Archives for posts with tag: swan barn farm

This Saturday (25th July) from 10.30 till 5 we have our annual Countryside Craft Day at Swan Barn Farm in Haslemere. I hope you can come and join us, I think it is going to be a really interesting day.


It is a fun event for all the family where lots of local Countryside Craft workers come together to demonstrate their skills and show their wears. There will be demonstrations of countryside skills and wonderful woodland craft items to see. There will be pole lathing, timber hewing and carving on display along with livestock, bats, amphibians and reptiles and even a bouncy castle for the kids.


Refreshments including burgers made from our own conservation grazed rare breed Belted Galloway beef will be on sale and there will be tours of our timber framed buildings. It will also be a chance to meet the team who look after the wonderful countryside that surrounds the town.

Maybe see you there.


In between all of the other tasks involved in looking after the 1500 or so acres of countryside on the Black Down Estate we have been getting on with building our Orchard House.

Battens and the first of the Weatherboards have been put on, it is actually starting to look like a building now.


The battens run across the tops of the rafters horizontally across the roof. They will provide a base for the courses of hand made wooden roofing shingles to be nailed on to. They were made from Douglas Fir, grown in a wood on the outskirts or Haslemere, and milled at Swan Barn Farm.


As the battens creep up towards the ridge you start to get a real feeling for what the roof will look like when it is finished.

The end bay of the timber frame is being made into a store room for all of our apple pressing, gardening and beekeeping gear, as well as for keeping apples and apple juice and fermenting our cider in. It will have timber walls insulated with sheeps wool to keep the temperature steady. The outside of the wall is being made of oak feather edge boards. The oak came from the coppice woodlands at Swan Barn Farm, and is an absolute delight to work with, really fantastic quality and full of wonderful colour in its grain.



These boards are thinner at the top than the bottom, tricky to mill, but it means they fit together really neatly on the building. We are scribing and cutting them to fit around the roundwood posts of the frame. It is very fiddly and time consuming, but the finished look is well worth it. After having put all that effort into making a beautiful roundwood frame it would have been a shame to hide it.

Lots more to do before we are finished, but it is definitely taking shape, I am really proud of the building and all of the hard work and woodworking skills that everyone is putting in to making it.


Last year when we raised the frames for the orchard house a short film was made to record the event. If you would like to see how it all went the link below will show you the main frame of the building being put up.


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.

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

Spring is steaming ahead full tilt here, I was out checking on our cattle this morning and couldn’t resist a few photos… Kind of made me think maybe I ought to share them too.


The bluebells in the woods were looking fantastic.


The cattle were happily chewing the cud under a tree and in the orchard the lambs were causing mischief again.


The speckled wood building is starting to season and settle into the landscape as the wood mellows and ages.


We recently built some new veg beds beside it to grow useful plants in. The current bushes and herb plants are settling in well. We even found an old kettle to grow some thyme in.


It was nice to think of sharing some pictures again, maybe there will be some more news from here soon.

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.


The straw bale walls were being finished off towards the end of last week.

The feel of the building has changed dramatically with the appearance of its walls, the internal spaces are becoming clear, and you start to get a idea of what it will be like to live in.

Once the bales get to the top of the walls the last row of bale spikes has to be driven in. The membrane and sheeps wool insulation was folded back so that the spikes could be driven in from above.

The spikes hold the wall together, but it will not feel completely solid until it has its protective coating of lime plaster.

The two sides of a straw bale have very different textures, this is because of the action of the baler, on one side (the outside of our building) the straw is folded and on the other (the inside of the building) the straw is chopped. Our lime plaster will adhere much better to the chopped side. This is why the outside of the building has a layer of wire mesh against the bales, it will help the plaster stick properly. The photo below was taken prior to the mesh being attached and cut around the window frame.

On the inside the bales have been shaped around the windows and doors, this allows more light in as well as creating a sculptured feel to the openings. The windows will all have big wooden interior window seats so you will be able to sit and look out at the view.

To start with the bales around the openings all looked distinctly hairy.

But after they were trimmed up and the curved reveals were cut out they started to give more of an idea of what they will eventually look like.

As you can see from the wire to the side of the door the first fix electrics has been going in as well.

The straw bales for our walls started to arrive on site this week. We don’t have any National Trust arable land on this estate, but we managed to get our straw from the farm next door, so it hasn’t come far.

Straw bales have fantastic insulation properties, and if used in the right way, make an economical and very environmentally freindly walling material. They also go up satisfyingly quickly.

Fisrt of all a bale ladder was built all the way around our new oak floor at the outside edge of the building. You should also be able to see how the lovely new floorboards have been protected with a corrugated black plastic cover, just to make sure they aren’t damaged during the rest of the build.

The bale ladder is made of Black Down pine, it keeps the bales off the floor, each of the gaps in the ladder was filled with sheepswool insulation, and then the bales go on top.

A metal bale spike is attached to each “rung” of the ladder to secure the first course of bales.

After that it is a bit like massive lego as the layers of bales are built up. Each bale is held in place with two wooden bale spikes which are hammered through it into the bales below, this keeps the whole wall really sturdy and solid.

The bale spikes are made out of coppiced sweet chestnut, we have been lucky to have the help of another working holiday this week, amongst lots of other jobs the volunteers were working up in one of our coppices cutting the spikes for us.

On the outside of the building the bales will either be lime rendered (if they are protected beneath a verandah) or have a cladding of oak boards. Where the oak boards are going a frame of studwork is being built. You can see it in the picture below, you can also see where the floor is starting to be created for the link building which will connect Speckled Wood to Hunter Basecamp. This link building is where our biomass boiler will be going (quite excited about that!).

On the other walls where the render will go a chicken wire mesh has been constructed against the straw, this will help hold the render in place, it did look like some sort of strange fight club cage when it was being built, but none of it will be visible in the finished structure.

Everyone here has been working really hard again this week, and the results are plain on site, the build is motoring forward at the moment, its been fascinating seeing so many different parts of the structure coming together, I’ve been interested in straw bale use in construction for a long time, and have really enjoyed seeing ours starting to go into place.

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