Friday, July 25, 2014

Reading Matter

So where can I be going, dressed up to the nines like this?


Perhaps this might be a clue...



That's Richard the Lionheart.  Or, what about this?


Or this?


This probably gives it away..


The Palace of Westminster, no less, where a friend of my husband from university days was holding a reception to mark her retirement as a career civil servant.  We had the full works: airport-style security checks on entrance, a guided tour of the central areas, during which we were able to spot well-known figures going about their business, then drinks and canapes in a room overlooking the Thames.

It was a very hot day and by the end of the evening my very modest sandals had turned into killer heels.




On a different note, I'm making some headway with this waistcoat, using a commercial Aran and a hand-dyed skein from Susan Heath.  I am using a chart from Sheila McGregor's boook of traditional designs and making up the rest as I go along.  It's clear that I would never make a designer.  I can never  properly visualise a design element until I see it knitted.  Here, for example, the lower edge needs to lose some stitches, and taking it off and knitting back the other way is easy enough to do.  But would it look better with a plain hem folded back, so the front started with the little chequer-board pattern?  It would look different certainly, and it might sort out the natural curl of the stocking stitch - but would it look better?

Then, what about the back?  I looked over my copy of the Sacha Kagan Sweater Book, and remembered how she used ribbed backs to waistcoats.  But would a ribbed back here marry with such an intricate front?  I'm toying with a self-coloured diamond pattern to echo the lattice of the fronts.  I guess I will just have to try a swatch and make the decision - either will probably be fine.

I recently read of someone who had set herself the challenge of rereading all of Dickens within a year.  For the recently retired, this is the sort of challenge that appeals. It's even more doable with a Kindle, where the whole of Dickens is available for free, or very like it.  The Kindle has other advantages too: it stays the same handy size no matter how long the book.  And the font size is surprisingly significant in making the text accessible.

Once, before I met my husband, I went to Venice  alone, with a copy of "Little Dorrit" for company. It was the ideal companion for train journeys and solitary evenings in the hotel room.  Its length was a huge part of its appeal.  Now, I have enjoyed "Dombey and Son", though probably less than "Bleak House".  A detour took me into "Tom All Alone's" by Lynn Shepherd - a curious concept that, basing your own detective story on Dickens' setting and characters, with a little Wilkie Collins and Jack the Ripper thrown in.  "Oliver Twist" raced along, and now I am well into "David Copperfield," a wonderful narrative voice. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Perfect Day



With good weather forecast we planned our last day in Cumbria - a perfect day in more ways than one.  We had been in negotiations with a local tradesman for some time with a view to having the guttering replaced on our little house, but we were not very hopeful that it would be fixed before we had to go south again.  It really needed doing before the winter storms resumed.

Our outing for the day started in the Newlands valley at a carpark near Little Town.  We walked along the valley bottom, then followed the gently rising path.  On the opposite side of the valley, clear evidence of ancient mine-workings, usually expoiting a rift in the geological strata.

 
One of these mines had yielded gold as well as lead and had been claimed by Elizabeth 1.   The story went that the landowner resisted her claim , and lost his head for his trouble.  Can this be true?
 
 As we went further up the valley so the mines continued.
 
 
We saw a number of tiny sheepfolds, each one surely the last in the valley, but then there was one even more remote still.
 
 
At the top of the pass we stopped for lunch, just by a sizeable tarn.  To access High Spy we needed to make a sharp turn to the left, but none of it was overfacing.  The ridge we were aiming for is a contiuation of the line starting at Cat Bells, probably the most walked mountain in the whole of the Lakes. Soon we were meeting guided parties, including a whole class of  very game twelve year olds from a school in Berkshire.  The small group on this rocky outcrop were older teenagers looking for a photo opportunity.
 
 
This is a summit cairn, but it alo reveals the level of erosion on the heavily frequented paths.
 

 
To appreciate this view properly one needs to have walked the fells on days where the weather is walkable but less enchanting; the sort of low cloud and grey drizzle which cuts out the longer perspective.  Here, even the little pond is summer blue.  My husband was amazed to see tadpoles, not only here but in little puddles on the path we had walked up.
 
