Merry Christmas!

from us all, including the floppy Christmas Elf… lol

More history and another challenge

From the age of 10 or so, I spent my long summer holidays with my English grandparents. We generally had 8-9 weeks, so it was much longer than the standard 6 weeks (or 5 if you’re a Swiss child!) and although there was plenty to do and see, there were times when I went looking for something to read or make. On my quests for inspiration, I frequently browsed a large collection of Family Circle magazines that my Granny picked up at the supermarket and kept in a cupboard. They were full of all sorts of fascinating information and tips, and yes, ideas of things to make. Within reason and if Granny had the bits and bobs, I spent many an hour crafting something I’d seen. It was understood that eventually, I would inherit this collection! Especially as I have gone on to develop a love of vintage magazines and books…

Unfortunately, the pile of magazines turned up so late in our packing-up of Granny’s belongings that I was restricted to a small pile to bring home with me, and I sadly had to dump the rest (though not without scouting through them for knitting patterns!). Now I am back home and the weather has taken a turn for the worse, I’ve started reading them and found myself taken back in time.

The first issue of (British) Family Circle came out in October 1964, shortly before my birth, and this issue has been faithfully kept – probably in the hope that it would become valuable! I did check online and it seems that it has gone from an original price of 1/- (one shilling in old English money pre-1971) to a value of around £20 now, so not bad. I suppose there aren’t many that have survived 53 years.

Domestic bliss was the aim for the 1960s housewife, but she was a modern miss, too. The title page advertises the competition to win an all-electric £5000 house – a real 1960s detached with all mod-cons, even things like dishwashers that didn’t become common in the UK until 30 years later.

Scandinavian style had reached the British Isles and jumps out every couple of pages – much like today!

Some of the fashions wouldn’t look out of place in 2017, either, albeit with slightly different styling. but really, Mad Men?!

It’s a treat to read real English that has been proofread, too, and the level of common sense is fantastic – sigh. The recipes look tasty and simple (in those days, few people were prepared to attempt any funny foreign food…), the embroidery timeless and the adverts no less ridiculous than in a modern magazine. I spied a few things that are of their time and yet – my mother still has a bamboo rocking chair exactly like the one in the home decor section

and I could knit up several of the patterns without the garments even looking “vintage”.

Tweed is in!

To a young 2017 mum it might seem shocking to see that babies were being given additional foods from the age of only 2 weeks, but the article about children’s imaginations v. lying is just as topical for any mum of a 4 year old, I’m sure. PG Tips and Ovaltine (Ovomaltine here!) still exist, while most of the offices you could write to (with a stamped addressed envelope, please…) probably do not.


So, the challenge I am setting myself is to implement some of the things I found in this stack of 1960s magazines! Let’s see how I do, shall we?

Autumn knitting

Let me just squeeze this in before winter is completely upon us!

First of all, the final item in my Four Seasons challenge from the beginning of the year.
If you remember, I began with a beautiful winter hat, the Constellation hat by Hunter Hammeson (a paid-for pattern on Ravelry), not difficult but probably the most complex of the four patterns.

This was followed by the easy spring shawl, Linus by Annett Cordes (free, see Ravelry), in iris colours

A light summer shawl came after that – a simple and bright candy-coloured riot! Reyna by Noora Laivola (free Ravelry download).

The last in the quartet is autumnal indeed, cosy socks which are the brilliant and easy Nutkin pattern by Beth LaPensee (a free Knitty pattern also available on Ravelry). I have made this pattern before – and since! – and love it. It’s the perfect combination of slightly lacy and stretchy but warm and cable-y, without needing any cable needles: truth be told, it’s just a wandering stitch of increases, decreases and yarn overs and very quick, too.

A reminder – all the yarn is Malabrigo Mechita single-ply Uruguayan fingering, a super-soft yarn, and the colours were Unicornio, Lluvas, Aniversario and Piedras. Thumbs up all round!

Other autumnal projects started off slowly. On our short stay in Portugal, my efforts to get going on the Woodland Tales pattern by Melody Hoffman with the West Yorkshire Spinners’ Wensleydale in a luscious cranberry shade were thwarted by endless difficulties. Eventually, in France, I managed to get a reasonable gauge and get past “Go”, but I must admit it was a bit of a struggle, dare I suggest due to the pattern being one of her first and marked with inexperience? However, the resulting lacy mittens are a delight and I’m very pleased with them. Being lacy does not make them less warm, however, in a pinch (or a very cold day) they could be worn over machine-knit gloves or mitts, for pretty, if you will. I like the fact that the wool is Yorkshire Wensleydale and this particular colour being what it is – in case you don’t know, Wensleydale Cheese with Cranberries is a “thing” and something we’ve often brought home from England with us ever since the children watched Wallace and Gromit years ago and Wallace loved his Wensleydale cheese…and we love cranberries lol. So again, a big positive result!!
That’s a gratuitous shot of Sophie the cat, one of the last ones, unfortunately, as we had to have her put to sleep last week… as I’m not ready to write about her, yet, here’s a link to my mom’s lovely obituary!

