Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Whatever the weather

It seemed as if Winter was arriving all of a sudden at the beginning of the week; after a cold and blustery weekend we woke to frost on Monday morning and the lowest temperatures we've seen for a while.  The garden was white so I dashed outside to take a few pictures.  I love the way that frost outlines everything so that you see it differently from usual.

It can sometimes be colder where we are in Winwick than where I walk the dog, but even out with him a bit later it was cold and white.  He wasn't bothered but I was glad of my hat and mittens - it's the first time I've needed to wear them this year.

Remember the dog jumpers that were on my WIP list?  I made a start on them whilst we were away at half term and I finally finished them a week or so ago - just in time as the little dogs were starting to get very cold.  My friend was absolutely delighted with them (thank goodness!) and the dogs seemed to like them too - apparently they usually spend all their time immediately trying to get any jumpers or jackets off but they were happy enough to bounce around wearing these.  I had to make quite a few amendments to the pattern to get them small enough to fit, so if anyone has teacup Chihuahuas and wants to make them a jumper, you can find my Ravelry notes here.

And then the weather changed again.  Gone was the frost and the cold, crisp morning and back came the howling wind and the torrential rain.  The dog and I got very wet.  And no, before you ask, I have no intentions of knitting him a jumper.  This is a dog who likes to launch himself into any water that's around so I think that would be a very soggy mistake!

Back home, I decided to use my time wisely and spent as much of it as I could in front of the fire making a start on Christmas preparations.  I do enjoy wrapping presents, although I don't think my gift-wrapping skills would necessarily win any prizes!  

How are your Christmas preparations coming along?  I usually have a plan to try to be pretty much done by the end of November, but I don't think that's going to happen this year.  Still, as long as I'm not wrapping presents on Christmas Eve, I'll count that as a success!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Book signing at The Wool Stop, Thornbury

I've travelled some miles this week!  Firstly up to Skipton on Tuesday for a walk and knit n natter and yesterday I went to Thornbury near Bristol to The Wool Stop for a book signing and sock clinic.  

I decided to travel by train - it's a long way from Winwick to Thornbury and whilst not impossible to drive, there's no opportunity to knit on the journey!  I settled myself into my seat with my cup of tea and my bacon butty and got on with small daughter's socks (yes, yes, I know that I still have other WIPs to finish but socks are easy train knitting!).

Thornbury is a picturesque little place, with a long High Street full of interesting shops and already decorated for Christmas.  

This is where I was headed ...

this shop here with the attractive bow window which was dressed to take part in the Thornbury Christmas shop window competition.  The tiny panes made it difficult to take a picture to show you, but it was full of knitted Christmas decorations and snowflakes - very pretty and it definitely got my vote!

Would you like to have a look around?  It's a bit like the TARDIS, the preferred mode of transport of a TV character called Dr Who, in that it seems bigger on the inside than the outside.  First impressions are that it is indeed a small shop, but when you start to look at the shelves crammed with all kinds of yarns, you realise just what a huge stock there is.  

Naturally, I made a beeline to check out the sock yarns and I wasn't disappointed.  There's a large selection in different brands ...

and in different sizes!

There's even tiny sock bunting made by Jennifer's Mum, Linda.  Jennifer is the shop owner and I'm going to introduce you to her a little later.  In the meantime, let's continue our tour!

It's difficult to see in one go just how much there is in the shop, and yet it doesn't feel cluttered at all.  Even spending the day there, I kept spotting something else that I hadn't noticed.  

Plenty of yarn in all kinds of weights and brands, from economical acrylic blends to more well-known brands such as Stylecraft, Sirdar, James C Brett, Regia, Wendy, Nora, Rowan - too many to list here - and then even more yarns such as silk yarns, sparkly yarns, softest alpaca yarns ...  

pattern books and sheets galore (over 2,000 apparently!) ...

and all kinds of accessories and notions for almost every possible occasion.  

In fact, in every available space there is something that catches your eye.  It's just how you want a local yarn shop to be. 

And here's the reason that I considered making such a long journey to get here.  This is Jennifer. She's lovely.  She's 22 and she has her own yarn shop!  Isn't that something that you wish you'd done at that age?

Yes, of course I hoped that I would sign and sell a few books, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone who came in to see me - thank you very much! - but after having "met" Jennifer through the Sockalong Facebook group and hearing about how she was buying a yarn shop (she only took over in September this year), I also wanted to help her out if I could by being around to talk to some of her sock-knitting customers.

I passionately believe that we should support our local shops whenever we can; I'm not disputing at all the place that the internet has - after all, where would I be without the internet, or those people who don't have a local yarn shop, or a social group to visit with like-minded friends? - but I am always impressed with people who have a dream and follow it.  

We set up my books and socks on the counter and tried not to eat all the biscuits.

Yes, that is hand-dyed sock yarn that you can see in the basket and yes, it is very gorgeous! Jennifer had bought it in specially for the day but had to hide it during the week as it was leaving the shop much faster than she had expected!  I spent the day admiring it and trying to decide which skein should come home with me.  It was really hard, I kept changing my mind and at one point was tempted to buy them all, so I had to be very firm with myself!

