Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Aran Ridge Walk in Wales. . .

Sometimes on a walk the most unexpected things happen.  You get off the coach, take a look at where you are going, sigh, and think that's a lot of climbing only to be rewarded with your head in the clouds.  But you are prepared to slog on because it's an A walk and you want to improve your fitness. 

And then it turns out to be one of the best walks you've ever done!

We left the coach about a five minute drive out of Bala, which is in the southeastern part of Snowdonia National Park.  The ascent starts out quite gradual on a very good path and the hilly surroundings soon start to come in view.

Behind us is Bala Lake or Llyn Tegid, the largest natural lake in Wales.

The path ahead. . .but hey it's starting to clear up.

This is about two-thirds up and the views are looking pretty good.  It was enormously windy up here but lucky for us, not a spot of rain and the mist came and went fast enough to allow us fairly good visibility.

There are three summits on this ridge walk and I confess I can't remember from which one I took the following photos - they all follow on from each other; you climb one, descend a bit, then up to the next one.  I think the order we climbed them was: Aran Benillyn, Erwy Ddafad ddu and Aran Fawddwy  (don't ask me how to pronounce them).  In total, we climbed just over 3400 feet and the views in every direction were stunning.

And then as we rounded this corner, you could get a great glimpse of another ridge ahead (I love ridge walking!) and the views got even better!

This is the perfect type of ridge walk - broad and grassy with the hills falling away from you in all directions.  It really was stunning.

But also with reminders on how dangerous it can be up here in bad weather.  This memorial is in memory of Michael Aspain, a volunteer with the Mountain Rescue team who was struck by lightning and died while on duty.

It's a beautiful spot for a memorial now, but you could image how treacherous it could be in a fierce storm.

And how steep if someone accidentally veered off the main path, although the sheep don't seem to have any trouble.

Once we went round the curve onto the second ridge, we could look back with pride at all the summits we had just climbed.

And then there was the descent through a gorgeous valley and on into the village of Dinas Mawddwy, our final destination after a truly glorious walk.

My favourite walk so far in the UK has to have been the Newlands Horseshoe in the Lake District which we did on a perfectly sunny day while on holiday two years ago.  If it had been just a bit warmer and a little less windy, this would definitely have been a contender. Such a fantastic day out. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

All Green Thumbs Ahead . . .

It's Chelsea Flower Week in the U.K. and the BBC is devoting hours and hours to covering this prestigious flower show.   You can't help but be inspired and so this weekend it was a trip to the garden centre.

I am very much a novice gardener.  I look at the labels of the plants and flowers that I'm drawn to and if they work with containers or carry descriptions such as "hardy", I'll give them a go.  

Each year, I add to our container garden in the front yard.  This year a bright pink azalea joined the group along with a patio rose which is supposed to flower in late summer.  If it does, it'll be a flaming orange!

In the back yard the Liverpud exerted himself to pull out a huge bush that was completely taking over this space.  Now we have some room for planting and I've sown a packet of wildflower seeds in the front.  Fingers crossed!

This bit is still a work in progress; I'm hoping to grow some herbs in pots in the wooden box and I also bought some spring onion seeds.  I'm hoping that if I raise the box above the patio, floor my herb garden will be safer from slugs. I'm also hoping the bamboo and grasses that I bought will grow to hide the legs (an old IKEA desk).  We also bought a willow trellis which we'll attach to the fence but haven't yet decided what will eventually climb up it.

I am under no illusions that creating the ideal garden is the work of a weekend; I know it takes years and years of keeping hard at it.  I barely spent any time last summer in the back yard because it was so overgrown and untidy but it really is a nice space and I'm determined to make the most of it over the next few months.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hap and a Bit. . .

Here's my possibly finished Hap Cardigan, designed by Emily Williams and knitted as part of Knit British's Hap-a-long.  I say "possibly" because I may end up adding 3/4 sleeves to it.  It's the perfect summer cardi to throw over a t-shirt when the sun goes behind a cloud, but in that case, my arms get chilled too.  Unfortunately, I used Blackers 4ply alpaca and I can't see any more available on their website. I will be going to Woolfest next month, so hopefully I can ask them if they have any more. I'll keep it as is for now.

I used all British wool and it's really cozy.  I added twelve rows to the pattern and to mimic some of the lovely hap shawls being created in the KAL, I decided to just stripe a border at the bottom, using some happy colours from my stash.   I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

When I spread it open, you can really see the hap construction.  (You can also see that I totally messed up the lace pattern at one point so that the columns are one stitch off.  This only happened at the back though and it's not too noticeable when I'm not stretching it.)  This also counts as my third garment for my 12 sweaters in 12 months challenge this year.  I know, I'm way behind, but I have a few WIPs in the pipeline that should catch me up.

I've loved hap knitting so much and there's been such a lively group on ravelry, so I've started another project for the KAL.  This is Hap for Harriet by Kate Davies and I'm using Blacker Blue-faced Leicester lace weight.  It's a lovely pattern and easy to memorize making it the perfect portable project.

I also got a little carried away at the Black Sheep annual sale and bought quite a bit of discontinued Rowan Summer Tweed.  I've started Humbug by Carol Meldrum which should be a funky summer jumper.  The yarn is knitting up beautifully - it's 70% silk, 30% cotton.

And I've just finished Hexagon #5 in the Rowan CAL in which I learned the popcorn stitch.  My hexes are a bit wonky but I'm hoping they will even out with blocking. It was a very pretty stitch to crochet; I could see myself doing a whole blanket some day in this motif.

I can't wait to seam all these together!

Monday, May 11, 2015

More Moors. . .

