Playing Creatively with Wood

It’s a short walk from the Conservation Hub up to the dunes on the way into Findhorn Village. That short walk can draw out when you slow down to notice the insects humming and the birds darting for cover past Rowan and Birch into the gorse. At the top of the dune the gorse is a sea of brilliant yellow with views out over the bay. Helen Kalis thought this was the spot to sit and rest and appreciate the surroundings and some benches would be a welcome addition to the trail – we agreed and had the right material for the job, with the wind fallen pine from Wilkies wood, which had been milled on site.

A few weeks earlier I had made contact with Jonathan and the Hinterland Trust about coming to help out, I had recently moved to Muir of Ord and was looking to connect and get involved in meaningful work. I’d followed the work at Findhorn Foundation for many years from afar so now that I lived closer I was keen to get involved. Jonathan being the open person he is, was happy to meet and see how things could fit together and be of mutual benefit. Helen’s bench commission came at a perfect time and given my previous experience as a cabinet maker in Northumberland seemed a perfect fit.


The idea was to make at least two simple rustic benches along the trail using the natural curves of the wood to form our benches. We started by rummaging through the wood store to find appropriate pieces, looking for interesting shapes, anything that would intuitively fit together. It was a refreshing way to work with the material still in a raw state, with all its imperfections and character, not the increasingly unrecognisable processed and standardised product of industry. At the time I was working with manufacturing windows and doors at a joinery shop in Inverness. The end of each week couldn’t come soon enough, then feeling free to work creatively, in a built environment in harmony with its surroundings, much more nourishing for the soul.

A few sketches and a template later we had our basic design, informed by the unique qualities in the wood we had picked out. This stage also included a lot of sitting to find that sweet recline spot for our benches. With Jonathan’s chainsaw skills and the help of long term volunteer George Paul, Louna and later Mitch we cut and notched the wood and prepared logs to form the feet of the bench. Extra shaping was carried out with a drawknife, a deeply satisfying experience if you haven’t tried it before! The nature of working with chunky wood encourages play as you can’t really make any mistakes, any gouge or undesired edge can easily be whittled away. The wood was planed and sanded back to bring out the grain which was deepened once we added an oil finish, the familiar smell of wood and oil drawing favourable comments from the curious passer-by keen to find out what we were making.

Once we had our finished bench components the trailer was filled and we trundled uphill to the site. Fence posts were hammered into the ground to provide strength and the ground was prepared, a bed of soil and bark and each foot sitting on found stone and brick. The benches now had a home and the final few screws brought everything together, they were now sturdy and ready for all the Summer ahead. I’ll look forward to seeing the benches age, the colours softened by sun, wind, rain and the edges worn smooth like an old stile – something that only comes with time. If you haven’t been up that way recently I encourage you to follow the trail, take time to sit and look out at the sea and it’s perfect blue.

We are running a weekend workshop on the 7th – 8th September for those of you interested in learning new skills and trying your hand at working with wood. Rustic, creative and rewarding! Follow the link for more details and to book on the course. Hope to see you there!

Steven Porter
Woodworker and FHT Member
June 2024

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Findhorn Hinterland Trust, Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) SC045806
228 Pineridge, Findhorn, Forres, Moray IV36 3TB