Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Walk in the Woods...

Sunday was another of those lovely October days: bright sunshine, but quite a nip in the air.  We decided on a longer walk which entailed placing a car out at the far end, so that we could walk out through the woods, across country, to get there.

Everywhere the autumn colours were at their best: sharp acid greens and yellows.  Trees were just hanging on to their foliage.

This group lined the other side of the A120.  We had plenty of time to admire it as we waited for a gap in the traffic to be able to cross.  You certainly take your life in your hands each time.  We both remember the time before the by-pass when the through road did just that - ran through our village, with its mediaeval centre.  Of course, the volume of traffic has increased since then, but even then juggernauts would shudder to a halt on the narrow sections.

We headed north, up country lanes and off the beaten track.  In fact, most of the walk was along woodland roads, deep in mud, and shaded by trees.  We had to pick our way through.

We were soon in deeply rural surroundings.  In the woods we were more aware of the movement of deer than of people.   We spotted a small Muntjac and, later, an antlered stag with a small herd on the move.  

Eventually, we emerged at Greenstead Green, where there is farm-shop and cafĂ©.  We sat out in the sunshine for our tea.

 These are all balls of Shetland yarn acquired in my recent haul.  Washed and rewound, they are ready to knit.  I'm thinking of a Fair Isle pullover, with repeating narrow and wide bands.  I'll start with the front, and perhaps make a plain ribbed back. 

And this, it turned out, was not jumper weight, but lace-weight.  There is an ounce here, and it is beautiful yarn.  What will it be used for, I wonder?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Processing Yarn

Last Saturday I went to the meeting of the Weavers', Spinners' and Dyers' Guild where I have been a member for some years.  As sometimes happens, an elderly member had passed away recently and some of her stash was on the Sales Table.  Very revealing this process, as for some bereaved sons and daughters discovering just how much yarn their mother had stored in the house is a real shock.  "Sable" stands for "Stash enhanced beyond life expectancy": for many of us this is not a joke.

In this case, the stash could not have been more orderly: carrier bags of cones of yarn, apparently acquired from Texere.  Some of it must have been for warping on an industrial scale.  My eye was caught by these tightly wound spools of yarn, some with the letters "SH"pencilled on them.  I gathered them and made the customary donation to guild funds.

Knitting a little swatch, then washing it, proved that these were spools of Shetland yarn, oiled for machine knitting in a mill.  Once washed, the yarn bloomed.

Selecting only the tweedy colours, I knitted up a bigger test strip, revealing that a couple were finer or thicker than the norm.  Some were not blended Shetland, but a tweed type with a separate tweedy thread.

I began the process of winding off yarn on to this handy piece of kit, turned for me some years ago by my husband.  This is a niddy-noddy.  Converting the spools into skeins makes it possible to wash the yarn, to remove the oil.

 Before washing, the yarn looks like string and smells like an old engine.

After washing and drying the yarn bulks up, acquiring loft.  The blended colours become visible again.  It's a magical transformation.

Of course, the skein then needs to be wound into a ball again to be ready to use.  It's a labour-intensive process.  I know that electric ball-winders can be bought, but I don't do this often enough to make it worthwhile getting one.

I'm considering all the time how I might use this yarn.  Each skein seems to be about 50gms, so there are useful quantities.  Perhaps a Fair Isle pullover? 

I often think of how part of my patter, when giving a brief history of the wool trade to visitors at Paycocke's House, is about how the clothier did not engage in the processes of yarn production himself; this was all done by out-workers in their own cottages.  Ironically, here I am, all those centuries later, reversing the processes on factory produced yarn.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


A little knitting.  These are for my November shipment to Pine Ridge.  Soon, I can see a window opening, and perhaps the motivation to cast on for something other than Gidday Baby.  Several of the people at my knitting group have knitted it now too, so it is clearly infectious.
On Tuesday, I worked all morning tutoring students.  I've got out of the habit of rising at dawn and tackling the rush hour traffic.  How I did it all those years is beyond me.
Emerging into the lovely autumn day, I persuaded my husband of the need for exercise and fresh air.  Just north of us is the arboretum at Mark's Hall, a really useful amenity.  A little October colour was just what was needed.

