Sunday, 24 September 2017

Studio ❤

Finally getting around to framing my Hollyhocks Stitchscape which has been patiently waiting on the shelf for me to buy some more frames. I really love how the yellow centres pop out from the pinks and purples of the petals. 

Also getting a frame is the Winterberry Stitchscape, adding to my Christmas themed collection. 

Summer Sweet was stretched, mounted and framed in the studio yesterday- triple whammy! I'm so excited to finish putting this kit together. The Mother is working hard on following my instruction booklet prototype and making her own SS Stitchscape to make sure I haven't missed anything vital. Apparently there are already three points of improvement to work on and we are only two layers in! I've still got my fingers and toes crossed that I can have several kits made up ready in time for my next show on the 14th October, so much to do, so little time!

There were some little minis getting their frame on. I have fifteen more frames on order to get cracking with the rest of the minis patiently waiting in a bowl on my windowsill. These will be added to my Etsy shop soon, and would, dare I say, make lovely unique Christmas presents? Just a suggestion....

Also on Etsy I have been updating my card selections and putting together different packs of four to make it easy to purchase a variety of Stitchscape scenes. These are a couple of suggestions for the packs (all cards are blank inside and come with a white envelope, protected with a cellophane sleeve) but I'm happy to be flexible if you wish to mix and match. The best thing about these cards is that they are completely frame-able once you have finished showing it on the mantelpiece as a card. At 15cm square they are quite a reasonable size, and would just need a mount and a 20cm frame! Sorted. 

I Studio Saturdays!!! 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Star Holiday:: Days Seven & Eight

Friday (Day Seven)::
It had been raining hard during the night- my bedroom was right up in the roof so you could hear the raindrops combining to a roar- which resulted in a rather exciting flash flood outside the house! The waters didn't rise up enough to get into the houses from what we could see, although some were close shaves, but the pretty stream running alongside us turned into a raging torrent of churned brown water. The most incredible part was the amount of water on the roads! The little village we were in, Star, is at the bottom of a valley surrounded by fields, so all of the water was pouring out from the highest points and flowing freely down the roads, meeting and swirling around at the crossroads below which was then being channeled into the rising waters of the stream.
We stayed inside to watch the proceedings, having a late cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon, drinking coffee and chatting to the housekeeper who turned up to check on the various holiday homes in the village. Apparently it was the worst weather she had seen for ten years-- lucky us!

At lunch time the waters had gone down sufficiently for us to drive the car through and we made our way to a nearby pub for some comfort food. The pub, The Nags Head, had been recommended to us by previous visitors, and I have to tell you that if you are ever in the area, definitely visit for a meal! The food was utterly delicious!! I had sausage and mash which sounds pretty inconspicuous, but the sausages were enormous and tasted divine, and I could have eaten a bowlful of the mashed potato on its own. Pudding was chocolate mousse with hot blackcurrant compote and homemade chocolate ice makes me hungry just to think about it!
As we were out on the road, after our meal we carried on out towards Aberporth which has a little sandy beach to walk along. This was much better in terms of beach treasure and I found lots of lovely shells and sea glass- hurrah!

I hope the above lady doesn't mind my putting her photo on my blog but I couldn't help taking a photograph of her as she walked her dogs along the waters edge- she looked like a model out of an Autumn edition country life magazine! The little white dog never came off of the lead (obviously a terror on the beach!) but the little brown dog was hilarious, leaping enthusiastically into the water after a branch and then hurtling out again in horror as a huge wave crashed in. Branches were flung and shaken and bitten and stamped on, it was so funny watching him play.
This was our last full day in our lovely Star Mill, so we mooched slowly back to begin packing and have a leisurely 'at home' evening, especially as it had begun to rain again!

Saturday (Day Eight)::
It started with the traditional last frantic run round of the house; checking that all cupboards and drawers were empty, all phone chargers had been unplugged and thrust into bags, all of the food was removed from the fridge and no toothpaste had been left in the bathrooms. The car was packed and laden with shells, Welsh cakes, gifts of honey and chutneys, as well as all of the usual holiday gubbins, and we waved goodbye to the house and set off to the National Showcaves Centre for Wales.