I always take my sock samples with me to sock clinics as it gives people a chance to try out different types of needles.  You never really know until you have the needles in your hands whether they're going to suit you or not and I would always recommend you trying them out before you buy if you can.  It was lovely to sit in this sunny window and talk socks and techniques - definitely the best way to spend a Saturday!

The day flew by, as time always does when you're enjoying yourself.  I loved watching the customers come and go, and chatting to them about what they were making (even if it wasn't socks!).  I was impressed with the time and care that Jennifer took to make sure that all of her customers got just the information and yarn that they needed.  That definitely is one advantage of a bricks and mortar shop over internet shopping - emails just can't take the place of a friendly and knowledgeable shop owner.

The Wool Stop is a proper family business in that although it's Jennifer's shop, she has lots of support from her Mum and Dad (her Dad was even kind enough to taxi me to and from the station!) and you know that with that kind of support and with the obvious love and dedication that Jennifer has for her business, it is going to be a huge success.  I certainly hope so!

Back on the train, it was time for the journey back to Winwick.  I expect you're wondering which of the yarns that I brought with me - it's this one!  Cuddlebums merino sock yarn in shade Melted Crayons - how nice does that sound?  I'm looking forward to seeing how it knits up.

Another lovely day out - it's been a great week and it's made me very happy to be able to have so much "yarn time".  Remember that list of things to be grateful for that I said I'd been writing?  It's getting longer!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Skipton Day

Tuesday was a Skipton Day, always a highlight of my month.  I just love driving to Yorkshire, knowing that I'll get to spend the day with yarny friends, eat cake and not feel guilty at all about sitting and chatting instead of doing something far less interesting (like the ironing).  From the moment that I drop small daughter off at school, this becomes my day and if you've ever been driving up the M6 and noticed someone in the car next to you with a huge beam on her face and singing at the top of her voice to whatever was on the radio, that was probably me on my way to Skipton.

On this particular Tuesday, the weather was dull and overcast and the forecast was for another big storm to blow in, but Lucy and I decided to risk the elements and headed for the River Wharfe by Bolton Abbey for a walk whilst we still could - the Winter is drawing ever closer and soon the opportunity could be over until the Spring.

We left the car at Barden Bridge and set off.  The river was very high, flowing fast and sweeping debris up the base of the bridge.  When we'd talked about going for a walk, I'd briefly wondered about bringing the dog but seeing the river I was glad that I hadn't.  Even on his lead, he would have wanted to go and investigate and I had no intention of going anywhere near that riverbank! You can come with us, though, as long as you promise to keep your feet dry!

We headed out across a field and slightly away from the river, although we could always hear its relentless rushing on our right. 

Before long, we came to a bridge to cross over again.  I love bridges like this.  They make me think of castles and knights, even though there aren't any castles just around here.  

I love that although the purpose of this bridge is to get from one side of the river to the other, someone took the time to create these turrets; it's not just a common or garden bridge now, it really does feel like a castle!

From the top of the bridge, we could look right down the river and watch the water churning below.  Lucy told me that there are several river beaches along this stretch of the water where you can paddle and skim stones - there was no chance of that today!  You can see that the water has come right up the banks to submerge the roots of the tree in the middle of the picture.  There has been so much rain recently, and Yorkshire seems to have got more than its fair share.

So what fabulously glamorous conversations did we have, Lucy of Attic24 and I, as we walked along the riverbank?  We talked about socks and about blankets of course - and we talked about the colours of the leaves and the rushing torrents of peat-coloured water and about how we thought this green boat had got stuck in these trees.

Not so fabulously glamorous after all, perhaps!  We talked about our children, homework timetables, how we were getting on with navigating the settings on the new cameras that we both had, how many more Mondays there are till the next school holidays and what we were making for dinner.  Just two Mums out in the mizzle (misty drizzle) talking about Mum things.

It made for pleasant walking, and it was lovely just to be out in the fresh air.  There were still a few patches of colourful leaves, although most of them blew out of the trees in the winds over the weekend, much as they did in Winwick.

I'm a bit of a sucker for "fairytale" footpaths; narrow paths which wend their way into the trees out of sight ...

or down into little tunnels ...

steps created by the stones and tree roots rather than placed by human hands.  In my imagination, it's the kind of place where elves and fairies watch from their hiding places by day and go about their business by night.  Are there such things as fairies?  Why not?  The world would be a very serious place if we couldn't allow our imaginations free rein every now and again!

A little further on we reached the Strid.  It's a place where the  a river narrows to just a few feet across and where today the water boiled and churned with a frightening ferocity.  There are large signs which warn of the danger of going near to the Strid - and apparently with good reason. According to this website, the water doesn't disappear as it is forced through that narrow channel - it has eroded the ground underneath so that it is now probably as deep as it is wide in other places, and full of chasms and strange rock formations.  No one actually knows this for sure, because anyone who has gone into the water here has never lived to tell the tale.  It was a sobering thought, and Lucy and I kept well away. 

