It's good to go back to school from time to time, to leave one's comfort zone, to meet an expert and try something new. I signed up a while ago for one of many fascinating courses at the Woodland Skills Centre near our neighbouring village of Bodfari. We are very fortunate to have this fantastic resource so close.
My two day course offered an introduction to willow basket making and the tutor was the hugely experienced and talented Mandy Coates - see her website here.
We have been growing a small amount of willow at the damper end of our field and I was curious to know whether this might ever provide a source for basket making. In the event I was amazed how much material goes into quite a small basket, so we've since planted another hundred or so whips to give us a chance of harvesting our own material from next year onwards.
The weaving process was fascinating - and hard on the fingers and thumbs at first. There's a relaxing, almost hypnotic, aspect to the regular ins and outs of the work, with an occasional abrupt awakening when you realise you've gone wrong. However, all six of us ended up with surprisingly attractive and useful first-time baskets, thanks to Mandy's gentle and authoritative guidance. Here's mine - now to fill it!