It was warm and sunny when 10 volunteers assembled at Crowhall Farm at 08.30 for a session of vegetation cutting and hedge trimming. Luckily by mid-morning there was some cloud cover and a gentle breeze but even so it was extremely hot, not helped by a good cross section of flying insects.

The path under attack was the northern bridleway running from Holywell Pumping Station going east along the northern edge of the Dene, plus a number of short subsidiary paths in the area. The path is very well used, as it was today, and we were constantly stopped by passing cyclists, walkers with and without dogs and runners. Today’s picture shows the problem with volunteer’s strimming, topping up with petrol, hedge cutting and clearing vegetation, with yet another couple of visitors wanting to pass.

Photograph 1. Congestion in Holywell Dene.

Most of the visitors were most appreciative of what we were doing but one cyclist said it was a stupid time to do the work, while a walker said it had spoilt his morning as he had come into the Dene to find peace and quiet and, in his opinion, what we were doing was a waste of Council money!!

All the peripheral paths were cut, the hedge cutting was completed and the 4 other strimming teams cut the path vegetation from the Pumping Station east to the first gate, at the junction with the path going north. It was a longer session than normal extending to almost four and a half hours, but it was a job well done.



The 6 volunteers assembled at the usual time of 08.30 and unloaded the equipment from the NCC truck that was standing in for the coordinator’s car, which was on other duties. The light was deteriorating as a black cloud slowly moved in from the North Sea while flashes of lightening could be seen and thunder heard in the distance.

At 08.40 the first drops of rain started falling and quickly became a downpour. After a short period for consideration over whether the rain would stop any time soon, the decision was taken to abandon the session. Before departing, the equipment had to be re-loaded onto the truck, which resulted in everyone getting soaked to the skin.

The photograph below was taken of the bedraggled volunteers ready to depart: its quality neatly summed up today’s session – a total disaster!!



With the coordinator back the weather behaved itself with sun, relatively warm temperatures and a cooling breeze. At the usual time of 08.30 in the Old Hartley car park 10 volunteers assembled for another morning of vegetation cutting. This time it was the path running north from the car park to the metal bridge on the way to Seaton Sluice harbour. Along the parts of the path through woodland little or no cutting was required but out in the open, especially where bracken was growing, the vegetation was well above head height.

Photograph 1 shows a part of the path before cutting started.

The usual 1 metre depth of cut was initially made but then was followed up with a half vegetation height cut for a further metre depth to ensure that no tall vegetation fell onto the path after heavy rain or wind.

It was tiring work, not only the actual cutting but also clearing the accumulated vegetation off the path, which required raking into piles and then a lift and throw to get it well clear. The mid-morning break, as can be seen below, was a time for necessary liquid refreshments and delicious home-made cakes, as well as a general discussion on a variety of topics, commonly known as putting the world to right.

Photograph 2 Putting the world to right

The cut of the whole path was completed in good time leaving just enough time to do some tidying up around the farm road cattle-grid/gate area and the car park itself.

The final photograph shows how we left the section of path shown in photograph 1, a good example of before and after photographs.

Photograph 3 Shows cutting and tidying up completed.    



A warm, sunny, high-humidity day was not ideal for carrying out another morning’s work in the Dene. There was a light cooling breeze blowing from the east, which, unfortunately, didn’t reach the lower areas of Holywell Dene where the 11 volunteers were working. Consequently it turned out to be a heavy energy-sapping morning especially as we were cutting and stacking vegetation, including bracken, which was taller than even the tallest volunteer.

We were all working in the Meadow area, just to the west of the Hartley West Farm road, with one team of 2 strimmers and 3 volunteers cutting the actually path across the meadow, while the remainder were cutting, clearing and stacking the vegetation between the various trees where the wild daffodils will appear next spring.

Last autumn, along the hedge-line of the meadow, we planted numerous small hawthorn saplings and 2 of the volunteers spent most of the morning trying to find them amongst the thick vegetation and then clear and mark their positions so that the following strimming parties would not, inadvertently, destroy them.

The photograph shows the volunteers finding and marking the hawthorn saplings.

