Sunday, 29 July 2012

My Olympic Events. . .

Weren't the opening ceremonies stunning?  I loved the spectacular beauty and originality of the cauldron. I've been watching events all weekend - the two road races in particular -  and bits of the swimming, rowing and gymnastics.  I was also inspired to bake a celebratory cake.  In theory, it was going to be blue (blueberries), red (raspberries) and white (icing) for Team GB but a couple of things went wrong.  I read the ingredients wrong and used plain flour instead of self-raising flour. Not surprisingly, it became a bit more flat and dense than I wanted.  I also added too much lemon juice to the icing sugar and so it wasn't as thick (and white) as intended - more of a lemon drizzle. Still, it tasted great so I was very happy with it. Recipe was from the Good Food Cookbook edited by Jane Hornby.

There's a huge LEGO store in Liverpool and they've created these wonderful little sports figures - perfect adornments!  I really love the swimmer.

Like many knitters all over the world, I'm also participating in the Ravellenic Games. Basically you cast on a project at the beginning of the opening ceremonies and have to finish it by the end of the closing ceremonies. I'm challenging myself with a lace shawl that requires beading - something I've never done before.  The pattern is Sweet Dreams by Boo Knits and so far, so good. Got most of the body done and will be starting the lace bits shortly.  I feel I'm on track, but we'll have to see if the beading slows me down. I love the yarn I'm using which is Scrumptious Laceweight - a blend of merino and silk from Fyberspates. It has a lovely lustre and it feels very strong.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

2012 Man Booker Prize Longlist. . .

Mmmm - some really interesting books on the longlist this year.  I've not read any of them yet although I have a copy of Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies (still have to read Wolf Hall though).  The one that intrigues me the most is Alison Moore's The Lighthouse because it's the story of a man coming to grips with his life on a walking holiday, the author is from Manchester, and well, could there be a hint of homage to Woolf in it?

I also love Michael Frayn so am looking forward to reading Skios which promises his usual farce.  Will Self's Umbrella is set during the end of the First World War about a woman in a coma who only wakes up fifty years later. Communion Town by Sam Thompson bills itself as the story of a city in ten chapters as its citizens walk through it.  And The Teleportation Incident by Ned Beauman just looks like a lot of fun.

Those are the five that are on my list to try and read before the shortlist comes out on September 11th. One great thing about living now in the UK is that presumably all the books will be available now or very soon.  I notice that Umbrella has a January 2013 release date in North America, though I imagine that will change if it wins or makes the shortlist.

Red Affection. . .

I think it's out of my system now.  This is my third Color Affection shawl and I really have to stop now and move on to something else. But that garter stitch is so darn addictive!  Just to vary things a bit, I doubled the widths of the red stripes and added a picot bindoff.  I generally wear shawls as a scarf and I do love this baby alpaca lace - it's so, so soft.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Waterfront Concert. . .

Liverpool is definitely a city that likes its music and this weekend I went to check out their Music by the Waterfront concert. I would have loved to have been there Friday night when the Liverpool Philharmonic was playing but couldn't make it, so stopped by on Saturday for a varied line-up of different types of popular music. The venue and the weather were perfect - they set the stage up right down on the waterfront between the Mersey and the "Three Graces" - the trio of beautiful buildings that are Liverpool landmarks. I was dancing along with the Royal Liver building to my right. I was impressed with the crowds - no jostling, no pushing, it was very easy to get a spot with a decent vantage point, and even though wine and beer (and fish and chips even!) were readily available, apart from a bit of litter, everyone was well behaved and just enjoying themselves in the evening sunshine (it doesn't get dark until close to 10pm here, which I love; I know I'll pay for it with very short days in the winter).

I wasn't familiar with a lot of the bands but it was the head liner that I really came for - the opera/pop singer Russell Watson. I have a number of his CDs but it was great to hear that powerful voice live. His last song  was Nessum Dorma and as he hit the high notes at the end, the fireworks went off.  As the Brits like to say - it was bloody brilliant.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Walking the Wainwright Coast to Coast Part 3: Keld to Robin Hood's Bay. . .

See Part One here and Part Two here.

The second half of our holiday walk went very quickly as these things tend to do.

Day 8: Keld to Reeth
This was another of my favourite days on the route. You have the choice of taking the high route which passes a lot of abandoned mines or the low one which we opted for, as the remnants of mines, while historically interesting, are not exactly picturesque. Our route may not have been as dramatic but sometimes it's just as nice to be looking up from below as looking down from on high, especially during this walk through the very green Swaledale Valley.

