Archive for July, 2019

Workday leader David reports: Sunday saw a sizeable group of SSNTV volunteers at work in Dudmaston’s Comer Woods to clear around conifer and broadleaf samplings planted by the group over multiple sessions between January and March of this year.

Head Ranger Mike explained, as if it was not clearly visible from the amount of regrowth, if not tackled in year one the spread of bramble and sycamore developing over the last few months threatens the establishment of the new young trees by blocking out their light.

Fortunately the task turned out to be less onerous than first thought (at least that’s what your reporter thinks – Ed!). It proved very rewarding to see hundreds of the new trees emerge in their lines from amongst the undergrowth. The conclusion was that a high proportion of them, (over 9 in 10) have survived and in general look very healthy.

Mike was so impressed he would like us to tackle the area opposite next time; and doubtless the adjoing patch the time after that!

Thanks to cake bakers for their tasty offerings which kept us going in the rain showers.  Special mention should also go to newbie Neil who with a youngster’s enthusiasm, valiantly tackled the deep brambles, scratches and all, wearing his summer shorts!

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It’s the time of year again that some of us SSNTV volunteers got to pack up our boots, bowsaws and cake and head up north for our annual working holiday in Northumberland, staying in the NT bunkhouse and working on the fantastic thousand acre Cragside estate.

This year we had two main tasks which were to clear back the rhododendron at the base (toe) of the dam at Nelly’s Moss South Lake and to remove about a third of the reed growth in the Slipper Lake (Tarn).

Sunday saw us up at Nelly’s Moss to attack the Rhodi, aiming to cut it back by about three metres so that the dam inspectors could have better access when they come to check the dam integrity.

Lotsa RhodiLotsa Cake

Rhodi bashing is one of our favourite activities so needless to by the end of the day we had created a huge pile of cuttings and eaten a huge amount of cake. Unfortunately this time we weren’t able to burn the rhodi, as it was going to be chipped and used for path and trim trail surface covering so we had dragged it all up to the edge of the road ready to be taken away with the tractor and trailer later in the week.

Rhodi piling upsuper human chain

Monday was our wet and messy day as we donned the waders to go paddling in the Slipper Lake and attack the ever encroaching reeds.

happy wader's day!ready for action

Although these were a smaller type of reed than the ones that we regularly pull out at Morville Hall, it was just as satisfying to see more and more clear water emerge as the day progressed. We were stacking the reeds at the water’s edge to allow any little creatures to make their way back to the water before we tidied up properly at the end of the week

what a lot of reedsreed raft racing

Tuesday was our day off and the only day with persistent rain, hmm typical!

A group of us took our brollies and went over to Low Hauxley to have a look around the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s discovery centre ( Luckily we found the tea room first and “discovered” the homemade date and banana scones there before having a nice walk around the large lake, stopping in the many bird hides to watch the wide assortment of birds that were out and about.

Following a lunchtime stop at Amble for some yummy fish and chips and with the rain coming down more heavily, we headed back to Alnwick for a visit to Barter Books and a mid-week shop for the rest of the holiday food.


Wednesday and Thursday were back to work and returning to Nelly’s Moss Lake to continue attacking the rhodi, eating cake and starting the massive tidying up operation with us filling up two trailers at a time to go round to Nelly’s Moss car park ready for chipping!

loading, loading, loading Rhodi!!how much more is there?

“Tidy” Friday was our day to finish off at both sites so our first stop was at the Slipper Lake to move the reeds away from the lake edge and leave it all looking tidy and beautiful again.

lovely reeds


We then headed up to Nelly’s Moss for cake o’clock and continued to load and clear the last of the rhodi cuttings.

see the magic walking rhodi

only one more load to go

Following our final lunch break we had a leisurely stroll back to the bunkhouse to drop off our work gear before heading up to the formal gardens to test out the new deck chairs and bean bags.

lunch with a viewand relax...

While we were there, we took up the very kind offer from Rachel the head gardener to give us a sneaky peek inside the newly restored clock tower before it re-opens to the public later in the month.

Clock towerit goes deeeep down...

This was followed by even more sneakiness as Helen and Charlotte of the ranger team treated us to a preview of the new Parkland walk and the amazing new Gorge walk that will be opening to the public very soon.

Parkland walk preview..gorge walk

And to top it all we ended up back at the visitor centre to meet up with ranger Leigh for ice-creams overlooking the lake, what a fantastic end to a brilliant working week!

the ice creams are on their way..joined by the gardeners...

Thank you to all of the volunteers, who came up to Cragside this year and worked so hard over the week, brought and made such amazing cakes and cooked such yummy food!

Special thanks also to the awesome ranger team of Leigh, Helen, Dan, Charlotte and Duncan “the elusive” for making us so welcome and making the week such fun and also to head gardener Rachel for the clock tower viewing.

Hope to be back again next year!

until next year...