We decided to head back the way we had come and started back up the path.  Just a short way away are the Strid Wood Tea Rooms and it was about time for elevenses, so we shook the dampness off and warmed ourselves up with steaming mugs of coffee and hot chocolate and something tasty to keep ourselves going until lunch time.  By the time I remembered to take a photo to show you, there was nothing but crumbs left - but you can take my word for it that if you're ever in the area, it's a very nice cafe to visit!

It's funny how it never seems to take quite as long to get back as it takes you to get where you're going in the first place.  We stopped to admire the view along the river, although the mizzle was getting heavier and the view was limited.

By the time we reached the car again, we were really quite damp around the edges and glad to get back into the warm and dry at Coopers.  This time, I remembered to take a picture and this is pea and ham soup with cheese and onion bread and a rather large slab of chocolate brownie (which I did share J).

What a treat - a walk in the countryside and a knit n natter in one day!  I've started writing a list of what I am grateful for at the end of the day and this was right at the top of Tuesday's list.  I don't know if we'll get chance to get out for a walk again before the end of the year, but I certainly enjoyed seeing a bit more of the area, and I hope you did too!

Don't forget that if you're in the Bristol area I'll be at The Wool Stop on Saturday (21 November) from 11am-4pm - do drop by and say "hello" and bring your knitting to show off - I'm sure we can squeeze another knit n natter in! J

Friday, 13 November 2015

Autumnal week

It's certainly been starting to feel a lot more like Autumn this week, although the temperature is still oddly mild for the time of year.  

The week began brilliantly with a knit n natter meet up of some of the Sockalongers from the Winwick Mum Sockalong Facebook group at Black Sheep Wools (it's very handy having a lovely yarn shop with a cafe just down the road!).  I really enjoyed meeting in real life some of the people that I have struck up virtual friendships with over the last couple of months - and it was wonderful to discover that they are just as nice in real life!  We'll be meeting up again in January (date still to be arranged) if you'd like to join us next time.  In the meantime, I'm going to be at The Wool Stop in Bristol on Saturday 21 November from 11am-4pm for a sock clinic and book signing, so do come along and say hello if you're in the area!

We've had some strong winds over the last couple of days which have brought down a lot of leaves from the trees.  I do love crunching through woodland leaves and thoroughly enjoyed meandering through these trees with the dog this morning.  The dog raced around, kicking up the leaves as he shot past, and I was able to breathe in that wonderful leafy smell.  Gorgeous!

I've always got a bit of a soft spot for trees that look as if they have feet.  Perhaps they need them to anchor themselves into the ground just here!

Out of the woods, we walked past a small group of wild rose trees.  There are still rosehips on trees, although they're probably past their best by now and only fit for the birds to eat.  It's two years ago now that I made rosehip syrup from the rosehips on these trees - doesn't the time fly! 

Oak trees hang onto their leaves for the longest time, only shedding them just before the new leaves come out.  I admired the way this tree had leaves turning from green to brown on the same branches and wondered what made some leaves change colour faster than others on the same tree.

Back home, our sycamore tree doesn't wait to shed it's leaves.  They are everywhere!  They're stuck in the twigs at the base of the tree, covering up any other plants that might be there in the border.

They're stuck under the hedge on the drive, and in the gutters and down the path ... you would never know that I'd brushed all of these clear of leaves only two days ago!

In the garden, the plants don't seem to know that it's Autumn at all.  The mild weather has seen the plants flowering long after their season should have finished, and up until this week I've even seen bees and butterflies around.  It makes me worry what's going to happen if we have a sudden cold snap and these insects aren't ready for the winter.  This is Hydrangea quercifolia or oak leaved hydrangea.  It's one of my favourite plants in the garden, I love the lacy flowers and big jurassic-looking leaves.

This fuchsia is Fuchsia microphylla.  The tiny flowers don't look like fuchsia flowers at all, do they?  I grew this plant from a cutting on one of my first gardening courses, and I'm very fond of it. Every year it dies back and I always hold my breath with it until I see the shoots emerging from the bottom to let me know that it's safe and well.

This year, our hydrangea didn't know whether to be blue or pink.  It's usually blue because of our slightly acidic soil here, but this year it couldn't make up it's mind.  And it's still flowering in the middle of November.  It seems a shame to cut all of these plants back - and I do worry that if I do and there are still insects around then I will be cutting off a food supply.  Another week or so and I expect that Winter will be approaching and our mild temperatures will be plummeting, and it will be time to do the cutting back in the garden that I haven't done so far.

We're expecting more strong winds and heavy rain in the UK over the next few days as Hurricane Abigail hits our shores.  No doubt there will be more leaves to sweep up afterwards - but if you're in one of the areas most likely to be affected, do keep safe and leave the leaves until after the winds have gone!

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