Archive for the ‘Portscatho’ Category

Living Willow Structures – “The Nest”

March 18, 2011

Jan 2011 – Having been invited by Annie Lovejoy (at the Caravanserai Project) to return to Treloan Coastal Holidays and produce something from Jude and Tony’s Portscatho coppice. My first thought was to build up the living fedge we had started the previous year. However, having looked at it only 1 in 4 of the living stakes had rooted and taken!! I was amazed. Willow grows everywhere, it’s usually the case that you have to manage it to stop it spreading!! Well you live and learn. I think the problem was the clay rich, highly compacted ground which sat on top of gradually disintegrating granite, combined with a necessary cut and plant in August 2009…but I might be wrong. Any willow experts out there want to give some advice?

Anyway. Instead of flogging a dead horse Pete and Debs who run the campsite said they would rather have a willow structure created in which kids from the campsite could come and play, shaded from the Summer sun. I was more than happy to oblige and found these fantastic ideas for willow structures in a Norwegian book Angel had given me.

Pete and Debs very impressed, and with a whole load of volunteers from the UCF MA: Art and Environment course to lend a hand it was something I thought we could finish in a day. Optimistic I know, but…

Mac and I went down the day before to the coppice to find and amazing crop of willow. Most wands were 6 – 8ft long thick as your thumb and no side soots. Perfect. We also pollarded a couple of older trees that were about to fall over, and planted some new trees. We left some work for the MA students to do the next day and retired to our beds. I was privileged to stay in “the Eco-Pod” on the campsite. A really amazing little wooden cabin, overlooking the sea with its own little wood burner and looking like something out of Hansel and Gretel!

The MA students duly arrived and we all went down to the coppice to finish off our work from the previous day and extract the willow to use on the structure. The larger logs we stored at the campsite to season for charcoal burning in the summer.

We didn’t get started until after a long, long lunch of local produce (very tasty). And began by marking out the holes to place the long straight willow uprights for the skeleton of the structure.

Pushing in uprights for the structure

Good to see Daro getting stuck in!

We then did a simple 3 stick weave around the bottom of the structure for about 4 – 5 turns to secure the uprights in the ground and provide stability to the structure. After that it was a case of bending the uprights into the centre, tying them together and hanging a weight (my rucksack) from the centre point to provide the “rounded” shape we were looking for.

Bending the poles.

It’s worth  noting that some of the poles were not long enough to reach, so thanks to the student who came up with the idea of placing an “O” ring of woven willow over the centre and tie the shorter ones to that. Group mind working well. Phew!

Uprights tied, weight hanging, bottom woven and “O” ring tied off.

Then all that is left is for everyone to grab sticks and randomly weave them into the structure. The more sticks you weave the stronger the structure becomes. It’s also the fun bit! Bending the willow wands to take advantage of their inherent strength works the best, and curves look much nicer than straight lines.

The “Nest” starting to take shape

Cold, but happy.

Once there are enough sticks woven into the structure, the weight in the centre can be removed….and voila. It stands up by itself and is remarkably strong.

Night draws in.

The finished nest.

The finished structure can comfortably seat 12 adults in a circle, and the uprights should hopefully take root and grow to produce more wands to weave in.

Note: The structure takes a large amount of willow to construct. We used 16 x 12ft – 16ft poles and 5 bundles of 4 – 6ft wands to make the finished nest. We could easily have used more!

Willow Crab Pots – Portscatho Grid Ref 875347

July 1, 2010

After many months waiting, Allan and I had the opportunity to visit John Hurrell in Port Looe. He had agreed to demonstrate to us how to make crab pots from green willow, but would not cut the willow until the leaves fell from it. Growing and coppicing willow to make crab pots is an art in itself so maybe there will be a blog post about this soon; for now I’ll go through how to make the pot itself from freshly cut willow wands.

It took a day to make the pot and John had donated his time and expertise for free, so many many thanks to him.

The following are notes and photos and miscellaneous drawings to guide anyone who may want to try to make a pot themselves, but also an experiment in preserving the knowledge. Much can be gained from communicating the method of crab pot manufacture in this way but really you have to learn directly and practically from someone who knows how to do it. Like so many of these dying skills it is a case of learning through doing. Of making mistakes, being corrected and refining your skills.

Traditionally in Cornwall the crab pots (200+) would be made during the cold and stormy Winter months to be used the following Spring and Summer.

The starting point for each pot is a stand secured firmly into the ground with an 8″ disk fixed horizontally on its top at waist or mid chest height. This disk would then have 12 holes drilled through it around the circumference. Into these holes you place your thicker sticks as “ribs”. Thinner willow sticks are then used to “ring” the crab pot (i.e. they are woven to create a spiral around the pot securing the ribs and giving the pot shape).

