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“Journal Entry from the Countryside: The Task of Thatching in the Rain is Unpleasant Yet Feasible | Written by Tom Allan”


The current conditions are not suitable for thatching. It has been raining consistently for weeks and there seems to be no end in sight. Even when the rain stops, it starts up again shortly after. The fields in Devon are saturated and the roofs are soaked like sponges.

However, there is still room for improvement. The apex of a traditional English thatched roof is covered with a layer of wheat, secured with hazel pegs known as spars. Replacing the ridge does not involve exposing the entire structure to harsh weather conditions, so rain is not a hindrance to the task. In fact, wet wheat can actually make the process easier as it is more flexible and easier to cut.

Hazel spars (or pegs) are soaked overnight before being used to hold a thatched roof ridge in place.

The wooden poles used for the roof’s peak must be soaked overnight in order to bend easily into the desired shape. A water container or wheelbarrow can be used, but at my home on Dartmoor, I have a more rustic option: a large granite pig trough shaped like a doughnut. I retrieve my poles and spot a diving beetle swimming towards the sunken sycamore leaves.

After the hazel is inserted into the wheat, it will remain secure even in the face of a powerful storm. However, there is a dangerous moment when the straw is on the roof but not yet secured. As the winds pick up, I struggle to hold onto a few strands of wheat. The bundles that I carefully prepared in the safety of the barn are lifted off the roof and scattered 30ft below in the garden.

Rain clouds over Poundsgate in Dartmoor, Devon

The wind carries the rain towards me, sweeping it sideways over the hill and past the overgrown beech tree hedge. It circles around the granite chimney and reaches the ridge where I am working. I keep going until my face becomes numb, then seek refuge in the shelter of a thatched log store. I stand there, wearing my wet oilskins, with my arms outstretched like a child at the beach trying to shake off the discomfort of sandy hands. The rain drips off the eaves in small streams.

After the clouds have dispersed, the sky becomes blue and a group of fieldfares fly overhead in a pulsing motion. Their smooth and graceful flight resembles paper toys being carried by the wind. It is now time to return to the roof.

Source: theguardian.com