Wednesday, 4 May 2016

A Brave New World. . .

A few days ago I decided to walk into the 21st century. I got a smartphone.

It's not that I'm a technophobe; I use the internet daily and often. I just didn't want to become one of those people who gets addicted to a gadget, oblivious to the world and people around me. I've always wanted to be the type of person who lives in the moment.

But as my life becomes more settled in the UK, and my group of friends and contacts grows, it was time. Truth be told, I also really, really wanted to participate in Instagram. (I'm blithespirit4 on there)

So I've had my phone for a few days now and I love the camera which is really good. Photos are very quick to upload onto ravelry and Instagram. The photo above is the first one I took with my new phone. It's the first time I'd seen the new statue of the Beatles down by the waterfront which was installed at the end of last year. It's about time there was one of all four of them and the location with the Three Graces towering behind them is perfect.

The other cool thing about this phone? I wrote this blog post with it. Yes, it's a keeper.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Chugging Along with the Crochet. . .

My non-knitting week has resulted in some good progress on crochet projects.  I now have the back and two fronts finished of my Zigga Zagga cardigan, designed by Kat Goldin.  I just have to do the sleeves and the deep edging on the fronts.

And as part of a big stash-busting project, I've embarked on another granny square blanket, this one for my Mum's birthday.  I find doing granny squares incredibly soothing and relaxing and I love how quickly it grows. It'll be for a single bed, so it's nearly at the point where I'll have to think about the best way to turn the square into a rectangle.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Independent Yarn Shop Day: Hanging out at the Countess Ablaze. . .

Yesterday was Independent Yarn Shop Day so I popped over to Manchester to check out the Countess Ablaze Dye Studio which is located in Swinton, a quick train ride out of the city centre.

It was packed with knitters all happily working away, sipping tea or coffee and nibbling on cupcakes and the piles of chocolates and Tunnocks teacakes kindly provided by the shop. We had to hang around on the edges before two seats opened up, but there was plenty of yarny goodness to examine while we waited.

The Countess Ablaze who uses primarily British wool for her bases, is ALL about colour!

I'm trying not to buy any superwash wool otherwise I'd have been seriously seduced by the vibrant and intense sock yarns hanging up.

Fortunately, she also dyes non-superwash wools and I bought two 500m skeins of The Rt. Hon Ronaldsay light fingering in the Oh Kelly! colourway.  I'm in love with this deep, deep green and I think I'll have enough to knit a summer cardigan or top.  Her English Gentleman DK range is 50% Bluefaced  Leicester and 50% Masham and I fell hard for the autumn colours skein that also has a smokey purple-blue running through it.  The final skein on the right is completely out of my colour comfort zone but I think it would be part of a fun summer top; I just need to find the right pattern now.

Brityarn was also there with a trunk show of some of her favourite wools.  I bought one of her sturdy canvas bags and two lovely skeins of Blacker Tamar 4ply. They will be set aside until Kate Davies' new Haps book comes out later this year.

Thanks to Countess Ablaze and Knit British for all their happy enabling, and a very pleasant afternoon.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

A Model Yarn Shop and A Model Village. . .

There are yarn stores that you enter and immediately feel at home.  The Liverpud and I were in Oxford last weekend visiting his cousin and in my never ending quest to check out new yarn sources wherever I go, I knew I had to take the opportunity to visit the Oxford Yarn Store.

It's located about a ten minute walk from the centre of town on a small side street called North Parade Avenue that has other independent shops and cafes. There was a market on too when we visited.

This shop may not be the largest I've been in, but for its size, it is extremely well stocked with lots of lovely skeins.  Plenty of British yarns are represented - West Yorkshire Spinners, John Arbon, Jamiesons, and some local spun alpaca. They also carry Rowan. Isager, Malabrigo, Noro and Sweet Georgia Fibres among many other brands and a good selection of books and knitting magazines.  I had a lovely chat with the owner (who lived in Canada for ten years), and she seems to have created a vibrant knitting community around her store. There are some excellent workshops on offer so do check out their website if you live nearby.

I was quite restrained - I bought some Rowan Pure Linen which was on sale as it's being discontinued. I've heard great things about how the yarn knits up so am eager to try it in a garment.  Perhaps even the one on the cover of the book I also bought.  Classic Knits is an older book by Marianne Isager, but she's a designer that I've long admired and some of the designs in this book are gorgeous.  She likes to use two yarns held together for many of the patterns and since I have quite a bit of laceweight in my stash, this might be a good opportunity to use some of it up.

Of course there are other things to do in Oxford as well. This was the Liverpud's first visit so I gave him a bit of a walking tour after a lunch of yummy Pieminster pies in the Covered Market.

