• Fallen Giant

    Last year part of the mighty Buttington Oak, near Welshpool in Powys, peeled away from the rest of the tree and fell. In January the rest of the tree, quite probably imbalanced by the third that had previously collapsed, fell to the ground in stormy weather. This was the second largest oak in Wales with a girth of 36ft 2ins and grew, near enough, to the projected alignment of Offa's Dyke, quite probably having been taken as a boundary marker between England and Wales at some point in time, although obviously not as far back as the 8th century. In fact no specific historical or cultural associations can be attached to the tree - it was simply very large and incredibly old - best guess 800-1,000 years old.

    After photographing it in 2011 for my "Heritage Trees Wales" book I must admit that it looked solid and healthy enough to have lasted a good while longer, but one can seldom get an inkling of what's going on inside such a huge old burry bole unless one has the benefit of high tech ultrasound kit. I also think that agricultural practise might have contributed to the tree's demise - agrochemicals in the soil when arable held sway and then compaction to the surrounding soil when cattle were grazing and sheltering beneath it. Who knows? Maybe the tree had come to the natural end of its life anyway.

    No matter, it is always sad to hear of another fallen giant, but at least we have some photographic memories.



  • Ash bark beetle - an unwitting artist

    Out yesterday when I came upon a collapsed ash pollard next to a hedgerow. Been down a couple of years I'd say & much of the bark was peeling away. Suddenly became quite fascinated by the indentations left in the sapwood, beneath the bark, by burrowing ash bark beetles. The patterns are reminiscent of the same ones left by that introducer of deadly Dutch elm disease, the elm bark beetle, but in this case, thankfully the ash bb does not introduce a harmful fungus to the tree. In fact, in most cases, the ash bb only burrows into the bark of dead or dying ash trees. The central channel is bored out by the female, where she then lays her eggs & as the larvae hatch out they then chew their way sideways, making the lateral channels. How strange that they so seldom cross over, thus interfering with their brood mates and their progressive munching, prior to hatching out, boring out through the bark and the whole process beginning all over again.

    Although this invasion of 'fly', as the old craftsmen called it, was a nuisance to them as it spoiled the wood, there is a certain beauty to this methodically hewn heiroglyph.



  • 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



  • 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.....



  • 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.



Archie Miles photography

Archie's Blog

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