Next is technically still a WIP (well, not when it takes me an age to write a post!), but should be easy enough to remedy: the Treehouse Mitts, also by Melody Hoffman (from the video podcast Mandarine’s) in Blacker’s 12th Anniversary wool called Brushwork, in the colourway Wash. These are lovely and dense and the colour is so pretty, with tiny specks of grey, pinks and blues in it. This pattern is also a bit fiddly, but not hard. As it’s a DK weight, they are knit quickly and it’s only due to distractions and castonitis that I haven’t yet done the second one! Due any moment… tada…

Back in April my daughter lent me her Traveling Cables hat (Purl Soho) when we went sailing. My initial plans with the Baa Ram Ewe Titus in White Rose were abandoned – another Yorkshire yarn and the colour in memory of my Granny had been intended for a Celtic shawl but I wasn’t happy with the fabric and when my daughter mentioned that the hat was made of the same yarn (in a different colour), held double, well there was nothing holding me back. Now I, too, have a dense and cuddly hat to wear against biting winds… I loved this free pattern, especially the way the cables come together at the top, very clever. 🙂

The Drops Nord I was trying out – a wool, alpaca, polyamide blend that isn’t machine-washable – turned into two pairs of what are essentially bedsocks, or lounging socks if you like. The blue is fog, the pink I believe is just antique rose, both lovely soft colours and the general impression of the wool is supersoft, cloudy, squishy and actually a pleasure to knit. The recipients are both blue-eyed and fair-haired and I think the colours suit them! I didn’t get a picture of the blue socks with pink heart heels, but these are made from the leftovers – two balls of blue and a bit of the pink, plenty left.

Two sweaters have fallen off the needles, I’m not quite sure when – the first certainly knitted itself and is a Flax by Tincanknits (free!) in Drops Lima (wool/alpaca) in a lovely mustard colour. Sorry about the selfie, but heyho, a girl gotta do what a girl gotta do! I’m very happy with this slightly cropped (by me!) sweater, ideal with a skirt.

Then some Drops Puna arrived, a wonderful 100% alpaca yarn that was so wonderfully rich and squishy. I had chosen the purple because I like purple, but the following day after I received it, Pantone announced their tribute colour to Prince – “Prince Purple” and I swear this is exactly it, so my sweater is now dubbed Purple Rain!! It’s the Wind Down pattern #175 by Drops, another free one. This knitted up beautifully and like the other, is a dream to wear. Very warm but light! The little bit of lace at the raglan is pretty and there’s a sneaky little row of eyelets along the underarm “seam”, too.

I’ve been knitting like a fiend to use up as much of the acquisitions as possible!! Some more Nutkin socks in a plain grey, Poppyseed, by West Yorkshire Spinners in their very lovely Signature Blue-Faced Leicester sock yarn happened, too, but I haven’t photographed them, yet (ah…time lapse…)! The same goes for Sjä Maja’s Mamelucker woolly knickers, yes, you read right, big pants!! I made these out of solidarity for Maja, whose pattern was apparently duplicated by Drops without permission, a big no-no – I agree with Skeindeer about this, as well as a number of other podcasters and designers who called us knitters to arms, or rather needles, in defence of Maja’s pattern. As I like wearing skirts and tunics in the winter, a pair of woolly (over)knickers sounds just the thing, so why not?! I used a large 100g ball of Wolle Rödel’s Paint sock yarn in grey and a smaller 50g ball of Drops Fabel (I know, ironic, but I do use a lot of Drops yarn…) in a soft pink and when I ran out of that, a slightly more mauve Wolle Rödel Paint for the crotch – it’s hardly noticeable and nobody will see, in any case :o. It is very pretty, though, so looking forward to using the rest of that ball soon!
See that little dish of buttons? Dish and buttons courtesy of Granny! So nice to have things around to remind me of her! And the flowers were a generous offering from my daughter and her BF for my birthday, lucky me!

So, that leaves current WIPs – works in progress… The biggest is also a challenge, The Oa by Kate Davies, a lovely stranded colourwork hoodie I’ve coveted since the pattern came out. It’s in her own lovely Buachaille wool and I’ve got about 6″ up the body, so quite a while to go.

There are other (secret!!) projects and a few ideas milling around but when I want a soothing knit, I head for my birthday yarn, a very generous gift from my good friend who knows me well: Blue-Faced Leicester and silk blended and hand-painted by Artist’s Palette Yarns. Ooooh yummy!! It’s a colour called Fireside and I have been sitting by the stove knitting Ysolda Teague’s Fraxinus cowl… it’s a while since I knitted one of her patterns, but I do love her work and admire her as a young designer. It’s a lovely pattern and not difficult so I’m really enjoying making progress 🙂

And that, my friends, I think, is that! Phew.
My knitting space now looks like this, btw…

In Context

A question that pops up now and again tries to divide those of us who lived through the 60’s according to whether you were a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan. Since I was still rather small in those days, I became, vicariouly through my father, more of a Beatles fan. I learnt to read fluently by following the printed song texts on the White Album…

One thing I had actually never seen, though, was The Magical Mystery Tour. This was shown on Boxing Day 1967 on British television and caused something of a sensation. Although I know all the songs and had come into possession of a booklet with a couple of 45 rpm singles featuring them from my uncle, we didn’t live in Britain in 1967 – and anyway, I was only 3! A recent documentary celebrating the 50 year anniversary inspired me to actually go and watch the one-hour classic (found online though not on the ubiquitous YouTube!) and a delightful hour it was.