The arboretum has lakes, created by damming a stream in the valley.

 Birches shimmering in the sunlight, their tiny leaves catching the light.

 Many of the trees have been chosen specifically because of their foliage at this time of year.  They certainly gladden my heart.


Sunday, October 18, 2015



A rainy Friday, and we set off on a long-planned trip to Ely by train.  The previous evening we had been to see Benedict Cumberbatch in "Hamlet"; a truly gripping, naturalistic performance.  Somehow it felt right to maintain the momentum, instead of snuggling down indoors.

Visually, Ely is a delight, the cathedral surrounded by a park and many ancient buildings, some obviously occupied by the King's School.  We were a little taken aback to hear three uniformed schoolboys conversing in fluent Russian, before we realised that it must be their native language.

My husband took a ticket for the tour of the West Tower, lasting the best part of an hour.  The cathedral is a very ancient building: the other tower collapsed in the 1300s and was replaced by the Octagon, visible in this photo.

Ely, at the time, was an island.  The huge timbers used in the structure were floated here from Bedford.

After exploring the cathedral, I visited  - where else? - the yarn shop.  The address for this was in the Market Square, but it was a shock to see that a block of 60's retail premises filled what might have been an old market space.

We went up stairs in the cathedral to the Stained Glass Museum, which was a delight.  So unusual to be able to examine stained glass close to.

This is a rare example of a peasant figure.


Some of the pieces are from redundant churches and some from secular buildings.

A memorial plaque in the cathedral.  I wonder why this Christian name never caught on?

One strange thing: on the hour, an amplified voice rang out, encouraging all visitors to engage in prayer, or at least a moment's stillness.  We visit cathedrals regularly; this was a first.  It apparently costs £6000 per day to maintain the cathedral at Ely, so we didn't mind paying an entrance fee.  But that is a different matter to being exhorted to pray.

We finished by looking into the Lady Chapel, a large and airy structure, much knocked about in the Reformation.  Once it must have been a  multi-coloured marvel; now, it has the fragility and texture of old lace.

We walked down through the Jubilee Gardens to the river and back to the station.  Everywhere, there are art works picking up the references to eels.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Dedham Vale

With a forecast of cold easterly winds and cloudy skies, we were not hopeful for our second expedition by bicycle.  However, Sunday dawned bright and clear, although there was a chill in the air out of the sun.

This time we headed west out of the station and were soon bowling along towards Dedham, a pretty little town that we know well.  This whole area is known as Constable country.

We, of course, always appreciate a fine church.  This is Stratford St Mary, a village almost obliterated by the A12 running right through it.

The church is covered in flint, and it features lettering in flushwork, all around its base.

We spotted this gargoyle, high above us.

We rode through rolling countryside; everywhere trees just on the turn into autumn colours.

Lunch was taken in the sunlight near this splendid church.  This is Stoke by Nayland, one of the finest Suffolk wool churches.  It stands on the highest land for many miles and totally dominates the landscape.


Another remarkable gargoyle, this time in use as a water spout.  We noticed the brick being used as a facing material mixed in with the flint.  This appears to be Roman brick, although the source for it is not known.  Colchester is not very far away.

As we rode across country, it struck us once more how remarkable our own village is in retaining its services.  On a Sunday in our village there are three or four places to have tea or a snack, not counting the pubs.  Two different food shops are open, along with a hardware store and many nick-nackeries.  In these Suffolk villages, however, only the pubs were open.  Several times we saw houses called "The Old Post Office" or "The Old Bakery", but we were mystified as to where they bought their food.

This is the old Guildhall, just opposite the church.

Eventually we reached Bures, our destination, on the Sudbury branchline.  We sat out in the sunshine
in the garden of the pub, enjoying a cup of tea..  It's the time of year for this shawl, which drew some comment at the demonstration day at Paycocke's on Saturday.


