August 23rd, 2013
As I walked down the lanes, through the wooded bridleways along the streams and up the tracks, towards the open expanse of Dartmoor, I passed ancient hamlets of cob and thatch.
As I rounded the bend, I smelled it first – the freshly laid scent of dried water reed. A roof in mid rethatch. As I took pictures I noticed the thatcher in his Landrover, stirring from a lunchtime nap. Soon enough Malcolm and I were up on the roof.
He had learned the art from his brother, and when he began thatching in the 1960s, the wheat straw was grown locally and he made the hazel spars by hand in the evening. Nowadays the thatch used is water reed from Turkey and the spars are made in Poland. Here he explains how that came to pass.
I have recently been reading Roger Deakin’s ‘Wildwood’, in which he explained that the old timber framed houses in Suffolk like his own, all had proportions that were directly determined by the sizes of the trees around them. I resonated with this idea of the home being a direct extension of the landscape it resides in, but had never considered it may also affect the pitch of the roof.
I find it so fascinating to talk to people who really know their craft. And when it is a craft that depends on natural materials, they know so much about the changing landscape by extension. There is a beauty in the repetitive nature of a task well done. It reminded me something the French potter said at Potfest: “The matter in your hands connects with the matter in you”.
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Sarah Thomas is Penguin's Wayfarer and she'll be walking and writing for us all summer. Follow her journey here!