Yet more Anglo-Saxon treasures …

By a remarkably fortuitous chance, in the last fortnight we have seen two of the most wonderful Anglo-Saxon pieces of faith and art: the Bewcastle Cross … and the Lindisfarne Gospels …Both of them date from the 7th – 8th centuries and were products of the golden age of the Kingdom of Northumbria.

They are jaw-droppingly extraordinary. It goes without saying that this is firstly because they are so very old and so very beautiful.

But further. The Bewcastle cross is carved from a single piece of sandstone and stands outside in all weathers, as it has since it was carved over 1200 years ago.

The Lindisfarne Gospels are believed to be all the work of one man, the extremely talented Bishop Eadfrith, – and they have survived Viking raids, falling in the sea as the monks fled these same Vikings and desecration by King Henry VIII’s commissioners when they dissolved the monastery at Durham. They are much travelled …

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Towards the end of September we headed for the Cumbrian fells …This is one of the wildest places in England –  north, north, north, beyond Carlisle, and approaching the border with Scotland. Backroads here now, but in Roman times Maiden Road ran past this lonely spot, linking Birdoswald fort with Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans built a fort here too, and, later, in the eleventh century, a castle was built on the site of the Roman fort. Today the church and its graveyard sit next to the castle …As you approach the little church of St Cuthbert, you get your first glimpse of the cross standing almost insignificantly beside the church …But of course, it isn’t insignificant. It’s gorgeous with carvings of saints and trailing leaves, and fruits, and intertwining patterns …Even more extraordinary, it is thought that it was originally painted in bright colours. Though I think to our modern eye, the more subtle colours of the stone are perfectly beautiful in this rural setting …There is a tiny museum attached which gives helpful information and pictures of this cross (so-called even though it is missing the cross shaft at the top). The people carved on the stone are thought to be St John the Baptist holding the lamb of God at the top, Christ in the middle, and possibly St John the Evangelist with his eagle at the bottom …The clue to the why and wherefore of this cross is in the church’s dedication to St Cuthbert …Step back those 1200 years or so, and these Cumbrian lands were part of the sizeable kingdom of Northumbria. The kingdom stretched from Edinburgh down to the Humber river, and over from Carlisle on the west coast to Bamburgh on the east. With the conversion of the Northumbrian King Oswald to Christianity, missionaries – inspired by St Cuthbert’s life of sanctity – set out to convert the rest of Northumbria. Preaching crosses such as the Bewcastle cross were set up to remind people of the Christian story they had newly learned.

The Bewcastle cross is believed to have been commissioned by Benedict Biscop whom we met briefly in my last blogpost on Bede. Benedict Biscop was Abbot of Monkwearmouth.  And it was his monks from Monkwearmouth monastery who are thought to have carved the Bewcastle cross …They were spreading the Word from the eastern shores of northern England where St Cuthbert once preached and worshipped on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne …As was Bishop Eadfrith of Lindisfarne who is believed to be the creator of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Preaching crosses told Christian stories for the hoi polloi (who couldn’t read), but the educated and learned religious were gradually acquiring access to books.

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We visited Newcastle’s Laing Gallery last week to see the Lindisfarne Gospels – a rare and precious trip north from their usual home at London’s British Library. The book was open at the beginning of the Gospel of St John, with its so-called carpet page on the left and “incipit” (introductory) page of the right …

It’s hard to explain the sense of awe this one book inspires. It is so very very old, carries with it such a story, and contains such exquisite workmanship.

Everything from the choice of smooth creamy perfectly-scraped calfskin to the still-bright colours (red lead, verdigris, orpiment, carbon, indigo and woad) and tiny gold highlights is just perfect.

Each Gospel writer gets a carpet page and an introductory page at the beginning of their writing – this is St Matthew’s carpet page …And this is the introductory page. The detail is exceptional, this is truly the work of someone with a remarkable imagination …But it is striking that you’re seeing here the same curls and whorls, similar interlacing patterns with animals and beasts and fruits and flowers all worked in together as those that are carved on to the Bewcastle cross. Perhaps we need to take a step further and imagine that sandstone cross as it might once have been, painted in these colours …

And it’s worth remembering that Bishop Eadfrith worked on these gospels in the harshest of harsh conditions. Lindisfarne at this time boasted no stone buildings, no glass windows. The winds howl in from the North Sea.

We visited one November several years ago when the mist lay heavy and unmoving. Just driving over the causeway was disconcerting. These are the dank, dark conditions Eadfrith would regularly have been working in …It’s easy to get waylaid by the beauty and skill in these objects. But it’s important to remember that they were produced in faith for the furthering of faith. The creators strove to do the best they could for this purpose. All to the glory of God, not for their own aggrandisement or pleasure.

I believe those men would like to think that the Bewcastle cross and the Lindisfarne Gospels still cause us to stop and reflect on our life’s journey – even if we cannot agree with everything that Bede says below …

 

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In the footsteps of the saints

You can’t live in Northumberland without being conscious of the presence of the saints of old who once lived here. Modern street names remind us of them, they are remembered in the local names for wildlife – and their stories crop up all over the place.

Our own most neighbourly saints here in north Northumberland are Cuthbert and Aidan who are associated with nearby Holy Island – but there are others not much further away. And one of our projects earlier this summer was to explore a little further afield and find out about these more distant saints.

May took us to glorious Galloway on Scotland’s west and most southern coast. Late spring flowers were at their very very best …We were staying in Wigtown, a place noted for its very tempting second-hand bookshops.  We were indeed tempted by them … There are fantastic walks –  this was our regular evening walk along the Bladnoch river with the Galloway hills in the distance … And so much history. This beautiful walk amid the wild garlic took us from Garlieston to Rigg Bay where they tested the Mulberry Harbour used in the Normandy Landings. That curious concrete shape is all that’s left of this important project …Fascinating little old churches – this was Cruggleton Church lost in its surrounding field …But oh so inviting …Tantalisingly locked …And then there was the heart-breaking story of the two Covenanter women, Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, who were tied to stakes in the Bladnoch river to drown when the tide came in. They were Scottish Covenanters who refused to acknowledge Kings James VI and Charles I as head of the church. This memorial to the Wigtown Martyrs is a hauntingly sad place – inconceivable to our modern minds that people should be executed for such beliefs …But we were particularly drawn to a much older story – that of the 4th-5th century Saint Ninian. Compared to the previous stories I’ve touched on above, next to nothing is factually known about him – it’s so very early that most of the stories about him are entwined in myth and legend, with just nuggets of actual history. Of course, the real challenge for archaeologists and historians is to identify what the nuggets are. What we do know is that Ninian lived at least some hundred years earlier than the much better known St Columba of Iona (521 – 597 AD).

