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?

Monday, September 22, 2014

La France Profonde

Those of you who enjoy reading about expeditions to obscure corners are in for a treat this time.  It may seem as if we have just returned from Scotland, but in fact several weeks of regular life passed without incident before we set off to the Franche-Comte and the Jura Mountains.  This is an area in Eastern France, south of Alsace, and quite close to the Swiss border.  It's one of those regions which has changed hands many times in the past.  We were there for a cycling holiday, starting in Besancon.

The whole area is made spectacular by towering limestone escarpments, above loops of the River Doubs, and then the River Loue.  We knew that the cycling would be challenging for us, but we had no idea what a five kilometre climb would be like in reality. ( the answer is: a three kilometre walk.)  Some of the descents were even more memorable: hairpin bends carved through cliffs, down into the river valleys.

After ten days, cycling alternate days, we have returned, our thigh muscles more clearly defined, and marked by some quite extraordinary bruises.   I now have a cyclist's tan: brown forearms and white hands where my gloves were.  But we were also very fortunate in the weather, with no rain for the entire ten days apart from overnight and the last day.  Cycling through rain would have been no fun at all.

Roman arch in Besancon

We started at Besancon, where we had booked an extra day for acclimatisation purposes. The old part of town is contained in a loop of the River Doubs, a loop which goes round a  high cliff at the top of which is the Citadel.  This dramatic fortification, designed by Vauban, has a fascinating history, in its origins and during World War Two.

 Now it houses a number of exhibitions, as well as quite an extensive Zoo.  This delightful bird is a kia, described as friendly and sociable.  It's a kind of parrot and it really enjoys interacting with people - either that or it was humouring us as it used its beak to play football with a nut under the glass of its cage. 

Earlier in the day we had visited the Museum of Time - Besancon was a centre for watch-making.  Alongside the many time-pieces on display were some wonderful illuminated mauscripts from the fifteenth century.

We finished our day's sight-seeing with a circular boat-trip, passing through the tunnel under the Citadel rock.  We would next see this tunnel at the end of our trip, when we cycled through it back into town.

Mary - In the Comments you ask about the "pattern" for Windfalls.  Of course, I am combining a number of different charts.  Log into Ravelry, and then search for Stranded Celtic.  There are the patterns for the Celtic Knotwork hat by Joannie Newsome, the Celtic Fair Isle Beret by Patons, and the Celtic Cowl by Theresa.  Each has a chart which I used pretty much as it stands.  Hope this helps.


Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Way Home

Door to door, the AA route finder tells us, it takes about two hours from Kirkcudbright to our base in Maryport, Cumbria. But of course meandering around the coast took us much longer.  On the way we met some interesting characters.

First stop was the ruin of Dundrennan Abbey, where Mary, Queen of Scots is thought to have spent her last night on Scottish soil.   This has all the standard features of a Cistercian abbey, established in 1142.  What made our visit special was the custodian, a man who really loves his job. 

These two memorial stones would have been interesting to us, but we would not have noticed details such as the dagger in the abbot's chest here.

 Beneath his feet is an enemy, his guts spilling out.  We were advised to note that even he has a chance of redemption - he is clinging on to the abbot's foot.

After a stop at Rockwell, which boasts a sheltered beach, we drove on to Ruthwell.  And here we were astonished.  We knew that there was an Anglo-Saxon cross here, but we had no idea how impressive this would turn out to be.  Dating from the early eighth century, this cross has been reassembled from broken fragments in the churchyard.

It stands nine foot high, so high that a pit has been excavated in the church in order to accommodate it.

This is very fine work, quite unlike the Northumbrian crosses of Whithorn.  In the nineteenth century someone deciphered the runic inscription around the figures.  It is an extract from "The Dream of the Rood"  - "Rood" meaning "cross", a text which was on my university English course.

Down the sides are these vine scrolls with birds and beasts, the carving particularly crisp.  Perhaps those years protected from the weather also reduced the weathering of the carving.

