I’m determined to get up-to-date with this blog, even if it takes a good, long post, but today is the last day of June and of the first half of the year (and a mad one, at that!), so here goes…
The end of March brought our sunshine’s first birthday, which thrilled him no end! Now a busy toddler, he is as keen on bicycles as his elder brother was on tractors at the same age! His other grandad is a mechanic for two-wheelers, so perhaps this is genetic🙂
Easter came and went – this year’s bunny set-up… A day’s wander around the pretty lakeside town of Zug and some digging around on the internet showed that the old town has changed little – although a whole street was lost in the 19th century, when it fell into the lake :o This is part of the old city walls, and some of the towers are still standing, too – Believe it or not (most foreigners wouldn’t lol!), this is the police station in Zug!
I finished with a spot of knitting down at the lake, on a dull but fairly warm spring day Just off to the right of this picture there is a small birdpark with a few exotic specimens, including a kookaburra (for my Australian readers!) and various other beautiful birds – a few gorgeous cranes that look as if they had flown directly out of a Chinese or Japanese silk embroidery or painting, so dainty and delicate.
Last year’s efforts in the garden began to become apparent once spring set in! Even our garden orchids bloomed, thanks to a late, cool spring where the snails and slugs preferred to wait for warmer temperatures.
There was a very brief but perfect visit to Brittany in April, the shortness tempered
For me, the absolute highlight was stopping off at Bayeux on the way home, to see the famous tapestry, an ambition of mine for many, many years – it’s fabulous! You aren’t allowed to photograph it, for fear of damage.You get such a feel of the movement and the atmosphere of the time – not bad for a 1000 year old tapestry in naïve style! I was recently pleased and surprised at the long attention span my 7-year old grandson showed as he listened to and looked at the story of Harold and William, fascinated by the brave knights, as vivid in his imagination, no doubt, as to generations of children before him!
Our trip to England to celebrate my granny’s 100th birthday did not quite go to plan – the best laid plans of mice and men… My mother’s report of the events is probably the easiest way to catch up on that😮
We had one day out in the midst of this – a gorgeous, warm, sunny day to take a walk in Himley Park in Dudley followed by a canal walk at Bratch Locks, just outside Wombourne, on the Staffordshire-Worcestershire Canal. The Locks were built in the late 1700s and it’s always fascinating to watch the narrowboats (6’8″-7′, no more!) go through. Hungry by this time, we headed out to Wightwick Manor, which I wrote about way back in November 2012 (https://thelittlewashhouse.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/local-interest/) for a bite to eat in their charming stable café and a wander around the house and gardens in finer weather – always a beautiful and fascinating place. The last time I was there I bought two lovely warm recycled wool blankets that have been extremely useful as well as attractive; this time I chose fabric napkins with a view to cutting down on the paper kind – and of course, it had to be a William Morris design! When I got them home, I laughed to realise my very good friend had given me potholders in the same design and colourway just a couple of years ago – she obviously knows me well🙂 It’s good to have things that make you smile!