So you think the British have a “bonkers” sense of humour?! Indeed they do – if you love Monty Python, revere Top Gear (and enjoy the Blues Brothers!), you could well appreciate this crazy spectacle. In the documentary, it was interesting to hear how teenagers at the time did or did not understand what they were watching, and also to hear the reactions of their parents or the older generations, which varied from switching off to humphing about “utter nonsense” to recognition and acceptance that this was simply what the younger generation had creatively made.
BBC Four Arena – Magical Mystery Tour Revisited (available on BBCiPlayer but not online, unfortunately)
Another documentary link: (lots of outtakes at the end!)

Personally, I was very much struck by the context. 1967 – 50 years ago. Society was different, people thought differently, had a different background, often with wartime a not-so-distant memory. Television was still fairly new for anyone over 18, and so hadn’t defined their lives as much as it later came to do. Radio and theatre were far more familiar and appearances didn’t count for quite so much as having a good time.

With all this in mind, I was both touched and amused by the madness that is the Magical Mystery Tour. My grandparents, who reached their 60s about 10 years later, still went on many coach tours and while probably not quite as lively as the group in the film, I’m sure they enjoyed a sing-song on the way home. Perhaps that’s why the film worked and was even accepted for Christmas TV in 1967 – there are enough elements in it which were perfectly normal to the bulk of 1960s society. Oh we do like to be beside the seaside and a nice cup of tea (or bottle of beer!), ballroom dancing (Granny did a bit of that – and before Strictly on TV there was simply, Come Dancing…!) and a good old family get-together that brought together all ages and all sorts, just like the film. Hours spent looking out of a coach window watching scenery or motorway go by, stops for a trip to the loo, squabbles… it was all just a part of it.

What I can’t really imagine is that the 1967 showing was in black and white…!!

Another point that pops up is that of moral values. Listen to how people talk to each other, appreciate that the little girl Nichola sits on (stranger alarm!) John Lennon’s knee and enjoys the attention without any ulterior (danger!!) motive, everyone is just having a good time. There is nothing “PC” (politically correct) about most of what goes on – the little man is not ridiculed and nor are the “midget wrestlers”, but could this film have been made in 2017? I rather think not. The men go to a strip show (shock-horror-feminist-gasp) while the ladies swoon over the elegant white-suited Beatles and the ballroom dancing dresses in true show-style (a great finale!), while the marathon no doubt suffered no limitations from ‘health and safety’…

To me, it was a feel-good film where everyone just had a good time and extremely funny. On the one hand, I can see how very 1967 it is, to some extent a heightened normality, and yet on the other, so very counter-culture and shocking. Fascinating stuff. But yes, controversial both in 1967 and 2017. How far have we come? Or not?!

Fun fun and more fun: Highly recommended!

PS and what about Paul McCartney’s wonderful Fair-Isle jerkin?!

A Walk

Across the pink gravel, through the gate made by our late handyman next to the camellia hedge and into the little cul-de-sac that is our street. At this time of year, October, most of the houses around are shuttered and empty and even those which are occupied stand mainly reticent and quiet. The sky is an intense blue and the air is fresh and sweet, despite the saltiness of the breeze, the trees are still mostly green although the wind is already beginning to encourage the leaves to loosen their grip.
Left around the first corner, then right around a second, accurately trimmed evergreen hedges border a lot of gardens, a small ditch on the left below a wall used to harbour snakes, they said. Now it is manicured and only of interest to the dogs who regularly come and leave their mark for the next sniffer. As I pass along the higher road, a string of houses on the right, all with a sea view and trees and yet still not all occupied year round, a large paddock on the left with the camping ground tucked in behind, invisible unless you know it’s there. No wonder it’s popular in summer. The field is a wide open sloping space that pulls the eye south over it and down to the next property and the village beyond, but it has to be skirted in the dip where the tidy homes and gardens look a little lost, belonging neither to the actual settlement, nor to the ones on the ridge that gaze onto the sea and the islands, a bit forlorn and barren-looking.
By the time I get to the far corner of the field, I feel as if I am really inland, the hedge is thick and to my right the road peters out into a woodland valley. Winding up towards the village again, the farm on the left is the epitome of Brittany, two long low stone buildings set at right-angles to each other, longères, a main house and a holiday property that looks onto the field, with coloured shutters. In between, a courtyard garden separated from the lane by a stone wall that allows the passer-by to peek into a small protected idyll. This is my favourite house of all!
A slight incline leads into the village proper, and like every good French village, there is a tabac (newsagent), a baker and a small café-restaurant that changes hands every couple of years and still struggles. Also ubiquitous is the pharmacy – even if there is no infra-structure at all, it seems there is always one of those. I wonder if the French really are always ill?! Or do they just think they are? A crise-de-foie, un petit bobo, high blood pressure, low blood pressure… perhaps my neighbour is typical?! She does seem to have a string of complaints…
Ahead is the proud stone building that now houses the mediathèque; this includes a small library, post office and the tourist information, the original building having been gutted a few years ago, right down to the granite walls and then a modern interior hidden inside and some attractive landscaping on the far side to form a small yard where people can prop their bikes and sit to consult a map or use the wifi or just look at what’s on – the walls are covered in posters advertising fest noz, jazz concerts, vide-greniers or this year’s big art exhibition in town or one of the other villages. Once it was a fabulous show of quilts in a village hall in a small town nearby, wondrous works of art nonchalently shown in a practical atmosphere utterly lacking in charm. But fabulous nevertheless.

