Walkabout—upper loop

Yesterday, to get back on schedule, I went out to check the upper loop of the farm. Monica had arranged for us to attend the Manchester Eurobal in the afternoon so there wasn’t time to beat up many trees. I did take a good look at every planting, though, and almost everything in the woodland and the coppices is now growing strongly, which was brilliant to see. The remaining fig is likely to die, I think, and I’m still too cowardly to survey the forest garden but, in all, we have to be pleased with the health of the farm.

One job I did get done was to mark out the boundaries of the coppices with yellow stakes. I was a little surprised at the shape of the south oak and ash coppices: they seem to stretch wider at their lower boundary than Keith’s original drawings, all the way across to and behind Warland Barn. I must take a look at my Google Earth diagrams to check.

The dance was fun, though a bit under-attended. Angelika and Noel, from Cottage Antiques, came along, too, and Claire was there. We learned a couple of weird Swedish dances, by accident, mistakenly thinking it was an all-Breton affair.

Today, pretty exhausted from the dancing and climbing, I had an easy morning working towards completing the blanket box, then knackered myself again by carrying fence-poles up to where I’ll be using them to reclaim the Lost Field.

The blanket box finally left the Joinery this evening. The new apron makes the legs properly strong enough and I’ve added touches of Ralphery to it. Rather than leaving the boards square, I gave the front a Lydgate arch and arrassed the sides and back. A nice job, though I say so myself. It’s good to get to the joinery.

Lock 34

As part of the ‘adoption’ of the canal below the farm, I’ve already replaced the fence at lock 35. I also wanted to replace the horrid, low, barbed affair at the lower lock.

At first, it seemed that it would be slow progress, replacing each stretch one at a time. Then, a spark of mischevious genius told me to just erect the new fence outside the old. The sheep couldn’t get in and the path would get a little wider; so that’s what I did.

The job went quickly with the timbers up in a day. After a wet day in the shed, which I used to machine both the mortices and tenons in the boards of the blanket box apron, the next fine day allowed me finish the fence. I attached the wire netting and then pulled out the old fence. The lockside looks great so I sent pictures to the Canal Trust; I’m waiting to hear back from them and planning our next work together.

Walkabout—lower loop

For weather and work reasons, and the 700 ride, I didn’t get to check the lower loop on schedule and a couple of weeks delay had allowed the rosebay willow herb to o’ertop even the hazel, in parts of t’Other Bit. I finally got some time and my scythe organised this week. I was quite concerned that some of the weaker species—red oak and field maple—could be set back, unable to compete for light effectively.

So, I started the standard lower loop by mowing the public path below the garden and at the top of the orchard. The hornbeam hedges were next: the one in front of Warland House took quite a bit of work and a fair few nettle stings to get the light to all three rows of plants.

Moving on to t’Other Bit, I first cleared the rbwh, brambles and hemlock from the roadside juniper. This was easy because the weeds are tall and the desired plant is prone: the scythe could whizz through without endangering the juniper. Next, I hand-pulled the weeds out of the elder hedge and the willow bed. Then the tough work started as I mowed the tallest weeds from the hazel and the red oak. The rest of the field was less desperate and, to save time, I just removed the weeds from the sunny side of the worst-affected trees. I figured that a bit of competition would help the trees stretch out.

It felt great to report to Monica that the task was done; that no harm had been caused by the delay; and that all of the trees were doing well. Even the maple that had an unexpected 20% mortality, early on, were growing more strongly. The eucalypts were small when planted but started strongly; these had slowed a bit but not enough to be concerned.

Continuing the loop after a few hours of hard yakka, for some reason I decided that the path into the south end of t’Bell must be kept open so I hacked my way through the brambles and nettles for thirty yards. I think I’ll cede the ground until autumn.

A few swipes at the brambles on the path back up to the farm and I could happily collapse, proud that all of our winter effort was worth it.

More dandies at Warland

Finished most of the fence at lock 34 today. Just a few of the old posts to shift with a sledge and a Tommy bar tomorrow, and a bit of closing in where the ground falls away from the fence.

