After a weekend of high wind and rain, first job on Monday after feeding fish and pheasants was to deal with the Mother of all Willows that had fallen in the river. One of the annual tasks on the river is to manage the various species of Willow tree that line the river bank. Golden and Red Willow are pollarded annually to provide winter colour, the one year old stems reaching six feet plus in length and glowing red or orange in the sunshine, are cut off in early spring tied into bundles called faggots and used for riverbank repairs. Pollarding also prevents the trees getting to big and falling in the river. Crack Willow would take over the earth if left to grow unchecked. As the tree develops the weight of the crown causes the the main stem to lean more and more, until “crack” it falls over puts roots down from the fallen trunk and starts to grow again. The few Weeping Willows that we have, tend to do their own thing as do the white willow and goat willow.
The Leviathon that had fallen during the weekend was beyond management. A maverick Willow it was the main feature on the lower bend of the river. Shelter and friend to a huge Female Brown Trout that lived beneath its boughs, and the bane of rods who lost countless flies in its branches in their attempts to tempt the monster that lurked in its roots.
As is often the case with Willows there was not one main trunk to deal with, instead there were around eight trunks between 12 and 24 inches thick, piled on top of each other above six feet of water.
After a certain amount of head scratching I set about the top branches that lay on the bank, a task that took up most of the day. Once this was complete it was time to start tackling the big bits. Because of the depth of water I decided to take the trunks back bit by bit. If the river had been wadeable I may have been able to drop the whole trunk into the water and cut it up while standing in the river.
I attached a rope to each piece that was about to fall so that it was possible to pull each cut piece out with the pick up, this proved to be relatively easy until the ground started to cut up and the pick up lost grip. Deciding which bits to take next require a great deal of thought, you must consider where the limb is likely to fall, and where you are going to be when it does fall. Because the main trunks were over the river, much of the chainsawing involved climbing and cutting while standing on other parts of the tree, the piece you cut off may hit the limb you are standing on, or remove pressure from your foot hold causing it to move. Lots of things to think about, and relatively hair-raising stuff when you are working on your own, inevitably I will have to take two or three calls on my mobile phone while hanging out of the tree, the caller asking “are you ok to talk” my reply while holding the chainsaw in one hand and holding on to a branch with the phone at my cheek, six feet above the river. “yes, I’ll have a go”
With Heavy rain forecast it was important to get as much of the tree out of the river as possible, so as not to obstruct the flow and hold any water up, by the end of the week I was left with a big heap of logs on the bank and 4 main trunks still across the river. Towards the end of the week, my employer had a hernia operation. Friday was spent retrieving her from hospital, chopping logs, cleaning the fry in the tank and filling up pheasant feeders. Working on your own you have to be prepared to do everything, domestic jobs like unblocking drains or chopping logs, have to be carried out alongside the fishery management an game keeping. The buck stops with you, no one else is going to do it so you just get on with it. My employer is on the committee of The National Coursing Club, has been involved with Greyhounds and Coursing for many years, and as such has always kept Greyhounds. Ten years ago, she would have had six dogs in the kennels at home that were in training, anything up to eight Saplings in the paddock waiting to go off to various trainers, plus a couple of old favourites living in the house. Today she has only retired Greyhounds in the Kennels, these still have to be walked and cleaned every morning, With my employer having a wing down this task falls to me, and becomes part of my morning routine alongside feeding the fish and pheasants, until she is back on her feet again. Before the Hunting ban came into place, this time of the year would have been very busy for the Coursing world, all eyes would be on the blue riband event the Waterloo Cup held in late February. Dogs entered for the cup would be at a critical point in their training. At home we would be galloping dogs daily, this would involve running two dogs behind a lure over a distance of 80 – 100 yards, For a short period we were able to use a neighbouring paddock that had a slight incline, which was fine until the Dogs started to see real hares in the field beyond, running past the lure to chase bunnies across a field full of flints that played havoc with their fragile feet. Then it was up to an all weather gallop used by a local racehorse trainer, this involved a short car journey but proved a much safer option in the long run. At this time of year there would be two or three Coursing meetings a week from as far afield as Scotland to the Isle of Wight, some better attended than others, but often attended by the same few faces who travel miles to give their dog a run. I should mention at this point that this is legal Coursing where the objective is not to kill the hare but to test one dog against another. The Hares are driven by a line of beaters towards a Slipper whose job it is to release a pair of dogs, one in a red collar one in a white collar once they have sighted the running Hare. The judge sits on a horse, and awards points for the lead in the run up, and for turning the hare. The judge then signals his decision by raising a white or red handkerchief. An average meeting may have a card of three eight dog stakes, this would require twenty one good Hares to get through the card, sometimes this can be achieved in a matter of hours, sometimes you may only see 5 Hares in a day in which case everyone gets their money back and sets off for the long drive home. What I found more interesting than the running of the dogs was the mix of people who would turn up to one of these meetings, alongside the usual mix of country workers, there would be Super Rich Landowners, Racehorse trainers, Several top Greyhound trainers, top bookies, people who worked in offices in town, always a few Irishmen, and often a group of Pakistanis who trained their dogs in Birmingham (Coursing being hugely popular in their homeland) all competing equally and mixing socially, it really was a unique atmosphere repeated several times a week throughout the coursing season that has now gone forever.