Friday, April 17, 2015

Two walks

Why, thank you, Marilyn (Comments, yesterday).  I'm glad that you are enjoying what I post.

You may remember that my husband and I are "not" walking the Wainwrights.  The late Alfred Wainwright detailed two hundred and fourteen summits in his famous guides, and in recent years it has become a popular pursuit to "bag" all 214.  A friend and her sister are due to complete their list this May, when we will be with them in the Lakes.  So far we have resisted a full-on attempt at the list, but that is not to say that we have not been drawn to fill in those within easy reach from our base.

So- first we went up Fellbarrow, a low-lying fell to the west of Loweswater.  Last year we made the mistake of thinking that Low Fell, its neighbour, might be aptly named and found ourselves not only on a very steep ascent, but also without a sensible path down.  Walking over rough fell and heather where there is no path is very hard on the knees and ankles. 


This time we went up the Mosser road, and turned off up the fell.  It was a moderate ascent and gave on to an impressive view of the higher fells, spoiled only by a little haze.  We detoured around Low Fell to reach the top of Fellbarrow.  Up here it is strange to see such an extensive use of iron fencing, some of it now superannuated.   All in all a lovely walk, all the better for being sparsely populated.

Our next walk was more of a challenge.  We began by driving down to Ennerdale, and parking at Bowness Knott, where there were already many cars.  Where those people had gone we never discovered, because it was three hours before we saw another soul on our walk.

Ennerdale lies between Loweswater and Wasdale.  The drystone walls here show a quite different geology to further north, with rounded boulders rather than slatey layers.

We headed up the gully leading to Herdus and Great Borne.  It was stiff going to start with but nothing like what was to come.  We passed a sheepfold; they are everywhere in the Lakes.  Then, at 1300 feet, we came upon this curious structure.  It is composed of massive boulders and slopes inwards towards the top.  There is no entrance.

So, what is your best guess as to its function?

Our walk took a turn to the left.  We had been warned to expect a short scramble of exposed rock, but soon we were on all fours as the path followed the gully of a mountain stream up through crags.  At times the path itself had fallen away and we were forced to detour up through heather.  It was with a sense of relief that we reached the top. 

Great Borne was a place of stones; literally, thousands of loose boulders scattered about.  Away ahead we could see the path to Starling Dodd and Red Pike, across a wide plateau.  We made our way to the summit.  Oddly, someone has gathered up stray lengths of iron fencing and made this strange construction.

After Little Dodd we turned down for the valley, leaving Red Pike for another day.  All along the forestry road we watched the play of sunlight on the spectacular Ennerdale tops opposite.  A grand day.

Travel knitting

A couple of baby cardigans, knitted as we travelled about in the car.  This is Gidday Baby, and I could knit one without the pattern to hand now.  It's a brilliant design.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


On the Tuesday after Easter we took out our bicycles and rode up the coast to the little hamlet of Crosscanonby.  This overlooks the Solway coast just above the Eighteenth century salt-pans and the Roman Mile fortlet.  It also has a really interesting parish church, for those who find such things of interest.

Outside the porch is a small collection of tombs, including a Viking hog-back tomb from about 1100.

In the porch are interesting carved stone fragments of ancient date.

But within the chancel arch is a piece of archaeology taken entire from its origins.  This is an arch from the Roman camp, including the side niches which would have housed statues to deities.  It fits right in here.

Some further offerings for Pine Ridge: another Gidday Baby and a Baby Surprise Jacket I've had in store for a while.  This needed some cuffs and an I-cord buttonhole band to complete it.  Both are now on their way to the reservation.  I like to think that an actual infant will get the benefit of these.


Sunday, April 12, 2015


 Some of you probably imagine the west coast of Cumbria as being bathed in perpetual sunshine - if you have not been here yourself, that is.  We made the journey on Good Friday: eight solid hours of traffic congestion, roadworks and queuing.  Saturday was a lovely walking day: spring sunshine taking the chill off, but we were looking for a relaxed  day so it was the  Lorton circuit for us.  Baby lambs all the way; upland sheep lamb much later than field sheep in Essex.

