Hedge Laying – Welsh style

Despite more than half a century of living in the countryside yesterday was the first time I have actually had a go at hedge laying. My father had been taught to lay hedges as a lad but had not had the need nor felt the inclination to practise this ancient art. So it was a delight to be booked on to a one day course as a Christmas present from my good lady wife. The course was scheduled for the 15th February at Kate Humble’s “Humble by Nature” Penalt Farm, near Monmouth. A farm rescued from obscurity when the last tenant retired and in the process of being turned into a rural skills centre of excellence by Kate and her team. Humble By Nature
Hedge laying - work in progress
Hedge laying is an ancient craft going back centuries and long before fencing was used. A process of working with and using nature to create stock-proof barriers, wind-breaks, shelter and wildlife habitat with little more than a billhook a saw and a wooden mallet created from a wood off-cut. Intensive agriculture and mechanisation over the last seventy years have resulted in the practise of hedge laying virtually dying out, but with a growing realisation that our current energy intensive systems are ultimately unsustainable interest is growing again.
The journey from Ruabon to Penalt early Saturday morning, through Hereford and Monmouth was picturesque as usual but extremely wet with frequent heavy rain showers, however the weather forecast was reasonable, particularly if you are an optimist.
Arriving without incident exactly on time at 9.45 I, together with nine other willing hedge layers enjoyed a coffee and an excellent slice of flapjack and listened to the safety briefing before we were led across sodden meadows to our hedge.
A previous course had already laid a section of about fifty metres and it looked good, we were to do the next section which had a number of worrying gaps.
Tim and Paul our tutors for the day skilfully demonstrated the process of pleaching using a billhook. Thankfully we were today learning a Welsh style of hedge laying, which is in my opinion more functional and less fussy than some of the numerous other styles. The Welsh style uses significant quantities of old brush wood to create a dense thorny bottom to the hedge protecting new shoots from hungry sheep’s mouths and giving the hedge time to regenerate – and help bridge gaps.
Divided into three groups, each group set about a section, selecting what to keep and what to cut out, with posts hammered into the soil every half metre or so progress was steady. The day passed all to quickly with break for an excellent hot lunch back at the farm and at five o’clock when our sections joined and we were able to add the bindings to the top, holding it all firm and even if I say so myself, looking pretty good.
Hedge laying - ready for the binding
If you are interested in learning new rural skills or indeed can share your knowledge of rural skills please contact any of the Growing Ruabon team and lets see what we can do locally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *