By Toni Brannon (Hampshire)….
Les and I decided to spend a few extra days in the Lake District as well as attending the NCFed AGM/Gathering . We stayed in an apartment in a converted coach house in Ambleside a town close to the top end of Lake Windermere. We liked this busy little town with its wide variety of local businesses .
Saturday morning found us driving the short distance to the Grizedale Forest campsite to meet those who had spent the night there camping or in one of the wooden pods. The open fronted barn was busy with people chatting and having a quick cuppa.
Soon we were all walking to the adjacent Force Knott Wood where there were a number of hands on sessions taking place. Owen Jones was making swill baskets, something we were to see plenty of later on in the bobbin mill. Rebecca Oaks the NCFed chair had put several coracles on the Force Beck pond and attempting to manoeuvre these proved popular. Les had taken materials to make some gypsy pegs and soon had an interested group chatting to him. Others were making bows, spoons and leatherwork.
After lunch back at the barn we had the choice of four afternoon site visits. There were three woods with themes of biodiversity, coppice products and training and apprenticeships or Stott Park Bobbin Mill. We chose the mill which we highly recommend as it was a very interesting insight into another era. Built in 1835, at one time it was one of over a hundred operating in the Lake District but is now the last. It had extended its product range to include other turned goods which no doubt helped its survival.
Walking round conjured up thoughts of the large amount of local coppiced woodland that was used . We enjoyed watching the roughing and finishing lathes operating producing lots of shavings. The mill workers used to form waist high walkways through the shavings. With its multiple unprotected machines and drive belts it must have been a harsh place to work.
Next was the AGM at the Grizedale Forest visitors centre Yan building. After the usual reports from the chair Rebecca and treasurer Helen it was onto voting in the three new directors in en-bloc. These were Andy Alder from the North East Midlands Coppice Network, Ken Hilton from Dorset Coppice group and Chris Letchford the chair of the Sussex and Surrey coppice group. Helen Waterfield stood down as a director but was co-opted back again to continue as treasurer.
There was a discussion regarding what is the best way to use the NCFed funds as they grow. Suggestions were for promotional material for shows, possible training bursaries, subsidised/free master classes. This led onto considering other like-minded organisations that we could work with and the Heritage Crafts Association and the Woodland Trust were mentioned.
The location for the 2016 AGM/Gathering was considered and the offer by Andy and the East Midlands Network to host it discussed and accepted. Other subjects debated were a Grown In Britain coppice pilot scheme, and the NCFed Facebook page. Director Dave Jackson appealed for volunteers for sub groups and emphasised that these did not have to be directors. The meeting finished with the chair’s summary.
Dinner was a delicious venison or vegetable stew and then there was a talk on tree health by Barnaby Wylder of the Forestry Commission. Walter Lloyd, president of the Coppice Association North West, then told us about his life and how he ended up in woodland work finishing with a demonstration of making rope from straw.
Sunday morning we had three discussion groups on offer. I went to the hazel propagation one which was started by Kathy from Norfolk. She had attended the seminar earlier in the year at Westonbirt Arboretum and had interested people with news of her success in her own wood in Norfolk. She showed us how she layers by bending the branch into an arch before securing it into the soil. Growing from cuttings and nuts was also discussed and a number of those present gave their ideas .Les went to the Coppice Products discussion group where people were split into three smaller groups. Each one had a piece of flip chart and was asked to make a list of suggested new products including where they should be marketed and sold. The three groups then reassembled to discuss and share the ideas generated.The third group discussed the design of a new charcoal bag to replace the old association version.
We regrouped back at the barn for lunch and some then started their journey home. A number of us visited the Coppice Co-operative’s yard near Silverdale. This had originally been owned by Rebecca who gained permission for overnight stays due to charcoal activities. It was heartening to see this being successfully operated by the young owners. Sam Ansell showed us the adjacent coppice that had been cut and was regrowing well. After more chatting accompanied by tea and cake people went their separate ways.
Les and I stayed on in Ambleside for another couple of days taking the opportunity to visit Keswick and the pencil museum. We were a little apprehensive thinking that this might be boring but the story of the local graphite mines, the intricacies of pencil manufacture and the variety of products proved it was well worth going.
The 2015 AGM/Gathering had proved to be popular with eighty attending and all appearing to enjoy the location and the great opportunity to chat with friends old and new and influence the way forward for the NCFed.