As I was tidying around lock 35, Dianne came around to say goodbye because they’re moving out of Warland very soon and Dave and Lisa are moving into Warland House. Dianne thinks they’re very green so I hope they have some sympathy with what we’re trying to achieve. The newbies are calling around tomorrow so I may leave a welcome leaflet for them.

I need to mow the lower meadow, outside Warland House, in preparation for the Rushcart’s visit. Perhaps if I move the baler down there, the dancers will help bale the hay that I’ve mowed for them.

Returning up the hill, Doris gave me a couple of pip-sown apples that I can use to fill failures in the coppice orchard if Monica doesn’t want them for her allotment.

Tonight we checked that our new, famous Warland Dandy cocktail was as good as we thought yesterday. It is and I have to go to bed now.

Progress with blanket box

We started the working day, after our usual morning coffee, with a reasonably civil Mondavia project planning meeting. Hopefully, we can keep better track of things if we both show up with reports at regular intervals.

Then, oh dear, another iffy day, weatherwise, so I had to go back into the joinery to work on the blanket box. I did offer for Monica to accompany me to do some weeding but she didn’t fancy it and what’s sauce for the goose…

I had hoped to use the Wadkin moulder to make tenons in the box’s base timbers but, without a mitre slot it would have been dangerous. Explaining the work to Chris, we spotted that the Robland has a slot and a carriage. In the end, even though the latter has rubbish guarding, I carefully set up the rebate head on it and got the job done.

The shed day also allowed me to fettle some hive separator boards that weren’t to M’s satisfaction and, last thing, I knocked up a nice box for my large timber framing chisels. While using the “old pine” offcuts for this, I realised by their smell that this wood, that will form the floor of the blanket box, is actually cedar and quite ideal for the task.

So, if the weather is less than perfect tomorrow, I’ll be able to hand-tune the tenons to fit the scrappy mortices I made in the legs, yesterday. The tenons were deliberately left a bit fat to allow for this.

This evening, for midsummer, we invented the Warland Dandy, a cocktail of rum and dandelion and burdock with a slice of lemon. Every bit as nice as Pimms.

Took the weekend off

So, my jobs list is to finish the fence at the lower lock and to get into t’Other Bit to do some weeding. However, a damp Saturday gave me an excuse to stay in the shed, playing with my new toy and getting some joinery projects out of the door.

First, I stained and polished the new kindling box. This was originally intended as a frame carrier for Monica but the fancy construction proved too heavy. Darkly toned to match the farm’s furniture and polished with Monica’s beeswax, it has a handle to match the Lydgate fire place and the frame is arrased in Ralph’s style. I think it looks OK by the fire and I’m sure we’ll get used to using it.

Next, I finished the last component of Monica’s beehive order: a roof. It was awaiting some galvanised sheeting to make it waterproof but that didn’t seem to be happening. I hunted about and found some white PVC that Uncle Bob had left over from his boat-fettling. I cut out a square that would cover the lid and overlap the sides, then used a wad-punch to make dozens of discs out of the waste. With a disc as a prevent under each stainless staple, I fastened the PVC on and I think that roof will be waterproof for quite a while. An interesting test, anyway.

Finally, I milled the timber to renovate the blanket box. Ralph got his box from his Dad—his only other inheritance was a black bicycle—who probably got it from the Grandmother that cared for Ralph. As I was also cared for and loved by my Gran when no-one else seemed to bother, the box is a valued possession for me. The legs have obviously failed many times so I’m morticing a frame into them, made from some recycled oak. I’m also replacing the floor, which was worm-eaten plywood, with some old pine boards.

Monica called me away from the workshop to Hebden Bridge to watch Mad Max: Fury Road which was a blast.

This job continued today when I re sawed the pine and milled it into 10mm boards. Then the new spindle moulder was carefully setup to cut a ship-lap joint into the edges of the boards. Its cast iron table and fence allowed me to add to its guards by sticking magnetic finger-boards to hold the pieces down and against the fence.

