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.

Friday, May 29, 2015


So, to Ullswater, for a week with friends in a cottage near Pooley Bridge.  Our friends had one objective: climbing the last of their 214 Wainwright tops.  This enterprise has taken many years; children aged five or six have done them all, and the challenge now has shifted to doing them all in as short a time as possible.  But for ordinary mortals, who live hundreds of miles from Cumbria, and one of whom is now seventy-five, completing this challenge is a serious achievement.

From this perspective, Pooley Bridge looks like the classic Lakeland village, and it does have some very good tea-shops - but also some quite tacky souvenir shops.

The weather in prospect for the week suggested dark clouds every day, with rain, hail, lightning and sunny intervals all possible.  In fact, it was both very windy and very cold, and we certainly endured pelting hailstones out on the hill, but were spared that sort of persistent drenching rain which makes walking very unpleasant.

After we had walked ourselves in on Heughscar Hill, we went up onto Gowbarrow Fell, passing Aira Force waterfall on the way there and back.  This is a stupendous series of falls all down a steep ravine, and with an excellent National Trust tearoom at its foot.

Next, we tackled Sheffield Pike and Glenridding Dodd.  We passed the little hamlet of Seldom Seen, probably more frequently seen nowadays as a good path goes right past it.

Going up was stiffish, but nothing to coming down, which was the sort of steep which is called scrambling.

On the Thursday, we joined our friends on their triumphal ascent of their final two tops, beginning with a boat trip from Pooley Bridge to Howtown, and a very stiff ascent on to the ridge leading to Bonscale Pike, and then on to Arthur's Pike - their last of all.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd

This week, to the new release at my local Cineworld.  How could anything equal that 70s version with Julie Christie dressed in Laura Ashley, Terence Stamp and his blue eyes, Peter Finch looking suitably deranged as Boldwood, and Alan Bates as the dependable Farmer Oak?  I saw Terence Stamp recently in one of those films made for the older generation - did they have those in the 70s? - and how time has wrought its revenges.

However - this version has Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, and she has had good reviews.  But she looks at once too young and too old for the part, in the sense that she has that sort of gamine quality which Hardy would not have regarded as beauty.  She speaks throughout in an educated modern accent without a trace of Dorset.  It is said that the film had dialect coaches but they did not seem to have influenced Bathsheba.

Michael Sheen is very good as Boldwood, although every now and then there is more than a hint of Tony Blair about him - he played Blair in "The Queen".  Tom Sturridge looks like a cad - if a black moustache and incipient stubble will do this for a man.  What he does not look like is irresistible, and the whole Fanny Robin story is underplayed, so that the tragedy of it is curiously absent.

Much more successful is Matthias Schoenaerts as Oak.  Hardy's descriptions of Farmer Oak would not make him a modern romantic lead but Schoenaerts has a huge physical presence and the ability to look good in layers of knitwear.  Irresistible. 

So to the important bit - the costumes.  It was wonderful to see Bathsheba wearing dresses with Dorset buttons, their wheel patterns clearly visible.  Would she ever have worn breeches and a leather jacket as in the opening scene?  Surely not. But the striped silk and fancy hats worn during her infatuation with Troy were very telling.

The whole thing was filmed on location in Dorset  and Somerset.  What this must have cost, goodness only knows, but there are some wonderfully lush long shots of verdant countryside.  Less convincing were the harvesting scenes.  Perhaps it is standard now to use CGI in battle scenes to fill up the background, as they seem to have done with the wheat harvest here. Obviously, many manual labourers were used where now one huge combine would do it all.  But surely not that many.  In the scene about a hundred reapers seem to be spread across the whole, extremely messy field, at the front of which Oak is manfully scything away.   I don't know exactly how it was done historically, but I'm sure that it wasn't like that.  Oak needs to turn around and organise his workforce.

So - yes, do go and see it if you get the chance. At the very least it has taken me back to reread the book.

You may be thinking that this is a case of deja vu.  In fact, this is a new little cardigan, differing from the last one in being knitted from the bottom up.  The first one, from the Baby Sophisticate pattern, uses a top-down raglan construction, which means knitting the sleeves on dpns.  Supposing one reversed it and knitted the sleeves flat before joining them in - how would this work?  Well, it turned out just fine, except that I tried making it a little bigger at the same time and it is now too big for the new-born range.  It will have to go to the other branch of the charity.  No matter.

And yet another Gidday Baby, this one using a pattern from my new purchase; "Charted Celtic Patterns" by Co Spinhoven, of which more later.