The road is very narrow at this point, a threeway junction. To the right, it widens out to meet the pretty little schoolyard and village primary school where the childrens’ voices at playtime ring out over a vast area, all the way back to us above the shore. On the left, the church rises commandingly and is decorated with large pots of flowers and plants attractively arranged along its perimeter. It hides the low mairie behind, where there is also plenty of room for cars to park. Funny how this large “place” isn’t the centre of the village. Maybe it was in years gone by?
However, we are going to cross over straight ahead through another narrow impasse between the houses, past the impossibly tiny house that used to house a branch of the bank and past some larger properties with bigger gardens, set farther back from the road behind lazy trees and bushes. Here, I’m surprised by someone actually sitting out in the sun with a cup of coffee on this fine afternoon. Her little dog comes to investigate my little dog, she comes to lean on the gate and chat and we exchange dog stories. The fuchsia ballerinas dance in the hedge and teeter out towards the road teasingly, the sun is warm on our backs and heads as we squint to see who we’re talking to. Behind us, the small modern complex of Les Glycines, the old people’s home and sheltered housing, tucked in between the church and the mairie, still in the thick of things but quietly getting on with it behind the greenery.

Here, the village begins to peter out again, the centre is only small although the boundary goes wide. On this corner, there is a large stone building, a small L-shaped château surrounded by something of a wilderness and stone walls with intriguing doors cut into it for access and tall trees around it. What a family seat that would make! I have never seen anyone there but today a jeep stands outside the walls and someone has hacked their way in and is doing some cutting and tidying… is this just regular maintenance or a work in progress? Will there be more going on there next time I pass, will the house be occupied at some point? Patience, patience. It could be years before we see any change, it’s always slow around here. A path cleared, a tree pruned, a shutter opened, a ladder against a wall, a window cleaned, a planter planted, a car in a drive, a toy in the garden… it’s a slow process, but then all can be silent again for another aeon.
Passing along the road, puddles along the broken edges, trees to the right and up ahead, a very tidy green fence is just low enough to see the cemetary beyond. Painfully neat and swept, most of the gravestones in their orderly lines are similar, with just an odd one here and there that defies the custom. Quite a few are made of the local pink granite, but it’s expensive. There is plenty of trim green lawn in reserve. But it’s a pleasant resting place with few houses around it and behind it, a surprisingly large forest that sits comfortably on the slope down to the marshy land and the big crescent beach. I hadn’t realised quite how big that woodland is until I saw it from the other side of the little valley.
But today I go along the road that becomes increasingly canopied by tall trees on both sides, meeting overhead in the prettiest of tunnels, the afternoon sunshine glimmering through and proving that autumn really has arrived. Not only is the road rather muddy along the sides, there are sheaves of fallen leaves and autumn fruits – beech, chestnut, acorn – lying in the road. They even fall on me as I pass, aiming at my head or shoulder and giving me a fright.
Here, the array of sharp and soft greens darkens but also becomes yellow and orange and brown. The shade is pleasant, the day warm, not much wind for once. As the road descends and curves steeply down into the valley only narrow tracks indicate houses set farther back, hidden behind trees, hedges, bends, snuggled into the slope out of the wind that blows so consistently most of the time, tiny hidden paradises showered in fallen leaves. Surely they must dissolve into the landscape within a short time when nature takes over? Do the owners spend their time clearing the area around their houses over and over, just to keep access? What must it be like in this damp climate when the lane isn’t tarred and permanently rutted and muddy?
A funny little house like a small white-washed box sits up on a ridge with a boat parked in front of it, looking rather incongruous. The roof is flat and there are curtains at the windows – could it be liveable or not? Perhaps in years gone by when any roof over your head was welcome or old people didn’t have pensions? Today it would have to be a tiny house pioneer to enliven it, but perhaps it now really only houses boat paraphernalia and has this precarious spot to park the little fishing vessel, held in place by a couple of concrete bricks on the slope.
As the road gets steeper, it feels more and more as if I’d wandered into a fairytale and I increasingly wonder if I’ll ever get out again? Or will I just get lost in a tanglewood of nature in this village backwood. It seems as if nobody ever comes here, so quiet and neglected, decades worth of decay both in the woods and the houses, the old mill in the last, sharpest corner at the bottom of the valley almost buried and barely visible, a few old roof tiles poking through at road level and a vague idea of a barn and house beyond, stretching off to the right, who knows where that valley leads, surely into eternity?
On the left a more modern house, tidy and clean with a modern veranda and a neat garden sloping down to the tiny stream that flows through, originally serving the old mill on the other side, but still half-hidden by trees and bushes.
Here the road takes a deep bend to the left and begins to ascend again. Perhaps there is a way out, after all, somewhere back there, past the marshlands to the left the air seems more open… Sloping steeply up on the right up behind the old mill another lane comes down to meet this one and a small lorry struggles to manage the hairpin bend. To my surprise, several cars and even taxis have passed me, which seems quite ridiculous, surely I’m in the back of beyond?
The road straightens out and flattens out and then meanders more purposefully in a vaguely straight line – no ruler was used! – on towards civilisation. There is a path through the open marshland I’m not familiar with, the woods rising up on the slope above it, but down here a single road with houses on both sides, each one different, some older, some newer, some well-maintained, some not, some in Breton style, some in Breton stone, some which don’t fit in at all…

