sweet chestnut pollards and a turner in Galicia

This is going to be a rather picture heavy blog post but I hope it is of interest. We’ll start with a look at traditional management of the chestnut pollards then visit a museum which was the highlight of my time in Galicia. The scene in the picture below has become unusual in Europe in the last 200 years but in medieval times managing trees this way was very common.

This would be called wood pasture. The trees are cut regularly just above the head height of any grazing livestock and allowed to regrow. It was rarely recorded how they did it in the past and when I worked for the National Trust at Hatfield forest we were reintroducing pollarding and relearning the old skills. Here in Galicia with the chestnuts they do not cut all the top at one go but remove one or two major branches and allow the others to grow on. This ensures that each tree always has a number of branches that are producing chestnuts, it also very much extends the lifespan of the tree. So if you buy Spanish chestnuts this is the sort of ecosystem and way of life you are helping to preserve.

The wood as well as the chestnuts are valuable produce. The limbs that are cut are split to make fencing rails and stakes for vines and all the roofs in the area are made from chestnut poles.

Local fences and gates are simple clench nailed cleft chestnut affairs but they have a lovely feel.

Hinges are simple but hand forged.

Doors frequently made from local sawn chestnut, this one also has hand forged nails.

And the frequently have delightful wooden latches.

Now on to the ethnographic museum, we just called in because we had an hour spare but it was the highlight of the trip. First a huge “shrink pot” that is a hollowed out tree trunk with a base and lid fitted, wasteful of wood but easier than cooperage. I have seen tubs like this in many Eastern European collections but di not expect them in Spain.

Now the biggest bark container I have ever seen. This is for the washing, first put your washing in, then a felt cloth on top filled with wood ash and pour the water over. The ash water mix drips through and helps clean your washing. An almost identical stand at Haddon Hall is described as a carving table and I have always had my doubts.

Then we spotted the spoons, a great collection well presented with tools and a range of designs. I particularly liked the eating spoons bottom right and will be making some copies.

When we came into this room I was very excited, Anna told the museum chap that I was a pole lathe bowlturner, they had heard of my work and he phoned their resident turner Arturo.

We went outside and Arturo arrived to show us his lathe. Now I have seen photos and a video of Arturos work and tried a few times to track him down so it was a wonderful coincidence that brought us together.

As well as bowls he makes a traditional wine jug a highly technical piece of turning on a pole lathe and he does it exceedingly well. Although he is only a part time turner he has been doing it for 24 years since seeing an old man demonstrate the lathe at the museum when he was 16. I was delighted that he had a jug finished that I was able to buy.

Just a shame we arrived just an hour before the museum closed so we had very little time together.

One Response to sweet chestnut pollards and a turner in Galicia

  1. TREEWRIGHT October 30, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

    Very interesting to see the Chestnut pollards Rob. I've only ever seen it coppiced.It would make sense to pollard it round here as most coppice regrowth gets browsed by deer and you end up with bonsai coppice stools!