Y is for yurt maker

With one foot in tra­di­tion and one in in­no­va­tion, how does Som­er­set in­spire its work­ers? VIK MARTIN takes a stroll through the al­pha­bet to find out

Somerset Life - - THE A TO Z OF SOMERSET -

When I first catch sight of Ben Law­less jump­ing out of the back of his work van I think to my­self: “Yep, he’s a Som­er­set boy al­right.” The re­laxed man­ner, the big smile, the long dread­locks...it’s all very West Coun­try. He bounces over to me, of­fers me a hot drink, and tells me a bit about him­self. Turns out he’s from Cleethor­pes.

“I like trav­el­ling. I like new places and meet­ing new peo­ple, so I’ve lived all over - Por­tu­gal, Brighton, Corn­wall, Wales... I came to Som­er­set chas­ing some kind of hippy dream, but it was a friendly farmer with a bit of land that made me stay for a while.

“I’d been in Here­ford­shire mak­ing chairs with Mick Ab­bot, who’s seen as the god­fa­ther of the resur­gence of green wood­work. It’s a tech­nique that in­volves work­ing with the nat­u­ral grain of the wood, which makes it stronger and a lot eas­ier to bend. There was steam bend­ing in­volved with the chair-mak­ing process, and it seemed the nat­u­ral thing to do to up­scale chairs into yurts - partly be­cause I live off-grid and I needed some­thing to live in.”

We are now sit­ting drink­ing our mint tea be­side an in­tri­cate bent wood frame with a wooden door­way and pitched roof.

“It’s the steam bent ver­sion of what the Mon­go­lians would call a ‘ger’,” he tells me. “This de­sign is of Kyr­gyzs­tani ori­gin, which I guess is some­thing to do with the fact that there’s less rain in Mon­go­lia, so their yurts are a lot flat­ter. Much more ok in the wind though. I guess it was the New Age trav­eller scene that brought yurts to this coun­try in the first place, and Som­er­set is a bit of an epi­cen­tre for fes­ti­vals, so maybe that’s why there seem to be a lot of yurt mak­ers in the West Coun­try. It means we can learn from each other and we can skill share. I might not stay in Som­er­set for­ever, and if I’m to­tally hon­est I came be­cause the head gas­ket of my old horse­box was go­ing, but I do love it. I love Shep­ton Mal­let, where I live - it’s so unas­sum­ing. I love all the old rail­way in­fra­struc­ture that’s just melted back into the en­vi­ron­ment; the old stone walls, the pokey cider...

“It’s the cen­tre of the uni­verse isn’t it? Avalon?”

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