Friday, 7 June 2019

The view of the Wattle Man

The view of the Wattle Man


I went up to see my old friend Trevor the hurdle maker a fortnight ago. He was some weeks late (and still is .....) in completing an order and mobile phones are not exactly his thing. And anyway it's always good to catch up and it's a lonely life being a wattle man.

This is the view from Trevor's office, if that is what you want to call a clump of a few hundred acres of woodland folded into the Hampshire downs just east of Stockbridge. On the sunny mid-May day I visited the last of the bluebells were fading and the surrounding fields vivid yellow. It was as perfect a spring day as you can get. 'Enjoy it while you can,' says Trevor. I know what he means. I've been up here in all seasons, a place that has precisely zero creature comforts. Winter business is conducted in the front seats of Trevor's battered car. But today the weather Gods are smiling on us or at least I thought so until Trevor delivered his verdict in answer to my question as to how things were. 'Terrible,' he said, 'It's this global warming.

Trevor has coppiced these hazel woods for thirty years. It's a seven year rotation from one harvest to the next, each hazel growth largely used for making hurdles. The upright stems are cut from the stools, which are 2-3 centuries old, with a bill hook, a sort of curved hand axe and left for a few weeks or months depending on the time of year to allow the sap to run out, at which point they are split longways in two. The process of making a hurdle (Trevor can produce two or three a day) is done entirely by hand and without the use of any material other than hazel. There are no nails. No wires. Simply twisting and flexing the hazel in manner of construction that is both rigid and pliable. A good hurdle, originally used around southern England for folding sheep in temporary enclosures, will last a decade or more despite being constantly uprooted, moved, abused by the sheep and subjected to the downland weather.

There is a whole raft of terms Trevor recites as he makes the 6ftx3.5ft panel. Uprights sail. Weaving rods. Windings. Jonny spur stabber. Finishing rod. His hands are both hammer and pliers as he weaves and compacts. It is sort of fun to have a go, but I'm not sure I could do it day in, day out.

Today there is little demand from the sheep farmers for hazel hurdles or house builders (think wattle and daub) but Trevor is busier than ever. 6ftx6ft panels make for popular fences. Garden centres have an insatiable demand for decorative panels in all manner of sizes for all manner of uses. So why so gloomy? How could the centuries old tradition of hurdle making be affected by global warming? It is all about growth rates and the pattern of growth.

A centuries old hazel stool 
No longer is the rotation seven years; it is coming down to something closer to five. The reason? The lack of cold winters. In Trevor's first two decades the hazel grew for seven months of the year and was dormant for five, the sap rising and falling with the change of the seasons. But now there is no dormant period. The hazel keeps growing, even if only ever so slightly, all year round. Now you might think that no bad thing. More growth equals the potential for more money. But the problem is that the growth is too fast. The dormancy is an essential part of ensuring strong and pliable hazel stems. In short, there is more of the raw material, but it is not as good.

This upsets Trevor. He knows in his heart his 21st century hurdles won't last as long as those he made in the 20thcentury. It is not his fault. And in truth it won't be the end of the world if his panels last ten years instead of fifteen. But it's an ever so subtle clue that, regardless of the reasons, nature is changing.

The Frankel book: delayed at the start

About this time I was confidently expecting to be shooing the moths from my morning suit in preparation for a whirly gig of PR as my Frankel book was launched in the run up to Royal Ascot. Sadly, it is delayed for a full year.

It was always going to be a tight deadline; to a certain extent writing the book is the easy part. Preparing the 100,000 or so words for publication is a whole different thing. Editing, fact checking, manuscript approval, cover design, proof reading, indexing, typesetting and not to mention getting your allotted time on the William Collins printing presses all play a part. In the end we just ran out of road; not the happiest call I have had this year.

You might ask why we didn't simply push the publication date a month or two later. Well, there were two lines of reasoning. The first was that Royal Ascot is, aside from the Grand National, the best time of year to catch the eye of a public that is interested, but doesn't regularly engage with, horse racing. Likewise, media editors in print, TV and radio, are more receptive to horseracing stories that feed into the Royal meeting vibe. In short, it is too good a PR window to pass up.

As for just later in this year, well summer is somewhat problematic with holidays and such. Push on into the autumn and my book would have been swamped by super Thursday (all books are published on a Thursday, don't ask me why) when the Christmas headline authors, celebrities, chefs and their like, are rolled out to catch the Christmas wave.

So, it is now going to be May 2020 for me. Guess I just better get on with the next book in the meantime .....

Last minute spaces for Father's Day & River Walk with Simon Cooper

I have some last minute slots due to changes of plans:

I have three spaces left for a Father & Child on the afternoon event (2pm-5.30pm) at Nether Wallop Mill. £125. Tuition, tackle and flies provided. Take home two fish!

Join me for a visit to the Leckford Eel Traps, Halford's Oakley Hut at Mottisfont Abbey and the water meadows. Meet at The Peat Spade, Longstock for coffee and an illustrated talk. Return after all the above for lunch at 2.30pm. Three places left. £75 for one. £125 for two.

Fishing Breaks is recruiting

Fishing Breaks has a full-time vacancy based at Nether Wallop Mill in Hampshire.

In broad terms the position will entail working in the office for the majority of the week in a general sales/marketing role liaising with customers, river owners, river keepers and guides. The remaining time will be split between guiding/instructing and assisting our river keeper with weed cutting, restoration projects and general duties, plus holiday cover. The vacancy requires good computer/administrative skills and an excellent telephone manner. A recognised guiding/instruction qualification is a requirement as is a full driving licence.

The work will primarily be Monday-Friday with occasional weekends. Please reply with your CV and a covering letter to vy email to Simon Cooper Applications close 10/June. Interviews will take place w/s 17/June.

PS Diane is not leaving and nor am I retiring. We just need some help!

Feedback Draw winner for May 

Another Mayfly season is drawing to close. In its own way that is rather sad. We spend months in anticipation and then its gone. June is always something of a readjustment but long, dusky evenings should be temptation enough over the summer to come.

Well done to Colin Fairley, who fished on our new beat at Steeple Langford on the River Wylye, the winner of the recently published River Itchen at Martyr Worthy by George Edward Mann which I review in the July edition of Trout & Salmon.

If you wish to buy a copy of George's book, which follows in the footsteps of legendary Itchen keeper Ron Holloway, you may do so direct via his web site at £35.

The Quiz

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day this week a few related questions. As ever, it is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. One little bit of wartime trivia before you do the mental deep dig.

If you are familiar with Bullington Manor you will know that near the top of Beat 2, just below the white road bridge, there is a pool we call the Tank Trap. 

This was in fact created by tanks travelling from Salisbury Plain to Portsmouth in to join the D-Day convoy. The bridge was too weak and too narrow so they diverted to the right, fording the river, the tracks cutting out the pool which remains today.

1)      Which American General, later a US President, fished the River Test in May 1944?

2)      What does the term D-Day denote?

3)      How many Allied beachheads were established on the Normandy coastline?

Enjoy the weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director

1) General Dwight D. Eisenhower 34th U.S. President.

2) D-Day is a general military term for the day on which an operation or exercise is planned to commence.

3) Five. Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

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