As one of the commissioned artists, Lorna Singleton shares the background to her work and her plans, and some notes from Day 1 of her ‘weaving walk’
I live and work in the Rusland Valley. I ‘manage’ an ancient oak coppice, but managing is a harsh word – it’s more like stewarding and nurturing. There’s an annual cycle of coppicing trees, making baskets, nurturing regrowth, protecting the trees from browsing animals, collecting acorns, planting seedlings in less dense areas.
There’s an ethnographic element to my work. I’m fascinated by baskets as a way of understanding how people connect to their landscape, what materials they weave with, how they process these, what purpose they have, who makes them, what they were historically used for and how this has interaction shaped the landscape.
I like to know where every aspect of my creations comes from and that each step of the process has a positive impact upon the environment. Mostly, I’m using wood that I felled so this is easy. I also use leather from an oak bark tannery in Devon and brass hardware that is traditionally cast in Walsall.
My inspiration starts from a need to work in the woods and to maintain the unique habitat and biodiversity that has evolved alongside coppicing traditions. Watching the coppice change through the seasons and from year to year is a delight, as flowers emerge into the light that have been patiently waiting in the seed bank for a generation, and then trees grow to fill the canopy and overshadow the flowers until an unknown time when they can emerge again.
I love using beautiful items in daily life. There’s a wonkiness that is pleasing to our human eyes and baskets blend into any situation – useful for carrying a flask and a cagoule up a fell, for bilberry picking in the woods, or simple full of tools in a workshop.
As well as weaving baskets I’m weaving the past into the future, keeping the intangible skills alive so they can be passed forward.
Making plans for the walk – my original notes
Walking is healing. Whilst walking, my body is busy and my brain doesn’t need to think about what I’m doing, so new ideas and inspirations can arrive. I love to sometimes walk alone for this reason.
Within the last year my work in the woods hasn’t stopped (nature doesn’t pause for a pandemic) so I’ve still seen the people I work with most and the absence of deadlines and events has deepened these relationships and my connection to the place I work. I have also walked with friends regularly. What I have really missed is the ability to walk alone for multiple days.
My plan is to walk for 3 days, from my home, through the woods I work in, down the valley to Morecambe Bay, and back up the other side of the valley, along Windermere and back through the woods to my home. This passes the forges, woodland industry, and tanneries of the Rusland Valley, across Bethacar Moor, down to the Leven Estuary, through Roudsea Wood, past the iron industry remains of Backbarrow, and along the shore of Windermere. This was once a bustling industrial area. Now we mostly see a lush green temperate rainforest (with a couple of industrious woodland folk). This history makes me think of myself: during the last year I’ve been grounded and unable to bustle.
I’ll be skirting the edges of the territory that I’ve been confined in during the lockdowns and looking out beyond it. The route is a sort of origin story too, following the history of the baskets I make, from their origins in the woodland to Morecambe Bay where they were used for cockling, and back to my home and workplace and to their future, which is…?
Each day I’ll find a place to cut a couple of hazel rods and sit to weave a basket. On a personal level I’ll be letting the rhythm of my footsteps and the rhythm of the weave give me space to grieve for connections lost. For the death of my nana, a lost relationship, a home, and general life plans that have been covid-scuppered. Weaving myself back together.
For 2 or 3 nights I’ll either wild camp or find places to stay where I can connect with people who have similar creative ideas about land-use and regenerative agriculture. By the end of the walk I’ll have produced 3 pieces of work in woven hazel, 1 for each day of walking. I’ll also have photos and will write about the walk after the event.
So what happened? Day 1
Setting off was a bit stressful and not as planned, quite apt I suppose for a pandemic project. The water supply to the whole valley was off and on one of the hottest days of the year it was not ideal to set off without any drinking water. Finally, I set off after lunch and the route took me past my workshop on the way to pick up my knife, folding saw, a leather patch and some electrical tape.
And then it was off up the Unclassified Road out of the forest and towards Esthwaite Water. Within 50 metres I was grinning like a Cheshire cat at the thought of the 3 days ahead of me, and within 200metres I had to stop to take some photos and write. I hadn’t expected the creative urge to hit me that quickly. Another 500m and I stopped again next to a pond for some more pondering. I knew already that I had been too ambitious in my plans, I also knew that I was going to have to find a way to build this into my life on a regular basis. Could I make time for a weaving walk every month?
Finally I reached the top of the forest. It had taken me an hour to walk what I would usually blast around on my daily dog walk.
I was surprised to find that the first material I picked up to weave was field rush (Juncus Effusus). It was growing so high and lush green that I couldn’t resist. I found a spot in the shade of the Spruce trees and spent an hour weaving. Rush is not my usual material so I didn’t really know what I was doing or how to weave it, but that was the main joy of the walk …
… to have the space away from normal life to be creative, a planned in time of nothingness with the focus of the project’s three questions working their way in the back of my mind.
I thought a lot about weaving. About walking as weaving a path through the landscape, how our daily movements on the land weave together to form our identity, and I was weaving a part of that landscape into a basket. What looks like a tiny green basket is so much more.
I wasn’t sure how to finish the rim of the basket, so I carried it by the long lengths sticking up at the top. When I reached the road near Esthwaite and found a long banking covered in strawberries and raspberries I was delighted to fill my tiny basket with tiny fruit. Because of the unwoven lengths it looked like a berry prison which made me chuckle for a mile or so.
Near to Sawrey I was offered an eggshell by a young boy “I found an eggshell and it’s for you” he said with pure conviction, like it was fated that he should pick it up and I would need the shell. I swapped him the pieces of shell for some berries.
I stomped my way through Near and Far Sawrey and over the hill to Harrowslack, feeling some pressure to get there. I was heading to a party at a friend’s workshop barn on the shore of Windermere and wanted to get there before it finished. Dropping down from Claife Heights through woodland, the path emerges onto the lakeshore – and there were throngs of people sunbathing, bbq-ing, paddleboarding and enjoying the heat. It was a different world.
I enjoyed a couple of hours with other coppice-workers at the party with some live music and venison stew. These are people who all have separate independent businesses but it is an incredibly supportive community. Many of us trained together, we share resources and jobs, and mostly we hadn’t seen each other socially for 18 months. We had a swim in the lake (I needed it after the walk!) and then I scrounged a lift onto another party, this one for a friend’s birthday. Considering I’d been wondering how to fit in the ‘connection’ part of the brief, and who I would meet along the way, I suddenly realised that by hitting two parties on the first day I was doing just that.
Day 2 … to follow