Monday, July 06, 2015


I don't know whether you have read "The Miniaturist" by Jessie Burton?  This is a novel set in Amsterdam, in the seventeenth century.  It starts very much in the vein of "The Girl in the Pearl Earring", but takes a turn towards magic realism.  The central character, Nella, is bought a dolls' house by her new husband, as a form of compensation for the fact that his own house is governed by his puritanical sister. Petronella makes contact with a miniaturist who provides her with  furnishings and figures for the house - items with prophetic significance.

As I was skimming through the Acknowledgements at the back, I came across a reference to a cabinet dolls' house in the Rijksmuseum, which had belonged to Petronella Oortman, the name of the central character.  So, of course, while in Amsterdam we had to visit Room 221 where the said cabinet dolls' house is on display.  It is veneered in tortoiseshell inlayed with pewter, and the little interiors give a very good impression of domestic life.  The motto of the book, however, is that "Things will change".  I won't reveal exactly how, as you may want to read the book yourself, but the motto is an understatement.

We explored some of what the Rijksmuseum had to offer, but by lunchtime were suffering from museum fatigue.

Another location featured in the novel is the Oude Kerk, the oldest building in Amsterdam.  We enjoyed these grotesque carvings on the misericords.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A bit of culture...

Our second day in Amsterdam started with a tram trip to the Hermitage Museum, an off-shoot of the one in St Petersburg.  There were two exhibitions, the first linking Napoleon and Josephine to Alexander of Russia.  Accounts of the retreat from Moscow made it clear that the Dutch were part of the French army at that point.  Dutch and Polish engineers worked through the night to construct bridges to cross the freezing rivers.  This sort of detail was curiously juxtaposed by the glittering artefacts- Alexander's ring, gold rimmed china and so on.  Most surprising was the family tree showing that Josephine's descendants - not Napoleon's -  now include most of the crowned heads of Northern Europe.

We enjoyed the civilised environment of this museum, once a home for the elderly.

The second exhibition could hardly have been more different: huge group portraits of the civic dignitaries of the guilds, dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The commentaries surrounding these made them surprisingly interesting. 

After lunch, I took a stroll along a rather seedy street leading to this fairytale building, once the weigh station.  On my way back, along a more respectable street, to meet my husband, I spotted a yarn shop, something I can never resist.  Inside, skein after skein of well-known yarns on display. 

And upstairs, the joint owner, Stephen West. 

Remember this unusual scarf?  This is Spectra, one of his designs, quite a conventional concept compared to his current output.

As chance would have it, I had happened down that street on the very day that the shop opened, having relocated from another street in Amsterdam.  What are the odds on that?

Did I buy some yarn?  Of course I did.  This is Malabrigo Rios, and Tosh Merino Light.  The colours in these fairly make my heart sing.

Monday, June 29, 2015


Visiting Amsterdam for a few days....   Almost forty years ago, I was in Amsterdam for a week, starting off as a solo traveller using the Youth Hostel, then teaming up with an art student and moving on to some dormitory hotels, at the budget end of the spectrum. 

This time we were staying in a family-run hotel in the museum district, which sounds sedate enough; in daylight, the street was a shady avenue.  In the middle of the night, though, it was a different story.

Arriving from the overnight ferry, we started as we meant to go on with the Van Gogh Museum.  Recent visits to exhibitions in London have been spoiled for us by the press of people; here, a version of "The Sunflowers" passed almost without remark, among the full range of his work from every phase of his career.  We learned a lot.

In the shop, I was amazed to see how far merchandising has gone.  Bike saddle bags featuring sunflowers? A dog-coat? Amazing.

We settled in to sightseeing mode with a canal-boat trip.  All along these canals, are the typical tall, narrow houses surmounted by the gable hoist.  Some of these date from the seventeenth century.

There are 700,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, a figure which may be an underestimate.  Yes, there are bike lanes, but these are also used by motor scooters and are part of the pavement, not the road.  At every crossing, you take your life into your hands.

More later.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Day Trip

A day trip to catch up with an old friend - and to visit the Kaffe Fassett Exhibition at the Quilt Museum, in York.

Juxtapositions at King's Cross

After a hassle free trip, we walked across York, dodging very busy traffic.  The best-known streets were crowded with gawping tourists.

The concept of the exhibition was that Kaffe had selected twelve of the heritage quilts in the museum's collections, using these as inspiration for twelve interpretations of his own.  The palette was bright, although some had that bright pastel look of the 30's.  Some were cheaters, in the sense that striped fabric had replaced log-cabin piecework.  And, in the end, it was underwhelming, unlike quilt shows where the level of industry and creative imagination always amazes me.

On the way back my friend, who knows York well - sings in the Minster choir - took me along little streets packed with the sort of architectural interest which I love.

We took in the mason's yard with fine examples of newly carved stonework on display.