The photograph also clearly illustrates the height and denseness of the surrounding vegetation that was being cut in the meadow during this session.

The end of the morning’s work approached and it was clear we would not manage to complete the meadow cutting task, so part remains to be strimmed on another Tuesday session. Even so it was 11 very weary volunteers, still being tormented by small flies, who made their way to the car park and hence to home just after noon.  


Another session of strimming – is the end really in sight?

Dale Top path in Holywell and the paths on either side of the estuary at Seaton Sluice always require a second cut each summer but the second cut for each, does not require the full five strimming teams. Therefore the plan for this session was to kill two birds with one stone by splitting the volunteers into two smaller groups and having them work some distance apart.

Therefore, at 08.30 four volunteers with two strimmers assembled at Dale Top and carried out the second cut from the steps at Dale Top along the river path to the bridge below Concorde House. In addition the path leading up to the gas station was cut and the drainage gullies, adjacent to the drainage pond we created, were cleared.

Meanwhile, the second group of six with three strimmers assembled at Dene Cottage on the west side of the estuary at Seaton Sluice and, by leapfrogged each other, cut the vegetation where necessary until the metal bridge was reached. At that point they changed direction and started on the east side path moving towards Seaton Sluice. It was soon after this that one of the strimmers malfunctioned and could no longer be used and, as we progressed towards the harbour, time ran out and the last relatively short section had to be left with uncut high vegetation.

Two of the volunteers have kindly said they will complete the remaining work before next Tuesday, as it should only take about an hour for one strimmer.

The weather forecast had predicted a fine warm day but with a nice cooling breeze. The only thing missing was the breeze, perhaps at tree top level it was blowing but at ground level, nothing and so once again the sweat was flowing freely attracting the usual colonies of flying insects.


A fine, almost ideal day for working in the Dene, greeted the 10 volunteers who, some at least, assembled at the entrance to Crowhall Farm well before the usual time of 08.30: keenness or couldn’t sleep perhaps?

Although we had three strimmers with us this was not a normal strimming day but could be described as ‘hunt the oak trees’ It was on 26 November 2013 that we planted the 50 saplings we purchased, 10 near Holywell road bridge, 15 in each of two areas between the wooden bridges, 6 in the meadow and 4 near Old Hartley pond.

By far the most difficult part of today’s task was finding the east group of 15 saplings planted between the two bridges. They were completely hidden by massively tall vegetation and the only way to find them was to have people carefully walking through the vegetation, parting it with their hands and hoping to catch sight of a tree guard. When one was found a strimmer operator came in, cleared a path to it and the area around it.

When that was completed a tree team arrived to check the tree, clear the remaining vegetation both just outside and inside the rabbit guard and ensure stakes and ties were in good order. The ties used were of the re-usable type, so they could be loosened allowing the guard to be carefully lifted and the vegetation immediately next to the stem to be cleared. The guard was then eased back to the ground and the ties tightened. The first photograph shows a tree that has been found and treated in amongst the vegetation.

Photograph 1. Shows a treated oak tree in its guard and illustrates the vegetation under which it was found.

It took over an hour to find the 15 trees, the last one taking by far the longest to find.

After a break for refreshments the volunteers split into two groups. The first of four with 2 strimmers moved to an area near the entrance to the Dene from the small layby on Hartley Lane and cleared the vegetation around some oak trees we planted some years ago and that are now tall enough to be above the vegetation. However last year we had trouble with this rampant vegetation so we decided to cut it back again to weaken it further.

Meanwhile the second group moved upstream to the second area of 15 oak trees, which I am pleased to say were much easier to find. The second photograph shows the tree teams operating in much shorter vegetation.

Photograph 2. Shows the tree teams working on the trees in much shorter vegetation.

I am pleased to report that of the 30 trees inspected in these two areas, 29 were in very good order while the final one was alive but only just.

This second area is where we planted 12 service trees some years before but sadly only 2 have survived. They are on their northerly geographical limit but, with climate warming, we thought it worth a try. The third photograph shows the best of the 2 surviving Service Trees – almost certainly the rarest tree in the Dene.

