…there’s a way. And the way to the willow is a short trip for me, down onto the Somerset Levels, where the wet lowlands have been used to grow these versatile withies for centuries.
This large sea-level area, south of the Mendip Hills, was originally drained and protected from annual flooding by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey, whose farming and industry made it the second richest monastery (after Westminter) in the land. In 1536AD there were over 800 monasteries in Britain. Just 5 years later, all had been destroyed and disbanded by Henry VIII in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Dried willow can be soaked to make it pliable enough to weave into all sorts of useful or arty objects. I’ve come to the Levels to try my hand at making a flat-weave willow basket (see my next post) on one of the weekend courses at Musgrove Willow, in Westonzoyland. The farm has 100 acres growing 60 varieties, and it has been in the same family for nearly 100 years. They know a thing or two about willow…
100 acres of densely grown willow is harvested every year
After drying outside, the willow is sorted and graded by hand
Willow ‘rods’ bundled ready for despatch
Michael Musgrove explains the various methods used to achieve different natural finishes and colours
From the cradle to the grave: Ellen shows us one of the beautifully crafted wicker coffins being hand-woven in the workshop.
It’s easy, when you know how, to make simple willow structures for the kitchen garden (this last photo, and more on courses, can be found at MusgroveWillow)