A new spinning wheel

new Innerleithen spinning wheelI have a new spinning wheel! It is a beautiful little ash wheel, handcrafted by Rod Grant of Innerleithen Spinning Wheels.  So elegant to look at and it spins like a dream.

Those of you who know me will understand how much this means to me.  However, it is also time to say good bye to my old Ashford spinning wheel which has been my good friend and comforter for nearly 30 years.old Ashford wheelThe Ashford came as a great boon to me at a very difficult time in my life.  I had just parted from my first husband, Hugh, and was at home most of the time, single parenting, with two very small children and little opportunity to get out of the home.

My dear friend and neighbour, Eileen Seddon (then President of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers), saw that I needed distraction, and taught me to spin – and found me a spinning wheel.  It came from another member of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers who was forced to switch to an electric spinning wheel because of arthritis.

I had a brief lesson from Eileen, and I was away! – couldn’t stop! – up until the early hours of the morning spinning and spinning!  I had to stop eventually because I had filled all the available bobbins and didn’t know how to ply.

I was so very enthusiastic that I would take my spinning wheel everywhere with me.  Here I am spinning in the hot Devon sun in my Shobrooke garden.  Nice basket of fleece – I think it is probably one of the first complete fleeces I ever purchased, a lovely Shetland sheep called Charity, who was raised most lovingly in the glorious pasture land of Stockleigh English.K spinning Shobrooke 1987Here is James having a go at spinning in our Shobrooke home.  A great basket of Welsh Mountain fleece to get through there, James!Xmas 1989 Jam ShobrookeThe wheel has accompanied me through many travels.  Perhaps its saddest time was when it was run over by our car at the Border Union Show.  Stephen hadn’t realised where the spinning wheel was standing as he straightened the car into the parking spot, and reversed straight over and into it – crunch, crunch, crunch.broken Ashford wheel at Border Union ShowI was demonstrating at the show, so the wheel had a hasty fix to make it spinnable – you can see the masking tape holding one leg together, and more masking tape binding the mother-of-all in place.

While my Innerleithen spinning wheel is the Emperor of all spinning wheels, the Ashford is a work-a-day wheel, Ashford logoand showing signs of wear and tear.  The very good news is that a beginner spinning enthusiast has given it a new home in the Borderland wilds of the Ettrick Valley.  She plans to collect fleece on her walks (as I used to).  Most conveniently her wood cabin is insulated with wool and cashmere purchased from the last mill in Selkirk when it closed down.  Not only does it provide fantastic insulation, but it has been dyed the colours of the rainbow!  How wonderful to think of those layers of colour wrapped round her cottage.  No need to worry that she will ever run out of fleece – she has only to prize a little out of the building structure!  I am sure my old spinning wheel has gone to a new home where it will be much loved and enjoyed – and become part of the furniture.

I’m spinning some pretty multi-coloured fleece myself.  Last summer I dyed a local Jacob’s fleece these amazing pinky purpley colours.  (I’ve always wanted to dye fleece this fantastic fuchsia pink!  I took it with me to demonstrate at the Border Union Show, and it attracted much interest, both from sheep farmers, and little girls who rushed to handle my pink wool!) purple pink fleeceI’ve added mohair and silk to the mix, and a few bits of other coloured fleece for extra effect.  Out come my old carders…carding fleeceRod Grant has made me a fine ash Lazy Kate to accompany the new spinning wheel.  It’s not just a very elegant piece of equipment, it’s brilliantly designed.  You may just be able to see the tension string stretched over the bobbins to make sure they release the yarn evenly and smoothly.  To help thread the yarn through the holes at the top, he’s added a specially designed hook which is resting in the central orifice. new wool winder for plying Here’s a basketful of my finished product.  So tasty, it’s almost edible.  Are you wondering what I’m making?  So am I!  I’m just spinning away for the sheer pleasure of spinning.  One day this yarn will find it’s purpose.purple pink yarnA final spin then of the old wheel with my new wheel waiting in the wings.  K spinning on Ashford wheel2Ave atque vale.K spinning on Ashford wheel

