Grange Barn – the oldest barn in Britain

Grange Barn in Coggeshall  in Essex is one of the oldest agricultural buildings in Europe. The oldest timbers in the building date from the early 12th century.

Grange Barn 1
It is a huge building – 120 feet long, 45 feet wide and 35 feet high

Grange Barn 2It was built by Cisterian monks so that they could store their agricultural produce

Grange Barn 6

To me it is one of the wonders of Britain and clearly shows how important the management of woodlands was in the 12th century in producing timber for huge buildings like this

Grange Barn 3The building was used for agricultural storage up to the 1960s

Grange Barn 4

After which it fell into disrepair – during the early 1980s it was saved from destruction and restored by local people – I first visited Grange Barn in 1986 with Oliver Rackham

Grange Barn 5The roof consists of over 85,000 tiles

The Barn was given to the National Trust in 1989 and is now open to the public – see here for the opening time details.

Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall

On the way back from Pembrokeshire last Monday we called into the Aberdulais Tin Works, just outside Swansea for a look around. It is owned and run by the National Trust. The site is on a river with a waterfall which has enabled the place to be used for industrial purposes for centuries. The site has been used for corn milling, wool fulling, copper smelting, iron forging and most notably tin plate manufacture.

Aberdulais 2
The tin usually came from Cornwall

Aberdulais 3Tin plating involves applying a thin layer of tin to rolled steel or iron – the finished product is very familiar!

Aberdulais 4The water powered mill with the furnace in the background

Aberdulais 5Rainbow over the falls

Aberdulais 6An impressive waterfall which the National Trust has now harnessed to produced electricity via a turbine

Aberdulais 1Part of the interpretation – a salmon

The Oak Brook – a place of mutual satisfaction?

The O Brook is a small tributary of the River Dart near to Combestone Tor, it is a very beautiful little valley. The ‘O’ for some reason is an abbreviation of Oke, Ock or Oak and therefore we might speculate that before the valley came to the attention of Mediaeval tinners it would have been another high level oak wood like Wistman’s Wood, Black a Tor  and Piles Copses.

William  Crossing in his 1909 classic Guide to Dartmoor said “The rambler should on no account omit to visit this spot. It is one of the most delightful little nooks on the moor. Dwarf trees, ferns, moss and heather, grey boulders and rippling water all combine to form a charming picture.” Today whilst a few people do go there, the majority of Dartmoor’s visitors and residents have never heard of it.

O Brook 2
The O Brook valley flowing north towards the Dart.

O Brook 3It is no longer a wooded valley but it does contain a lot of individual trees and shrubs

O Brook 1So many of the high moor stream valleys are now tree free so the O Brook stands out, catches your eye and gives a brief view of what once was and perhaps what might be again one day.

Matthew Kelly has coined the term ‘soft re-wilding‘ – a state of nature in between George Monbiot’s full bore re-wilding (see here) and the current fully grazed  moorscape. The O Brook (which I think from now on ought be called the Oak Brook) is a classic example of what ‘soft re-wilding could achieve. With a little extra tinkering the Brook could also play a bigger role in ‘slowing the flow’ into the Dart and help alleviate flooding down stream as has so successfully been achieved by the National Trust on the Holnicote Estate in Somerset – see here.

As mentioned above the land along and beside the Oak Brook has a rich archaeological history – the area has been worked for tin since Mediaeval times and maybe before.

O Brook tin streaming
Our wild camping site last Saturday clearly shows the remains of tin streaming (the longitudinal ‘ridge and furrow’ around the isolated tent).

Hooten WhealThis is Hooten Wheals beside the Oak Brook which was a very productive tin mine.

Tin mining in the area is first known to have commenced in 1240 and the last tin was extracted in 1920. There is an excellent detailed account of the mining activity around Hooten Wheal (aka Hexworthy Mine) here – it is an account of an Open University Geology Society field trip to the area. It contains a full history along with some excellent maps and illustrations which explain what has gone on.

All in all, the Oak Brook seems to be a great case study which demonstrates how the interests of the Commoners, the historic landscape, the landscape and the natural environment can be blended together to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.


Fingle from the wildwood

Last night I gave a talk entitled ‘Fingle from the wildwood – a story of a changing climate, prehistoric people, their descendants and their impacts‘ at the Fingle Bridge Inn in Drewsteignton.

AC- Paul Moody

I tried to weave together the story of the end of the last Ice Age to the present time by looking at the pollen record, the climate, the actions of prehistoric people from the New Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age and the impact of the extinctions of our mammal fauna over the period. I won’t try and reproduce it all here but you can download my Powerpoint presentation here (I have removed the photographs to make the file a more manageable size) – it may not make much sense if you didn’t hear the words that went with it!

I started with this quote from Oliver Rackham “Conservationists do no service to woodland if they try to remake it on the image of what they imagine wildwood was like” – just in case anyone had a brainwave!

