Friday, 3 October 2014

Stile Making, And A Perfect Baby Snake Skin Is Left Under The Refugia

I don't know where this week has gone. My feet don't appear to have touched the ground much and I've still got masses of things to get through.

We have a house-full this weekend, which will be lovely. F is down and L's mate Llew is coming to stay. I'm out most of Saturday volunteering for college and at some point it would be nice to see my husband, as when I have been home this week I've been so knackered I've more or less been useless company. He is cooking a Roast Beef Feast for us all on Sat night, which will be a real treat.

I spent a couple of hours last night in the company of the most gorgeous group of Brownies- fourteen seven year olds who were learning all about butterflies and moths from Abs, education officer at butterfly conservation and me, added on moth person :o)

They were a delight- enthusiastic, good humoured, interested, vocal and I had a lovely time teaching them about moths and flutters. Children learn things so quickly and have such agile minds: I often think adults forget to really listen to them and learn from them. It was a pleasure to introduce them to something new and really brought back memories of when L was that age and I would spell out words phonetically to him so he could learn how to write them down. A small trip down a lovely memory lane.

On Wednesday, I spent a day on a farm in Wiltshire with my college buddies. We were building stiles for the local rights of way officer and it was hard work. This was mostly because the ground was like iron as we've had no rain for ages, but it was also because (and I don't think they'll be offended if I say this out loud, seen as it's just us here), Cal, Fi, Sash and I are rubbish at DIY.

This, for example, is what our four inch nails started out life looking like....

And this is what they looked like after we'd finished with them....


We did improve over the course of the SIX HOURS we were sweating over the stile building, as evidenced by Sasha's extremely pleased expression in the photo below, above her hammered-in-perfectly-straight-nails....

It was hard to complain really, given how beautiful the setting was....

The little barn is supported on staddle stones, designed to prevent rats getting in

I can think of worse places to spend a day outdoors in the company of friends all working together to achieve something useful....


So, here is what we started with.....

One knackered stile.....

And here is what we ended with. One brand spanking new (and hopefully not remotely knackered at all) stile....An improvement, d'you think?

And this is how we got there....

digging out the old wood was HARD WORK
But so was putting in the new...

Just in case you were labouring under the misapprehension that all I do on these occasions is swan about taking piccies, here are some shots of me actually working. This is what happens when you let Sasha loose on your camera (and is evidence of why I can't actually move very far today without my lower back screaming).

Trying to avoid hitting Fi's fingers. She looks pretty relaxed....

Or maybe not....

She got her own back though....And I do look worried (although she was very accurate thank goodness and no fingers were harmed during the making of this photo)

And here I am cutting a professional figure as I saw the treads for the steps to 1m lengths. It's best if you don't look too closely at the edges please. Why? Because they are wonky, but shhh, don't tell anyone - hopefully no one else will notice :o)

After all that hard work I had a wander round the farm, camera in hand and found....

a pair of bulls

Some Baby Smalls

More baby smalls
A variety of bale shapes


Mallow growing in the field

Pineapple Weed

Red-seeded goosefoot
grain store

White clover

 By the time I returned, the stile was starting to come together nicely (probably because I hadn't been there).

Cal and Sash were busy nailing wooden protectors over the barbed wire fence...

And they'd even used a spirit level to check the steps. That should stop anyone sliding off...


Suddenly, it was starting to look like a convincing stile....


I'm not sure Fi was convinced....

Putting on the finishing touches: the way marker....

Hopefully that will distract attention from the, ah hem, ginormous split in the grab post. 

Oops again.

Maybe we don't know our own strength after all? This was caused by the mallet, which we had all had a go at wielding....

And then, look! At last it was All Done.... Time for a celebratory photo.

A job well done...

I had a few brief moments spare yesterday and whizzed to the top of the garden to check on my little snakey, who has been curled up in a ball contentedly beneath the refugia every day since I found him on Saturday....

But, SHOCK! HORROR! He wasn't there! He had left me a goodbye present though....

He'd moulted and his old skin was left on top of the vole's burrow. This must be why he has been so quiet all week- he was preparing to slough (great word) off his old skin and stride out in his shiny new one. I will miss him, and wish him well, and hope to see him again next year when he will of course be even bigger still.

It's the first time I've found a snake skin in the garden. What follows is a few close ups of the skin, because I find it fascinating, but I know plenty of people are not so keen, so if you are a tad snake phobic maybe skip to the pics of the Sparrow Clan and the dogs having a bundle at the end of the post :o)

This first one is obviously the head. You can clearly see the mouth and the eye above it....

I'm fairly sure he slithered out of the head end when his new skin was ready, because that was the only bit that had a slit in it. Do snakes always go out head first after a moult? It's a subject I know very little about and now I'm inspired to find out more.....

This is a head shot taken from the other side...

The pattern of the scales is so precise, like a perfectly repeating pattern. L was particularly taken with these shots, possibly because he has a mind that likes maths and numbers....

