Meet the Yorkshire family behind the Viking Workshop where they can make just about anything out of wood

The Vaudin family just love wood. Whether it’s a shepherd’s hut, a chopping board or a set of coasters, this versatile East Yorkshire family seem to be able to turn their hand to making pretty much anything so long as it is made of their favourite material.

Chris, his daughter Charlie and his son Joe, are equally as skilled at building that full-scale hut as they are as turning out beautiful – and unique – items for the home. A shepherd’s hut, by the way, is a full-scale modern replica of the accommodation that a farmer would have had moved into his fields, to give a home to the lad in charge of his sheep. Think of it as a caravan, a room on wheels in which the shepherd found a bed, a shelter from inclement weather, and where he could keep a close eye on his flock. These days it seems, there are a lot of people who order them to give them an office space (or a “man cave”) in their gardens. They are less expensive, and far more attractive than your average property extension.

The Vaudin trio of Cherry Burton, are multi-skilled. Not only do they own nearly six acres of land on which you’ll find space for 30 touring caravans (many of their guests return time after time) but also for 20 glamping pods, and ten beautifully crafted lodges, each with its own en-suite bathroom and kitchen. And, the visiting caravans aside, Chris, Charlie and Joe have built the lot, right down to installing the bathrooms and making the wooden shelves and fittings, and also doing all the wiring – it has, of course, all been professionally tested.

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Each of the lodges has its own name, its own identity (Tulip, Rose, Daisy and Daffodil, and so on, and there are also carvings on the beams which are individual to each) and from every veranda, guests have a great view of the countryside and the Yorkshire wildlife. Even the planters which surround the lodges have been created on site.

T Pictured Chris Vaudin, owner of The Viking Workshop Picture By Yorkshire Post Photographer,  James Hardisty.T Pictured Chris Vaudin, owner of The Viking Workshop Picture By Yorkshire Post Photographer,  James Hardisty.
T Pictured Chris Vaudin, owner of The Viking Workshop Picture By Yorkshire Post Photographer, James Hardisty.

It is the saw room and the storage space which is the heart of The Viking Workshop, their business named, says Chris, because of “the incredible connection that this part of the county has with those extraordinary in-comers. The Vikings were the first to give Yorkshire an individuality and a separate identity, and they arrived in those spectacular and powerful long-boats which were made of – naturally – wood.” Aptly enough, to two sides of the six acres are woods of pine trees.

It's here that a remarkable specialist creativity flows. Chris, 62, admits that when he was a youngster in Leeds, he quickly discovered that he was never going to be academically inclined. “I knew that I was much, much better doing things with my hands, making myself busy with mechanical objects.” For some time, he was the go-to man when anyone wanted vans adapted or caravans created. Some of those baby caravans, easily towed to restricted spaces, are still on display on site, and the visitors love them. He also realised that he had fallen in love with the pure tactility of wood – and Joe, 32, and Charlie, 29, have both inherited their dad’s passion for all things of and about the material. They all share another family trait – patience. Handy when you are making quality products. Charlie is the expert when it comes to stains, waxes and finishes. She can turn an already lovely chopping board, or nibbles tray, in natural raw wood, into something that is gleamingly spectacular. And, when the family have their regular stall in Beverley’s acclaimed market, she observes, “it’s lovely to watch so many people come up and – without realising that they are actually doing it – run their fingers over the objects that they admire. Each is unique, because no two trees are the same. All wood is different, it cannot be replicated. We get so many customers each market day, there are all sorts, people who come specifically to order something from us, and others who are visitors to Beverley, and who want to take away a small souvenir that has the mark of something that is a one-off. The footfall for the products is terrific”.

Chris observes, with a smile that, over time, he knows those who will buy – the vast majority – and those he calls “the gunners”. They are the ones, he explains, “who say ‘That’s beautiful, I’m gunner come back’, and seldom do. I always feel like saying that ‘gunners belong in the army’, but I never do.”

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One of Joe’s favourite items – and it’s also a favourite of their many customers – is a long, beautifully carved bespoke “plank”, in oak, which has the measurements of height on it, and where proud parents can indicate the growth of their youngsters. Many ask for the board to be made even more original by having the names of the children added. Waxed, and secured to a wall, they make a talking point for any family home.

Joe Vaudin, moving timber in their yard.
Picture By Yorkshire Post Photographer,  James Hardisty.Joe Vaudin, moving timber in their yard.
Picture By Yorkshire Post Photographer,  James Hardisty.
Joe Vaudin, moving timber in their yard. Picture By Yorkshire Post Photographer, James Hardisty.

The workshop sees a continual flow of anything and everything that can be made from wood. And each of the trio has developed an “eye”, a perspective combined with uncanny intuition, about what one particular piece, or trunk, of wood can deliver. At the moment, they are all developing plans to convert at least some of an oak tree from a nearby Yorkshire estate into one huge central island counter for a kitchen, and another portion of it into a bespoke tree-legged coffee table.

They all agree that what they are doing is giving a new lease of life to wood that may well be many centuries old. “By the size of it,” Chris says, “that oak we’re working on here may well have been a mere sapling when King George I was on the throne. Trees like that can be felled for many reasons – perhaps some of it was diseased, or maybe it had grown too large, and it was a danger to property next to it. Who knows, a storm could have brought it down? Or was it hit and split by lightning? None of our wood is felled just for the sake of it. But we were offered it, and there was no hesitation in our saying a very quick ‘yes please’. We’ve also recent acquired some superb trunks of Cedars of Lebanon, from their owner up near Ripon. If that coffee table and the central kitchen unit are around for another hundred or so years, then all we’ve done is extend the usefulness of the wood, and the visual beauty that it gives. And that is such a privilege”.

All the wood must be seasoned, and dried. There are a pair of large stacks outside the workshop doors, split and stacked with support sticks between the sheets of planking, so that the air can get through them. And different varieties of wood can dry at different speeds – oak will take about two years before it can be worked and shaped.

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It’s not just home grown wood – although the family do love working with material that is native to Yorkshire and the north. They love beech, and the pale luminosity of sycamore. Walnut these days is “very rare”. They’ve also used pieces of Padauk and Zebrano, both from Africa. The latter is named because it has a distinct stripe to it. Then there’s Mexican Purple Heart, and the red Bubinga, from West Africa. Most of these are ordered from specialist suppliers and importers and some are often rarely available.

Joe Vaudin, working in the Viking Workshop .
Picture By James Hardisty. 3.Joe Vaudin, working in the Viking Workshop .
Picture By James Hardisty. 3.
Joe Vaudin, working in the Viking Workshop . Picture By James Hardisty. 3.

The next steps, Chris believes, are in developing markets in places like The Great Yorkshire Show, and also the Lincolnshire Show. And they’d also like to create a full showroom on site.

The Vaudins are a versatile lot. Charlie trained at a cordon bleu cookery school before returning north, and as well as all that waxing and polishing, she’s also the acclaimed pizza creator for the site guests.

And Joe too has an ambition. The family took delivery last year of some huge barrels. They came from a Scots distillery, and many were adapted for use in the grounds. “The aroma from them, of whisky and wine, was delicious. Now, I’d like to have a go at barrel-making myself. It’ll be fun to find out how it all goes together…..”