Photograph 3.The best surviving Service Tree – the rarest tree in the Dene!

There was just time left for everyone to join in a rough hand clearance of the clinging vegetation, including brambles, from the rowan trees we planted between the fence line and the southern high level path, across the field from the entrance to Crowhall Farm on Hartley Lane. Then finally two volunteers offered to check and clear, on their way home, the 4 oak trees we planted near Old Hartley Pond; an offer accepted and much appreciated. Once again I am pleased to report these 4 saplings are in fine condition.

7-Aug-14 Trail Walk and Social Evening

After the success of last summers trail walk and social evening, the FoHD committee decided to hold  a similar event this year on the evening of Friday 18th July. The weather, like the previous year, was kind on the day and 21 adults plus 2 children tackled another of our self guided walks around Holywell Dene, with guidance from marshals en-route.

This year the start  of the walk was at the car park on the B1325 Hartley Lane road, and the route headed downstream towards the estuary, crossing the burn at the metal bridge, and continuing past Starlight Castle and Primrose Cottage before crossing the water again under the road bridge at Seaton Sluice. Walkers then had a choice of route back to the Delaval Arms pub, either back through the Dene on the other side of the burn to which they had already walked, or along Collywell Bay Road, complete with stunning sea views to the East.

On arrival back at the pub, 37 members enjoyed a pint ( or a soft drink ) and tucked into a hearty meal, whilst enjoying a chat with fellow walkers and a chance to view some photographs of the Dene taken in times gone by. Everyone seemed to enjoy the chance to socialise with fellow members, and judging by the favourable comments on the night, a good time was had by all!

Thanks to everyone who attended the event, either to do the walk or help out on the night, your support is greatly appreciated.


A cool day with a few spots of rain greeted the volunteers as the 11 assembled for yet another day’s strimming.

The tasks for today were easy to decide as, with the holiday period about to start, this would be the last week for some considerable time that we would have enough volunteers to operate all five strimmers: and area strimming needs as many strimmers as possible.

On 22 July we had started to cut the northern side of the meadow but failed to complete the task. So today that was the starting point and, very conveniently, at the usual time for our first break, the task was completed. As well as vegetation cutting in amongst the trees we removed two dead oak trees that had spent their twelve years of life in pots and, consequently, never had much chance of prospering in the open soil and removed a horse chestnut tree that someone had planted, without permission, in the last couple of years.

Finally we continued last week’s work by checking and clearing the five oak trees we had planted in the meadow last autumn: all are doing well.

On then to the area immediately to the east of the stepping-stones, this used to be Hartley Mill House garden but has now been planted with a variety of trees and shrubs. This is the third year we have cut this area and, as the trees mature and create more shade, the task becomes easier, although as the first photograph shows, there are still areas of rampant growth that has to be cut, removed and stacked.

Photograph 1. One way of removing quantities of cut vegetation.

As the cutting progressed it was pleasing to see the berries on the 5 metre high Guelder Rose shrubs turning red: berries much loved by bullfinches.

With half an hour left we reached the east end of the garden and this gave us time to cut the area around the fallen, but still living, large willow tree, which is a great favourite with children who use it as a play area.

Photograph 2. A favourite children’s play area   

In the garden area we found a tree that had split its trunk and was moving in the wind and hence a possible danger to anyone passing. We removed all the smaller branches that we could reach and cut with a bow saw and reported it to the NCC. Before we had finished for the morning, arrangements had been made by text for one of the volunteers to meet a chainsaw operative from NCC the following morning, to fell and clear the tree.


From the 11 volunteers that assembled last week, work, injury and holidays took their toll and it was a group of just 6 that assembled today at Crowhall Farm at the usual time of 08.30.

The car unpacked and kit distributed, our start was held up by the cows and calves that filled the farmyard. Farm staff were drawing off the calves and once the cows were let out to the area where we were waiting and realised what had happened, the noise level increased and, by the state of the car by the end of the morning, they must have taken out their annoyance and distress on or near it: car wash in the afternoon!