Fascinating stuff.

Right-oh, I'm off to put together a power-point presentation on a conservation organisation of my choice... busy, busy, you see?

I'll leave you with the baby pigeons, who are not quite so small and scraggy any more but getting ready to be grown ups; the Sparrow Clan who are Quite Numerous these days considering we started from nothing eight years ago (and boy are they vocal), and the two doggy people biting each other's faces off (of course)..


Happy days.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend,

CT :o)


  1. Looks like a fab time was had by all. We don't have many stiles near us, just metal gates, but when I was younger and used to visit my Nan in Kent they were everywhere. My Nan backed on to "Muddy lane" I wonder how many lanes are called that lol x

    1. As many as 'Green Lane' I expect :o) Some farms are replacing wooden stiles with metal kissing gates because the upkeep is non existent, so I don't know whether wooden stiles will survive long term. It was rather nice to have made one, all things considered, and I know feel I should walk that footpath several times, just to make use of it! x

  2. You must have a very wildlife-friendly garden to have the snake take up residence there. When I was growing up, we had a wild overgrown area to the side of the garden, which eventually dropped down into the old brickworks. We had lots of slow worms and lizards, and the occasional grass snake. Lucky for you that he left his sloughed skin for you to find.

    Well done with all your hard work on the stile - the digging must have been back-breaking, after such a long dry spell.

    1. I think the garden is pretty wildlife friendly now, which I am very pleased about. We've made lots of changes and it seems to be working, judging from who's come a-visiting this summer.

      Still no slow worms though....

  3. Good job done, I love the photo of the post with all the nails sticking out..!
    And the snake skin is cool, will it keep like that ?
    Amanda xx

    1. Hoping it will keep. I've got it indoors now so I guess time will tell :o) x

  4. What a cracking post. Full to the brim with delights. i'm so pleased that Brownies are still going strong after all these years.

    1. Thanks, Jean, glad you enjoyed it :o)

      The Brownies are such an institution, aren't they? It brought back so many memories. x

  5. Great snake skin in detail, just the sort of thing I like to take a look at. Well done on your building work, I think they should have tested your nail hammering skills first!

  6. I don't think they would have let us near a hammer if they had! x

  7. Lovely set of photos. Seeing the straddle stones in use was really interesting. My uncle had them in the garden on his farm for decoration. I didn't realise what they were actually for at the time.

    1. My in laws kept a couple of theirs when they sold their farm and some bugger came into their garden and stole them! :o( Lovely to find a barn still using them for their original purpose x

  8. My word look at the detail in that snake skin, it's fabulous! Are you able to preserve it in anyway, I'm so jealous! It looks like a ghost replica. Great photos, the farm by me has replaced the old wooden styles with metal contraptions, I don't like them.

    1. I thought so too- amazingly intricate. How marvellous to be able to shed an old skin when you get too large for it. I know a few women who would quite like to be able to do that... :o) Not sure about preservation, am hoping because it's dry and now indoors it may just keep itself?

      I'm with you on preferring wooden stiles to metal gates. It fits the countryside better somehow x

  9. That worn out stile would pass as new around these parts!! I think that hammering in 4 inch nails is very ambitious, no wonder some of them went awry. No way for dogs to get through the stile though I noticed? Hope you have a good weekend. xx

  10. I think making a doggy place would have taxed our abilities a step too far! It's a good point though- lots of them now have a bit of wood you lift up for the dog to go safely under. Have a lovely weekend too Amy xx

  11. Love the old snakeskin - such detail and so beautifully intact :) The new stile looks good - I am the least practical person I know so really admire your efforts :) Have a lovely weekend.

    1. The skin is amazing under the close up of the camera, and even better- the little snake is back under the refugia again.
      I'm not very practical either, so I was amazed at how well the stile worked! x

  12. Most ambitious day for you all. I just learned how to do this - thanks a bunch. I do not mind the sawing, measuring, hammering part, for after all; I am a carpenter's daughter and Dad had to pass his skills along to all the children. The snake skin is really neat and very beautiful with your photography. Is this snakeskin delicate or tough as I have never held one before. As for getting my dog through your stile, I would just carry er over with me and my dog loves steps anyway, so it might just work.....maybe. Have a wonderful day :)

    1. I should imagine those inherited carpentry skills come in handy being a country lady and all.
      The skin is delicate in the sense that if I tugged it it would stretch but I'm not sure whether it would break or not. :o)

  13. What a great way to spend the weekend! Love the snakeskin, too - beautiful texture and transparency.
    All the best :)

  14. What a fun post and you guys certainly improved with your hammer and nail skills over the course of the day! Good job you made of the stile and I'm glad to see you doing some work for a change. ;-)

    LOVE that little barn! Never heard of/seen anything like that before. And really exciting finding the moulted snake skin. Good luck little snakey. :-)

    1. We did get better eventually (after the death of many nails!).

      Small snakey has been back under the refugia again this week, all curled up. Love him! x


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