I write this in the mildest winter we have had for as long as I can remember, yet even so, when the nights draw in and the drizzle harries us in our daily endeavours, there are fewer nicer things than relaxing with a strong drink in front of a wood burning stove.
As a landscaper, I have worked throughout most of Worcestershire. I am familiar with its nature reserves, its woods, its flood plains and its fields. I have walked the length of the Malvern Hills, I have journeyed the murky waters of the Severn, and I have muddied my boots in Upton Warren at the Cadbury Nature Reserve. And, on all points of the compass, I have helped my tree surgery friends harvest the wood for the county’s wood burners.
It was during this task that a debate erupted between our small group over what the best wood to burn was. Some said seasoned oak, as it sits in a stove for hours with a small flame and gives out a lot of heat. Another said hawthorn and someone else suggested yew.
Our debate was silenced when an older member of our team (with the aid of an iPhone to prompt him) recited a poem written in bygone days, when the lands were still populated with elms and (perhaps) when Feckenam Forest was still recognisable. But it is one of those poems that is beautiful, and old enough that it is lore of the forest, attributed to no one author.
Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year.
Chestnut’s only good, they say,
If for long ’tis laid away.
But Ash new or Ash old
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold.
Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last.
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E ‘ en the very flames are cold.
But Ash green or Ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown.
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense like perfume.
Oaken logs, if dry and old.
Keep away the winter’s cold.
But Ash wet or Ash dry
A king shall warm his slippers by.
Oaken logs, if dry and old,
Keep away the winter’s cold
Poplar gives a bitter smoke
, Fills your eyes, and makes you choke
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould
, E’en the very flames are cold
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread –
Or so it is in Ireland said,
Applewood will scent the room,
Pearwood smells like flowers in bloom,
But Ashwood wet and Ashwood dry,
A King can warm his slippers by.
Beechwood logs burn bright and clear,
If the wood is kept a year
Store your Beech for Christmas-tide,
With new-cut holly laid aside
Chestnut’s only good, they say
If for years it’s stored away
Birch and Fir wood burn too fast,
Blaze too bright, and do not last
Flames from larch will shoot up high,
And dangerously the sparks will fly…
But Ashwood green,
And Ashwood brown
Are fit for Queen with golden crown.
It is such a lovely, lively little poem that put our debate to rest: for ash is the clear winner.
So when the darkness gnaws and the cold numbs, and when you stare into the flickering light and bathe in the heat of the stove, remember the poem above to chose what you throw on next.