RBTraditional – A Search For The Perfect Hazel Fork – Part 1

Northerly winds clatter the tiles atop the façade of our old cottage - I savour the last mouthfuls of coffee as I pull on my boots, zip up my battered old Barbour and adjust the collar for Winter conditions. Patiently sitting and watching every move his eyes alert my Spaniel awaits the command to venture out - he loves the daily wander and soon we are quietly closing the back door and walking down the lane toward the wood.

We hug the hedgerow sheltering from the bitter wind there is sleet in the air and it stings my face when I glance to my right to catch the sight of a pheasant rowdily taking flight across the field.

The Spinney Of Hazel

We carry on up and into the wood, I slip the lead and he’s off seeking game to flush in and out of trees, deep into the brush, it always makes me smile, the nose of a spaniel for picking up a scent is second to none - the result of four hundred years or more of breeding is more than apparent - he’s in in his element and I’ll leave him to it - he’ll return when his job is done. I’ve come ‘a huntin’ too, not for game though, my quarry is the Hazel, particularly the forked sticks that I use to make either thumb sticks or rod rests for Angling. This ancient wood is an old friend of mine and for years we’ve enjoyed many a season in each other’s company, Spring, Summer, Autumn and today in the cold grip of late Winter - it’s the perfect time for seeking those elusive gems, the sap is down and the leaves are absent.

It’s a mixed woodland home to sweet Chestnut, Ash, Birch, Oak, Hawthorn and Hornbeam, regularly coppiced over past and present generations it has a deep air of history and brooding magic. There are the early signs of Celandine pushing through the leaf mould and within a month or so the floor of the wood will have been carpeted with these, Primrose, Wood Anemone and later Bluebells. The old droves cut through the heart of this place as they have done for centuries, and I stand and wonder for a while about the old country men that have passed this way before.

The Perfect Hazel Fork

We are high up on the Greensand Way connecting Bernard Venables’ country in Ham Street on the edge of the Romney Marsh, through the Surrey Hills to the distant West and on toward East Hampshire - there is much history here. In the field to my left one of the biggest hauls of ancient Anglo-Saxon treasure was unearthed - the pond below it is understood to be a Roman hammer pond used for driving the furnaces when making iron tools and weapons. It was also the site of a downed German Luftwaffe fighter during the Battle of Britain.

Yatesy has returned, panting but happy and covered in god knows what, burrs, twigs, mud….I do hope it’s just mud! I am immersed in this landscape, sheltered from the bitter wind, tuned in to the job in hand and ever hopeful. At every turn along the winding path my attention is drawn by another Hazel to inspect for ‘possibilities.’

Yatesy

Many trees are barren, too old with little in the way of suitable young material or difficult to access. Years of experience has taught me though that the perfect tree is usually found on the boundary of the wood or where they are away from the canopy of larger trees, and sunlight has encouraged a branch to seek the light, part company with its parent and produce a fork. Preferably I’m looking for a stem as thick as a farmers thumb with either the perfect ‘V’ or ‘U’. Two to three year growth appears to be ideal but many shoots produce nothing and it’s not uncommon for me to go home after hours of looking with little to show for my efforts. Occasionally though I find ‘Gold’ and return a satisfied man.

The Whittled Beginnings Of A Rest

After an hour or so I have managed to select a couple of decent rests, cut and trimmed back with my Bowie knife. I tuck them under my arm and give the dog a whistle, charging back again through the thicket he joins me as we walk onward. Along the old footpath toward the church I know of a couple of trees that have blessed me in the past - a quick look and I note a few possibles for next year, one of which looks like it will produce a super ‘V,’ I’ll keep my eye on that nature can’t be rushed nor manipulated easily - I’ll leave it to do its thing.

A Year In The Making - The Finished Hazel Rests

These sticks, for that is what they are, will not be whittled and worked until next spring. I always like to ensure they have a year to season and harden first, but I will strip the bark on the forks to release the spirits of the witches within……..you can’t be too careful!