We are indebted for the earliest mention of him to the remarkable early historian, Bede, who was writing in the 8th century – a good many years after Ninian lived. And what Bede recounts, he has in fact acquired through disparate traditions …Bede tells us that Ninian came as a missionary to the southern Scots (other sources add that he came from Ireland) and that he led a strong revival of faith at the Candida Casa (White House) of Whithorn in Galloway.

Despite a series of excavations, this White House has never been found, but other excavated evidence does prove that Whithorn in the 5th century AD was indeed a thriving and sophisticated Christian centre.

The very early Candida Casa may not have been discovered, but there are fine ruins of the much later priory church (dating to the 12th century). Whithorn remained a pilgrimage destination for many years. King James IV (1473 – 1513), for example, is known to have made a yearly visit …The magnificent Romanesque doorway beckoned invitingly – but it is tantalisingly out of bounds for visitors until an archaeological health and safety inspection has taken place …Early Christians may not have left their history in definitive texts, but they did leave clear markers to their faith in the magnificent stone-carved crosses – many housed in Whithorn’s Priory museum. They are so beautifully displayed – the building has the air of respect that’s found in a church … The Monreith cross (dated to the 10th century) is perhaps the most stunning …As knitters and stitchers we were struck by the patterns (so reminiscent of Irish Aran cable knits to my mind), displayed here in my montage of photos …The carvings on the so-called Golgotha stone are the simplest, but it is one of the most powerful stones.  It was found in Whithorn’s graveyard …And the Priory Museum also houses the stone crosses that were found in Ninian’s Cave …So that is where we went next …A brief walk along a shingly beach takes you to a dent in the rocks – I’m not really sure you can call it a cave … Legend has it this is where Ninian retired for long hours of solitary prayer …The only distraction being the view of sparkling sea and rock …It is still a powerful place of prayer for many who visit.  They leave their own prayer markers – Christian  …And otherwise …Such beautiful flowers along the beach …We picniced here – a suitably respectful distance from the cave …A fantastic holiday, lots of interesting things to explore and enjoy, – but we were left with a hazy – if glowing – mental image of St Ninian. At the very least we know he was one for long solitary prayer. For me, he stands as a saint of the Irish tradition who communed with God in the natural world.

A month after our trip to Galloway, we set off on a day trip to Bede’s World in Jarrow – not far at all, just 60 odd miles down the A1 from our home. So easy that we felt truly remiss not to have made the journey before…Bede’s World adjoins the historic church and monastery of St Pauls, Jarrow. This museum complex was set up following the excavation of the monastery by Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp in the 1960s and 70s.

It tells the story of the Venerable Bede and his world. We were there to investigate our next saint: Bede …In contrast to Ninian, we know a great deal about Bede. He was a writer, historian and teacher, and it is largely from his own writings that we learn the facts about his own life. And, yes, this is the same man who wrote the book which tells us about Ninian (pictured above in Ninian’s story).

He was born about 672 AD in the lands just south of the River Tyne in the north of England. These lands had been gifted by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria to the very early Christian church.  Ecgfrith asked local nobleman Benedict Biscop to build a church and monastery there. Biscop, a devout Christian, had travelled several times to Rome. He was an enthusiastic reader and collector and brought back Roman building ideas, as well as books and other artifacts.

The first church he built was St Peter’s, Monkwearmouth (just a few miles south of Jarrow) and it was this church that Bede entered – aged about seven – in 680. Bede moved to nearby St Paul’s, Jarrow (shown below) when it was founded just five years later by Abbot Ceolfrith …Remarkably the dedication stone is still here, high up above the chancel arch – the oldest known dedication stone in England …

The tiny chancel is the nearly complete Anglo-Saxon church that Bede would have worshipped in … High up on the right of the picture above you can just make out these tiny Saxon windows through which Bede might watched the sunlight streaming in just as we did …

The window on the left contains fragments of 7th century glass found during the excavations …According to the Bede’s World museum, this area was an exceptionally important centre for glass making at the time …. Going outside again, we walked around the ruins of the monastery that Bede would have known …It is extraordinary how close one is able to feel to Bede with so many of the buildings he would have known still there – and so many of his writings available for us to read too …

But – if you lift your head just over the monastery walls, you can see the 21st century pressing in …It is miraculous that the Jarrow monastery remains, given that this area of South Tyneside became a centre for heavy industry from the 1850s onwards. This 1963 aerial view (reproduced courtesy of Tyne &Wear Archives & Museums) gives an idea of how the landscape has changed from Bede’s time. Every scrap of land was used for machinery and housing … But if you look down to the little river Don which borders the Jarrow monastery’s land, you must be seeing pretty much what Bede would have seen some thirteen hundred years ago.

Bede spent his life here, dying in his cell in 735, aged 63 …Both these saints were extraordinary – after all they clearly made a powerful impression on their very different Anglo-Saxon worlds.

In many ways, it’s Bede who speaks to me more clearly over the centuries. It’s not just that the buildings he knew so well still remain – it’s the books, the writings. We take literacy so granted nowadays, but it was very unusual in Anglo-Saxon times. And to embark on such a major project as his “History of the English Church and People” from scratch, so to speak, – well, hats off to you, Bede!

But aren’t they two sides of the human coin? Bede the cerebral one, and Ninian the saint of contemplative mysticism? I have no doubt I’m simplifying them here. Ah, but what it is to stretch back the imagination over the centuries!

What I can say without any doubt is that in both places these saints were much loved by their modern curators, church wardens and tour guides.

Desire Paths

I was introduced to the concept of desire paths by the Gentle Author of Spitalfields.

He’s writing in the city, noting the allure of choosing your own route, “where the given paths fail and [how] the multitude of walkers reveal the footpath which best takes them where they need to go.”

