Thursday, April 17, 2014

Train Trips

In Cumbria for a longer break this time, but the weather stayed rather dour for longer than we would have liked. 

We like train trips.  The track north is unspectacular, but the one running south, meandering along the coastline, and across estuaries, to Barrow in Furness and beyond, is well worth the journey.  First we went north to Carlisle.  We visited an exhibition of paintings by Martin Greenland at the museum, Tullie House.  These were naturalistic landcapes, often including odd man-made features.  The artist had helpfully provided a set of notes expounding the metaphorical "Meanings" of each piece.  Quite a good notion, we thought, although we enjoyed the paintings themselves.

After lunch, we walked round by Shaddongate to the Linton Tweed factory shop.  Linton Tweed design and weave fabrics for couturiers.  Half their production is exported to Japan, and it is a very thriving business.   Hanging up is an array of wonderful tweed for statement jackets - £60 for three metres.  Metallic threads and sequins have been big this last season, apparently, although perhaps not in my world.

Skirt lengths are £15, but it was two for the price of one. I just love the subtle variations of colour in this one.

 Then there is the £5 bin.  This looks like a straightforward brown and green stripe but it is shot through with lurex threads.  I'm thinking that this will recover the dining chairs in the cottage.

Shore from the train south.
St Bees Head, seen from the train.
Our second train trip took us south to Drigg, from where we walked across country to Ravenglass.  On the way we passed this barn, with its unusual spotted construction -  red sandstone and beach boulders, perhaps.

And crossed this packhorse bridge - I love little bridges like this.

During the summer holidays of my teens, I worked at the hotel in Ravenglass as a chambermaid.  It was a 7.30 start, finishing at 4pm, six days a week, and for that we were paid just over £6.  Of course, that just tells you how long ago it must have been.

We walked around the little peninsular south of Ravenglass, noting the huge amount of debris washed up by the winter storms.

Just outside Ravenglass is an amazing ruin.  This is a Roman Bathhouse, still standing to first floor level and still showing remnants of Roman plaster. 

Ravenglass has had its ups and downs, but seemed particularly well-kempt in the sunshine as we had a cup of tea before the return journey.

Mosaic at Ravenglass - note fishermen in slate.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

On the road again...

Last Saturday it was a balmy spring day: the world and its wife were on the roads.  Some time ago, my husband was given a bike carrier for fixing on the back of a car.  But it was not that simple.  To allow other traffic to see the indicator light we needed an extra lighting bar, and, for that to work,we needed an extension socket from the rear lights...  Not just a matter of setting off, then.  But on Saturday we loaded up the bikes on to the car and drove to Sudbury.  We took the road to The Belchamps - this is Belchamp Otten church.

Then, we cycled out to Clare, a small, ancient town.  Note these chimneys, on a property so huge its gardens seemed to be on the opposite side of the main road from the house.  We had lunch in a tiny tea-shop, where I failed to take a snap of the goat-burger my husband enjoyed. 

Some years ago we visited an Antiques Centre in Clare and bought a coal scuttle and an Art and Crafts stool there.  Signs indicate that the Centre survives, but most of the shops in Clare have succumbed to the "Vintage" trend.  On a  recent visit to Colchester, I was amazed to find that the charity shop supporting the local hospice now specialises in "Vintage", by which it seems to mean the fashions of one's youth - bat-wing sleeves, moth-eaten fur coats and all.

After lunch, on to Cavendish, with its wonderful village green.  By now a wind had got up and the going got tougher.  Soon we joined the trail back into Sudbury, which uses the old railway line, a lovely, traffic-free ride.

A pause in my knitting while  I consider my next project.  To fill the gap, a pair of socks in Regia Garden Effect.  I can't decide whether these are very ugly or a nice colour combination.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The High Life

This weekend to Basildon Park, a National Trust property near Reading.  We were looking for an interesting garden walk and a civilised coffee stop en route to lunch with friends.  Some years ago, we toured the house and were massively impressed by the fact that much of the interior was assembled after the war, using features rescued from other country houses which were being demolished.  Somewhere, we read that the couple had been looking for a Georgian property - and there just happened to be one, standing empty, on the family lands - something we can all relate to!

