I’ve never done a craft course before, but I chose leatherwork as my interest in it has developed through my pyrography and making small pouch bags for Oshun Creations. I didn’t really know what to expect, but gave my camper a fresh MOT and off I went for my first weekend away in it this year!….
It’s a pleasant drive through pretty towns like Bradford-on-Avon and into the lovely British countryside where you are likely to get a little lost before finding the Cherry Wood Project somewhere between Bath and Chippenham. In fact, I didn’t speak to a single person who had found it straight away! I suppose one could say it adds to the charm of the place! I parked the camper next to a pile of logs – probably seasoning ready for use as heating or cooking fuel – and walked up the muddy lane to find the outdoor kitchen where I was to meet everyone. It was a friendly group of eight of us and we met the owner of the wood, Tim Gatfield and our instructor, Rob Exton. The kettle was
on – as in literally on the metal bars over the raised fire-pit, which was the main source of cooking heat. After general chit-chat and a short wait for two women who had stayed the night in yurts on the premises and had overslept, we moved along to the workshop area and began by learning about different types of leather. It wasn’t long however, before we were straight to work on our first item – a pre-cut leather purse.
This is not a course for hanging about. By the end of the day, we had also made a leaf-shaped wet-formed dyed bowl and followed a pattern to make a knife sheath. It was quite an impressive collection of hand-made items for the end of one day.
There was a little time before dinner, so I went for a wonder to look for the nearby lake. I think I got about half way there when the heavens opened and I got royally drenched. I tried to wait out the downpour under a canopy of oak trees, but in the end had to give up and make a run for it back to the kitchen. I didn’t have time to go all the way back to the camper to change clothes, so I stood by the fire and hoped to dry out quickly. It wasn’t until two hours later I looked down and realised there were two big wet patches where my jumper hadn’t dried out over my bra. Very embarrassing. The rain had at least paused by then, so I could run back and change my top.
Firstly though, I experienced fresh Crayfish for the first time. They’d been caught in the lake that day, boiled and were ready to eat. While a few of us waited
for everyone else, at first I watched the others prepare and eat them. I didn’t think I could do it, what with their creepy segmented body and long antenna, but partly down to not wanting to be the only one not enjoying them; and partly down to realising this could be the only opportunity in my life to do this; I learned how to twist the head off, pull off the the long stringy bit, and eat the meat. Being quite squeamish, I still can’t believe I did this! It was incredibly tasty, and the chickens ate the nasty bits humans can’t, so nothing went to waste.
That was just for starters, and dinner, by the way, was home-made pizza. I’d unfortunately missed out on this popular school excursion and had never made pizza myself before. I say ‘made myself’, but in fact the dough had already been made for us, and all we had to do was roll it out and pick from the toppings laid out on the table. The only tricky bit was trying not to push it all the way back to the clay oven when removing the pizza, getting wood ash all over it. The knack is to shove the wooden paddle underneath with confidence. I have to say, I’ve never tasted such delicious pizza, and now I need a clay pizza oven in my life. (Cue elaborate plans for a verandah with out-door kitchen.) We each made one and shared with the group.
You can probably tell by now that it is a very communal vibe to the place. Everyone shares and everyone chips in. You do your own washing up. We met various people who had links to Cherry Wood – either having volunteered to help with putting the buildings together or have attended previous courses or were apprentices and it seems usual to live off-grid in the wood for the duration. It sounds flipping wonderful! Incidentally the compost loos, with an open view of the woodland; and one of which with a rope-bridge leading to it, were quite an experience.
In-between listening to the drumming of rain on the roof of my campervan, I slept very well. Here’s a tip – don’t park under trees. It was worse when it wasn’t
actually raining and the drips off the trees sounded like rocks being thrown at me. The constant patter of drizzle was easier to sleep through. The camper was very comfortable though.
The next day we could choose what project we’d like to do. One woman made herself replacement watch straps; others made a belt, a tool bag and small handbag. I went with the suggested project of a leather notebook as I would’ve liked to have learned how to make one anyway. This design is a little more complicated than just a wraparound style as this has an elastic loop for your pen; a strap that tucks in at the front and metal posts for a re-fillable pad of paper. It took a while for me to have the courage to actually write in it! It’s now a book for notes that I don’t need to keep as the pad has perforated edges for tearing off and throwing away. I don’t like throwing away anything, so I’m not sure how often I’ll actually use it!
Anyway, if you’re considering doing any course at all at the Cherry Wood, I’d recommend it just for the food, which was delicious! People brought biscuits to share with their tea breaks and we were provided with a delicious lunch and homemade cake at afternoon tea. The owners were friendly; the setting is beautiful and if you’re going to choose the leatherwork course, Rob is knowledgable and patient. All-round I think it was good value for money too and I’ll definitely be looking at their other courses next year. I’m going to continue with leather-crafting at home and my friend just gave me a load of leather scraps which are going to be useful – I’ll let you know how I get on.