A little like this traveller I spotted at London’s King’s Cross station some years ago …And the shoppers in Edinburgh – who are so eager for their destination that they barge across the grass allocated for trees …Or – perhaps worse – make ugly tracks over the newly-planted grassy slopes of Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens …Even in the countryside round us we see a wide range of desire paths. You just have to get to the sea as quickly as possible, don’t you?And, when access to Norham Castle is barred by English Heritage in the winter months, why – folk just walk round the gate and climb over the wall …The desire path by the side of Lindisfarne Castle some years ago was a complete mystery …Because it ran closely parallel to the much more comfortable stepped path provided by the National Trust. Are humans just pig-heads about this sort of thing?Far, far more fascinating, I think, are the desire paths of nature. When water forces its way into new channels … The well-worn tracks of cattle over the landscape …Sheep  – like cattle – find a favourite route and stick to it …I wonder if it is dogs or deer who have made this track down to the River Tweed?Some tracks into the woods and fields are so slight as to be barely visible …But some animal has seen or smelt something worth investigating in this field …It’s the apples on this tree growing so very close to the east coast railway line that have drawn people over the wall … Sadly this won’t be possible for much longer as railway authorities are putting new protective fencing along the railway line. Is it naughty of me to smile to see that it isn’t indestructible? On these same seacliffs beside the railway, young motorcyclists joyously ride over the rough grass, leaving tracks and paths like the cattle and sheep …Perhaps my favourite desire path is that made by our beloved cat, Ilsa, here surveying her private domain …There is a clear path into the grass …Sometimes only her tail gives her presence away …She’ll come out gradually …Before giving you her happy smile – she doesn’t mind because it’s you who’ve come to talk …In so much of our walking about this countryside we find slight tracks and indentations – not exactly desire paths as such, though all leading to a desired point. To the very tip of the cliff near St Abbs …Over the summer machair on Holy Island …And – invitingly -on a gently sloping hillside in the Cheviots …Which calls to mind this beautiful poem by Spanish poet, Antonio Machado …

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.
Translated from the Spanish by Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney.

 

Stitching a yukata

When my mother moved to a nursing home several years ago, she gave me lots of her sewing treasures. Among them was this rather insignificant bolt of fabric …Of course, it isn’t insignificant at all! – it’s a Japanese cotton yukata fabric which I think she probably bought when we were living in Tokyo in the 1960s. There are some pictures in her photo albums of a visit to a yukata dyeing factory so I wonder if that is where and when she got it …?And when you spread it out a bit, you realise how lovely the patterning is …I’ve treasured this fabric so long – got it out regularly, stroked it – and put it away again. Too precious to use …

But, a month or so ago, I decided the time had come to make myself a yukata from it – especially as I had a lovely old Folkwear pattern to guide me …Yukatas have been a bit of a family tradition in my family, and we all have worn them/still wear them as outer night wear. 

I was born in Tokyo in the 1950s, a time when Western influence was not quite all-pervasive. The lovely ladies who looked after me (Takagi-san on the left and Mitsuko-san on the right) always wore kimonos and yukatas so that’s what I grew up with …The earliest photo of me wearing a yukata is when I was about 18 months old. I don’t look very happy but then my parents had put me in for a children’s fancy dress competition as we sailed back to England on board the RMS Carthage …In the next few years the family expanded, and of course there were yukatas for all us children …My father’s work took him to and fro Japan, so we found ourselves living in Tokyo again in the 1960s. To escape the summer heat, we would move for several weeks to a little holiday house in the cooler north on the shore of Lake Chuzenji (leaving my father behind in hot, humid Tokyo – no air-conditioning in our home, so he slept in the office).

It truly was a very special place to holiday. We had a little Japanese house with tatami floors and shoji (wood and paper) room partitions. Of an evening my father would light the wood fire under the boiler, and we would all troop into the bathroom, scrub up, and climb into the very hot bath. Then we’d put on our yukatas for an evening’s family fun of Mahjong  …Sometimes he would read us traditional Japanese stories – a favourite was  The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima. Quite terrifying – we didn’t sleep well after that! Perhaps this is one such occasion because my mother looks rather fed up! I stuck with the yukata tradition in later life. Here I am in hospital at the birth of my son, and of course, wearing my yukata …Three years later at the birth of my daughter, I’m wrapped in another yukata. A man’s one, I think – not sure where that one came from …And then my children as they grew up also wore yukatas …A couple of year’s later and Helen’s wearing that yukata and James has moved on to another one …Breakfast in bed with their grandmother was a treat, and she has another lovely yukata …Many years later (this is 1998) my parents still continued to receive gifts of yukatas from their Japanese friends. This is such a happy picture of my mother wearing a most beautiful iris-patterned yukata …So, now in my mid-sixties, I have rather a lot of very treasured yukatas – acquired from various sources. Some are gifts from travellers back from Japan, some I’ve bought on Ebay, and I’ve found some in charity shops.

This bank of yukatas was to prove most useful to me when I started to make my own yukata because each one has been made quite differently. Only one – the shibori one, third on the right, – has been made traditionally  …Traditional yukata fabric is woven to a very narrow width. My bolt is just 35 cm wide (and 1074 cm long). This is so clever because it means that a yukata can be made with the minimum of seam finishing.

First I laid out the fabric to see how I wanted the prints on the fabric to join. It was clear that I didn’t need to worry about this. The patterns are designed to marry into each other wherever they meet.

A yukata made of a traditional narrow bolt takes two widths of that bolt for the back …When I looked at my old yukatas, I was amazed to see how differently they were made. The shibori yukata was made of two narrow bolts which had been joined down the back with a hand-stitched seam …By contrast this very pretty yukata featuring Japanese ladies and cherry blossom had no seam down the back which indicates it was not made from traditional narrow-woven fabric …
You can see that for the traditional yukata, there is no seam over the shoulders – another economy of effort! A narrow piece of fabric (half the width of the bolt) is attached to the front pieces to add fabric to wrap around the body. The placing of this front piece (and the width of the seams) allows you to make the yukata to fit a larger or smaller person …I studied all my yukatas carefully, deciding in the end the shibori one fitted me best so I matched the widths of my seams to those of this yukata …The shibori yukata was all handstitched – really beautiful work …But though I toyed with handstitching mine, I decided in the end to machine it …There was just a little bit of handsewing involved …Where necessary I used French seams to tidy as is traditional. For just one small section I sank to the modern technique of zigzag machine edging …Most of the seams didn’t need edging because they were selvedges …The shibori yukata has an inner yoke of plain fabric to strengthen the area which gets most stress, so I copied that and cut up an old nightie for the purpose …My only mistake – and was I irritated with myself at this! – was the sleeves. You can see how the sleeve lengths vary here. I didn’t want a sleeve as long as the formal sleeve on the right so I cut from the shorter sleeve pattern on the left – and then found it was too short! Maddening! I had to add a piece in to make it a bit longer …All this time I’d been sewing from the unwashed bolt. I know this is not recommended sewing procedure, but there was a lot of dressing which helped with the sewing.

The time finally came to give the yukata a good wash – get rid of all those vintage years of sitting in cupboards unloved. After a good blow in the soft Northumbrian breezes, it is soft as soft …Now it’s proudly joined all my other yukatas …

Do I have a favourite? Hmmmm …. I’ll have to think about that …

Exploring Dod Law

Goodness, what a long time since I last posted!

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it – or been without topics to write about. It’s more that I have questioned the whole raison d’être of personal blogs …. the internet seems so crowded … who am I to add to the general digital busyness ….

