Archive for September, 2021

A rare Sunday for SSNTV, in a change to the published programme we were double-booked at another NT place – and since apparently cut & burn has to give way to Brownies (the little ones, with yellow badges that is, not the cakes), Mel didn’t need asking more than once to get the other kind ready as the Group pitched up at Morville Hall for the first of what will be two consecutive visits.

Workday leader Chris – yes, AGM Chair only the night before – we keep ’em busy don’t you know, continues the tale:

Another bright and sunny day greeted SSNTV on arrival – a day which was to be a scorcher for some!

After a brief tour of the garden, we set to work cutting back shrubs in the main borders either side of the central path; this was no small job and, to get the tops of some, required the use of the two three-legged ladders – kindly supplied and delivered by Guy from NT Dudmaston.  

Thankfully, some bushes required no ladders, being taken down to ground level. The resulting mass of vegetation was dragged across the lawn to be consumed by fire on a prior burn site next to the old swimming pool. The flames held good with a steady supply of dry alder removed from around the ornamental canal from the previous August workday. As there was quite a lot of smoke, it was helpful the bonfire site was some distance from the Hall; I’m not sure Mel wanted that much fumigation!  The work continued all day in sunshine with the bonfire attendees looking ever more red-faced every time there was a break for tea/coffee and cake.

Some saw it as an artistic challenge to sculp the shrubs into new shapes.  Most took on the task of balancing atop the large ladders.  By the end of the day the sun streaming through the varied coloured shrubs remaining was evidence of a job well done.

Many thanks to Mel for making us so welcome, as ever, and for the steady flow of tea and coffee – with even a slice of lemon for the peppermint tea. The cakes were plentiful, varied (flapjack, rocky road, apple & cream sponge, and Earl Grey cake for the very sophisticated!) and extremely welcome – I enjoyed each one so I know!

For those that missed out, I can only encourage you to make the journey this coming Sunday – petrol permitting, there’s still plenty more to go at  – as an added encouragement, some of the apples in the adjacent orchard may also be ready to pick.

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As well as a Sunday workday, this last weekend was the time for a face-to-face (but not too close!) SSNTV AGM held at Wightwick Manor.

With a change in some of the Committee roles, it was a chance to say particular thank yous to Chair, Chris B for his efforts during lockdown and special thanks to long-server Dot, founder member, one-time Treasurer and most recently Secretary.

There was a special cake-o’clock….

Treasurer Peter, tried but failed to get Chris to accept his online banking token, it having stayed in the drawer all year….

And then what your member contributions added up to…an embossed swiss army knife….

….flowers and choc’s all around!

For the record, Committee now comprises:

ChairRussell B
Vice ChairMatt H
TreasurerPeter O
SecretaryChris(tine) B
Programme Helen P
ToolsDave M
HoursMags C
PublicityMatthew H
Web Matt & Russell

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Chairman Chris, one of our two workday leaders tells the tale of a two – or for some, three-day weekend – continuing the work started on our Kinver visit of 5th September …..

The Rock House at Vale’s Rock and Beyond ……..

Having never visited the rock houses at Kinver this was a chance to not only undertake some physical activity but also to enjoy an overnight stay.

The Trust are starting an archaeological survey of the tremendously overgrown site of some as yet unrestored rock houses at Vales Rock. These currently only attract people in search of a quiet, unobserved hidey-hole!  

In preparation for the archaeologists’ visit, 11 members turned up on a bright and warm Saturday morning to undertake the task of clearing and burning any material unlikely to have been part of life in the Rock Houses and surrounding gardens/allotment/orchard up until the middle part of the last century. This inevitably meant gathering up litter and, as this wag suggested, checking every discarded beer can for its sell-by date!

Including the debris from the previous workday, there was a huge amount to burn and the fire, held in a metal tumbril, almost kept pace but just kept getting hotter.  Come the end of the first afternoon, few things seemed nicer than the prospect of a hot shower, but for those staying, unsurprisingly, the Rock Houses had none! 

Ever resourceful, Ewan had arranged showers with a local farmer and after a short drive through a herd of docile cattle we found ourselves in the middle of a field with a portable shower unit and several sheep. Having switched on the shower, the farmer advised us to leave it running to avoid malfunction.  Three people managed to get through the process (ladies first, well 1st and 3rd, as I stopped the gap in the middle) before the malfunction turned up anyway; proved immutable to all efforts to repair it; and Neil ended his shower with cold water.  Our Vice-chair braved his, but the rest of the group baulked.  

The changing fortunes of the shower did, however, allow a discussion regarding the field itself, its numerous small brick structures (valves as it turned out) and nettles.  The farmer explained that the plot was used to dispose of sewerage for almost 200 years, initially from Stourbridge and then from Dudley as well.  The consequent heavy metal contamination means the field can only be grazed – not even pigs are allowed to root around.  Amazing what you can learn whilst trying to get clean!

