January 2016





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5th January 2015


Happy New year! As ever, I can hardly believe another one has rolled around, bringing with it the 554th anniversary of the Battle of Wakefield on 30th December. We marked this in what has become the customary way, with a Friends of Sandal Castle event on the 28th at Richard of York's Wakefield residence (there he is on the left: a romanticised version of his death in polychrome plaster from Wakefield County Hall). I started proceedings off with a lecture about the Duke's life - then had to leave immediately afterwards, as I'd been struck down by one of the nasty bugs doing the rounds. Luckily my voice held out to the end, because a surprisingly large audience had braved the icy conditions to attend - and luckily I could leave the rest of the day in the Frei Compagnie's capable hands! If you'd like to see what they got up to, Richard Taylor of the Friends has posted reports and images on Facebook and the Friends website. It looked like a great day, with brilliant sunshine glinting on the snow - I was very sorry to have missed it, and hope I'll be fit for the next one.


Although the dreaded bug did put a damper on our festive season, to say the least, we managed to make the most of a bright sparkling freezing cold day by doing a useful chore - going up to Towton with Steve Clegg and Graham Darbyshire to excavate the wood cache we'd buried in the copse on 30th November! A long stretch of dry, glacial conditions meant that the track was firm enough for Mick to drive the van up, whereupon we were relieved to find that our wood was a. still there and b. still nicely dry beneath its makeshift cover. It only took the four of us an hour to heave it all out, pack it into the van, drive back to the barn and stack it all neatly in there (on the right you can see the boys in action: left to right, Steve, Graham and Mick) - which means it now has a good three months to dry further in time for our Battle of Towton event on 29th March. Then we felt we deserved a treat, so we repaired to The Crooked Billet for a big breakfast apiece: bacon, egg, sausage, black pudding, hash browns, baked beans, toast and tea or coffee for the modest sum of £6.50. Just what the doctor ordered (and it would have been even nicer if I'd been able to taste it!).


16th January


Despite festive holidays, snuffles and freezing weather, things have been moving on apace at 'Beckside', as we're now calling the new plot at Newmillerdam. On the left, our chum Chris is building what will be a log store and parking bay where Mick can drive his van in to load up with wood. Meanwhile all the guys worked hard to strim down, rake up and burn the huge growth of brambles, so the site is pretty well clear now and Mick could get on with planting some trees. To date, he's put in 250, all native species  - birch, field maple, wild cherry, hazel, rowan and goat willow - not to mention three hawthorne hedges!


I made my first contribution to the labour by tagging the freshly-planted 'whips' with hazard tape (below left); the baby trees are so slender they're difficult to see, and we don't want them to be accidentally strimmed away or run over with wheelbarrows when people are working. I also saw a couple of the site's 'pest' problems: a dirty great heap of Japanese knotweed roots which have now been burned, and an unexpected issue with the 'heeled in' clumps of whips


waiting to be planted (below right). The paler areas on the field maple stems in the foreground are where pesky little voles have nibbled away the sweet bark! But Mick went ahead and planted them anyway, so we just have to cross our fingers that they won't be too damaged to thrive. (Cont'd below)


Even at this stage, the land is yielding useful stuff in the form of good firewood gleaned from fallen branches - or in the case of the stack below left, sawn up from a massive low spreading branch which had to be lopped off to make space for working and planting. It's amazingly satisfying, especially since Mick has discovered Aspen Bio Chain (a completely bio-degradable chainsaw oil) so he won't be polluting the soil with mineral oil when he's wood-cutting. The only downside is that we've just destroyed a mistle-thrush's lovely private restaurant - once a small clearing in a bramble patch, it's now fully open to view with the anvil-stone (below right) and scatter of snail-shells from previous meals scattered around. Luckily this hasn't put the thrush off, and plenty of vegetation will soon grow up to give it more salubrious surroundings - below centre you can see Mick applying a mulch of dead leaves around the new plantings to discourage grass growth and enourage worms to aerate the soil round the roots. Amazingly, some of the whips are already budding - so roll on Spring!

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