Friday, October 17, 2014


My current work in progress is a Fair Isle waistcoat.  I'm using jewel colours of Jamieson and Smith's 2-ply jumper weight, set against a darker yarn.

 Some years ago a friend at a knitting group insisted that I take a very large cone of dark yarn home with me.  More recently I tried knitting a small swatch, and I was amazed.  Where the yarn looked dark brown, it was actually made up of one strand of turquoise and mauve and another of rust and dark brown, so that in sunlight it glows.  The cone was oiled for the machine so probably intended for machine knitting "Shetland" jumpers.  Now that I have washed it to remove the dressing it has a much nicer handle.

In about 1980 I first saw the 2ply jumper weight in a shop called "The Shepherd's Purse" in Whitby.  They seemed to have skeins of the full spectrum of colours, hanging on a line across the shop: it was wonderful.  I chose some yarn for a striped jumper, which I wore into the ground.  Of course, I had some leftovers.  Later, more was added to my stock as remnants from Kaffe Fassett and Sasha Kagan projects.  As I use these stored yarns in this project they seem to me like precious things, not simply oddments of yarn.  In sunlight, all their blended, tweedy colours shine..

I am using patterns from Sheila McGregor's book on traditional Fair Isle.  All of these have thirteen rows but each is subtly different.  I'm working up to placing the rust colour, which may or may not work.  The back will be plain stocking stitch, and is providing my travel knitting at present.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Port Lesney and the Saline Royale

Wow, thank you, Elizabeth A.! (See Comments on last post) You are certainly an appreciative reader.  Since I've had more time to give to the blog I do find myself looking at things in a different way, so that quite ordinary events are appreciated more.

To continue: After our gruelling climb to reach Poligny, we did check out the train times from Poligny station.  Yes, this would have been cheating, but no one would have been any the wiser.  As it happened, trains mid-morning were very infrequent so we set off once more on our bikes. However, because we were on a route described as "a loop," we were on our way back towards Besancon by this point, so this day was largely a matter of coasting down through woodlands. 

As we reached the River Loue so we also reached lunch-time.  We were on a quiet country lane when I spotted a shady bench and pulled up.  My husband, who was a little way behind, reacted to this by jamming on his brakes - with spectacular effect.  He ended up on the ground, entangled with the bicycle, in the middle of the road.  Fortunately, after he had extracted himself, we found that no bones were broken, and he was only lightly grazed.  Later we were able to watch the progress of a huge bruise on his thigh, where he had come into contact with the bike.  We sat on the
 bench marvelling at how this had turned out.  We were on a quiet, flat lane, going slowly - not tearing down a steep, busy road.  He was able to get up and eat lunch.  It could have been so much worse.

Eventually we were able to cycle on to Port Lesney, our next overnight stop.  Once there were two separate villages with a ferry crossing the river between them.  Then a stone bridge was built to facilitate the passage of travellers going on through to Italy.  Floods washed away most of the bridge and it was replaced, leaving only this strange fragment. 

In Port, almost every house was a massive structure, as these were the houses of vignerons - wine-makers.  Now, they offer many photo opportunities.

On our "Rest day" the objective was Arc-et -Senans, where there is a complex called the Saline Royale.  The thinking had been that instead of carting fuel to Salins les Bains where the salt was mined, the saline could be piped across country to Arc-et-Senans where wood was abundant.  But this was in the eighteenth century, and the pipes were made by hollowing out lengths of pine-tree and using these to construct a pipeline - several miles long.  Salt was a very valuable product and subject to the gabelle, or salt tax: siphoning off the saline en route and using it to produce black market salt was a common occurrence.

The Saline Royale is a Unesco World Heritage Site.  Designed by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, it             induces a kind of awe by its sheer scale.  Who would have thought of this kind of massive display of wealth to house what was essentially an industrial process?  A clue might be the timing of this: just prior to the storming of the Bastille.

In one of the displays we saw maquettes of  Ledoux's other projects - those which had been built and those he had planned.  To describe them as Grand Designs is to fail to do them justice.  These are the stuff of scence fiction, where the actual function of the building becomes subservient to the vision of the designer.

