Friday, 13 September 2019

My Icelandic Saga Part Two: Water and Wind. . .

Some more pics from walks we did on the first and third days of hiking in Southern Iceland:

Iceland has a LOT of stunning waterfalls.  This is the Skógafoss  which is 60 metres high. You can climb up to the top of it via some stairs and then follow the river's course as it meanders through the moorland. The parallel trail passes many more waterfalls but the eye also stretches away to some amazing landscape. 

Initially, we'd intended to keep hiking up to a mountain pass where we'd stay for the night but high winds made it too dangerous, so we retraced our steps and our guide made other accommodation arrangements. It did allow for a stop at one of the country's most famous waterfalls - Seljalandsfoss.

It's famous because you can walk behind it.  All the water originates from the Eyjafjallajökul glacier.  Can I also recommend the refreshments truck located at this tourist site - it has really tasty doughnuts Actually Iceland gets top marks for its doughnuts;they are tasty without being too sickly sweet. They understand that it's all about the dough - not the icing. I sampled quite a few in Reykjavik and they have their own version called a kleiner which is twisted with no icing at all. Delicious. 

Our last hike took in some amazing rock formations all sculpted by the wind and rain. I felt we were walking in nature's art gallery.

We found a great sunny, mossy place to sit and knit too. With a glacier in the background. We also foraged for blueberries and wild mushrooms, both of which became part of our supper that night.

Next up: the wool!

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

My Icelandic Saga Part One: A Walk to Remember. . .

This year I had one of those milestone birthdays and to celebrate, I combined my two passions and went on a hiking and knitting holiday to Iceland.  It had been eleven years since I last hiked in the country and I'd been eager to get back ever since, especially since at the time,  I'd not taken up knitting again and somehow missed all the wool (don't ask me how - it's everywhere!).  But more on the knitting in a future post. This one is all about an epic hike that has catapulted into my top three favourite days of hiking ever.  Possibly, just one of my all-time favourite days.

We had intended to do a point to point walk from one mountain hut to another, but high winds on the first day closed the mountain pass and so our first walk only included part of that trail before we turned back (that walk was all about waterfalls - I'll post photos in another post).  So this second day's hike was a little longer and instead of being linear, involved retracing our steps after the finishing point.  But what a finishing point and what a landscape to retrace in!


You may have remembered the Eyjafjallajokull volcano that erupted in 2010 sending ash all over Europe and suspending flights for several weeks. Two new mountains were created by that eruption and climbing one of them  - Magni - was our ultimate goal.  To get there from the Basar mountain huts, we walked through the most stunningly beautiful scenery and we were extremely lucky in that one of the women in our group was a geology professor who had also worked with NASA.  It was incredible to be able to ask her questions about everything we were seeing. 

We left shortly after 9am for our nearly 14 mile hike, and this is near the start of the walk on level ground (this river is low - three days after we left, the water had swelled so high that no vehicles were able to ford them - we would have been stuck at the huts!)

This is a landscape moulded and shaped by nature - wind and water in particular.  

This is the start of the ridge known as the "Cat Spine".  No photos on it - I was too busy concentrating on not falling down the precipice on either side.  It's not as long as Striding Edge on Helvellyn, but just as scary.

This is maybe a third of the way up. We stopped to have a coffee and get our knitting out.  We were so lucky with the weather - the winds had completely died down and it was dry the entire day.

Behind me is the Eyjafjallajokull glacier.

And up we went. . .

At this point, I turned to the geologist and asked her if this field of rocks was similar to the moon. "It IS the moon", she replied.  Same rocks, similar surface; astronauts did some of their training in Iceland.

Round about this point was another scary precipice, hence no photos. I have to admit, my heart was pounding. The ledge was narrow, quite sandy and slippery with a long drop beneath and while there was a chain to hold on to, one of the posts it was attached to had come loose, so it wasn't entirely reliable.  Depending on the age of the rocks and thus the rock face, the surfaces can be very crumbly and come apart in your hand - also not confidence boosting.  Suffice it to say there were a lot of deep breathes and hugs when we all got safely past this point although in the back of our minds was the knowledge we'd have to do it again when we returned.  I just mention it here, in case anyone is thinking of doing this hike and suffers from vertigo.

A bit more uphill and then it wasn't too long before we were getting really close to the lava fields.

And our first glimpse of Magni.

From afar, the lava looks black.

But up close, it contains the most amazing variety of colours.

And after crossing some snow and turning a corner to start the climb up Magni, we were met with the most amazing colour palette of all. These photos don't do justice to all the shades of red and rust in the ground. Couple them with the greys and blacks and white surrounding it all and wow, just wow. 

From the top of Magni.

It was a long day - we didn't get back until after 7pm and we had to conquer our fears and get through the two scary bits again, but everyone was patient and supportive and we all did it! I felt euphoric and emotional and very, very humbled amidst the majesty of this world. And quite frankly, guilty.  I was standing on the top of Magni and looking at two glaciers, on either side of me, wondering if they would still exist in my lifetime, and by being here, was I contributing to the problem? Inevitably I must have, although the country also relies on tourism for a good chunk of its economy and to provide money for environmental projects to help maintain its natural areas. I don't have the answers but it didn't sit easily with me.

This is not a walk I will ever do again, but the memory of it will last a very long time. And I have been knitting a sweater in which I will try and evoke the unique colours of that lava landscape, using Icelandic Lett Lopi wool of course.  I am about to start the yoke - stay tuned.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Smashing the Stash Or What I've been Knitting the Last Few Months . .

Stash.  It's an ongoing problem. I love it all - it's a collection of wonderful yarns that I have picked up at memorable festivals and on my travels, and I still get inspired by all of its colours, textures and smells.  But equally, I've been trying to think of ways to use it up because I am fast running out of room to store it all.  I wish I could say that the photo below was the extent of it, but . . . ahem. . . there might be just a little bit more where that came from.

My excuse for not having blogged much over the summer is that I've been madly knitting in an attempt to at least try and make a dent. In case you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some of my best tips for stashbusting.

1. You can hold two strands together.  This is a modified Doocot by Kate Davies.  I had two skeins of a purple variegated sock yarn that I wasn't really fond of, part of a mystery yarn club I subscribed to several years ago. However, when I held it double with a cone of beige Shetland that had a slightly pinkish tinge to it (another colour I wasn't too keen on), they seemed to compliment each other perfectly. Try pairing something you have no idea what to do with, with something else in your stash. Who knows what magical combination you might come up with.

2. You can finish up some old WIPs (incompleted projects are still stash in my books, just in a slightly different form). As usual, I just had the sleeves to finish on this Miette and I can't think why it was sitting in a bag for so long, as this cropped cardi has proven to be a really great wardrobe staple and I've been wearing it lots this summer.

3. You can volunteer to test knit a dress. The pattern, designed by Susanne Sommer (aka sosuknits) hasn't yet been released, but this is almost 500g of stash!  Plus, I had a great time learning to knit pleats and the dress has pockets! I absolutely love it.

4. Worsted weight sweaters use up a lot of yarn!  Whether you hold two strands of 4ply together or knit from a worsted/aran weight ball, these are relatively quick knits and perfect for the winter months. I love this Upstream jumper by Kate Davies and it's so comfy to wear.  The yoke was unusual but very easy to knit.

5. Laceweight can be surprisingly versatile.  My next two projects were great stashbusters and knit specifically for a very special trip that I will blog about next week.  The first is Hryggir by Helene Magnusson and all the marling is achieved by holding two strands of laceweight together.  I had no idea I had so much lace in stash until I went rummaging for this project, but it's been interesting to combine them all together.

This Hapisk, also by Helene, is also knit in laceweight and illustrates another great stashbusting tip - find projects that have stripes!  A great way for using up random balls and odds and ends. I made this slightly smaller than the original by going down a needle size and it has turned out just as I'd hoped; the perfect shrug to sit comfortably on your shoulders while allowing plenty of movement i.e. knitting.

I brought both these projects on my recent trip to Iceland - more on that in my next post.  And I still have plenty of new cast-ons with old stash on my needles.  But there is nothing more satisfying than coming across a pattern you want to knit and realizing that you already have the yarn for it and can cast on right away.  Or rising to the challenge of finding a way to combine disparate or odd skeins of yarn to create something really interesting and original.  That's my justification for a large stash and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

A Trip to Rosa's Retrosaria. . .

I don't set out deliberately planning my holidays around wool acquisition, but such is the global scope of wool and knitting (and that's one of the reasons I love it!),  it's inevitable that most of my trips will include a stop at a local yarn shop. The Liverpudlian has come to accept this.

Even on the train to Porto, I never saw an actual Portuguese sheep. The closest I came was spying this section of tiled mural in the National Tile Museum.

But the minute I knew we were going to Lisbon, I was looking up the address of Rosa Pomar's Retrosaria (the Portuguese word for haberdashery).  I had previously read about her store and the beautiful wool that she creates from Portuguese sheep here and in an interview here but a stop to her store is a must, if only to fondle and squish the actual wool itself. 

The store is on the second floor, but I couldn't resist snapping a shot of the colourful mailboxes in the foyer of the building.

The stairway is a little dark, but when you emerge into the shop, it's a beautiful light-filled room, full of woolly goodness.


All of her own yarn is non-superwash and comes from free-range sheep.  When we visited, it was nearly 30 degrees and the staff were quite amused at the three customers all exclaiming over the wool. Turns out we were all from northern England - Manchester and Newcastle too!  And we all nodded knowingly as we discussed how one can pretty much wear wool every month in the UK.

There's also a selection of many other yarn brands but to be honest, I was there for Rosa's wool and only gave the rest a brief glance.  But it's a really lovely, well-stocked store that also sells Portuguese fabric.

Of course, I had to bring back some souvenirs.  I bought a sweater quantity of her lovely Brusca worsted weight - that shade of coppery brown just glows.  The light blue is some tweedy laceweight with bits of orange and darker blue running through it, and above it is some 4ply, again with lovely nubbs of colour.  Finally, I fell in love with the purple wool/cotton blend on the far right - I am thinking it'll make a beautiful summer shawl. 

The wool is lying on some cork sheets that I also bought in Lisbon; I am planning on sewing them into some project bags. And the grey bag at the top?  Well, another must-visit store in Lisbon is the Burel Mountain Originals store - there's one just a few streets away from the Retrosaria.  Again, using Portuguese wool, this company makes the most beautiful bags, fabric and soft furnishings.  Fringe Association also blogged about a visit to their factory here.   And just look at their front window homage to Tram 28 in cushion form!

I had a hard time choosing which bag to buy and actually had to go away for several hours to think about it, but am really pleased with my decision and have been using it ever since we returned - it's nice and roomy, has two front pockets for coffee mugs and water bottles, a strong shoulder strap, and  an expandable feature for the body, which was probably its main selling point.  It is so beautifully and impeccably made; I am sure it will last me for years. As for the gorgeous yarn - I am just waiting for the right patterns to come along and then I'll be casting on. I definitely want a sweater in that Brusca in time for autumn.