Northumbrian Rock Art

Northumberland is full of secrets!  We’d lived here awhile before somebody mentioned the rock art to us.  Apparently, there were some rock carvings, just off the road to Lowick, not far away from us.  We didn’t think very much of it, and then one day we sort of happened upon the spot.  There’s no sign on the road that something momentous is just off it – only evidence of a track, the indentations in the undergrowth left by people walking off the road, into the little wood.entrance to Roughting Linn gladeFollow the track then, and there you are, in the grove – a lump of sandstone, with heather. moss and foxgloves growing on the mound and about.  This is Roughting Linn.Roughting Linn stonesLook carefully, through the lichen, and you will see the carvings.Roughting Linn rock carvingsThese photos above were all taken when we revisited the site last week.  And they do not do justice to the carvings – a summery day is not the time to look for rock art!  You need the shadows of evening or autumn.

Our first visit was in October 2011 and the photographs we took then show the carvings much more clearly.Roughting Linn carvingsRoughting Linn carvings 2They are extraordinarily mysterious and fascinating.  What are they and why?  Who did them?  How were they made?  When were they made?

Lots of questions and there are no answers.

What puzzled me most about the Roughting Linn carvings after our first visit was why somebody had felt so strongly about this particular place that they had wanted to enhance the stone with these carvings.

Of course, we see the site quite differently from how our ancestors did.  These rhododendron bushes – modern imports – are a clear reminder that localities change.  The greenness adds to the mystery of the place for us, but the Ordnance Survey map shows there was a small hill fort here – something you’re quite unaware of now because of the trees and shrubs.undergrowth around Roughting LinnIt’s the small waterfall nearby that is thought to hold the answer as to why our ancestors wanted to record their art on this stone – a strange, mysterious and magical place.

Again, you step just off the track into a green world as the path steps down steeply to the stream.path to waterfallWet, muddy and very slippery – we both ended up on our bottoms several times as we went down.uprooted treeNot as old as the rock art perhaps, but people have wanted to record their presence here for many years.graffittied treeA small cave just off the path adds to the feeling of mystery here.small cave near waterfallFirst glimpse of the waterfall.First glimpse of waterfallYou cannot but approach with the feeling that you are in a special place.  Archaeologists and theologians speak of the liminal: where places are “thin”, where the “other” is more present than elsewhere.  Roughting Linn waterfallThe twisted corpse of a tree – it is as though the very trees are watching guardians of this place.twisted corpse of a treeBack to where we had parked the car nearby, and we found this on the wall.  An offering to the gods of the place?sheep's head watching usStan Beckensall was the man responsible for the serious recording of these rock art carvings.  A local teacher, he became fascinated with them, and has pushed for their appreciation and conservation over many years.  The Northumbrian Rock Art website, set up under the aegis of Newcastle University with an AHRC grant, consolidated his hard work.  You can read therein his assessment of the Roughting Linn rock art.

Roughting Linn is perhaps the best known and most easily accessed of the local rock art sites.  But we were lucky enough to enjoy a walk with Ron Shaw up Chatton Hill recently to find more rock art.  Ron is most knowledgeable about this area, having devised the St Cuthbert’s Way path when working as a tourism officer in Wooler.

We set out on a gentle trek up Chatton Hill through beautiful grasslands.  It is credit to the farmer that this site is accessible and well-managed (as recorded in this BBC article).Ron and Stephen climbing Chatton hillLooking back over the gentle incline to where we had parked the car (the small white speck on the road).Looking back to parked carWe’ve got a worried sheepy audience – you can sense them wondering why these people are in their fields and heading their way?sheep watching us warilyAah – we’re after the rock art on the brow of the hill.  It takes a while to find it – there’s plenty of sandstone slabs about, and it could be any one of them.   Sadly, it’s not unusual to find examples of modern graffiti.modern graffiti on Chatton HillBut find it we do, and here is my photograph of the find with the magnificence of Northumbrian skies and the Cheviots in the distance.Chatton hill rock carvingsThere’s time for photography and the recording of the triumph of finding the specific stone.Ron and Stephen taking photographsHowever, we encountered the same problems we’d had at Roughting Linn: the light of a summer’s day (even if overcast) is not conducive to good rock art photographs.  So Shirley, Ron’s wife, has most generously allowed me to reproduce her photos of the same site, (both taken in the early spring, but on different years – you can see the snow of the Cheviots in the lower photo).  These are great photos that do full justice to the site, and allow you to capture the sense of awe our ancestors may have felt on top of a glorious Northumberland hill.Chatton Park Hill 05Chatton Park Hill 08We continued Ron watching Stephen aheadWe’re now looking for Ketley Crag which Ron tells us is somewhere on this hillside, but since he was last there the bracken has completely taken over.  We spent quite a while ploughing  through the bracken from sandstone slab to sandstone slab, but no luck.  The Ketley Crag is not for viewing on this trip!View over bracken to the CheviotsLuckily, Shirley is able to help out again, and here are her photos of the Ketley Crag rock art, taken in the very early spring.Kettley Crag rock shelter 03Kettley Crag rock shelter 01It’s quite different from both the other rock art examples I’ve explored in this blog, sitting as it does under a protruding rock, on the side of a hill.  Undoubtedly a beautiful place, but liminal, awe….no, neither of those descriptions seem to match this spot.  But then, I haven’t actually seen it in person – perhaps if I did, I would “get it”.  Definitely a trip for another day – probably in the autumn when the bracken has died back and the light is softer.  For now I’ve got to settle for these fine photos and what the Northumberland Rock Art database has to say on Ketley Crag.Kettley Crag outlook westThese places leave you silent.  The mystery, the wondering, together with the magnificence of the Northumbrian landscape – what did these artists want to tell us?

