Sunday, 30 September 2018

Shropshire Holiday:: Days 1 & 2

We've been back from our Shropshire holiday for two weeks so it's about time I shared some holiday snaps with you. As you know from my previous holidays I take hundreds and hundreds of photos, then whittle them down to the ones I want to keep, and then whittle them further to load onto my blog- but there are still a lot of photos to share!

Day One:

These fab, vintage tearooms were part of Boscobel House, an English Heritage site and our lunch time stop on the way to the holiday home. The tearooms are in an old stable block belonging to the Victorian farmyard on the site, which is mostly open but empty of animals- aside from a little party of hens and some white doves.

The site itself is quite small and is essentially a little manor house and the farmyard, but it's claim to fame is that it was one of the hiding places of King Charles II after he was defeated in 1651 at the Battle of Worcester. He originally hid in White Ladies Priory, a short walk from Boscobel, where he was disguised in county clothes to continue his fleeing journey unnoticed but, whilst trying to escape through Wales to France, had to turn back as the route was heavily guarded and ended up at Boscobel, a remote country house designed for privacy- although more used by Catholic priests as a hiding place than Kings.

Even this house, then buried in dense woodland, wasn't safe as the pursuing soldiers had already raided the White Ladies Priory so Charles, along with another fugitive hid in a giant oak tree and stayed there until the soldiers had searched the woods and left. Although the actual oak tree is now gone, the descendants of the original tree live on. Apparently the oak in the below image with the fence around it, is one such tree and nearly on the same spot as the original, although how they know that I have no idea. Charles spent the rest of the night in a priest hole under the floorboards in the attic and was then squirrelled away to France, where he remained for nine years before returning to reclaim the throne in 1660.

Day Two:

We fell over into Wales on our first proper day of the holiday. Being on a little sticky-out point of England, right on the border into Wales meant that we pretty much crossed the border several times a day, occasionally without realising it. Generally you can tell when the road signs have the Welsh written above the English, or 'araf' (Welsh for slow) appears on the roads first.
We were visiting Valle Crucis Abbey, a CADW site (Welsh heritage) and previous home to Cistercian monks. Building work on this site started in 1201, and there is quite a lot of it still left, although it isn't an enormous site.

The chapter house still has a roof on it and a lot of the stone detailing is left even though it was dissolved in 1537. You can even wander around the monks fish pond, complete with water.

It was really lovely to be able to walk on the same flagstones that the monks would have walked on, and to see the same vaulted roof. The cloister walls are no longer there but you can walk it's outline and imagine the flowers growing in the centre. There is a second floor accessible above the chapter house, however when we went it was closed off due to pigeons nesting. Perhaps if you find yourself that way you could go and send me a photo of the monks bedrooms.

There is an amazing amount of places to visit and things to do in this part of the world, we barely went 30 minutes away from our holiday home in any direction. After the Abbey, it was a five minute drive to Horseshoe Falls in Llangollen, the birthplace of the Shropshire Union Canal. A chap called Thomas Telford, who will come up again on another day, designed a horseshoe shaped weir to draw water from the River Dee into the canal system. Originally this would have been levelled by raising or lowering planks, but now there is a Meter House, built in 1947, which measures how much water is taken through to the canal. Having narrowboated along the Shropshire Union Canal system, it was really fascinating to be at the very start of it! Although I know that canals are man-made water systems fed by rivers, it hadn't even crossed my mind to think about the effort that goes into it and the careful planning. I just assumed it kind of happened naturally at the junction between river and canal as a sort of 50/50 split.

We walked alongside the baby canal (it starts out quite small and shallow- you can't get more than a kayak along it), admiring the way it has been cut out of a huge cliff of rock. You walk between the canal and the river and eventually come out alongside the Chain Bridge Hotel, from where you can cross the chain bridge over the River Dee to the railway station. The bridge you see today was rebuilt in 1929, but the original bridge was built in 1813 by a coal merchant called Exuperious Pickering (what a name!!!!!) who used it to transport coal, lime and stone from his mines. New chains were put in in 1876 by Henry Robertson, and his son reused those chains for the current bridge. It bounces when you walk!

This part of the world seems to be stuffed with aqueducts and viaducts, all crossing over and under and through each other. It's quite amazing. We watched the steam train stop off at the station opposite whilst enjoying a fabulous roast dinner in the hotel- thoroughly recommended!

On our drive home again, we paused at the side of the road when we spotted this giant, towering aqueduct. As we watched a narrowboat chugged across it! I was adamant, if we could, we were going over that!!! (But that's for another day.)

Saturday, 29 September 2018


It's been an absolute age since I did a blog post just commenting on the state of the garden and briefly bringing you lovely readers up to speed on the projects I'm doing- even if I haven't actually touched them since the last time I showed you!
I used to write this kind of blog post all of the time, sometimes the blog could go for weeks without a single mention of a creative happening, but concentrated instead on the turn of the seasons and the flowers that were planted, or even just the colour of the sky! What I am doing is very much reflected on here, and as I am putting so many more hours into sewing and stitchscapes, I'm afraid that is pretty much all you have been getting. My crochet has stopped completely, although as the days get shorter and evenings cooler, I have been having small thoughts about finishing off some of my many crochet WIPs. I prefer making blankets and it is the best activity to do during the winter because you can snuggle underneath it whilst you go.
Instagram has had a lot to do with the blog changing as well I think as I am still taking quick snap shots of things I see, but taking the image on my phone and immediately uploading it to a portal through which you can all view them, whereas previously I would rush inside, grab my camera and then have lots of stored images to go through when I wanted to write a blog. I try not to cross my Instagram and blog images too much as it would be boring to have the same ones, and I can get a lot more detail in from my camera.