It's an interesting place with an eclectic mixture of attractions ranging from dinosaurs, shire horses, caves, gold panning and an Iron Age village. The dinosaurs stand out first as they glare out from behind trees and shrubs.There are apparently over two hundred dinosaurs in the park and they are all life size so some are very big indeed (and have very large teeth!)! Some looked more lifelike than others, and a couple even moved!

The caves were more interesting and there are three to visit. The first set of caves is Dan-yr-Ogof, a range of caves originally discovered by the Morgan Brothers (Tommy and Jeff) in 1912 via an initial cave where the river Llynfell emerges from the mountainside. Nowadays there is a clear pathway to follow which has been flattened and discreetly lit, but when they first found the caves the brothers would have used candles, a coracle (traditional style of boat) and ropes to explore with.
Some of the different formations have been named, such as the 'Alabaster Pillar' (above montage, bottom right), the 'Angel' (beneath montage, second row down, left hand photo) and the 'Rasher of Bacon' which I don't have any photos of as it was behind plastic.

Back outside and you are directed on a one way system around the park, which ensures that you don't miss anything, and to get to the second cave you have to walk past the Iron Age Village which is perched on a hilly field.
At the entrance to the Cathedral Cave is a Neolithic tribe of cave painters adding their bit of history to the cave entrance. Again this cave has been made as an easy access cave, but the most amazing thing as you walk through is the straw stalactites clinging on for dear life to the ceiling. There are hundreds of them! The main feature of this cave though is when you turn a corner and the ceiling opens up into a vast underground cavern. You can actually get married in here, and although throughout most of the year there are fantastic waterfalls leaping from the top of the cave and splashing down over the walkway, apparently these aren't completely natural and get turned off during ceremonies so that the bride can get to the makeshift cave alter without getting her dress wet. Would you want to get married in a cave?

The third cave is known as the Bone Cave as hundreds of different bones have been found here. The remains of bears, saber tooth cats, hyenas, great deer and wolves have been found here along with 42 human skeletons dating back to the Bronze Age. There is also evidence of Roman activity as pottery, coins, metal objects and jewelry have been discovered alongside some of the skeletons.

The Bone Cave is set up quite high on the mountain and you have to wear a hard hat for the climb up due to the low roofed walkway. It's a bit of a climb but does offer fabulous views over the valley below, which is steeped in history as represented inside the cave. I wonder what it would have looked like in the Bronze Age?
So, after having our fill of dinosaurs and various bits of potted history, we piled once more into the car and made the journey back home to Sussex where the cat was waiting, not quite patiently, for his tea. Straight back to normality! It was a lovely holiday, despite the weather, and there was so much inspiration to be had for my stitchscapes that I'm imagining lots of Welsh themed 'scapes will start appearing in the hoops soon!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Star Holiday:: Day Six

Thursday (Day Six)::
This was my absolute favourite day, and all because of this place- Llanerchaeron! We had actually already visited New Quay Honey Farm that morning but only to stock up on the various different types of honey- I'm going to have to do some kind of taste test to see what the difference between Heather honey and Wildflower honey is- and also to grab a cup of coffee. 

Basically, this place is in the middle of nowhere, and even on the drive down a rather dubious looking road (as directed by the SatNav) we were halted whilst a herd of National Trust cows belonging to the estate were moved leisurely along the road to a different field. The estate was and pretty much still is, totally self sufficient. They have an adjoining farm, with food/drink processing rooms attached to the main house via a courtyard which housed places for beer making, meat preserving, a buttery, a bakery, a laundry, etc. And we also discovered that they had their own small water system which generated electricity to power the main house which was looked after by the was all going on!

