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Legend has it, knock upon willow to chase bad luck away

In a plot of land that we rent not far from our home Katayoun has planted about 120 willow trees to provide a supply for her weaving projects. In the first year they produced a crop that has already been used and yesterday we spent the day preparing them for this years growth for the harvest early next year. Willow is an amazing plant that seems to be able to grow from sticks that appear to be dead.

Most of the members of the genus saiix are referred to as willow but it also includes osiers (narrow -leaved shrubs), while some broader-leaved species are referred to as sallow (from Old English sealh). In all there are about 400 species.

Almost all willows take root very readily from cuttings or where broken branches lie on the ground. One famous example of such growth from cuttings involves the poet Alexander Pope, who begged a twig from a parcel tied with twigs sent from Spain to Lady Suffolk (Henrietta Howard (1689-1767) and born at nearby Blickling Hall, was a mistress of King George II). This twig was planted and thrived, and legend has it that all of England's weeping willows are descended from this first one. These beautiful elegant willows are often planted on the borders of streams so their interlacing roots may protect the bank against the action of the water. The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt as a remedy for aches and fever. In Ancient Greece Hippocrates wrote about its medicinal properties and Native Americans across the Americas relied on it as a staple of their medical treatments as it provides temporary pain relief - salicin is metabolized into salicylic acid in the human body and is a precursor of aspirin. In art willow is used to make high quality charcoal (for drawing) and in living sculptures created from live willow rods planted in the ground and woven into shapes such as domes and tunnels. Willow stems are used to weave baskets and three-dimensional sculptures. Willow stems are also used to create garden features, such as decorative panels and obelisks. We have used them in our garden as revetments to hold back soil on banks.

Only once have I been to Glasgow (you cannot count driving through it 2am on the way from Harris to Ambleside) and a highlight was a visit to the Willow Tea Rooms at 97 Buchanan Street where the interiors are Inspired by the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Tea Rooms are modelled on Kate Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms from the early 1900s recreating the fabulous interiors from the White Dining Room and the Chinese (Blue) Room

Kate Cranston, the famous Glasgow Tea Room Entrepreneur, and one of Mackintosh’s biggest supporters, was born in her father’s hotel in George Square, Glasgow in 1849. The Cranston family were avid supporters of the temperance movement and Kate’s brother Stuart gets the credit for opening the first tea room anywhere. He was a tea merchant and his enthusiasm for his product led him to having a kettle on hand in his shop to provide samples for his customers. He then hit upon the idea of charging for this and set up some tables and chairs in the premises. He began selling cups of tea with the optional extra of cakes. The idea proved lucrative and soon tea rooms were sprouting up all over the city.

Taking inspiration from her brother, Kate decided to open her own tea rooms business. She had a total of four in Glasgow, Argyle Street, Ingram Street, Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street. The tea rooms were an immediate success, partly due to Kate’s own distinctive character. A compassionate employer, Kate visited the homes of the girls who worked for her, ran a compulsory insurance scheme and made sure they all had three meals a day, a great perk given that many of the staff came from large poor families. Although a touch old fashioned (the photo is from 1900 and definitely not in the fashion of the day) and eccentric in her dress sense, Kate was the opposite in her business decisions. She used two relatively unknown designers at that time, George Walton and Charles Rennie Mackintosh – both of whom ensured that her tea rooms were truly unique, the interiors being critically acclaimed in the newspapers and art magazines of the day.

As well as a pot of tea, what I had was a plate of Scottish Rarebit, For most of us cheese on toast is a simple easy meal - this one's a bit special. As someone once said, "I cook with cheese ... sometimes I even add food to it."


Scottish Rarebit

Serves 4


¼ cup butter

⅓ cup plain/all-purpose flour

1 cup strong Scottish beer (Stout or Porter)

1 tbsp whisky (optional)

1 tsp mustard powder

2 cups/8oz vintage / strong Cheddar cheese, grated

1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Salt & White Pepper

Bread - 4 slices or 1 baguette, sliced

Butter, for bread


1. Preheat the oven's grill.

2. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in flour to form a paste and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.

3. Stir in beer and optional whisky gradually, to form a thick, smooth sauce.

4. Add mustard powder and grated cheese. Stir until melted.

5. Mix in Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper.

6. Toast and butter bread, then pile up cheesy mixture on each slice. Cook under grill for a few minutes, until browned and bubbling.

Robert Macfarlane's Words of the Day are ...

"out of kilter – unbalanced, unsettled, bent out of shape, with one's spirit-level knocked out of true. "Kilter" or "kelter" (English dialect) is "good spirit", "good order". " miserably out of heart & out of kilter." (Robert Louis Stevenson)

ps: Sadly, we seem unlikely to hear the sound of ball on willow this summer. The blade of a cricket bat is traditionally made from willow wood, specifically from a variety of white willow called cricket bat willow (Salix alba var. caerulea), treated with raw (unboiled) linseed oil, which has a protective function. This variety of willow is used as it is very tough and shock-resistant, not being significantly dented nor splintering on the impact of a cricket ball at high speed, while also being light in weight.


Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. “ - Corrie ten Boom
"The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." - William Wordsworth
"One must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself." - Marcel Proust
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