As I walk along, the atmosphere changes, the air feels drier somehow, the sun on some stone walls reflects the heat, small flowers reach for it and show up daintily along it. The property it belongs to is shuttered and closed, silent and empty, though apparently modernised and tidy. On the right, the slope is quite steep and there are more houses than I remembered, though I have no idea how they are accessed, perhaps from above, as this is a completely different part of the village with its own name. The closer I get to the beach, the more dense the building becomes, though still with plenty of trees. On the left, the houses peter out into woodland, another of the strange, flat-roofed houses – early holiday cottages? – and scrubland, an urban-looking, scruffy carpark and tennis courts that back onto the more obvious camping ground, this one not tucked away neatly like the one near our house but boldly only just set back from the beach and bound to be a mosquito-ridden nightmare in summer! And now there is a pavement again, the little road opens out onto the main thoroughfare that passes along the beach, to the right a large complex of flats on the corner as the road rises steeply, across the even larger complex of a rehabilitation centre perched on the right-hand, eastern side of the beach. Zebra crossings, playgrounds, a surf school… the low granite wall allows for a protected area of grass, playground and carparks, but beyond it is then finally, the beach.
Depending on the tide, you might have to walk a while to reach the water. Incredibly fine sand, soft as velvet, is piled up against the retaining wall, warm to the feel, soft to sit on. As it becomes damper and more compact when you approach the water, it becomes harder, too, firmer to walk on, run on, fly kites on, play football on, or badminton or beach volleyball… Sandcastles, tunnels, buckets, spades, it’s all part and parcel of a classic beach. At low tide the sea curves back from the beach and the figures marching through the water are tiny and far distant, but when it comes in the variety becomes more apparent. Some people swim every day for most of the year, others don neoprene suits and body surf or windsurf or even just walk through the water at ankle, knee or hip depth for the water resistance. Adults and children swim, splash, squeal and jump as the waves trickle and crash their way up and down the beach four times a day, relentlessly following the mesmerising command of the moon, regardless of habit or time, light or dark. Dogs race around, loop the loop and double back, barking, chase balls, or kites, dance around their masters, leap into the waves, trot through the foam, begin to dig frantically, moving ever backwards and leaving funny long channels for the sea to fill.

An expanse of sand, from white to beige to gold to brown, the lace frill of the surf ruffling up and down it irregularly, the blue, grey, green water glowing behind transparently, reflecting the ever-changing sky, huge above the open beach. When the sky is as blue as today, the colours are almost graphic – deep blues, white, yellow. Now, in autumn, there are hardly any algae, just the odd brown abandoned sheaf, while in summer there were whole bands of bright green “mermaid salad”, as we always used to tell the children.
It feels dry and dusty as you walk along the parade, even though there is grass and there is humidity in the air, the sand is a permanent presence. I will find sand in my shoes and in my car for months after returning home. The fine flakes stick stubbornly to the skin and to the feet, catching the light and causing blisters. My grandson retreats in frustration – how do the French manage all this sand, he asks, rubbing at his feet in an attempt to clear them enough to put socks on…?!
The sea, the beach, the parade, the road, a couple of creperie restaurants. That is all on our beach. No souvenir or other shops, no other amenities. The restaurants both close on the same days, the campsite is only open in July and August. It’s quiet. The whole is in a cove, so as soon as you leave the beach up the road, it rises steeply again, winding up the hill back to the village. A cliff on the right looms over the western point of the crescent beach, with large firs reaching up and over in black sculptural beauty, deep dark green needles like contrast shadow clouds to those above.

