‘I often sit here of a late spring or summer evening enjoying the peace, solitude and musty smell of the old wood store mixed with the deep heavy scent of the roses, it is most appealing coupled with view across the cottage garden and the copse beyond.’
I am surrounded by the toils of my labour from winters past, logs of oak, ash and beech are cut and stacked high in readiness for the return of frosts, chilly winds and the icy rains of winter that beat or set about the windows and timbers of the cottage. On these dark dank evenings we will hunker down and savour a porter ale or two with pate on toast in front of the roaring stove.
It is essential when living in the countryside to keep one or two steps ahead of the seasons but this evening I shall not let those thoughts detract from the delightful and gentle sounds of a golden lit mid-year eve, both insect and bird life are in full voice. We are very fortunate indeed to have many species of birds with the gem being not one but two pairs of turtle doves that nest in the adjacent woodland, they visit our garden daily for the seed we put down for them. In fact as I write this piece I can hear their unmistakable gentle purring, one could easily fall asleep to this the most soothing of avian calls – but this evening I have a task in hand.
The relief of summer after a cold and wet spring is surely a joy, the ideas that I had planned for April and May had reluctantly been placed on the backburner and can now be realised for it is during the ninety three days of the traditional closed season for coarse fish on our rivers that my thoughts turn to not only the annual maintenance tasks upon the cottage but to the whittling of new hazel rod rests and thumb sticks for piscatorial friends and associates – occasionally I’ll indulge in one or two for myself!
The old wood store is the perfect place to sit and whittle away for few hours with a knife honed like a razor. I have ‘Yates’ my faithful spaniel by my side and on the table a bottle of IPA ale for essential sustenance.
The bark and cambium are stripped from the forks shortly after they have been sourced and harvested from the nearby Platts (the old term for nut orchards or nut woods), this ensures easier working once seasoned. I’ve made the mistake too often in the past not to follow this easily followed lesson, for once the wood has hardened it can be a devil of a job to expose the timber beneath the bark.
Why expose it I hear you say? Well you can see them a lot better whilst an angling and with a trice of red whipping they stand out nicely against the hues of green and brown at the riverside, in my very humble opinion they are the perfect cradle for an artisan made cane rod, surely they are the best of soulmates? They have both been sourced from nature and return to that realm hopefully on a regular jaunt to sit harmonious within their surroundings.
A full seasons old stick is as hard as steel, not easily manipulated by human hands, our forefathers learned this and would make their hurdle fences, eel traps and baskets whilst the timber was still malleable, the weaving required suppleness in order to be worked without splitting. Other poles would be kept and seasoned for fencing stakes and heathgerings, which are the binders used for laid hedges in this part of the country (Kent). The tapered hazel pole being the prized and most important element of the pole lathe used by woodsmen to keep the twine taught betwixt pole and spindle for producing chair legs and back stays from beech, ash and hornbeam.
This evening though my project is far from grand, being that of a simple rest for a fellow angler’s rod. I’ll gently scrape away any remnants of bark with my knife and begin the process of shaping and de-knotting the fork before proceeding toward fashioning a point to push into the soft earth of the river bank. There is always the temptation to utilise tools of the modern age which I possess within the workshop of my barn, but these sticks need the touch of old and aching hands, for without that intimacy it would become simply detached to a degree from the realm of man and nature and thus I will rest my head tonight a contented man.
Gently I shave off by degrees the years of growth from the stick. The bird song is still abundant, their beautiful music bringing me closer to the point where I am satisfied with the shape, the light will be fading soon and another ale will be beckoning. When content I will rub the whole length over lightly with some wire wool to take off any lose bark and wood before I commence the whippings with red thread which will be sealed before the varnish is applied. It will take a week or more for coats of varnish to be applied and after each a careful inspection will be undertaken for the quality of finish.
There are many Sticks that have not met my approval and ended their lives as kindling; nothing goes to waste in the countryside, even grade two rods rests! Yes I know any old forked stick can hold a rod, but for the “Kentish Canes” and their friends only the very best will do!
All writing & images RBTraditional Kent 2021