We eventually got away on our long walk almost to Holywell Bridge where the oak trees had been planted. A pair of volunteers started work on the 10 trees, one strimming the area around each tree and the other clearing close to the stem by loosening the ties and lifting the guard so that the stem at ground level could be inspected.

Photograph 1. The area around the oak being cleared.

Photograph 2. The guard being lifted to clear next to the stem.

We were pleased and surprised to find an eleventh oak in the area; in fact quite close to one we had planted. It was difficult to decide whether it had been planted by persons unknown or was natural regeneration. Either way it looked in good health and had survived without a rabbit guard!

Meanwhile the other two teams moved east cutting the vegetation, where necessary, along the path towards the old railway line. Much of the vegetation and the reason this path is cut annually is to control the spread of brambles. Unfortunately, not all the low growing bramble runners can be cut by strimmers so there was plenty of back-breaking work for the clearance volunteers cutting the runners by hand.

Litter was picked up along the way and the known popular areas for drinking parties, well off the path, were checked. In the end we had filled just over a black sack with rubbish: not too bad when compared with previous years.

The rather attractive pond, usually seen from the path, was a disappointment today as it had completely dried up.

Photograph 3. The dried up pond.

We reached the old railway line around midday with our morning’s work completed and were pleased, on reaching the car, to be greeted by a deserted farmyard.


It turned out to be another ideal day, weather wise, for working in the open air, dry, not too warm and few flying ‘nasties’ Eight volunteers attended, including our youngest member who is joining us again for a few weeks before going to university next month.

After meeting up on the Hartley West Farm road, the whole party moved to the area of the downstream wooden bridge and there split into two groups: four volunteers, with 2 strimmers, started by cutting the vegetation immediately west of the upstream wooden bridge going towards the tunnel. Cutting the vegetation along the entire path was not necessary but the task that slowed up the work was the hand cutting of long brambles extending across the path.

This group then moved to the bridleway above and carried out a similar task. The end result, in both cases, was that the strimmed paths linked up with similar work carried out previously this summer.

Meanwhile the other four volunteers were working in the woodland area between these two paths. In the past FoHD had planted a few oak trees in the area and the Seaton Sluice Rainbows had planted rowan. Unfortunately, brambles were making a take-over attempt over the whole area so one strimmer was used to cut back the brambles while the other volunteers were finding the trees and hand clearing the immediate area around each tree, so making it easier for the strimmer – less chance of tree demolition!

The morning continued in this vein, with path overhanging branches being cut back, more relatively short stretches of vegetation cutting being performed, more planted trees being cleared and finally one vandalised “No Cycling” sign being replaced.

On the way back to our start point it was lovely to see a party of young children with grandparents having a picnic using the seat next to the stepping-stones. On being asked, all the children admitted to having wet feet and one little boy asked if we were firemen.  


An amazing day with the sun shining from a cloudless sky with only a light breeze, although this did translate into a very hot day when working in the sun.

Although the number of volunteers (8) was not large, today’s tasks meant a considerable amount of equipment, tools and materials were required to be transported to site. The previous day two empty wheelbarrows had been moved to a nearby house and these were collected by the volunteers at the start of the morning. A photograph of the loaded car bringing all the other necessities is shown below.

Photograph 1 shows the loaded car ready for the off

As last week the volunteers were split into small groups, the first was a strimming group that finished cutting the vegetation on the northern bridleway adjacent to Hartley West Farm, as well as hedge cutting the short stretch of hedge that borders each side of the path just to the west of the farm.

The second group, a two man team, took tools and previously prepared timber to carry out repairs to the adjacent fencing by the wooden gate leading onto the farm road. The fencing had been rotten and had either fallen off or been kicked off. The new rails were screwed and wired into place. The old bridleway sign at the gate, that had caused misunderstanding in the past, was removed and a new sign, better positioned, was affixed.

The final two person team (male and female) worked on the gate area adjacent to the cattle grid at the start of the farm road. The area was strimmed, brambles cut back by hand and small overhanging branches removed using extending loppers. It should now be easier for horse riders to use this gate.