Just by chance we passed an Oxfam, and there, right by the door, was this pack, obviously with my name on it.  It's a ready knitted yoke, and enough sage green yarn for a jumper.  The pattern originated in Galashiels; I would date this to the early 70s.  I'm thinking that I will be able to improve on the rather predictable yoke design, especially with Kate Davies "Yokes" as inspiration.

All in all, a grand day out.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Beeleigh Abbey

Tis the season for garden visiting. We found ourselves planning a visit to Beeleigh Abbey, which is just outside Maldon.  Amazing that we have not visited before. 

This is the sort of garden where everything is at its peak: roses in full bloom, luxurious lawns, borders in which everything is graded in height...unlike our own plot, where everything grows through everything else.

And, of course, the building is the perfect backdrop.

Just to finish, we dropped down to the Bog garden, and there is a bend of the river complete with reed-beds.  This is the feature we most envied.

First in a series of children's mittens  - not for now, obviously, but for the winter months.   February in New York can be bitter, or so I am told.


Sunday, June 07, 2015

Lank Rigg

First, some knitting, or rather, all the knitting done during my two weeks away.  I knitted during  the
long car journeys and while chatting to our friends in the evenings.

A pair of fingerless gloves made using Norfolk Horn 4ply.  I made these up as I went along, and am really pleased with the result.  I'm planning to wear these on colder days when on duty in the front, North-facing hall at the NT property where I volunteer.  It can be chilly in there.

Two versions of the Gidday Baby cardigan, the darker one knitted from the bottom up, simple reversing all the increases and decreases.  The border patterns are from "Charted Celtic Designs", by Co Spinhoven.

And two identical renditions of the Baby Sophisticate pattern.  Very quick to knit in Aran yarn.

So, we moved on to our own cottage on the Solway - and continued our walks.  We started with Great Cockup.  Yes, I know.  This meant climbing first over Little Cockup and eventually coming back by Trusmadoor.  Almost certainly these rounded hills looked like haycocks, to those familiar with haycocks.

Another day started damp, but cleared.  We set off at teatime to climb Lank Rigg.  Now, when I was a child, we lived on a farm just under Cold Fell, from which Lank Rigg must have been visible. But it would never have crossed my mind to climb it.  For one thing, the valley of the River Calder lay between it and us - and for another, we had our own fell if we wanted to climb anywhere.

 However, we drove to the Kinniside Stone Circle where we parked and walked in, fording the Calder and Worm Gill, then crossing the side of Whoap on a very narrow track.  Eventually, we climbed to the summit of Lank Rigg itself, where there is an ancient tumulus - and an absolutely stupendous view of the whole West Cumbrian coastal area, laid out like a map.  All those pit villages: Rowrah, Frizington, Cleator Moor.  On the way back, we got wet feet for the first time on this trip as Lank Rigg Moss lived up to its name.

So we had a rest day, visiting the osprey viewpoint on Dodd and then driving up Latrigg to the car-park near the top.  For those planning trips this summer, this is a wonderful opportunity.  For very little effort the top of Latrigg can be reached by a well-made path and the views over Keswick and the Newlands valley speak for themselves.

Finally, we returned to Ennerdale, the bit thoroughly between our teeth, and climbed Grike and Crag Fell.


Saturday, May 30, 2015


Of course, it was not all walking the high fells on our recent break. We also visited some three very interesting gardens, each of them unique in its way.

First, we went to Dalemain.  The house here was developed from a very early pele tower, through an Elizabethan manor house to a Georgian pile, each distinct phase of the building clearly visible today.  Thus, you enter a hallway with high ceilings and elegant proportions, and move back through plasterwork ceilings to very thick walls and uneven floors.  How odd to have all these periods still represented, in a house still used by the original family.

Dalemain's more recent claim to fame is as the setting for an international marmalade competition, and jars of marmalade from across the world are on display. Many varieties are on sale in their shop.

Later in the week we went to Lowther Castle, recently the venue of the Antiques Roadshow.  It was emphasised very clearly to us that the house is a ruin and the vast gardens are only just being brought back to life.  Presumably people have asked for their money back before now.

The story here is fascinating:  the castle was built in the early nineteenth century by the Lowther family who owned huge areas of land and  coalmines in Cumberland.  Anyone with socialist hackles will feel them rise when looking at the crazy extravagance on display here.  One of the Lowthers visited Versailles and on his return laid out three grand avenues in the garden.

However, all is now ruined as the fifth earl squandered the fortune; the roof of the castle was removed after the war, apparently to avoid death duties.  Until recently, huge sheds for rearing chickens stood on the lawns behind the house.  Now, they have been restored. 

Everywhere there is evidence of very elaborate garden layouts still completely overgrown; the effect is actually rather charming.

We took our tea at Askham Hall, another seat of the Lowthers, about five minutes away. 

This is on a totally different scale; the gardens here are impeccable, as it is a wedding venue and country house hotel. 
Tea was served in a converted cow-byre, its wooden stalls and ironmongery still in position.  Very good it was too.