Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Continuing the theme of the longer walk, my husband and I set out to walk to Stisted, a nearby village.  First we walked along the River Blackwater to Dick Nunn's Bridge.  This was, until recently, the turning point on our longest walk.

 Dick Nunn was a local blacksmith, in the nineteenth century.  He was stout-hearted and possessed of a sense of social justice, to the extent that, seeing tumbledown cottage up near the church, he helped it to tumble down completely, thus shaming the landlord into action.  Which was fortunate as, otherwise, the tenant would have been homeless.  The bridge has an iron frame - made by Dick himself? - and wooden slats.

We walked along the ridge then dropped to the river again.  Here we were amazed to find boggy sections even in this unprecedented dry spell.  Borage, alive with bees, towers over the presumed path. 

Passing a trout farm and Blackwater Alpacas, where eight fine animals were sunning themselves, we came to the gravel extraction pits.  All this while the noise of heavy traffic on the A120 was in our ears, but nothing prepares you for the experience of walking on the path alongside the road.  Fortunately, this stretch did not last and we were soon through a hedge into quiet fields.

And this is where we were headed: Stisted.  This is an ancient village much developed in the nineteenth century.  Note the ornamental brickwork on the chimneys.

We stopped for lunch on a bench outside the Montefiore Reading Room and my husband was able to sample the beer from the Onley Arms.  Unlike our village, Stisted has no shops, even for basic supplies.  It has only a tea-shop and a pub.

Then we headed home over the fields, including crossing an interminable field of oilseed rape where the crop was as tall as I am.  It was like walking through the bristles of a broom, although, at ground level, the path was perfectly clear.

Saturday was the meeting of the Mid Essex Guild of Spinners and Weavers.  Somehow I find myself in possession of a spinning wheel, without being able to spin.  I am poring over Sue Macniven's You-Tube videos, and have learned a lot already.

This is an absolutely standard Ashford wheel, which means that spare bobbins should be easy to come by.

Finally, a swatch of a four-ply Shetland yarn from sheep grazing on a local nature reserve.  someone at the Guild processes the fleece and sends it off to be spun in Devon.  The result is a lovely cosy sample - lofty is the term, I believe.  I am contemplating a jumper for my husband's birthday in August and this looks just the ticket.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Great Monk's Wood

In a normal year, we would consider walking the field paths or a stretch of the Essex Way and we would be stymied by the sticky mud, the long, wet grass and the occasional downright quagmire.  But not this year.  This is the year of the drought as far as Essex is concerned.  Six weeks without significant rain; a few millimetres in April.  The field paths are bone-dry and those across arable land have fissures two inches wide running along them.  The crops will be early and meagre.  Like the snow in December, it is a situation beyond our control.

My husband and I, not being farmers, have been able to enjoy longer walks this year.  Last week we set out for Greenstead Green, a village with a farm shop and cafe, some four miles distant.  To get there meant traversing Great Monk's Wood, something I have wanted to do for some time.  In fact, stretches of coppiced woodland characterise this part of Essex.  Last week we came across charcoal burning in a clearing.

  Once the whole of Essex was designated as Royal hunting forest.  My husband informs me that when Charles the First was unable to raise taxes as he had suspended parliament, he tried to tax those who had encroached on crown lands.  I wonder what he would think of some of the palatial converted farmhouses here now.  One has a sizable private fishing lake where we actually saw cormorants circling.


This is the progress so far on the Mitred Crosses throw, knit in 4-ply Shetland and scraps of sock yarn.  I am pondering whether to put solid squares as spacers, and, if so, whether to knit them in bright sock yarn or a faded blue Shetland.  Alternatively, I could just knit twenty-five of these squares: there is probably enough cream for that.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Last week to the "Cult of Beauty" exhibition at the V & A.  Maybe it was just me, but there was a lack of something to the whole event.  How many pictures of Janey Morris does one need to see?  As I went round, I was struck bythe indolence of the whole thing.  Endless paintings of women looking very bored and half-asleep.  The Twentieth Century couldn't come soon enough for these girls.  Some  Whistler drawings of quayside warehouses were a positive relief.  And there were a couple of absolutely lovely costume items: a cape and a medieval style velvet dress - which were pure Annabelinda c.1970

"Antiques Roadshow" - I suddenly remembered how awful my last experience of this was.  When you see the queues waiting patiently, you don't realise that they can be there for three hours before being seen.  So what would I have taken?

Many years ago I was given an antique white fan for my birthday, by my first serious boyfriend.  How romantic, you might be thinking, and, indeed, this is what I thought too.  That was until I realised that he expected me to buy him a car radio for his birthday, in return.  I learned a great deal from that relationship, all of it useful in the long run.

Some years later, I bought myself a black lace fan which was sold in this fan box, but is not necessarily by the maker on the box.  You may be able to see the dragonfly outlined in sequins in the second picture.  This one cost fifteen pounds, no strings attached.

We have taken to extending the range of our walks locally.  This is feasible this year because of the dryness of the season. 
It is a disaster for arable farmers, but it does mean that the footpaths are dry, where they can be ankle deep in mud.

  We walked North, towards Great Monk Wood.  We went behind Holfield grange where the map had us cross a meadow.  Here we were surprsed to see the remnant of an ancient tree, almost eight feet in diameter, looking like a small henge.  It will have been an oak like the one in the picture following.  At this size it must have been hundreds of years old.  The dendrochronologists told us that the oak for the historic houses of our village - including our house - came from Monks' Wood.  One can't help wondering whether this tree was already standing in 1635.

Finally, some dogroses seen alongide the path.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Lanthwaite woods.

Our second walk this Easter began in Lanthwaite woods, a lovely, shady patch of mixed woodlands.  From there we walked through lanes and across fields to the foot of Crummock water where there is a pebble beach. 

We happily ate an early lunch here, basking in the sunshine and remembering other visits when it was windy and cold.  It was hazy in the distance, but the views were spectacular.

Round the end of the lake, past some sluices where we saw these elegant dogs chilling out.  Back up through woodland and out on to the road to the car.  We followed this by a trip to the tearooms in Lorton where my husband indulged in ginger cake and cream.

More progress on the Mitred Crosses squares.  I love the way that the cream shetland makes these saturated colours sing.

I am trying not to think how many squares will be needed for a throw which will be a useful size - twenty, perhaps?  All these so far are blues and turquoises but I plan to mix in some other colours to give that scrappy quilt look. 

Tomorrow to the V & A for the Aesthetic Movement exhibition.  Next week, Antiques Roadshow is filming near to us on a Thursday: my day off.  Do I go, and if so, what do I take?