 
We followed the path down to Maiden Moor and then, eventually, back to the valley bottom where we were able to relish afternoon tea at the Little Town farmhouse.  We drove back to our base, taking bets on the guttering: grey and it had not been done, black and the tradesman had turned up trumps.  We rounded the corner - and the guttering was black!  While we were out along the tops, he had got the job done.
 
And what might these be?  This is the start of a pair of socks from Nancy Bush's "Folk Knitting in Estonia", rather unfortunately named Tiit's Socks. ( I've spent too many years spent teaching 13 year old boys)  I'm livening up the pattern with a few random coloured spots.
 
 
Finally, the start of a waistcoat, using a pattern from Sheila Mcgregor's Fairisle book.    I'm hoping for a summery effect here, using a hand-dyed yarn with the plain pale grey.  We'll see.
 
 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fancy Socks




I have managed a little knitting in between all the activities recently.  This is Hedera by Cookie A., published in Knitty some time ago - a free pattern.  The yarn is Regia Silk, a mix of merino, silk and polyamide, in a lovely soft green.  The lace pattern was a simple 4-row repeat, impossible to get wrong, but a  little fiddly on dpns.  They do look acceptably summery with cut-off trousers.  I was surprised when someone at my knitting group commented that they looked very youthful.  Perhaps she meant, too young for me.

Then, this little test piece.


This is a commercial Aran weight grey, with a hand-dyed wool yarn.  I am loving the effect of using variegated yarn in a stranded pattern.  It looks cool and summery.



So then, this is the same blue yarn, but knit with a Norfolk Horn dk.  Somehow the Norfolk Horn has a fawn colour to it, giving the whole thing a retro look.



This is Norfolk Horn from the Wimpole Hall flock, prepared by my friend at Natural Yarns and spun by Sue Blacker's company.



I've bought a ball of the 4-ply to try with the blue.  Somehow, though, I prefer the pale grey of the original sample.  I'm thinking of a little waistcoat with patterned fronts and a plain back.  I've been looking over some of the early work of Sacha Kagan which had some wonderful examples. 




 

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Churches and Castles

Thank you for the kind comment, Liz M!  I'm always amazed when people like the photos on my blog because, pre-digital camera, I was the person who could take a whole roll of film and not get one decent image.  For a longish while I just didn't bother.   Now, one can choose which images to use and crop out any distracting elements.

So, it was not all walking in the fells in Cumbria.  We took some rest days when rain was forecast, and appreciated the contrast.   

 
May was a great time to visit Muncaster Castle, which has a world-class collection of rhododendrons.  My family were tenants of the Muncaster estate when I was a teenager, so the whole area is very familiar to me.  My much younger sister remembers attending the Christmas party for the tenants' children, held every year at the castle.  Sounds very Downton Abbey, doesn't it?

 
We walked around the grounds and took a tour of the interior which is packed with interesting stories - an ancestor last seen grappling with a bear in India; an ancestor who took up with a young woman from Essex that he had met in a park and had two children by her - it's fascinating.

 
Housed in the grounds is an aviary of owls from around the world.  These have been rescued in different ways for conservation purposes. We enjoyed the exhibition of owls flying and being held.

 
However, we were most glad to have decided to stay for the herons.  I have always thought of herons as very special birds.  They seem so patient and dignified in their lonely vigils on the riverbank.  To see one fly over, its great wings unhurried and its body like the fuselage of an early aircraft, is always a memorable sight.  We have rarely seen more than one at a time, but we noticed that several had landed in a tree above the castle terrace.

 
Soon there were about fifteen herons perched and waiting.  At four o'clock a keeper from the aviary appeared with a bucket.  She reminded us that these were wild birds, disclaiming responsibility for their behaviour.  This was just as well.  Once she had tipped out the food, several alpha birds took up position, swallowing as many of the dead day-old chicks as they could and warding off all challengers.  Soon their crops were distended and very undignified squabbling broke out. It was an amazing spectacle.