The house itself, a Georgian villa, isn't overly remarkable in terms of some of the other grand country houses we've seen during our membership to the National Trust. It had all of the usual trappings, lovely moulded ceilings, ornate furniture and hundreds of years worth of collected crockery, but it was fascinating to see how all of the behind the scenes action would have been run, and there was also a real sense of 'girl power' about the place. My favourite character in Llanerchaeron's history has to be Mary Ashby Lewis who married into the family and moved to the estate. Sadly her husband died early on, but according to the NT, his will "stipulated that Mary be allowed to stay at Llanerchaeron for as long as she lived, however as she did not own it she couldn't make any changes to the estate. During this period standards of living were changing and new technological advances were being implemented into homes, but under Mary Ashby Lewis' management, Llanerchaeron remained unaltered." She never remarried, and "continued to live at Llanerchaeron until her death at the age of 104 in 1917." Amazing to think of isn't it?

The best part for me (as it usually is) was the walled garden which had kitchen plots with fruit, vegetables and herbs growing, several orchards, remains of glass houses which look as if they would have had oranges growing in them, a trio of individual green houses, and to-be-picked flower beds, with the showy flowers that would have been grown and cut for display within the house. We also befriended a couple of garden cats who were enjoying the atmosphere of the warm green houses.

The estate just kept on going and going, and once we had done the house and half of the walled garden, we snuck through a little door off to the side and found ourselves in a farm courtyard! Pigs on one side, cows on the other, horses in a different section (past the ice-cream-truck-guarding geese), sheep in a pen through the back, behind the barn, via the turkeys, ducks and chickens. Everywhere you went there was more to see! The piglets were very comical, and had just been fed their trough of slops so were really tucking in- quite literally in some cases. Perhaps the best way to eat slops is if you are actually standing in the trough itself?

We meandered back to the walled garden, via a different door again, and I had great fun photographing the hundreds of butterflies and the bees working most industriously on collecting as much nectar as they could. They must absolutely thrive in gardens such as these with plants to suit all types of insect.
The estate also boasts a rather lovely lake which you can walk all of the way around, enjoying views over green fields as you go. There was evidence here of Autumn starting to creep in, adding a zesty yellowness to the canopy of tree leaves above. It was all very bright, and in this case, the extra light that cameras can sometimes add to photos is not at all over-zealous, the greens really were that green!

After a smashing lunch in the little cafe, I persuaded the family to go for a walk around some of the equally vast woodland on the other side of the river. Which would have been fine- had it not been one of the wettest summers we've had for a while. The path started out as quite a sensible, hardened texture, but quite quickly turned more boggy, and by the time we had gone too far to turn back, it was really rather boggy indeed! We were really scuppered when we finally reached the bridge clearly shown on the map as the turning point to begin going back the way we had come, but over on the other side of the river, to discover that the path had been completely washed away and was now part of the river itself! The Mother was not impressed (not being keen on boglands) and we turned about and tried to join up with a second mapped pathway higher up at the other end of a field we had passed through. Unfortunately, whilst the field itself wasn't sinking under our feet, and offered beautiful views of the valley below, the second pathway was essentially awash with the rain water coming off of the fields and was just as boggy, with the occasional rock poking out to stand on.
It was rather exciting really, swinging along the embankment at either side of the 'path', gripping on to trees and sliding about all over the place. I'm not sure if The Mother has such fond memories though.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Star Holiday: Days Four & Five

Tuesday (Day Four)::
Mwnt Beach is beautiful. I'm just going to state the obvious here as you can see for yourselves how pretty it is! What the photos don't show you is the rather brisk wind trying to casually knock you over as you make your way from the carpark downwards to the sandy beach. There is a set of stairs to help you on your journey down, and a little stream which bubbles happily alongside. The Mother and I made our way to the sheltered cove, and the others climbed up to the top of a hill cliff which apparently offered even better views out towards the sea.
As we were there early, we pretty much had the beach to ourselves for about an hour, other than the odd dog walker. The swooshing of the waves, the cry of the birds, the splash of the wave spray crashing against the rocks, the occasional faint moo of the cows lining up on the hill are the best parts of a beach in my opinion (other than beach treasure; sea glass, little shells etc. Sadly there were none of these to be found).