I have sort of resolved this in my own mind. I can’t resolve the problem of internet busyness, but I do really love blogging when I get into my topic.  And right now, that seems a good enough reason …

So here I am,  with a wonderful wonderful walk from last week,  in one of our very favourite parts of North Northumberland – the lands about the Cheviot Hills and the Milfield Plain.view over to the CheviotsWe were looking for something, something that we had looked for before and not found.  Would we be successful this time …. ? Hmm, you’ll have to wait and see!

Our walk started from the village of Doddington, parking not far from what appeared to be a Holy Well. I would guess this was an ancient sacred spot, Christianised perhaps  in the 19th century with the addition of the cross …Doddington's holy wellA trickle of fresh water running gently at the foot of the cross … this is a mysterious and elemental place – a good start for a walk into mystery …water trickling out of holy wellNot far up the road we found a worn and shabby signpost, barely legible for the lichen … but it’s definitely pointing the way to Dod Law … just half a mile up the hill!waymarkerSo up we go! You’ll remember that I’m always behind …
Stephen leading the wayInto the gorse …Stephen leading the way through gorseWhere pretty soon it becomes clear that this path isn’t walked often …. the gorse so overgrown even the sheep are finding it tricky to get through … almost impassable gorseBut then it opens out, and really this is the best sort of walking, the ground springy underfoot, the bracken too young and freshly green to give anything but pleasure …Stephen walking up the pathAnd the flowers! Foxgloves looking statuesque amid the gorse …foxgloves at their bestLittle white starry flowers underfoot … I wish I knew what they were!
young bracken around pathEven more delightful when mingled with small blue flowers, some of which are Speedwell (thank you, we will) but I can’t identify the others. Any ideas?
starry white and blue flowers underfootAnd the bell heather is just coming into bloom …bell heather coming into bloomJust when it all seemed to be going so well, we hit a problem … This stile has collapsed.  As I said earlier, this route no longer seems to be much walked.  The path over the stile takes us onto Access Land (private land where permissive walking is granted but no right-of-way footpath exist).  The unrepaired stile is probably  a reflection not of landowner disinterest but austerity.  Footpaths such as these were once the responsibility of local authority councils but their budgets have been so heftily slashed that footpaths must be bottom of their to-repair list.

Never mind – I did get over it, but only just. Lucky there’s no barbed wire on top!
broken styleOnwards and upwards … you can clearly tell which way the prevailing wind blows …no doubting which way the wind blowsExposed they may be, but these trees clearly offer welcome shelter to sheep …
sheep sheltersOnwards and upwards again … track leading invitingly upwardsAnd then up to scrubbier ground – with providentially a bench for respite …
happy benchmanWith what a view!a great place for coffeeThe land stretching down and round over the Milfield Plain …new growth on the hillsideGaps in the bracken show clearly where the farmer has burnt back growth – so much preferable to treating the bracken with herbicidal sprays …evidence of scorching down the brackenJust a little further and we find ourselves at the hill fort – that’s Stephen ahead, just entering it. This hill fort is thought to have been constructed about 300 BC.entering the hill fortSadly it’s very difficult for an amateur photographer such as I am – and on the ground too – to give a real impression of the magnificence of these remaining earthworks. But the farmer’s trackway gives an idea as it runs through the inner and outer ramparts.modern trackway running through hill fortOver on those hills in the distance were many many other hill forts … An almost unimaginable world …walking through the hill fort rampartsJust as we are immersing ourselves in the magic of this place, we look back to see somebody spraying the adjoining golf course! Aagh! is not even a spot as wild and beautiful as this safe from the common use of pesticides?!spraying the golf courseThe hill fort is a magnificent distraction, but it’s not what we’re really here for … We’re looking for rock art!  Some of the most intriguing and fine specimens are to be found on Dod Law.

Well, apparently so.  But last time we visited we couldn’t find them.  On that occasion we approached Dod Law through the golf course (a route almost parallel to the more circuitous one we had taken today), and we walked round and round and round and round – and found nothing.

You see everywhere – all over Dod Law – there are stone slabs lying exposed to the elements … there are stones everywhereYou can ramble around here, through the golf course, over the hills – and find nothing .. wandering through golf course looking for rock artDespite having Ordnance Survey maps, mobile phones, and hand-drawn maps from the master, Stan Beckensall’s Prehistoric Rock Art in NorthumberlandStephen at the trig pointOK, we did find the trig point – and were pretty pleased with that.at least we found the trig pointAnd – just above the Shepherd’s House – we found some very moving modern rock carvings …
the Shepherd's houseBless you, Sadie and Tom Young – what a place to be remembered!  You must have loved it very much up here …
modern rock artAnd then suddenly it clicked!  And the maps made sense, and I found the three clearly exposed pieces of rock art on Dod Law!

This is the first we found, and probably the most indistinctive of them all.  The problem isn’t just that my iPhone wasn’t really up to the task.  A June day – even if cloudy is not a good time to see the markings clearly.  Best days to see the rock art are in the low light of autumn and winter.

However, if you look very carefully you may be able to make out the cup and ring marks near the top.cup and ring marks on the rocksYou can see the engraved spiral much more clearly on this slab.circular rock artAnd it’s not too difficult to make out the patterns on this so called Main Rock. These are the most distinctive and unusual patterns.unusual rock art on Dod LawI can’t quite tell you how mind blowing it is to see these carvings, worked so many thousands of years ago (latest thinking is that they were made by Neolithic people between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago). But to stand on Dod Law with these very ancient rock messages and the Cheviots in view and a lark singing takes you, I reckon, almost as close as it is possible to our very distant ancestors …rock art with the cheviotsNobody knows what our ancestors meant with these rock carvings. There has to be a religious element, surely – some expression of peoples’ relationship with place and nature and life and death?

I’m intrigued to have read recently that a new project, Belief in the North East, has been set up under the aegis of Durham University “to explore the rich archaeology of the belief, religion and ritual of North-East England”. Studying the local rock art will be part of their brief.  I wonder what they will come up with ..

Back down the hill – just as pleasing as coming up, if not more so for mission accomplished – and the views as good as ever!following Stephen down

Walls

Yes, you may well wonder where I am going with this blogpost ….