(Many thanks to Shirley and Ron Shaw for the use of their photographs and a wonderful guided walk.)

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Fleece

Most spinners will recognise that uncomfortable moment when their partner remarks “And is that all the fleece you have? Really? Promise?”  Crossing every digit, you mutter “yes, of course“, knowing full well there’s another stash buried deep in a little-visited cupboard upstairs.

Well, here is my coloured fleece stash – and yes, I promise: this is all of it!  Honest.Baskets of coloured fleece in gardenA full coloured fleece assessment was called for yesterday as I checked over my spinning projects.

Earlier this year I’d decided the time had come to dye some more fleece.  It was spring, and my  palette was strongly influenced by the colours of nature.greeny fleece on washing lineUp close and personal, as the wet fleece begins to dry you can see what gorgeous colours these are.closeup of green fleece on washing lineA little bit of acid lime to pep it all up.closeup of greeny yellow fleece on washing lineI couldn’t help letting a little bit of fuchsia creep into the dye pot.pink fleece on washing lineI had it in mind to knit a cardigan for myself.  I was very taken with Julia Farwell-Clay’s Tambourine (which appeared on the front of the Spring Issue of Pom Pom Quarterly). I love the rondels on front.Pom pom map coverWithstanding all the temptations of amazing indie yarn producers, I was determined to spin the yarn for this cardigan myself.  After all, I had all this fleece, and I loved spinning.  What I found I was doing was spinning odd little hanks that weren’t really enough for anything much.  Yes, they would work for the odd scarf, but I really had enough of those.

So, I assessed my fleece …pile of dry greeny fleece did some carding …Carding green fleece and got spinning.  Here’s the product: some lovely variegated green yarn.Spun green fleece hanksI wasn’t satisfied.

Let me explain.  It looks lovely as hanks, incorporating all the flecks and variegated colourings that I like.  But when knitted, it was rather dull and muted.test knitting samplesIf you go back to my fleece “puddle”, you’ll see why I was disappointed.  Look at that glorious top note green on the top of the pile.  It’s being swamped by the darker greens lying below.pile of dry greeny fleeceBack to the drawing board…err, dye pot. And a completely different colour palette.stainless steel bowl of dyeing fleeceAll these yarns (and they encompass wool from Shetland, Jacob, BFL and other sheep, mohair, silk) are rainbow-dyed using acid dyes.  You can now purchase excellent small dye kits which are complete in themselves (in the old days you used to have to add vinegar, washing up liquid, levellers etc).  And modern acid dyes are very safe – I wear a face mask, rubber gloves – and I clear all food stuffs from the kitchen before I start.  In recognition of the possibly undesirable effects of the exhaust, I pour as much of it as possible into the ground.  It’s not a small undertaking, so I set aside a day for dyeing and will dye at least half a fleece at any one time (making successive dyepots, reusing the exhaust from the previous dyepot).

My first dye pot and I got berry colours – nice, but a bit darker than I wanted.winey red fleece dyeingNext lighter redder, orangier colours – very pleased with this, but a bit taken aback when folk greeted my instagram pic with the statement that it looked like body parts!  Wonder what you think?body part fleece dyeingFinally some blues as well.blue and red fleece dyeingNow, lets go back to where I was at the beginning of this blogpost.  A fleecy assessment.Baskets of coloured fleece in gardenWhen you pull the fleece out of the baskets and boxes and bags, you realise just how much coloured fleece I’ve got here (this is a very honest post).  This fleece has come from a lot of sheep!centre basket and piles of coloured fleece on grassIt looks even more abundant when I start to make plans and move this gorgeous stuff around.

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I have several projects in mind.

First, I’ve decided to try spinning some blue yarn for the Tambourine cardigan. blue fleece on grassSecondly, I’m putting together some nice brightly coloured fleece to take to spin when I’m demonstrating with the Tweed Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers at the Border Union Show near Kelso at the end of this month.  Last year I took some fuchsia fleece and it was a great success with the young beginner spinners.  This is what I’ve come up with for this year.red orange pink fleece on grassI’m very taken with the orangey/scarlet/red tones that I’ve dyed so I’ve allowed myself to put a little bit aside for some comfort knitting this winter – I’ll probably end up with just a few skeins that will make a nice scarf.  Doesn’t it look cosy in it’s basket?red orange fleece in basketI’m also very excited to start spinning the basket of blue fleece.  Hmm – I’ll have to think this through – shall I card, or just spin?  Perhaps a bit of both.  The difference is that carded fleece will give me gently variegated colours.  If I just pluck the yarn from the basket to spin as is, I’ll get much more sharply contrasted colours – and you’ll see I’ve added some red and green mohair for sparky little contrast.blue fleece in basketI’ve already started to spin the fleece for the Border Union Show.  It looks great!spun pinky fleeceThe rest of the fleece gets packed away in the baskets for other projects other days.  There are colours in my bags and boxes that are leftovers from ancient projects that I worked on a long time ago.  I’m always careful to make the fleece unappetising to moth before it gets packed away.fleece and moth ball But I’ve left some fleece out for the cat to enjoy for a bit.

Happy cat, Poe!Poe on fleece

Our Seaview garden story

I have been much in the garden lately, enjoying some fine warm days.  And I have been reflecting on how our garden has grown with us – and what solace it has given.  But it has been hard work.

As I have written elsewhere, we inherited a garden that had been unloved, and grown wild. Wild Seaview garden when we first arrived The grass was long; some of the fencing had come apart round the oil tank; and in the corner you might just glimpse the sad remains of the plastic shed that had been blown apart in storms.

