Firing the imagination
Like our cottage owners, local Dorset author Thomas Hardy was well aware of the comfort of the hearth, and as he wrote in Far from the Madding Crowd , “And at home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be – and whenever I look up, there you shall be”; surely one of the most pleasing literary marriage proposals (from Gabriel Oak to Bathsheba Everdene). You could bring a copy of the book to read by the fire, or a DVD of the film to enjoy – but whatever you do, make sure it’s the classic 1967 version by Schlesinger, not the lumbering 2015 remake!
Anyway, some of our cottages have real wood fires for cosy autumn and winter evenings, and that prompted me to think about firewood, although as I write this it’s still fairly warm.
The woodcutter’s tale
In the country, getting ready for winter isn’t just buying some new winter wear, but involves a bit of hard work! Over the spring and summer, we’ve been cutting down damaged and overgrown trees, and as a result, we’ve got a huge stack of trunks and branches piled up ready for the woodshed. The leafy twigs either went for browse to the ponies (a welcome addition as we had so little rain to make the grass grow), or have been burnt on a summer bonfire.
Zen and the art of building a log pile
We spent most of the weekend cutting logs to length and splitting the bigger ones. After the noise from the chainsaw and the crack and rumble of the log-splitter, making the woodpile is an almost zen-like experience.
Willow logs are a delicate pink inside, conifers are reddish and scented with resin, birch is clothed in beautiful silky white or mahogany bark, but the best of all is ash – the white wood splits with a satisfying crunch as long as you remember to split it fresh. Leave the logs for a few weeks and it makes things much harder!
Anyway, back to the log pile. The satisfaction is in hefting each piece to see if it’s dead and ready to burn now, or green and needing to dry. Like building a drystone wall, the art is in finding the right billets and logs to fit together in a stable stack, but leaving enough airspace to help them dry off over the next couple of years. It doesn’t always go to plan, so steel toecaps are advisable in case of some accidental firewood Jenga.
But barring accidents, making a woodpile is a contemplative experience, and seeing the finished thing gives one a mild sense of smugness against the winter.
So, when you set a match to your holiday cottage fire, think of the work that’s gone into making it possible and be glad you didn’t have to lift a finger!
Find your perfect holiday hideaway
You can enjoy a real fire at these cottages – ideal for a winter break:
is set in the centre of Chideock – you can come home to a wood fire after a short walk after a delicious lunch or dinner from the George Inn. More details on Pound Cottage
– have a walk to nearby Seatown beach to blow away the cobwebs, then head back to the warmth and comfort of the woodburner. More details on Greenwich Cottage
The Cider Barn
is set in countryside at Askerswell, and ideally suited for a foraging expedition to top up the log basket with kindling from the hedges or woodland floor. You might even find some fircones which smell lovely on the fire! But remember to leave some for the squirrels. More details on The Cider Barn
Article and Images by Lois Wakeman