I confess to having become fascinated by walls since we moved up to the north-east of England …

It’s all down to building materials, of course.  When we lived in Mid-Devon, there was very little of the local sandstone, and what there was available was used for important and expensive buildings like the little St Lawrence Chapel which we looked after for Crediton parish church.Our own house (round the corner) and Victorian had nice brick garden walls in the garden itself …But once you ventured down the track behind the houses that the coal delivery man would have used, you were back to the older cheaper local stuff – cob. Cob is made up of anything to hand – mostly dung, mud and straw. It’s very vulnerable to the elements.  To protect the wall, it was preferably built on a small stone base, and roofed with slates  – both of which you can see in this picture. What you can also see in the picture is the render – that’s the modern casual way to repair a cob wall …I might once have been inclined to say there is no finer sight than a good cob wall (as you can see here on the shed wall at our B&B in Woolfardisworthy last damp summer) …Until I came to live in Northumberland where there is stone! Beautiful stone! Our own cottage (a converted steading) shows this particularly to perfection in the light of the rising sun a couple of days ago.  This is sandstone, abundantly and gloriously available here …And everywhere there are fine stone walls (sometimes with the odd little whimsical brick) …Which we took for granted until we saw where a local farmer had driven casually through a stone wall so as to deposit the manure from the barn in an inaccessible field …Elsewhere we saw how a collapsed wall had been – well, err, left collapsed …

Time takes me in mouthfuls; the teeth of the frost bit into my body here; here my mortar crumbles; the wind rubs salt into every wound  (says the poet, Kevin Crossley-Holland.) Yes, that’s just exactly what happens to the walls near the sea round here …Eventually the stones were cleared away leaving the bank alarmingly vulnerable …Walking up to Edin’s Hall Broch in the nearby Scottish Borders, we noted the irony of collapsed walls left to deteriorate and be replaced by barbed wire fencing … While the much more ancient stone walls of Edin’s Hall Broch itself were still standing well …Once we started looking at walls with these eyes, we saw a great deal that was both impressive and beautiful – and quite a lot that was sad. You cannot but be struck by the beauty of the wallflowers growing in the walls on Lindisfarne …Nor the mossy walls we found when on holiday near Lochgoilhead.  I am overgrown with insidious ivy …And – oh my goodness – how I love to see the willowherb growing in the walls along the East-Coast railway line …But these are the beginnings of damage. A young shoot breaking through the wall …Puts down strong roots …Without doubt a broken wall is an evocative sight, adding strongly to this picture of desolation and damp and mist in Scotland.  I am a desolate wall, accumulator of lichen …But a broken wall isn’t just picturesque – it can be downright dangerous. This is the wall separating the East-Coast Railway line from our local footpath – now, just think of the speed those trains travel! Why a hop, skip and a jump and I’d be over. I am unrepaired; men neglect me at their own risk …I was intrigued to see the anatomy of a good wall laid so clearly bare when walking on Lindisfarne recently …You can be sure that this hole (also on Holy Island) will be repaired properly. (I have to admit to being fascinated by this hole – what on earth caused it?  It’s very rare for a well-built wall to collapse like this.  I can only think a car drove into it.)Once – just once – we happened upon somebody repairing a wall (up near St Abbs).  This man deserves every accolade because it was a miserable day to be out working … After all, there is so much in a good wall to admire – and intrigue.  Can you see the faint line of stones in the centre of the wall sloping down to the left?  I can’t explain this …Sometimes falling render reveals old secrets, little unsuspected doorways …And even unconcealed doors in walls have a special lure …This door is set in the wall which surrounds the local Paxton estate …And walls of that size are in themselves a source of wonder – all that labour! We had to stop and admire the colour of the worn sandstone …At one point there must have been a rather fine entrance here. Just look at that worked stone at the top of the wall on the left!Repairs vary – the best are surprisingly successful (aesthetically as well practically). Just like this large brick patch   …Even painted walls have their beauty too. Every lump and bump is enhanced …And what a wall can do for a garden! This is Priorwood, in Melrose. These gardens nestle under the more famous Abbey, and my photo on a dull day doesn’t really do justice to them. But they are wonderful – and this large backdrop of a wall frames them perfectly  …Then I found myself in London, walking round Walthamstow, with walls on my mind. Oh, the variety of these little walls! All the houses have similar mouldings, porticos and bay windows – but the front walls!Just look at the creativity here!And here!So much personality expressed in just a little suburban wall!You’d think I’d have had my fill by now, but an unexpected birthday present last year opened my eyes to yet another aspect of walls – political walls … This is a fascinating book – I had no idea that so many countries had built – and were building – walls.  My business is to divide things, my duty to protect. It’s shocking – but I’m not going to dwell on it right now …I’m coming back to where I started – our home, and the walls around us. Because right there – on the boundary between our gardens and the next door farm – are some fascinating remnants of when this farm was a grander affair – coping stones.  There are only a few odd ones left now, and when these buildings were converted, they were shoved higgledy-piggledy amid whatever stone the builders could find.  Not very elegant, but a powerful reminder of what labour used to be.  These coping stones are rounded and would have been worked with the simplest of tools. Makes you think …My business is to divide things: the green ribbons Of grass from the streams of macadam …

All quotes from Kevin Crossley-Holland’s poem, The Wall.

Glasgow weekend

Last weekend we had a very kind offer of cat-sitting so leapt at the opportunity to head off to unexplored places.  As it was snowy and icy, we decided the best thing was to travel by train, and settled on Glasgow, a city that we’d only visited briefly on a day visit last summer.

The streets in Glasgow had been gritted and cleared of snow, but not so the pavements which were icy and treacherous …But walking up to the glorious Kelvingrove Museum in bright sunshine, that didn’t seem to matter …How the sunshine transformed the great hall …Opened in 1901, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is such an extraordinary statement of ostentatious Glasgow prosperity – with an organ, no less, in that Great Hall! It was comfortably busy and bustling when we visited – lots of children, visitors of all nationalities, people waiting for the organ recital (which was splendid, and I wish I could play it for you here) …I love the detailed craftsmanship on show in the museum itself – aren’t these brass door handles very fine?Just as much as I love the modern jostling with the old. The hanging heads are part of an installation by Sophy Cave of Event Communications …I wish all museums were as upfront about their display policies …There was lots and lots of tempting things to see, but what I most wanted to look at was:This is a very big year for Charles Rennie Mackintosh admirers because it is the 150th anniversary of his birth – and lots of big events are being planned, including a major exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum itself opening in March, and the re-opening of his refurbished Willow Tearooms.

Another exhibition planned – much smaller but of considerable interest to me and my friends – is the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers National Exhibition in July at Strathclyde University. This will celebrate its presence in Glasgow on this particular centenary with an exhibition of Guild members handmade jewellery in the style of Mackintosh. “Jewellery can be of any textile nature, for example, they could be spun, dyed, felted, knitted, crocheted, tatted, woven, braided – whatever shows the creativity of the entrant.”

What an exciting challenge!

So here I was to look at the exhibits in a particular way: to see how I could re-interpret Mackintosh’s work in a piece of jewellery.