By mid-morning all three parties were back at the Old Hartley car park and, after the replacement of fluid into sweaty bodies, five strimmers were brought into action and were used to cut the vegetation along the paths between the car park and the stone bridge as well as the bracken areas between the pond and the river.

That left a party of two who worked on improving the appearance of the car park by cutting back encroaching trees and bushes both adjacent to Hartley Lane and in and around the car park using loppers and an extending pruner.

Then came the piece de resistance of the morning, the 50th oak tree we had planted was finally found: needless to say covered with brambles but still alive and well. So all 50 have survived their first year in Holywell Dene, one hanging on a bit but all the others doing well.


A truly wonderful autumn day, when being in the Dene either working or for pleasure, was a memorable experience Hardly a breath of wind with the sun appearing after an hour or so made conditions pleasantly warm by the end of the morning.

With two volunteers indisposed and many still on holiday we had a select group of seven to carry out a variety of tasks in the area of the metal bridge at the head of the estuary.

A team of two was dispatched to Dene Cottage with the task of checking the path between the cottage and the metal bridge. Hedge and branch cutting was carried out, gullies and drainage channels checked and cleared as necessary and a general check of the path’s surface carried out. As is well known by users of that path, much of the lying water is escaping from abandoned mines and is very unpleasant to work with, including a horrible lingering smell. However in that unpleasant water the team found a crab and frog as well as shrimp like creatures, so it cannot be doing too much harm to the wildlife.

Since we carried out weeks of work on the path last winter it has become very well used once again, as it was today. Without doubt our work on that path has generated more complimentary remarks and comments of thanks than any other project we have carried out.

The rest of the volunteers, four with strimmers, started off-path strimming of an open area, which is known to be well used by visitors and allows people and dogs some off-path strolling. Unfortunately the vegetation was near head high, as the first photograph, of two of the strimming party just starting to cut, shows.

Photograph 1. Starting area strimming

After just short of an hour a rest was taken from this very heavy work, strimmers laid to rest and two two-man teams formed for other jobs.

In this area of the Dene the cows in the adjacent field actually cross the river and try and get to the grass beyond the fence, which lines the path. Cows’ pushing against this fence does it no good at all, especially as it is already in a very bad state. So it was a case of make do and mend today with the top barbed wire being re-stapled and the few remaining rails being screwed to posts hopefully adding a year or two to their life. The second photograph shows the fence being worked on and also, on the left, the torn up bank where the cows cross.

Photograph 2.Repairing fence damaged by cows.

A little further down the path, another team were working on the shallow open gullies that we have created to get water flowing from the hillside across the path and so into the river. Not very technical but they have worked well.

Photograph 3.Getting a continuous flow of water across the path and into the river.

In a similar vein but far more mucky and smelly, the Dene Cottage team had the unpleasant task of opening up the gully taking the mine water bubbling up adjacent to the stone block stepping-stones we created, via two small ponds, through a pipe under the path and hence into the river. At the end of that task, wet feet, soaking wet gloves and spotted faces was the order of the day, together with that smell!! This is illustrated in the fourth photograph.

Photograph 4. Clearing the channel to take away mine water.

For the last part of the morning we were accompanied (on the other side of the fence) by the inquisitive cows that had appeared out of nowhere but obviously thought something was going on that they should know about.

Photograph 5. Inquisitive cows inspect our work.


What a change seven days can make. Last week perfect weather conditions; today low cloud, mist and everything extremely wet after the previous day’s rain: at least it wasn’t raining!

With two volunteers still indisposed and holiday adventurers from Scotland to Malaysia to Cornwall, our numbers were down to five, the lowest total since June 2012. However the five had the privilege of doing something unique in the fourteen years of the Working Party’s existence: they created a Holywell Dene oak tree nursery.

The oak saplings, grown from acorns collected from the Dene last autumn, needed moving from the volunteer’s garden, having been re-potted into 8” pots in the spring.

A little visited corner of the Dene was selected and the first photograph shows the site as it looked before work started.

Photograph 1. The selected site before work started.

Needless to say the first task was to clear the site of vegetation using our trusted strimmers. Then, using mattocks, forks, spades and rakes the area was dug over, the large surface roots removed, which allowed the soil to be raked into a roughly flat area of approximately 4 x 2 metres.