The first chore was to mow the lawn.  Stephen mowing wild gardenThe garden was well-fenced in.  This was useful while our cat Poe made her preliminary expeditions in her new territory, but meant we couldn’t see the view from the house.Poe exploring garden for first timeSo the next task was to reduce the height of the fence.  Then we could see the sea!  Lowering the fenceAfter that we replaced the shed.  This sounds an easy task, but was complicated by the fact that we were experiencing very strong winds at the time, and there was no way we could hold the large wood panels correctly in place with the wind blowing as it was.  Everyday we checked the Met Office forecasts.   A week later our opportunity came and we got the shed up.Stephen building the shedSitting in those pots on the patio were the plants and seedlings we’d brought from our old Devon home.  We now needed to make some flower beds in our new garden so we could give our much-travelled plants a new home.Seaview with the wild lawn tamedWe started with a large bed in the corner of the garden….. first bed we dugand that’s when we realised how hard it was to dig this ground.  Eventually we acquired a pick-axe.Stephen pickaxing new holeWe learned that digging flower beds here involved removing all the earth, clay and stones and rubble from the proposed spot, sieving it, putting back a little bit of good earth and buying a lot of expensive compost and top soil to refill the hole!Stephen inspecting a newly dug holesThis is why it was such hard work.

One of our neighbours kindly showed us some pictures of the old farm steading when it was being converted into homes.  This is our kitchen.  That pile of rubble behind the kitchen is our garden.  We further learned that our garden was where the tractor was usually parked.  To keep the mud under control, the farmer regularly tipped hardcore and rubble on this spot.  Aaaaagh!Seaview farm kitchen being built

Despite the hard work, we did finish the little beds beside the fence in time for our little seedlings to be transplanted there in the early spring.view out of garden to seaIt felt such a triumph to sit out in early summer as we came to the end of our first year here.Stephen sitting in the gardenThese little beds under the fence were still very empty, so we bought poppy and cornflower seeds.  This was the result in high summer – just amazing.first year crop of poppies We added a conservatory.  new conservatoryThis has been a huge bonus for us in windy, colder Northumberland, meaning we can shelter ourselves and our more delicate plants.morning glories around conservatory doorStephen put a lot of care into making raised beds to grow our vegetables inStephen building the raised bedsIn a few years we had transformed the garden with the addition of water butts and three raised beds.  new raised bedsAnd, of course, a greenhouse.Stephen putting up the greenhouseThis is the last garden bed Stephen dug.  Judging by his expression, I think it is the last he is ever planning to dig.Stephen beside new garden holeSuddenly it looked like a proper garden!plants growing well in raised bedsAnd we got produce from the raised beds.  Our first year carrots were a little curious.weird carrotsBut last year we had these beautiful courgettes …yellow courgettes from the gardenand tomatoes …tomatos from the gardenand chilli peppers too.chillis from the gardenI cannot believe that we now have what looks like a proper garden!  There is still often work to do.Katherine weeding the garden pathThe garden is now showing us that it has a mind of its own. How silly of me to think it is our garden.  Of course, it isn’t!  It belongs to the place itself …

Self-sown poppy seedlings are growing round and through our bench …Poppies growing through benchand in our raised veg beds …Poppies looking gloriousand in the lane …Wild poppy seedlings in laneNever mind, Poe can still do the fence walk …Poe doing fence walkand she can still find the bird water when she’s thirsty.Poe drinking from the birds' waterAs for Stephen and me, – well, we’re happy so long as we can still see the view.Poppies in the gloamingWhat we have tried to do, is build a garden where the plants we grow merge into the natural grasses of the fields around us. Garden merging into field

The essayist, Francis Bacon, was surely right when he wrote that “…[a garden] is the purest of human pleasures.  It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handyworks.”Poppies in the new garden bedHow lucky we are to have a garden for solace, beauty, abundance – and hopefully a lot less hard work!

London visit: home from home

I regularly visit London. It’s partly to see my two children who live there; sometimes I visit my sister and her family, and sometimes dear friends.  But I also go to see London! – to see exhibitions, galleries, explore some part of London that I don’t know well, walk in the parks, shop.  So much to see, so much to do!

I’ve lived there at various times during my life.  My parents moved there when I was nearly 2 years old.  They had a tiny little house in very central London, not far from my father’s work in the Foreign Office.

This was in the early 1950s so London was still recovering from the war – a lot of bomb-damaged sites, seeded with the bright yellow of wild ragwort.   I loved to balance on the low ruined walls, holding my father’s hand, as he walked me to kindergarten on his way to work.   Sometimes he took my sister, Marian (on the right in this picture) and me to his office nearby in King Charles St.  (King Charles Street is close to Downing Street, and I don’t think you could casually walk up to the Foreign Office front door any longer as both streets are now gated off.)K & M FCO 1959My parents didn’t stay in London long, so my next stop there was in the 1970s, when I had finished at university.  I shared the top floor flat in one of these imposing Earl’s Court houses with two other girls.  By this time, London was a much more multi-cultural city.  Earl’s Court was known as a particularly Australian back-packer haunt.  It’s busy main street was full of money exchange shops so visitors from all over the world hung out there.Eardley Crescent 1978Through the years, as I’ve lived in Kent, Oxford, Devon and now Northumberland, I’ve travelled back to London regularly.  These days my visits are focussed on my children’s homes in North London, and I’ve had to learn my way round parts of London I’d never visited before.

I used to get panic attacks in the underground, so my journeys around London are almost entirely by bus.  But what a lot you see from the top deck of a London bus!