Going to England for Granny’s May birthday has always included looking for a bluebell wood, and we found one right in the middle of the local town park – gorgeous! By this time, it was mid-May and time for a “real” holiday! I know that sounds ridiculous after all the trips we’ve had this year, but they have mostly been extended weekends or a few days snatched here and there and work being done all the time, so the two weeks we spent on Lake Constance were a “proper” holiday, no laptops allowed. We had lots of visitors aboard, not all at the same time, but it was a fun way to spend our days, with many rewards (not to mention what seemed like a thousand beautiful sunsets, even on the rainy days!). Our anniversary roses travelled with us, safely stowed in the bottle-safe when we were under sail, fetched out in each harbour :) Lake Constance is 65 km or so long, with the River Rhine flowing through it, which means it is no hardship to spend a couple of weeks sailing around it, year on year. This year we moored in two small harbours we’d never been to before, and we’ve been doing this for 15 years, now! Don’t be misled by the calm waters on the pictures – we also spent a day sailing in very rough weather with heavy rain, high stormy winds and waves that were easily 2 metres high, taking a wet but fast 4 hours to cross from Friedrichshafen to Konstanz…
The garden is at its very best in late spring – but so are some other local gardens, this one at Schloss Herdern up on the hill between us and the lake, overlooking the River Thur valley. But I’m not even done, yet – are you even still with me, here?!😮
Off we went to Sardinia, invited on yet another trip to try out some very slick yachts! From a rainy Zurich, we were flown to the Costa Smeralda and Porto Rotondo, for sunshine, beaches and wonderful seafood – as well as the yachts🙂 Two days of regatta (i.e. quite a hectic time, and thanks to Lupo for allowing us to take part on his yacht!) was followed by a more leisurely outing on the fanciest yacht I’ve been on yet.. fantastic. The Med was kind to us and once I’m done with exploring the north, I may well come round to the idea of spending more time in a warmer climate lol! As if we hadn’t spent enough time messing about in boats (Ratty was right!), we had a very late start to the home season with our own little 15 SNS yacht… and promptly sailed into a storm. Still, by the time we got to our home mooring, everything had dried out again and now we’re all set for the summer :) There is a terrific amount of water in the lake this year – normally we have to go down 3 or 4 steps to get onto the jetty! Final stop of the first half of 2016 was Oslo – fulfilling a lifelong ambition of mine to get to Scandinavia but also a birthday trip for my husband; another long weekend, coincidentally (not!) at midsummer. Suffice to say I loved it and if anything ever goes wrong in Switzerland, I would happily move to Norway (well, you never know, do you?!)… That last is the view over Oslo and the Oslofjord from the Voksenåsen, a hotel and conference centre that is reached by underground train as it’s within the city limits!!! It was deserted when we arrived, in preparation for a wedding, but a shout out to them for nevertheless greeting us warmly, allowing us to sit and enjoy the view and even rustling up delicious sandwiches for us and not hassling us to leave before the wedding party arrived – much appreciated!! I could have stayed up there forever. Easily.
March came racing around (the usual pace of 2016, it seems), but enabled me to spend time with my mother and grandmother, who will be 100 next week! I always enjoy the opportunity to spend some time in England and this time, had the best of both worlds – first some quiet time with my ladies at home, where the mild climate meant that the garden was way ahead of our own, with blooming camellias (something that doesn’t survive our winters and is only seen south of the Alps in Switzerland for the most part).It was wonderful to have a special day out for my friend’s birthday that turned out to be spectacularly blue and sunny. Since it was probably the first time we’d spent her birthday together since our teens (!) it was extra nice and a day out in the English countryside can hardly be beaten. We headed for the extraordinarily pretty, without being sugary, little town of Alcester in Warwickshire, wandering the charming streets and perusing the interesting little shops, even a well-stocked wool and sewing shop, Harry and Floss, much to our delight (and we may have spent rather a long time oohing and aahing over it! It’s decorated with vintage children’s toys and clothing and books…). Spoilt for choice with an array of delicious-looking cafés, we plumped for one with an arty, eclectic decor and had a delicious salad and sandwich accompanied by big pots of tea and old-fashioned lemonade – mmh! Alcester managed to be calm and unflurried without being deserted or unloved and I was really impressed with the unspoilt atmosphere. The church has an unusual clockface set on the corner of the square tower and faces southwest, sitting comfortably at the top of the high street overlooking goings-on in the market town, a reassuring presence to the mediaeval houses round about it, like a mother hen clucking busily over her chicks. It turned out that my friend’s ancestors came from here – how delightful is that?! It was actually almost too sunny to get good pictures but this is an example of Alcester!
Our next stop was Coughton Court, a stately home I hadn’t visited since I was a very small child. I have no memory of that visit save a souvenir teatowel that hung in my parent’s home for many years and which I almost knew off by heart – Impressive!
