This wood is in Cumbria, in the north of England. It's early November and some trees have already dropped the majority of their leaves.
In odd corners, there are survivors and decedents of earlier woodland regimes, and on one edge, a block of mature fir was harvested, revealing the understory of smaller trees and shrubs. [above seen in Sept]
This wood is mostly situated on a well-drained small hill, bordered by a road, a railway, and the derelict grounds of a county house. The latter is important if we are looking for a competitive species count.
The wood is not valued for carpentry, although it was the best material for clogs, but alder has an important cultural connection: It was the preferred tree for the production of charcoal, particularly for gunpowder, which gives it a certain historical significance. In addition to its chemical uses, charcoal was an important industrial fuel until well into the Industrial Revolution, more or less essential for iron or glass working.
Elm (Ulmus sp.)
Holly was the wood chosen to make the singel [swipple], the business end of a flail, the essential tool for threshing wheat. Of all the native timbers, it burns with the hottest flame, so it might be regarded as premium firewood.
The original wild wood, and the later woods and forests that developed through the agency of man's interventions, were the sources of much of what was not produced from fields and gardens. While other ecological zones were of importance, woodland was the most productive. Acorns were foraged by pigs, both domestic and wild, which leads us to the use of forests for leisure.
Coppicing to produce multiple stems on a single root system, or stool, is a simple way of producing large amounts of small and medium diameter wood, where bulk crops are required.
From basketry to building, coppiced production is an essential part of a traditional woodland regime, often mixed with ‘standard’ trees and occupying the shrub layer, or ‘underwood’.
The suitability of oak timber for a huge range of applications, coupled with its wide availability, make it an important factor in the economic and social history of these islands.
The wood we are visiting is perhaps unusual in having a healthy population of young chestnut saplings, not a particularly common woodland species this far north. It is thought that the Sweet Chestnut was introduced by the Romans, who produced flour from the nuts, which we traditionally eat around Christmas time. The timber was used in furniture making and house interiors. It is quite durable and has traditionally been used for posts and poles, such as hop poles (hops = beer). It splits readily, and is perhaps most familiar as ‘chestnut paling,’ a fencing formed by vertical split timbers joined by wire.
Their timber has a variety of important specialised uses. Sycamore wood won’t stain or taint food, so it was used for making things like pails, milk churns, and kitchen surfaces; and for domestic utensils like spoons, bread boards, and even the rollers of a traditional mangle.
One very basic, but fundamental, point about their craftsmanship in wood was the choice of the appropriate materials for the task in hand. A traditional wheel would be made with an elm hub, oak spokes and ash felloes; and then so on throughout the cart, wagon or chariot. While there is some room for compromise, if you use ash, or almost any timber other than elm for the hub, the technology simply won’t work.
You need a good stick for a proper game of stick, so Daisy and I both spend time seeking out the best sticks, suitable for carrying around in your mouth, and with just the right properties for throwing a long way, enhancing the quality of the experience for both of us.