The renovation project, which we began in the autumn of 1995, proved to be a life-changing experience. We installed an old static caravan on site in April of that year, and to it added insulation, electricity, plumbing, a shower, a toilet and a wood-burning stove. By mid-June it was ready to occupy, with our four year old son, until the house was finished. I carefully calculated costs and time-scale based on my previous experience and a guide book on man-hours for building companies. I was 150% out on both counts.
We were keen to keep the character of the cottage and use traditional methods and materials wherever possible.To raise the wall heads 90 cm, we used local recycled stone and lime mortar; the external doors and windows I made from Scottish oak.On the new roof we reused the slates from the old roof, luckily finding enough at the salvage yard to replace breakages and cover the kitchen (which was previously asbestos).
Three and a half years later, in February 1999, we moved into the almost completed house. Further into debt than we hoped or planned, I was suffering from nervous exhaustion and was diagnosed with ME. I had been fitting in local carpentry jobs during the renovation, to supplement my wife’s income, but now I found myself quickly and easily fatigued. With my immune system thus compromised I contracted Lyme disease from a tick. However, it was not diagnosed for six months because my symptoms were assumed to be the ME getting worse. By that time, it had invaded all of the systems of my body.
After three months as a slug on the sofa in a darkened room, and purged by an overdose of antibiotics, I emerged as a weakened, diminished remnant of my former self. My previous tendency towards workaholism was no longer possible, a concept I struggled with psychologically for two years. In an attempt to recover, I paced myself through a series of light tasks of gradually increasing frequency. It seemed I could no longer make big things or do heavy work, so I decided to make little things instead and hit on the idea of making wooden jewellery using the off-cuts accumulated over the years. I started with simple cut-out designs and gradually became more ambitious.
As my health slowly improved, I was able to produce more, until I had enough to begin selling at craft fairs and festivals. I officially launched Woodland Treasures in November 2003. My designs developed further until I had over one hundred pieces of jewellery comprising necklaces, kilt pins, brooches, earrings, combs and bracelets.
Since those early days I have undertaken commissions for special pieces for dozens of clients. Several magazines have published profiles of me and my work (see Press). In 2015 I received a silver Craft & Design Selected Award and in 2016 the Gold Ethical Trader Award at The Green Gathering. From 2011 onward, several of my pieces have appeared in the Earth Pathways Diary and another in the Earth Pathways Calendar 2020.
Where do I go from here?
The next post will look to the future…