So it seemed in the Saline, which had housed the saltworks and the accommodation for the workers in this semi-circular format.  In its centre was the Overseer's house.  The circular window was meant as an observation point from which the whole site could be scanned.  Orwellian, indeed.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Arbois and Poligny

To resume our travelogue: from Salins we climbed up and over a ridge, before free-wheeling down into Arbois.  Always a bad move to lose gained height so early in the day.  This was to be our hardest day's cycling by some margin. 

Arbois was delightful.  This is the house of Louis Pasteur, his childhood home and also the place where he set up a laboratory and conducted his experiments.  We listened, enthralled, as the guide told us all about how Pasteur worked on the vaccine against "la Rage"  - rabies. There was an amazing story of a group of Russian peasants who had been bitten by a wolf.  They walked across Europe to reach Pasteur, arriving in time to receive the vaccine and for at least some of them to be saved.

We were delighted to be able to understand the guide, who spoke formally and slowly - the other people in the group were Belgians.  All year we have been attending  classes to refresh our French, but we still have real difficulty following the language as it is actually spoken.

After a light lunch we climbed out of Arbois - and then we climbed some more.   We passed vineyards where the vendange was in progress, and a grove of hazelnut trees offering Pick Your Own Noisettes at the weekends.  By now the heat was getting to us and the road became even steeper.  We were pushing our bikes up the back of a cliff.

At last it levelled off and we began the descent into Poligny.  This was our most spectacular descent, as the road ran down the limestone escarpment, at times actually through the cliffs.

 Above us, we could hear climbers tackling the sheer cliffs.

 At last we ran on down the valley, arriving at our hotel - La Vallee Heureuse - on the outskirts of Poligny.  This was our most memorable hotel, with wonderful food and very friendly hosts who were happy to talk with us, perhaps because they were not busy.

The next day we explored Poligny.  One of the features of travelling by bike is slow tourism.  A leisurely stroll around Poligny revealed much of interest architecturally.  There were several outlets for wine-producers - one in a converted church. 

In the centre of town was a college specialising in hospitality and catering.  On the wall beside the main entrance was a board showing two lists of names with ages - of the transported.  The first list showed those who did not return from the camps, and the second those who survived.  It was a striking reminder.

Poligny's major tourist attraction is the Cheese Museum. Now, there are many types of cheese, about which there must be a huge body of knowledge.  But this was a museum with a single focus: the Comte cheese which is a major part of the local economy, along with the wine.  In fact, we soon learned that every aspect of cheese production and tasting is taken as seriously as the production of fine wine.  We were invited to taste two examples of the cheese, and to try our hands, or our palates, at discerning very subtle flavours within it.  It was a surprising end to the afternoon.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Windfalls 2

The Windfalls waistcoat complete - behind is a cross shaft from Lowther in Cumbria, now in the British Museum.  I am very pleased with how this turned out.

You may remember from the earlier entry that this is a magpie collection of free patterns gathered from Ravelry.  In the source material these patterns were used for a cowl and two hats, but I think they combine very well.

The grey yarn is an acrylic which I bought for a child's jumper - the one with the blue tractor - but it was too dark and I switched to a pale grey.  As it is used here, it is not only a very subtle colour but also feels quite substantial.  The back is in single rib. 

Someone in my knitting group asked if I had used "one of those self-patterning yarns".  I did not know what to say.  Of course I have knitted many socks in self-striping sock yarn, but I'd be amazed to see a yarn pre-dyed to create this Celtic knotwork.  In fact, the orange is a hand-dyed yarn from a company called Yarnsmith, one of those single skeins one often cannot find a use for.  I had 100 gms and this used no more than half of it.

In the gallery containing the Sutton Hoo hoard.  I wore a string of amber beads which set it off very well.

This is one of those projects where you want to continue knitting it after you have finished it - if that makes sense?  It certainly reminded me of what it felt like to make and wear a new piece of clothing when I was a teenager.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Salins- les- Bains

From Ornans we rode on to Salins-les -Bains, an ancient town set between these two prominent cliffs.  M. Vauban has been at work here too, as once the product of the town was a matter of national significance.

The limestone of the region contains layers of geological strata, including the remains of a prehistoric sea.  In medieval times this was mined as salt.  Water was pumped down into the salt layer and extracted as saline.  Boiling off the water caused the salt to crystallize, and a relatively pure form could be made in this way.  Salt was obviously a key commodity in preserving meat, as well as in seasoning food.  They called it "White Gold." 