Here is my journey starting on the Saturday in Crouch End.  We are heading into central London, to the British Museum.Crouch End streetI am struck – as ever – by how green London is – trees, parks, gardens, all gloriously green.green London treesEven London’s traditional red buses are sometimes green.Green London busAnd, what also stands out amidst the greenery is the amount of building work going on.  There’s a lot of money at work here.  (The affluence of London is particularly striking to one coming from the more impoverished north of England.)London pub The DriverI’m fascinated by the glimpses of old London amidst the hustle and bustle of modern ways.  The fine old painted sign on shabby shops 319 and 321 remains to tell us that they once sold Scales, Weights and Weighing Machines.  Nowadays there is a Massage Parlour, Nail Bar and Computer Centre – all a sign of the times.  Our forebears wouldn’t have recognised any of these businesses.Old lettering on London buildingHere, they have kept the façade of the fine old building with the new building just behind – can you see?  Reused facade of old London buildingContrast this with evidence of modern multicultural London.  That sign over the doorway is written in the Amharic script.  Remarkably (to me), each character represents a consonant and a vowel.  Marathon restaurantWhat a riotous explosion of colour on what must have once been a pretty dull building!Painted buildingI always look out for these caryatids on St.  Pancras New Church.  They have been patiently supporting the roof since the 1820s.Caryatids on St Pancras New ChurchThe British Museum is busy, busy, busy.  It’s an old friend.  I’ve been marvelling at this imposing, pedimented façade for a long time.imposing exterior of British MuseumBut the interior is new – and so exciting.  This rotunda inside the Great Court is a work of genius, and the roof is just wonderful.British Museum roofSo much to see, but we mustn’t get distracted.  We’ve come to see the British Museum’s Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation exhibition.British Museum exhibition bannersLuckily, it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to enjoy the exhibition comfortably.  We were asked not to photograph, and articles that I have read since explain that some of the owners of the material have been quite specific about this, even asking that parts of some artifacts be concealed from visitors’ eyes.  So, I am only reproducing images that have appeared in newspapers or on postcards.

It’s a very powerful and disturbing exhibition – if I were to define it in a couple of words I would speak of loss and dignity.  There are objects of great beauty and fascination, but there is no more reason now why they should sit in the British Museum than the Elgin Marbles or the Assyrian carvings.  Indeed, it’s worse than that because many of these objects still have significant cultural value to the indigenous peoples of Australia.

To the credit of the curator, Gaye Sculthorpe, and her team, they have taken four years to prepare for this exhibition, and consulted widely with the Aboriginal people, respecting their wishes in the display of materials.  I think they deal honestly with some very difficult issues.Aboriginal shield

Take this shield, probably collected at Botany Bay during Captain Cook’s 1770 visit.  For the Aboriginal peoples, it is a symbol of attack and invasion, for Cook and the colonists it was a foundational treasure.

There were the Dreaming paintings that have so attracted Westerners to Aboriginal art.  These modern acrylic paintings are by Spinifex people (the upper painted by four men, and the lower by six women) and tell a bitter story.  They are the Spinifex peoples’ record of the land from which they were ousted in the 1950s and 60s so that the British and Australian governments might test atomic weapons there.Dreamtime painting by Spinifex menDreamtime painting by Spinifex womenA fine turtle shell, shell and fibre mask from Mer, turtle shell maskan island in the Torres Straits.  It’s thought to be older than 1855, and is typical of much of the collection that the British Museum holds in that it was donated by the Lords of Admiralty.  How did the Lords of Admiralty come to own it, one wonders?  Through conflict?  greed? scientific research? gift?  All part and parcel of Britain’s murky involvement in Australia’s past.  It is said that the material on show is just a tiny percentage of what the British Museum actually holds in its Oceania and Australia collections.  Hmm – what would the British Museum be if it started to return some of its holdings?Modern Aboriginal basketwareModern basketware (2010),  made of plant fibre and wool by Yuwali (also know as Janice Nixon).  I love this piece – can it be that it is untainted by the dismal colonial story?!! Oh, I hope so.  I found myself longing for some salvation from the miserable exploits of the colonial Brits.Spinifex ladies painting bag

And I came home with this.  The Spinifex ladies’ painting transfers wonderfully well to artefact, and it’s a lovely bag  – with a powerful back story.

There’s no doubt that it’s a very interesting exhibition.  I learned a great deal, and – in the face of all the criticism that Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation has drawn – that’s very important.

Just suppose we were to turn the tables and someone made the discovery that some Northumbrian Rock Art was lurking in a Sydney museum? and what’s more a Viking-like marauding party massacred, raped and pillaged this local material away?

Time for something lighter!

I wanted to buy fabric, and when I was younger, you could buy fine materials in Liberty’s and John Lewis.  So thither we went.Outside of LibertysSo disappointing!  Liberty’s is such a fine store – such a visual delight.  But honestly, what rubbish they sell!  Colossally expensive really quite ordinary items (shopping bags in the pic below), so I guess they are mainly interested in the tourist market.  As for fabric – well, they do sell their lovely Tana Lawn prints, but that’s pretty well all the fabric they sell now.Inside LibertysSo to John Lewis.John LewisIf you could count on anywhere selling fabric, surely it would be John Lewis!  They do still sell fabric, but their stock doesn’t cover almost the entire ground floor (as it used to). It’s a miserable little aisle on the fourth floor.  Not what I wanted there either.Fabric department in John LewisBut we did get lunch in the little restaurant overlooking Cavendish Square.   (More London greenery, though the grass is looking very parched, badly in need of heavy rain.)View from John Lewis cafe to Cavendish SquareNow, I’m lunching here with my daughter, but I well remember lunching here with my mother when she brought me to John Lewis to buy terry towelling nappies before my babes were born.  Of a whim, I looked for nappies today, but could I find nappies for sale – No!  (Sic transit gloria mundi!)Helen eating lunch in John LewisThere is consolation: Helen knows where to go for my fabric.  Why Soho’s Berwick Street is the place!  (I love it!! After all, I’m hailing from Berwick-upon-Tweed these days!  And as ever, I’m fascinated by the buildings – look at the detailing under the parapet on the taller building!)London's Berwick streetThere are lots of fabric shops in Berwick Street, but Borovick is the excellent little shop where I finally find some fabric that I’m pleased with.Borovick shop in Berwick StTime to head back to Helen’s home.  They still haven’t removed the tacky bum-flaunting fairy over the doorway.  I rather think it’s going to stay there for a very long time ….Fairybum CottageOne of her cats is particularly pleased to see that I’ve brought some seedlings with me because there’s several small catnip plants hidden deep in the pot.Ilsa smelling the catnipThis is Tottenham’s Tower Gardens, and when I first visited I was struck by the quality of these little homes.  Look at the detailing on the brickwork, the finely-shaped chimneys – and the simple decorative details over the windows.

