This weekend I learnt a new traditional craft - this one has nothing to do with fibre, wool or fabric - I was at Threave with the National Trust Conservation Volunteers doing a little hedge laying.
(Pictures - from top left, clockwise - the trees before we start, the trees laid and staked, the hazel binders, Karl wielding an axe, the finished bound and staked hedge, tool sharpening)
Hedge laying is a traditional method of managing a hedgerow to create a natural, living, livestock barrier. It has been practised for hundreds of years, but as with many traditional countryside crafts it is being used less and less frequently as man-made materials take over.
Hedge-laying involves a row of trees, each one cut individually, nearly all way through the trunk, close to the base, so that the tree can be laid at an angle of about 30 degrees to the ground, each laid one after the other and inter-woven with the previous one. These cut stems/trunks are called pleachers and where the trunk has been exposed to the elements new branches will grow vertically, creating an even more impenetrable barrier.
The row of pleachers are staked vertically every 30-50 cms to support the pleachers as they grow and then the hedge is topped with binders, which are used to hold the structure together. Both the stakes and binders are usually made from coppiced hazel which is great because it is usually straight and flexible. The binders are rolled together to create a beautifully woven top for the hedge.
A wide array of scary looking tools are used in hedge laying - bill hooks, saws and axes to name a few!
(Pictures, from left to right: the tools - axe, loppers, one-handed saw, bill hook, saw; Dave with the binders; my laid trees - twice by mistake!; laid trees; Karl showing us how to weave in the branches; the finished fence; the stakes)
We were laying a row of hazel trees, which is perfect for creating livestock hedges because of the large thorns - great to work with if you want to look like a pin-cushion afterwards! I even got one thorn stuck in my head and it drew blood - ouch!!
Just in case the other pictures don't appear, hopefully these ones, inserted in a more traditional manner will, to give you some idea of what we were doing!
A well maintained hedge, which is trimmed and laid regularly can last for over 100 years. It was certainly a privilege to learn about this craft (thank you Karl and Dave) and hopefully we will get to use the skills again in the future - our hedge will look perfect in about 8 years!!