Hawkchurch Days

Leaving Cornwall I have another visit to pay before I return to Dorset.  My sister is to have a small procedure for which I can be a helpful driver and overnight companion. Her home nestles in a lovely little corner on the east side of Devon.  She is a very private person and her home is a sanctuary upon which I do not encroach with my camera.  She is a fabulous needlewoman , a talented watercolourist and an extremely knowledgeable mycologist.  She is probably as near as dammit a national expert although she would deny this to be the case.  Back in the autumn she took me for a walk along her  special lane and we saw chanterelles.  She crops her small supply from time to time.  Amazingly there are still plenty tucked into the bank but she says they will be water-logged and not worth collecting 😦  They make an attractive sight all the same.

Before I head for home she takes me to a farm shop nearby.  Miller’s Farm Shop  is an Aladdin’s Cave of wonderful food.  Some of the vegetables are grown on the farm, the rest are provided by local suppliers passionate about good quality food. Fresh fruit and vegetables are locally sourced and colourful arrays of seasonal plants are available. You can find Lyme Bay fresh fish, beef, pork and lamb from local farms, local milk and cream, cider from Lyme Bay Winery and Perry’s Cider Mill and sample a variety of local cheeses. Malcolm and Angela travel to France once a week to scour markets in different regions for quality produce for the shop.

On top of all this they have a seductive section where they sell artefacts with a marine theme.  Here we spy a range of ornamental table glassware where scallop shells and octopus form the dominant design.  There are also sea-themed ‘kissing rings’ decorated with shells, driftwood, other marine invertebrate remains.  Liz and I admire the goods and on the spur of the moment Liz asks if I would like the glass bowl clasped by an octopus as my 70th birthday gift.  Would I?!!



A Basket Case

I will remember this autumn for several reasons, some are good and some not so.  One highlight has been the participation I have had in Willow Weaving workshops run by Kim Cresswell.  With a badger and goose in the bag from earlier sessions I have now added a passable roe deer and today, oh joy, I made a cone basket.  Here was my mission:

Forage a Basket

Learn how to source, grow and harvest your own materials in an environmentally aware fashion – we will spend the morning collecting lots of different materials from a traditionally layered hedgerow and a mixed variety withy bed. In the afternoon we will each make a cone basket using materials from the location. NB. Please wear waterproofs and wellies for the morning session and have something more comfortable for the afternoon.

This was going to be extra special because my sister had signed up for this course as well.  And what has made this course particularly enjoyable is that we foraged our own materials.  img_6431-2blogWe gathered in Kim’s cabin in the morning to be shown the amazing range of shrubs and trees from which our materials can be sourced: Hazel, Ash, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Dogwood, Apple, Holly, Bramble….. as well as a colourful array of Willow.  We then went out into the lane to cut our own twigs; straight canes for the sticks for the framework and thinner whippy ones for the ‘weavers’.  img_5231-2

Having cut a range of ‘wild’ materials we were then taken back onto Kim’s land to search out some long Bramble trailers.  The trick was to find the end of a shoot running underneath the grass path and then tracing it back as far as you could to get the length.  We each selected a long whippy trailer or two of the Bramble which we stripped of its thorns using a stout leather glove.  Thence down to Kim’s withy bed to cut some sticks from her own source.  We were allowed to cut 15 canes and 15 weavers at a specified height so as not to undermine the plants.  The range of colours was vibrant: yellow, orange, red, purple, green.  Willow, and indeed all woody material, is best cut between November and March when the sap is not rising.  img_5235-2Armed with our personal supplies we then went back to the cabin where we stripped leafy material and unwanted axial shoots off our canes.  It was lunchtime………

After lunch we began the serious business of making our baskets.  Starting with 6 straight sticks we bound these at the base with two weavers which we then proceeded to weave upwards, in and out of the sticks to start our cone.  We continued in this fashion introducing weavers as necessary and at approximately a half way point we introduced 6 more sticks each alongside the original canes, to give us a dozen uprights in the frame.img_5239-2  All these uprights were chosen from the colourful withies we had collected from Kim’s bed.