In the late 1890s, £10,000 was donated for the purchase of this land by jewelry magnate, Samuel Montagu.   Homes were to be built to rehouse Jewish workers, then living in the crowded conditions of Tower Hamlets in London’s East End (whence the name: Tower Gardens).

The chief architect was William Riley.  He was a member of the Art Workers Guild which had been founded in 1884 and was an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts movement.  All the details – tree planting, brickwork etc show this influence.Tower Gardens houseIt’s a conservation area, but disapppointingly poorly implemented.  Look at  the changes somebody’s made to this house!  Weirdly out of context, but it’s somebody’s home and no doubt they love it.changes to Tower Gardens houseSadly, modern living (satellite dishes and rubbish bins) don’t improve the look of these charming houses.rubbish bins outside Tower Gardens houseThen I was grabbed by the names.  Where on earth does Waltheof come from (see the sign on the building beside Rose Supermarket below)?!

What a strange small world.  This was Northumbrian land.  Waltheof  appears in the Domesday book of 1086.  He was the son of Gosparic, Earl of Northumberland.  The local football team is Tottenham Hotspur (remember the Duke of Northumberland’s son, Harry Hotspur, in Shakespeare’s Henry IVth?)

Now it’s a vibrant multi-cultural area as this mini-mart on the edge of the estate testifies. (But first look at the detail of the window in the roof).  Rose Supermarket caters for English, Turkish, Greek, African and Caribbean tastes.  Wow!Rose supermarket, Tower GardensBefore long it’s time to go back to Berwick-upon-Tweed and Northumberland.  My heart is always warmed by the sight of King’s Cross Station.  Such a simple, magnificent statement with the strong lines of those huge arches, and the mellow tones of London brick.  Kings Cross stationStephen prefers St. Pancras station next door.  What a contrast in architecture!!

The fact that these two important London train stations sit next to each other is a reminder of their history.  King’s Cross was built by the Great Northern Railway company in 1852 (designed by Lewis Cubitt), and St. Pancras, serving the Midlands and Yorkshire, was built a few years later (1868)  for the Midland Railway company.  The famous frontage on the Euston road (which you see in the picture below) was actually the former Midland Grand Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott.

I wonder which you prefer?St Pancras stationNever mind – we’re going to the north-east, so it’s King’s Cross for us.  Just look at this wonderful ceiling in the revamped and extended station building.  I think Lewis Cubitt would be well pleased by what they’ve done to update his station.Kings Cross roof 1

Silly babies, squabbling teens

Our garden is full of birds!  The first crop of fledglings have arrived and they, together with their exhausted parents, are everywhere, greedily looking for food (and water). starlings at water bowlIt wasn’t like this when we first moved here.

We arrived some five years ago to a cottage that had been converted from an old steading.  After the conversion, it had been let to temporary tenants.  Nobody had put energy or effort into the garden.  We inherited a wild grassy field of a garden.wild gardenWhen we had tamed our wilderness (mown the lawn), we had nothing in the garden but grass – nowhere secure for birds to shelter bar the one clump of grass we left (on left of picture below, just inside the fence).Seaview with the wild lawn tamedThat winter birds came and went as it snowed and snowed.  They must have been very hungry – but none stayed.  How could they – there was no shelter in our garden.  winter birdsBut as we dug beds and things began to grow, the birds began to visit. bird feedersbirds on gutteringOur mornings start with the ritual of putting fat balls and bird seed out for the birds.  Some goes in birdfeeders hanging on walls and fences, and some is scattered on the path (we grate the fat balls up).