However, I didn’t know what to expect, certainly not this handsome Tudor house with lovely gardens set in rolling countryside… As this was only mid-March, the gardens weren’t yet open to the public but it was just as nice to wander down through the little wood to the river and enjoy the spring sunshine. The house itself has a fascinating history, having belonged to the Throckmorton family – Catholic (never easy in ye olde England in the past), and instrumental in the famous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, where several members lost their lives around the scandal. As this is one of the very first events in history that I was taught at school, aged 6, it was of particular interest to me – somewhere there is an old exercise book with proof of this. As it happens, another Throckmorton, Elizabeth or Bess, married the famous Sir Walter Raleigh and was a favourite lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I but incurred that lady’s wrath by marrying Walter without her permission and was sent to the Tower! Although eventually released, Sir Walter, as we know, lost his head in 1618 (also after plotting…) and distraught Bess is said to have carried his head around with her in a red velvet bag… Pretty gruesome. Still, these old stories are what make history so very fascinating and hold our attention. The house itself is of course not only Tudor but has a core and various later additions, depending on the fortunes of the family at different times, but we were thrilled to be allowed up on the tower roof to see a fantastic panorama of the Warwickshire countryside on a perfect day – And to end our excursion, the exterior of Coughton Court My gallivanting was not yet done. As the daughter who has been acting as envoy to England for the past 4 years was in the midst of packing up to move to France, this was our last opportunity to visit her and her husband in the Oxford area. The weather wasn’t quite up to scratch, but my husband and I made full use of a long weekend to explore Oxford, where I was happy to meet up with another of my school friends (how amazing to still be friends with people we meet as mere children!) on the top floor of the Ashmolean but where we also had time to look at some of the exhibits, especially enjoying the still life room (oh, the lemons!)…
And can you believe it, we went to a wool shop? Surprise surprise🙂 (The Oxford Yarn Store on the North Parade) My excuse to buy was that I have never worked with exclusively British wool, so I came away with some pretty pink Bluefaced Leicester by West Yorkshire Spinners and two skeins of Exmoor alpaca, incredibly soft and squishy. One happy bunny here. As there was a great foodie shop next door, (2 North Parade Produce Store) which was of more interest to the rest of the party, I had no guilty conscience whatsoever. The yarn shop is lovely and has lots of more unusual yarn brands I have never seen anywhere else, which in my view, gives it 5 stars! The food shop is no less lovely and we came out with a bag full of goodies there, too…
The Thames is generally associated with London and considered a mighty river – but remember that it also has to spring from somewhere and before it grows up to become so important, even regal, it is just a pretty little stream and flows through places like Kelmscott, the tiny Oxfordsire village where Arts and Crafts cultural figure William Morris had his favourite house… This was the 2nd time I have found my way to Kelmscott, only to find the house closed to the public – the first time there was a private tour going on and this time, I found it didn’t open until April, so if you ever go, make sure it’s open before going to the trouble! The day was so chilly and dreary that we escaped into a quintessentially English pub, The Plough, with a roaring fire going, so the expedition wasn’t completely wasted. We also took in Bath for a long and hilarious lunch with one of my mother’s friends, notably consuming great quantities of French lemonade – I can highly recommend the Côte Brasserie in Milsom Place! The food was excellent and the staff friendly. We spent several very entertaining hours there… Again, the weather wasn’t terribly conducive to wandering, though it improved later in the day when we saw the more typical sights like the Royal Crescent. Finally on the way back to the Midlands, we took a detour to see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, near Stratford-on-Avon – another place I hadn’t visited since I was a young child. Our advantage was that we were so early in the year, so that although the cottage is always “chocolate-boxy”, there weren’t too many people milling around and yet the gardens were beginning to take shape. Having said that, we ourselves live in a fairytale house, so we have no cause to criticise! I have since read Germaine Greer’s “Shakespeare’s Wife” and can recommend it to anyone interested in this celebratory year of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, or otherwise.This took us back into familiar territory – we had to pass Alcester to get back towards the M5 and enjoyed countryside we’ve visited several times between southwest Birmingham and Worcester. For me, this is what English countryside is all about!
Our final good deed this trip was to save an armchair my daughter and her husband are fond of yet not planning to take with them – it seemed a shame to get rid of it and my mother and grandmother would enjoy something new but which suits their interior decor. This does indeed appear to have been a success…
Well, in my case, it seems to be on the road a lot of the time. To my surprise, when I look back at February, I was (theoretically) at home all the time – not that I noticed!
