Saturday, 31 May 2014

Fifth and Sixth Squares . . .

Done is about all I can say.  Two more clues to come and I'm ready to start something else.  I liked Square #5 which were mini-bobbles. The pattern was easy and fun to knit and it worked well with my variegated yarn.

But I really struggled with doing something interesting with Square #6 - Doughnuts.  These little cables don't show up that great with variegated yarn though.

So in the end I did a motley bunch of squares.  I have no idea if this is all going to work; I think I'm relying heavily on finding the perfect co-ordinating trim colour to pull it all together.  We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Up and Down Snowdon: A Weekend in Wales Part Three. . .

On Sunday the weather stayed clear and I was so happy because we'd designated that day to climb Snowdon, the highest point in Wales.  The Liverpud has done it several times but it was a first for me and I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty it was, given that walkers are often a bit sniffy about it as Snowdon is also one of the busiest mountains in the U.K. with a train that takes tourists up and a cafe at the top.  I was expecting a rather grim up and down path, similar to Ben Nevis (the highest peak in Scotland which I climbed nearly four years ago.).   We went up the Llanberis path which is the longest route but also the least steep. There were a few tough bits but the scenery was worth it. 

Much of the path follows the railway line but the train wasn't running that day.

Halfway up there's a hut which was offering homemade leek and potato soup but though we briefly stopped nearby for a quick snack and drink, it was onwards and up.

Here's where you duck under the railway line but it also offers a gateway to a whole new vista of mountain ranges on the other side.

Magnificent isn't it?

Further up we paused to look back at where we'd come.  Despite the lack of train service, the mountain was still quite busy with climbers.  One guy we passed was carrying a pile of bricks on his shoulder for charity. He was also on his way to conquer the other two great peaks - Scafell and Ben Nevis.

A bit hazy, but the top is finally in sight.

I mentioned the cafe and even though it was out of a machine, the latte tasted pretty darn good. I also had a Welsh "Oggie" which is like a Cornish Pasty but with leeks.  Also fairly tasty. 

On the descent we decided to go down the Miner's Track on the other side of the mountain.  You can see a bit of the path here before it splits into the higher Pyg track with our route the lower one down by the lake.

Again, the views were stunning and the water very, very clear.

Down by the lake, we took a good look back at Snowdon.

Now, you might think that because we are down by the water that all the descent is over, but we're still fairly high up and it's a much longer path than you first give it credit for.  We were in no hurry though and really just enjoyed being in the sunshine, surrounded by all this beauty. I felt as relaxed as if I'd been on holiday for two weeks, a reminder of just how much I love the physical and mental well-being that comes with walking.

The sheep are very much at peace in this landscape too.

The path leads to a car park at Pen-y-Pass where you can catch a bus ( a red double-decker no less)  back to Llanberis where we'd left the car.  But there was time for just one more farewell glance back to Snowdon and a really fabulous weekend in Wales.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Visit to Portmeirion, Wales Weekend Part 2. . .

Would you believe these photos were taken in Wales? And what is this village's connection to WWI and to Noel Coward?

This is Portmeirion, just up the coast from Harlech and not too far from the town of Porthmadog.  It was designed by architect Clough Williams-Ellis, who fought in the First World War, was awarded the Military Cross, and lived to the ripe old age of 94. In one of the souvenir booklets I bought (a reprint of a commemorative speech by renowned travel writer Jan Morris who lives nearby and knew him well), there are cheerful photos of him in a tweed jacket with yellow stockings looking distinctly un-Malvolio-like.

He built Portmeirion, starting in 1926, as a response to capital tourism when the railways started bringing daytrippers to the Welsh coast. He wanted to offer a place that was both beautiful and unique. The architecture is quirky and full of visual puns and folly-like structures. There is a lighthouse that doesn't have a light. The grand facade of a large mansion is hiding a humble bungalow when you go around the back. There's a concrete boat which is never going to sail anywhere.  Unfortunately we arrived in late afternoon (although on the plus side, we were told that if we waited ten seconds, the admission would be halved ) and so didn't have time to explore all the odd bits and pieces in great detail. Instead we chose to take a walk along one of the woodland paths filled with colourful flowers and pretty ponds.