A porous plastic sheet was laid and wooden stakes erected around the periphery to which the wire netting was fixed using reusable plastic ties: care was taken to ensure the netting went below ground to detour burrowing rabbits.

Photograph 2.The completed nursery.

Each potted saplings was then checked, weeds and other invaders removed and the soil topped up as necessary using a soil/compost mix. They were then placed in the nursery.

Photograph 3.The saplings enjoying their new home.

There are currently 78 saplings in the nursery with a further 25 in small pots still in the garden. It is intended to re-pot these in late autumn when they are in their dormant state and their leaves have fallen. They will then join the others in the nursery.

Finally, today we said farewell to our student volunteer who has been with us off and on since he left school in summer 2013. He now moves on to university and we all wish him the very best of luck and good fortune in the years to come.


This was the first Working Party Tuesday session since the 20 May that a strimmer was not on the tools list - yippee.

Today’s six Volunteers were extremely lucky because the rain, forecast for all morning, didn’t arrive until packing up time and even then it was much lighter than scheduled, so working conditions were ideal.

The work was part of our preparations for winter and in particular the heavy rain that will surely come. Over the years we have created a number of drainage gullies throughout the Dene with the aim of keeping the paths free from standing water. Unfortunately, nature does its best to return these man-made features back to their original state, so our task today was to clear them of vegetation and any build-up of silt or stones as well as making sure the drainage pipes we have put under paths are free to allow water flow.

Photograph 1. Volunteers clearing the gully through the undergrowth.

The gully in the first photograph is the one that takes the large amount of water from the surface of Hartley Lane as well as from the stream that flows down to the road from the adjacent hillside. The gully bringing this water under the road is very old and visually attractive as it is built of large stone blocks as the second picture shows.

Photograph 2. Ancient stone block gully bringing water under Hartley Lane.

As well as clearing gullies we also dug out a number of soak-aways we have created. Where a path level is lower than the ground on either side or the path is at a slight angle, large puddles can form often totally covering the path. If it is impossible to lead this water away via a gully then we have created small ponds of varying shapes to hold the water before it soaks away naturally. As usual nature is against us so, annually, these areas have to be dug out and the narrow drainage channels between the blocks cleared, as the third picture shows.

Photograph 3. Volunteers clearing a soak-away.

A task started but not finished: next week, subject to no emergency work, we will continue.


Another lovely day for the end of September and, with no rain for over a week, the Dene was very dry underfoot and consequently working on hillsides was relatively easy.

Eight volunteers, including one for the first time, assembled for another session of clearing the numerous drainage gullies and soak-aways, work that had started last week.

It seems strange that the drainage water from farmed fields can be brought to the edge of the Dene, channelled under any nearby path and then left to its own devices to find a route to the river, with no regard to any other path the water has to cross before reaching the river. To overcome this, FoHD have created a number of gullies down the hillside and put pipes under the riverside paths, thereby ensuring the water reaches the river without damaging a path or inconveniencing users of the path by creating puddles.

It is imperative that these often meandering gullies are kept clear of vegetation or soil/stone build-ups, which could cause the water to find another route; hence our work today. The first photograph shows the start of work on a gully and illustrates what is being cleared.

Photograph 1. Shows the start of work on a gully and what it looks like after being cleared.

It is important that volunteers remember the path of these drainage channels that have been created, as after a year of rampant vegetation growth, it is often difficult to find them as the second photograph clearly illustrates.

Photograph 2. The gully was around here somewhere!

When a gully finally arrives at the riverside path there is usually a short steep stretch of hillside or a mini-waterfall before the water is gathered in a sump and directed through the pipe to the river. Volunteers have to realise when they have reached this plunge point and, for safety reasons, may decide to sit down for the last metre or so of clearing, as the third photograph shows.

Photograph 3. A volunteer sits down at the top of a mini-waterfall


So gully and soak-away clearing finished for another year – hopefully. In all, 22 water drainage facilities, created by FoHD, have been attended to over the past three weeks.