Recycling The Roof


This past Monday morning I was sitting quietly at my desk sorting through some emails when from outside the window there came a mighty crash. A large piece of old chicken wire had fallen off the roof and landed squarely on the scaffolding boards pretty much at eye level to where I sat.

It’s a sad reflection of the current state of affairs I find myself in that the sudden and unexpected arrival of a length of chicken wire sets in motion a particular train of thought. A brief consultation to confirm that the wire wasn’t intended for use elsewhere and it was promptly purloined. By lunchtime Mike had constructed two new bunny cages and they’d already been deployed.



It’s a strange view out of the study window right now. For one thing it’s become very dark. The scaffolding boards cut out a surprising amount of light. But the most surreal thing is the frequent appearance of a pair of feet. Given the positioning of the boards vis-à-vis the overhang of the roof the feet present as oddly disembodied, cut off entirely from just above the ankle.

How refreshing it is to have someone working on site with such an easy going attitude and a real passion for his craft. It was made clear from the first moment that we were welcome up on the scaffolding anytime we pleased. We’ve taken full advantage of the invitation and it’s been fascinating to see, and to hear, how the thatcher works. And to be directly involved in the decision making on how things should look. Best yet, the thatcher uses an earphone radio. He can come again.



It’s a weird feeling being up on a level with the roof. Such a familiar sight but a completely different relationship with it from these close quarters.

The thatcher pulled from the roof a single piece of straw some six feet in length. That is unusual apparently and makes it likely to be Turkish straw. As luck would have it Devon boasts the largest distributor of thatching straw in the country. Not that we grow it here in any quantity anymore. Turkish straw tends to be coarse. The finest straw comes from China. The bundles above likely came from either Austria or Hungary. On top of the straw sit the spars used to hold it and the batons in place. Usually cut from hazel or willow these are made with a twist in the middle to form a pin. You can see three of them sticking out of the left side of the roof in the picture below upper left, waiting to be knocked into place.



This year we’re replacing the ridge of the roof. It’s the area that takes the most wear and weathering and down here in soggy Devon it typically has a lifespan of eight years. The main coat on the front of the roof (above) is in good condition and should last another fifteen years yet if we’re lucky. The back slope has fared less well, having suffered poor air circulation under the tall conifers that used to grow up on the bank. It’s possible that when the ridge next comes round for attention the back slope will need work as well. Much depends on the weather conditions between now and then. And, no doubt, whether the squirrels choose to leave it alone.

As he works his way along the roof slope from left to right the thatcher is packing any hollows or repairing any damage to the main coat with the new straw. It may look patchy for a few weeks but it will all soon weather in. My fear that we’d be faced with piles of old straw to dispose of (and pick out of the borders for many months to come) has largely proved to be unfounded. Such was the non-existence of the previous ridge the thatcher is just building the new one directly on top. Any old material that has come off has been collected up in an old builders’ sack and then tipped into the old pond to join the garden waste already breaking down into compost. And you can’t get more eco-friendly than that.



A different take on hanging up your tools at the end of the day. For sure, no-one is going to nick them up there.



Progress. Day 1.