Thursday, 10 October 2013

Woodfair overview from Anton Coaker

 Anton Coaker our Sawmill operator from last weeks Cranborne Chase Woodfair has sent us a copy of his article which he has written for his local paper, we thought we should share. Thanks Anton it was a great event. 

Not having been off to such an event for a few years, sawyer Barrie and I packed up the 3 ringed sawmill circus and headed off to a Woodfair at the weekend. The premise was that we were to give a demonstration of mobile milling. The reality? Barrie cuts a few logs while I give it my best barrow boy patter, and sweet talk passing punters out their folding stuff for interesting fresh sawn boards.

 This time, the event was up on Cranborne Chase, in Hampshire. We’d attended a previous bash, at a site called the ‘Larmer Tree’ –and no, I don’t know what that means- but this year it had moved to the grounds of a big house down the road.  This was Breamore House, a 17th century brick built pile – on an ‘E’ shaped footprint, in honour of good Queen Bess. The owners had kindly –rashly even- allowed us grubby wood urchins to pitch up in the parkland right next to the house, and a finer spot would be hard to imagine.  Surrounded by woodland, and meadows running down to the river Avon meandering its way down from Salisbury, it was idyllic.
 For those with an interest in such things, the reddish soil was fine and squidgy underfoot, with miles of chalk up over the downs behind. Rainfall isn’t high, and up on the chalk, water is ever a problem for stock. Dewponds and 200’ deep wells were the norm. Now most of the chalk is ploughed, that’s less of an issue, although generally I’d say a lot of it could do with a bit more stock again, to get some muck back on the ground. Curiously, some wells up over the hill is known to be on the line of a Roman road now gone, suggesting the legions dug wells as they went. Or at least had slaves do so.   

 We travelled up at stupid O’clock on Saturday morning, although Barrie had towed the mill up the night before. As the misty dawn lifted, we set up beside another mobile milling team. They were a personable bunch of local lads, with a more venerable outfit- a huge circular rackbench, driven by a steam engine. The gurgling and huffing noises of the steamer were a nice counterpoint to the wicked growling of the inserted tooth 60” diameter circular. By contracts, we boringly make sawdust to the sound of a diesel engine.

 The punters were thick on the ground and, I have to say, almost universally of an engaging and curious nature. It was a pleasure to stand at the safety tape, and explain what we were doing to the throngs. And if they fancied they could ‘make a nice house sign/coffee table out of that £5 offcut of red cedar’, then we were all going home happy weren’t we?

 The Saturday night, our team made for the mobile pizza oven, whose owners had obligingly agreed to keep the fire lit to feed hungry exhibitors. As we waited for nosh, a flask of spiritual refreshment appeared, then a couple of gallons of cider, and I didn’t seem to be able to get up again. As darkness fell and the stars came out very satisfactorily, someone kindly set up a brazier at my tootsies. A chorus of owls serenaded us as we passed some very convivial time.
 Crikey, but it’s a hard life.

 Sunday morning found some of us –OK, me- a little slow to stir, but the punters didn’t rock up until 10, so we could emerge at our leisure. I’d kipped under a hide rug in the truck cab, and comparisons with Barrie indicate we’re both beginning to creak and groan after nights bivouacked out of doors. Still, we soon managed to don our beaming welcoming faces, and had a second day as good as the first.

  There was a bit of an equine feeling going on, with that nice old fellow pulling a few logs about behind a very personable grey dobbin, a pair of smart upstanding Suffolk Punches tugging cartloads of paying punters round in step, and the delightful Natasha leading her pair of very fine neddies through the park for their breakfast – Natasha lives in the big house you see. Lovely gel I thought.

  We finally wearily packed up for home, Barrie heading for a mobile job into the new week, me back to the building site. There was a certain amount of difficulty when it transpired that I needed the wifes car Monday evening to run an errand, with ‘B’ still out in my landrover. Silly stories persist about the ‘joint chair’ of the parish council then turning up to chair a meeting driving her husbands loader tractor, but I know you’d never believe such nonsense, so we’ll say no more about it.