinegar making are, as I see it, the processes of allowing these natural organisms to go about their business in a controlled manner. Here’s how I did it.

I took a plastic demijohn and put my cider in it, adding the dregs from the old vinegar bottles. I only put enough in so it could be safely stored on its side.

The lid has a hole in it where you would ordinarily put an airlock. For making vinegar I just put a bit of cotton wool in it. This kept flies and other nasties out while allowing plenty of air in. Keeping it on its side let the air reach the maximum possible surface area of the cider giving the bacteria the best chance of working well. I then stuck it on top of a cuboard and forgot about it for a couple of months.

Over this time the bacteria had done their job. They had turned the cider into vinegar (one smell made that obvious) and in the process had formed (as expected) a bacterial mass, otherwise known as the mother, which was floating in the vinegar. The mother of vinegar has been known about for centuries, the bacteria form a mass in the liquid which looks like a sort of strange jellyfish. The idea is that you save the mother and then use it to start your next batch of vinegar with. I put it into a jam jar to take a photo, not sure when I am going to need more vinegar, and I know I can always start it from the remains of the last batch, but if I need it I know it will last a while at least.

The rest of the vinegar was simply passed through a muslin filter into a couple of bottles I had been saving to store it in.

I am pretty chuffed, it tastes great, and I have already been searching the internet for some culinery ideas to start using it. I am also told that it is prized by many people as a health tonic for poultry. Apparently a small amount added to their drinking water once a month is supposed to be very beneficial for their digestive system, so it looks like my chickens have a treat coming their way.

We will be pruning the orchards soon (ok I know we a re a couple of weeks late, but its been so hectic here) and just the thought of that has started me thinking about spring. The orchard behind the High Street in Haslemere is such a treat at blossom time, if you live locally I couldn’t recomend more highly a walk through it when the blossom starts to come out. The air will be alive with the sound of the bee’s and the scents from the trees. It really is quite a special place, putting something on the dinner table which came from there is always a real treat.

I have always really liked the jobs that mark the turning of the year. They help me keep track with the passing of the seasons, and measure time. One of my favourite of these sort of jobs is putting up the Christmas tree in Haslemere Town Centre. We donate one every year, I think it is a really nice way of placing a demonstration of our management of the woods on public display, its also a nice way of giving a little bit back to our local supporters and community.

This years one came from Valewood, less than a mile from the town centre. We use it as a method of gradually thinning our plantations of Norway Spruce. This thinning of the trees allows more light to reach the woodland floor. It encourages the remaining trees to grow to their full potential and encourages a more diverse ground flora within the wood.

Unfortunately we ran out of suitably sized trees some years ago and are now using the top half of a much larger tree. Must get around to planting some more sometime soon. I haven’t planted many non native softwoods in my time, its not normally what we do these days, I am sure we will be able to find a space for some future christmas tree’s though.

We do get some funny looks driving it down into the town. When I first started doing it years ago we used to put it up on a Sunday morning using lots of ropes (and not a little swearing), the tractor mounted crane has made life a lot easier for us though, it usually works out in the woods, but gets pressed into service in the town centre once a year.

There is a ready prepared concreted hole hidden under a manhole in the grass next to the War Memorial. Unfortunately being a person of little brain power most years I manage to forget exactly what size the hole is. Some years ago I sought to remedy this by writing down its size and putting it in the files in the office. All I need to do now is remember to take it back out of the files on the appropriate day and we will be sorted! Until then it will continue to be a case of using a chainsaw to carve the base of the tree to fit on the green in front of the town hall.

Putting up the tree in front of an audiance of passers by is always a bit high pressure, but it all went smoothly (this year anyway!) I reckon this years one looks quite pretty, especially with its covering of cones.

Happy Christmas Haslemere, hope you like your tree!

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: