Updated: Feb 19, 2021
Day 1 – The arrival!
Mum and I arrived at our hotel ‘Sand Pebble’ in the beautiful location of Hope Cove in South Devon at 9.30pm on a dark Winters November evening. The journey there in my little black Peugeot 206 was eventful as always with my mum, we always come across a hiccup or two when we travel together, which this time included a couple of diversions, road closures and travelling along a lot of very narrow windy roads! but we made it! Next time we must remember to switch on the reliable Classic fm, which always adds to the atmosphere whilst we attempt to re-enact the music to coincide with the drama and keep us some what sane ;) ……
Hope Cove was once a traditional fishing village and is now a very popular holiday destination which has in no way lost its charm. There isn't much light pollution, which meant the morning was to be a lovely surprise for us both, as we had never visited before and we knew the views were meant to be spectacular.
Upon arrival at the hotel, we were greeted by the chef and taken to our room, which they kindly upgraded to the only bedroom with a balcony! making us even more eager to see the view!
Day 2 – Beginning our pots
We woke up to a lovely sunny, dry, slightly windy and crisp winter’s day. We opened the curtains and there was the view! straight ahead of us were luscious green hills and little tiny sheep that looked as though they had been painted there. To our right was the sea, it was worth the wait!
We had our breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant where there were only two other people quietly sitting. We of course chose a table with a view with a small lobster pot on the window sill too! This was where we met the owner Ian who cooked our delicious meal, Mmmmmm smoked haddock, scrambled egg, gluten free bread (we are both Coeliacs) and Marmalade…!...Yummm!! We told him why we were visiting and it turned out he knew of the tutor Sue Morgan and her husband David. He gave us directions to Sue's house by foot, which would only take ten minutes.. We could already feel the community spirit!
The walk to Sue’s was beautiful. We ventured up a road on a hill, with fantastic views of the sea to our right and holiday homes/hotels to our left. As we got closer we came across a lifeboat station, thatched houses and a Fisherman's Reading Room! It was very peaceful, we didn’t bump into many people. As we arrived at her house, the other two students, Steph and Nick, pulled up in their car..… good timing eh ;)
We were greeted by a lovely smiley Sue and taken to the kitchen where we had a quick chat about her links with lobster pots and a cuppa. Crab pot (also known as Inkwell pots) fishing has been active in Hope Cove since around 1800, however today the traditional willow pots are dying out and being replaced by modern, plastic/metal pots. Sue's husband David is a full-time crab fisherman, who is pictured as a young lad below on the right with a combination of old and new pots. He was never taught withy pot making, as he has always used the more modern style of pot, however Sue decided she wanted to try and keep the dying art alive by learning the traditional Hope Cove style of withy pot making. She was taught by Hope Cove and Beesands crab and lobster fishermen in the 1990's and it took her two years to master.
Starting our pots
We were all brought out to her decking area above her garden, this was where we decided on the scale of our withy pots. Nick and I chose a large pot and Steph and mum chose a small pot. Nick and Steph were a lovely couple and it turned out they had traveled from Cornwall too! Not only that they had a connection to Australia, just as we do! My mum’s parents were both Australian born and bred…small world!
We were shown the pot stands (Mules), which act as the template for the funnel of the crab pot. What struck me was the variety of shapes and wood that was used to make them. There was one that stood out to me the most, which was an "original", with its own special character, domed in shape and worn over time.
The holes on the outer rim are for large pots and the inner holes are for smaller pots. After selecting our pot stands we were then introduced to the willow, there were two types, one of which was Black Maul (salix triandra),a traditional and most suitable variety of willow to make pots and Salix alba (I think) which is very supple. Sue used to grow her own willow, however she also purchases bundles from http://www.englishwillowbaskets.co.uk/
We had to select 11 withies each and whittle a point on the wider (butt) ends with a knife to then push into each hole.
Once they were in place Sue demonstrated with slightly thinner willow the paired weave! I was very excited about this :) When it was our turn to have a go I was fascinated with how the willow transformed and ideas for experimentation using this technique were already going through my mind!
Our next step was to cut back and tidy the funnel with a pair of secateurs. We then had to tie the funnel together in three or four places with willow, so that the weaving couldn't unravel (Some withy pot makers use string, however Hope Cove pots are made entirely from willow). Once they were secure we then had to add two more standards (the thicker willow) either side of the current uprights. To do this we created a point on the butt end of each standard with a knife and pushed them down into the weaving towards the base. It was quite hard work! but Sue gave us a handy Greasehorn tool filled with animal fat to cover the points with, which helped with the process. Another tool we used was a bodkin, to open up each section a little more.
Time for lunch
Sue had cooked us a delicious hot lunch, which warmed us up nicely! :) she had some really interesting information about withy pots on display and I had to have a bit of a nosey! :) Look at some of the variations in pots around the UK! :) I particularly like the one made from heather.
Back to work
After lunch we went back outside to begin the next stages! all very exciting! The pot disc was inserted onto a pole and I had to kink each withy and bend them into groups of four. Some pot makers use a formar to bend each withy into exactly the same shape, however in Hope Cove they do this all by eye. Once they were all bent they had to then be tied to the pole using a slip knot. Next we began to weave the collar and ringing using the same paired weave as the funnel, but instead using between four to five thin rods at a time, adding a new rod every turn, forming a good tight curve. There was definitely a knack to this which I didn't have yet!
By now the night was drawing in and light was becoming limited which brought the class to a natural end.
We made our way back to the hotel for our evening meal and decided to have a glass of wine first, by the fire in a sitting room next to the restaurant. Ian’s collie dog Bess popped her head round for a fuss whilst we relaxed on our comfy chairs by the roaring open fire. Ian came into the room to re-fuel the fire, with what he said were the remains of rotten wood which once belonged to a ship wreck…. He asked us how our first day had gone and explained that he was once a fisherman! Who is now a farmer/hotel owner and former pub owner too!
Dinner was delicious and made a great end to an action packed day. We were both going to sleep well :)
Day 3 Finishing our pots
We had the same breakfast as the day before, it was so yummy we couldn't help it! Ian gave us directions for another walk to Sue's which was just as stunning :)
We came across a lovely little art gallery http://www.hopecovegallery.co.uk/ and saw a beautiful quote in the window, pictured below 'The earth has music for those who listen' quite fitting for the area I think. We then continued walking and approached the beach where we stumbled across stacks of modern pots, which I find beautiful in their own way, with their combination of material, colour, form and textures against the landscape.
We were ahead of schedule and noticed a lady on her mobile phone, which was a surprise since we hadn't had any signal since our arrival. It turned out that was one of the very few spots you could get a signal and Mum quickly took the opportunity to make a phone call.
Afterwards we noticed another footpath and decided to go on another little adventure. We met a very friendly robin, who was probably curious as to why we thought this diversion was a good idea! It was a very windy, cold day and as we reached a grass hill, we were exposed to all the elements! so we quickly decided to head back! but the narrow path was now blocked by sheep, in no hurry, strolling our way, so we tried to patiently wait for them to pass.... Luckily we made it to Sue's just in time to continue with our pots! :)
We continued where we left off yesterday outside with several warm layers on! We were now adding additional uprights to fill any large gaps as we went around in a spiral. Once we had gone around three times we then moved on to the next step. We had to remove the disc from the funnel, this is when I realised I probably shouldn't have pushed my uprights in so far at the beginning! luckily Nick came to the rescue and managed to force it out! This was when the funnel was revealed! :)
Next we used a weave called a 4 rod whale (I think), which was forming the start of the base. We then fed all the remaining standards though the funnel and continued to weave to fill in the base until we met at the middle. This was very tough on your hands, especially when you got closer to the centre. Once this was done, the loose ends were then plaited together into three groups and woven into the base to finish! This is a signature Hope Cove detail, not all withie pots are finished like this, giving them their own unique identity! beautiful! :)
So here is my finished Lobster/crab pot, which now sits pride of place in my studio, complete with its very own crab shell inside, given to each of us by Sue :
By now it was dark and we hadn't really thought out how we were going to carry our pots back to the hotel. Luckily though, Sue's husband was kind enough to give us a lift back and offered to show us the modern pots he now uses en route. Before we got into his vehicle, he showed us some traditional weights, which would be placed inside the withy pots to weigh them down, each containing a groove, carved out by hand to attach a rope.
The journey to his workplace was eventful! I had the choice of sitting at the back of the pickup out in the open, or on my mum's lap in the front, hunched over due to the height of the roof. I opted for the second option, which was something I hadn't done since I was child, poor mum! I'm a little bit bigger now!
When we arrived and got out, he walked us to his pot loft, opened the door, turned on the light and the darkness outside created a frame work around it, making us even more eager to have a look inside.
The room was like a fisherman's treasure trove, filled with pots, rope, buoys and materials to construct/repair his pots. He gave us a great insight in to the evolution of these pots, giving us both a whole new appreciation for them. Earlier variations still contained a woven funnel made from a natural material (unsure of what exactly) and a wooden base, with a metal frame work surrounded by netting. The green netting around the funnel was apparently where a repair had been made. You can see a later variation below, with a blue bucket like funnel and rope wrapped around the frame work to help protect it. He also showed us the pots he uses today. These are more durable, made completely from man-made material and the funnel is now more advanced, which opens only one way, allowing the crabs to enter the 'door' with no way to exit. I love how they all have the recognisable traditional withy pot shape, despite all of its changes throughout the years.
The final traps he showed us, were like the ones we saw on the beach earlier in the day. I believe this variation derives originally from Brittany in France and I will do some further research into this particular trap in another blog :)
Hope Cove opened up my eyes into the diverse world of withy pots and has made me eager to discover more! I can't wait to explore more coves/villages around the UK, meet more makers and experiment with my finds to form a collection of work.
If you would like to try one of Sue's crab pot courses her email address is email@example.com
Thank you for reading this :) I hope you enjoyed it.