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Chalk & Cheese. The trials of a woodland hobbit.

Chalk & Cheese. The trials of a woodland hobbit.
Braap braap.

The last few weekends have proven to be quite diverse, and occasionally challenging.

One weekend was so vile that I opted to stay at home and get stuck into the construction of the compost toilet just so that I could escape the horizontal sleet and snow occasionally. I spent both days alternating between bouts of potential hypothermia and hiding out in the kitchen brewing coffee and simultaneously de-frosting my lifeless fingers.
I did eventually pop down to the wood for an hour or so when a glorious break in the weather materialised late in the day. I wandered around daydreaming and had a little session of bramble pulling (it’s very therapeutic).
Amid all this darkness the Bluebells have begun to arrive.
I spotted one sprouting through the leaf mould whilst clearing an area of brambles (I currently do a lot of bramble clearance) and once I had my eye in, as it were, I began spotting them everywhere. I’m pleased to report that the springtime display should be wildly profuse, they are in every nook & cranny it seems. It’s dead exciting (for me at least).
The Bluebells are beginning to make their presence felt on the ground.

My neighbour Lloyd kindly offered his services and we spent a pleasant day chatting away and working our way through the ever growing list of odd jobs. Lloyd proved to particularly useful when it came to fixing some chicken wire to a small bridge over a gully (to make it slip-proof). My very old friend Vic Woolley called in and offered us plenty of useless advice from the sidelines and generally took the piss throughout the whole process. Vic never did any work when he got paid for it and now that he’s retired he is unlikely to break that habit 😀

Lloyd and Woolley weight testing the bridge. It was the only useful thing Vic did all day 😀
In other news, I negotiated an exchange of beer for a big log with my mate Dave Lakin. He was after a decent chunk of hardwood for chopping firewood on at home, and as he works at a brewery it was a simple transaction. Why I even cut it for him whilst he looked on. You don’t get that kind of customer service in many places these days. I cut him a piece of Ash from a huge specimen that has fallen over and is blocking a path, so it was a good excuse  to fire up the chainsaw and clear a way through. I now have a few more logs for the cordwood project too. Ash is very hard and this particular trunk has been down for a long time and so it was well seasoned; the chainsaw cut through it easily enough but the chips clogged up the bar, and the chain jammed several times which was a bit of a pain.

Cutting a chunk of Ash for my friend Dave Lakin.

Three cases of Doom Bar from Dave. A fair trade for a big log if ever there was one 🙂

Mitch also came with along Dave, and hung around to help me out. He’s also a great source of knowledge when it comes to identifying various tree and plant species and their individual merits within the wood. (Mitch studied Horticulture and Garden Design in his spare time a few years ago).

I spent most of my childhood and an awful lot of my adulthood in and around woodland and the countryside and I thought I knew a thing or two about these environments. It’s only after I purchased the wood that I began to realise how limited my knowledge really is. It has fired up my enthusiasm to know. I am slaking an unquenchable thirst. I want to know all there is to know. I want to know about all the flora and fauna of semi-ancient native woodland, from lichens and fungus in the understory to life in the high canopy, and all things in between. I’m on a journey of discovery and I love it.
I am currently geeking out about fungus. The winter seems to be a good time for fungus. If you were to serve me mushrooms on a dinner plate then our friendship could well be over, however if you can help me identify a mouldy crust growing on one of my trees you might well become a friend for life. They are one of the great unsung heroes of the forest and are fundamental to woodland life. I’m a little bit in to fungus right now. It’s a fetish. Take a look at some of these beauties below.

I think this might be Cramp Ball Fungus, also known as King Alfred’s Cakes (Mad Dave told me that).

This is definitely Cramp Ball. Apparently it makes excellent tinder for lighting fires.
Common Earthball Fungus (My mate John Lynch told me that). The adjacent Crabapple is about 25mm in diameter.
I’m also getting very enthusiastic about moss. Until now moss was moss, it turns out that that’s not the case at all. I am in an early stage with moss so it might take me a while to develop the eye for identification.
Lesser Celendine. (My Mum told me that).
My mate John thinks this might be the handywork of a Sparrowhawk.
This is probably the handywork of a local fox.
There are a number of young Yew trees dotted around the wood giving it some much welcomed winter colour.
And so to my current construction project, the composting toilet. It’s been an interesting journey. After a lot of research I have a final design and process. 
The toilet needs to be raised about a metre off the ground. apparently this is one part of the trick to eliminating odours including the pungent smell of urine. I will need to plant Common Osier (Willow) around the perimeter which should help with decomposing. It is then a simple matter of covering each deposit with a handful of a carbon rich substrate; I’ll be using a home made Bokashi Bran mix followed by a handful of leaf matter. Hey presto, a waterless, environmentally friendly, odourless latrine (I hope).
I’ve managed to scrounge and salvage most of the materials, courtesy of a few friends (Dave Slater and Phil Evans in particular) and so the whole project should cost me less than £50. I’ve also designed it with a generous sloping roof so that I can harvest rainwater for a simple handwashing facility.
(I even reclaimed a toilet seat from my old workplace before they shut it down and closed the doors).
The frame and base are now erected and are ready for cladding and roofing. It was a bugger getting the it up on my own, it was one of the few times that I really could have used some extra hands.

The beginnings of my compost toilet.
The base of the compost toilet taking shape. Snow is visible on the tiles behind.
Levelling out the base for the compost toilet.
The weekend following the snowstorms was the polar opposite and I made sure to enjoy the unseasonal weather.
The outer frames for the compost toilet.
The compost toilet is taking shape.
Don’t worry, I will be putting up walls and a door before using the toilet.
As I write this Hurricane Doris is raging outside, hopefully my toilet frame is still standing when I get back down to the wood. 
I’m thinking of calling it The Throne Room. I’m certain it will be fit for a Queen when it’s finished.

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Consume less, live more. Plant more trees.

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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