Sunday, 18 February 2007

Ypres Willows project - visit to Belgium 9-11 February 2007

Ypres Willows project (90th anniversay of the Battles of Messines and Ypres, 1917 - see elsewhere in this blog)

From 9th to 11th February 2007 I was in the Ieper (Ypres) - Ploegsteert - Warneton area of Belgium with MOD archaeologists Martin Brown and Richard Osgood, who were doing a recce for an archaeological dig in the area of the 1914-1917 British and German front lines at St Yvon (St Yves) east of Ploegsteert Wood. The weather was fresh - sunshine, wind and rain.

Like most of Flanders, this area is alive with willows in all forms and shapes and sizes. Pollards abound. They stud the skyline of the Messines - Wytschaete Ridge like outposts or sentinels. They cluster around the moats of medieval farms. They line the beeks and other waterways. Weeping willows sashay in the wind above the moat of the city of Ypres, performing their dance of death and of renewal.

The wilows are a constant reminder that, apart from pockets of new development, the landscape has changed very little in its fundamental appearance for hundreds of years. But the willows are under constant threat. Some of the very old ones survived the battles of the First World War, but are now rotting away as is natural. Others are being grubbed up for various reasons, or chopped down for firewood. They seem to be little cultivated these days for their crop of willow wands, formerly used for basket-making, although I did see some that had been recently (and savagely) trimmed down to their polls with chain saws.

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