Another small road leads off to the right on the top of the cliff, first straight along with more shuttered holiday homes left and right, before it begins to go downhill, past a couple of beautiful stone houses occupied only in summer and some artichoke and cabbage fields. A hidden track leads to a secret beach known only to regulars, pocketed between the large beach and the small port, a rocky little sanded area protected from the wind to a great extent but which can only be reached along a tiny footpath between tall grass and rocks.
The road, though, leads down to the port. There is only one building on the left for the regular boaters, locals who go out almost daily to fish for crab, lobster or whatever luxuries the sea provides, and who meet there, hold their club activities there. On the right, rocks. All the way down to the sea, rocks rocks rocks. A small grassy promontory sticks out, surrounded and crowned by rocks, but protecting the tiny harbour and long slipway. There is a car park edged by the little nutshell dinghies on wheels that are used to reach the boats, colourful pennants around the rough dinginess. Everything is sandy and crumbles but the little harbour is always in use and a fleet of little fishing boats bobs around, attached to buoys throughout the protected area, seagulls squawking over and around them, stalking around on the beach behind.
Yes, there is another little beach, just as sandy to begin with but also pebbly further along and less expansive. This time I’m walking along the path behind it, screened from the sea by rocky dunes and long, messy grasses. On my left fields, the corn harvested, dry dusty earth despite the rain we’ve had. The land slopes up, squared off into fields and farms, to a row of houses with a view, the tiniest one is ours! But to get home, I walk along the back of the beach until a burbling brook flows down onto it, a bridge breaches it and the woods begin again. Just before the bridge, I turn left and start the climb, woods on my right and a high hedge to the fields on my left as the lane drapes itself around the landscape and takes me back up to that little row of houses, out of breath from the steepness, ready for the much-loved view of those steady seven islands.

Sintra et al

I hardly know where to start with this post – no amount of images could cover the impressions, really, and it becomes clear that travelling vicariously is going to have its limits for some of you! How I admire the travel writers of old who must assume that their readers are unlikely to follow in their footsteps and to need to describe what they have seen in suitable phrasing…

We flew into Lisbon and very warm summer weather, picked up our rental car and headed to the coast for a few days, thanks to a wedding invitation – German friends have decided to tie the knot and as they are closely connected to Portugal, they decided festivities would take place there. Different!
On arrival, however, we were greeted by a very unrestrained and raging Atlantic crashing full force into the most westerly coast of Europe – and it had brought with it a thick, cool fog. That was unexpected.

The roar of the waves was amazing and deafening – I slowly realised why all the villages are built up on top of the surrounding countryside. I really hope the hotel staff don’t live there permanently! We were at the northern end of the Plaia Grande (big beach), which is no doubt well-visited in the summer months. At the end of September – a few brave surfers attempted to master the irregular storm of waves and a few intrepid sunbathers lounged by the pool but the water was also very cold. I believe it doesn’t actually get any warmer than our Brittany shore, even in summer. Well, that figures. Also, we were told that only 15 minutes drive away in Cascais, the climate is mediterranean: warm, mild, sunny!

When we awoke the following morning, the sea was still bellowing but the skies had cleared and we decided to explore. A cool wind was very welcome and kept the temperatures pleasant in the warm sun. We were staying in Colares, a parish of the municipality of Sintra, which in turn belongs to greater Lisbon. Sintra is a World Heritage Site – and no wonder. There is an array of places to see, scattered through the edge of a national park or forest, mainly of chestnut trees, it seemed, and each palace or villa or castle is as interesting as the next. It is a region that was fought over for centuries and where evidence of a Moorish past is still very much evident. This made quite a change for us, used to British and central European architecture and architectural detail that generally features a lot of Celtic influence in the designs and geometry, but here, the heritage is a very different one, which of course also reflects the difference in climate. Another impression is of the traditional Portuguese style – as the first European colonists, it becomes clear that it was their style which was imprinted on the Colonies, with low square villas covered in fancy decoration and often in shaded, lush gardens appropriate to the lifestyle in a hot place, with the ubiquitous verandas, indispensable attribute to this kind of building. The area is also a wine-growing one, so large depots hold the enormous wine barrels for storage, keeping it dark and cool for later distribution.

Even at the very end of September, Sintra is obviously a popular destination and the tiny town of streets divided only by pedestrian paths was well visited and bustling. It wasn’t easy to find a parking spot or to work out exactly where we were – we had passed several fascinating-looking palazzos and Italianate villas where there only seemed to be a handful of parking spots and time restrictions meant we had chosen two specific places to visit. (Should you ever go to Sintra, allow several days because there is really so much to see and take in, and you wouldn’t want to rush, now, would you?!)

We did come across a house with a different history – the place where Hans Christian Andersen stayed in a tiny village above the town…

Firstly, visible for miles around up on top of the hills, there is a Moorish castle (8th/9th century). That is, the remains of the Moorish presence and several hundred years’ worth of adaptation (from the Bronze Age onwards) and rebuilding, but it is essentially that which we imagine when the word “castle” comes up – look-out towers, crenellated walls snaking over the stretch of the highest part of the hill and flags flying to show who is boss. As it is spread over the hilltop, it has a larger area than you might find elsewhere and is quite a building feat. We climbed and climbed, up cobbled paths and stairways and steps, winding back and forth, through gatehouses and outer walls until we reached the main entrance. Mainly mediaeval, the castle was crumbling by the time Ferdinand II took it on – time and lack of attention since the 14th century as well as the huge earthquake of 1755 that destroyed much of the area had taken their toll – and by the 19th century there was a new sense of romanticism. This artistic, modern and liberal king was actually a German prince, aha! And so we understand the hows and whys of his sense of conservation and romance as he saved what was left, built a mediaval-looking tomb for any bones he found and generally made something of interest and which appealed to visitors… early tourism! The whole is very well presented and worth the steep climb through the woods, which we thoroughly enjoyed (despite aching calves the next day!).