 
 
Apparently they had had a pair reared in the aviary and had tried to move them out to the natural heronry on the estuary by feeding them away from their cages.  However, this had attracted in the wild birds who had a keen sense of timing.

A quieter time was had at Irton Church.  There is no village called Irton; it is the name of a parish of scattered farms and what were once country estates.  Almost fifty years ago my eldest cousin married there.  My elder sister and I were bridesmaids.  Some years later, that sister too held her wedding there.  So I have definitely been there twice before, although the building made little impression on me then.   However, the building and the views from the gate are truly impressive.   In the churchyard stands this amazing ninth century cross, with its celtic knotwork.


 
 
Inside the church, there are windows by Morris and Co, designed by Burne Jones. 


Cumbrian chuches usually tend towards the plain and simple, but here there is evidence of money.  At the end of the nineteenth century some of those with interests in the industry of West Cumbria - the ship-building and the coal and iron ore mines - obviously bought country houses here and had wealth to spare to support the church.

A different story attaches to this last church visited.  After Boot, we moved north to our own cottage.  From here we visited Abbey Town and the church of Holm Cultram.  This is the remains of a twelfth century abbey which once wielded enormous influence.  We were fascinated to see it open again, because in 2008 a group of youths set it on fire.  In fact, they broke in looking for cash and stole five pounds, which they spent on drink.  Returning to the abbey, they set alight some clothing in the vestry and soon the whole building was ablaze.  Now, after several million has been spent, the wooden roof has been restored and a white limestone floor installed.  The ladies we spoke to were just grateful to be able to have their services there again, even though much remains to be completed.



 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Two Fells

Fell-walking may appear to be all of a piece, but one day's walk is often completely different to another - the weather, the terrain, the associations of the place...

 
Early in our stay, we took our friends to the foot of Wastwater, in the next valley, so that they could walk up and along the top of the Screes.  We ourselves were going up Greendale, a walk we last did some twenty-five years ago.  I clearly remember discussing how we would arrange the details of  our mortgage as we walked up the gorge to Greendale Tarn.  There we enjoyed the limpid mountain air and the trilling of larks far overhead. 


This time, the early part of the walk was made troublesome by a couple with a dog - off-lead of course - and the man incongruously carrying a ball-hurler.  Clearly, he thought that climbing a steep path was compatible with exercising the dog, as in a park.  Soon, sheep were making a run for it.  So much for the peace of the countryside. 

Our objective this time was the summit of Seatallan. This is a hill which featured in my father's stories so far as to become the stuff of myths.  The name becomes distinctly less aquiline when you realise it is a corruption of the words "Seat Allan".  My father's family farmed one of the farms in Nether Wasdale, which had a fell-right over Seatallan.  He recalled going out in snow to gather the sheep from the fell, but being sent home because he had no coat.  He would have been wearing a tweed jacket and breeches, knee stockings and probably clogs.  Many of the walkers out on this fine day in May would have been better equipped for snow.

Seatallan turns out to be a very ordinary rounded hill, not heroic in any way, but hellish steep nevertheless.  From its top, one can see into the valley of the Bleng.  This is landscape as metaphor, if any ever was.  No road or path enters here, no tarn gathers.  There are no trees.  It is a completely  empty valley, apart from the River Bleng which winds on down. ( The blue here is a huge cloud-shadow.)


Facing the other way, and particularly from Middle Fell, which we tackled on the way back,  the view is absolutely dominated by the blue heights of the Scafells - such a dramatic and improbable skyline, even on this hazy day.  It is apparently the case that at least 30,000 people a year now undertake the Three Peaks challenge - ie climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowden.  Those doing this in under twenty-four hours arrive at Wasdale Head in the middle of the night and climb Scafell in the dark.  What can this possibly be like?  On this sort of path every step could be a loose piece of shale or a boggy section to be picked over.  But in the dark?


We had an equally memorable day later in the week on Harter Fell, which formed the horizon from our rented cottage.  We went first to the bottom of Hardknott, and crossed the beck.  It was one of those rain-rinsed Lakeland days when the air seems especially clear and clean.  We climbed up the long track which skirts Harter Fell, then began the steep climb to the craggy top.


