More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Monday, 25 August 2014

A walk on the wildside at Castle Howard

I've been doing a lot of work on the computer recently, remodelling and updating my website. Hours just seem to disappear, staring into a black hole where I lose track of time and space. The past couple of years have been crazily busy and consequently, as the website is the least enjoyable part of my work, it was the first thing to be sidelined. So with the start of a new knitting year looming in the autumn, I suddenly felt  the need to give it a facelift, a spring clean to get rid of some old wood and generally rationalise it - if only I could do that with my life too!

All good for the website, not so good for my sciatica, which started to play up again - the more I lose myself in the computer, the more screwed up my back becomes. I tend to be an obsessive type, always keen to get the job done, so I find it hard to take breaks, walk around or even make a cup of tea when I'm working.
You can just see the farmhouse in the distance
So... yesterday I was feeling particularly creeky and cranky, so when my friend Kate suggested we come for lunch and a walk on the Castle Howard estate, I seized the opportunity to get outside and stretch my aching limbs. Computers tend to make us focus on the small things in life, whereas walking and doing more expansive things help to bring the big picture into focus - I felt I really needed a dose of the big picture!
The unmade track to the house
P and I set off in our very old Passat, hoping the phantom knocking that it's been doing recently wouldn't return. A visit to the garage last week found nothing wrong, as it had stopped making the noise just before it arrived - this is one very cussed car! However, this time it manages to get us there and back without mishap - I can only surmise that as it was a Bank Holiday weekend, maybe even the gremlins had gone to the seaside?
Acer in Ray Wood
The weather looked a bit iffy, so on arrival we immediately set off for Ray Wood , where things were already starting to feel pleasantly autumnal. The woods were damp so the earthy end-of-summer aroma hung heavy in the air. I love the blowsy floriforousness of the camellias, rhodos, azaleas and magnolias in spring and high summer, but at this time of year there's something very lovely about the stillness and silence of a woodland preparing itself for the winter.
Beautiful silk-like bark

It was good to feel the warm sunshine when we emerged from the wood. We headed towards the lake passing a wonderful old tree with twisted and gnarled branches that perfectly framed a statue beyond.
Branches of gnarled tree touching the ground
View of statue through the branches

Then on around the lake, where this lovely old tree spreads its silver branches, sparkling like diamonds in the sunshine - with a double dose in its reflection on the water.
Sleeping ducks
It was a lazy day for the ducks too, they didn't move as I walked amongst them taking photos.
The Venetian Bridge
Capability Brown knew what he was doing when he designed the landscape here, the vistas are stunning. There's a fabulous sense of drama when you round a corner and suddenly see views like the Venetian Bridge and the Mausoleum.
The mausoleum
Some of you may remember Brideshead Revisited (shot at Castle Howard) and the beautiful shot of the horse-drawn hearse approaching the mausoleum?
Castle Howard
As we headed back, I turned around and caught sight of this dazzling view of the big house - very dramatic with the rainclouds threatening.
Timber monster

Love the swirling trunk
Wonderful habitat for wildlife
Passing these old trees, which probably came down in the great storm of October 1987, we reminisced about the good times many kids must have had playing in and on them over the years.
Dog roses and hips in the hedgerow
Waterlilies were conspicuous by their absence on the majestic lakes, but when we got back they were still happily blooming in Kate's little pond.  Maybe there are a few more weeks of summer left?
A spritzer in the conservatory beneath the swelling grapes hit the spot on our return...
Add caption
... contemplating the view over to the Temple of the Four Winds.
Temple of the Four Winds
Still more webwork to be done, but for now, life is good!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Devil's Arrows

Funny how one thing leads to another...
As the evenings start to draw in, it occurred to us that the chimney would need sweeping in preparation for the autumn. When there's a chill in the air, there's nothing like a glass of wine in front of a blazing log fire to chase away the chills on an evening. So the sweep was duly summoned, and as our attention was firmly focused on the fireplace, the what if  syndrome started to kick in More specifically, the idea of getting a woodburning stove.
Largest stone at 22.5 feet
P and I are rarely on the same wavelength when it comes to home improvements. In fact, when I occasionally feel moved to initiate some DIY, there's often a deep groan from him first of all, followed by a thousand and one reasons why it's not a good idea. However, on this occasion, the more we talked about a stove, the more it seemed to both of us that it was the best idea ever!  Too good to be true, I thought, better strike while the iron's hot and get some movement on this. So we agreed to splash out on the stove, persuading ourselves even more by the fact that it seemed a much more efficient and ecological option.

