Bolton, Greater Manchester

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  • Chris Banks

Weave, oh weave, the willow


When I was a child I would draw the same picture over and over again - a willow tree over a pond with a swan or duck and some bull rushes. I drew it so regularly that my mum would roll her eyes and say, "Not that one again!". Why I drew it, I have no idea but what I sketched then has now become real, where I find myself in the picture and working with Willow.

Alongside Adele, Simon and Chris, members of Bolton NEWT, we have been working on the willow wetland on Leverhulme park. Some of the willow we cleared to reveal a lovely pond last year has grown anew and today we cleared the new growth and wove it into a lovely willow fence/hedge.

Willow thrives close to water and saturated places and the mystical side of the tree is reflected in legends associated with it. Hecate, the greek goddess of the moon and willow also taught sorcery and witchcraft. Orpheus carried willow branches on his escapades into the Underworld and Apollo's lyre was crafted from willow.

The ability of willow to regrow from coppiced trees and the fact it can grow metres in one season has led to it symbolising renewal, growth and vitality, here and all over the world.

The famous chinese willow pattern illustrated the legend of a 'down-market' boy eloping with an 'upmarket girl', with them ending up transformed into doves. Thus reflecting love triumphant against worldy barriers and a vision of hope.

The healing properties of willow have been known by country-people for a long time. Its bark was used as a remedy for colds and fevers. Scientists eventually discovered the active ingredient: acetylasylic acid and this was further refined and marketed as Aspirin!

Today we experienced how wonderful it is as a material from which to build things, with its fluid elasticity and strength under tension, making it perfect for weaving - one of the joys of my life now (I weave with wire usually). And so BoltonNEWT made today a modest willow sculpture, wending its way in front of the 'willow wetland', protecting the new newts we discovered today. Yes NEWTs protecting newts! How magical.


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