Take a walk through time in woodlands

editorial image

Walking in a wood is a wonderful experience, beautiful and calming.

Once, however, there was a variety of industry among the trees, with the wood itself as a main source of fuel.

There are various clues to the age of a woodland, and its likelihood as an old site.

One is the variety of flowers, the ‘indicator species’ that grow together in a well established habitat. Such flowers are wood anemone, primrose, bluebells, orchids, lesser celandine and ramsons or wild garlic, which lends its pungent aroma to the air.

To use the wood well, trees would be coppiced (cut to ground level) which provided lots of smaller young growth to use in charcoal burning.

They were also pollarded (cut to head height) to stop animals eating younger shoots. Older woods often have remains of a bank or hedge of hawthorn or blackthorn around them, to keep out cattle for the same reason.

In the woods would have been a variety of workers, including charcoal burners and sawyers.

A space flattened out in a clearing could once have been a ‘charcoal hearth,’ where a stack would have been made to slowly heat pieces of wood and create the charcoal used as fuel for industry, before coal was used.

Remains of other workplaces can also be spotted. If you see a round depression in the ground, this could be a ‘Q-pit.’

These were places used to make ‘whitecoal’ or kiln dried wood. This was mixed with charcoal and used for lead smelting.

The whitecoal was used to lower the fire temperature, as pure charcoal burned too hot and harmed the lead.

To cut larger pieces of wood, for building and such, a saw pit was needed to allow two people to use a large two handed saw to do the job. The logs to be sawn were placed on planks (called dogs) over the pit.

The more experienced sawyer would be on top and the apprentice in the less desirable position below, in the pit, getting covered in sawdust! One theory is that the expressions ‘top dog’ and ‘under dog’ originate from this work.