Saturday, 28 February 2009

Bentley Weald Woodfair, East Sussex

This will, I think, be my longest ramblings to date. This show is my favourite, not because I sell well at it but because of the people, the layout, and location, and the great cross section of the forest/wood/craft displays.

It did not rain once, but the dews where heavy. Lucy again came to help, but not Natasha, as it’s school term. We love being able to take our bell tent and camp behind the stall. I have only done this show once before 2 years ago and I may not be able to go next year as it might clash with my stepdaughters wedding.

I always make new friends at this show and meet up with old ones. Anyway we took about 6 hours to get to Lewes and started setting up at about 3pm.

Lucy cooked dinner and I got back to setting up after a walk around the site. Early to bed as I needed to get up at 7am to be ready for opening at 9.30 the next morning. I always like a quick walk around the tool and wood stalls before the show opens or as it opens, to see if there is anything I need or want. A quick look at The Timber Mill and spied a couple of lumps of burr elm, John came over with his tape and measured up and we agreed on a price £75 which included a small piece of walnut with a hole in. I am always looking for good bits burr, either people want too much for them or I am to skint or too tight. I include a couple of photos of John’s sculptures, these are not sandblasted as I initially thought, but carved out with a knife: we are talking about hundreds of hours work. This guy is meant to be retired!

This first day was good and I sold a swing seat as well as a couple of large dragonflies. Lucy and I got talking about the importance of fire as a necessary part of our lives especially in the winter. We both love to spend hours staring into the fire just dreaming, something we can not do at home as we have no fire place.

Fire has always represented spirit, again something that many of us are no longer in touch with. Trees are solidified sunshine and, when burnt, this sun is released again as light and heat.

So when the dusk came down and we wanted to find some company, we took a walk across the field directly towards an open fire, like moths to a flame. We walked straight to a stranger’s fire circle and introduced ourselves to Mike and Ben of The Shack Company. What hospitality, with us being offered, a seat, and beer or whisky. Those who know me know that I can be bribed easily with good whisky. Now this was a 12 year old Glenlivet. Ben then said he also had a 10 year old Ardbeg, now this is just heaven, a fire, whisky and good company, all the things we need for a good time. A great night was had with Mike keeping the fire well fed and roaring. I hope I did not talk too much drunken drivel.

On the Saturday I met up with an old friend, Ben Law, who was doing a book signing on the Permanent Publications book stand. It was good to catch up again and glad things are going so well for him. If only more people were allowed to build their own dwellings and work the land in such sustainable ways. I am waiting for the time when I have enough money to buy land and to build a low impact family home.

It is always a pleasure to meet up with Andrew Cowan of Thermoecology Ltd, just one of his many businesses. I first met Andrew on an Ancient Tree Forum weekend in Cornwall and then on at Bentley. The first thing he did was to wave a copy the magazine he now edits, Essential Arb. Andrews’s knowledge of trees and tree physiology and ecology is immense, but there is so much we, as human beings, still have no knowledge of. It was great sharing our last evening’s dinner, and our conversations about tree roots and fungi etc. .Hopefully I will get it together to write a article for the mag some time.

One thing I would like to do one day is to make a dugout canoe. I met Jeff Higley and had a chat how he made his canoes. As you can see from the photos, the log is hollowed out and then steamed and the sides bent outwards.

This was in the zone B, the Glynbourne wood, with the local coppice group and heavy horses. On the way out of this area was the archaeological area with examples of Saxon Iron age and Mesolithic buildings and many different groups demonstrating ancient woodland crafts.

As some of you know I have lived in benders and tipis for long periods of time, and love this natural way of life. I have also helped build a couple of bronze/iron age round houses on Dartmoor. Our ancestors knew certainly knew far more about the natural world than most of us can ever even dream about. I often acknowledge my own link to my ancestors, from the first stick they picked up and used as a tool to probably the most important tool of all time - the knife.

Coming out of the woods and walking up to the house was Max Brownrigg and his dancing lively tree spirits made from branches of wood. He runs tree spirit making workshops with children and adults. I feel that anything that makes people think about trees as being alive or having a spirit is a good thing as over the past few centuries we have come to view nature as a commodity to be harvested and traded for our often greedy needs. We need to give all of nature back its life and interconnectedness. Good work Max.

Our next door neighbour was Christian who made beautiful curvy lamp bases from veneers glued together and finished with 15 coats of lacquer. I could not find his name in the show guide and as I did not take a card, I can not remember his surname or website. I have to thank Christian for all the info about the good shows to apply to. There are so many really bad show organisers out there that just rip everyone off, and it is always good to speak to people about the good the bad and the ugly. I will write about my horror experiences at shows sometime.

Bentley is very enjoyable. We all work hard and party hard, and it is worthwhile for me but I have noticed that the credit crunch is biting, as I should have sold a lot more than I did.

We started packing up on the Sunday, but as we have such a long journey it would have been dangerous to try driving home that night. Working a 10-11 hour day and then a 5 hour journey is not fun, one tends to fall asleep, not a good idea when driving.

We got back on Monday after visiting Eddie Powell at the Sculpture Park in Churt, Farnham. The bloody satnav tried to take the van and 10 foot trailer down a public footpath on the way there!