We were lucky enough to be invited on a “real” Swiss outing, a wagon ride locally culminating in fondue in a hut in the woods. The weather forecast was dismal, we met in drizzle and later on, the rain poured down effusively – but during the wagon ride, the sun shone brightly and lit up the late winter landscape so that all 12 of us were peeling off hats, scarves and jackets as we rumbled along country lanes and through local woods, well supplied with hot tea and lardy bread. On arriving at our destination, we were met by a lone alphorn player, as natural as can be (could it be otherwise?!) – and the quintessential glass of white wine as an apéritif. The children immediately began exploring the woods around about, including a lovely deep muddy water hole – fortunately, they were all well-dressed for the occasion! After getting suitably grubby, they too were peeled of their outer layers and permitted to come inside, where a woodburning stove made for a very cosy atmosphere for our fondue, with some of the extended family enjoying their first-ever cheesy wonder ;) Of course, for the children, the main attraction were the horses, two feisty Swiss ladies who worked very hard for us and were rewarded by shelter and a nosebag…
At home, we also had some miserable weather (even though we haven’t had a nice snowy winter) so resorted to our own wood-burning stove, which doesn’t get a lot of use since our central heating is generally sufficient to keep everything toasty – I actually had time to fulfil my grandmotherly duties and this little chap, just turned one last week, continues to entertain with his sunny nature. Here, he was doing a little St. George imitation (riding the dragon with the cat lying just out of shot!): And of course, lest I forget, there was knitting🙂 How could there not be knitting?!
I love this one – it’s called Creature Comforts Cardi by MadelineTosh and I had the good fortune to buy some Malabrigo Rios (colourway Niebla) on sale. It had barely got inside the door before I was winding and knitting. Essentially, it’s a large square with ribbing at either end that is folded and sewn, and then sleeve ribbing is added to make a slouchy shrug. The 100% merino wool is wonderfully soft and smooth, knits itself and is pure pleasure. (And http://www.strickcafé.ch are having a whopping 25% sale on it in April, if any Swiss readers are interested – I might have bought some more, just might… :o). Yum. I hope you can see the oak-leaf detail that runs up the back – it’s really not difficult to follow the chart, though I wasn’t hugely impressed with the pattern instructions overall, which were confusing to the uninitiated.
And may I say, those trousers were made for me, to measure, by the fair hands of my seamstress daughter! I should have done them justice with proper socks and shoes, but goodness, my life is as real as the next person’s, so this is what you get!!
Baby things are always highly bloggable and there have been a convenient number of babies being produced to keep me on my toes – little Frankie gets this set which consists of a shrug called Vertrebra, which takes into consideration that babies dribble, and therefore doesn’t have a front, as such, which I thought was quite clever. It’s MadelineTosh Sock in Mala, if I’m not mistaken, and the little pink culottes are a lovely Drops pattern (Cosy and Cute – 21-36) that I made knee-length because I only had the one skein of Lang Baby Merino and spring is here – I love the waist shaping on them. They were quick despite the 2/2.5mm needles… Afterwards, I added a little bit of elastic to the knees. I hope they like this set – the baby was shown to us dolled up to the nines in a Minnie Mouse outfit, very cute!
I may have shown this last summer when I made it, but am pleased to say that it has gone to little Olivia, born in January. Coincidentally, this is also one of my daughters’ middle name, so that was a nice touch (the parents didn’t know this!). Another MadelineTosh pattern, Tiny Tea Leaves (I left off the sleeves), by Melissa LaBarre in Katja Baby Merino.
There was more knitting, an Icelandic cardigan nearly finished but waiting for the finishing touches, so it will have to be blogged another time.
Inbetween times, there was finally an opportunity to see friends, catch up on chores and decluttering and generally have some structure and order! And of course, February being a short month, even in a leap year, seems to go by quicker than other months, even if it is an illusion. There were the beginnings of life in the garden, though – and a heron in the woods
Next time, more travels!😮
I hope everyone has been having a lovely relaxing time with family and friends over the last few days, as we have been fortunate enough to do! Lots of good food – both a goose AND a turkey (not on the same day!) – and companionable time spent together has done everyone good. Particularly with all the sniffy colds going around, it’s nice to be able to sit back and not have to do anything urgent except rescue a wine glass from being tipped over🙂
This means I have knitting time, but also that I can now reveal what else was knit as gifts, and report that all was met with enthusiasm and gratitude!