Nearly fifteen years ago, I spent three weeks at Oxford taking a Continuing Education Literature Course.  For an anglophile, I was in heaven.  I stayed in Exeter College and my room was at the top of a tower. I had to write two papers (one on Woolf, the other on Austen) and so I spent many glorious hours in the Bodleian Library which remains one of my favourite places in the world. 

I suggested that we climb up the tower of St. Mary's Church.

For one of the best views of the city and Radcliffe Camera.

We also took a walk along the river and had an absolutely delicious meal at the Red Lion pub.

On the drive home, I suggested stopping at Bourton-On-The-Water, a picturesque village known as the "Venice of the Cotswolds".  Near the carpark is The Bourton Basket which caters to all sorts of crafts - quilting, needlepoint, peg weaving.  Most of their yarn is acrylic although they do sell a selection of West Yorkshire Spinners.

But I did spy some local yarn in their window.  These balls come from Portland sheep which are one of the oldest breeds in the UK, mixed with some Black Welsh Mountain.  The flock is part of the nearby Armscote Manor and the shop owner told me the woman who raises them donates all the profits to charity.  She just wants to support the breed.  From the ball squish it seems to be a very strong and robust yarn.

This is the village of Bourton-on-the-Water.  Not the actual one, but a 1/9th scale model, first built in 1937.  I thought it was absolutely delightful.

Over the years they have tried to update the model by adding actual stores in the real village.

I love how the stone has aged; it just adds to the realism.

Since it is a model of the village, it naturally had to include itself, so here is the entrance to the display, in 1/9th scale.

With a model village within the model village.

And a model village within the model village within the model village.

I felt the real Bourton-on-the-Water was a bit of a letdown after that.

There was lots of bunting leftover from the Queen's birthday.

But apart from a very nice bakery, an interesting church and the stone bridges over the River Windrush, I can't say there was much tempting me to linger.  It felt to me like an artificially constructed tourist version of what an idealised Cotswold village should look like, even though the village has been around for centuries.  Perhaps it was all the stuff being sold in the stores that was 'Made in China' and the lack of any real attempt to showcase anything authentically British.  Which was a little sad.  I loved the model village though!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A Walk from Rhyd Dhu to Beddgelert. . .

We have been very lucky with the weekend weather lately.  Last Sunday promised another sunny day, so I went off with my rambling group to Wales.  I decided to do the medium walk as I didn't fancy a fast pace and I just wanted to enjoy the fresh air and views.  This was a linear walk from just outside the Rhyd Dhu railway station, to Beddgelert, some ten miles away.  Though we started on the established gravelled route, which is quite pleasant and easy, especially through Beddgelert Forest, the leader did deviate to add a bit of height and mileage. Unfortunately, I didn't really follow his route on the map, so just going by what I remember from the photos.

This is the beginning of the path but instead of climbing the hill ahead, we veered off to the left, going up about a third of the way, and then entering Beddgelert Forest.

Emerging out of the forest, we had great views of the surrounding hills, including Snowdon (the one with the snow still on the top).

We then ate our lunch at the top of this gorgeous valley.  You can see right out towards the sea.

The valley led down to the remains of one of several abandoned slate mines in this part of Wales. Usually I find these remnants fairly ugly to walk through (the descent from Old Man Coniston is a good example,) but this had a certain beauty to it.  The loose slate seemed more integrated with the surrounding landscape, as if the mountains were being eroded, rather than brutally gouged. Maybe it was just the sunshine making everything look nicer.

The old train tracks used to transport the slate have long gone, but you can see their traces in the grassy path that remains.

It was a glorious day for walking.  Blue sky, hills all around, and plenty of sheep too.

We climbed up to a col in between two mountains. It was a tough ascent as there wasn't a discernible path and the terrain was full of boggy tufts of grass.  The views when we neared the top were fabulous though.

And then we crossed a stile over a drystone wall and a whole other vista of mountains opened up to us.

In the distance was Cnicht, known as the "Matterhorn of Wales".  This was what the hard walkers were tackling and I was glad I'd decided to pass.

We headed down into more forest and followed quite a few muddy paths downhill.

We then emerged onto the pleasant road to Beddgelert.  I would have loved some time to explore the village a little (and perhaps find a fish and chips shop - I was so hungry), but the coach was shortly leaving. It took quite a long time to get back to Liverpool; I wasn't home until after 9:30pm, but it was worth it.  I really enjoyed the walk and wasn't as shattered as I usually am after doing the hard walk. Just seeing the tops of mountains can be as rewarding as actually climbing them.  At least on this day.