Easter Sunday, however, presented a different face.  Sea mist had rolled in and thickened into fog.  It was strange to see the weather map showing the whole country enjoying fine weather and a perfectly round patch of fog over the Cumbrian coast.  We drove up the coast to walk on the beach, since it was not actually raining.  Beyond the murk we could hear seabirds calling and the eerie sound of hooves, before two riders cantered up through the edge of the surf.

Monday continued the same: a damp sea-fog where we were.  We drove inland, started our walk around Sale Fell in fog, turned a corner and there the fog gave way to a perfectly sunny day.  The gorse was blazing away in the sunshine.  This bank was positively bouncing with sky-larks: they would rise, twittering manically then scoot back into the gorse in a way we have never seen before.

During the week we managed tea on the terrace of the Stackyard tearoom no fewer than three times. (I'm sounding like Maria Lucas describing her visit to Rosings.)   To sit out here enjoying the stupendous views while eating a toasted hot cross bun with rum butter ranks pretty high for us.
Highly recommended for those of you planning visits this summer.

 The terrace looks out on a little farm park, where we delighted to see this peacock strutting his stuff, facing down the opposition of a game chicken.

Pretty amazing, eh?

Monday, March 30, 2015

New Venture

Last week we started out on a new activity: volunteering for the National Trust.

In our village there are two separate National Trust properties.  One, standing at the top of the hill is a huge tithe barn related to the ancient Cistercian Abbey.  When I first moved to the village this was in a terrible state of disrepair, but a trust was set up and a local building firm took on the massive task of renovating the whole thing.  Now it is owned by the National Trust and much used for craft fairs, weddings, real ale events and so on.

The second property is a wool merchant's house built in 1509 by one Thomas Paycocke.

 The building was presented as business premises to show off the woven wool for which the town was famous, and no expense was spared on the carved woodwork of the building.

As the centuries passed, so the house fell on hard times, being divided into three small cottages and the exterior plastered over.  Then, in the Arts and Crafts period, it was bought and a period of restoration began, using the expertise of a local woodcarver, Ernest Beckwith.  So now it is an astonishing display of carved wood within and without.

Last week my husband and I did our first half-day shifts as volunteers there.  My husband worked in  the garden, alongside a dedicated team of about a dozen established hands.  He was set on to dig over a vegetable patch, ready for it to be used for growing flowers for the house.

I was inside the house.  Earlier residents and visitors recorded how cold the house was to live in; this is still true today, particularly as the principal rooms are North-facing. It's too early to record what I made of the opportunity.  Will I master how to use a till and give change, or will I have forgotten even what little I learnt by the next time I am on shift? Only time will tell.


A little matinee jacket for the Pine Ridge Reservation.  This is a free pattern called Gidday Baby, published by an Australian pattern-writer promoting an Australian yarn.  It is knit from the top down, the advantage being that once the sleeves have been knitted on with dpns there are only two buttons to stitch on and it is finished, without any seaming to do.  I used a Stylewise acrylic with a small amount of Jaeger Langora for the contrast colour.  You can find the pattern on Ravelry.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Homage to Manet

On Friday to Norwich, to take in an exhibition at the Castle Museum entitled "Homage to Manet".  The gist of this seemed to be Manet's revolutionary ways of portraying contemporary women, and how this influenced others, not least female artists such as Dame Laura Knight, Vanessa Bell and Gwen John.

My eye was caught by this portrait of Virginia Woolf, who appears to be knitting.  It is not so clear in this reproduction where the blocks of colour seem to merge, but the piece of knitting is a deep pink.  Not dissimilar to the piece of knitting I had with me for knitting on the train.

Norwich looked better when we emerged into the sunlight, after the gloomy start on Friday.

We went to eat at Jamie's Italian, in the Royal Arcade.

This strange tree looks like late-lingering fruit, but in fact is hung with red pom-poms - quite striking in situ.

Another layette for the Pine Ridge reservation.  Pieces knit up quickly when they are so small, although the sleep sack took two long car journeys.

You ask about the pattern for the cardigan, Liz M.  This is an old Hayfield pattern for a traditional raglan cardigan.  On the leaflet it shows two sturdy infants, almost toddlers, sitting up wearing white cardigans with motifs of rabbits and trains.  Times change.  I may have mentioned before being taken aback when a young colleague brought in her five-week old daughter wearing denim jeans and a brown smock top - the baby, that is.  In this case we were advised to use dark colours as white shows the dirt so badly.

