I love living in the west country as there are so many things you see here, even travelling on the A303 or the M5, that you simply don’t see in other parts of the country. I spent my early adulthood in London and had never seen a willow structure of any kind until I moved down here in my early thirties, it wasn’t long before I had living willow soaking in my bathtub, but that is another story. These days I am pretty used to seeing incredible sights like willow horses and the beasts on the Blackdowns. At least that is what I thought, until I came across the Cathedral!
Two weeks ago on one of those rare sunny (but windy) Sundays, my daughter and I decided to go on a bike ride. We had to do something as we could no longer hibernate. We ended up going down to French Weir in Taunton, popping into Tesco’s and then taking a funny turn which got us down to Longrun Meadows. I had heard about the regeneration project going on down there, but had not imagined it was quite as good as what we found. Riding along a path that can only be described as a country lane with meadows of grass
and trees along either side, yet still almost in the town centre, we decided to see if we could ride along the river/stream. So a little bit further we went, until right in front of us was the most awesome sight that took us completely by surprise. It was a huge willow sculpture, bigger than any I have ever seen before, and it was living and breathing willow.
You could tell this because it had just started to bud and was beginning to be covered in the most beautiful green leaves. As we cycled up to it, it became apparent how much work that had gone into it. From far away it looks magnificent and awe-inspiring and as you get closer you get to see the intricacies of the way it was crafted. I was quite stunned. What was really lovely was that there were quite a few people there, having a rest from a long walk with their dog or a family out on their bikes; bikes strewn and children lying on the floor looking up at the blue sky cathedral ceiling. It was quite obviously a restful, peaceful place, somewhere you can go and contemplate and be still. It was also fun and exciting and full of laughter from children – a hub of all kinds of emotions. Apparently, the ‘green cathedral’, measures 30m by 16m (98 ft by 54ft) and is made from living Somerset willow, which means that it will continue to green up over time. It was finished in June 2011 and is of course now really coming into its own, in 2013. It is easy to see why the vision for the cathedral is that it is used for plays, performances or yoga classes as it will appeal to so many different clubs, societies, and individuals.
When I got home I had to look it up. I had no idea what it was called, didn’t know it was called the cathedral when I was there and didn’t know who had made it. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Sophie Courtiour and Stefan Jennings were the willow artists responsible, especially since we are so lucky to Sophie coming to do an arts and crafts workshop weekend with us at Halsway Manor on Friday 24th May to Sunday 26th May 2013. Sophie is a willow sculptor based in Cheddar who has worked with willow for over 10 years and has been involved with some really big projects. She is responsible for the leaping deer on the A303, the Willow beasts on the Blackdown Hills AONB and a 7 metre reclining lady in Weston-Super-Mare.
Sophie will be running this two day workshop using willow grown locally on the Somerset Levels. Participants are welcome to use the comprehensive folk library at Halsway Manor with a view to creating their own mythical beast though the workshop will cater to any ideas and all levels of ability. There is no need for previous experience and you don’t have to be arty but you will need to be prepared for any weather as we will be working outside.
I can’t wait to see the creations that people will come up with. We have no idea if they will want to make their own or do a joint piece of work, where it will go or what type of willow beasts that will suddenly be popping up on the Halsway Manor grounds, but rest assured there will be photographic evidence as I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We are very excited to be welcoming Sophie to Halsway Manor and very much look forward to seeing what the course participants come up with.
Don’t forget that you can come for the weekend or as a day visitor – there are plenty of options. So if you think you would like to learn the art of making willow structures, then contact the firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as you can to secure your place or have a look at our website for more information Halsway Manor and if you get a chance, go and have a look at the living green cathedral. It really is very beautiful!