So then, we expected the Savings Bank Museum to be an anti-climax - the name itself is underwhelming.  However, here we found a genuine enthusiast who explained the role played by the Reverend Henry Duncan in restoring the Ruthwell Cross, as well as in encouraging his parishioners to put aside small sums each week.  This cash was placed in a three lock box and taken to Dumfries, to be invested in an actual bank, by the trustrees, each of whom held a key.  Hence the Trustee Savings Bank, which is what this small scheme evolved into.  Duncan was a polymath, interesting hinself in dinosaur footprints unearthed in the local quarry, setting up a newspaper, bringing in corn to aid the poor and generally acting for the public good.  What would he have made of the recent goings-on in banking, I wonder?


Saturday, September 06, 2014


How about this?  I'm calling this new wip "Windfalls", as it's that time of year in our garden, with apples and pears spilling over.  But also the patterns here drop into your lap for free, from the great bounty that is Ravelry.

Basically, I am following the construction of the Summer Isles waistcoat which is proving to be a good fit.  The yarn here is a hand-dyed variegated wool called Pure Alchemy, from a company called Yarnsmith.  I bought it originally for a Swallowtail shawl, thinking it would be a good accent colour.  However, it is more than a bit loud as it stands.  The grey yarn - Charcoal on the label - had proved to be the wrong colour on an earlier project, but it is just the ticket here, where it reads as a dull olive against the orange and mutes it down.

So then, the stranded patterns.  After our visit to Whithorn my mind was running on celtic knotwork, which has meant lots of cabling before now. I do have Alice Starmore's wonderful book, but her charts are intended for many different yarns and would need some work to decipher the underlying pattern. But an advanced search on Ravelry -  Patterns Celtic stranded - threw up over a hundred colourwork options.  Adding the word "free" narrowed it to about fifteen.    Amazing.  One can nip up to the office in the back bedroom, set up this search, print off the charts and be knitting it up within minutes.  I never fail to be surprised and grateful for this resource.

The variegated orange/green falls randomly along this Celtic braid, but gives an almost 3D effect from a distance - certainly adds depth to the pattern.

This is again a pattern free to download, this time from  Patons - they seem to hve offered a kit of the yarns for a hat along with it.  This is a serious challenge to knit, as it's not symmetrical.  Using a ruler laid across it to keep track of the row certainly helped.

A Celtic Spiral design.  My fear was that it might fall over the bust - as my husband said, shades of Boudicca's breastplate.  In fact, it is moving up towards the shoulder.

This has been a surprisingly quick knit so far.  The ribbed back is in progress.  And I have some mid-blue Jaeger Matchmaker beckoning ....


Thursday, September 04, 2014


I was really pleased to hear from you, Julie and Mary Lou.  We enjoy exploring new areas, and they are almost always nooks and corners unlikely to feature on whistle stop tours where you are visiting the major sights of the country. We find our pleasure where we can.

We spent three nights in Kirkcudbright, surprised to find that there was lots to do here.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it gained a reputation as an artists' colony, a legacy which contributes to a great deal of civic pride. It carries its head pretty high.

Right in the centre of the town is a harbour on a tidal river.  Fishing vessels off-load here, and it's very much a working port still.

Also right in the centre is this huge ruined fortified town-house: McClellan's Castle.

A little shopping: the kind of shop where tea-aprons are on sale without any hint of irony, or the dreaded word "vintage".  These are working garments.  We topped up on socks for my husband from their wide range.  Had we wanted roomy underwear in sensible fabrics this would have been the place.

On then to the Stewartry - even now I am not clear what that means, but it is now a kind of local museum.  Outside were some of the cup and ring marked stones which abound in the area, evidence of ancient settlement.  Inside, one item which took my eye was a kind of silver stirrup designed to be hung from a belt, to hold a ball of wool as it was being knitted. 
Does this suggest that the knitter would have been multi-tasking, or was it more likely about keeping the drawing-room tidy?

The big exhibition on while we were there was of the work of the Glasgow Girls, and a fairly eclectic group of work it was too, spanning a period of about fifty years.

The afternoon saw us looking around the house of E. A. Hornell, whose very busy pictures of pretty young girls set against blizzards of blossom could hardly be less palatable to the modern eye.  The garden, though, was a different matter: beautiful and varied spaces.