The hat is the simplest possible: Cast on 66 stitches in DK and knit in k2 p2 rib for four inches.  The decrease for the crown by k2tog each row.  This fits a grapefruit, and I am told it will fit a small new-born.

The booties are worth mentioning.  These are from a free pattern offered by Frankie's Knitted Stuff.  It is an ingenious piece of engineering, and looks cute.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Captain Cook's Waistcoat.

This week to an event I had booked almost a year ago - a talk at the Society of Antiquaries, which is housed in the same building as the Royal Academy, on Piccadilly.

In the courtyard, this huge artwork, called something like "Shiny Star and Wooden Star" - can't argue with that.  The artist seems to have had the surname Stellar, unless I am misremembering that.  It was certainly catching the eye in that courtyard.

So  - The Society of Antiquaries.  This is one of the oldest organisations related to the collecting of objects, and seems also to be in charge of Kelmscott Manor, home of William Morris.  The society had been left a substantial legacy to fund research scholarships related to historical dress.  In 2014 this was awarded to Alison Larkin, an embroidress from Hull, in order that she might research Captain Cook's waistcoat.

During Cook's second voyage, he was given a piece of bark cloth in Tahiti, cloth which he brought back for his wife.  While he was away on his third voyage, she began to make an embroidered waistcoat for him, in the fashion of the late 18th Century.  This waistcoat was never finished, presumably because he did not survive his third voyage. 

The research project involved Alison Larkin going to Australia to view the unfinished piece, then to New Zealand where there is a similar finished piece.  Once that was done, she embarked on the three hundred hours of work it took to create a finished garment, as close as possible to the intentions of the originl piece.

From the talk we learnt a great deal about 18th century methods: how buckram was stiffened with rabbit glue, how spangles differ from sequins, how the class system would have determined how much embroidery you could decently sport.  It was fascinating.

The finished item is currently on exhibit at Whitby, in a display of Polynesian textiles - since the ground is barkcloth rather than linen, or silk.

Charity knitting

A little cardigan and hat for Pine Ridge.

This is a sleep sack, apparently the dernier cri for babies these days.  One inserts the baby up to its armpits so that it is inside its blanket.  What exactly did the Sioux Indians dress their infants in when living on the Plains?  Might it have looked somewhat similar?


Monday, March 09, 2015


It has been positively balmy here over the last few days.  We do not have a conservatory but the step out on to the patio is in a very sheltered corner.  I enjoyed eating my sandwich lunch out there in early November last year, and it was possible to do that again on two days this last week  (Apologies to those of you still under a layer of snow.)

I have set aside the Skye cardigan temporarily.  It becomes tedious to work through a pattern where every row has to be read from the chart with no respite.  Instead, I have moved to a little charity knitting.

 Over the years I have enjoyed the stimulus of joining in a drive of one sort or another.  I remember one related to Greenberg, which had been razed to the ground by a tornado.  Whether their first need was for hand-knitted blankets I don't know, but the organiser was very enthusiastic and I enjoyed using up scrap yarn to knit squares.

Then there were the Innocent hats.  On the second year of this campaign, the company were donating 50 p per hat to Age Concern - it is much less now.  It was not hard to knit up fifty hats. 

I remember customising a few of them in various knitting techniques and being mightily entertained to get a rosette sent to me when the season ended.

I've knitted cat blankets for a rescue centre, and warm clothes for children in Outer Mongolia.

But somehow the demand for hand-knitted items has waned.  I am not sympathetic to Oxfam selling blankets at festivals for cash.  It probably makes sense to their business, but I like to think of someone actually making use of my work and getting the benefit of its warmth - and I'm not thinking of a festival-goer.

So when I saw a complete layette on one of the sub-groups on Ravelry, I was charmed.  The set had been made for the maternity ward on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  It's apparently very cold there and the people are very poor.  Simple baby jackets and hats will be just the contrast I need to the Celtic colourwork.  Dark colours are advised, as they do not show the dirt.  I have been enjoying using these vibrant saturated shades.  Actually making use of some of the many buttons I have saved over the years is another source of satisfaction.