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With the Northumberland holidaying members returning, there was a large turnout at Shugborough to tackle the gardening tasks Caroline had in mind for us.   Perhaps they were drawn by the initial offer of paddling in the river Sow, but in the end it was garden weeds!

Nevertheless as temperatures started to climb the group set to work in beds near the Essex Bridge gate.  At the same time another group made short work of pulling ragwort from the field adjoining the Mansion car park and soon had to make the long walk to the weed beds – sorry flower beds!

If you look back to January you’ll see the Group making a start on these borders and huge rhododendron, mulching and putting down weed retardant matting. Today’s task turned out to be to tackle the weeds which had made their way between the gaps in the matting and through the protective guards placed around the shrubs which had been planted by the gardens team, since our last visit.

There was plenty to remove as the visiting public eyed the group close up beside the path, sitting, kneeling or crouching over and around the plants which are starting to get established.  New volunteer Charlotte’s bare knees hopefully surviving their first outing!

It’s always rewarding to be involved in longer term projects, so it was great to see how we have helped to transform this bed over the last year. The Essex entrance to the estate is a key one for pedestrian visitors from Great Haywood, so catching the eye here makes an especially good impression. Rewarding too for the workers, was the tasty cake, from ever reliable Maggie, with workday leader David’s lemon drizzle coming a close second!  Thanks to both.

End of the day meant special efforts to disinfect all of the tools used as well as our boots. Unfortunately phytophthora has re-emerged in some of the rhodi’s in the ornamental garden, so armed with his rubber gloves, Jimmy took on the mantle of disinfecter-in-chief.  

Head Gardener Caroline expressed herself pleased with what we’d done. So doubtless there’ll be plenty more for next time (with the added attraction of a potential social visit for Derek’s special August fuddle – oooooh can’t wait!)

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What an epic weekend it’s been….

  • Exciting man versus machine – Silvesterstone
  • Enthralling, long-lasting racket against racket – SW19
  • Last gasp victory in bat versus ball – from central London
  • Last but not least, a few men versus a lot of Himalayan Balsam – Comber Road, Kinver Edge, Staffs….

Whilst some lounged all day in front of their TV’s, a very small and thus very determined group met up with ranger Ewan to pull up Himalayan Balsam from the slopes of the sandstone ridge at Kinver (whilst other members of the Group holidayed with the NT in Northumberland).  The increased light from previous woodland thinning activities (see as long ago as December last year), coupled with moist conditions means that there are plenty of pink and white flowers; and after that seeds starting to appear. These need to be prevented from spreading, which calls for manual labour!

Ewan explained how the plant will root / find a home, even in loose leaf litter and still reach up to 2m.  Hence if you pull from the root, it’ll come out easily.  Then comes the additional tasks: separate the root from the plant, otherwise that’ll refix itself; break up the stem; and finally separate the flowerhead from the plant, so that that part too has no reserves of energy to call on.

If things go to plan, there will soon be some cattle on the property, tasked with keeping down the scrub, who will in no time reduce this plant’s abundance – so message to all those members who didn’t turn out this Sunday….the days of this task are hopefully numbered!

Still – roll on paddling in the water at other NT properties later this month and into August!

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Thankfully Saturday’s scorching temperatures abated somewhat by Sunday morning as the Group arrived with the dog walkers and early day trippers at Shugborough to work in and around the Walled Garden with boss, Caroline and gardener Sarah.

A mix of tasks meant that some wielded the spades and forks to clear another of the beds in the garden around the fruit and currant bushes.  Whilst just outside, the others pulled on their wellies and paddled the length of the river Sow stream adjoining the garden to pull out the weeds on both banks and in the masonry.  Your reporter can attest to the benefits of the cooling water around the toes and shade offered by the overhanging shrubbery, as the day warmed up!

Highlight of the day was undoubtedly the homemade millionaires shortbread at elevenses, “cake-o-clock” (which disappeared much too fast to be photographed – thanks Caroline!).  In fact it was a bit of a bake-off challenge as workday leader Helen’s flapjacks scored highly too.

Lunchtime was an opportunity to hear Caroline explain the latest on the Walled Garden restoration project. Plans are now firming up to repair & repoint all the East Annex walls (and rebuild the potato shed) by Christmas – somewhere the Group has helped to clear and tidy over many years, as some members could recall! 

As the sun shone in the afternoon, the lure of the cooling water meant more SSNTV’ers pulled on their wellies.  As visitor numbers across the walkways into  the Walled Garden and the Plant Shop increased, the group’s activities and growing mounds of green waste became a visitor attraction in their own right – as those in the stream explained what they were doing, visitors watched in bemusement and some group members joined in with pooh-stick races with the younger visitors.  Disappointingly no one outside the Group fancied a paddle!

….With apologies to those who wielded the spades…photographers don’t divide as easily as plants!!!…

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