Archive | August, 2013


31 Aug


I was privileged to be asked to provide some of the backdrop to the handfasting of a lovely couple Sadie and Steve today deep in the forest of Cannock Chase. All the timber used has important Celtic and Pagan resonances.

The entrance arch to the sacred grove was held by the bridesmaids. Made from Hazel – representing magic and healing – rods were twisted together, steam bent and held fast with bast (inner bark) – a tough hand made cordage taken from Elm. Elm is scared to the Earth Mother and in Celtic Lore is meant to add stability and grounding. The red berries are from Rowan, the tiny scars in the berry ends are five pointed and are said to represent a pentagram, and the misty lavender flowers are from the first flush of Heather – a traditional symbol of good fortune and an apt decoration for a faery portal.

entering the sacred grove

Here Steve and Sadie enter the grove surrounded by the circle of their family and friends…..who arrived in this enchanted chariot;

wedding party


The couple were greeted by Bob, the master of ceremonies and organiser of this Woodland Wedding who commissioned me to make the arch he stands under. Oak and Rhododendron made in the shape of two keels (or whale jaw bones) with Bob’s company sigil in ash continuing the pagan theme and creating a space to conduct the ceremony.

Traditionally a Handfasting is a betrothal between two lovers for a year and a day, after which the couple can decide to part or stay together. It has its origins in ancient Norse – handfesta  means to strike a bargain by joining hands. Modern Pagan or Wiccan practises follow this ancient tradition of joining the hands of the couple and binding them with a ritual cord or ribbon and ‘tying the knot’.


For me the best thing about the whole event was the way two people came to together with Bob Worm’s help to create their own magical space and declare their betrothal in the late summer sunshine, observed  by those who love them most dearly – nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren.


It is never to late to find love.


25 Aug


Hafting is the process of attaching a handle to an edged, or swinging tool to make it more useful – the handle simply allows greater leverage on the blade and delivers force to the business end. I hafted this Sashimi knife as a gift for a lovely couple – Urmila Roy and John Craggs –  who married yesterday in a lovely Roman Catholic church. Today the marry again to honour Urmila’s Hindu traditions.



Just as a simple wooden handle makes a blade useful, so a marriage creates an entity greater than the sum of the two parts, the one providing a fulcrum for the ambitions and dreams of the other. Catholic and Hindu, musician and doctor – annealed.

The wooden furniture including the box and Bangladeshi ‘U” for Urmila sprung from my hands, but, the blade was created by a Japanese master blade smith from fine Damascus steel. The design is a ‘Santoku’ designed to slice raw fish or meat very cleanly, the indentations or ‘Tsuchime’ prevent the meat from clinging to the blade during slicing. It worked fine on their wedding cake.

I make no claim to manufacturing the whole artefact – I am no blade smith unlike my gifted friend Will Ferraby, as my contribution is only a little wood, but I do claim to add utility through union – to give purchase for the hand.

The name Urmila means ‘enchantress’ and John meaning ‘of God’s grace (after Saint John the Baptist) in marrying each other  they have created gracious enchantment – a noble hafting. A toast to their union!


Tread Lightly

15 Aug

It is only five months since I left my job as a Ranger working to conserve Sheffield’s lovely green spaces and yet I may as well never have been there. This does not make me feel sad at all. In fact I find it curiously liberating to know that all the work I did for Parks, Woodlands and Countryside, local school children, citizens and the landscape has already yielded to the ministrations of Mother Nature, the Green Man, Gaia or the Great Spirit – name it if you will.


I came across this verdant patch of brambles and nettles today, replete with self set sycamore and dense vegetation in Chancet Wood, Sheffield.  I had kept it clear for ten years, by careful felling of sycamore, coppicing the hazel and strimming back the nettles and brambles every season. I used the wood regularly with local school children (Greenhill Primary) to explore wildlife, the changing seasons, green woodcraft, science and creepy crawlies.

Part of the Sheffield Round Walk, this lovely old wood leads walkers from the grander expanse of Beauchief Abbey and Parr Bank wood through Greenhill to Woodseats and Meadowhead to the splendid Graves Park. A cathedral of tall, drawn oak trees – some springing from ancient coppice stools march along the steep sided bank creating a peaceful respite from the busy city roads. Green and lesser spotted woodpecker, chiff chaff, Great Tit, badger, fox, myriad invertebrates (including some truly monster leeches in pools alongside the stream in the valley bottom) and lots of unusual fungi can be found in this urban green corridor – if you are quiet and prepared to visit very early in the day.

Today’s experience was a timely reminder of our transience. I build furniture and tools to outlast me, this is how I make, so why should I care that the woodland had forgotten my presence?

I think it is because despite trying to suppress my ego, I had forgotten how identified I was with my old job. To be a countryside or urban Ranger is, for all of us who have been privileged enough to be so appointed, a vocation. But is such a role sustainable in a climate of local government cuts and retrenchment?

The Wood will always adapt to human intervention – it will continue to just ‘be’ provided enough people care about it – it might even be able to ‘pay for itself’ to a degree with very careful practical management, limited timber extraction and partnership working.However, its true value cannot be measured. It is the very fact of its immanent ability to regenerate, grow over footpaths, wipe out our footprints that reminds us of our true nature. Hopefully there will always be Rangers working to protect, encourage, educate, show, care about The Woods and The Green.

Whether Rangers or Ramblers, Children or Pensioners, Chancet Wood belongs to all of us and … in the end, to no-one, because she belongs to herself.

Just like the lovely daughter (Polly) I had the honour to ‘give away’ to her handsome fiancé (Alan Howden) on Saturday August 4th.


Let the dance of life begin……

Fi and the band Polly’s mum, Fiona (in blue) singing Sam Cooke’s “Don’t know much about History….”