Well, so far so good. However, as we mulled everything over - the installation, size of the stove etc, it led us on to the subject of the floor. Would we want it covered by the old and worn carpet, or should we bite the bullet and go for a new floor as well? A no-brainer, of course the carpet had to go. This would have been OK had the boards beneath been good enough for sanding, but a few years ago when we were underpinned, half the floor was taken up to replace boards taken out of another room. These were subsequently replaced by cheap new ones which never matched and were a good reason for covering it with carpet. I always intended to do something about the floor eventually, but the time was never right until it seems...NOW! Hallelujah, this was too good to be true, we were in complete agreement that we should lay a solid wood floor!
Next one at 22 feet
So we found ourselves driving off to a timber yard in Boroughbridge this morning to look at the many different options. By now you may be wondering where this is all leading, and I can now tell you it's a preamble to what we saw on the way. As we were approaching the site, we were admiring the pretty rolling countryside surrounding it, when suddenly I saw two enormous standing stones - the biggest I've ever seen. Although I've lived in Yorkshire for many years I'd never before seen or even heard of these stones and couldn't believe my eyes. So out came the camera and pics duly taken so that when we got back I could do some digging to find out more about them.
The two we saw in the lansdcape by the woodyard.
I'll have to go back and find the third!

I discovered there are three stones, 18,  22 and 22.5 feet high respectively, the tallest being higher than any at Stonehenge. They've had many names: The Devil's Bolts, Three Greyhounds and The Three Sisters, to name a few. Nowadays though they're generally known as The Devil's Arrows and there's an interesting story as to how they got the name. At the end of the seventeenth century, Old Nick was said to be annoyed by a perceived slight from the people of Aldborough (a village closeby), so he threw the stones at the village from the top of How Hill, which is south of Fountains Abbey. However, his aim or his strength must have been underpar that day and the so-called arrows fell short by about a mile and they ended up in Boroughbridge. More pics and info on the stones here.

So the moral of this story is think carefully before you get your chimney swept, you never know how much it might cost or where it might lead you!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

In Wales with the girls!

First of all a big happy birthday to Louis - 2 today! 
Just returned from a delightful stay in our house in Wales with Isabella (who's seven) and Ava (five). They hadn't visited for two years, so we were really looking forward to reintroducing them to life in the country. Of course they brought along all the usual electronic paraphernalia which plays a big part in the lives of today's kids, but I'm pleased to say they were so engrossed in other things that they never came out of the bag - despite the fact that we don't even have a TV!

Izzi with a completed loom band bracelet in the den
I'd forgotten how much you can get done when you get up at 7.30am, which is at least an hour before my preferred rising. By nine o'clock we'd made veggie jellies and these four little cakes were out of the oven: Isabella's two apple cakes and Ava's chocolate twirl cake and jam cake.
While we were baking,  P was busy making a den in the barn garden. Felix was also staying - great as we hadn't seen him since his return from a trip to South America for the World Cup. While the girls were busy making loom band bracelets in the den, we sat outside with coffee in the sun. The garden was humming with insects - a relief, I was beginning to think the butterflies had given up this year as we've seen very few. 
A little bit of sun brings all the butterflies out -
they just love verbena bonariensis
Ava doing some training for future Glasto appearances :)
Both girls are keen on the guitar and Isabella was keen to learn something new so I started to teach her Elizabeth Cotten's Spanish Flandang, a good starter tune in open G. Before too long she'd remembered it all  - just a little more practice on the two-finger chord and she'll be playing it like a pro!

