Being a Londoner, NAS member Paul Harwood put his reliance on public transport to the test to attend the NAS course about old wood at Stoney Cove in Leicestershire. Read more below to find out about his adventures!

It was the day after the record temperatures in England. I had a ticket on the early train from London and all of the early trains were, of course, cancelled while they repaired the damage done by the heat. However, NAS Education Manager Peta Knott was very helpful, if a little despairing - “you are the only person who would try to get to Stoney Cove by train!” :). With a quick change of route and some impromptu help from Uber, I got there right on time!

And, it was definitely worth it.

The course was “Introduction to Dendrochronology”. The subject is, of course, a very technical discipline and the course is fairly classroom-based which could have dragged a bit if it was not for Professor Nigel Nayling’s immense knowledge of, passion for, and excitement about all things wood!

Professor Nigel Nayling sharing his knowledge and experience with NAS members

He brought the dendro world alive with case studies from well-known sites such as the Newport Ship, the Gresham wreck and one - or two - mentions about working in The Bahamas! He also had anecdotes about the good and the bad of sample collection and his ability to “go deep” on any part of the discussion that you are particularly interested in.

The factual sessions were well complimented with dry and wet practical sessions (the latter mostly on the remains of the Gresham wreck).

Paul Harwood and dive buddy Dirk Carsten Berg examining the timbers on the Gresham wreck

Most of the course was about what “dendro” (i.e. dendrochronology AND related disciplines) can and cannot tell you about an archaeological and particularly a marine archaeological site, about how to assess whether an artefact is likely to be suitable to be sampled, and how to understand the results (and to understand when the results are inconclusive!). I was fascinated to learn that in the best case, you can learn the date (or even the month) that the tree was felled, where the tree was growing and whether other timbers came from the same tree or from another tree in the same area. Of course, in many other cases, you cannot even get a date at all! But relating timbers together and knowing the type of wood and how it was prepared can still be immensely valuable.

Samples of wood being used in the classroom sessions.

A 2-day course is never going to turn you into a dendrochronologist. But as a result of this course, I feel that as a NAS diver, I could assess a site and report in a meaningful way to a practitioner the information needed to create a plan (and a budget) to do dendro on an underwater archaeological site.

And if anyone else wants advice about getting to Stoney Cove by train - just contact me!