From foreign adventures to shed building, brash burning, felling and firewood processing, it’s been a busy month for our jobbing forester.

I know this seems well out of character, but having shorn my final sheep for the year I decided, before jumping back into the timber scene, I’d have a short break.

In a way the break was thrust upon me, in the sense that my brother was getting married and decided the stag party should take place away from the prying eyes of locals. And so, with the wind in our hair and some euros in the wallet, 12 of us ventured into the great heat bomb of 2023 and caught a plane to Benidorm.

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The group consisted equally of hand cutters and lorry drivers – with a few farmers for seriousness – and we were all to spend three nights and days exploring the many bars of Benidorm. Coming from Northumberland during one of the worst summers ever, the heat was something else and trudging from bar to bar could only be endured with the prospect of a substantial vat of cold beer waiting as a reward. One interesting observation was that the hand cutters clearly had a superior ability to cope in these extreme conditions, which I could only conclude was as a result of the drivers spending too much time cosseted in their cosy cabs!

As we wandered around the alleyways and backstreets, the heat seemed to intensify and it wasn’t long before our clothing was soaked with sweat and we were beginning to suffer from severe chafing. This created some interesting styles of walking between venues, but yet again the prospect of a chilled reward spurred us on. However, beer can only quell the appetite for so long and soon it was time to eat.

By general consensus it was agreed that it was only right to try the local cuisine. After a quick perusal of the menu I decided upon razor clams. Having never had them before it seemed the right occasion to experiment a little, although in hindsight I wish I hadn’t. Their arrival caused mild amusement among my fellow diners who had ‘stayed safe’ by ordering that well-known Spanish dish – fish and chips (although some dared to venture as far as chicken and chips). The clams very much resembled pieces of old inner tube which had been rolled in sand and then dowsed in red wine. What I didn’t know at the time was that an hour into the future and I would be releasing the clams back into their natural habitat.

The restaurant was like an oven and we greedily consumed our food before deciding we should break that age-old taboo of not swimming straight after a meal and head straight for the beach.

Shameful to admit in this enlightened age, but I was so busy ogling the goods on display that sadly I never saw the wave. Aside from the embarrassment of being swept off my feet, it filled my mouth and throat with a rich concoction of seawater, micro plastics and whatever else might have been floating in it. The immediate outcome was the sudden evacuation of the contents of my stomach.

The wave had carried me into shallower waters and so I was now amidst a small group of children accompanied by their mothers, who looked on in horror as they paddled in a broth of undigested razor clam chunks with a red wine jus. I quickly pulled myself together and headed out into deeper waters, away from the finger pointing.

There’s a constant buzz around Benidorm. It’s inhabited by droves of teenagers and people in their early 20s with a kind of enthusiasm they don’t often display at home. I could only conclude this constant outpouring of energy emanated from the copious quantities of ‘Charlie’ on sale at regular 50-yard intervals along the street. The closest I got to drugs was a large Cuban cigar and a black coffee on the hotel balcony which left me somewhat light headed for about half an hour, with a rasping sore throat that lasted for four days.

Forestry Journal:

The party came to an abrupt end when I disembarked at Newcastle Airport and switched on my phone. The shearing contractor had managed to find me another 700 blackface sheep to be shorn. Pale and shaking from my four days in Benidorm, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or fake some kind of injury. However, against all the odds, I made it to the end of the day, a broken shell of a man.

And so to home and the real world. Just recently I’ve undertaken an exciting new project – shed building. I decided it would be a great deal easier for my life in general if I could just walk out of my door in the morning and begin to produce kindling, the current set-up being half an hour’s drive away.

I don’t like upsetting people and I often go out of my way to avoid such situations. Because of the isolated location of my home (up a valley in the Cheviot Hills), you’d think I’d have to do something quite extraordinary to ruffle someone else’s feathers. However, when we moved in I was warned about one individual, who is known by several names all of which are unprintable. He retired up here from the deep south but has managed to fall out with everyone by poking his nose into things which don’t concern him and is now hated by the community. So when I moved in I made a point of befriending him and being a neighbour. As he’s quite old and frail I offered my services should there be anything he needed a hand with. He seemed happy with the offer and we parted on good terms.

The very next day he stopped me as I was driving in my pickup to say that he’d reported me to the Environment Agency for driving across the river. I drive across the river on a regular basis as it saves me roughly a three-mile round trip and the opening and closing of several gates. I also have a historic map which shows quite clearly that the point at which I cross is marked ‘ford’. The gent in question has no ford but a number of gates to open and close and I could only conclude he was jealous.

Forestry Journal:

Clearly the Environment Agency has more pressing issues, but just as I was about to suggest to them they block his number he found a new bone to gnaw at. I’ve just taken delivery of a new shed in kit form, and having spotted it he’s now doing everything he can to prevent me from building it. I’m unaware if he’s made any phone calls, but there’s a constant drumbeat of comments related to ‘planning permission’ and ‘outrageous activity’. While I’ve been on digging the foundations he’s been patrolling his field like a security guard keeping check on any ‘outrageous’ activities.

Fortunately I have animals in my field and am entitled to build a shed for them, so henceforth my new kindling shed will be called ‘the lambing shed’.

Work so far this month has been quite varied and I’ve been playing catch-up by knocking off the small jobs I didn’t get done prior to lambing. This has involved controlled brash burning, small pockets of felling and private firewood processing. We’ve been working swiftly and effectively and things have gone pretty much to plan although it has to be said some clients are easier to please than others.

Forestry Journal:

Firewood in particular is great – you turn up, make largish wood much smaller and leave and everyone’s happy. Brash burning, on the other hand, comes with much greater complications depending on the client. Burn the bulk of it and plant around the rest is my general approach, which is both cost-effective and efficient. One recent client, however, seemed to think I was some overpaid Chelsea Flower Show gardener, there to tie back the brambles and use secateurs on any wayward plant. After a day spent playing with firelighters and having smoke in my eyes, I thought the job was successfully done. The client, however, saw things differently and seemed to think I should be there for the entire week until every fine twig had been removed. I’ve explained to him that if he wants a completely clean slate then I’ve several friends with mulchers. However, he’s adamant he wants it all done by hand and he’s withholding any payment until we return. Welcome to the final place in a very long list, sir!

I know there are some who head to Sardinia for holidays or who have second homes in France or Spain, but my second home is on the fringes of a council estate in Lancashire. I’m headed there to catch the tail end of a friend’s felling job. There’s about 100 tonnes of larch edge tree left to go situated on a bank side and I’m really looking forward to it. No staff, no awkward customers – just me, my saws and the trees. And if that doesn’t sound like the complete holiday package then the local down the road (the George and Dragon) has announced this Friday is ‘Pie Friday’! Life is good.