We stopped in the tiny town of Muker (and I highly recommend doing so) where there is a lovely tea shop and the Swaledale Woollen Shop where, yes, I was able to buy some wool as a coveted souvenir of the trip. This was a day where we passed many Swaledale sheep who were quite obliging at being remarkably photogenic.

We ended the day in the very pretty village of Reeth centered around a green with all the Dales rising up around it.

Our B & B was in Fremington, just a mile out of the town but very close to The Bridge Inn, which gets my vote for our favourite pub on the route. Great atmosphere and a friendly and opinionated (my favourite kind) bartender.  It also served absolutely delicious fish and chips, battered in ale and dill. 

Day 9: Reeth to Richmond
This was our shortest day of walking which was just as well as it was raining. The paths took us mostly through farmers' fields and we made it to Richmond - the largest town on our route -  in about four hours.  This was our first glimpse through the mist of the town and its castle.

After drying out in a cafe, we walked the cobbled streets, did the Castle Walk, popped into a few stores and  happily checked into our hotel. Richmond is your best place along the route to have something for dinner other than traditional pub food. We went for Italian.

Day 10: Richmond to Ingleby Cross
This was the day I was dreading. It's the longest stretch and the most boring - 24 miles over a lot of flat fields and tarmac as you traverse the Vale of Mowbray. It's just a tedious and tiring slog. If I had to do this over, I would break it up into two days and stop at Danby Wiske - my feet were absolutely killing me by this point and there were still several hours to go. On paper it looks an easy and flat stage, if long, but what the books don't mention is how footsore you'll be at this point from the accumulative miles you've tackled day after day.  With fresh legs, this stretch probably wouldn't have bothered me so much.  It also didn't help matters that the rain came down in earnest during the latter part of the day. This is an example of one of the many soggy and muddy fields we had to cross.  But I knew better things were to come - you just have to endure this stage and get on with it.

Day 11: Ingleby Cross to Claybank Top:
Another day I was highly anticipating - I LOVE the North York Moors and I've done a bit of this route previously. You begin by climbing up through a wood and following a stone wall which leads to a gate. Open the gate and the moors just stretch out before you.  To the left is a great view of the flat vale that was yesterday's trudge and in the distance you can see Roseberry Topping, surely the most lovely name for a hill in all of Britain. Just beyond that is the North Sea but we'll be heading quite a bit south of this.

It was sunny and dry, a welcome change from the day before and I loved the undulating path with great views all the way.

The Coast to Coast has joined the Cleveland Way at this point (another long distance walk that is on my list to do) and the path is very easy to follow so you can just relax and enjoy the day. We had one problem with a bull that was blocking a gate and when it started snorting at us, we had to detour and climb over a wall, but other than that, it was pure walking bliss.

Day 12: Claybank Top to Glaisedale
This is another long stretch - 18 miles - but the path is quite soft under foot. Again, you are covering miles over the Moors and a good deal of the way follows a disused railway line.  I find the desolation and bleakness oddly beautiful; this is one of my favourite terrains to walk in.  I only wish that the heather had been out in full bloom.

If you want, you can also take a detour to this place (but by this time we'd seen enough of them at breakfast).

Day 13: Glaisedale to Little Beck
A very easy, pleasant and gentle walk that follows the River Esk.

It then heads through Grosmont, one of the stops on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway line where you can still board a steam train. There's also a very nice used bookshop across from the station that's fun to browse in, particularly if you are interested in rail history.

You also get your first real sighting of the sea as you come close to Whitby but again, you'll veer off to the south.

Day 14: Little Beck to Robin Hood's Bay
And so we came to our last twelve miles and we thankfully had a sunny day for it as we headed towards the blue sea. We took the odd road detour as the fields were still quite boggy, until we got to the coast where we picked up the Cleveland Way again and followed it all the way to Robin Hood's Bay.

Robin Hood's Bay is built up on a hill and the roads down are steep but charming. There's a small, crowded beach at the bottom with lots of weekenders - the hikers completely stand out in their boots and rucksacks among the flipflops and bathing suits. We arrived just after 2pm, threw our pebbles into the sea, had some  fish and chips and then boarded our mini-van to take us back to Kirby Stephen for our last night (when you use Packhorse you leave the car in this town). We had a delicious celebratory dinner at The Mango Tree - a fantastic Indian restaurant, highly recommended, and then a few pints in a couple of pubs. And home the next day, tired but quite chuffed at what we'd accomplished.