We continued in this fashion, choosing a variety of woods and the bramble to give a colourfully banded willow cone.  Kim did her rounds with the six of us, lending an expert hand when we looked as if we might be in danger of losing the shape, or the thread.  Bimg_5237-2efore long it was time to think about shaping the top of our baskets and making the border.  I had wondered how one managed to do this without snapping the sticks as you need to bend the canes over at right angles.  However it was straightforward as the fresh materials were more pliable than the pre-cut and dried willow which has to be soaked before it is used – as has been the case with the badger, the goose and the deer.  I loved working with the freshly cut wood and the colours were wonderful to play with. img_6497 Putting the handle on was a doddle.  All the baskets were individual and some more accomplished than others.  Ivy, Rosemary and Lavender were used as embellishments by some.  What has made mine special is that I managed to use some Hazel weavers with catkin buds which have stayed in place and Kim tells me that spraying them with hairspray will help to prevent them from dropping!  What a fun day!




A Willow Deer and Adventures with the Little Dears

After successful workshops run by Kim Cresswell in which I have crafted a badger (which looks more like a hog) and a Goose (which does look like a goose) I am challenging myself because I have signed up for a weekend at the end of which I will hope to have woven a willow Roe Deer.  By way of preparation I need to supply some photos of the deer species, and the posture, I am hoping to achieve.

As with the other two workshops I try to imagine how we will get started, and fail.  The secret with this particular animal, given that is larger and will need to be more sturdy on long legs, is to build a wooden frame.  But even that I stumble over.  I succeed in constructing my frame arse about face.  That is the horizontal struts destined to form the basis for the neck construction end up at the rear end on my frame.  But never mind, Kim says that I can work round this.  At the end of the first day I have built the bare bones of my animal with a primitive neck and head framework in place.  img_5205-2blogKim ensures that, with timely and expert intervention to make sure we do not lose sight of the animal we are trying to create, we all reach the same point of completion before we go home.  The second day will be taken up with fleshing out my animal, creating density, muscular definition and a recognisable head.  At the end of the afternoon it is time to pack up and load our animals into their transport.  My roe deer, the smallest of the animals just fits into my estate car.  Kim provides me with a bundle of sticks and a few canes of stripped willow to complete the finishing touches.  On the journey home I wonder where my roe deer is going to live.  Once unloaded Nick places the deer under the porch, facing the front door.  This seems ideal because it is dry and this will preserve the willow until I am able to treat it.

Later that evening Dan arrives with Lola and Ruby.  The Hackney duo are going to spend half term with us.  During the week we will do some collage using my cache of greetings cards, we will make pom poms, they will collect pebbles at Lulworth Cove and I will enjoy a trip with them to the cinema to see Dr Strange.  The film comes out of the Marvel Studios stables, and is in a genre with which Lola is very familiar.  She gives an occasional and informed whispered commentary on the background to films based on Marvel Comics.

On the last day in Dorset we plan to go and see the Floodlit Gardens at Abbotsbury, as we did last year.  They enjoyed it very much then.  The plan is to go to Weymouth for Fish and Chips at the Marlboro (this was a disappointment and we won’t go there again) but it all unfolds somewhat when we get there and find we have to wait for a table and then with the realisation that 8.30  p.m. closing time means the gardens must be vacated at that time, rather than the entrance gates closing at that hour, we have little more than an hour to enjoy the activities on offer.  The girls spend an extended time in the Bugfest tent which barely leaves us time to make a quick tour of the gardens to enjoy being scared.  The scary features are, I think, a bit better i.e. scarier than last year but we barely get our money’s worth.  If we do this event next year we will plan things differently and either do the gardens first and go for F and C after, or perhaps better take a superior picnic to eat under the marquee provided.

Weaving a Willow Goose

After the excitement of Mum’s birthday, Monday dawned with a lunch party at The Old Workshop in view.  Annabel has been trying to schedule a lunch with some fellow villagers who are keen readers and it has been difficult for Nick and I to fit in.  Finally, I have picked a date and Annabel has liaised with the invitees and it is all systems go.  And it does go extremely well.  As a group of seven we gel and our chat ranges over various topics but lingers longest on the matter of the forthcoming Referendum.  Just before we disperse some books are shown and exchanged.  The seeds are sown.

Later on Anne Poulet is due to arrive at Poole ferry terminal.  She is coming over for the Willow Goose workshop which we have booked with Kim Creswell who lives just outside Sherborne.  Whilst she is with us we take in the Sculptures by the Lake, a curry at the Rajpoot in Dorchester and spend her final evening with us eating supper with Madeleine and Andrew after our willow day.  Six of us converge on Kim’s cabin and spend a rewarding day weaving a goose in white willow.  It is fascinating to see how the finished article evolves gradually as, bit by bit, sticks of willow are woven around the simple structure which shapes the frame.  My sister Liz has brought two of her friends along, and my guests are Anne and Andrew.  At the end of the afternoon we have a gaggle of respectable geese.

