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
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?”