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Mike's Blog - Day 17

…and now for something completely different… who was it who said that? Monty Python?

A bit longer too!

We have been fortunate in having the services recently or a local hedge layer (one of his many talents) Burt Hunter.

He has been working on the hedge on the lane near the entrance to the garden. The hedge was swamped by trees, but these trees needed to be removed to make way for a path. That was a shame, but it did mean the hedge could grow, but it has become a mess, tall , weak and gangly. All we could have done with it would be to cut it off at about 2-3 feet and let it regrow. However it was clear that this old hedge had at one time been “laid”, a very old and traditional technique to keep the hedge dense, healthy and stock proof, a far cry from the modern methods where farmers use a “flail” to brutally smash the branches and keep the hedge under control.

Hollingside lane, the lane to the garden, is a very old lane. Back in the 1400’s or so it was actually the main road into Durham, but you had to cross the river without a bridge further south. It all got re-routed when the Sunderland Bridge was built. Of course the old bridge that stands there is relatively modern being rebuilt to take more and more traffic over the years. It was once part of the great north road/A1. It's traffic free now of course and no through route.

Anyway, back to the lane. You can of course walk down there still and if you do you would see our rare breed sheep in a small field at the end. Go a little further, keeping ahead, and you come to an very good open view to the south.

The hedge is now finished and it’s a credit to Burt as it was not in the best condition, there are lots of gaps which we will re-plant, but that will be the Autumn now.

Such an old technique still carries many terms that some of us might be unfamiliar with. You may have heard of a billhook (a short handheld chopping tool with a curved/hooked top) and maul (a hammer made from wood), ideally an Elm log if I remember rightly what Burt said. The advantage of this is it’s doesn’t smash the ends of the vertical stakes in that Burt has woven the hedge branches (or “plashers”) into.

These ash/hazel stakes are finished off by weaving willow or hazel poles along the top, the “Binders”. The stakes are then trimmed to finish them off and this leaves a fresh clean cut, often referred to as a “bright button”. They do look like a row of buttons holding the binders as shown in the photo below.

Burt cut out the sere (dead wood) and worked what he could with the quick (live) wood. As you can see in the second photo, the laid branches are cut to within an inch of their lives, but this severe pruning really encourages new growth, especially the basal re-growth which will give strong new stems ready for laying again in due course.

The final “tool” of course as something to measure the length of a hedge, over difficult
ground with ditches and turns, what better than a traditional surveying chain, a great tool and you can see Burts in the picture below with its various tags or tokens on it which show the increments along it, you can measure from either end I believe. I’ll leave it to you to find out how many yards in a chain and chains to the furlong!

These traditional skills are great I think and you can see lots more at https://coppice-products.co.uk/maker/burt-hunter-3/.

...as well as this particularly good film as a treat: