BLACKTHORN / HAZEL
History & Use
| The Appeal and Comfort of wooden walking sticks
| Health Benefits and Orthopedic purposes
| Support of Artisan Skills / Charm
| Forestry and our Environment
| Growing and Manufacturing
|Medicinal Qualities and Other Uses
| Blackthorn Shillelagh
| The Heritage of Blackthorn walking sticks
| Stick Size
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"...I ordered and just recieved my Irish blackthorne walking stick in the mail today. I am extremely pleased and excited. It's perfect and beautiful, nice straight, beautiful polished knob grip. I could not be any more impressed with it. Thank You LollySmith for making my birthday gift an amazing piece of my Irish heritage that I can now pass down to my son when I leave this planet. Simply awesome..."
Darryl About Walking Sticks & Canes
- Charlotte GillanA good walking stick will have great character, be suited to its user in terms of its height and weight, and elicit admiring comments wherever it goes. Over time, it will become a greatly loved possession.
While many walking sticks are bought by people who require them for physical support, many others are bought as presents and by ambulists
, or collectors of walking sticks.
In Victorian and Edwardian times, no gentleman was correctly dressed without his cane. In our modern world, walking sticks are usually carried for reasons of support and balance, or as an accessory on a formal occasion, such as a wedding.
Appeal of wooden walking sticks
Walking sticks can be made from many materials, such as wood, aluminum and even glass. In recent years, there has been much enthusiasm among retailers and the public for height-adjustable aluminum walking sticks. However, there is now also a great resurgence of interest in fine quality wooden walking sticks, because they benefit the user in so many ways: Comfort of use
Wood has greater shock-absorbing properties than aluminum, so there is less jarring to the hand, wrist and elbows of stick users when the stick makes contact with firm ground. A wooden walking stick is generally lighter in weight than an aluminum stick, which can be an advantage when the stick is in regular use. A wooden stick is a 'solid unit' stick, as opposed to a two section metal cane, or five section folding cane, so there can be no clicking or rattling noises when the cane is in use. Nature of the Blackthorn Stick and its Care
Any natural wood product is prone to changes in appearance. Some splitting and thin scars are a natural characteristic of Blackthorn and not considered a defect. Long straight stems of round cross-section can be difficult to find because blackthorn has an annoying habit of developing an elliptical cross-section; shafts and knob handles are often more oval than round.
Wooden walking sticks are generally robust items suitable for active use. However, a little care and maintenance will improve the appearance of your walking stick and may extend its working life.
Some useful tips are as follows:
Wooden walking sticks should be regularly cleaned of mud and grime by wiping them gently with a damp cloth. They should be dried after use in wet weather and stored somewhere dry and warm but away from direct heat sources such as stoves and radiators. Wood is a natural product and therefore is prone to changes in appearance. An occasional light polish with furniture polish or beeswax will also protect the wood and enhance the finish, although this should not be done with natural bark rustic sticks that have not been varnished (for example many bark ash sticks). Ensure worn or damaged metal or rubber ferrules are replaced promptly, both for safety reasons and to prevent damage to the cane.Our Blackthorn sticks
are varnished so a light cleaning with a duster and a little wood furniture polish should be fine.
What is more important is to store the stick in dry conditions: dry it off with a towel if it gets used in the rain, and do not store it anywhere damp as it can affect the varnish and also cause the stick to bow.Top of Page
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Walking is an ideal form of exercise. It requires no equipment or expense and is one of the best ways for you to become more active. Regular walking can improve confidence, stamina and energy, and help control your weight. It can also keep your heart strong, give you more energy and help reduce stress! A Walking Stick is a good companion to bring along on your hike and health walk.Walking sticks for orthopedic purposes
Many people give walking sticks little or no thought until the day comes when the doctor or physiotherapist suggests that perhaps the time has come to start using one…. Possibly, they will proffer a depressing object in shiny aluminum with plastic fittings. If the thought of using such an ugly stick does not fill you with horror, then there is no need to read on. However, if just looking at it makes you feel frumpy and dejected, please be cheered. You don't need to use that object; instead, you can discover the elegance, style and dignity that a really good wooden walking stick offers. Please note: These canes are only used for casual or novelty use and are not promoted or used for medical use. Top of Page
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There have been walking stick makers for centuries. The manufacturing of even a plain chestnut crook involves 12 different skilled processes, including peeling, steaming, straightening, staining, varnishing and ferruling. A plain derby cane requires a minimum of 16 processes, rising to many more if it is decorated with scorched areas or carved spirals, or fitted with a smart brass collar. Often, very old, lovingly-maintained machinery is used, and the required skills are passed down through generations of the same family. Making walking sticks is an art form in itself and it is important that the tradition should be maintained and upheld.Charm
Finally, a fine quality walking stick should be much more than a mobility aid. It should be a friend and companion and a signifier of its user's personal style. A true countryman should never be outside without a stick. For walking dogs, following country sports, attending a county fair. Over years of use, a wooden walking stick takes on a patina of age and a charm all of its own. The loss of a treasured walking stick can be quite devastating for its owner because a walking stick is one of the most personal of all accessories. In conclusion, whilst modern, aluminum canes undoubtedly have their place, the history, character and style of fine quality wooden walking sticks ensures their continuing appeal to each generation of discerning walking stick users. Top of Page
| see walking sticks and accessories Forestry and our Environment
At Classic Canes, the coppicing system results in a new crop of walking sticks every year without ever needing to fell the parent trees, so the system works in harmony with nature and provides a beneficial habitat for our native woodland flora and fauna. Most Classic Canes walking sticks are made from renewable European hardwoods, such as ash, hazel, blackthorn, and beech. Forestry is probably the most carbon negative industry in which man engages, so by buying a wooden walking stick, the user is doing their bit to support responsible forestry and our environment.Growing and manufacturing blackthorn walking sticks
The stick has been grown upside down, usually in a hedgerow or on a coppiced blackthorn shrub, so that the handle is formed from part of the original shrub. There is a great art in shaping the handle so that it is comfortable to the hand. The handle and shaft are varnished and a hardwearing brass or steel ferrule fitted. Copper ferrules should be avoided as the metal is very soft and does not last long.
The sticks are cut from December through to March, taking every precaution again to avoid the vicious thorns. The raw material is then graded and stored in the drying room for a minimum of one year. No heat is used as this would make the sticks dry too quickly and become brittle. Instead a dehumidifier removes water from the air as it evaporates from the sticks. When the raw material is sufficiently dry, it will progress though our workshop where it will be made into blackthorn walking sticks. Top of Page
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"...the Blackthorn tree dwells along the boundaries of forests and woodlands all throughout the land. Growing in dark, dense, impenetrable thickets of twisted branches, armed with long wicked thorns, the Blackthorn’s 12 foot hedgerows are a “living wall” providing protection from intruders who must risk cutting through the vicious thorny bramble..."
Blackthorn walking sticks are among the most sought after of all traditional walking sticks, both for their appearance and for their heritage. The blackthorn, or Prunus spinosa, a is a shrubby bush with vicious thorns and a suckering habit, so that it forms dense hedges through which livestock cannot escape, also providing cover for birds and small mammals. It grows particularly well in Ireland and England, where blackthorn sticks cut from hedges have been popular for many centuries.
Known as a winter shrub/small tree, Blackthorn reaches an ultimate height of 13ft (4m) tall. Hedge height is 3-10ft (0.9-3m). The mass of snow white flowers blossom March through April, before the oval leaves appear, followed by purple sloes in autumn. These blue-black fruits are edible and also used to make into warming sloe gin.
The bark of the blackthorn walking stick can be any color from reddish-brown through to almost black. The spines, which can cause extremely sore poisoning if the stick cutter impales his hand on them, are cut back and sanded to produce a distinctive stick. A particular characteristic of blackthorn is that the arrangement of the thorns forms a spiral shape around the shaft of the stick. On the very best blackthorn sticks, it is possible to see that the thorns are arranged in little groups of three.
Finally, in winter, its shoots can be harvested as raw material for walking sticks. This is a skilled job that requires the stick cutter to have an appreciation of how each individual piece if raw material will later be made into a walking stick. There are many subtleties to cutting high quality sticks; it is not simply a matter of 'getting one out of the hedge'. Stout, thorn-proof gloves are essential too. If a stick cutter hears the well-known biblical quotation: "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, to buffet me." (Paul of Tarsus, Corinthians Ch12, v7), he naturally thinks of blackthorn spines.Top of Page
| see walking sticks and accessories Blackthorn shillelagh, the wood of choice for weapons
is the traditional wood to make fighting sticks, because, like other woods in the Rosaceae family, it is tough and hard. The traditional Irish shillelagh, bata in Gaelic - which means, fighting stick or cudgel is one example of a weapon made with this wood.
"Bata" is the word for a short club or fighting stick; note its resemblance to the word "baton"- that is what "bata" means. It's also where we get our word "bat".
A close relative of the blackthorn stick is the blackthorn shillelagh, which is about 16" – 19” long and generally has a larger, heavier head than a walking stick. By popular tradition, Irish giants carry shillelaghs. Every Irish pub is said to have one of these behind the bar, to help keep order if required.I haven't found any other material that compares to the Blackthorn for its ratio of hardness to lightness with a natural feel. I've tried about a dozen different types of materials, woods and metals, and it seems that the Blackthorn stick ranks as the best overall. The best thing about them is their proportion of weight to strength and their flexibility....GMaster Leon Crowely. Crowley Martial ArtsTop of Page
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The Medicinal qualities of the blackthorn's edible,(but bitter until after the first frost) blue-black fruits, which resemble miniature plums, gives us the sloe berry. A relative of cherries and plums they were first used by herbalists, to help in the treatment of stomach troubles, and in the dealing of blood disorders.
The Sloe berry is is also used for making of wine and the flavoring of the alcohol beverages of gin, vodka, or poteen. Sloe gin is made by adding some sugar to a full bottle of sloes, topping up with gin and leaving for as long as possible before drinking.
Blackthorn leaves were dried and mixed with tea leaves in what became known as Chinese tea. Despite their sour taste the sloe is made into a paste is excellent for whitening the teeth and removing tartar. The thorns provided blackthorn ink, the bark a red dye for wool and linen.
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The heritage of blackthorn walking sticks
, the blackthorn walking stick has a long history of use as a fighting stick. Thus, there is a certain amount of prestige and prowess associated with carrying a blackthorn stick. There are also many mentions of blackthorn in Irish mythology, not least that the 'little people' live in blackthorn bushes. They can take exception to their homes being cut down to make walking sticks. To avoid bad luck, the stick cutter should wait until a branch of the blackthorn has tapped him on the shoulder to give permission before the first cut is made.
, the hero of the 19th century Irish song, 'The Rocky Road to Dublin', cuts "A stout blackthorn to banish ghosts and goblins,"
which seems a good a reason to carry a blackthorn walking stick.
Lunantishees are the Fairy tribes that guard the blackthorn trees or sloes; they let you cut no stick on the eleventh of November (the original November Day), or on the eleventh of May (the original May Day). If at such a time you cut a blackthorn, some misfortune will come to you. The name for the blackthorn in Ogham, a language used by the Druids, is straif, the origin of the word "strife" and is about Conflict.
, blackthorn has long been thought to have magical properties and, according to West Country folklore, our local witches used blackthorn sticks to aid them in their mischief making. Indeed, the impenetrable forest in the fairytale Sleeping Beauty is said to have been a blackthorn thicket.The belief that blackthorn walking sticks were connected with witches persisted here until the time of the Second World War. They now have a more positive image; indeed, some British Army regiments carry blackthorn walking sticks on ceremonial occasions.
, winter traditionally begins when the Cailleach (the winter goddess) strikes her blackthorn shaft on the ground. In the 17th century, the good people of Edinburgh burnt Major Thomas Weir as a witch, in part because they did not approve of his blackthorn staff, which his sister said had been given to him by the Devil. The staff is now said to roam the streets around the West Bow looking for its master. The Scots are not thought to have not burnt any men as witches since, so owning a blackthorn staff is thankfully somewhat safer for the modern gentleman.Top of Page
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The Gaelic word for hazel is Coll. The English name for the tree and its nut is derived from the Anglo-Saxon haesel knut, haesel
meaning cap or hat, thus referring to the cap of leaves on the nut on the tree.