Enter Derek the Badger

Some months ago I booked myself onto a willow craft workshop to be run at the Kingcombe Field Centre of the Dorset Wildlife Trust.  I have often been tempted to sign up for a basket-making course but seldom has the date been suitable.  This time I was seduced by the image of a life-size badger, woven in willow, on the DWT website.  And so it was that I boarded a ferry at Cherbourg for a 5 day sojourn in WK.


The workshop was due to take place on Sunday but I woke on Saturday and it being a fine day I phoned Maddy to see if she would join me in a walk.  As it happened she already planned to walk with her neighbour Gaise, a tall, elegant woman with amazing bone structure, a former model and the owner of a quietly presented Georgian house within whose walls grows the most amazing Stephanotis that I have ever seen.  In the conservatory there are 4 small holes in the floor which give directly to the ground.  From each arises a Stephanotis which climbs the walls and clambers across the ceiling.  It is covered in blossom and the perfume, on entering the house, filled my nasal passages with the aroma of furniture polish.

Maddy has offered me supper and bed which is brilliant because on the morrow I will be driving up to Kingcombe for my willow course.  And what fun that was.  Over coffee I chatted to my fellow students and we all voiced the same sentiment: the hope (but doubt) that we would be able to produce something resemble the model Kim Cresswell has put on display.  It looks so complex so where to begin……..

Well you start by forming 3 tear-drop shaped hoops which, together with 3 circular hoops to hold them together with form the basis of the body.  Around this inner structure you weave lengths of the dark Somerset willow, feeding the ends round to create a cylinder with a pleasing curvature at the rear end and a domed end onto which the head will be attached.  Before you do that you insert sticks to form the legs and feet.  The head structure is formed by the attachment of 3 smaller tear-drop shaped hoops to the neck end.  These are whipped together to create the snout and then a similar technique of weaving willow sticks to bulk out the head is used.  Sticks of stripped Dorset willow introduce the white colouration of a badger head and it’s a technique of trial and error until it looks right.  The ears are attached during this process.  The tailpiece to complete the sculpture is the addition of the tail.

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Completing the sculpture in our allotted 5 hours is something of a scramble and Kim offers us sticks of both willow types to take home to finish the sculpture at leisure.  I leave the sticks soaking in the bath overnight and then work on the badger intermittently.  One of the last things is the addition of some curvy dark willow sticks to create my badger’s ‘hams’.  I am finally happy with my result.

Encounters with Woodlanders

It’s the Easter Holidays which means one thing for the Lights.  Inshriach awaits an invasion.  This year subsets of our group employ all means of travel.  Most of the children accompany three adults who travel on the sleeper from Euston to Aviemore.  The Perrymans opt to fly and hire a car.  The old-timers drive themselves, provisions and family luggage the 550 miles needed to traverse this British Isle south to north to reach the Cairngorm National Park.

Nick and I have planned to leave early on the Saturday.  Turning in at 10 p.m., we wake at 3 a.m. and are under way by 4.30.  This means we cover the Dorset, Wiltshire roads before traffic has begun to clutter our route.  We arrive at 2 o’clock in the afternoon just in time for the first activity.

There is an Open Day for wood carving on the estate, featuring WoodenTom.  In a sheltered knoll of a small woodland across the fields an informal demonstration of wood carving delights the children and adults for an hour or so.  All the larger work benches (vice, shave horse) have been constructed on the spot, as has the structure which forms a shelter for the tea-room.

There in the slightly chilly sunshine and under supervision, the children are shown how to, and are allowed to use the tools.  On the way back to the house we swing by the hen-house to top up our egg supply, Joel feeds the hens.  Meanwhile Barns has got three chickens roasting and a tray of vegetables.  Whilst he preps the meal, games of my ancient set of Spillikins are played.  I found the card tube of wooden sticks whilst tidying the toy cupboard at WK.

Dinner is eaten round the table in the dining room by hungry people.  Baths, stories, bed…………. the routine is pretty familiar by now and once the children are abed Dan gets a chance to teach me how to play Texas Hold’em Poker.  Nick and I sleep like logs.

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