   Now, there is a little film feature of Lady Iliffe describing her first sight of the house, standing empty before the war, and then again seeing it in a much more perilous state after lead had been stripped from the roof when it had been in the hands of the Ministry of Works. More recently, the Christmas special of "Downton Abbey" was filmed in the house.

This time we enjoyed the sunshine outdoors, while it lasted.  We saw red kites nesting in a tree: huge birds when directly overhead.  Near the house, this mysterious group of very mature trees.

Following on from the completion of my Celtic Throw, I made this cushion, again using Nennir by Lucy Hague.  This one is made of Drops yarm, a mixture of wool and alpaca.  I started by knitting one repeat of the pattern and then took some time to grasp that I needed to knit it to fit a cushion pad.
I picked up stitches at each end and knitted to match the length, and then picked up the edges and knit outwards for two and a half inches to fit the width.  With the cabling centred like this it looks like a fragment of masonry, as in the Viking crosses.

I backed the cushion with a piece of Donegal tweed - I love tweed.  I particularly like the coloured slubs on this piece.  I back-stitched this together, while watching last week's "Sewing Bee."  Something about watching people customise items in set time limits.  Could this format work for knitting?  With clever editing, I'm sure it could.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bas relief

So, what can this be?  A giant's Aran sweater? Or this?
Interesting how even cream looks different in different light.

 Here is the central panel of my latest throw.  It's a cable panel called Nennir, designed by Lucy Hague and available to print off for free from Knitty.  It's flanked by two cable panels, one from Barbara Walker and one from another stitch directory.

It's hard to take a picture of the whole thing: here is one end.  I decided to use two mirror image Celtic cables for the end panels.  These are spirals based on imagery from the "Book of Durrow", no less, and charted some time ago by Monsterknitter.

This is the other end of the throw.  The last strip to be worked was this simple zig-zag, and, if you look carefully, you can see the ha'porth of tar, not that I think it really spoils the ship.  I bought a number of different lots of the main yarn, Hayfield 100% wool Aran, and they did vary quite a lot, not only in colour but also in texture.  I thought this was unlikely to matter if each complete section used the same dyelot.  On this final strip I ran out of yarn about four inches from the end and used two different oddments to finish it off. I don't think you would notice it on this view, for instance.

Or this.

 I am very pleased with how it turned out.  This will be the fifth throw I have made, and perhaps my last for now.  Although, I do wonder how one made from wool from different rare breeds would turn out...

Friday, March 14, 2014


One of my closest friends is out in South Africa at the moment, taking in the Victoria Falls, Cape Town, a big game safari...

Meanwhile, my husband and I planned an expedition to Sudbury, a small market town some fifteen miles north of here.  The plan was to take the train there  - and cycle back.  Trains go off on a little branch line which must have once been the norm over most of Britain.  How this one survived is a mystery.

The day dawned to thick fog, but this was promised to burn off by late morning so we set out to cycle to our local station.  Our faces stung with cold as we reached the platform.  Then we saw that the train we had planned to take had been cancelled.  What to do?  In the end we just whiled away the hour until the next train, probably allowing the fog to burn away.

Once at Sudbury, we made our way to the Henny road, down the valley of the Stour.  This concrete structure is a pill-box, one of many put there to protect against threat of invasion.

We enjoyed the many ancient farms, cottages and churches on the route, but were most pleased to see two hares running across a field, something we have never seen before.  March hares, perhaps?

Half-way home is the Thatchers' Arms, and very welcome it was too.   We had bubble and squeak with a fried pigeon breast, black pudding and a poached egg - the kind of food one could imagine local cottagers eating for supper on good days. It certainly hit the spot as expedition fare.

After another hour's cycling, down into the Colne valley and then up and over into the valley of the Blackwater; we were on the home stretch.  It gave us ideas for further trips - once the saddle soreness wears off.


This is half of my latest throw, now nearing completion.  The length of the most complex panel - Nennir by Lucy Hague -  had to dictate the length of all the strips, so extra repeats have had to be added to some.

A thought did occur to me about the significance of the Celtic knotwork, with its illusion of infinity.  Some religious buildings include a maze, to aid meditation.  What if these designs were to be used like mazes, only without the need to walk the lines?