I had to be careful first of all not to be led astray by some of the gorgeous exhibits by other Glaswegians. We were both immediately struck by this very beautiful wall panel from the Argyle Street tearooms, dated 1898-99. But this was in fact made by George Walton & Co. A pity – this is truly inspirational!And this fine washstand with those characteristic Mackintosh long lines (look at the side panels) is in fact by John Ednie c.1900.  We spent ages looking at it because according to the information tab it was made of oak, glass, metal, marble, ceramic and leather.  Blowed if we could see any leather!  Must be inside the drawers, we decided …So where was the Mackintosh in all this gorgeousness?  There was a chair, of course – and very intriguingly displayed next to others of the period.  It’s the centrepiece here – designed for the Ingram tea rooms …And it was in the Chinese Room from the Ingram Street tearooms, designed by Mackintosh in 1911 that I found my best inspiration …Two things particularly struck me – first the little pagoda light … And secondly this Chinese key panel which was carved over the doorway of Mackintosh tearoom … those square curls … Lots to think about – I’ll keep you posted …Intriguingly we found upstairs among the historic Scottish exhibits pattern work very similar to that of Mackintosh and his Glasgow style compatriots. Look at these curved axe-heads and the long lines of this bronze dagger.  They are part of the Gavel Moss hoard found at Lochwinnoch and dated 2000-1400 BC …This Thistle brooch is 10th century Viking work, but could happily sit downstairs with Mackintosh and his fellow Glasgow artists of the 19th/20th century …The snow plough was out gritting the streets of Glasgow on Saturday night – which made us chuckle – no sign of snow on the streets anywhere! But we laughed a little less on the Sunday as we set out on an icy grey snowy walk up to St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. It was cold – and there was more snow …We were well wrapped up …I was wearing all my handmade, homespun, woolly knits (even sporting my handknitted felted handbag), so I was toasty! But Stephen disdains my lovingly-knit creations, saying they’re too scratchy.  Well, who looks most cosy here?!Lots of fascinating items covering the breadth of religious faith and worship in the St Mungo museum, but I was struck by two pictures – and intrigued by my reason for liking these two very different pictures.

This 1992 Aboriginal painting titled Kangaroo Wild Cabbage, Ceremonial Spear, Possum and Bush Carrot Dreaming is by Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Paddy Japaljarri Sims, Bessie Nakamarri Sims and Pansy Nakamarra Stewart, Warlpirri People, Yuendumu. It tells the story of the Dreamtime travels of some of their many spiritual ancestors. I struggle a bit to understand this picture as such – this is all so different to my culture, I guess.  But what I really love are the colours and the patterns …And it is pattern which draws me to this picture too. It’s called The Sabbath Candles and is by Dora Holzhandler. What a pattern fest – pattern everywhere!By now the snow was coming down hard – a beautiful snow globe view of Glasgow Cathedral and over to the Necropolis …But we had a colourful treat for the end of our Glasgow trip – just time to drop into my favourite shop here: Paperchase!  Now if this colourfest isn’t sustaining in the snowy grey, I don’t know what it is.  And – on that note – time to go home …

 

To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.  Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow, George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.  He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!  The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do so hope George Boyle is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!  He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.  Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the descending dove of the Holy Spirit above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.  We had the place to ourselves for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building. It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.  Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom ….. huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.  It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!  I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit …Outside the calm inner sanctuary lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.  I don’t think the authorities meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and it just got round a lot?)  …After our evening walks, we went back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.  This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.  This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.  It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.  We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s yarn shop in West Kilbride – somewhere else I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.  And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.  I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.  This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of Radical Craft. Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate this chore …But the pièces de résistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.  They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.  As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so  it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous knitting designs.  The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information about and examples of lots of historic Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of lettered bricks.  This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.  There is an entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.  Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Time to go home now – perhaps crawl would be a better description for our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.  The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!  So I won’t.  As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

A London walk

I found myself in London last Sunday and at a loose end.  “A loose end, in London?!” I hear you say. Well, yes.  All my family and friends were otherwise engaged, and it was far too nice a day to be inside a museum or art gallery. An exceptionally beautiful day with piercing low winter sun, perfect for a walk –  just icy, icy cold!

There is no doubt that London is a fabulous place to walk.  Everywhere, at every spot, every corner, there is something or other interesting, if not beautiful, to see.

I caught a bus from Mornington Crescent (the 88, should you ask – that which remarkably my very proper grandmother would call the Bastard since it was always a tardy bus) and alighted at Westminster Abbey.westminster-abbeyFar too busy and crowded (and expensive – £20 to go in!!!) for me, so I walked on to Victoria Tower Gardens on the Embankment, through the respectable streets around the Abbey.  They speak of another age.  Ordinand House with its wonderful plaque of sheaves and fruit trees above the old entrance – perhaps speaking of the spiritual bounty the ordinands were expected to glean, or possibly marrying in with the road name, Abbey Orchard Street …ordinand-houseRemembering my late mother-in-law, Betty, who was a strong supporter of the Mother’s Union as I walked past Mary Sumner Housemary-sumner-houseThe plaque marking Westminster Public Baths and Wash-houses is a memory of a far-forgotten time when people in this now-affluent part of Westminster did not all have their own proper washing facilities.westminster-public-baths-plaqueA marvellously vivid illustration above this building of athletic swimmers and lithe divers promotes the facilities.detail-of-public-bathsI came out into the sunshine and trees of Victoria Tower Gardens, a small patch of green, right beside the Houses of Parliament and running along the Embankment and the River Thames. A freezing, freezing cold day, but this couple were taking their wedding photos here … interestingly, not with the Houses of Parliament or the Thames as their backdrop.wedding-photos-in-front-of-parliamentNo, this was their backdrop, looking further down the gardens to the Buxton memorial. Magical light and shade.victoria-gardensBefore I walked on to the Buxton statue, I had to pay proper respect to the wonderful Rodin sculpture of the Burghers of Calais which most appropriately sits right under the Houses of Parliament – a constant reminder to our politicians of Mercy, Courage, Dignity, Generosity, Altruism.

The original of this statue is, of course, in Calais. It marks the deliverance of the 6 Burghers of Calais from the rage of the English King Edward III (a ruthless king, if ever there was one).  In 1347, his siege of Calais continued to the point where the citizens were starving.  In desperation the Burghers offered their own lives to Edward, if he would spare the rest of the citizens of Calais.  He agreed, and here are the noble and immensely courageous 6 Burghers.  They are weary, beaten, hungry – starving actually.  They have nooses round their necks, and the one on the right carries the enormous key to the town of Calais.

However, Edward’s Queen Philippa heard of their action and asked her husband to show mercy and spare these men.  And he did!

