Our young forester gets back to doing what he loves best – hand cutting in the woods. But it’s not been an easy month.

“IT’S not what happens to you in life, it’s how you deal with it.”

This is a phrase instilled in me by my grandmother and one she reminds me of when things aren’t going my way. I would be the first to admit this has been one of those months where things haven’t gone well, nor has my ability to deal with them.

It’s left me anxious, angry, frustrated, generally cheesed off and not a pleasant person to be around. However, I must maintain that to this end I have been thoroughly provoked by the fiasco surrounding my Hilux insurance. As readers will remember, the vehicle was written off after a head-on crash which wasn’t my fault. The vehicle is essential to my work and income.

Forestry Journal:

It’s been the first time I’ve been involved with any kind of claim and being the innocent party in the incident I would have thought my insurers would have dealt with the situation in a swift, civil and professional manner. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I’ve lost track of the hours I’ve spent on the phone listening to some dated piece of elevator music while trying to establish for how much longer my claim is to be ignored.

Then, when someone eventually answers, it’s a call centre based in Outer Mongolia where the staff (through no fault of their own) have little grasp of the English language and certainly can’t understand a north-eastern accent. At times I’ve had to shout so loudly it’s a wonder they couldn’t hear me in person, but eventually, after hours and hours of calls, I was able to organise the collection of the smashed-up truck.

With my saws lying silent on the forestry floor I was then able to move on to the contentious subject of valuing the vehicle. I feel sorry for the many thousands of victims who believe the flannel put out by insurers about how they evaluate their cars. Probably overcome with fatigue, they give up and accept the paltry quotations they’re offered as they don’t have the confidence to stand up to them. Had I gone down this route I’d have ended up with a vehicle seven times older than the one I had with five times as many miles on the clock. However, I certainly wasn’t going to be bullied. I knew exactly what my car was worth and was quite happy to rack up the miles, scratches and dints on the hire vehicle they’d supplied until they paid it.

Meanwhile, it’s the time of the year when I often find myself working alone. Since the tups (rams) were released in November, the fruits of their labour are now being delivered and this draws in the services of my regular staff and assistants; in other words everyone in Northumberland is lambing. I haven’t really been involved in lambing now for nine years and when that becomes 50 I’ll buy myself a gold watch to celebrate! After watching millions of sheep in New Zealand happily get on with giving birth by themselves with no human interference, I’m starting to question the traditional hullabaloo associated with lambing in the UK. A recent request went something like this:

“Any chance of you helping me out for a few days?”

“Sorry, I can’t, I’m lambing.”

“They can do it themselves you know, and you’d be far better off if you come with me for the day.”


Anyway, working alone provides me with the opportunity to step back from the hustle and bustle of firewood processing and partake in the job I love most, which is hand cutting. I started using chainsaws to make money over a decade ago as an enthusiastic teenager, but never intended to spend year upon year in some dingy coal yard holding onto some 90cc engine disking logs. My interest and enthusiasm came from the stories I’d heard from the old cutters about the big trees of Kielder and the palm tree chestnuts of the south of England. 

Yes, they all to a man grumbled about the endless rain and midges with a bite like piranhas and, of course, the obligatory bad back, but when pressed none would have done anything different. Forestry hand cutting was something I wanted to be part of.

One of the most satisfying jobs I’ve been involved with to date involved clearing up a small 100-tonne patch of windblown trees on an estate near Kielder in which I was given free rein on the cutting spec. I’d been looking for a couple of wagon loads of small-diameter larch to go towards next year’s kindling and this windblown patch delivered, with 3-metre kindling logs for me and 2-metre logs to go into the estate’s firewood pile.

It’s very satisfying to cut and fell timber you are going to use yourself and I’m looking forward to returning home to get stuck into it. If there are any poor logs in there then I only have myself to blame!

In the Kielder/Bellingham area the trees are all very well drawn and clean and I can well see why the largest man-made forest in Europe was planted there. However, working in the area does come at a price. One minute the sky is an azure Mediterranean blue and, in the time it takes to change a chain, the sky turns black and dumps half a reservoir of water on top of you. I’ve worked there four times this month and on each occasion I’ve returned home soaking wet with water dripping steadily from the hire car.

I recently updated my Forestry First Aid qualification, which was long overdue but required an entire day away from work. The course, run by Scottish Woodlands, is one I’d thoroughly recommend and in my opinion was very good value for money. I’m aware there are currently groups of teachers touring the country and profiteering from forestry workers in need of tickets, but this course didn’t take advantage of that. 

I don’t think you ever retain everything from a course, but you try to remember the most salient points; prawn shells stop bleeding, ticks are bastards (check your groin daily) and use a tourniquet! Dog bites were also included in the itinerary which is just as well as I nearly had to put my new-found knowledge to use.

READ MORE: Our young forester gets back out into the woods with his chainsaw

Some days I find myself in complete solitude looking out over hundreds of acres of green nothingness and other days I don’t. This was a new firewood job I was about to embark upon based in an old Northumbrian fishing village where the men are hard and the women harder. The site was in an old coal yard and I turned up half an hour early to get my saws set up.

Because of the location I was unable to start until 8am due to noise restrictions. When I arrived I was confronted with huge steel security gates, which were closed but unlocked.

I wanted to get parked up as close as possible to the timber for practical reasons, but also so that my saws and other equipment didn’t get stolen in the first half-hour.

The office was at the far side of the yard and to gain entrance I had to put my hand through a small opening in the steel doors to the latch on the other side. I’d just got my arm through the opening when a huge Alsatian emerged from under a hopper in the yard and leapt towards this piece of meat poking through the door. Fortunately for me, I got a vocal warning of its approach and was able to extract my arm from the opening just in time to prevent it from being severed from my body. In an instant I imagined having to use every element of my recent first-aid course in one go! As the dog’s foaming, snarling jaws attacked the metal of the gate it occurred to me that you’d have to be very cold (or mad) to attempt to steal anything from this yard.

Forestry Journal:

The commotion alerted the lads in the office, causing an interruption to their pre-work chain smoke. A gruff-sounding character trundled across the yard and before opening the gate he grunted at the dog in a language I failed to recognise. The dog, on the other hand, understood the instruction and with complete obedience turned tail and headed back under the hopper where it peered out in anticipation. With a bit of huffing and grunting the steel doors swung open and I entered the yard. The rain in Kielder might be heavy but at least it doesn’t bite!