In the following notes, taken directly from my sketchbook, some of the drawings are stylized aerial views from above, and some are shown from the side. Hopefully, you should be able to tell which is which even if you can’t read my writing! Good luck!

Portloe Willow Crab Pots

Ringing the pot - 1

Ringing the pot - Close up

Ringing down the pot

Inserted forcing rod

Forcing rods tied into existing ribs

Ringing to base - almost ready to be lifted off stand

Ringing technique - 1

Ringing Technique - 2

Ringing Technique - 3

Ringing Technique - 4

Lifting Off

Preparing for bottom of pot

Tying off centre

Putting in "chine" - rim for bottom

Bending ribs in to form bottom of pot

Weaving in the bottom

Weaving in the bottom - 2

Finishing off

Weaving the tail

The tail

The finished pot

Portscatho – (Grid Ref: 875347) “Jumper (Patience and Perseverance)”

August 21, 2009

Jumper (Patience and Perseverance).

Jumper (Patience and Perseverance)

The latest version of this participatory sculpture was exhibited at the Memorial Hall in Portscatho on 8th August 2009.

Participants (including the “Stitches and Bitches” knitting circle from nearby Falmouth), contributed to the piece by carding, spinning and knitting the wool for it.



Spinning With The Drop Spindle

Spinning With The Drop Spindle



The next chance to contribute to this piece will be at Lamorva House, Woodlane, Falmouth on 3rd September 2009 from 7pm onwards.

Many thanks to the following people who have contributed so far:

Margaret Gilliam

Belle Benfield

Annette Knight


Hilary Jones

Annie Lovejoy

Portscatho – (Grid Ref: 875347) Memorial Hall

August 21, 2009
Memorail Hall, Portscatho, 8th August 2009

Memorail Hall, Portscatho, 8th August 2009

Annie had organised an open day in the Memorial Hall in Portscatho to celebrate sustainability. Throughout the day were many things to do knitting old plastic bags into clothes, Lynne Devey had her “Re-Dress” workshop ( where people could bring along and transform old clothes into new snazzy garments, Kate had a display prompting questions of people how they thought the local environment would change over the coming years, fair trade and 2nd hand stalls….and me.

I was helping to facilitate 2 participatory pieces “Peg Loom” and “Jumper (Patience and Perseverance)”. Annie had invited the local Falmouth “Stitches and Bitches” knitting circle to the event to help contribute to the pieces.

Lots of great pictures of the day from Mary at:

Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid Ref : 875347). “Peg Loom”

August 21, 2009

Peg Loom.

A very ancient technology for making rugs and blankets. Consisting of a series of pegs and strings pushed into a pre-drilled board. Raw fleece is then wound around the pegs in an “in-out” fashion. Once the pegs are filled the wound fleece is pushed down onto the strings. Gradually a rug/blanket is created. It is washed once it is complete in order to felt it and retain some of the lanoline (“really good for your skin..”).

Mary had kindly donated the wool for this piece from her 2 sheep Molly and Oliver. In return I offered to give her the finished blanket as a “Thank You” for her help.

Initial steps were to dry out the wool which had been left under a tarpaulin outside since May. Needless to say it was not in the most pleasant state.

It's A Dirty Job But Someones Got To Do It!

It's A Dirty Job But Someones Got To Do It!

Drying Raw Fleece in the Awning By The Project Van

Drying Raw Fleece in the Awning By The Project Van

I love using raw fleece as it is such an underused resource and farmers with sheep cannot sell it for a profit. So often it gets dumped or burnt as there is so much of it.

More Drying Of Mary's Fleece.

More Drying Of Mary's Fleece.


Peg Loom Construction

Peg Loom Construction

For this peg loom I used Willow pegs from the coppice and a 4ft length of scrap 4″ x 2″ timber hanging around at the campsite for the board.

Note: The Width of the final blanket/rug is determined by the length of the board and the length of the finished blanket/rug is determined by the length of the strings.