At the top of the hill is a beautiful squat little white church, The Church of the Holy Cross. This isn't owned by the National Trust but is kept open so you can look around and there are snippets of historical facts inside you can read. I just loved the way it looked, hunkered down in the long green grass- especially when the sun came out and the blue sky appeared. The colours are almost overbright in their sparkly cleanliness.

We wandered around Cardigan town centre during the afternoon and had a spot of lunch in one of the pubs there but there wasn't much to take photos of. Later that afternoon we were back in the little town of Cilgerran, visiting The Welsh Wildlife Centre. Sadly we didn't spot any otters- or any other wild animals for that matter- perhaps we went at the wrong time of day or the wrong time of year, but the views of the River Teifi were lovely and we followed a quick walk around which landed us back in the carpark.

Just before leaving though, a herd of very charismatic Water Buffalo caught our eye in the field next to the parking space. This chap was a real poser and stood for ages trying out different positions for me to take photos of. Work it baby!

Wednesday (Day Five)::
As always, we were out early with a full day planned- no lie ins on our holidays! First stop was the Pentre Ifan Neolithic Burial Chamber. Everywhere in Wales seems to be set out with a beautiful view- it really is a lovely part of Britain.
The monument as seen today is a collection of seven main stones. The largest is the huge capstone which is apparently 5 metres long by 2.4 metres wide, and nearly a metre thick. How the builders/creators lifted it to put it on top like that, resting on three upright stones, I have no idea! Originally, experts think, there would have been a mound towards the back of the monument, with three more upright stones forming an entrance and a doorway cap. The mound itself is thought to have had dry stone walling which has now been mostly scattered around, and there would have possibly been several individuals buried in the chamber, re-used over time, although no bones have been found.
Of course, as always, there are alternative theories about this set of carefully positioned stones, one being that it was never intended to be a burial mount at all, perhaps as these stones are so nicely finished and positioned, they were meant to be a high status monument, adding significance to an already significant place.
Whatever its original intent, it was pretty spectacular, and was also a handy shelter when a random rain cloud passed over, causing a beautiful rainbow to appear towards the mountains.

The monument was on the way to St. Davids which is a city that The Mother was wanting to visit. It is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, cities in Wales, and was granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II because of it's cathedral, which is very impressive. The site of the current cathedral is also the site of the partially ruined Bishop's Palace, a medieval representation of the power and influence of the church at that time. The standing structures were mostly built by Bishop Henry de Gower who really went in for lavish architecture, with fabulous chequerboard stonework still visible above the windows, and a super circular wheel window along with impressive stone staircases and arched porches.

It was very interesting walking around the Bishop's Palace and seeing the clean edges of the cathedral through the crumbling edges of the older site. Something which also caught our attention is this brilliant metal fence and gateway at the entrance to the palace (not an original feature). The circle part is a replica of the wheel window, but it is the little details amongst the beautifully crafted leaves; the spider webs and spiders, the caterpillars and butterflies- it's really lovely!

There is much to explore here as you can go up little tiny spiral staircases to the remains of upper levels and walls, and down into servants quarters and storage rooms. There are three sides of the courtyard to explore and imagine how it might have looked when fully furnished and lavishly decorated- from what I could tell, there was no expense spared to keep wealthy and important guests happy.

We rounded the afternoon off with a trip to Whitesands Beach, an absolutely vast stretch of sand, sea and sky! It's only a couple of minutes away from St. Davids and with the sun blazing down and creating smooth reflections of the clouds on the wet sand, it was a lovely end to the day. Amazingly, there was no beach treasure to be found here either! What is going on with Welsh beaches? I did see some beautiful clusters of shells adhered to the lower rocks of the cliffs but as they weren't loose and obviously empty shells I didn't try to add them to my collection.
We climbed the steep stairs to the top of the grassy hill at the back of the beach and meandered along a roughly cut path, brushing through the long grasses which were being combed with the still rather chilly breeze. I love the image in the bottom montage, in the bottom right hand corner where the sea can be seen through the squares of fence- it reminds me of a set of printed canvases mounted on a wall, creating one striking image but in several parts.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Star Holiday: Days One - Three