Saturday, October 10, 2015


Aha! A post without pictures - the camera battery was exhausted. 

First, Nancy in Alaska asks how many people would you meet on a Lake District walk?  Well now, if you were to go to Keswick and head out to Cat Bells, you could easily find yourself queuing to go up some of the ascents on the walk.  We do not like that kind of walking.  But go round the back of Skiddaw, even on a fine Sunday such as the one we had, and you might see up to twenty walkers in the course of the day, but spread out over a huge landscape.  Mid-week, in the obscurer parts of the fells, you can walk for hours without seeing anyone at all.

While we were in our rented cottage my Kindle ran out of power.  I was not surprised to find a book by Arthur Ransome on the shelves.  I must have read "Swallows and Amazons" longer ago than I care to remember.  This one was "Secret Water", which is not set in Cumbria but down much nearer to us.  I read it with the sort of immersive enjoyment which I recall so well from my childhood.  Next, I tried "We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea."  What a thrilling yarn!  I have never had the slightest interest in sailing, but the narrative simply carries you along.  Wonderful! 

So, last Sunday, we booked ourselves train tickets for Manningtree, loaded the trusty bicycles on the train and set off for the Shotley Peninsula. In the books, "Daddy" has been appointed to some sort of role at Shotley, where there was a naval training school. It was the sort of day when acorns and conkers crunch underfoot.  We rode through rolling countryside, noting how ribbon development had spread, and also how fast people drive on minor roads.  Soon we reached the Royal Hospital school, a rather grand establishment. 

Glimpses of sparkling water could be seen from time to time.  We passed a series of fine old houses on our way down to Shotley Gate, the end of the peninsula.  Suddenly, the container port of Harwich came into view on the right, with the cranes of Felixstowe over to the left.  We sat right down by the water's edge to eat our sandwiches.  My husband did a spot of  bird watching along the shore.

We rode back inland, taking a detour to Pin Mill, which was thronged with people enjoying pub lunches.  There were the boat yards and the yacht moorings mentioned in the books. On the way back my husband spotted something on the road.  It was a slow worm, something neither of us have seen since childhood.  He prodded it to shift it off the road, just in time before the next vehicle came through.

We cycled over Alton Water, but by now time was pressing so we took to the main road for the final stretch.   Sadly, we were five minutes from the station when we saw the train pull in.  No matter: we still had some spare supplies.  Ransome is always keen to detail what his campers ate for each meal.  I don't actually like milk chocolate, but he makes fruit and nut sound like ideal snack food.  Twenty minutes on the next train and we were back on home turf, feeling that we had explored new territory.

This week it is Manningtree to Bures, following the valley of the Stour up past Dedham and Nayland.  We'll see...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Yes, I know that this sounds like a programme featuring Mary Berry, but, in fact, it is a mountain at the back o' Skiddaw.

After we left Ambleside we headed north for a brief visit to our own base in  the north of Cumbria. The weather cleared for us and we drove up beyond Bassenthwaite, parking at Peter House Farm.  We followed the little road leading to Skiddaw House, up past Dash Falls.  Many other walkers were on the move that day.

Bakestall has a face known as Dead Crags, which loomed above us as we walked.

Dash Falls drops into its precipitous gorge.

From the turning from the road up on to the fell it is two-thirds of a mile to the summit of Bakestall, with 900 feet of ascent in that distance - so it is kind of steep.  Half way up this slope we could see sheep on the move.  This is sometimes a bad sign, as it can mean that a walker's dog is on the loose.

Soon, however, we saw the farmer.  He was on a quad bike coming down that slope - I guess he does it often enough to be safe.  But it did not look safe to us.

From the top of Bakestall the views are extensive - right out to the Solway and across to the Scotch Hills.

Over to Blencathra - from the top of which many, many hang-gliders were enjoying the thermals.

It was a memorable walk.

Few things are more evocative of the phrase "Winter Is Coming" than the sight of skeins of geese on the move.  Three times we heard that honking sound, looked up and saw large numbers moving south to warmer wetlands.  The next day, we too drove south.