It was a wonderful walking challenge and I'd definitely do it again - perhaps east to west next time.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Walking the Wainwright Coast to Coast Part Two: St. Bees to Keld

Day 1: St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
Packhorse literally dropped us off in front of some public toilets. It was pouring with rain. We made our way down to the roaring coast, picked up our chosen pebble (to be thrown into the sea at the other end) and started up the hill you can see in the background. It stopped raining as soon as we set off which I thought was a good omen. This first stretch followed the coast for a bit then turned inland. Bit of boring road and then some good views through farmers' fields. It started raining about noon and we had lunch shivering in a railway underpass. Dent at 1155 feet was our first climb, and then it was down into the very pretty Nannycatch valley. I wish I'd taken photos but it was raining very hard by then and we just wanted to press on.  This was the view at day's end - Ennerdale Water and the beginning of Lakeland. We stayed at the Shepherd's Arms at Ennerdale Bridge where I had the biggest steak and ale pie I had ever seen!

Day 2: Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite
This day definitely ranked as one of our favourites of the whole walk. It started with a lovely path along the side of Ennerdale Water.

The weather forecast had promised rain and mist and very little visibility all day but as we progressed, the skies seemed to clear up and we certainly could see the top of the hills. So when we came to the crossroads where we could choose the lower or higher path, we had to go high. After all, this is what the Lake District is all about. So we took the High Stile Alternative route which Wainwright notes is not for "ordinary mortals". This involved a steep climb up to Red Pike (2479 feet) and then we followed the ridge to High Stile (2644 feet), High Crag (2443 feet) and down to Haystacks (where Wainwright's ashes are scattered).  It was tough going, but the views were definitely worth it. On the top of Red Pike all you can see are hills in every direction - we could even see as far as Scotland.  Here's part of the magnificent views:

Then off towards Haystacks and our final stop in the village of Rosthwaite. It was a ten hour day and our legs were very sore, but we were pretty chuffed with what we had done.

Day 3: Rosthwaite to Grasmere:
This was a relatively short leg but the weather was awful. There was heavy rain, lots of mist and we had to negotiate quite a bit of sodden mud and paths that had turned into mini-rivers. We were literally climbing up and through a waterfall at one point. Still, the Borrowdale Valley was quite stunning.

As was the valley down into Grasmere.

We arrived in Grasmere mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to explore this lovely town. I went and paid homage to Wordsworth's grave, picked up some of the famous Grasmere gingerbread, stopped by the Herdy Shop and bought a mug, popped into the local bookstore, wrote some postcards, and had a nice latte in a teashop. The sun broke out in the afternoon and we ended the day looking out at this:

Day 4: Grasmere to Patterdale
Another very happy day of walking in the Lakes, as we headed towards the Grisedale Pass, encountering many happy sheep along the way.

We had a bite to eat at Grisedale Tarn and then it was up St. Sunday Crag (2756 feet)  for our first view of Ullswater. We took our time during this stage and just enjoyed the scenery, getting into Patterdale in plenty of time for a nice dinner and a pint, sitting outside amidst the hills.

Day 5: Patterdale to Shap
Oh, this was a hard and tiring day. Again the weather was bad and the wind was ferocious. It blew me over at one point as we were climbing up to Kidsty Pike (fortunately it was blowing away from the edge and I ended up in a grassy bank). Visibility was nil and I was so happy to descend from the cloud cover down to the shores of Haweswater.

The path then followed the length of the lake/reservoir which I would have enjoyed more had it not seemed to go on forever with another long stretch to Shap following.  Shap Abbey was a joyful sight at the end of another long ten hour day.

As was our accommodation, The Hermitage in Shap, built in 1691. This house had SO much character and we received such a lovely welcome. Our room also had a bathtub which made me weep with joy. A wonderful place to stay.

Day 6: Shap to Kirkby Stephen
 Another long stretch at 20 miles, but I loved this walk. We left the Lake District and walked miles over bare  and undulating moorland with the Pennines in view, a nice springy path under our feet and just when we were getting a bit tired, the lovely Smardale Valley came into view to perk us up.

Day 7: Kirkby Stephen to Keld
Today started with a climb up to the Nine Standards, cairns that are over 200 years old and quite visible from far away. They also mark the watershed between the rivers that flow towards the Irish sea which we've left behind, and those that flow towards the North Sea, our ultimate destination.  There's a great view from the top and a sense of accomplishment, seeing how far we've already walked.

Unfortunately the route from here gets extremely boggy even in the best of times, never mind after all the recent rain. So we chose to take the Winter route (boggy enough) down to the tiny village of Keld where we arrived just in time to catch the last half of the men's Wimbledon final, a nice cup of tea and biscuits to hand.

And at this stage, we'd reached the half way point, tired but really enjoying ourselves.  Next up: Yorkshire!

See Part Three here.