From autumn until spring, if we can’t find my Dad anywhere, we know the chances are he’s in his workshop. He’s like an old-fashioned Father Christmas with a white beard to match, whittling, sawing and turning. Dad gets enormous pleasure from transforming pieces of wood into trinkets, toys and furniture. Not that I’m worried in any way, but I’m definitely turning into my father.
Last week, while filming for Countryfile, I turned up at a woodyard in north Kent and realised I was in heaven. I was there to make stakes by hand for sweet chestnut fencing, using an axe that was, bizarrely, made out of a Morris Minor car spring.
As I fashioned the wood, it dawned on me the items I’ve got the most out of on Countryfile have involved making things and meeting those who craft them. I’ve thatched roofs, built walls and made coracles, chairs and hurdles – and learned enough to keep those skills going at home. In fact, I chopped some hazel down at the weekend. It is drying as I write this, ready to be crafted into chairs for my family after I learnt to make furniture in Devon.
I even made the spade I dig with in the garden and although it’s a little ‘rustic’, it’s definitely the best spade I’ve ever had. I am now creating my own workshop and Dad has given me his old lathe, which I loaded into the horse box and brought down south.
Although these days I thoroughly enjoy thumbing through a power tool catalogue, there’s nothing like the feeling of using an old-fashioned implement to work the wood. I find it very therapeutic and rewarding to recycle wooden items that you could easily burn or leave to rot and give them a new lease of life. I love the practical element of making something; it focuses my mind on that one thing I am doing and therefore I find I can relax and switch off. It’s the simplicity of it I like; working with materials and using the traditional skills that so many people have honed before me.
Once you start crafting with wood, you don’t look at trees in the same way again, because you begin to look at each for the quality and the characteristics of its wood, not just its name.
Two other rural skills that I’ve learnt on Countryfile are coppicing and hedge laying. I loved hedge laying, it was great fun and I couldn’t believe that the team I was in managed to win a competition against champion hedge layers. I kept asking the judges if they said we were the winners for television purposes, but they insisted we’d won fair and square. Needless to say, I will be putting my new skills to very good use on the farm.
Matt Baker is a British television presenter – when not on television, he spends his time outdoors.