Friday, February 21, 2014


It being half-term, we had planned a little trip to our cottage in Cumbria, but it was not to be.  We watched as the news featured overturned high-sided vehicles being towed off  the stretch of road we would have to use.  We regrouped, deciding instead to have an extra day in Stratford, then return home. As luck would have it, the weather then took a turn for the better, at least where we were.

We had a wonderful day at Compton Verney, newly reopened after the winter closure.  All across the  lawns, sculpture by Henry Moore and Rodin was on display.  We were told that a falling tree branch had narrowly missed a "Seated Figure", which had had to be moved.

This gallery makes you think.  All those years my mother filled in her football pools, and posted them off, presumably with a postal order.  She showed no interest in other forms of gambling, not even the Grand National, but the pools were a weekly ritual.  What would she have made of Compton Verney, founded by one of the Moores family, presumably with money from those postal orders?  Would she have thought it money well spent?  It's certainly a very civilised place to have lunch.

We usually stay in a very homely Bed and Breakfast, but we thought we would have supper in the very nice Alveston Manor Hotel, at the end of the same road.  I found myself rendered speechless, or as my husband said, sounding like Alan Bennett's mother, by the menu item: Pot of tea for two people: £8.00.  Surely that's not just me?

I plod on with my Celtic throw.  These are strips six and seven, out of nine to do.  How did I reverse the spiral?  Well, it is a charted design, printed on white paper.  If you hold it up to the light, the pattern for the reverse spiral is revealed.  These two will not be side by side in the finished item, so the different dye lot will not matter.

On Tuesday, we were off again, this time to Norwich, to the Sainsbury Centre.  We remembered visiting the gallery many years ago when my husband was doing some teaching at UEA.  This time we caught the end of an exhibition of Masterpieces of East Anglian art.  My goodness, what a broad range of items had been recruited under this heading: a Roman head of Claudius, photographs of Norfolk fishermen, objects by Faberge, the designs for UEA itself....  hmmm. 

But Norwich itself never fails - so many interesting doorways... and tea in the Cathedral Refectory: Pot of tea for two: £1.75.


Saturday, February 08, 2014

The River Wild...

Here in Essex the terrain is fairly flat, but we are also some distance from an actual coast.  Water meadows, however, are a landscape feature here; our village has a willow plantation along the banks of the river.  Famous name cricket bats were made, probably still are, from that willow.

So we should not have been surprised to see the river burst its banks this morning.  We've seen it much higher than this.  One half-term I parked my car in its usual place down the road, just opposite a sign for Lakes Meadow, before going north to visit my mother.  My husband, in our house some few hundred yards away, and several feet higher, saw my car on the local news bulletin.  The flood water had risen and filled the footwells on the car.  Strangely, it started first time and dried out eventually, although there was an awfully swampy smell in there for some time.

 In the middle distance, swans taking a break on the river-bank.

This strange little item is made of a linen yarn bought from the Sudbury silk mill on a cone, so probably a weaving yarn.  Even used double it is very light and has no give.  I'm using it to make a pouch for my MP3 player, which I use to create my own little zone at the gym.  Those who know me in person would be surprised how well I have taken to regular gym visits this year.

 On my first visit I was astonished to see a former colleague on her way out, and even more  to see her name on the chart for the top performers of the previous month in our age-group.  Nothing like a bit of competition to spur one on.  Last month, there I was, in the top five.  But I do find it awfully beneficial, not only in keeping my joints going, but also in inducing a state of calm, so that the rest of the day can be enjoyed.


 Finally, the latest strip for my  cream Celtic Throw.  This attempts to emulate the spirals which appear in Celtic cross carvings.  It's not my invention; I simply looked up Celtic Cable on Ravelry. 

Alongside is the dear little pincushion and pins given to me by one of my great-nieces, who has begun to fall under the spell of the haberdashery store.  In my attic, I have the hand sewing machine used by my own grandmother to earn her living as a travelling dressmaker.  She would strap the machine in its case on the carrier on the back of her bicycle, and off she would go.  This would have been before the First World War.  She was beyond sewing when I knew her, but after she died, my father bought this machine for me from the auction of her effects.
Now, should I give this machine to my great niece, that would be her great-great grandmother's sewing-machine.  Strange to think of it like this.