Last week I spent five days at Century Wood, living in the log cabin and working on the new drying barn. We’ve stayed at the wood for a weekend at a time before, but this is my longest stay and didn’t involve any breaks: I didn’t even climb the gate and walk the rides shared with my neighbours during my stay. It was quite an experience.
The drying barn is a simple structure, designed to take a lightweight corrugated roof. You can see part of the frame in this picture. I’ve been peering at similar wooden framed buildings for the last few years with the barn in mind, and it’s now all come together and (partially) completed in the now extended Glade at the centre of the wood. It was hot and sunny every day, and so I got as much done as possible between about 7:30am and 10am and after 5pm, when the sun was below the tops of the trees.
The log cabin has a brick wood stove, but the weather was so warm I just cooked on a camping gas stove (which is much more controllable too, to be honest.) This is the first night, with burgers on the gas and a biscuit tin lid as an improvised plate – the one thing I forgot.
The wood has poor phone reception, and I deliberately wanted to avoid the intrusion of modern digital technology. So all I had to pass the evenings were books and a radio. I’ve blogged in the past about how TV feels like an unwelcome guest in the cabin compared to radio. I’ve not been able to find a more convenient way of getting radio listings on paper than a copy of the Radio Times (appropriately enough), so Ross Poldark is peering over the edge of the frying pan. I do have a set up with solar panels and a 12V lead-acid battery to power the radio (and recharge my phone), so I could keep going without using lots of single use batteries. For light in the evening I used a camping gas lantern hung from a ceiling rafter on a chain.
I brought three books: Thoreau’s “Walden“, “Cabin Porn“, and Rebecca Oaks’ new book “Making charcoal and biochar“. Walden got most of my reading attention, and I settled down with it and a bottle of cider on a couple of nights. I’m always struck by the completeness of the book’s vision. Thoreau describes how he set out building his hut in the woods by Walden Pond, growing (some of) his food, occupying his free time with books and writing, meeting visitors, and his efforts as an amateur naturalist to understand his surroundings.
During the overgrown summers I’m used to seeing fewer animals than in the bare winters. Earlier this year I saw foxes and hares, but by June I usually just see the buzzards circling overhead or patrolling the rides, and hear the song birds and the hoarse crowing of the pheasants. There are toads, and of course lots of insects, and here I saw a newt in the wood for the first time.
During the five days I had time to walk around and think about what I’ve done and how the wood has changed over the years. The picture below shows a hazel tree I planted as a single cut branch pushed into the ground in 2009.
As well as not crossing the boundary for five days, I only saw one other person: on the fourth day I had a very brief conversation across the fence with a guy working on the boundary of one of the adjacent fields. That was a few minutes after taking this last picture over the fields from behind my deer fencing.
When I planned my stay, I wanted to know if I could last that long, without having to run to the shops for something, without getting bored, and without access to the technology that we’re now so dependent on. I needn’t have worried. With more food and above all more water, I could have stayed a lot longer than the planned five days.
As the end approached, I began to think how I would feel returning to “civilisation”. Would it affect me? Or would it be no different to returning from a holiday? When I eventually left, seeing people in ones and twos by the roadside didn’t seem strange. But when I got to a motorway services, even though it was quiet by normal standards, I did feel a bit overwhelmed – especially by the bold signs and product labels. There was just so much “stuff” after spending the best part of a week with trees, timber, and familiar things I had brought with me from home. After having something to eat and drink, I felt used to all the trappings of modern life again and back to normal. But perhaps I should say “ordinary” rather than “normal”.