From the top, there is a wonderful view down over the coastal landscape, the town of Sintra and all the way to the coast – with the sea in the far background! The palace with the tall white towers was where we were headed next…

We chose a different route down, one which descended below the Moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros) and through a cleft between the rocks (a somewhat perilous path of steep steps and large rocks where young rock climbers practised both monkeylike climbing and abseiling…) and then into the shaded gardens of the Villa Sassetti which meander down through the valley to Sintra, following the fountain/stream that irrigates everything. All the info here:

We’d been all the way up there!

But now, we headed down through Sintra to the National Palace, also known as the Town Palace (Palacio Nacional de Sintra), the best preserved mediaeval royal residence in Portugal, again, with Moorish origins (not visible now). To my mind, the mainly 15th/16th century building offers a wildly exotic comparison to residences of the time in Britain – this was the time of Henrys V, VI, VII and VIII and Elizabeth I. For all the necessary basics, the contrast is extraordinary: both architectures are “the best” of their regions, being royal, and yet they are so not alike! Perhaps there are arguments which are better informed than I and maybe there are palaces that have more in common, but in my experience, there are so many differences – and it occurs to me that they can be seen in mediaeval paintings, too, though I had not previously considered that…
Anyway, to begin with, we did not enter into a large representative hall – a side door of the main entrance (again, perhaps different to the way it was at the time?) led up a sinuous stone spiral staircase to the guard halls and the first large, representative room, the Swan Hall, or Hall of Princes.

How unusual to our eyes the tiling everywhere?! Not something I’ve ever seen in an English stately home.
Step onto a loggia and feel the coolness of this central courtyard – and just look at those curious white towers which can be seen for miles around! What on earth could they represent?!

Walls of daisies – something for my Yarnsmithery friend! – lined the following rooms, followed by another stunning Chamber of State, with a ceiling decorated with magpies. “Por bem” (for honour) being the motto of Joao I (John I, 1385-1433)… “This relates to the story that the king John I was caught in the act of kissing a lady-in-waiting by his queen Philippa of Lancaster. To put a stop to all the gossip, he had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at the court.” Wonderful stuff!

Loggias, bedrooms, patios, gardens, staircases of stone (little wood here except for furniture and ceilings!)… a palace truly fit for royalty.

This last high-domed room has a real wow-effect – coming from a narrow corridor you enter and gasp. The walls are all blue-and-white tiled hunting scenes, the ceiling incredibly ornate and richly painted. In German, to be snooty is to be “high-nosed”; I wonder what it is in Portuguese?! The Royals definitely had their noses in the air and a crick in their necks, by the look of it!

Again, what a contrast to the tapestry hangings on the wood panelling commonly found in chilly English palaces!

The chapel seems to be one of the oldest parts of the residence. It seemed unusual to me to find the walls in pink, though I did like the dove theme! It seems that when they found a motif, they really stuck with it (a lot of birds, too!) and I also like the geometry of the repetitive design.

(In knitting, those inbetween borders could almost be Norwegian stars!)

What about a built-in fountain in your bedroom?! (In fact – running water in the 15/16th centuries? Eat your heart out, England and France…!!)

And now for those curious white towers… Built in the early 15th century – I remind you that we are talking 1400-1450, so around 600 years ago. This utterly blows my mind: they are kitchen chimneys!

How amazing is that kitchen?! Tiled all over, large, roomy and NEXT DOOR to the main halls!! Compare that to a Tudor kitchen (and in fact, we should go back and compare it to the Lancastrian Henry V… pure mediaeval renaissance!), far from the state rooms, dark, dirty, dangerous… I find this kitchen completely mindboggling. This is the oven…


By now it was time to head off to the beach for a pre-wedding get-together – again, the sea was very loud and the wind fairly icy, but a good time was had by all. I was very glad of my blue Quill shawl!

And the wedding was beautiful, too. A fantastic wine cellar location, a very classy reception, excellent food and wine – I’m sure the couple will be very happy together!

A last drive out to Cabo da Roca – this is the westernmost point of continental Europe. As loyal fans of Brittany it has to be said that the Pointe du Raz also claims the same honour, and I really don’t know who to believe. In any case, it’s an impressive cliff with an attractive lighthouse… you decide!!

(and for comparison, the Pointe du Raz:

Wow, what a weekend! ;o

If you’re interested, here is more on Sintra: and and we stayed here where the food (fish!) was excellent!

Interim (alternative title: ‘Desperate to catch up’!)

I know I only just got back from my summer stint in Brittany, but I have more travels to report back on, as well as the promised book reviews – and (gulp) more knitting and yarn acquisition. I have no excuse, I am but a weak woman!

The visit of a dear friend from Canada – we hadn’t met for 11 years! – was a good excuse for daily jaunts around Switzerland, including yet another cable car ride, this time up to 2502 m above sea-level…

…as well as a beautiful day out in Lucerne and a drive over more mountains, visiting old haunts from when our children were small and an epic Robbie Williams concert. Among other things. I don’t think I stopped grinning all week! Thanks, E!!

