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Green woodworking courses at Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire Dales National Park

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Posted by Jane Dunford at 04:34 on Wednesday 06 February 2013

Jane Dunford tries her hand at woodworking and creates a deer out of local green wood on a workshop at Strid Wood on the Bolton Abbey Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

It’s early in the morning in Strid Wood on the Bolton Abbey Estate, and I’m gazing at a pile of stubby logs deciding which to pick for the body of the wooden deer I’m about to create. ‘The ones with the moss on give it a bit of a furry look,’ says Richard Law, aka ‘the bodger of Strid Wood’, a green woodworker who’s my instructor for the day.  So, a mossy one it is…

Richard, 'the bodger of Strid Wood'. Photo: Jane DunfordRichard, 'the bodger of Strid Wood'. Photo: Jane Dunford

Along with five others, I’m here on a half-day course, learning to make a forest creature out of local green wood. The workshop looks like something out of the Hobbit, a charming wood-frame structure with tarpaulin stretched overhead, surrounded by ancient forest, with the River Wharfe bubbling along closeby. It’s a magical place to spend a morning.

After tea and introductions we’re soon beavering away, shaping animal legs out of sticks on the shave horse, gauging holes with the aguer and learning a bit about the natural landscape. Richard – who looks the part with his clogs, flat cap and grey beard – has had his workshop here for five years, selling everything from bowls to spoons to passersby, working on commissions and running courses (there’s something for all levels and it’s affordable – £30 for 10am-2pm, with lunch too). He helps with woodland management in return for the space, thinning trees and using the timber where he can.

Work in progress: Jane admires her handiworkWork in progress: Jane admires her handiwork

‘It works with the landscape, it’s low-tech and fits in – it’s become an attraction for Bolton Abbey in its own right,’ he says. Indeed it’s an unusual site, and walkers passing by stop to check out what’s going on and admire (or laugh at) our efforts.

After a bowl of homemade soup we’re onto the final stretch – and then comes the moment of truth – assembling bodies, heads, necks, legs and antlers. I wouldn’t say I’m a natural woodworker, but after a bit of coaxing my deer stands steady and actually I’m pretty pleased. We wander off, wooden animals under arm, to explore a bit more of the Bolton Abbey Estate. Covering over 30,000 acres, it belongs to the Duke of Devonshire, and with 80 miles of footpaths and woodlands, reservoirs, moors and fell it’s great for walking. We head to the atmospheric ruins of the 12th century priory, where sunlight streams through the stained glass and the sound of the organ echo in the air.

The imposing ruins of Bolton Abbey. Photo: Jane DunfordThe imposing ruins of Bolton Abbey. Photo: Jane Dunford

There are several places to stay within the estate and our home for the night is The Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel & Spa. With parts of the original coaching inn dating from the early 1600s, it’s all beamed ceilings and old world charm – our room has a four-poster bed that you practically need a ladder to climb on to. Across the road the barn has been converted into a lovely spa, with pool and Jacuzzi – perfect for a bit of pampering after a day out hiking.

Hotel perfection. The Devonshire Arms, Yorkshire.Hotel perfection. The Devonshire Arms, Yorkshire.The Devonshire Arms is also a place that takes its environmental efforts seriously. Head concierge Eddie Styles, who leads the green initiatives, shows me around the kitchen garden where he’s started keeping bees. With a stream and benches, it’s a pretty place to linger. He’s devised some great schemes – discarded toiletries are given to local churches, which have open days offering the homeless a chance to come in for a hot shower. Coloured milk bottle tops are collected and sent to Gambia where they’re used as education tools and recycling is run with precision. ‘They’re small things, but they all add up and do actually make a difference,’ says Eddie.

One of the key draws of the hotel is a Michelin-starred Burlington Restaurant. The less formal, colourful Devonshire Brasserie is a treat too – produce for both is sourced as locally as possible. We tuck into venison from the estate with blackberry jus and then wend our way up stairs to the four-poster and the soundest nights sleep I’ve had for ages. Double rooms start at £250 for B&B, with use of Health Barn.

>> For other suggestions of things to do in the region, see our Greentraveller Guide to the Yorkshire Dales

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