We had seen no one on the route, but were met at the top by a couple who asked us to take a snap of them together at the summit cairn as it was their final Wainwright.  We were pleased to oblige.  It is an impressive choice for last top and their many climbs had had huge significance for them.


The views from this top were very fine.  From here we could look down on the Roman fort, and up to the shoulder of Scafell.  Looking south, we could see far down to Blackpool Tower.


 
Crossing the boggy basin below Harter Fell brought us to the top of the Hardknott Pass road, which we crossed.  Soon we were assailed by amplified bird-song - a single phrase repeated.  My husband scanned the rocks above and spotted the source: a ring ousel.  This is a mountain bird like a blackbird but with a white bib, and a more restricted repertoire.  All the way down, to the cleared expanse of grass above the fort, once the parade-ground for the legionnaries, we could hear the sound of that one bird, ringing in the rocks.


Wednesday, June 04, 2014

La'al Ratty


No visit to Eskdale would be complete without a  trip on the miniature railway, now a toy for the enthusiast and tourist, but once part of the mining industry at Boot.  We noted that the shop sold the usual tourist items, but also rain ponchos, travel blankets, sou'westers... presumably those arriving in the open carriages on rainy days would find these helpful for the return journey.


We took the train down the valley for a couple of stages and then walked back along the river, up a track said to be that used by the Romans on their way to their fort at Hardknott.


Bluebells were much in evidence here and elsewhere.


Crossing the river by these stepping-stones we came to the little valley church - we always enjoy a church.



Back up to Dalegarth Station for lunch.  My husband was gratified to see an actual steam engine in use - our train had been pulled by diesel.


For most of the route to Ravenglass there is only a single track.  So here, at the head of the line, they deploy a turntable to rotate the engine for the return journey. 

 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Upper Eskdale

Just back from a trip to Cumbria: a week with friends in upper Eskdale.  Lower Eskdale enjoys a sheltered climate: substantial nineteenth century villas, surrounded by lush rhododendrons and azaleas.  It's almost suburban, and very different to upper Eskdale, which is a place of rock and stone.


Our friends were intent on working their way through their Wainwrights - they have under twenty-five to go.  Almost everyone we met was also engaged on this quest.   Wainwright details 214 tops in his famous guides and the idea is to stand on the top of each one. Then you can tick it off your list, colour in the spot on your special map and log the details on the Harold Street website. You can record every detail of your walk, with photos, and GPS routes, sharing this on line.




 It's not required that you attempt every route to the top given by Wainwright, or that you climb each one separately from its base - Lakeland mountains are often in convenient "horseshoes" or spaced along one ridge,   Children of five or six have completed the challenge.  Josh Naylor, the famous fell-runner, ran up and down all 214 in three days.  But for the average middle-aged walker it is likely to take several years to complete.  Accessing the high tops often requires walking in through long valleys, tackling very steep ascents and scrambling up rocky outcrops - nothing like walking field-paths in Essex.


We are not fully committed to the task, but it has a persuasive allure.  For one thing, it provides an incentive to try different walks, and often of unfrequented areas.  This has to be a good thing, as some of the more popular walks are too heavily used for "Wandering, lonely as a cloud."  We like being able to name the tops we can see, based on previous walks of the area.  And we like the fact that we still have the health and strength to be able to climb fairly stiff ascents and negotiate over very rough terrain.



Upper Eskdale leads to Hardknott Pass, where a very challenging road winds up and over the gap in the mountain.  Less experienced drivers would find the hairpin bends and steep gradients either thrilling or terrifying, depending.


The road winds up past Hardknott Fort, where the Romans once had a commanding view of the valley right down to Ravenglass on the coast.  Excavations provided evidence that this fort was manned by legionaries from Dalmatia - presently Croatia.  This fact raises a number of questions for me about the organisation of the Roman occupying forces. At Maryport, just up the coast, the fort, Alauna, was manned by Spanish legions.  Of course, the commanders would all have communicated in Latin; maybe the foot-soldiers did not need to be able to speak the same language?  I realise how very little I know about the whole issue, beyond a book or two by Rosemary Sutcliffe.