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Life in the village of Stoke St Gregory in Somerset

The relationship between the Coates and their landscape is innate. Photo: Coates English Willow
The relationship between the Coates and their landscape is innate. Photo: Coates English Willow

I’m in the heart of the Somerset Levels and although the willow which stands tall in the fields of Stoke St Gregory has stopped growing, it isn’t quite ready to be cut by the Coates family yet.

For now, the willow stands patiently, awaiting the leaf drop which will then signify to the growers that the plant’s energy is stored in the stem and that it is ready for processing. The relationship between the Coates and their landscape is innate; the family have been here for over 200 years now and have crafted, diversified and succeeded in making Somerset the place synonymous with the craft of willow weaving. With a criss-crossed network of rhynes across the peat and clay soils (which provide the ideal conditions for the withy beds) the family have been at the heart of the industry from the golden years of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, through both world wars, to the present day where the silver screen comes regularly calling.

The visitor centre has expanded and is now home to other niche Somerset-based businesses, a through-the-ages museum, fabulous café and gift shops. Plus, if you’re entertaining little ones, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the themed trails which run throughout the year; the ingenuity (and craftsmanship) of the willow characters which are waiting to be seen as you explore the woodland is quite frankly, incredible.

Jonathan Coate and his apprentice, Jonah are keeping the art of making willow furniture alive. Currently on the Critically Endangered Red List for Heritage Crafts, these two men are the last two ‘basketware furniture makers’ in the whole of the UK and as a result the Coates family fly the flag for Somerset within the film industry. Home-grown willow has been crafted into many screen props, take a look at the hot-air balloon basket in the 2019 movie, The Aeronauts, the replica shell baskets in Spielberg’s War Horse, the bee skeps for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood in 2010 and even the willow chairs in the 2017 Murder on the Orient Express – all home made here in Stoke St Gregory!

With the family withy beds being classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area, it goes without saying that the Coates recognise the importance of safeguarding the environment. They are working towards becoming self-sufficient; they use their willow waste for biomass;, and solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system, and air source heat pumps to run their business. It’s very clear to see that the family are committed to safeguarding the future of the willow industry and the environment, and they regularly promote this to the younger generation by welcoming school children for tours. As if this wasn’t all wonderful enough, the Coates family are also the biggest manufacturer of willow charcoal in the WORLD; making artists’ charcoal for big brands such as Winsor & Newton and Royal Talens. Their production of charcoal is almost one hundred percent efficient with next to zero waste - even any broken sticks of charcoal are crushed and sold in powdered form as artists continue to create work with diverse mediums.

A visit to the Coates English Willow centre will reveal even more about this unique craft and if you combine it with a circular walk along the River Tone and into the village, you’ll be able to embrace the even wider warm welcome from the Stoke St Gregory community run pub, The Royal Oak too.

Set the stage

Established over forty years ago, the St Gregory Players will be treading the boards again this season as they invite you to watch their forthcoming play, ‘Tons of Money’, at the Williams Hall. Written by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine and adapted by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, this ‘Aldwych farce’ will be performed from November 30 to December 2.

Food Glorious Food

It’s well worth timing your visit to Stoke St Gregory around a meal time. The village shop and café is run by the community for the community and has very close links with The Royal Oak which sits within the same building. With a counter laden with homemade goodies and shelves stocked with local produce, the Village Shop is seen as the beating heart of the village and you’ll be greeted with a smile and a chat. Also, do make time to visit Kellie at the Somerset Chocolate Co. who regularly creates new flavours to match the seasons. It can be a tricky decision for the taste buds when it comes to choosing between her chocolate bar flavours; autumn berries and cappuccino &cream are two of my favourites! Kellie also creates Halloween themed treats with chocolate lollypops in the shapes of witches’ hats and pumpkins.


Population: 942 (2011 census)


It’s easy to see why Cames Mead B&B is award-winning accommodation when your host, Jane Pine serves her signature Full English breakfast all freshly cooked from the AGA. Beautifully appointed bedrooms and bathrooms go hand in hand with the far-reaching views across to the Blackdown Hills to create the ultimate rural retreat.

Woodhill is a detached family house with the added extras of a snug, conservatory, sun room and boot room. The master bedroom comes with an en suite but also treats you with a balcony so you can enjoy those glorious unbroken views. £600,000, English Homes, Langport


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