Hazel is a member of the birch family of trees, Betulaceae, and can grow to a height of 10 meters, although in Scotland it is usually no more than 6 meters tall. Typically it has a number of shoots or trunks branching out at, or just above, ground level, and this growth habit has led to some people referring to it as a bush rather than a tree, because it doesn't meet the strict definition for a tree, of having a single stem that is unbranched near the ground.
Hazel trees readily respond to coppicing, a practice which can actually extend and even double the lifespan of a hazel. Either way, people have put the young shoots or whips and the thin trunks to a variety of uses.
Hazel has long been a favorite wood from which to make staffs, whether for ritual Druidic use, for medieval self defense, as staffs favored by pilgrims, or to make shepherds crooks and everyday walking sticks. In the case of the latter two, the pliancy of the hazel's wood was used to bend the stems into the required shape, though it was also customary to bend the hazel shoots when still on the tree to 'grow' the bend into a crook or walking stick. Hazel stakes bent to a U-shape were also used to hold down thatch on roofs.
Like willow, young coppiced hazel shoots were used to weave a variety of baskets and other containers. Hazel leaves are usually the earliest native ones to appear in spring and often the last to fall in autumn, and were fed to cattle as fodder. There was also a belief that small twigs could protect from lightening or shipwreck at sea.
The young bark has a characteristic mottled appearance and the leaves are large and soft to touch.
Nuts ripen in October and are favored by Squirrels, Jays, Pheasants and Wood Pigeons.The Heritage of Hazel Walking Sticks
There are many folk customs associated with Hazel. In Wales, Hazel wands worn in a hat would bring you your hearts desire. Irish cattle were singed with Hazel rods as they were driven through the fires of Bealtaine." Forked twigs of hazel were favored by diviners, especially for finding water. The Hazel Branch, from Grimm's Fairy Tales, claims that hazel branches offer the greatest protection from snakes and other things that creep on the earth. Hazel wood was used to ward off evil, in water divining, and nuts were carried for good luck. They are also associated in Celtic myth with wisdom. There are also many stories that tell of Hazel wands able to bring about shape shifting and transformation. Top of Page
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Stick Size Please see measure walking stick Droghedy's March:
The Irish Droghedy's March from county Wexford as described in 1812 by Patrick Kennedy in "On the Banks of the Boro." He calls it a "war‑dance" and gives a descriptive account of "the fantastic manner in which it is danced."
The tune called Droghedy's March was occasionally danced to among the hornpipes, by a performer furnished with a short cudgel in each hand, which he brandished and clashed in harmony with the tune. But we had the good fortune to see it performed in a complete fashion on the borders of the barony of Bargy, in the old manor-house of Coolcul, whose young men , joined by the stout servants and labourers on the farms, were well able, in country parlance, to clear a fair. Amongst these the present chronicler was initiated into the mysteries of mumming, and was taught to bear his part in that relic of the Pyrrhic or Druidic dance, "Droghedy's March."
We practiced it in one of the great parlours, and this was the style of it's execution: six men or boys stood in line, at reasonable distance apart, and six others stood opposite them, all armed as described. When the music began, feet, and arms, and sticks commenced to keep time. Each dancer, swaying his body to the right and left, described an upright figure of 8 with the fists, both of them following the same direction, the ends of the sticks following the same figure, of course. In these movements no noise was made, but at certain bars the arms moved rapidly up and down, the upper and lower halves of the right-hand stick striking the lower half of the left-hand stick in the descent of the right arm, and the upper half of it in the ascent, and vice versa. At the proper point of the march each man commenced a kind of fencing with his vis-a-vis, and the clangs of the cudgels coincided with the beats of the music and the movements of the feet. Then commenced the involutions, evolutions, interlacings and unwindings, every one striking at the person with whom the movement brought him face to face, and the sounds of the sticks supplying the hoochings in the reels....
The steps, which we have forgotten, could not have been difficult, for we mastered them.....This war dance is (or was) performed to a martial tune resembling Brian Boru's march... [Pp.231-32] Top of Page
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