Jonah Maurice lives off grid as regards power and the like with his partner and young family in the remote Northumberland valley of Allendale. Hexham is his nearest settlement. He is small holder, woodsman and grave digger, and an example to us all of living in tune with the environment.
The 14 acre smallholding is the source of food – arable and livestock – for Jonah and his family whilst also providing an income stream with any surplus to their requirement. His work with woodlands is in managing difficult areas, where the use of his horse, Amber, allows access that couldn’t be obtained by anything mechanical. He initially purchased a working horse so that he could work areas of woodland on his own smallholding but sought an alternative to machines, and a more environmentally sensitive way of removing timber. From that largely self-taught beginning he has developed a small specialist business which is steadily growing.
Much of the work is on Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the heritage sector, or, as when I met up with him, on downright difficult terrain. He was working in woodland surrounding the outdoor and conference centre at Deneholme. The land was tilted almost vertical with a drop of 100 feet or so to the valley floor yet covered with large trees each in danger of toppling the other. Jonah’s job was to get selected weaker trees safely down and out without too much damage to those remaining, and without damage to drainage, other flora and fauna, or compacting the soil. It was tough both physically and I suspect mentally. Knowing what to do and doing it can be different things in that sort of environment and behaviour of the trees in any case temperamental. Standing up is challenge enough on such steep terrain, hauling the felled tees into a position where Amber could extract them safely from the perimeter path was one almighty physical job requiring brute strength aided and assisted by some clever use of mechanical jacks and levers. As if the job wasn’t enough we faced a howling wind coming in from across the moors to the perimeter path from which Jonah was working, and which from time to time carrying bitingly sharp sleight showers.
The day I was there, the felling was requiring all of Jonah’ s attention and Amber was at home awaiting a call for heavy duty the next day when things had been felled. Jonah had also brought in human help in the form of newly qualified woodsman Bernard Stone, a young guy from Settlingstones, just the other side of Hexham, and very similar to himself in being totally at home in this wild environment
Be under no illusions, Jonah’s commitment to his lifestyle is severally tested on such days. His is life is at the edge in many ways…..it perhaps therefore shouldn’t be a surprise to find him as local grave digger after answering a call from the local parish council! I bade him and Bernard farewell midway through the afternoon, looking forward to a later visit to the small holding where he is building a new wooden house and where most of the land is more or less level!!
For more on Jonah and horse logging in Northumberland see an article in The Journal
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