  1. Take a handful of raw fleece and twist it until it is the thickness of the gaps between the pegs. (Pick out bits of dirt, sticks and twigs as you go)
  2. Then tie this length of fleece around one of the end pegs.
  3. Keep twisting in the same way and wind it in and out of the pegs along the board.
  4. When you need more fleece place the new handful next to the old one and twist them together.
  5. When you get to the end of a line simply come back on yourself (ensuring you are twisting the same way and the wool is going in the the opposite “in and out” to the previous layer)
  6. Continue until all the pegs are filled.
  7. Then begin at one end and pull out a single peg, then push the wool on that peg down onto the strings.
  8. Go to the next peg and repeat step 7 until all the wool is off the pegs.
  9. Take up the end of wool left hanging and continue twisting and winding in and out.
  10. Continue until the rug/blanket is complete.
  11. Tie strings together in pairs to prevent wool being pushed off the end.
  12. Push down to make weave tight.
  13. Cut and tie strings at peg end.
  14. Wash blanket and dry.
Twisting and Winding The Wool On The Loom

Twisting and Winding The Wool On The Loom

Tightening Strings After Pushing Wool Onto Them

Tightening Strings After Pushing Wool Onto Them

Work In Progress

Work In Progress

Many Thanks to all the following people who contributed to this piece (it will be open to further contributions at Lamorva House, Woodlane, Falmouth 3rd September 2009- 7pm onwards):

Peter Pomeroy

Will Walker

Tom Ludwidge

Alison Arthur

Belle Benfield

Ottilie Yerbury

Mimi White

Hannah Yerbury

Sophy White

Deb Walker

Allan Collins

Edgar Mottershead-Davies

Hebe Mottershead-Davies

Jenny Brabyn

Mahrijka McCartney

Anthea Nicholson

Michael Jones

Julie Robinson

Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid Ref: 875347) “Willow Coppicing 2”

August 21, 2009

August: Returning to Treloan campsite in Portscatho to work with the large bits of willow coppiced/pollarded in June, and then work with wool from local sheep. First night Allan came over to show us the new coppice he has arranged to manage. The newly titled “Windsor’s Wood” is 11 acres of newly planted deciduous trees which need the black willow keeping under control. Amazing amount of wood to be used for hurdles etc.

Also makes residential workshops based at Treloan out of season a reality. Getting the idea for a week long residential workshop “From Willow to Crab”, where participants spend 5 days camping at Treloan and learn willow coppicing, boat building, crab pot making and then put them all together to go out and drop there own crab pots and bring their catch back for a feast on the last night….watch this space!

Is anyone out there interested in something like that?

Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid ref: 875347). “From Willow to Fire”.

August 21, 2009

From Willow to Fire.

Had stored all the large chunks of willow from the coppicing in June under the van on pallets to season it. Mac and Pete had found an old diesel drum which we cleaned out then got into shape to use as the charcoal burner.

Top of Drum - Bottom of Charcoal Burner

Top of Drum - Bottom of Charcoal Burner

Bottom of drum - Top of Charcoal Burner

Bottom of drum - Top of Charcoal Burner

We needed to get enough charcoal out of the burn for the feast planned for Thursday night.!!

Time for me to start cutting and preparing the wood, making sure it is all the same sort of size and length.

Note: Stacking the burner is a real art. Making sure that larger bits are at the bottom – smaller bits at the top and the minimum of air is in the drum.

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 2

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Preparing Drum 2

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 1

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 2

Charcoal Burn Using An Oil Drum - Burn Method 2

In the end after standing with the kiln for 4 hours, then sealing the kiln. I had a nervous night of not knowing if the burn had been successful. Worst case scenario would have been if the kiln was full of ash and no charcoal!!! (Gulp!)

Came back the following day and Si informed me the kiln was still letting small amounts of smoke out but at a constant rate!!

This could be really bad.

Checked the kiln to find that the mud I had used to seal the rim had cracked and fallen of in places in the heat. Thus oxygen was still getting in and burning the wood rather than baking it!! I went around the kiln at about midday with more mud and water to seal every hole. 7 hours to opening time. All I could do now was pray and wait.

Just before 7 I tried to sneak down the field to open the kiln quietly (Just in case it hadn’t worked…) but mac was there ready with the camera and some folks from the site to record the moment for posterity.

Thank goodness it had worked. Probably not as much charcoal as we could have had without the leaks, but plenty for the feast. Phew! Very relieved and much learned as always.

Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid Ref:875347)

July 6, 2009

June 2009 – Invited by Annie Lovejoy to go to Treloan Campsite on the Roseland peninsula to help the owners establish an eco-tourist site.  A 3-week artists residency was established with a 2-week stint in June followed by a week in August.

Arriving at the site and talking with the owners (Pete and Debs) established some of the things they thought may be of iterest to me:

  1. They needed some way of protecting the newly established permaculture garden from strong Easterly winds.
  2. Rabbit population needs controlling as crops are being lost.
  3. Find ways of integrating campers staying on site into eco-projects.
  4. Help build links between the campsite and the local community.
  5. New income streams for the campsite are always welcome!

