West Moss-side Organic Farm and Centre nr Stirling Scotland

Bee hive skep making and lots more


Martin Buckle at West Moss-side

Beeskep maker, Beekeeper and Honey Judge.

Martin bravely offered to come all the way from Bedfordshire for the weekend. This was to replace the previously arranged workshop at the Scottish Basket Maker’s Circle AGM last November which had to be cancelled following the sad death of beeskep maker Ian Beatty.

So it was the making of traditional beeskeps which was the focus for the weekend workshop.  There were 6 of us basket makers and beekeepers who spent two days learning from Martin the techniques. Actually some of us were not beekeepers at all but were fascinated by the new language and the intricacies of the private life of the honey bee.  

Martin came with exhibitions, archive pictures, articles, and traditional tools (swan bones, horn feeders, copper piping, Cococola bottle spouts and more!), as well as, of course, a car full of a whole range of different styles of beeskep he had made: There were round-topped ones– probably the most primitive and of little practical use now - as how do you exclude the bees in order to get at the honey or do any treatments?  -  they can be used to collect swarms though (much better and definitely better looking than a cardboard box!).  There are flat topped ones without a hole and ones with a hole, and there are flat topped ones with slats, multi-story skeps, tall ones, short ones…   There are beeskeps made of thatching straw, wild oats, stitched together with cane or bramble… there are skeps made of willow, willow daubed with cow dung and even Purple Moor Grass (more of that later) …  Like all these things different countries and counties have different styles and depending on the materials available the finished product is different though still performing the same functions. 

And then of course there is the protective gear -  Martin dressed up in a copy of the garb illustrated in a Bruegal painting of beekeepers holding a facimile of a tall skep that was obviously the latest technology of the day. 

Guess what – the face protection is a willow basket base!

So you can see what a fascinating weekend we all had.  

 Martin also brought some amazing examples of his work with wax.  On Saturday evening the local beekeepers group came to hear Martin talk about all the things you can do with wax. His models were just incredible – there was a train (the Flying Scotman!), a windmill, a cello!, daffodils,  harebells, all kinds of candles of course –and he demonstrated how you made these things

and shared lots of wonderful stories about his time as a Honey judge.  We finally came to a halt at 10.30pm! 

And then there was another day of making. 

When Martin arrived at West Moss-side on Friday afternoon after a long car journey I offered a walk across the fields to see my Shetland Cattle and then on over Flanders Moss. Kitted out with wellie boots and wondering which planet he had landed on we set off. We admired the cattle and then onto the bog. Here was a surprise – Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulum) grows in abundance and the whispy silvery white remains were set against the dark of the heather. But there isn’t any in Bedfordshire and it is said to be the best material for making sturdy, long lasting skeps. There is a picture of Frank Alston making a skep from Purple Moor Grass in his beautifully illustrated book Skeps-their history, making and use. (1987).  So we gathered armfuls of this rather unlikely looking fine grass wondering whether February was really the right time of year to be harvesting it. 


Over the weekend, and in between helping us master the beeskep techniques using thatching straw (not much of that in Scotland!) he produced a brilliant skep using the Purple Moor Grass and very kindly donated to West Moss-side.  I am so excited as I would never have believed that you could make anything out of this grass.  As you know I am trying to use all the natural materials I find on the farm and the moss – this is a great addition!

We sent Martin (and Maureen and Petra) home with lots more material to make one too, and I am going to try my hand at using it for some creative coiling!  


As you will see we were very productive and everyone went home buzzing with inspiration and a head full of new knowledge.  It was a wonderful weekend – Thanks to Fiona for finding Martin. I even think that Martin enjoyed it so much that he might, just might be persuaded to come up again next year. Anyone who missed out this time and would be interested please get in touch with me.  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it