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One of the ideas we’ve been toying with since Robert’s voluntary redundancy is running a training centre at Locks Park where we would teach and explore skills useful in our fragile, rapidly changing countryside and world; courses that will help us to adapt to, even survive, a world without fossil fuels and with an unpredictable climate.

wood taken from hedge laying - between five corners and square field

wood and brash from hedge laying - between five corners and square field

Together with producing our own food (hence the biome) being self-sufficient in energy and water is near the top of our agenda. It’s a hugely complex subject with every expert persuasively insistent that their ideas and methods are the best. We’ve read, listened, questioned; investigated, visited and considered. And it’s mighty hard – the more you know the less you know. One thing we are sure of is that wood will play a large part on this holding.

a cord of wood where Olly has been coppicing

cords of wood - Olly's coppicing February 2009

We are self-sufficient in wood.  This year we have only used wood to heat the house – and during a winter that has been reasonably cold too. At present we have two normal domestic woodburners and no efficient state-of-the-art wood boiler with accumulator (though this is a distinct possibility for the future). Our burning wood, in the main, comes from our hedgerows; it’s first cut into four foot lengths, stacked in cords and left to mature for two years before it’s cut to burning size and stored for the coming winter’s use in the woodshed.  In previous years our hedgerow wood supply has been ample as we’ve run it alongside an oil boiler. But now we need to increase our supply.

The same area of woodland 18 years ago - Robert chain sawing

The same area of woodland 18 years ago - Robert working with chainsaw

So Olly has been coppicing in our small farm wood.  He is re-working a coupe that we last coppiced when we first arrived at the farm 18 years ago.  The willow, ash and birch stools have produced poles which are of just the right size for the wood burners without having to split the logs.  Our only worry is that roe deer will nibble off the re-growth this time round – there are more deer about now it seems – so Olly is covering the cut stumps up with the brushwood in the hope that this will deter them enough to let some shoots get away. If that fails we will have to erect a temporary fence.

piles of brushwood protecting the freshly cut stumps from roe deer

piles of brushwood protecting the freshly cut stumps from roe deer - good habitat for invertebrates too.

While I was taking the photos a female Roe deer and her yearling twins were browsing around the edge of Olly’s coup. They seemed quite unconcerned by my (and the dogs) presence, only moving off when I tried to get closer to take a picture of them. Cheeky!


coppicing - the young trees left are replanted Ash

Old news I’m afraid. I didn’t write about it at the time as it took the wind out of my sails, a wind which continued to be taken away by other circumstances. And now they’ve found out it may have been an arson attack by the disgruntled, dismissed ex-chef. That someone can torch a building as ancient and special beggars belief.

It was very dark and very early on Christmas Eve morning. I was scraping out the cow palace with the bobcat when I saw Olly running up the feed barriers, I stopped,
“What’s up?” I called out
“I can smell burning. Toxic burning I think…you know, plastic, rubber or something.” He shouted over his shoulder, not stopping.
‘Uh-oh’ I thought ‘the chimneys…’ jumped off the bobcat and went in the opposite direction.

As part of our energy-saving-lean-time measures we are trying to use our two woodburners and our own wood only for heating this year. Despite a myriad of safe guards, as well as the stoves having been expertly and carefully installed, along with their own insulated flues (meticulously cleaned every year), I find myself worrying sometimes as we do have a thatch roof. And as we’ve never had the stoves burning continuously in the past I feel the risk is slightly increased.

But all looked damply darkly peaceful over the farmhouse and I could just make out pale coils of grey-white wood smoke rising languidly from the chimneys into the dense blackness. There was, however, an unpleasantly acrid tang in the air.
“Did you see anything?” I called
“Na, nothing.”
“Maybe someone getting rid of a toxic burn under the cover of darkness…duh, and that’s a very stupid thing to say.” I remonstrate with myself  “Far more likely to be seen at night!”

So we get on with the morning chores.

I’m coming in for breakfast, and Olly calls down
“It’s the George!”
“What’s the George?”
“The burning, the smell…the George burnt down.”
“What? No! You mean our George? It can’t have. No, it’s impossible. The George? Are you sure? Quick, let me see.”
I dash upstairs to look at the news on his pc – and there it is the horror, the devastation, the ferocity. I’m speechless. It seems unbelievable.
Will interrupts “I saw it! Late last night when I went out. I saw this great orange glow in the sky. I thought there must have been some new or festive lighting put up in Hatherleigh.”
Well in a way there was, though under no circumstances could it be called festive.

It’s amazing how much the obliteration of a building has affected the community. ‘For god’s sake it just a building…’ I expect people are thinking. And yes, that’s right, it is; but it’s one of Hatherleigh’s most ancient; after all it’s been in existence in some form or other since the 10th century.