Believe it or not, I am presently in England yet again and for the last time based at my granny’s house. A very bittersweet time as we pack up and sell; the house is now looking decidedly minimalistic and it’s a bit like camping – but interestingly, we have all we need! There must be a lesson in that.

While we’re here, we still take advantage of a day here and there to go out and do something and visits to friends and relatives further afield are an opportunity to see a bit of countryside.

We spent an afternoon of bright blue skies in Bath… followed by an unexpectedly beautiful return journey thanks to Apple maps satnav taking us around motorway congestion and through some tiny Cotswold country lanes I wouldn’t have dared to follow alone but with the September sunset throwing a wonderful light over the landscape. The route spat us out gently on the top of a hill south of Gloucester with a phenomenal view down over the Severn estuary as we descended to the M5 motorway on what seemed to be a pass road zigzagging back and forth. Breathtaking.

…then another afternoon on a fascinating visit to Stourbridge, which used to have an important glass industry. I had no idea. Glassware for the Titanic was made here! The Red Cone Glass Museum (possibly/probably changing its name soon?) is on the site of Stuart glassworks and shows the history of the industry over the 18th and 19th century. The complex includes a shop where beautiful pieces can be bought and a number of craft shops. We especially enjoyed the Red Cone Coffee House lunch of salads and a traditional ploughman’s – definitely to be recommended!

My favourites – the colours! And then entitled “fibre”…wool in glass?!

Autumn arrived yesterday, so I really want to get the summer wrapped up… which leads me to this summer’s books.

There were two of my favourite authors to catch up with: Alexander McCall-Smith and Donna Leon. Both are prolific and there are new stories each year, in the case of the former, a new story for each of his series, most years. This summer I enjoyed the latest in the Sunday Philosophy Club/Isobel Dalhousie story, A Distant View of Everything, which I think is the 11th in this gently meandering musing, as always with the light humour McCall-Smith does so well. Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti appears once again in the 26th volume of the popular series that plays in and around Venice – this time it’s a particularly hot summer that sees our hero out rowing on the lagoon…

Another author I’ve mentioned before is Ann Cleeves. I love her Shetland series (close to the wool lol) but her other protagonists are also good. A new Vera Stanhope story is out, The Seagull, which no doubt will also turn up as a televised episode at some point. Much as I like the actress Brenda Blethyn in the TV series, I have to say that the books give us a much fuller, richer appreciation of the character and her background that are completely lost in the visual medium. Once again, the new book goes into depth concerning Vera’s relationship with her father. I was less impressed with a short book in Peter May’s China series and therefore relieved that his final volume in the Enzo MacLeod tale was as intricate and fascinating as the previous 6. Will there be another Hebrides/Lewis episode, I wonder?!

I seem to be stuck in a sea of series… that would be my collector gene coming out! Having said that, I haven’t read any of the Kurt Wallander books by Henning Mankell, the well-known Swedish author (Wallander is “his”) detective. The style is not dissimilar to the Sjöwall/Wahlöo Inspector Beck crime books, also previously mentioned on my blog! I have seen most of the televised serialisations, though, some of which feature the actor Kenneth Branagh as Wallander. All this to highly recommend two quite different books by Mankell, The Italian Shoes and The Swedish Wellies (tentative title translated from the German, as apparently not yet available in English! I hope it soon will be.). The latter was Mankell’s last book and both are a poignant reflection on old age wrapped in a lonely old ex-doctor’s senior years. Despite this the two books are quite funny and show the appealingly wry and dry sense of humour I have come to appreciate in the few Swedish books I’ve read: examples being A man calles Ove (Backmann), which I listened to as an audiobook after having read it a couple of years ago, and The 100 year old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared (Jonasson). All well worth a read in my view!

And now for the wool.
Another Quill shawl by Jared Flood in the smaller size fell off my needles inbetween travelling – Plassard’s Rando sock wool has given me a sky-blue beauty I have yet to photograph properly, and the navy Lang Jawoll turned into some vanilla socks in a nice shaded navy. A quick pair of Supersimple Slippers are pretty and useful for my mother as the weather cools.

Which brings me to acquisitions. I do not need any wool. I have plenty of wool. And yet… sigh. Let’s get it over with:

Lovely West Yorkshire Spinners’ Blue-faced Leicester DK

The very special North Ronaldsay (the island sheep have a diet high in seaweed…!) and some Faroese wool in navy for a very warm hat!

This Swedish wool is nearly a cabled cushion already…

while this sock wool jumped into my basket at the supermarket!

How could I resist trying Wensleydale wool for some pretty mittens? Like the cranberries in Wensleydale cheese!

The new Drops Nord in “fog” colourway seems right for autumn! Alpaca-wool-polyamide mix

More Drops – self-explanatory, really 😮

Three gorgeous skeins from A Yarn Story in Bath – their own Walcot Yarns Opus, some Julie Asselin and some Fibre co., both very much luxury items that have no plan yet except to be beautiful…

That should keep me busy for a while!

(apologies for odd fonts and spacings – I’m working from an ipad today and seem not to have as much control over these as I do on a laptop!!)