by Chris Wadsworth
photos by Simon Lenihan of England
The felling and extraction operation at the Lake District beauty spot of Tarn Hows in the summer and autumn of 2004, was done in often appalling weather, and in the full glare of publicity. It must rank as one of the most spectacular pieces of horse logging, or indeed of commercial horse work done in these islands in recent years. [tarn is a small lake, ed.]
Tarn Hows is a major tourist honey pot near Coniston in the south of the Lake District National Park, attracting up to 300,000 visitors a year. Together with 4000 acres of the former Monk Coniston Estate, it is owned by the National Trust. In its present form, it is a result of an exercise in landscape engineering by James Garth Marshall, the wealthy owner of the estate in the Nineteenth Century. His idea was to create a foreground feature for a panoramic vista of the surrounding high fells, [a fell is a rocky or barren hill, ed.] from Coniston Old Man, by way of the Langdale Pikes, to Fairfield over beyond Ambleside. A valley with three small tarns was dammed, creating a single large tarn fringed with a number of peninsulas, and woods were then planted on the bare slopes to the waters’ edge. Hardwoods were planted with a conifer nurse crop, but lack of management thereafter left the conifers dominating the landscape. By the turn of the 21st century, they were shutting out the high fells they were meant to frame.
The National Trust had long wanted to do something about the trees at Tarn Hows.
This is an iconic landscape, with vast numbers of visitors. The Spruce at the edge of the water are huge. The Trust stalled at the idea of the public outcry that would result from the impact of mechanised forestry operations. Irish horse logger Simon Lenihan moved to the Lakes from County Kerry in 2001, and has logged considerable tonnages for the National Trust and others. Simon and his elder sons Simon, Keith, and Ian, with their Belgian Ardennes horses, work good timber in bad places. The Lenihans are very much a family unit, and Simons’ wife, Kate, and the rest of the family tend their other horses whilst the lads are working away. With skill and hard work, they are making a living logging with horses when many conventional operators are going to the wall.
A National Trust manager mentioned the Tarn Hows problem to Simon, and he offered to do the job with horses. The Trust had not considered horses as an option, given the large size of the timber, and the steep climb from the water to the road. However, Simon knew of a Swedish timber bogie over in the North East, and was sure that with this piece of kit, and the power of his horses, the task was possible. The Trust was persuaded, and arranged to hire in the bogie for Simon to use.
Having decided to go ahead, the Trust opted to do the hardest bit first, no doubt reasoning that if they could do that, all the rest would be possible. Work started in July 2004. The area chosen was a low peninsular covered in massive Spruce, with a narrow boggy neck at the landward side, and a steep, rocky, and sometimes wet slope up to the access lane.