Quite a lot to handle for a 3 week residency! but Annie had mentioned there was a willow coppice just down the lane which had not been touched for many years, so I thought that if the owners were willing, we could coppice the willow and use it to make a “fedge” (=fence/hedge) along the Eastern border of the permaculture garden on the site.

Day 1: Looking at the willow coppice

Day 1: Looking at the willow coppice

There were approximately 20 suitable Salix willow trees in the coppice approximately 20 – 30 years old, but they had not been managed or cut for 10 or so years. The remaining trees were Goat (or Black) willow which had never been coppiced and needed to be seriously cut back in the Winter if they were to be coppiced in the  future. The whole site was overgrown with 7′ hemlock and nettles!! (Nice combination and I’ll never forget the sickly sweet smell!).

After talking to Tony and Jude, the owners of the coppice, they said I could have a free rein as they didn’t know what to do with it, but were happy for me to take the wood to use up at the campsite.

The willow coppice before clearing.

The willow coppice before clearing.

As I was clearing the hemlock on the first day I met Allan. Allan is a carpenter who was working on the barns adjacent to the coppice and became really interested in the project. He told me the coppice was planted by a man called Morley in order to make crab-pots. When I asked if the skill of willow crab-pot making was alive in the area, Allan replied with a familiar story. He was shown how to do it as a child, but nobody of his generation were making crab-pots today. The skill was dying out, but Allan resolved to find someone in the village who knew how, and see if they would be willing to teach us.

It took 2 days to clear the site, and in doing so I uncovered an ancient apple tree, well over 30 feet high, which was choked and overrun with brambles and ivy and had a strange fungus growing on it. Jude told me it was the last remaining apple tree from an orchard which had grown here in the 19th century. I spent an afternoon and evening in the sunshine cutting away as much ivy and bramble as I could, but told Jude she would need an expert to look at the fungus.

The ancient apple tree finally cleared.

The ancient apple tree finally cleared.

Allan returned the next day with some sad news. The only person left in the village who knew how to make willow crab-pots was a man called John Billing. Allan had visited him, but he had terminal cancer and was too unwell to teach anyone (Note: I heard that John Billing died a few weeks later). This was very poignant for me as it illustrates the amount of knowledge of these basic skills we are losing as the older generation dies.

However, Allan was determined to find someone who knew and as the week progressed we swapped ideas and ways of learning this skill. Eventually he came to me one morning with a huge smile, saying he had found a man who would teach us, but not until the leaves had fallen from the trees (which is the proper time for coppicing). We were both overjoyed and I resolved to return and learn with Allan to ensure this craft was re-introduced into the Portscatho community and remained alive.

Allan and I swapped ideas and spoke at length over the coming days as the coppicing progressed. He told me there were 4-5 coppices around the village that had been left to stand for many years as the owners did not know what to do with them. I planted the seed of the idea that clearing and managing them could be a good source of income for him during the Winter months (when there is not much work in this tourist dominated economy). The products made from the coppiced willow (hurdles, crab-pots, baskets, charcoal, green furniture etc) could be made in the Winter then sold to tourists during the busy summer months. Allan was really caught by this idea and has since contacted the landowners of a couple of sites and spoken to them about clearing and managing the sites for them.

Sketches and notes: Coppicing, camp cooking, hurdles, cool box.

Sketches and notes: Coppicing, camp cooking, hurdles, cool box.

Students from the MA Fine Art course at Falmouth College of Arts came over one day to see what we were doing on the project. What better way to get some help coppicing the willow! We cut the willow, carried it back to site then made some small hurdles with it. From tree to usable fencing in a day. Great fun had by all.

Note: I know coppicing willow during the summer is not the best time, either for the tree or the wood gathered. However, the site needed clearing and the view was taken that the willow trees were vigorous enough to accept the level of cutting done.

Sketches and notes: Community links, thoughts, cordage making, pot hanger

Sketches and notes: Community links, thoughts, cordage making, pot hanger

By the end of the two weeks in June I had managed to:

  1. Coppice all the usable willow and use the sticks to establish a growing “fedge” along the permaculture garden on the campsite (Well, because it was over 50ft long we had enough wood to build the fedge to the height of about 1ft! Allan on the case to source more local willow wands).
  2. Provide a blueprint for my return in August to do charcoal burning, fleece blankets with campers help.
  3. Build links between the campsite and the local community through interest in the coppicing and crab-pot project.
  4. Develop new income strands for the campsite to make and sell charcoal to campers on the site.

Not bad for 2 weeks work. Now, about those pesky wabbits…..