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Water, Willows & The Moon.

May 29, 2012

Water, Willows & the Moon.

Pictured here, Hardraw Waterfall, Wensleydale contrasts with the gentle waters of the Dover & Cocker Beck valley; which give rise to many springs such as the Calverton Burnor Pool (haunted by a white lady who may be a memory of Bona Dea) and Kean well (with its Iron Age & Mediaeval history) or those of Lambley Dumbles. The Dover & Cocker Beck Valley & the Nottinghamshire Dumbles have many old willows, as can be seen in Hoveringham & Woodborough. In Burton Joyce we have Willow Wong, a wong being an Anglo-Saxon strip of land. The name willow comes from the Saxon “welig”.


Above the Cocker Beck at Lowdham. Below: clouds of sky blue chicory on the Cocker & Dover Becks.


Many of the willows that Dawn Chorus volunteers are recording are pollards. The trees are pollarded to reduce the weight, preventing the tree from cracking should branches be caught up in fast flowing river water or to produce osier or withy wands for basketry.

Before the NHS, willows were used to treat headache, rheumatism & diarrhoea, often in potions made by old village women this was one of the reasons the willow gained it’s name “witch tree” but also because it was said that sitting under a tree induced visions & because “willie wains” (a type of magical wand) was made from them. Also, to knock on wood for luck originated in people knocking on willow trees for luck.

The river Trent, Staffordshire.


Many people have a fondness for the willow from the title of the book “Wind in the Willows”. Willows give name to Barnaby in the Willows, where they grow along the anciently named River Witham. Pictures below of the Witham taken by our volunteers in September 2014, when recording water voles; the “ratty” of “Wind in the Willows”. The Witham mainly flows through Lincolnshire, one section sheltering one of the last viable UK colonies of White Clawed Crayfish. The tidal Witham was navigated in the Iron Age & marked an important Roman junction. The Witham Shield & Fiskerton Boat, housed in Lincoln & the British Museums appear in our heritage activities.


Willow appears in Chinese legend & in the Bible as the “weeping” willow…by the rivers of Babylon. But willows have many more associations. A willow tree was central the Rumanian Gypsy festival of Green George; when willow was used to bless the water, food plants & animals. The Greek Orpheus carried a willow branch to indicate eloquence & is depicted at Delphi with next to a willow tree. Persephone had her willow grove, whilst Hecate, a goddess of moon & willow, watched over grave yards planted with willows. The willow has its own faerie, Heliconian, the ancient priestess Helice sought help from these tree spirits for her water magic. The “Day of the Willow” brings rain & was part of the feast of Tabernacle, an association derived from stories of Antha & the Greek Athena. The Sumerian Goddess Belili was associated with willows, springs & the moon, her one time consort Bel is now associated with Beltane.

Below: image from 2011 Dawn Chorus children’s photography competition.



Above, the popular Beck Hole on the northern edge of the Dawn Chorus operational area.

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