Firstly, there were handwarmers for the chilly days that have now arrived (it was 10°C and sunny all over the holidays, yes, in Switzerland :o):
My daughter also likes Dr. Who, but I think she likes history even more, sharing with me a fascination for early mediaeval history, so when I saw the pattern for Saxon Braid mitts by Kimberley Porter, I was pretty sure they would appeal… More merino, soft and warm around the wrists and making up for shorter sleeves with their length.
Next on the list were my two older grandchildren, who hadn’t had anything knitted from me for a while. Firstly my grandson, a very active 7-year old, seemed to have had this pattern designed for him, it’s a great one and I love the construction of the kangaroo-pocket, as well as the funnel neck – this is the Brochan Sweater by Kate Oates, made up in Drops Merino and on this picture, missing the green i-cord drawstring on the funnel neck, which I added before wrapping it up! Sevi loves green.
The wool for this rugged little hooded waistcoat, Mini Cardi Vest, also by Kate Oates, was a special gift I received from New Mexico last year. It’s thick, pure, homespun wool in vibrant shades of pinky lilac, which is just right for a vivacious little dark-haired girl who likes bright colours! The embroidery is some remnants of Malabrigo Worsted (blue) and Icelandic Lèttlopi (yellow), while the buttons in exactly the right colour were a lucky department store find. I was delighted that both garments are a perfect fit and the children appear to be happy with them, with 4-yr old Mireille doing a little twirl for our benefit to show hers off. Or just to show off!
Finally, the last knitted gift of the holidays was for my eldest daughter, mother of the grandchildren, who also appreciates the wonderful rich colours of hand-dyed wool, and as a knitter herself, appreciates the work that goes into each piece (not that other recipients don’t, especially since daughter no. 2 started knitting lol!). This is The Age of Brass and Steam, (a free Ravelry pattern, incidentally!) by Orange Flower Yarn, described as a kerchief, but my approx. 400 metres of Malabrigo Sock yarn purchased at L’il Weasel’s gorgeous Paris shop in the Passage du Grand Cerf has definitely made a shawl-sized “kerchief”! Phew, glad I managed to get all that done and dusted in time for our Christmas festivities!
Once that was all wrapped up, I felt my halo shining and was therefore justified in starting a new project (I thought!). This one has been hanging around beckoning at me for months, since last winter, if truth be told. It is Jökull by Kate Davies from her wonderful book, “Yokes” and the wool for it is Àlafoss Lèttlopi in wonderful sea tones – it’s a sort of capelet and very warm (though the recommended yarn would have been bulkier still!). Yum. The knitting is done, just the finishing and the i-cord armholes to deal with… :)
It’s been a busy time with a lot going on, most of it good – and it’s just not left much time or inclination for blogging! But there has been some knitting I can show… The owner of the stables where Sturuss used to live has had twins! Since this was always an Iceland horse farm, it simply HAD to be a couple of Icelandic sweaters… the pattern is Gilipeysa by Hélène Magnùsson, knitted in Malabrigo Lace yarn, very fine, very soft, incredibly tiny (the two little girls were premature and one had some problems but all good now!🙂 ). I’m not 100% happy with the very variegated grey in the cream cardigan, but there wasn’t much I could do about it, so it stayed.
This year’s masterpiece was a present for my dad’s 70th birthday – the epitome of the man who has everything! So I did what I do, knew he likes bright colours and Ireland and hates tight necklines and found this to knit – Janet Szabo’s pattern for a cosy Aran shawl-collared jumper in a bright red by Drops (merino)… it took a while but worked out very well and I think he liked it!! The sunshine has been bright this autumn/winter, and temperatures mild… but we had a frosty morning walk, too. Next week I’ll show you some of the things I made as gifts, but for now – Happy Christmas from The Little Washhouse!
So. Sturuss was quite a character and as I had him from a 3-year old, the age that you begin to train a horse or pony in the arts of carrying a rider and learning to behave while doing so, we had a number of adventures in the local countryside.