These statues never fail to move me.rodins-burghers-of-calaisTurning my back on Rodin’s statue, I walked along the embankment to another powerful landmark: the Buxton memorial. This little tower marks a defining point in history – the emanicipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834.  It was commissioned by Charles Buxton in memory of his father, Thomas Fowell Buxton, who along with Wilberforce, Macaulay, Brougham and Lushington fought for the abolition of slavery.

But this memorial means so much more to me than just historical interest – it takes me straight back to my childhood, when we would come and play here. Later on I used to bring my own children to come and play in this park. There are drinking fountains inside (or used to be – they don’t seem to work now), and we children had a lovely time running around and splashing here.buxton-memorialTime to say goodbye to the beautiful beautiful Thames …view-over-the-thamesAnd Lambeth bridge glimpsed through the trees before I turned down Horseferry Road to our little family home – of many, many years – in Maunsel Street …horseferry-bridgeMy father was a diplomat so he travelled all his working life, and, of course, his family travelled with him. But very early in my life, back from a stint abroad,  they moved to a small house in a quiet little Westminster Street. In the ups and downs, and moves and travels, nothing is quite so evocatively stable in our family as this house. Maunsel Street.london-home-maunsel-stWe arrived when I was eighteen months old, and before long I had a little sister.marian-in-pram-1957And in another couple of years, a little brother too. Although I love this picture of my mother looking through the front window at her chubby baby, I find it quite extraordinary that my mother would park the baby outside the house!henry-in-pram-1959Perhaps it was because there was no room inside? The house was teeny tiny for our growing family, and doubtless we all got on each other’s nerves at times. Probably best when we children played our games in the little garden at the back.playing-in-maunsel-st-garden-1962There were family gatherings in the garden too.  Here we all are, smartly turned out with the grandparents, for my brother’s christening in 1958.henrys-christening-party-1958We were still there in 1962, in the freezing cold of the winter of the Big Freeze.snow-in-maunsel-st-1962Inside it was very cold too – no central heating, of course.  My mother would turn the cooker on and leave the cooker door open to get heat into the icy little kitchen.  They made us an indoor play space by covering over part of the outside yard.  There was even a sandpit under that playpen. Judging by this photo, we appear to have played there happily and biddably, even though it was always cold.  I remember that heater so well – indeed, I think it was only thrown out a few years ago.  And those are my father’s geranium plants on the shelf.playing-in-conservatory-early-spring-1959In later years my parents travelled abroad again for my father’s work and eventually settled in Kent.  Our last time staying in the Maunsel street house as a family was when I was about 14, and it was a real squash with 4 big children. However, my step-grandfather’s early death meant my grandmother was looking for a smaller home so she came to live here when we left for Kent. She was a great gardener, and that is reflected in the photographs of her time there. No room for perambulators here now!!Dordy wearing batik dress 1971Through my teenage years and early twenties, I often stayed here with my grandmother. I look very smart, don’t I?! But, after all, I was staying with my grandmother …katherine-outside-maunsel-st-1973Other family members passed through – here are my father and brother en route for a French bicycling holiday in the 1970s …rhe-henry-1975After my grandmother’s death in 1980, my youngest sister moved in and lived here for quite a long time.  I would visit regularly from Devon with my two young children.november-1991-half-term-visitThere were children playing in the freezing cold conservatory sandpit again…katherine-james-helen-in-conservatory-1986Eventually she married and moved out, and another sister and her baby daughter moved in.marian-louisas-first-birthday-1995Another child playing in the conservatory and garden – looks a bit warmer here, thank goodness!louisa-playing-in-maunsel-st-conservatory-1996The garden is abundant and lush, quite different from what it was when we first lived there …louisa-playing-in-garden-1996And – suddenly – that was it.  This little house had been a wonderful central London home for so many members of the family for so long, but there came a time when nobody wanted to live in it.  So, with not a little sadness, in 1996, my father decided to sell it. Happy memories – ups and downs, of course.  But happy memories.

Keeping us quiet as small children meant lots of walks.  When we weren’t walking to Victoria Tower Gardens, we visited St James’ Park, so that is where I went next on my walk, rendezvousing with my sister.meeting-my-sister-in-st-james-parkThe park was absolutely at it’s best, looking magically beautiful. Icy, icy cold – if you look carefully you will see the birds are standing on the frozen lake.icy-waters-at-st-james-parkbrids-at-st-james-parkThe highlight of our walk was the pelicans. Pelicans have been here since 1664, apparently a gift from a Russian Ambassador! They are very friendly, probably because they are also very greedy, and with lots of tourists about hope to get lovely treats.  Which I expect they do – even though there are plenty of signs forbidding the feeding of them.pelicans-in-st-james-parkFamily photos record trips to the park in the 1950s. No London Eye in this photograph.st-james-park-1957In 1959 we visited the park with our fascinating and very  dashing uncle.  He had a Rolls Royce – oh, we thought him so cool (not, of course, the phrase we would have used then).  Did he drive us all to the park in the car?  I don’t remember, but I guess he must have.  What amazes me is the casual way he has left the car in Birdcage Walk.bow-with-his-rolls-royce-1959 We all crowded round to be part of the next photo., but judging by the expressions on our childish faces, we were a bit fed-up.family-with-bow-rolls-royce-1959Then we went off to feed the birds – looking a bit cheerier now …feeding-the-birds-st-james-park-1959In later years, when staying with my younger sister with my small children, we would also come to St James’ Park to feed the birds …feeding-the-birds-1986I walked on from the park up Clive Steps.  Nothing says Empire like this. There is Robert Clive, commonly known as Clive of India, imposingly placed between these magnificent buildings of colonial rule.clive-of-india-statueBut stop – there’s something new here that I haven’t seen before.  Justifiably surrounded by young tourists – because it’s a most touching and beautiful memorial, is this wonderful globe covered all over with doves of peace.birds-of-peace-on-terrorism-memorialThe script on the circular stone behind explains. In memory of the 202 innocent people killed by an act of terrorism in Kuta on the Island of Bali, Indonesia on the 12th October 2002.terrorism-monumentThen on,  up the Clive Steps, through King Charles Street.  Here’s the entrance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where my father once worked.foreign-commonwealth-officeIt’s not the same entrance, but here are my sister and I, having accompanied him one Saturday for some reason I forget, sitting outside the Foreign Office (as it was called in 1959).K & M FCO 1959Farewell ancient memories, distant times! “The past is a foreign country.” The present beckons. Time to return to reality and walk on to Whitehall where I can catch a bus back to Mornington Crescent!

Another London visit

Just over a week ago I was in London – busy, bustling, exciting, varied – so much to see, so much to do. I love visiting London, love the excitement, the endless small details of interest, the big statements of serious important world-changing matters in one of the largest cities in the world.

