Green woodworking at Parke

A gate hurdle nearing completion in the woods

A gate hurdle nearing completion in the woods

Recently on Parke estate the Devon Rural Skills Trust came along to a small coppice area that we work in partnership to learn how to make traditional gate hurdles.

These hurdles would once have been made in their thousand to be used on farms to manage their sheep, make up runs, shearing areas, and folds for lambing. Now they have been replaced by metal hurdles much stronger and long lasting but having a far higher carbon footprint and less character.

From left, brace and bit, draw knife, twybil,froe

From left, brace and bit, draw knife, twybil, froe, hand axe

 The hurdle would have been made of ash, sometimes sweet chestnut or oak split or ‘cleft’ down t0 the required size with wedges and a ‘froe’ then shaped using an axe and draw knife. Mortise and Tenon joints formed simply with a brace and bit and a chisel or a ‘twybil’ (a very old tool specially designed for green wood tenons) in the uprights formed the structure held together with a few nails. The hurdle would have been 6ft long by 3ft high with between 5 and 7 rails, more rails were needed near the bottom if used with small lambs.

 However things must adapt to survive and the traditional hurdle has undergone a bit of a metamorphosis. The basic hurdle pattern can be adapted to different situations. They are great in the garden, made smaller they can hold back herbaceous plants from paths. Stop the children falling over walls or prevent their football hitting the roses. With a bit more imagination they can be formed into garden gates with cleft hazel infill. Or made really big and provide a structure for rambling roses or clematis.

Hurdles in place protecting the flowers in a busy garden.

Hurdles in place protecting the flowers in a busy garden.

Made from ash they are light and easy to move round, weather in nicely and last for some years, made from oak or sweet chestnut they are a bit heavier and last for many years especially if stored out of the weather in the winter.

 Best of all they have that lovely rustic look that blends beautifully into the garden and the countryside.

 Quite a few green woodworkers make them now. You can learn how to make them through the Devon Rural Skills Trust or come and see them being made at the Castle Drogo Edwardian Country fair on the 20-21st September.

 

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Pearl Boardered Fritillary

Pearl Boardered Fritillary

 This is the time of year when we take stock of the success of the years Pearl-bordered Fritillary all too short fight period. The news is not very good as once again despite our best efforts in providing the habitat the weather has stepped in with rain overcast skies and strong cold winds, not ideal breeding conditions for a small rare butterfly. Some have been seen and with the past few days of sunshine hopefully the late fliers will be able to get out there and lay some eggs in hope of a sunny spring next year.

On the subject of habitat within conservation there are often difficult decisions to be made around management options. One of these conundrums is developing on the side of the gorge below Castle Drogo. Continue reading…

THE BIRDS AND THE BEES

As with recent years spring and summer have swapped places which has led to an unseasonal display of  shorts at the rangers office and the Castle Drogo bee hives in full swing.  The hive had their post winter check last Wednesday and are thankfully healthy and disease free. The picture below shows some wild honey which is delicious, once you’ve taken all the bees off!

Half Term at Castle Drogo

Looking for something to do this half term? Come along to Castle Drogo and see the house waking up for the new season. There have been some dramatic changes over the winter. We have had to Acro prop the scullery and after some pieces of concrete came away from the ceiling outside the larder we have unfortunately had to close this area as it is now unsafe. This is a clear example of how serious the water ingress to the castle has become and why we need to act now to save it. For more information visit http://tinyurl.com/6lvaxj5 The castle is open every day from 11am to 4pm until Sunday 19 February and then is open at weekends until Saturday 10 March when it will be open for the new season.

 

There is also lots to do outside this week to make the most of the slightly warmer weather. Why not come and take a walk around the gardens to see if you can spot the first signs of spring. We have a trail around the garden and grounds with lots of activities to do inspired by Dartmoor and the Drogo estate including a scavenger hunt and the chance to become an animal estate agent. The trail is available for £1.50 from visitor reception and includes a prize at the end. On Sunday 19 February at 10am you can join the Teign Valley Wild Tribe at Fingle Bridge Meadows were there will be lots of hands on activities to get involved with (£2 per adult, £4 per child, booking advisable on 01647 433356).

DROGO 10 OUT OF 10

Last Sunday saw the annual Drogo 10 race around the stunning Teign gorge (see last weeks blog). I entered for the first time this year, in fact it was the first race I’ve ever ran! After the pain had subsided it was a very empowering experience which I would recommend to anyone, not just the super fit. Everyone was friendly and supportive, it was well organised and I’ll defiantly be back again next year. Well done to everyone involved.