The next task in the box refurbishment was to cut mortises into the cabriole legs. I decided it was time to get the hollow chisel morticer working; it’s been here for a couple of years but previous experiments have proven it needs quite a bit of fettling. I have bought some decent, smaller chisels for it and today cut the shaft of the ½” to suit. The adapters needed smoothing to prevent them getting jammed in place; I made a sacrificial base and fence; the clamp needed some filing; and still it was a trial. The machine lacks stops to control the length of the mortice, hold-downs and something to locate the material. I improvised these with clamps and am now thinking of ways to make permanent additions to perform these functions. I also chose a difficult subject: the legs hardly have any parallel surfaces so I had to clamp them carefully. Still, I failed to realise that the rear fence is the reference surface. So, eight mortices took me over four hours and they’re not the most gorgeous ever but I learnt lots about machine-made slots.

So, no jobs ticked off my official list but a happy time spent in the joinery, growing in confidence when using the big, old, green machines.

Next time in the shed, I’ll be learning about cutting tenons with the moulder. There isn’t a slot in the table to reference from or a carriage for the material but I’ll enjoy the learning and jig-making. I’ll make the tenons fat, anyway, to allow hand-fettling to match the odd mortices.

Another day in the office

The weather has been iffy all day, giving me an excuse to fiddle with the spindle moulder between outside jobs. This made the day quite productive: I got the fence timber work finished at Warland Lower Lock and cleared the site; and the moulder is now working.

By judiciously applying heat, thumps, emery and wax, all of the individual parts came free and got cleaned. The wiring was a momentary puzzle but, once the switch cover was off, straightforward. A quick test with the rebate head showed that the machine is solid and accurate, producing a superb finish with adequate safety from the universal guide. The shavings came out of the back; I need to investigate that to design a way to catch them. The bearings sound dry so I’ve ordered a grease gun and attachments. I need this to fettle the other machines so it will repay the cost. It will be good news to know that the PK saw is properly lubricated.

Monica has been hard at work, too, chipping away the cement pointing on the end wall in preparation for re-pointing with lime. The stonework is in pretty good condition—not very rounded by damage—so the end result will look great. We think we have identified the source of damp around the end of the house. There isn’t a major problem but the cement and plastic paint emphasise that water is getting in behind the castellations on the toilet roof. If we can hack out the cement flashing and replace it with lead, I think the ugliness inside and out can be repaired.

It has been useful for us both to go on lime pointing courses. We can agree on problems and solutions quickly and aren’t phased by getting on with the work.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is my day for farm maintenance—lower loop this week. T’Other Bit might needs some weed control so the scythe will go with me, though the rosebay willow herbs isn’t too nasty. It’s the brambles I need to stay ahead of.

In the meadow, the mown area is much less lush than where I knocked off early last year, hence the extra flowers, I guess. While working at the lower lock, I noticed one red poppy growing wild; I hope it spreads.

A whirl around the bay

I love adventures: experiences that will stay in my memory. Helping to lead the inaugural Morecambe Bay route 700 ride with Sustrans was quite an adventure. Not so much for the events or the challenges or the people, just for the overall gentle mood of the ride and the scenery. Starting with cake and speeches at Walney Island, about thirty of us took four days to cycle through Ulverston, Cartmel, Grange-over-Sands and Morecambe to Glasson Dock. The weather was kind, the ride and accommodation carefully planned and the Sustrans staff and their guests were well behaved. Although the daily distance was only 20–30 miles, we travelled slowly because the guests were mainly newbies, so the time in the saddle made it tiring enough. Highlights of the ride were the Quakers’ garden at Ulverstone and the reed beds and birds at Leighton Moss. Monica collected me at the end and I was immediately snoozey in the car.

Monday is a bit of a blur. I know I took the day easy, in no mood to start back into Project Pigsty. On Tuesday, the madness took hold again and, after barrowing the fence timbers along the canal from Lock 35 to 34 in the morning, I knocked in 36 posts and nailed up almost all the rails before finishing late, around 10 o’clock.

I wanted to be able to clear the site because yesterday was going to be an away day. I finally found a stout spindle moulder on eBay and had to travel to Exmoor to fetch it. Tired again, after the fencing, a day driving was a welcome relief. The machine is scruffy but seems to work OK. I had to trust the vendor, who seemed honest. He helped me load it and it’s lashed down ready for the journey home.

