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From 19th to 26th October 2002 I led a "21 Plus" working holiday on the Holnicote (pronounced "hunnycut") estate on Exmoor in West Somerset, near Minehead. Our main task for the week was hedge-laying - a new skill for me - though we also removed a couple of old fences and did a bit of tree-planting. We only had a small group of six volunteers, working with three wardens (Paul, Mike and Rob). This had been at the wardens' request because apparently hedge-laying isn't so easy to do with a bigger group.

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At the basecamp
The basecamp we stayed in was the former groom's cottage in the Holnicote estate yard, only recently converted to supersede the previous very basic accommodation in the neighbouring 18th Century stables. The bedrooms upstairs in the old basecamp were OK but the main living area had been the stables themselves, complete with partitions dividing the area into stalls. The place could literally have been converted back into a functioning stable in the space of half an hour. The new basecamp, where we stayed, was far more comfortable... though we did struggle to keep the solid fuel stove that drove the central heating lit! Unfortunately we were to be its last volunteer occupants; new fire regulations for group accommodation were going to necessitate an investment in the region of £20,000 and the powers that be had decided that this was too much to spend. Following our departure the basecamp was to be rented out to employees of the Trust. Future working holidays at Holnicote will be using the Countisbury basecamp, about 25 minutes' drive away.

The basecamp The Groom's Cottage basecamp, in the corner. The large building is the stable block which housed the old basecamp.
Aga Daniel and Richard battling with the stove
Group with Mike & Rob The group with Mike & Rob (wardens, back right).
Group with Paul The group with Paul (warden). Back: Paul, Jeff, Daniel; front: Richard, Helen, Anne, Lynne

Toad-in-the-hole Anne and Daniel showing off their toad-in-the-hole.
Treacle tart Jeff's treacle tart.
Jeff baking Jeff (assistant leader) baking - he kept us supplied with cakes all week!
Spoons Playing a card game called Spoons (though the spoon isn't actually visible in this picture).
Cereal box game Jeff playing the cereal box game: only your feet can touch the floor and you have to pick the box up in your mouth, no hands allowed.
Cereal box game Richard playing the cereal box game.
Chubby Bunny - Anne Playing Chubby Bunny: Anne with her mouth crammed full of marshmallows.
Chubby Bunny - Daniel Daniel playing Chubby Bunny.

On the worksite - hedge-laying
The hedge that we were working on had last been laid (or "made") about 10-15 years ago, and in the meantime had only been cut with a hedge-trimmer. As a result it was very overgrown and full of gaps where livestock would be able to get out, and the hedge-trimmer damage meant that the vertical growth was less straight than it would have been if the hedge had been maintained properly and laid every five years or so, rather than just having the top lopped off. Therefore we were undertaking remedial work to begin restoring the hedge to its former glory. First the hedge had to be thinned out and all the brambles and unlayable bits removed. Then the bank had to be rebuilt (using a digger) to compensate for the erosion that had taken place over the years. After that the hedge could actually be laid; this is done by using a billhook to make a vertical split at the base of each stem and then bending it over to lie as flat as possible along the top of the bank. Stems are interwoven to prevent them from springing back up again. New trees would be planted to plug the gaps in the hedge, and finally a fence would be put up to keep the livestock in until the hedge was established. The intention is to avoid trimming the top of the hedge and to re-lay it in about five or six years. By that timeit should be much easier to lay, and it should have grown sufficiently to contain livestock without the need for a fence.

Hedge-before Our overgrown hedgerow at the beginning of the week.
Mike explaining Mike explaining what the hedge-laying process involves.
Previous hedge "Here's one we made earlier": a hedge that was laid by a volunteer group in March 2002.
Previous hedge Showing how the plants laid horizontally are now producing dense vertical shoots (hedge laid in March).
End of day 1 Our hedge at the end of the first day's work, when we'd stripped out most of the brambles and other unwanted stuff.
When we returned to the hedgerow after our day off, the digger had been in and banked up the eroded base of the hedgerow, ready for the hedge to be laid.
Hedge-laying demo Mike demonstrating how to lay a hedge.
Daniel & Helen Daniel & Helen laying the hedge.
Jeff  laying hedge Jeff laying the hedge.
Squash break A well-earned drinks break.
Feeding the fire Burning up all the stuff we'd stripped out of the hedge.
Rainbow One of several rainbows we were treated to as a result of the showery weather.
Hedge - after This is how the hedge looked at the end of the week. The weather meant that we didn't quite finish the job, but you can see that we did make a pretty big difference.
Section of laid hedge A close-up showing a section of the laid hedge. The remaining upright plants in this pictures are surplus to requirements and will be cut down.

Other work
Our other worksite tasks were the removal of an old fence (it was very wet that morning, but at least we were able to go back to the basecamp and dry out at lunchtime); digging out the wire and posts of a seriously overgrown old electric fence, and planting some trees. Most of the tree-planting was actually done by a group of schoolchildren; we just finished off where they'd run out of time. The purpose of the tree-planting was to reinstate a hedgerow that had been bulldozed out in the 60s or 70s.

Helen removing fence Helen working on the removal of an old fence. Richard removing fence Richard working on the same fence.
RIchard & Jeff Richard & Jeff working together on the fence.
Jeff & Rob Jeff and Rob (the warden) removing the last bit of fence. (Rob doesn't look as wet as the rest of us because he'd gone off for most of the morning and left us to it!)
Removing wire Removing the high-tensile wire of the old electric fence.
Tree planting Tree planting.
Tree planting Tree planting, showing the entire hedgerow.

Day off
On our day off, some of us took a walk up Selworthy Beacon while the others went shopping in Minehead, then we all went to visit a nearby NT property called Dunster Castle. Unfortunately we weren't able to get a tour of the attic and basement (always the most interesting bits in these places!) as these tours were only being run on Thursdays and Fridays, and we only had the Wednesday available.

Dunkery Beacon Looking across to Dunkery Beacon, highest point on Exmoor, from Selworthy.
Wind & Weather Hut Daniel and me in the Wind and Weather Hut near the top of Selworthy Beacon.
On Selworthy Beacon Me, Daniel and Jeff on Selworthy Beacon.
Selworthy Beacon Looking west over Porlock Bay from Selworthy Beacon.
Selworthy Green Selworthy Green Selworthy Green.
Dunster Castle Dunster Castle - main view.
Overlooking Dunster Castle Looking out over Dunster Castle towards Wales, from the hilltop garden.
Dunster village and castle Dunster village main street and castle.
Dunster yarn market The old yarn market in Dunster.

After the holiday finished and most of the participants had departed, neither Daniel nor I was in a hurry to get home, so we stopped off in Glastonbury for a few hours. Thought I might as well include the photos here!

Glastonbury Abbey Glastonbury Abbey.
Abbott's kitchen In the Abbott's kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey.
Glastonbury Tor tower The tower on top of Glastonbury Tor.
On the Tor On top of Glastonbury Tor.
Glastonbury from the Tor Looking down over Glastonbury from the top of the Tor.

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© Lynne Donaldson
This page last edited 27th October 2002