The Wychwood Forest Fair is held very September and I’ve been coming since 2011 to support the Wychwood Project, a series of conservation and woodland creation projects in the footprint of the old Wychwood royal hunting forest. Recent Fairs have happened at Foxburrow Wood, just outside Witney, but the field that was used has now been planted up with thousands of trees. So, this year the event switched to Cornbury Park and what a great setting for the event, surrounded by the Cotswold landscape.
I arrived early and soon found my pitch number 125. My next door neighbour was Paul Hodgkinson of Town and Country Trees Limited who had a great display for visitors to explore.
On my other side was David from The Oxford Charcoal Company. He told me of the really bad luck the company had suffered when a lightning strike from the storms in June this year had set fire to their building, sending 10 tonnes of charcoal and much valuable equipment up in smoke, including all their banners and display material. David showed me his trailer, which although it was only ten feet away from the flames had survived largely unscathed as it was upwind of the fire. David seemed determined to bounce back from this setback and I wish the company good luck.
Our village shop the Market Garden sells boxes of Oxford Charcoal Company charcoal and I have bought some to support the company. Now we need the Indian summer to continue through the weekend for some outdoor cooking.
The next pitch down was the Bushcraft gang from Wilderness Pioneers who always draw a large crowd especially when they show children how to start fire seemingly by magic. They run their courses out of Wytham Woods, just outside Oxford, perhaps the most intensively studied woodland in the world. They told me that Ray Mears was recently filming there for his new TV series following waterways and Wytham is a great location with the Thames making a sweeping detour around the hill that the woodland grows on before entering Oxford.
Unfortunately my colleagues Bob Field and Ray Borritt from the Oxfordshire Group of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Green Woodworkers were half a field and a mature tree away with their pole lathes and The day was so busy I really didn’t get a chance to go and say hello. Bob runs courses with Cotswold Woodland Crafts who also host my spooncarving courses and has a natural charm and presence at these events.
Also across the way from me was Edward and Denise Marsh, very distinctive in their medieval garb and amazing bowl lathe. Edward showed me some lovely bowls and plates he’d been able to turn at recent demonstrations. Unfortunately he’d left his bunting at home that day, but his set up still looked great.
Tony Simmons, the chair of the Combe Mill Society also dropped by and we arranged for me to do some demonstrating there on 19 October. Combe Mill is a great place to visit when they are in steam, with lots of keen and enthusiastic volunteers ready to answer questions. Demonstrating greenwood crafts in a old water and steam powered saw mill seems very appropriate.
The doors opened at 11.00am and the chance to have a conversation with any other exhibitor was soon lost as the glorious Autumn sunshine brought out the crowds. I had split a birch log that I’d cut in the Spring and it already had begun to spalt, which was a really good conversation starter with the fair goers. When I’m demonstrating I use a Stefan Ronnqvist replica of an axe found in a Viking longboat which is very distinctive. It’s good to feel some connection with the shipwrights who used such axes to craft their vessels.
The questions from visitors are always revealing. There is a lot of debate about which wood is the most attractive of the spoons I have on display. Spalted birch, plum and apple seem to top the charts. I’ve a couple of spoons with turned handles which get a lot of attention as do the Kasas.
I had also brought some willow along for the show and this was excellent as demonstrating material as I was able to whizz through from splitting a blank to rough knife work before one set of visitors disappated and another began to form. Willow may not be the best wood to carve spoons from but I give it top marks as demonstrator wood!
For some tiny visitors my chippings seemed to be of more interest, especially the pieces of spalted birch.
My family came to visit around mid-morning, allowing a quick break but the attendance was really good and the visitors kept coming right through to 5:00pm. With all my business cards and leaflets gone and a good list of folk interested in spooncarving courses it felt like a good, satisfying day which hopefully also raised much needed funds for the Wychwood Project.