Then it was back to base, to set up camp for the night in two of the public accessible rock houses at Holy Austin – the resident bats needing a whole house to themselves – a special treat for us for all our hard work to be allowed to stay! Spurning the idea of hanging from the ceiling, we elected for airbeds and camp beds; only one collapse. An extremely welcome supper was provided by Ewan with some fabulous local bangers and burgers all masterfully cooked over the BBQ, on the rock house café terrace. With a clear, mild and windless evening, we were able to enjoy the views and seclusion until bed called around midnight.

The next morning only the early risers had another cold shower – heavy rain this time! – as they made their way to the facilities. But on the upside, we were treated to more good food (bacon sandwiches, toast with jam) with lashings of delicious tea and coffee from the café, where we very nearly gained a new SSNTV recruit, as the weather brightened. 

Back to the worksite for Day Two – 14 volunteers this time – we were joined by NT archaeologist Viviana – the firepit taking only minutes to revive despite its overnight dowsing.  Getting the aching limbs going was helped by the thought of cakes – in plentiful supply unlike the previous day and the rewarding ability to increasingly see the site as gaps appeared between the shrubs and trees and sunlight streamed in.  

Lunch came and went with yet more cake (a home-made, marrow-based concoction) and then it was a matter of containing the fire ready for departure.

The weekend was a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by all – there is already talk of a repeat! As ever, many thanks to Ewan for organising, cooking & for cake (thanks too Mr Chair): to the catering ladies (and potential new recruit) in the café: and SSNTV Treasurer for co-ordinating it all.

Note: Some volunteers returned on Monday to help continue the burn. It’s been confirmed that all the cut brash has now been consumed by fire; and that seven bags of rubbish were taken off site; …and that all those above-mentioned sell-by dates had indeed expired!

All that remains now is to await the report of the external archaeologists to see what they find.  We’ll let you know….

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Because I saw that someone else wrote about this topic elsewhere, I thought I’d just make sure everyone is aware – at our recent anniversary bash we handed out “thank you’s” for volunteering efforts over time ( …ok, so perhaps not every Sunday.. )

These totalled ....345 years….

Quite an achievement – Well Done again to all those concerned, they know who they are (including our outgoing Chair)!

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So the first real cut and burn of this season’s workdays has come and gone!

All the group’s tools were out last Sunday (in joke) as, whilst ranger Mike was sunning himself on holiday, SSNTV ventured back to Dudmaston and Bonemill, Dudmaston Bank in particular near to Comer Wood to thin and help to regenerate the woodland.

It was a chance to see the impact of time away because of Covid too, as those who made it out to the last Christmas work weekend – now which year was that? – and were returning on Sunday, struggled to recognise the patch the group had cleared on the last visit. There was head-high himalayan balsam which had quickly taken the place of the previously weather damaged, felled trees and there seemed to be plenty more candidate trees to clear away.

Soon there was a sizeable fire eating up the damaged wood and hot enough to burn up the unwanted green shrubbery.  As autumn temperatures hadn’t quite arrived yet, during the day there was a gradual drift away from the strenuous tree felling and heat of the burning pyre, towards the slightly less demanding task of pulling the shallow-rooted balsam from the soil.

We were joined by new assistant ranger Sophie and one of the Dudmaston volunteer ranger team.  In fact Sophie managed a very passable impression of ranger Mike,  as she whipped round the site removing large stems at ground level with an argumentative chainsaw.

Thanks to Mags for some excellent bread pudding at cake o’clock – it’s amazing what you can do with leftovers (from our recent 40th anniversary bash).

By the end of the day the site almost looked like how we had left it the last time in 2019… oops, no, got my year wrong should read 2020!

Next up, back to Kinver for a weekend double-header amongst the sandstone rock houses.


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On Sunday eleven SSNTV volunteers headed out to Kinver Edge for the first of three September visits starting the new cutting (and burning) season, Yay!! However this time, writes workday leader Matt, we had even more extra special treats in store………

  1. We were starting work around the Vale’s Rock rock-houses in an area that is currently not normally open to the public!!
  2. We were going to be hunting for archaeology!!!!!
  3. Lead Ranger Ewan had organised an awesome cake for us!!!!!!!!!!

Working with Ewan and NT archaeologist Janine, our task was to start to clear through the dense undergrowth in front of the houses and seek out any lost garden features ready for a team of archaeologists and historians to investigate further in a few weeks time.

Janine had brought copies of a number of historic maps showing the position of the garden areas, but we had no idea what might still remain as the last residents had permanently moved out of the houses in the 1950s and the gardens left to go wild.

This time round we were cutting and stacking (burning next time!) , so we made good progress breaking into the undergrowth from multiple points of entry. By cake o’clock we had uncovered some rusting metal tanks and stone pipe work and by the time Ewan’s fabulous cake arrived at lunchtime we’d found possible garden terraces, a couple of walls, some steps and other stone and concrete remains.

For the afternoon we cleared further round the garden area, removing the Himalayan balsam, pruning some of the larger trees and cutting back more of the invading scrub. Having already made a vast difference to the area during this workday we are really looking forward to coming back and continuing this exciting work.


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Just been reading that the Exeter group also reached 40 this year:

They like cake too!

Read more here:

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