Unpacked Tuesday and relaxed for half a day and then back to work. So pack the van on Wednesday and unpack on the Tuesday, that’s for a 3 day show, not to mention all the weeks making the stuff I sold –or didn’t.

Westonbirt, Festival of the tree.

This is large Woodfair at the national arboretum and includes a chainsaw carving sculpture demo and action. I buy a bigger pitch here so we can put our bell tent on our stall.
They do have a camping field but the caravans seem to take all the level pitches and I hate camping on a slope.

It was great to have the same pitch as last year as we were opposite Brain Williamson, an old friend, we have both spent many years demonstrating at various shows and with the Devon Rural Skills Trust. Brian has had an apprentice, Ruth, for at least a year so far. It’s great to see more women get into woodland crafts as it seem that most woodfair's are very male dominated.

Brian had invited Steve along to share his stall; he is one of Britain’s very few pole lathe bowl turners and a very good spoon maker, check out his web site. Brain and Ruth are coppice workers making anything from hazel and chestnut hurdles to besom brooms and tent pegs etc. (As a side note - the besoms broom is one of the best brooms you can use, both on tarmac/ concrete to grass lawns. When used correctly they are fast and efficient, they beat the pants off yard brooms and are 100% green and sustainable, carbon neutral etc.) Brain works quite a bit at the arboretum and was making chestnut shingles for a new timber framed building. I showed Steve how to make spinning wings or helicopters out of a stick and a propeller. This is made from a plank 7 inches by 1 inch and is about ¼ inch thick. The balance needs to be just right and the stick needs to be very straight. Once mastered they are quick to make and make a great demonstration at a show. They are a great toy to play with and are for adults too! Watch the video.

I can highly recommend Brain, and his web site can be found at and Steve can be found at

One of the big attractions of this show is the chainsaw sculptors carving a huge log each in only one week. I have got to know a few of them over the years, often around the fire in the evening. One of them is Anthony Rogers at I love his work and have also seen him and them at places like WOMAD and the Mythic Garden. Not only do I love his forms but his specialty is surface decoration, check out his work.

Another of the sculptors is Neil Reeves, it was his first time at the Sculptree event as he usually exhibits and sells his works. Maybe I will try and see if I can get selected to carve in the next year or so. .

Sometimes I think I am a public seating provider for the weary.

I have also been opposite Sue Hinton for a couple of years, she makes gypsy flowers. They are made from hazel 'sun shoots' on a great looking horse, the pictures show Sue starting a flower.

This year I was a couple of stands up from Dan, he was selling very large furniture and carvings. A very interesting craftsman who was horse drawn for a number of years. What really attracted me was his gypsy flower set up and he taught me how to make his style of flowers. More about this in another article. Why, why did I not take any photos.

Ancient Tree Forum at Windsor Great Park, Berkshire.
The ATF is 10 years old.

The ancient tree forum run by the Woodland Trust and events are organized all over the country. Do check out their web site and also go along to an event, it makes for a very interesting day out and you will learn lots.
Any way I managed to get to this event as I was also delivering a bench nearby and I needed to meet up with a couple of people who are planning a very interesting project, more on this when it happens. The ATF is a collection of people with a passion for trees especially old ones, they or we have a huge and diverse collection of knowledge on all aspects of trees and related species that live on or along side them. Over the last 10 years much research has gone into finding and measuring these trees, which we can all have a go at, see their web

A stags head oak, so called because of the stag antler like dead branches.

We all met up at the York Club and I was surprised to have Jenna Higgins come up and remind me that we had met at Westonbirt, She was working with Brian and Ruth at the wood fair, and is doing a 3 year apprenticeship similar to Ruth's in coppice crafts.

We then spent the morning walking through the park and Bill Cathcart, who works at the park gave a talk about the history of the park.

The tree, above this photo, was pointed out to us a stags head oak which had to retrench in the 1976 drought. If a tree can not get enough water then it lets the higher branches die, the tree is still very healthy and this is just a survival mechanism. As you can see the branches can stay up for decades. Note also it is good practice not to mow under trees and to leave dead wood alone, trees don`t do tidy, and like lots of dead stuff lying around underneath them.

A 700 year old oak tree, still in rude health.

I spent most of the time photographing and not listening to what all the experts where discussing, I was in photo heaven.

A dead oak tree, as a nature loving bloke and artist etc I have always loved dead standing trees and even fallen ones. We have always wanted to tidy up, and a tidy landscape is usually not a very diverse ecosystem. It was great to see so many dead standing trees and the amazing habits that they provide.

Just to give you an idea of the size of some of the older, 600 - 800 year old, trees Andrew is standing at the foot of a living oak tree.

As many of you know I love photographing 'tree spirits', it is also great fun looking for them.

A beef steak fungus Fistulina hepatica, we saw many of them and they are edible, I have yet to try them. What really attracts me to this fungus is that it changes the colour of the oak wood to a dark rich brown and this wood is usually sold at a premium. I would love to get my hands on more brown oak.

I love visiting art galleries etc but sometimes I get blown away by what nature creates, I could have spent hours or days photographing this still living tree

Close up of above

Heart wood tree spirit image created by simple symmetry, from the same tree as above but from a slightly different angle.

Yet another oak tree, this is about 2 feet across on the tree, to give a you an idea of scale.