Hello! I'm back from not-so-sunny Wales where I spent a week with the fam-a-lam for our annual family holiday. We stayed in a converted watermill in a tiny little hamlet called Star (nice and easy to pronounce), which was very quiet and peaceful. As always, I love to share my photos of the week with you all, and I've just been wading through over 1700 photos taken on my snazzy new camera, narrowing them down and putting several in mixed montages to make them easier to look through on the blog- I'd probably break the page if I tried downloading them all! So, grab a cup of tea and a slice of cake and find a comfy spot- we're going in!

Saturday (Day One)::
We always try and find a spot to visit during the journey up to our holiday homes (service stations for greasy full English breakfasts don't count) and once across the bridge and officially in Wales, we stopped off at Oystermouth Castle (above montage) which sits high up on a hill overlooking the town of Mumbles. It is a great position for a castle, looming over the whole of Swansea bay, and there are fabulous views through a window in the upstairs chapel, supposedly built by a lady of the house, Aline de Mowbray around the 13th century. Although the original floor at this level has gone, possibly robbed away or built with wood, you can reach the window via a glass floor (which is slightly terrifying) built as part of conservation works by Swansea town council. Pretty spectacular stuff.

There wasn't really anywhere to eat our picnic lunch around the castle, so we hopped back in the car and drove a little way along the coast to Bracelet Bay, a gem of a find with breathtaking views out towards the sea with the lighthouse perched on the edge. The weather was doing strange things with sun and rain, and the sky was rolling with black clouds, as you can see pretty clearly in the below photograph. The weather was variable the whole holiday to be honest and although we could have a couple of hours of beautiful sunshine, it would start pouring down with rain with barely a seconds notice, sometimes a light drizzle, and other times it was as if a bucket of water were being poured directly on top of you.

Once our picnic was finished, it was about the right time to head to our holiday home which was nestled at the bottom of a valley with a stream running right along next to us. Although it is a converted water mill, the water wheel had long gone and we couldn't really see where it would have been situated in terms of where the building sat next to the water. In fact, it had been converted so well, the only real reference to it being a mill at all were two large mill stones which had been set into the floor of the 'games room' (very posh) which was right at the very bottom of the building and could only be reached from the outside. From the front door you walked into a hallway leading into the kitchen with a separate utility room, then you could either go downstairs to a bathroom and the master bedroom, or upstairs to a sitting room which then had a little door leading into an upper landing with a bedroom and bathroom, and up even further to two more bedrooms. The whole building was on different levels and had all sorts of quirky little features to explore. The windows were really deep with wide sills that you could plop a cushion into and settle down for an afternoon of sewing with a view over the stream, there were big fireplace ranges with wood burners installed, and the doors all had old fashioned latches as well as locking bolts on them.

I especially loved the artwork around the building. There were lots of stars in various forms around the house (knitted, felted, wicker, stone, carved wood), tea light lanterns hanging from hooks in the kitchen, bowls of shells or conkers on the window ledges, a wooden dragon which flapped its wings when you pulled the string down, and these beautiful felted pictures. The little house one in the top left image above was about the size of a postcard, maybe slightly larger, but the woodland pathway was much larger and had such fabulous details and colours in it. Whoever Ali S is, they are very talented with felt!

Sunday (Day Two)::
Everyone in our family is a National Trust member, which comes very much in handy on holidays. Sunday and Monday was pretty much a tour of NT places, beginning with Cilgerran Castle, a 13th century fortress looking over the Teifi Gorge and river.