As Morris notes, Williams-Ellis, "was a essentially a vista-man. I don't think he was a great architect, but he was a masterly landscaper . . . time and again, when you pause to look at one of the Portmeirion structures, your eye will be drawn away, round a corner, down a flight of steps, to some celestial sea-view beyond. "

And yes, all paths lead to the sea and this stunning estuary. 

I could have spent all day here just watching the patterns in the sand and the waves rolling in. I'd love to come again, perch on a bench with my knitting and a latte, and just watch the tide come in.

And here's the view coming back into the village from the coastal walk. One of the lookout towers is completely embedded with shells on the inside.

Portmeirion is also known as the filming location for a 1960s cult classic television series called The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan, who reminds me a bit of Steve McQueen.  As befitting its setting, it's quite a surreal show about a secret agent held prisoner in a bizarre village where everyone is known by their number (he's number 6 and there's now a No.6 festival held at Portmeirion). Defiant against constant interrogation as to why he suddenly resigned from his job, he keeps trying to escape, not only from his captors but from a huge sinister white ball that appears whenever people stray too far.  I've only watched two episodes out of the seventeen, but I'm strangely hooked.  To my mind, it's a cross between Dr. Who with some of the kitsch of Star Trek, with a great soundtrack.

Portmeirion is such a unique and oddly peaceful place and I didn't find it at all tacky even though there are the inevitable souvenir shops.  Most of the buildings house the hotel, cottages that you can rent, and various shops and cafes.  I definitely want to go back and spend a full day there - well worth a visit if you are ever in that part of Wales.

And the connection with Noel Coward?  In 1941, when his London home was destroyed in the Blitz, he came to Portmeirion and would you believe it?  He wrote Blithe Spirit there!

Monday, 19 May 2014

A Wonderful Weekend in Wales Part One. . .

Last weekend was glorious. The weather was like mid-summer and along with my friend Ann from Canada (who it was so great to see!) we spent Saturday driving along the Welsh coast near Cardigan Bay which completely exceeded all my expectations.  It is so lovely and unlike other coastlines in the UK with the mountains in the distance and sand dunes and beautiful stretches of beach dotted here and there.  We stopped for lunch in Harlech where the main attraction is undoubtedly this fantastic castle, built by Edward I in the late 13th century.  

Of course we went in. 

Here's the gatehouse from the inner courtyard. There are two things in particular that impressed me about this castle.  I was in awe at how solid it still was and how much had survived the centuries (and the weather).  You can climb one of the towers and also completely walk along its upper ramparts.

Which leads me to the second thing - I don't think I've ever visited a castle that is situated in a more glorious setting; it just takes your breath away.

To the west is the Irish sea.

And to the north are the mountains in Snowdonia National Park.

This includes Snowdon, which is the highest peak in Wales. I think it's the pointy one glimpsed through the castle window.  But more on that shortly.

Friday, 16 May 2014

All Squared Up. . .

The downside of doing a multi-week knit-a-long is the pressure I inevitably and inexplicably put on myself to keep up. I've been doing fairly well so far but this week I know I won't finish all my squares in time and it's making me anxious for no good reason. I know it's not a race, I know there will be ample time to catch up at the end, I know I will finish this afghan at some point and since I'm knitting it just for me, there's no real deadline. And yet. . . and yet. . . 

Yesterday it felt as if these squares were taking over my life.  I have three unfinished cardigans that just need sleeves and some button bands and I've been so neglectful of them. I have a crocheted shawl pattern that I'm keen to start and some granny squares to attach into a cushion.  There are so many other patterns I'm itching to cast on.  And I'm in the middle of three really good books.

So today, I took a deep breath and acknowledged that no, I won't be finishing all my squares before the next clue comes out, but I will have done some and that's just fine because I'm really enjoying this KAL and I really want to enjoy my knitting however long it takes.  Whew - glad to have that out. 

So here are four out of the eight squares for the fourth clue.  When I saw the pretty lace pattern, I immediately wanted to do it just in white and so I added my variegated yarn as a border with highlighted squares.  Don't look too closely - each square has at least one mistake and in one of them, I even forgot to knit an entire row of the pattern (hurrying too much - another reason to slow down and enjoy).  But I'm really pleased with them and I like the colour changes on the sides of the variegated squares which are giving me some ideas about designing a few squares of my own for this afghan;  I'll definitely need some extra ones to make it big enough.  So new goals - knit at least a couple of squares for each new clue and finish the rest up whenever.  And pick up some different knitting soon.