This is to cater for all tastes.  Some birds like to graze on the ground…(this is a family of collar doves that came for a few days and then moved on….same with the crow.)  birds on the pathSome eat at the feeders…starling on feederThere’s a great deal of argy-bargy, particularly at the feeders.  Remember these are young uns, learning how to cope with just about everything by themselves.several birds on feederThey don’t only have to learn to share the feeders – there’s the drinking water/bath tub as well.bird washing itselfOne of my favourite ladies, this doe-eyed Blackbird teen, hesitantly approaching the cat drinking water.  It’s all the same to them (provided the cat isn’t around, of course).young lady blackbirdWe are especially fond of the wagtail family who have been returning to spend their summers here for several years.wagtail in gardenBut we are disappointed that the wagtails have not chosen to nest in our woodshed this year (as they have for the two previous years.  Their babes were just a hoot.)wagtail chicks in woodshedLast year the blackbird also nested in the woodshed, and we got birdtv set up.  It was the best! Sorry Mr Weatherperson – it was far far better than real telly.bird tv much better than real tv Here’s Mama Blackbird working hard to feed her chicks.bird tvAnd here’s Papa Blackbird working hard to keep the nest clean!papa blackbird cleaning up nestMama Blackbird knew how to keep her chicks in order – look at that little squashed face on the right!mama blackbird sitting on nestSomebody else in the house was very interested in birdtv…Poe watching bird tvBut poor old Poe – she’s really confused!  Love this pic of her trying to work out where the baby birds really are.Poe looking behind the tvWhen she was younger, she was really seriously into bird watching …Poe watching birds on fenceBut now she’s older, she just lets the world go by…  Unfortunately there are other teens in the block.  This is our neighbours’ young cat who is fascinated by what goes on in our garden. neighbour's catSometimes young bemused teens fly into our conservatory and have to be coaxed out. young swallow in our conservatoryOne year we had a silly sick young carrier pigeon (nicknamed Gormy) whom Stephen loved to death (sadly that’s true though it was a very poorly bird when it arrived).gormy the pigeonWe were beginning to think that this was going to be rather a disappointing year.  No birds nesting in our wood shed, and where are the chaffinches and greenfinches we’ve found feeding at our table in previous years?  birds under feederThese days, it’s quite ordinary birds that we find eating on our path…more birds on garden path But you can never guess the animal world.  Who was to arrive earlier this week but Larky Boy!  (I shouldn’t really label this bird so because I don’t actually know if it is male or female.)  But he (I’m sticking with Larky Boy) is most unusual and a real delight.

We hear the larks here on and off all summer, and sometimes catch brief sightings of them, rising helicopter-fashion from their nests in the local fields up, up, up to the heavens for some glorious singing.  But they are very shy birds….apart from Larky Boy.  He even did a little tentative practice singing on our lawn!larky boyThe other day he brought his siblings.  But they haven’t reappeared.  He has though, – just got to enjoy his presence while it lasts.  three larks on the lawnWhat pleasure it is to have these birds with us for a while.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

I will let you into a secret.  It was for this view that we moved the 400 miles from Devon to live in Northumberland.evening light on Holy IslandYou are looking out of the window, over the fields, over the Eastcoast railway line, over the sea, towards Holy Island.  That bump that you see towards the right of the picture is the Elizabethan castle standing proud on Beblowe crag.  In differing lights the island looms grey or shimmers as a mirage. Sometimes it is wrapped in mist.  It is always fascinating.

It is as though one is glimpsing Avalon, the Isles of the Blest, a place associated with deep yearning and longing – and peace.

Although I have always felt drawn to this distant vision, I haven’t always enjoyed going to Holy Island.

Our first visit was in August 2004.  Like the rest of the day-trippers, we’d checked the tide tables and driven over the causeway in a busy queue of holiday makers.  We were directed into a huge busy carpark, and followed the stream of people walking into the village where it’s all busy and bustling, and you can join the rest of the crowds in the tiny Lutyens castle, the mediaeval priory or the usual mish-mash of touristy shops.

Nothing special there.  Just busy, bustling and bustling.  How to reconcile this with the spiritual intensity of St Aidan and St Cuthbert, to draw near to the harshness of life that those amazing monks experienced who produced the Lindisfarne Gospels, to understand the holiness of the place?

Well – we have learned the way.  Now I can feel the island calling to me when we have not visited for a while.  It has worked its magic on me, and I am a disciple.

So – let me tell you about our visit earlier this week.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is not really an island.  It would be much more accurate to call it  a peninsula.  Peninsula – from paene meaning nearly in Latin and insula meaning island.  It is just that: nearly an island.

You have to cross a causeway to get to Holy Island, and the causeway is flooded by the tide twice a day.  So for approximately eleven hours of each day it’s inaccessible by road.driving over the causewayBefore the causeway was built in the sixties, you had to approach by boat, or else walk with your donkeys over the sands as these two good ladies did.Holy Island ladies crossing the causewayWere you to cross when the tide was high, you would be unable to drive right over the causeway. You would have to take refuge in this rickety little wooden hut and wait for the tide to go down.crossing the causewayYou are still directed into the huge busy carpark.  Even though it’s a long way off the school summer holidays, the carpark is crowded and busy.  Holy Island is an immensely popular visitor attraction. crowded carpark But it is from here that we diverge from the masses. Holy Island mapWhile most people walk into the village (or catch the local hopper bus), we back-tracked and walked along the road to a footpath that takes you over to the dunes.   Stephen striding ahead from the carparkThe expedition has begun!!  You can immediately see how different this area is.  The wild flowers are fantastic.  There are poppies and daisies….Poppies and daisiesand cowslips and orchids and buttercups and vetch…..cowslips and orchidsThere is also piri-piri.   At this time of year it is young and green and harmless. Young pirri-pirri plantsThere are warnings about piri-piri, and rightly so as it is most tiresome and we definitely do not want it to spread.Pirri-pirri burr warning signOne year, later in the summer, I unwisely trampled in the piri-piri and this was the result.  This plant has the best survival tactics of any I have ever known – it attaches itself with little wiry hooks which are the very devil to remove. and then it travels with you until it finds a nice new uncolonised spot to invade. pirri-pirri on Katherine's shoes After you leave the meadows, you climb up into the dunes, and there is the sea!  The vegetation is different here – more sparse and lower growing.  Everywhere the birds are calling.  I cannot capture the many larks we see as they fly up and up and up with their glorious singing.  But believe me, they are there, and their song is beautiful.looking for birdsWe sat on the edge of the dunes and looked down on this wonderful white empty beach.  Not a lot of birdlife here today, and no people at all.  Strange – there are usually oyster catchers, curlews and redshanks, and at least the odd beach-comber competing for finds.sandy beachesThere are, however, quite a few kittiwakes chicks in nests on the cliffs.  We can see one nest quite clearly.  There is a very demanding chick there!  You can see its open greedy beak, and boy, could we hear it!  When parents arrive with food, the chicks go wild and make an unholy din.kittiwakesAfter watching the birds, we turn inland again and head for the castle. glimpsing the castle aheadIt is fascinating how many different sorts of terrain there are on one small island.  We call this part the Moon Landscape.  It is actually what was once Nessend Quarry.  This is where, in the 1860s, they quarried for limestone.  The extracted limestone was fed into the limekilns (at the foot of Lindisfarne Castle) where it was roasted into quicklime (commonly used as an agricultural spread for neutralising acid soils).lunar landscape You clamber out through sandy dunes and are back in meadowland again.  We are once more in the land of verdant greenness.meadow flowersThere are traces of old dykes and ditches. The monks farmed here so these may be very old indeed.traces of old ditchesWe turn onto the old tramway that once carried the limestone to the Castle lime kilns.  This is very comfortable walking after the rough terrain of the quarries and dunes.  They’ve clearly been shearing the sheep – bits of their fleece are scattered all over like snow. walking the old tramway But it’s a coarse fleece – I shan’t be taking any home to spin.  fleeceNow we’re beginning to draw closer to the castle, and we can see the sheep whose fleece I’ve been inspecting.Lindisfarne castle from the distanceI love Lindisfarne castle.  The washed colours remind me of an Uccello painting.Lindisfarne castleIt is not an old castle as British castles go – nor did it see important action.  A castle was first built on the protruding rock of Beblowe Crag in the 1570s as part of the English defences on its unruly Scottish borders.  But in 1603 the crowns of England and Scotland were united under James (1st of England, 6th of Scotland), so after that the castle was rather unnecessary (although a small military garrison was maintained there for another three centuries).