Searching for Sanderlings

Yesterday we walked from Beadnell to Low Newton (some 3 miles as the crow flies).  Beadnell mapThis is a beautiful walk any time of the year.  Yesterday the conditions were just perfect –  no wind, temperature about 5 degrees, tide probably at its lowest.  So we had the huge expanse of Beadnell Bay to ourselves for our walk to the pub at Low Newton. It’s one of the beaches that Northumberland justifiably is so proud of.  Huge expanses of sand and sea and sky.
Best foot forward and looking south to our destination with a glimpse of Dunstanburgh Castle beyond……..best foot forward to DunstanburghLooking back to Beadnell and its limekilns ……..Looking back to BeadnellOthers had been there before us, but we felt it was ours ……Stephen following tracksDifferent sand patterns all along the beach.  These are at the Beadnell end – is the black sand coal (coal fields run along the edge of Northumberland’s coastline) or broken mussel shells?black sand patternsFurther along small pebbles and shells make a pointy pattern – it’s as though the beach is wearing a crown …..crown of sandAnd a wavy pattern in the sands as you look along the beach to the dunes …wavy patterns in sandIn some spots there was evidence of a recent parliament of fowls…evidence of parliament of fowlsNot really a shelly beach (my favourites) but just enough Banded venus shells to keep me happy.shells and sandTime for a coffee break.  The retirement thermos comes out (these have to be counted back in carefully since we left one behind on one expedition.  A Hanrahan – as one might say – “I counted them all out and I counted them all back.”  You may have to search recent Falkland Island history to pick up the allusion!)  thermos flask of coffeeAt the end of the bay, we climbed up the dunes for the walk around Football Hole (such a great name!). Looking inland you can just see the snowy Cheviots in the distance, and a reviled wind farm interrupting the view. (There is much ill feeling in Northumberland about wind farms – barely surprising since many have been sited in iconic situations).windfarms in distanceWe clambered up a bony protrusion of Whin Sill.  (Whin Sill is the local name for the ignaeous rock dolerite that is so important a feature of the Northumbrian landscape.  The Castles of Bamburgh and Lindisfarne are built on Whin Sill protrusions, and the Romans incorporated it into some of the most dramatic parts of Hadrian’s wall).sheep watching warilyFrom the top we could now see Dunstanburgh Castle more clearly.sheep and Bamburgh CastleBut more importantly, we could also see our destination!  This is the tiny village of Low Newton.  The old fishermen’s cottages are clustered round a green straight up from the beach.arriving at Low NewtonAnd here is the Ship Inn!  It’s a very popular haunt nowadays – understandably as they have good food and the beer is very fine (they have their own brewery).  As for location – well, it’s to die for, centrally located right on the Northumbrian seashore between Dunstanburgh Castle and Beadnell Bay. Ship InnInside, there’s a fire, and food – and drink!  Perhaps best of all, we’ve timed it just right and the pub is almost empty – we can get seats right next to the fire!  That’s a rarity – it’s a very busy pub.Pub - pint and fireStephen enjoying the Ship Inn Brewery’s 4.2 % Squid Ink.  Apparently it’s “A classic stout with hints of espresso coffee, dark chocolate, figs and dates.”Stephen with pintBut the sanderlings, I hear you say – what about the sanderlings?!!!

Well – we did see sanderlings!  Oh – yes – we did see sanderlings! Sanderling sightingNow I want to explain why these little birds are so very special to us.  We knew nothing of them until we came to live in Northumberland.  When we first saw them on Spittal beach, we were enchanted with their racing and running in and out of the waves.

Derwent May, writing in the Times of January 2011 tells us more about them.  “On long sandy beaches right now you may see small, white wading birds chasing the withdrawing waves.  They pick up tiny creatures that are floating in the water, then run back very fast to avoid the next incoming breaker that threatens to crash over them.  To and fro they sprint, their legs like clockwork.  These sanderlings, little birds of the sand, have a special adaptation for their way of life: they have no hind toe that drags in the sand, so that they can run more quickly.” They are the only bird that has this adaptation.