Last night, I stayed with Steve and Val near Winterbourne. It’s a shame Monica couldn’t make it because Val would love to talk about bees, chooks and squeeze-boxes. Steve is preoccupied with his impending retirement. He seems to have decided that brewing beer isn’t a full-time occupation so I suggested that he look into the motivational speaker circuit. I think his life story and his achievements could make a good tale, though he’d need to stay away from the technical details.

Punctured?

I caught the Manchester train in good time for my blood donation appointment but my bubble was burst when I noticed my back tyre was flat. On the platform, a guard noticed my plight and suggested PopUp Bikes might help. A great idea: I’d been trying to find a use for them for years and now they could fix the puncture and take care of the bike while I gave blood.

At the donor centre, my blood iron measured one point too low so I got kicked off the interval study. A result for them but a disappointment for me. Not indestructible after all!

Back at PopUp early, they wouldn’t fix the tube but didn’t have another to sell me. I had the mechanic install my spare, paying them about seven quid for the privilege. On the platform, I had time to fix the tube myself but couldn’t find the leak. That evening, in the sink of my hotel room in Barrow, I determined that the healthy-looking tube had no puncture. Odd. I decided that there must have been sand in the valve.

A couple of days later, on the 700 ride, the back wheel developed a slow puncture, late in the day. I made it into the camp site and sat down to install that un-punctured tube, only to discover that it didn’t fit the wheel. It says it’s a 20” but it’s much longer than the one in there and won’t install without folding on itself. I had to carefully repair a patch on a patch on a patch to re-use the tatty spare that I’d set off with.

I still don’t know what’s going on with that other tube. Did PopUp give me the wrong one back? Why doesn’t it fit? Which one was punctured on the train? Very curious.

The end of a fence

Tuesday. Had a couple of important jobs today: first, pack a bike for four days away; second, finish building a fence.

From Barrow-in-Furness to Glasson Dock, Sustrans are opening a new long-distance route this weekend and I’m helping them lead the bunch of newbies who are its first official riders. I have to take extra tools and first aid on the ride because I’m mechanic and nurse as well as outrider to the group. I also need to pack camping kit because, out of four nights, two are under canvas. The sag waggon will transfer the heavy stuff but I still have to carry it all to and from the trains tomorrow. Monica will be there on Sunday to bring me home. It’s only 20–30 miles each day so there’s little chance of any major drama. Apart from Saturday, the weather is set fair, too.

Before I left off work today, I had to make sure that the bottom meadow was sheep-proof by affixing the sheep netting to the replacement fence, to complete its construction. It was a fine summer day so, apart from having to stop to talk to canal folk, this pleasant task went quickly.

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Many people, visitors as well as passers-by, have noticed that the meadows, upper (mown annually) and lower (not mown), are putting on a splendid show of wild flowers. Blue bells, buttercups, red grass, forget-me-nots, pig nuts and many others. None of the yellow rattle have grown, again, so this might be the end of trying to help the change the ecology.

It seems an odd season because the hawthorn is only just flowering. It usually comes out with the bluebells, here, and they’re almost over.

The trees on the hillside opposite are finally starting to move in the breeze like a proper woodland. The late sunshine slanting along the valley from the north-east highlights them. Our trees seem to be doing well, too. Monica rescued her biomass willow again after the black plastic mulch unzipped itself from the ground. This time, she’s replacing the annoying stuff with our standard, hessian-and-newspaper mulch packs.

Puzzling over this problem, I think I’ve invented a way to mulch large areas of the forest garden without the risk of the covering blowing away. I’m going to try making large mats like bamboo blinds from withies and split poles. These could be made in place and could either hold down light-proof fabric or be lined with it. If made in place, the fabric could be attached with the same stitch as the withies. I guess I could just buy long canes if I don’t have enough withies this year. We’ll see how the willow grows. The mature ones along the canal certainly have a lot of coppiced growth that I could harvest this winter.