I never get tired of walking on the Yorkshire moors.  I'm also really committed this year to improving my overall walking fitness.  Our ramblers group offers three types of walks on each outing; the C which is usually 6-8 miles with limited ascent; the B which runs from 9-11 miles with anywhere from 1,000-2,000 feet of ascent depending on the area; and the A which can easily be over 15 miles and 3,000 plus feet of ascent.

I normally go on B walks but if the area is relatively flat (as in Yorkshire) and the weather is good, I have often tackled an A.  This walk started from Saltaire which is one of my favourite places in the world so I was sorely tempted to do the C as it would allow me time at the end to have a wander through Salts Mills.

But all the experienced A walkers tell me that the only way to improve is to get that mileage under your feet, so with one longing glance back at the Mill and the Arts and Crafts fair that was on in the town hall, I shuffled over from the C group and joined the As who were already on the move (the pace is much faster on A walks).

I did not regret it.

This was a 15 mile circular hike going up to Shipley Glen from Saltaire and then through Hawksworth Moor and Burley Moor up to Ilkley Crags, and back again through Ilkley Moor and Bingley Moor.  There are several ancient circles on these moors with intriguing names.

This may just look like a pile of stones but these are actually the remains of the Great Skirtful of Stones, thought to be a tomb from the Bronze Age and also known as the Great Apronful of Stones which suddenly imbues it with an imaginative aura, even though sadly it hasn't been well preserved. 

I love the miles and miles of open moorland, that is nevertheless full of colour and texture and the heather isn't even in bloom yet.

These are some of the Twelve Apostles - a stone circle also dating back from the Bronze Age.  I would have taken a photo of all twelve except on the other side was another hiking group having their lunch.

Some more modern stone structures that I'm eternally grateful for are the paving stones that have been put down to allow walkers to cross these moors safely by avoiding all the bogs.

The furthest point of our walk was coming down off Ilkley Crags.  The town is just to the right but hidden in the mist.

Though when we'd reached the bottom, the sun broke out.  These are the crags looking back.

It was uphill once again and onto Ilkley Moor this time, just gorgeous in the sunlight.

From the moor you can look towards Wharfdale in the direction of the Bolton Abbey walk we did just a few weeks ago.

These stones are known as the Thimble Stones.  I wonder if they dropped from the apron of the same ancient goddess who scattered the earlier stones.  More likely remnants from the Ice Age.

Somewhere on these moors are also the Puddle Stones but we didn't pass by them.  Plenty of puddles though - again, you can see how valuable the paving stones are!

I was tired after this walk, but exhilarated too. Sore muscles and fresh air and good company is always a great way to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Another Reason to Visit Formby. . .

If you turn left when you leave the train station at Formby, you'll quickly see signs into the town centre. Head that way for The Good Wool Shop.

But if you turn right out of the station and follow the road for half a mile, you'll come to a path that leads through a forest.

And if you are really lucky, you'll see some red squirrels in this forest, which is part of a National Trust Reserve (I didn't alas).

And if you continue on the same path, you'll come out to a clearing and see some very different types of hills ahead.

These are the famous sand dunes of Formby and walking through them towards the sea is quite the workout!

But you soon get to the beach and more compact sand which stretches for miles in either direction.  On this day, rain was threatening and it was quite chilly so I didn't stay long.

This area is linked with Crosby to the south and Southport to the north via the Sefton Coastal Path.   I've walked bits of it up to Southport in the past, but the next time I'm in Formby, I'll head south (after a quick stop in the wool shop of course!).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Celebrating Local Yarn Shop Day. . .

Saturday was Yarn Shop Day in the UK, an opportunity to get out and support independent yarn shops around the country.

Liverpool is sadly lacking a good indie yarn shop but fortunately there are several in the outlying suburbs and easy to get to.  Along with my knitting buddies, I managed to get out and visit two.

I only heard about The Good Wool Shop in Formby because they were participating in this campaign; they've only been open since March.

The shop is part of a bigger retail store called Derbyshires that incorporates a gift shop and a lovely tea room in the back.  It seems like a good business model to me whereby rents and utilities can be shared.  Though the wool shop only occupies a small part of the store, I was really impressed with the stock they carried. There's a good selection of needles, supplies and other haberdashery items, and the yarn is a combination of some of the bigger brands - Rowan, Patons, Wendy (including Ramsdale which is 100% British wool from Yorkshire and very reasonably priced) - with some indie yarn, in particular Blacker Yarns which I'm a huge fan of.  The owner Isabelle is delightful and I'll definitely be shopping there again.  Formby is only about 30 minutes by train from central Liverpool.

I definitely couldn't resist buying some Blacker yarn; I love their Shetland wool and the Bluefaced Leicester laceweight is earmarked for Kate Davies' Hap for Harriet.

Next it was off to the pretty market town of Ormskirk and Knit-Wise,  another shop that was new to me.   It was a lovely, cozy shop with some very impressive crochet samples on the tables and walls.   What I like about this shop is that not only do they offer classes in a variety of techniques, but the staff told us about their Sunday Knit or Crochet days where you can bring your projects, sit, chat,  and work on them but also get instruction on whatever techniques or new skills that you'd like to learn.  It's an all-day event that books up quickly and you have to bring lunch (although they promise cake in the afternoon!) but I can definitely see a future Sunday outing back to Ormskirk

Two interesting skeins caught my eye and wanted to come away with me -  some sock yarn and some very soft alpaca.

Yarn Shop Day is a great idea and I hope it continues to be an annual event; I'd like to plan to visit at least one new yarn shop each year - what a great idea for an annual field trip out with the knitting gang (with plenty of time to knit on the train).