It was reborn into modern life in the early 20th century when Edward Hudson (the owner and founder of Country Life magazine) acquired the building.  He appointed the distinguished architect, Edwin Lutyens, to convert the castle into a home.  Lutyens made a magnificent job of it.  It is enchanting inside – simple magnificence combined with a strong eye for detail.

On the shoreline below the castle people make cairns with the local stones.  We may not all visit Holy Island as Christians, but without doubt many people find in the place a deep spirituality.  I think this couple were building a cairn to commemorate the scattering of cremated ashes. building cairns I can well understand why you would wish to leave the ashes of those precious to you in the care of these little islands on the Northumbrian coast. 

You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid  (T S Eliot: Little Gidding)

On the distant horizon is the Inner Farne Island, whither Cuthbert retreated when he could no longer cope with the busyness of Lindisfarne.  cairns by the shoreNow we are rounding the shoreline and the old tram road path leads up to the Castle (those arches on the left are the Lime Kilns).  The castle sits like a galleon sailing in these magnificent Northumbrian skies.walking round to the lime kilns and castleWe are nearing civilisation …Stephen walking round castleBut first, glance up at the golden lichen on the castle approaches.  Lichen thrives where the atmosphere is pure.lichen under castle And look down, at the banks of valerian on the lower castle reaches.valerianWe are back now with our fellow tourists.   The ruins of the Priory are in our sights.joining crowdsA sunny lunch in the local pub.  It’s quite an ordinary little  pub, but how many other pubs sit so casually next to such magnificent ruins? Stephen in pub It was St Aidan who brought Christianity to these islands at the request of King Oswald of neighbouring Bamburgh Castle.  St AidanThe sainted Aidan was much loved and is still revered as a great saint, as is his successor, Cuthbert.  But in many ways it has to be said that Cuthbert has overtaken Aidan in the popularity stakes.  St Cuthbert amid ruinsThis is Cuthbert’s country.  He was – and still is – hugely special to Northumbrians.  They remember him locally as Cuddy.  If you look carefully you’ll see the Cuddy duck (actually an Eider) nestling at the foot of this rather curious statue of Cuthbert.  Crinoid fossils found on the beaches are Cuddy beads, and were once used to make rosaries.  Today there’s a ginger cat asleep nearby, oblivious to everything but the sunny warmth.  cat amid ruinsAidan and Cuthbert never knew this stone built Priory.  Aidan came here in 635, and Cuthbert is thought to have arrived here some 30 years later.  They lived and worshipped in wooden buildings which have completely disappeared, but are thought to have been on the same site.   LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMattGiven the simplicity of the monks’ lives here on Lindisfarne it is truly extraordinary that one of the finest books extant, the Lindisfarne gospels, was copied and illustrated here.  The Lindisfarne Gospels are thought to be the work of Bishop Eadfrith, Cuthbert’s successor on the island.  They are now one of the greatest treasures of the British Library.  First page of St Matthew’s gospel.  Image made available to the public domain by Wikipedia.wood carving of monks carrying Cuthbert's bodyThe monks left Lindisfarne in disarray when Viking raiders began a series of attacks on the monastery at the end of the 8th century.  But they took the body of their beloved St Cuthbert with them, and a fine wooden carving in the church commemorates their devotion.