It is a little more unusual than other castles built around the same time, as it has the two large drum towers with an outer bailey, rather than a central keep. The towers would have been taller than they are now, and you can still see the remains of the spiral staircase going up the towers, even though parts of the walls and the stairs themselves have gone.
There is plenty to walk round though and a wooden walkway takes you across one of the upper floors of the two towers, although all of the original floors are no longer there and you can look straight down below to ground level. These Welsh castles are quite a bit different to the ones we are used to, as they are built with strips of shale rock rather than big blocks of masonry. The detail for window and door arches has also been created using these blocks of shale following the line of the arch, and it looks almost how a drawing would if an artist had been asked to draw the castle using only single pen lines.

Having had our fill of castles for the morning, we headed down to New Quay, where we had the best fish and chips- well actually I had halloumi and chips (because I'd never seen it offered before) with sweet chili sauce- from a little place called The Lime Crab. Although it was raining, again, we had these to take away and ate them, piping hot, standing on the harbour wall looking back towards the rows of houses lined up on the cliffs.

It's meant to be a good place to spot dolphins and porpoises but the water was so choppy that we didn't see any even if there were some. You can hire boats from the harbour which would take you out on dolphin spotting excursions but we weren't that fussed, and The Sister hates going on boats.

Monday (Day Three)::
Up bright and early, we were waiting at the door of the ticket office at Dolaucothi Gold Mines before it had even opened! This is a totally recommended place to go, and another on our National Trust hit list. There are two tours on offer, a Roman mine tour (which wasn't available when we went because of the constant rain causing problems with safety), and a Victorian mine tour which we opted for. You get all geared up with hard hats and belts with power packs for head torches- oh you really look the part! Dad wasn't all that impressed because he lives in sandals and was forced to wear a pair of wellington boots which really completed his shorts and t-shirt look.
We were on the first tour of the day and our tour guide, Drew, was brilliant. Very knowledgeable and full of witty comments to make the history, which can be a little dry, more entertaining. The tour takes about half an hour and you get a potted history about how the caves and mines had been in use since the Bronze Age, with little bits of Roman history muddled in amongst the Victorian mining. There is still gold in the mines but there is so much work and effort that has to go into extracting it from the quartz it's deposited in, that it isn't really still worth it, plus not all areas of the mines are entirely stable.
Outside the mines themselves, there is the miners yard with buildings of machinery and information points, and you can go panning for gold! At the reception desk you are given a little bag to put your gold in, although all we could find was Iron Pyrite, or Fools Gold. It's still shiny though and good fun swirling the water out of your panning dish and seeing the sparkle at the bottom.

Nearish to the gold mines is another National Trust property, Dinefwr, a historic house, nature reserve and deer park. A little bit like Scotney Castle in Kent, the house that you visit is a 'new' build, with the original residence a little way away (not owned by the NT). Newton House in Dinefwr was home to the Rhys/Rice family, descendants of the Princes of Deheaubarth who ruled from Dinefwr Castle which is further up the hill. The current house was designed by George and Cecil Rice, who gave the building its Gothic appearance with stone cladding, turrets and the landscape as seen through the arched and decorated windows. There is even a little influence from the landscape designer Capability Brown in the park and garden as he was brought in as a consultant- that man got around everywhere!

The estate is 800 acres, and a protected nature reserve with many different habitats perfect for all sorts of elusive animals. Apparently if you are lucky enough, you can spot otters, pole cats and voles as well as fallow deer and badgers. The deer we spotted straight away from the windows of a lovely little early conservatory-type room overlooking the back garden. What we didn't spot, is the animal that is quite closely associated with Dinefwr, the White Park Cattle. Apparently this breed of cattle is rarer than the Giant Panda, with only about 1000 registered breeding females in the world, and the links with Dinefwr go back over a thousand years to when they were mentioned in the laws of Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) when he wrote the laws of Wales from his seat at Dinefwr Castle. The estate is fundraising to #SaveTheHerd which currently consists of twenty breeding females and their calves, so if you are interested in helping out, check out the website page here.
The outside of the building was very pretty as the vines are starting to turn from green to red which contrasts beautifully with the silver of the stone work. Unfortunately, the weather started to turn against us again towards the end of our visit, hurrying our feet towards the car and homewards to our snuggly watermill.