Izzi practising Spanish Flandang
Next up in the afternoon P had booked a trip on a boat to see the dolphins. We broke the journey in Aberaeron, where we had a picnic lunch, sheltering from the wind in a beachside hut. It seemed very choppy out to sea with white horses and we even wondered whether our trip might be cancelled.
We lived in the garden flat of the second house from the right
When our own kids were small we spent a happy year living in Aberaeron, so it was lovely regaling the girls with stories about our time there.

Inside the shelter
We certainly needed some solid food to stave off the cold during lunch. It was interesting to watch the world go by - well actually, watch the dogs go by - sort of like live television with various people walking their different types of dogs.  
Uncle Filo perched precariously on the low beach wall
It felt so cold that I gave my fleece to the girls - one arm each!
By the time we got to Newquay, the gods were smiling on us, the sun was out and the weather calm - amazing what a difference half an hour and ten miles makes. Why did we ever worry?
Waiting for our boat
Little quay where we got on the boat
On the boat
As the sea was still a bit choppy, the captain decided we should stay in the bay where it's always calmer, even though there are usually more dolphins on the other side of the headland. So sadly, although we were out on the water for 90 minutes, no dolphins were seen, but the girls seemed perfectly happy and even excited when they got the chance to hold a lobster and stroke a prawn! 

Back on terra firma, it was time for chips and ice-cream on the quayside, while we got our landlegs back.
After such a full day, next morning we thought it best to stay at home and chill out. So it was cozzies on and a walk down the lane for a paddle in the stream.

We played ducks and drakes, bouncing the round flat stones along the water as many times as possible.

Arlo came too
Arlo leading the way back home
Later, time for a nature ramble up to Toej and Wyck's home, where the girls were entertained by Wyck's friendly wild birds. Robins, finches, blue and great tits flew onto his hand to eat the sunflower seeds he offered. 
After a quick lesson with several attempts at keeping her hand really still, Ava succeeded in getting the bird!
I'm always so envious of Toej and Wyck's beautiful mophead hydrangeas - they're the most fabulous blue and I must remember to get a cutting.

I love late summer when the hydrangeas are in full swing
 - these are lace-caps from our garden
We knew the weather was going to break so next day we'd arranged to visit King Arthur's Labyrinth, a fun experience set in an old disused slate mine. Guided by a hooded boatman through a labyrinth of massive caves, we travelled back to a time of magic, myth, dragons, giants and King Arthur himself! It was very damp and chilly down there to say the least, so when we eventually emerged we certainly needed a couple of dragons to cuddle up with.
Welsh dragons - Dylan and Dilys 
After lunch there were  several craft workshops going on -  candle-making, chocolate bar making, pyrography and more, but Isabella and Ava chose pottery painting. First of all they selected what they wanted to paint - Ava chose a little bird and Isabella an owl...

They took a lot of care with the painting and one of the things they specially liked about it all was the names of the colours of the glazes - Jumping Jenny, Hint of Mint, Blazing Saddles, Orange Crush etc etc.
On the way back we stopped at Ian Snow in Machynlleth. Always a favourite shop for visitors as it's colourful and quirky and has lots of unusual treats for both young and old. The girls enjoyed twirling their parasols outside the shop alongside this rickshaw and found lots of little things inside to spend their pocket money on.
Life in the country with no neighbours gives you a bit more licence to make a noise, so on our last night the speakers were out on the terrace, the chimonea was lit and we all had supper outside.
Sky lanterns have come in for a lot of adverse publicity recently, about how they can potentially harm both wildlife and livestock.  I'd decided not to buy any more, even tho the ones we were buying were said to be safe - eco-friendly with no wires.  However, when we found we still had an open packet, I'm afraid I weakened in my resolve and the girls were treated to a grand finale of a succession of three sky lanterns. I was relieved to see them float west, out towards to sea!

On the morning we were leaving we asked the girls to write something in the house diary. It had been a whirlwind few days, and we hoped the girls had enjoyed their stay. Their lovely comments made all our efforts worthwhile - come back soon you two!