Richard Law of Flying Shavings runs regular woodland workshops in the beautiful and ancient Strid Woods on the Bolton Abbey Estate in Yorkshire.
Nicky and I arrived at the Bolton Abbey car park near the Cavendish Pavilion in torrential rain but were welcomed by a smiling attendant who agreed we could park for free as we were booked on a Flying Shavings woodwork course. We made our way along the main footpath, past the cafe, until we found Richard preparing a hot drink for us under his tarpaulin cover.
The wood smoky smell was very inviting and we were soon all introduced and chatting happily with Richard, Rachel and Catherine. We had already decided on what to make; deer for Nicky and me, foxes for Rachel and Catherine. The main differences were that the deer have long necks and legs and antlers, foxes have cute faces, shorter legs and twiggy tails.
Everything is made from green timber – mostly harvested from within a few minutes walk of this woodland workshop. We each selected the wood chunks and sticks we intended to use and began work after a quick demonstration from Richard. He kept it very simple and we all got going on our projects. After securing our chosen wood we sat astride the shave horse and used a draw knife to taper the ends of chunky branches for legs and neck, finishing off with the rounder plane (like a very big pencil sharpener). We drilled holes using the Scotch Eye Augur and were encouraged to consider the best angles for stability in legs and jauntiness in heads. Everything is made of wood (except some metal parts in the tools) and so it smells lovely.
There was a feeling of quiet industry as we each worked on our chosen animals and a wonderful sense of happy calm. We were by the side of the beautiful River Wharfe which was fairly racing along and brightly twinkling in the frequent bursts of sunshine between showers. The undercover work space was frequented by very confident chaffinches and I glanced up at one moment to see a nuthatch in a nearby tree. As we progressed on from body parts we picked out potential legs from a bucket of chunky sticks and Richard demonstrated why wood with kinks and bumps makes for more useful legs than dead straight pieces.
Lunch time arrived very quickly and tasty veggie soup was heated on the wood fire. Things got a bit on the smoky side for a while but the soup, followed by coffee and biscuits, was delicious. The soup is served in home-made wooden bowls designed to be cupped in the hand, and we ate with wooden spoons. We all felt relaxed and chatted a bit as we congratulated each other on our latent woodworking skills. We agreed on how good it feels to 'make something with your own hands'.
Throughout the day walkers were passing by and stopping to admire the various wooden articles that Richard makes to sell. We chatted with quite a few and many seemed intrigued to find four women whittling away under a tarpaulin cover. This craft workshop demands a fair degree of concentration but it felt pretty foolproof – hard to imagine anyone not coming out with a quirky garden animal. The tools are basic and reasonably quickly mastered and there are no noisy electrical things that can run away with the woodworking novice. The projects are begun and finished within the four hours of the course and, though we were busy, we didn't feel rushed or under pressure.
Luckily we met some friendly young lads who were sea cadets from Keighley on the trek back to the car and they carried our deer most of the way. Bolton Abbey pavilion was crowded with tourists and walkers, some come for the duck race, and many were enquiring about our new garden pets! We got soaked again in another cloudburst - after all this was July in Yorkshire so we're used to it. For me this was a perfect workshop in a perfect environment and Richard was a great teacher. If anyone lives nearby or is planning on a visit to the Yorkshire Dales then I can heartily recommend this Green woodworking course in Bolton Abbey woods.