This is a view of the town from the Belvedere up at one of the forts.  We were surprised to find it less steep than it looked.  At one time this fort was used as a holiday camp for children, but it is now run as chambres d'hote - or a bed and breakfast.  The views must be spectacular.

We learned a lot about the processes involved in salt extraction, and also about the "Gabelle", or salt tax which was a major cause of discontent in Pre-Revolutionary France. 

At the time when the salt-works were in operation the whole place must have been black with smoke from the constantly burning fires used to heat the saline - a major industrial centre.  You might imagine that it is a peaceful backwater now -- but you would be wrong. 

All day a constant stream of traffic roars through Salins-les Bains.  Riders of very powerful motorbikes seem to enjoy revving up as they go through.  Perhaps they are testing their brakes on the white-knuckle hairpin bends locally.   Tourists seem to be the  twenty-first century version of white gold.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Those of you who like to do a little farming "over t'fence" while travelling may be interested in the nature of the countryside we cycled through, which was deeply rural. 

The route notes promised strings of pretty villages, which there certainly were, though these would have looked even prettier with a functioning bar, cafe, or shop.  Churches with these curious tiled domes were very prominent.

High pastures, divided only by electric fences, feed the small herds of Montbelliard cattle whose milk goes into the Comte cheese.  Each cow needs one hectare of land, and a day's milk from twenty of these cows is needed to produce one wheel of the cheese.  Groups of farmers supply their milk to the fruitiere or creamery in the larger villages.  Pastureland is meadow grass with a wide diversity of flowers within it.  This is much prized in enhancing the flavour of the cheese. Average herd size is only forty cows.

A second major product of the area, especially over in the Jura, is wine.  Huge areas are laid down as vineyards.

However, the product we saw most of was firewood, stacked outside, stacked in special buidings, being delivered by tractor...  From the many, many areas of woodland where wild hunting is clearly very important.  We did not see any deer, but they are out there.

Many of the villages still had their ancient lavoirs, where once the women would have done their washing alongside their neighbours.  Public weighbridges were also much in evidence as historic features, along with the occasional old plough or farm-cart.

Note the ubiquitous brown and white cow!

However, prize for creepiest product must go to this enterprise.  What do you think was, being reared for the retail and restaurant trade on these curious frames?


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Lunch at Ornans

We were travelling with a company called Headwater, who make all the bookings, provide the bikes and transport your cases from A to B as you move on every second day.  We've been with them before, but not for some years.

The cheery young rep took us through how to mend a puncture on the road ( a skill we did not need, thankfully) then he set us on our way by loading the bikes into his van and running them, and us, up to the top of the escarpment to the south of Besancon.  This killer hill apparently takes fifty minutes walking, pushing the bike, so we were pleased to be spared it.  There was plenty of uphill nonetheless.  Any mention of the term "Cycling for Softies" induces a hollow laugh in us.

Eventually we arrived at Ornans, freewheeling down the course of an old railway line and over a viaduct into town.

 There is a large industrial estate to get through, but the centre of Ornans is focused on the river, not the road, and must be one of the most photographed places on earth.

Note the limestone cliffs above the town.

On our free day we went first to the Musee Courbet.  Gustave Courbet, a mid nineteenth century artist and revolutionary, was born here and returned here to live.  He painted the landscape around Ornans again and again, but is most known for "A Funeral at Ornans".  We learnt just how revolutionary it was to depict a gathering of ordinary townspeople on such a scale. Courbet was later involved in real-life revolution and had to make a dash for the Swiss border.  We had a thoroughly informative morning.

Then we chose our lunch spot in order to be able to enjoy the clear water of the River Loue and the spare limestone exterior of the Courbet house.  As I sat eating a cheese omelette on a shady terrace, I reflected on how different this lunch was from that of any Friday in September that I can remember.

Legend has it that those who found themselves having committed involuntary homicide(!!) could seek sanctuary in Ornans while awaiting royal judgement, and hopefully pardon, by touching the foot of this pillar.  I wonder what the townsfolk made of the new arrivals while they waited?