I include here a few tables which people might find useful as they catalogue some of the key timescales and events.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 09.24.16

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 09.21.25
The vegetation history of the British Isles

Pollen1A pollen diagram of tree cover from Dartmoor

From Harry Godwin’s book – the History of the Brtish Flora summarising vegetation, cultures, woodland cover and geology

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 09.21.45
Key dates and events in our archaeological history

I then discussed what all this means, highlighted the huge gaps in our knowledge and talked about Frans Vera’s counter-theory that the ‘wildwood’ was in fact a savannah with ‘parkland trees’. A controversial theory but one which does help explain how the wildwood was cleared by a small number of people using stone axes.

I talked about some challenges for the future: tree diseases, the growing number of deer, climate change and people.

I finished the talk with a quote from Fingle Woods’ Spirit of Place statement – which Fingle Woods’ managers can use as a benchmark to determine whether their actions are appropriate.

Over the centuries, people have changed the appearance of the landscape from heathland and wild woods to oak coppice and then to conifer, driven by local and then national need, influenced by fashion and economics. As a result, the gorge has been dressed in different ways. In the coming decades, we want to help the gorge to clothe itself again, reverting to its more natural state. Fingle Wood’s inheritance will help shape its future, making it a place of conservation in a changing environment, and inspiration and enjoyment for everyone – today and for the generations to come.

Thanks to everyone who came and seemed to like what I had to say.

Spring Finch

Popped over to Finch Foundry yesterday to see how Ben and the team got on over Easter (well!). Also took a few pictures – Finch in the spring is always very picturesque.

Finch Ox eyeWonderful display of ox eye daisies

Garden flowersTom Pearce’s summer house from the garden plants

WaterfallWaterfall from the lead

WheelsSpinning wheels

SnipThe power of the snip




Beetle on a bike

There is great new art installation at Plymbridge – a beetle on a bike! Its not an ordinary beetle either – to me it looks like an oil beetle about which I have written before – see here. The art work was partially designed by  local school and community groups and celebrates the National Cycle Network Route 27 provided by Sustrans. It has been made by community artists Thrussell and Thrussel. Here are a few pictures.

beetle2It incorporates many of the historic features at Plymbridge as well as the beetle (which lives at the site)





There is a also a new sign marker in the car park – one way to Dartmoor – the other to Saltram House

Thanks to all involved  – these are great additions (along with the peregrine sculpture) which is a little further up route 27 at Plymbridge.

27 Peregrine


DartSoc Xmas walk and BBQ

Today was the last Dartmoor Society walk of the year for Torquay Boys Grammar School and the National Trust Wild Tribe – it was the traditional Christmas Walk and BBQ!

We were not alone in the car park at the start.



For some there were some really boggy bits

Out of the bog


Here are the 45 milers at Fice’s Well being told the legends of the place after having discovered chocolate.


Feiss Well


Here is the chocolate Santa


Feiss Well - santa


On the way back – a rest a Little Mis Tor – with Great Staple in the background


Little Mis


Great Staple


Great Staple


The traditional xmas BBQ






Happy Christmas to all at TBGS and TGGS

St Clements Day at Finch Foundry

Tomorrow – Saturday 24th November between 10.30am – 4.30pm is St Clements Day at Finch Foundry. St Clements is the patron saint of blacksmiths.

The Foundry will be host to a dozen or so blacksmiths from around the country who will compete with each other to make a piece of ironwork.

The event is free and in addition the Foundry will be open and working. If you haven’t been before it is a real treat.

Here is short video and a few photographs of the Foundry.

Wes Key – checking the trip hammer is in good order and ready for the weekend.


A blacksmith’s anvil ready for action

Spinning wheels drive the hammer

Waterwheels power the Foundry

See here for some other Finch pictures taken today.

And see here for some others taken earlier this year.

Roger Boney retires from Finch Foundry

After nearly 10 years wonderful service as the Custodian at Finch Foundry Roger Boney retired today.

Roger has been the ceaseless champion of Finch Foundry – he has motivated his team of loyal volunteers, managed to keep the old machinery working and has entertained hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Finch is a very special Trust property and this year is one of the highest ranked in the country when it comes to visitor enjoyment. Roger has really managed to bring the place alive. I will certainly miss him but I hope he has a long and happy retirement, walking the hills and coastal paths, fishing and exploring new places around the globe.

Thank you Roger – I promise you I will not let your achievements diminish – long live Finch Foundry.

Here are a few photos from his leaving do.


Roger giving his last ever demonstration talk

Me thanking Roger for all he has done for Finch Foundry and the National Trust

Roger with his leaving present – a picture of the Foundry

A gold snail made at the Foundry by one of Roger’s team

A lovely homemade Foundry Cake

The waterwheel

A few more pictures from the day can be found here.

Finch Foundry – one of my favourite places

One of the places I am responsible for looking after on Dartmoor is Finch Foundry in Sticklepath. I don’t really know anywhere else like it. I was lucky enough to go there today and meet the team headed up by Roger Boney. It has really lashed with rain most of the day on Dartmoor today but that doesn’t really matter when you go to Finch.

In essence Finch is the last working water powered forge in the country – see here for more details and how you can visit. The following few photos will give you a flavour and go here to see my full set of pictures taken today.