A visit away is always unsettling – even the kits feel it. Eggy seems to think that if I can take Northumbrian heather to London, I could take her too.eggy-in-my-suitcaseIt was nominally a visit to see family and friends.  To visit my nonagenarian mother (92!) in her Surrey nursing home …selfie-with-my-motherAnd sit in the autumn sun on the bench marking my father’s life …rhes-benchThis London trip was different because both my children have moved to areas of London that I don’t know at all, and for one who hates using the Underground like me travel round London is always a challenge!

My daughter’s bedsit was the easier visit because it’s at Mornington Crescent, within walking distance of King’s Cross station where I’d arrived. These tall houses remind me strongly of those at Earls Court where I used to live in the 1970s. helens-flatThe building on the right in the photograph above is the back of the amazing Carreras Cigarette Factory (now the London headquarters of Asos).front-of-asos-headquartersThis is just the sort of the thing I love about London – the serendipity of discovering fascinating buildings, and architectural detailing everywhere.  Black cats were part of the Carreras branding, and if you look carefully, you will see them right high up over the windows. I would love to see what it’s like inside.cats-all-over-the-asos-buildingHer little flatlet allows for window sill picnics …candlelit-window-picnicAnd there’s just space for Mum to tog up before gadding about London.togged-up-for-london-selfieThe highlight of my visit with Helen was a trip to the Victoria and Albert museum.  I used to visit regularly, but for one reason and another haven’t been for many years.  We are watching ITV’s Victoria which is a lot of fun even if I doubt some of the nineteenth century veracity.  A major theme is Albert’s struggle for some sort of role, and with this in mind, I was amused to see on the entrance façade that Victoria is very much in the senior position.  She – with orb and crown and sceptre – stands high over the entrance; Albert – a mere mortal – is far below over the main door.v-a-museumThe great delight again with a museum such as the Victoria and Albert museum is the serendipitous treats all around. Look at the marvels of the design of the original building here – that stucco, those arches, a rotunda above – coupled with a magnificent mediaeval altarpiece – and to crown it all a striking piece of modern glass.  v-a-at-its-bestSo much good to see that you don’t really know where to start.  I had it in mind to visit the glass gallery after reading LittleLollyTravels blogpost London Baby! some while ago. On the way to the glass we were seduced first by the tins …fancy-tinsWhat a particularly desirable biscuit tin this one is!literature-tinAnd then the metalwork … metalwork-from-castel-henrietteThis fantastically snakey green wrought iron piece is a window grille from Castel Henriette, designed by Hector Guimard.  Sadly, Castel Henriette has been demolished, but if you travel on the Paris Metro, you can see more of Guimard’s metal designs at some of the entrances.  What chance that this lovely piece ended up in the V & A?!!
castel-henrietteThe glass gallery – when found – was indeed a treat.  From the 1969 sculpture “Lollipop Isle”, designed by Oiva Toikka for Nuutajärvi glassworks …lollipop-glassTo the dawn of the twentieth century  with these exquisite German drinking glasses (I posted this picture on Instagram and everybody declared the crocus glass on the left to be their favourite – I wonder which is yours?) …german-wineglassesTo the nine earlyish Egyptian or perhaps Iraqi fragments of glass, dated to sometime in the 7th – 12th centuries (this case contains lots of fascinating treasures, generally Middle Eastern glass, of the same period) I am blown away by the pattern on these glass fragments …glass-fragmentsOnly a snapshot of what we saw, but there is really no way to justice to this remarkable museum.

My London travels then took me (very bravely by Underground – buses would have involved hours of travel) to Walthamstow where my son now lives.  His cottagey terraced house couldn’t be more of a contrast to the mansions of Mornington Crescent.walthamstow-terraced-house But nice detailing still mostly unspoilt (despite the conversions to modern windows), and I think William Morris would have approved.  Walthamstow is very much William Morris’s place. What a way to improve a car park!william-morris-wall-paintingHe grew up in Water House, and this fine building is now the William Morris museum.water-house-william-morris-museumMorris is intriguing because he defies fashion with an enduring appeal.  He was enormously popular in his lifetime, of course.  In my youth in the 1970s, he had a comeback, fitting in with the hippy vibe rather well.  And now, he seems to be all the rage again – check out this article on New York Fashion week!

So, all the patterns are very familiar – either I’ve had furnishings made of them sometime in my life, or known someone who did.  Part of the fun then in the museum was looking for old friends.

It was also intriguing to see how the designs were created. Here’s the Trellis design, both in its raw design state, and as a completed wallpaper print.  We know this 1862 print as Morris’ first design for wallpaper, but, in fact, it was Philip Webb who drew the birds.  Without them, Morris’ rose trellis would be somewhat lacking. I hadn’t realised how collaborative these designs were.trellis-wallpaperPleasing details in the museum included these oak drawers – beautiful smooth action, and look at those leather handles.  I’m sure William Morris would have liked these.drawers-in-morris-museumAnd I was glad to see the museum had fully exploited the fine patterns at its disposal with Morris prints decorating their very superior toilet facilities.william-morris-patterns-on-toilet-doorsmorris-in-the-toiletThe gardens of Water House are now a public park under the care of that rare species (nowadays) a park keeper.back-of-water-houseWe decided that it was the work experience student who was helping with the planting earlier this year and that is why some beds are surrounded with silvery grey foliage and others are not.something-wrong-with-the-plantingLike the visitor from Peru, I cannot praise this museum too highly – if you are in London, check it out!william-morris-galleryIn complete contrast to the sumptuousness of the V & A and the William Morris Gallery, I paid a visit to the Wellcome Institute to see their Bedlam exhibition.  I’ve been there several times before – it’s a most convenient gallery to visit if you have time spare while waiting for a train to leave King’s Cross railway station (just a little further up the Euston Road).  There is a fascinating permanent collection of medical curiosities from the past, and some most interesting modelling of modern problems like obesity.

But I was there to see an exhibition on Bedlam, the infamous London mental asylum founded in the 1700s.  Well – that was the starting point of the exhibition, but it continued to examine attitudes to mental health in the years up to the present, as well as focussing on art associated with mental health.

The exhibition was very crowded – lots of students making notes busily.  By chance I became separated from my friend. People swirling round me as I looked and looked for a familiar face in the crowd.  Suddenly, I realised how cleverly the exhibition was structured to give an impression of the helplessness of the inmates of an asylum. A deeply thought-provoking exhibition.bedlam-exhibitionSuch a brief visit – lots of interest, company, catching up with family and dear friends. I have now returned to the big skies of a very autumnal Northumberland …autumn-colours-in-the-gardenStill plenty to do in the garden …homely-choresThe farmer and seagulls are busy too …big-skies-and-harrowingWorking long and late into the night …farmers-working-late-into-the-nightHow incongruously different Northumberland seems from London!