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 Now they have been replaced by metal hurdles much stronger and long lasting but having a far higher carbon footprint and less character.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.


Wildlife gardening at Parke


I surfaced from the verdant green of Hembury Woods the other day to go to the office at Parke.  I apologise to my long suffering boss Mick, who constantly wants me to do a blog on Hembury or Holne Woods, but it was going into the Walled Garden that finally broke the dam.  Wow!  It looks fantastic.  The work of Kate, Mary and the other volunteers has resulted in a mass of colour and a nectar elysium for pollinating insects.  Another aspect of the National Trust’s conservation work, but one maybe sometimes overlooked when people think of National Trust gardens.  Formal ones abound, exemplars of horticultural practice in many of our old estates, but the message of such ‘wildlife gardening’ as practiced at Parke is a reflection of the present rather than the past.  That most of our flower rich meadows have gone due to changing agricultural practices and with them, many of our pollinating insects.  It is an example of how those of us who want to help pollinators and who have neither the space, time or expertise for formal gardening, can help.  The Royal Horticultural Society have a list of ‘Plants for Pollinators’, this venerable old organisation also recognising the importance of ‘wildlife gardening’, something also championed by Plantlife. Continue reading…

Apple Day at Parke

Saturday 29 September, 11am – 3pm

Help to pick and press apples and taste the juice (bring your own to press for a small charge).  Have a go at some woodland crafts, make a bee hotel, play some orchard games and be entertained by the South Devon Singers earthy repertoire.  A great day for all the family.

Winter in the walled garden

If you haven’t been into the walled garden for a couple of years, you will now see a miraculous change. With a small team of regular volunteers, our Green Giants and the Bovey community gardeners, this unique organic garden has plenty on show. Many plants have been added over the last couple of years but the most recent were planted last week; two types of pepper (Szechuan and Nepal), a Goji Berry, Japanese Wineberry and Sea Buckthorn. This autumn has been the first to try tulip and narcissi bulbs for cutting in the spring. The grape vines have just been pruned according to their training system and we are continuing to fight the good fight against the creeping buttercup. We are anxious to look after our wildlife and the many birds have enjoyed our fruits and now the seeds left in the wild flower patch. On a cold winter’s day, there is nothing better than relaxing on the bench and watching the woodpecker and his other feathered friends topping up on the bird feeders….aaah, the peace of it all.

Orchard Apple Day – Parke

Saturday 1 October:  11am-3pm

Help press apples into delicious juice – bring your own  to press for a small charge (don’t forget a container).

Fun and games in and around the orchard.  Learn about apple trees, bees and herbs.  Rural skills demonstrations through the day and Grimspound Border Morris.

Further information on 01626 834748 (normal office hours only) or



Exeter University rolls into Parke

Despite an unpromising weather forecast, a group of staff from University of Exeter, (Research & Knowledge Transfer), descended on National Trust, Parke at Bovey Tracey for a day of Employee Volunteering.

Their task was to lay the paths in the newly renovated walled garden and for this they were met and assisted by a team of National Trust and  Dartmoor National Park Authority rangers.

In preparation for the undertaking the Parke team had levelled the paths with the aid of a mini digger and lined them with a total of 400m of edging boards.  This wood all came from oak grown, felled and milled on the estate.

There were 33 volunteers and between them they managed to move 32 tons of stone and then rake it level; an astonishing average of over one ton per person!  Their abilities were doubtless helped by the mountains of cakes, sandwiches, teas and coffees that were consumed at regular intervals

At the end of the task, having taken the final victory picture the site was cleared and the group claimed they were off to the pub but it was more likely that what they really meant was they were going back to the office for a couple of hours work – such was their amazing capacity for hard work!

Many thanks to all involved – volunteers and staff alike.  It was a task that has improved the garden beyond belief and will enable visitors to enjoy this lovely garden to its fullest for many years to come.

Woodland Explorer Day – Parke

Wednesday 24 August, 11am-4pm:
Go wild in the woods – lots of woodland activities, including den building, nature trail, fire lighting and toasting marshmallows. Wear suitable footwear and bring a picnic if you want. Child £3.

Booking advisable on 01626 834748 or

Stream Dipping – Parke

Wednesday 27 July, 2-4pm

See what lives in the leat, using nets and microscopes. Meet in the main car park. Child £2 (children must be accompanied by an adult).
Booking is essential on or 01626 834748

Stuck in the Mud


















Thought I’d share this so you can see what lengths our teams go to for visitors to our property. Recently I helped Phil, ranger for the Parke estate at Bovey Tracy, install a pair of gates, one of which was a two way easy access gate, the other a 12 foot  agricultural machinery access gate. In order to make a gate this size sturdy, the hole for the hanging post must be very deep (at least 3 feet).

To make the gate hang correctly, it was necessary for the bottom of the hole to be nice and flat so that we could adjust the hanging post by increments until it worked correctly, Phil bravely volunteered to climb into the hole and flatten the bottom down with his feet (some people will do anything to get out of the Rain!). We resisted a sudden urge to fill in the hole and the gate now hangs proudly in place. Why not come and visit Parke and see it yourself, and next time you go through a gate, think about all the effort that goes into one.

Woodland Explorer Day at Parke

Wednesday 1 June, 11am-4pm: Bring a picnic and spend the day at Parke. Go wild in the woods – build dens, follow the nature trail, light a fire and toast marshmallows, plus lots of other kids woodland activities. Child £3. Booking advisable on 01626 834748 or