• A truly gifted craftsman with a wheel passion

    This Monday saw me beating a path up to the Lancashire coast, just outside Southport, to visit a man with a passion for his chosen trade. I say chosen, but really it chose him as wheelwrighting was in the blood for 4th generation Master Wheelwright Phill Gregson. I spent a very happy half day chatting to Phill about his life and his work, which is remarkably diverse - not just making wooden wheels, but also coachbuilding with ash (he's currently restoring the ash frame of a 1960s fire engine for a client), but he has also worked on gypsy wagons. In fact he has his own wagon (and horses of course), which he and his wife drove some 870 miles down through England & France last year. Phill is a great traveller, communicator and teacher - a recent apprentice has just qualified and left to start his own business.

    The main reason for my visit was to see how Phill uses ash as part of the process of constructing traditional spoked wooden wheels. Three different sorts of timber are usually used in wheel construction - elm for the naves, oak for the spokes and ash for the felloes (pronounced fellies) - the outer rim of the wheel, with each felloe taking the ends of two spokes. The felloes are held together and kept in line either by dowels or triangular metal pins. The wheel is then usually tyred with a hoop of iron - a very skilled operation in its own right - involving fire and water and a few deft blows with sledges. Phill remembers many childhood days when his job was to run round the wheel with the water bucket making sure that the hoop contracted evenly and the heat did not burn the wood.

    You will see more and learn more in my forthcoming book about the ash tree to be published later this year.

    Meanwhile - many thanks Phill for a fascinating session and...

    To see more of what Phill does have a look at www.wheelwrighting.co.uk

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  • Lost souls in the graveyard

    This handsome carving of a sickle and corn adorns an old disused gravestone in the churchyard at Bodenham. Most of the old stones in this churchyard have been moved into rows along the inside of the boundary walls. Most are nineteenth century, some have had the legends blasted away from the surface of the stone by prolonged exposure to the weather. As the names have faded and been lost, along with their ages (sometimes venerable, but often, touchingly, far too young) and the dates of their existence, the stones are seemingly redundant - nobody who remembers them is alive to tell their stories - as Kevin Brockmeier describes them - the truly dead. We can only guess about the life and loves of Ann Merrick (whose gravestone this is) and wonder whether the device on her gravestone was of some particular relevance. Was she a farmer, a baker or perhaps from a family of corn millers? Maybe this is just a signal that the reaper is coming for all of us one day.

    On that jolly note I'll wish all my visitors a Happy New Year and hope that The Many get a few breaks this year rather than The Few.

    P.S. I have decided to start an Instagram account, some new images and some old shots.

    Do have a look and follow me if youd like.....

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  • And then it snowed again

    After years of barely seeing a flake of snow we had another fall three days ago, but only on the higher ground. Look east from here and the Malvern Hills were white. Look west and the Black Mountains were completely snowclad. Choices, choices. Which way to go? In the end I took the easy option and headed for the Malverns. Problem with getting access to the upper reaches of the Black Mountains is that many of those very remote and narrow lanes never see a gritting lorry. The thought of being stuck or sliding off the road really doesn't appeal.

    Even though the sky was blue & the sun was shining the temperature was still barely above zero so the snow was still very crisp and powdery. There was also the thought that it's about time I picked up some new snowy images for my Malverns greetings cards.

    I did also happen upon a beautiful 'phoenix' ash tree - something I have rarely seen. Limes, beeches, sycamores - yes, but seldom ash. (Cue for someone to email me a picture of another phoenix ash no doubt).

    Flossie and I walked all the way from Hollybush to British Camp and back again. It crossed my mind that although one usually wants to see pristine snowscapes unsullied by footprints when you actually look at these images with evidence of droves of walkers clearly imprinted you realise that this is the only time of year that records everyone's passing. The feet may have travelled those paths at any other time, but when they disappear from view that's it - they might just as well have never been there as far as any observer is concerned. It is as if for a brief few days everyone has the right to leave their mark - something many crave, but few achieve.

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  • Our dear old dog Molly is 16 today

    Yes, regular visitors may have noticed our Scotties in the occasional photograph. I remember a comment from Oliver Rackham once about some of my tree photographs - 'it would be nice if he put a bicycle or something in the pictures for scale' - well, I do occasionally go for a Scottie dog or two & that's the way it'll have to be as I don't own a bicycle. However, I'm a great believer in the trees speaking for themselves. Why should they need to be compared to anything else?

    Anyway happy 16th birthday Molly - as you can see she's doing pretty well for 112! Hang on, that's comparing her to a human being. I don't think we need to do that either.

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  • Cold... very cold

    Last night was the coldest night so far this winter, getting down to around -10C. Jan found this amazing frost pattern on her studio window. Never seen anything quite like it before.

    Got all wrapped up early this morning and headed off down the valley. Lots of great ash pictures - you may get a wee look later, but also found this hoar frosted barbed wire.

    The work of the freezing weather is so beautiful, yet so transient and, of course, unrepeatable.

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