Wednesday 5 April 2023

Style stiles

 I had a very expensive education and that's been really good for my career in table quizzes. But the extra-curricula bits have been at least as useful. When I was into Am Dram during the first couple of years in College, I used to help make the sets. Somehow the College Carpenter [a rank below Bursar but above Dogcatcher] was also seconded to this activity. He asserted that I'd get straighter saw-cuts if I held the saw with three fingers and pointed the index finger along the blade in the direction I wished to cut . . . and it was so. When I'm in the zone, I can saw a timber so that the end is square.

After I'd finished all the exams in my final year in secondary school, there were still several weeks of [fully paid up] term left that Summer. Rather than allowing me and my fellow young patriarchs to idle away the days playing cards and drinking rough cider, we were offered a variety of voluntary activities. I signed up for stile-construction on public footpaths, with a couple of my peers. We were told to cycle out into the country and report for work at a particular farm; where tools and timber would be available for the task. By the time we arrived, the farmer had assembled a bucket of nails, a hammer and his second-best saw. We trailed after him round the farm-yard as he sourced random bits of old timber and half a dozen fence-posts. We knew they were fence-posts because one end of each had been roughly pointed.

I think, over the course of a week, we created 3 stiles to facilitate walkers on the foot-path which ran through that farm. They looked more or less like this. The first attempt was ragged-arsed mess which I imagine the farmer ripped out and replaced from pure shame after we left. But at the end of the week three quite unhandy chaps had learned something and it's possible that those latter stiles are still in place 50 years later.

The are due for Easter. When they were last here, they spent a good bit of time in the 0.4 ha woodland which we planted 15 years prior and got thinned last Summer. After they had returned to blighty, we found a crude shelter in one corner of the woods, such as might have been constructed by an extremely indigent hunter-gatherer clan. It is clear they don't need supervision or leadership down there. Their Auntie N, clearly anxious to be rid of their company, decided that a couple of stiles were required to more easily negotiate the two lines of sheep-wire between kitchen and woods. And it was so!

The thing about stiles is that they are designed to facilitate walking people while baffling sheep. Anyone with experience of sheep will know that they baffle easy; so stiles can be built in a wide variety of <ahem> styles so long as they provide some sort of steps on either side of the fence. Appropriate tech rules in my book and it's better if nobody goes to the creamery or agri-store [or Ikea?] to, like, buy a flat-pack stile kit. The first style [above ]}is little more than 3 x 4in solid concrete blocks that have been waiting for the call for a decade + a new fence-post to steady the hand. As a concession to soft city folk, I planed the top foot of the post to lay the splinters. The far side of the fence is a drop of about 1m from a rough stone-faced ditch. We settled the stile-local stones to provide firmer footing; and Job Done!

For the lower stile, the fence runs across the field called Crowe's which was a regular meadow in 2007. Steps were therefore required on both sides . . . and two strands of barbed wire also needed removal. I found two chunky logs, not [yet] split for fire-wood, and the same height = 15in = 400mm and we settled them on a bed of gravel  so that they were a) stable b) still the same height against the fall of the hill. Nailed together with a red cedar plank, with another partly planed fence post for hand-hold the second stile was easier to construct than the first - if that be possible.

If that-all sounds bish bosh bash super easy, I'll just add that when we started the project we really had very little idea how the final version would look. If I hadn't found two same sized logs, something else would have formed the foundation of the solution. Concrete blocks don't really have that olde world rustic look but they have the virtue of being flat on two sides and just the right size for a reasonably fit adult to lift without courting a hernia . . . and available a short wheel-barrow journey away.

I spend the rest of the afternoon sawing tree-stumps out from the developing pathways in the woodland. Some of the stumps left by the Forester last summer are already starting to coppice and that's an asset but a stump in a pathway is a trip-and-fall hazard.

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