But anyway, today I have made a special effort- especially as the sun is shining so beautifully! It has been a gorgeous week, weather-wise, slightly nippy and a bit breezy but the sun has shone throughout and in the middle of the day it is actually very warm for this time of year. Hopefully we can hang on to it as long as possible! The mornings have been spectacular with the most amazing sunrises (photos of which you can find on Instagram as I don't have time in the morning to rush inside for my camera) whilst I eat my breakfast and leave for work. They have been quite misty so there are layers of  low-lying, swirling mist, tinged just the palest shade of yellow with the big circle of sun just behind, trying to burn it's way through. The spiders are out in full force and the webs starting to coat the garden were all sparkly with dew droplets, it was really pretty!
Bartholemew's Oast House is so near completion but I have had to pause in my efforts to concentrate on more seasonal Christmas projects. It doesn't really matter, he's on holiday for a little while yet but it would be nice to get him finished as soon as possible. I have started on the blue flowers at the edge of the woodland, with a big detached chain stitch daisy flower, some satin stitch and french knots. After I finish the flowers there are leaves to go on the trees, and perhaps (now I look at it) some grasses to grow up against the fence as it looks a little bereft all by itself. I will make time for it soon.

The reason poor Mr B has been abandoned is because of these. I made some last year as a very last minute Christmas idea and it would seem I am repeating myself as I promised Christmas would be done and dusted by August (lies, all lies!), whereas in fact, I didn't start it until August. They are my little 10cm Christmas decorations which can hang on the tree, or be propped on the mantel, or hung on the wall. I have been teaching classes on this as they are so easy to make! They aren't really landscapes, or anything particularly, just four fabrics layered on top of each other and made sparkly. It uses the techniques of stitchscaping rather than actually being one.
I do have some left from last year, but because of the classes, made some more as demonstrations and was then donated lots of new Christmas fabrics which sparked off lots of new ideas.

They are perfect projects for the bus as they are so small. This week has been rather lovely because in the mornings the bus is filled with a golden glow and I can sit in peace and quiet, with my earphones plugged in, sewing for an hour of uninterrupted bliss. Apart from the pot holes that is, which can cause some stress and stabbing of fingers.
I have two more little decorations on the go as well, which I don't normally do. I prefer to finish one and then move on, but I had developed a technique with the snowflakes on the green one that I wanted to pass on to the silver on before I forgot it so transferred myself over.
Hopefully I still have time to make lots of these before the Wealden Times Midwinter Fair in November. They will look really lovely displayed on my white treee as they sparkle when they catch the light.

From inside projects to outside. Ziggy is in absolute seventh heaven with this weather. He hates the autumn and winter when it's cold and drizzly, and moans like mad for months on end (apart from snow, which he really likes). In the mornings he loves to sleep on his dilapidated, falling down chair- which we really should get rid off as it is quite literally disintegrating, but he really enjoys it so we feel we can't just yet.

It is very obviously turning to Autumn now, and my Chinese Lanterns have had a cracking year! I must have had this pot for about four years now, with bulbs bought from a pound shop, and the first year was rubbish- a couple of flowers and one green lantern. I gave them up as a bad job and forgot about them over the winter, assuming they would die off, but Dad looked after them in Spring and they came up again the next year, this time with more flowers and a small gaggle of orange lanterns. The third year they came back again with even more orange lanterns and now look at them! Loads of lanterns! After the leaves all die away, the lanterns stay on the branches, adding a pop of colour well into the season, and the orange sort of dies away as the lanterns become more skeletal which is really pretty. 

The leaves are starting to turn as well. We only have one tree in our garden whose colours change, the rest are evergreens, but this particular one (whose name escapes me today) is always rather spectacular in it's colours.

Some parts of the garden still look vaguely summery. We have hundreds of sunflowers all over the place, some planted by the birds and others by Dad. This year we have had several sunflowers self or bird seed in the hanging baskets which has been interesting. They are in pots, in flowerbeds and in cracks in the paving, and come in all shapes and sizes. We have tiny, miniature sunflowers, multi-headed sunflowers, big giant happy ones, and crazy pom pom ones. We leave the heads up once the petals have died away so either the birds can have the seeds, or they will have a chance to self seed themselves for next year.

We've had a go at growing a few things this year as I was given a psychedelic salad kit with seeds for all sorts of things. The only ones that have really worked were these lemon citrus cucumbers which are actually quite nice! I also tried rainbow radishes which were totally eaten by caterpillars, and various other seeds which didn't even bother sprouting. Dad has grown his own orange chillies which are, thanks to the blistering hot sunshine, super hot! I think I will stick to the cucumbers, they are more to my taste.

I did say we had sunflowers everywhere. These ones are guarding the front gate, standing tall and proud on sentry duty. Further down the path towards the house we have a sunflower that is happily seeding itself but leaning over the path and bonking people on the head when they come by. I've been caught out a couple of times by that one.

These are the beautiful pom pom sunflowers. They aren't really called that as far as I know but it is the only way to describe them. They are crazy things!

Of course, one of my favourite things about the turn to Autumn, is the arrival of these glorious conkers! I am absolutely obsessed with conkers and have an enormous bowl of them in the studio which gets added to each year. There is nothing better than finding that deep, shiny brown within a spiky casing. They are so smooth, and the patterns like polished red oak or teak. It is a shame that they lose this lustre but I love them nonetheless and will often find a load in my coat pocket where I have picked them up on my travels to the studio. Does anyone else have an Autumnal obsession?