In the 12th century monks returned to build the Priory that we see today.  It is a beautiful building, and despite the exposure to the elements still looks amazing.  You can still make out the details of the chevrons on the columns.  priory ruinsEven in the Priory, it is the Castle perched on Beblowe Crag that dominates.  It intrigues me that when I speak of gazing longingly at Holy Island, it is a conflation of the image of the Castle and the ethos that the monks created that sits in my mind.  The Castle is the stronger visual symbol of the place, but without the history of Aidan, Cuthbert, Eadfrith, and all their fellow unknown monks, it could just be another castle.  Of course, Mother Nature has a strong part to play in making this place remarkable too!looking from the priory ruins to the castleTime to face the world again.  There’s the whole Lindisfarne/Holy Island retail experience.  Lindisfarne shopsAnd then we join the pedestrians walking back to the car park.  I hope they will return to the mainland as refreshed by their visit to Holy Island as I have been. walking back to the car

Clearing the decks

My last major project was my story quilt which I finished in April.  It was completely absorbing so when I had finished I had a build up of small projects and repairs to do.  Projects get thrown to the side  when time is short, piling up wherever there’s space in my  Woolly Room.  woolly room workings I have a tiny little Woolly Room (so named by my children when they were small…. you might guess why from this photo – if you can see the yarn cones for everything else on the shelves.)woolly room shelvesThis post is about clearing the decks before I start another big project.

There are always woolly projects on the go in the Woolly Room so it’s probably best to start with some  knitting…

I’ve loved Tin Can Knits’ Old Growth pattern for a long time.  It wouldn’t work for me because the button band is off centre (I tend to wear my cardies open and with this cardi, I’d have a lot of fabric hanging free).  But I thought it would be a really nice cardi for a friend’s baby.  The motif that is such an integral part to this knit, didn’t work with my yarn (Rowan all seasons cotton), so I had to adjust the pattern slightly.  You can see below how ridged and gappy the original motif is – I’m much happier with my adaptation above. knitting cardi for Maud The yarn came from my stash, as did the ladybird buttons – always a most satisfactory use of existing resources.  Can’t wait to see little Maud wearing it.finished cardi for MaudWhen this little cardi was finished, I had to get something else on my needles quickly for travel knitting.  So I started another 3S shawl.  This is the first one I have knitted in stripes of different colour.  I am using bits and pieces of my homespun yarn, having discovered that I had a lot of bluey/greeny/purple tones that worked so well together.

I just love knitting this shawl pattern.  I really want to knit it all the time, so have to be strict with myself and only let it come out when I am on the train or in the car.3S purple blue green shawlI had a couple of dresses that I wanted to wear now the weather is better.   This one came from a local charity shop, and it’s viscose (which I don’t usually wear, and have recently heard terrible stories of viscose which confirm my distaste).  However, I love love love the bold fabric pattern, and it has a great hang, so I decided to give it a go.  Trouble is, the skirt had been joined to the bodice in the most unflattering way – just gathered and sewn.  The pattern is so loud that you may not be able to make out quite what I mean here? bodice of K's striking black and white dressI carefully unpicked the bodice/skirt seam, and re-joined them in the Washi dress style – it is flat across the stomach, with 3 pleats drawing the fabric to the side.  Same on the back.  To make sure the pleats lay flat (and flattering) I added a (high) waistband inside. redoing bodice band I’m not sure you will really see what I’ve taken so much care to do.  However, I know it is a great improvement every time I wear it.  And we all know that at the end of the day that’s all that matters.  modelling K's striking black and white dressThis is a beautiful dress I made at least ten years ago.  I bought the fabric in Habitat.  I don’t know if it is really indigo-dyed, but it gives a very good impression of being hand-printed and hand-dyed.  It is a beautiful soft, strong cotton – very comfortable to wear against the body, and with good drape. long version of K's Habitat fabric dress But it is very long.  I used to wear in hot Devon summers when I was much younger.  Now I am older and live in cooler Northumberland, the length just doesn’t work.  Indeed, the length would be positively maddening in the wind that we can get here.  So time to cut it short, much much shorter.working on K's blue Habitat fabric dressNow I’ve cut it shorter, and I’ve also let out the centre seam  (you can just see the exposed fabric in the centre is darker).  But it is still too tight.  Face it, Katherine,  it is too small for you to wear comfortably.  Over 10 years you have put on a bit of weight…. The answer is to cut down the centre of the dress (sort of like doing one of those scary steeks), and add an extra strip of wider material.  Then add some buttons for decoration.  But which to choose… just too much choice.trying out buttons on Habitat fabric dress I’m still not sure that I chose the right buttons…or that buttons work on this dress at all.  I’ve got a little matching bag which my daughter made for me (one of her first projects when she was a teenager and just exploring sewing machine possibilities).  She’s reversed the fabric and got the strong pattern lines running horizontally.  It’s a fab little bag – thank you, Helen!K modelling finished Habitat fabric dressNow for mending – there is always mending to do here!

Stephen had worn through the other elbow on his pullover, so that needed darning.darning Stephen's green pulloverAnd I’ve been renovating my father’s old shopping bag.  My father died just two months ago, and my mother has started to give away his things.  She thought this was right for me, and it is – just right!  Funny how sometimes the most unexpected and ordinary gifts are the best.  My father used this bag everyday when he would walk out with his dog and his stick to buy milk, deal with the post and the other everyday things of life.  It came to me worn and weary.mending RHE's bagI’ve recovered the worn handles with new strong fabric, and I’ve added patches to the corners and sides where the bag was getting a bit holey.  It’s a plasticised cotton bag, and the iron-on patch material didn’t take very well (I had to be very careful with iron temperature), so some of the patches had to be glued as well.  Here’s my new bag, visibly mended, looking great and it gives me such pleasure to use it.RHE's bag with repairsNow that all that stuff is finished, I can do something about all those exciting projects I’ve been fantasising about.

There’s fleece to be spun. Here it is, freshly dyed and drying on the washing line.closeup of green fleece on washing lineI’ve got some tapestry work on the go.Judi Dench embroidery in processAnd I’ve got some new books to explore.inspirational booksWhere to start?!