Flash forward to this November. My eldest daughter now lives bang in the middle of what, for nearly 10 years, was my riding territory in those early days. Young Mael needed a nap and wouldn’t settle, so last week, I set off for a nice walk on a beautifully sunny day, hoping he would drop off in the pram as I went. (funny how that picture reminds me of this – – that was in December 2011, our last winter together!)
Anyway. We set off and of course, I know most of the local paths from all those years riding around them and so decided to head off across the little river and for the first time since about 1987, to follow the path along past the tobacco barn and fields and through a couple of hamlets I’d not seen since way back. In fact, seeing this not only reminded me to show the “bend” in the roofline around here that I’ve mentioned before, but I could swear the last time I passed through here, there was a baby slumbering peacefully in its pram in the sunshine, now probably a strapping 6′ carpenter or something, with a gaggle of kids of his own! (I know the Norwegians practice this “baby napping outdoors in all seasons” thing that leaves English-speakers aghast, but the Swiss do – did – it, too!) The further I went along this road and then off to the right along a track leading to a small footbridge, the broader my grin became. One dull, grey, damp November day, I had trotted along here on Sturuss, heading for a spot just to the right of the bridge where other riders had established a spot where you can ford the river. In those days, there were a lot of rushes and tall grasses on the bank between the bridge and the ford, where now there are several large firewood stores. We would have the tips of them brushing Sturuss’ sides as we carefully picked our way down the bank and through the river. The river is only a couple of feet deep here and Sturuss was happy to pause and splash for a while, pawing the water with his front legs and having a nice long drink (how glad I was that he didn’t try to lie down in the river, as my friend’s Haflinger did, necessitating a nimble jump off!). On the other side of the river (on the left of this picture), there was quite a thick wood surrounding the pathway and the bank is fairly steep to climb back onto it. As we began to head up the bank, seemingly from nowhere, a moped came whizzing along and across our exit. Normally pretty traffic-proof (Sturuss had been driven for 6 months before I got him), this was simply asking too much and, already on the uphill, he wheeled around and plunged back down into the river in a split-second. This also asked rather too much of his rider, and I was unseated, catapulted into the river, where I stood for a moment in disbelief. Alarmed by this unexpected result and unnerved by the moped’s whirring, Sturuss charged past me – and in the process, knocked me straight over backwards. Flat into the river. Under water. Gulp.
Dripping and gasping, I pulled myself to my feet. Sturuss, by now no longer alarmed and simply somewhat bemused, had not dashed off in a mad rush but had gone back up the right bank and was standing in the field beyond, watching to see what I would do. Bless him, despite his temperament, he was never the sort to waste energy on a mad gallop when there was grass around… I was left with no choice but to wade to the closer, left, bank and haul myself up to the path, squelching my way to the footbridge to get back to the other side where Sturuss stood grazing. He didn’t bat an eyelid as I remounted and headed back across the river – best to tackle the “problem” immediately.
To my surprise, there was no trouble about crossing through the river, though he was a little anxious about the possibility of another moped coming along the path on the other side. Due to the distinctly chilly temperatures, I urged him to a trot along to the next village, where a friend’s husband had his workshop – luckily, she was there and lent me a spare fleece jacket to get me out of my wet jumper… We trotted hastily back through the village and up the hill to the farm where Sturuss was living. In those days, Sturuss was young and fit and the long trot did no more than warm him up, too, especially since he was going home and there was always the possibility of food in his own stable!
We clattered into the yard, still dripping somewhat and to find the farmer doubled over with laughter at the sight of us – in fact, I will never forget how he held his stomach in mirth as tears poured down his rosy cheeks at the vision of a comically furry, steaming Haflinger pony with a very wet and soggy rider dismounting… Being a kindly man, he lent me a pair of his wife’s jeans and socks and gave me a hot toddy, while Sturuss happily munched on the hay in his box. Those were the days! Now there’s a woodpile on the other side where the rushes were, and on this side, a rail has been put up to divert riders to the right when fording the river and before hitting the pathway, probably to prevent them charging up in front of walkers, bikers – and mopeds! Sturuss remained unafraid of rivers – but hated mopeds and motorbikes coming up behind him for ever afterwards.