The George was unwittingly the heart of the community, of Hatherleigh, and like most hearts it was taken for granted, occasionally worried about if it wobbled, but also worked hard and cheerfully for countless festivities (Robert and I celebrated our marriage there). It stood as an emblem and gave the town its distinctiveness; now all that’s left is a gaping blackened hole surrounded by depressingly forlorn crumbling cob. The heart no longer beating.

Did I hear someone shout “Bring back the stocks!”?

I was falling gently into a misty drifting twilight world between sleep and wakefulness. Robert was already asleep; soft, warm-slow breaths on the back of my neck. A noise startled, pulling me away from that place. I desperately wanted to resist it.
“Errh…phone” I mumbled into the pillow “phone”

“Whassat? Whaa?” slurred Robert

We’d got back late for a Thursday evening. We’d been over to see some friends after supper; it must have been around twelve by the time we got into bed.

“Phone!” I stagger unsteadily out of bed, bumping into the chest and slipping on the rug.
“Light on?” murmured Robert from the depths of the duvet “Didn’t hear. Sure?”

We once tried to have a phone in our bedroom, but because of thick cob walls and a dodgy connection that was ungetatable we gave up. Sometimes we hear the phone at night and I guess sometimes we don’t. Often it’s a misdialled number or a hoax.

I drunkenly stumbled the stairs to the study, fumbled for the light, but missed the call. It had gone onto answerphone. No message. I dialled 1471 but my brain hadn’t hooked up yet and the numbers meant nothing. Shaking my head and slapping my face to reawaken the blood supply I was about to redial when the phone went again.
“Oll – what’s happened?”

None of those things that are meant to happen happened. My heart didn’t stop. My stomach didn’t plummet. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t turn to ice.
“I’ve crashed.”
“Are you okay?”

Those words – so futile – are you okay? Are you broken? Are you bleeding to death? Has your head, your body or any of your limbs been scrunched, torn, flung across the countryside? Is anyone else hurt, maimed, dead? Are you going to live? You are my child. I bleed when you do. Every one of your hurts hurts me…more. I love you.

“Are you okay?”
“I think so. Yes, I think so.”

He had also, unusually for a Thursday, been over to see some friends too. He’d decided to come home via a different route. They’ve been resurfacing all the small back roads and as he rounded a bend he hit a thick layer of new gravel and went into a skid; the wheels locked, he careered up a short elevated track to a field entrance, which flipped the car over bouncing it on a salt/gravel box, throwing it onto its roof and rolling it over again down the hill. It came to rest on the driver’s side in the middle of the road. He managed to crawl out of the passenger door.
Seeing it there, bottom side up across the road, a broken, skewed crushed metal box spewing forth glass, fuel and radiator fluid started the icy fingers of shock moving through my body. How he came out of it unscathed I don’t know. That no one else was involved – another miracle.

We managed to turn the car upright and tow it with the truck to a safe place near by. The next day in the light we would deal with it. Now back home, sweet tea and bed.

Robert and I felt peculiar yesterday – strange, disorientated and off-kilter. Olly, who I thought might be battered and bruised once the initial shock wore off was, still, miraculously, completely unscathed.

not olly’s car

Yesterday was not a ‘remembering remarkable holiday’ day. It was a full-on farming work day.

Every year, about half way through the winter housing period, I muck out the cow palace. I do this for several reasons – the dung is beginning to build up, to make sure that parasites or fungal growths such as roundworm, lice and mites that thrive in moist warm dung are removed; and, most importantly, to help get rid of any bacterial build up before calving. This seems to be more important during recent winters as we no longer have any sustained cold spells to inhibit the growth of pathogens.

And every year I look at the job in front of me and think ‘it’s never going to be done in a day’ ‘how have I ever managed before?’. This year Olly was my helper and, taking on board what was expected, he just looked at me and said “You gotta be joking! It’s impossible! We won’t do all that!” With false cheer I replied “Yup, I, we, will. It’s done every year. I know it looks daunting. But we’ll get in done. And in plenty of time too”. Read the rest of this entry »


Weary, travel-worn, a bit tattered and sore around the eyes, but nonetheless well, hail and hearty! Arrived back this afternoon after a very long, but relatively painless and uneventful, flight or rather flights – three of them to be precise. Read the rest of this entry »


Apologies for being absent – my lurgy morphed wildly and weirdly. It became a huge swollen head, or that’s what it felt like, with severe shocks waves running from hip to ankle.

“Aha” said Olly “that’s because you’ve given up tea”. Read the rest of this entry »

Sitting resolutely in my office yesterday trying to put my mind to various troublesome bits of paper work, bill paying and a thousand other niggly annoying things that had been put on the back burner – for so long that they had begun to bubble and boil – I became conscious of heavy furniture being dragged along above my head.

Half listening, I wasn’t taking too much notice when there was a great crash…
“Olly? Olly…is that you up there?” No response. The dragging resumed.

I got up, stuck my head round the door and called down the corridor
“Hey Oll, you getting Christmas decorations down from the attic or something? Okay? Need some help?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.



The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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