(Disappointingly, WordPress won’t let me upload my little video which demonstrates this quirky seashore action without ungrading to Premium for £70 – so I’ll just add in some pics from previous Beadnell visits.)sanderlings on beadnell beach 2Derwent continues: “They nest in Siberia, very near the North Pole, and some fly as far as South Africa in the autumn.  But a few get no farther than Britain and Ireland, spending the winter here.  They like the sandy beaches … in northeast England …”

Sensible little birds – so do we!  We often see them over winter on our local Spittal beaches, but this year I haven’t seen any yet.   You have to catch them at the right time on the tide – food is most plentiful when the tide is very low.

(Here they are at the mouth of the Tweed with the Berwick lifeboat station in the background, photographed in January 2013).Sanderlings at the mouth of the Tweed Mark Cocker describes them more succinctly in his magisterial Birds Britannica: “Sanderlings are the Keystone cops of the British seaside…The manner in which they first scurry away from an incoming surge, then instantly reverse to follow it back out, also has something of the quality of those speeded-up cop chases popular in the silent-movie era…Yet the comic note belies their heroic migration…There is evidence to suggest …a round trip of 17,700 miles.”

Wow! little sanderlings – that is truly amazing!sanderlings on beadnell beach 1As we retraced our steps back to the Beadnell car park, we saw many more fascinating birds – turnstones, dunlins, curlews, gulls, oystercatchers – even a rare and beautiful great white heron having a fine time, feasting on local delicacies in the Brunton Burn.

But nothing made our day quite as much as the Keystone Cops of the British seaside: the sanderlings!

However, we did come home with treasure…treasures from the beach

Let me introduce you to Poe

Poe in Crediton garden, hiding behind nasturtium plantPoe and her sister Monet came to live with us in our Crediton home in 1999.    Monet and Poe as kittens, sitting on old knitting machineThey were sweet little kittens, and we loved them ……Young Monet and Poe cuddled up to each other while Poe washes Monetand they loved each other too.Monet and Poe cuddled up to each otherBut that love did not last.  Before long, they preferred to keep an unfriendly distance from each other.Poe and Monet on benchMonet was an anxious cat, and had some very difficult problems so eventually she had to leave us for the great cat home in the sky.  RIP Monet.Monet lying in the sunCuriously, with Monet’s departure Poe found her voice.Poe making her voice heardWe weren’t at all sure how Poe would take to our move from balmy Devon to the windy open spaces of Northumberland.Poe on garden fence looking out to the seaShe loved it! – and took to mousing with such enthusiasm that even when the snows came she was out there, catching mice.Poe outside with mouseShe liked to bring the mice in to play with – but often lost them so they ran off to make new homes inside.Poe inside with mouseRecently high blood pressure caused her retinas to detach and she went completely blind over night.  Luckily medication (very expensive!) means that she can now see again.Poe's damaged eyes after collapsed retinasThese are a few of her favourite things …
hogging the best spot in front of the fire…Poe in front of firedrinking Jammy’s cereal milk ….Poe watching Jammy eat cereallying in the sun…….Poe in woolly room sunlightdoing the fence walk with you know who ….Poe doing fence walkrolling around in a smelly man’s shirt……..Poe smelling Jam's smelly shirtwatching bird tv (broadcast live from our woodshed)!……Poe watching Bird tvand her Christmas mouse! Poe and her Christmas mouseOh Poe – we love you!

The Museum of Scotland

I spent yesterday morning at Edinburgh’s Museum of Scotland –  very definitely my very favourite museum!

You walk into this huge light-filled space, and are drawn to look upwards.  You just have to gasp at the inventiveness and glory of it all.glass roof of museum of scotlandClimb up to the top floor, look down – and – it’s still amazing!looking down on ground floor of museum of scotlandOn the way up and down you will pass all manner of extraordinary things.looking over to upper galleries in museum of scotlandThe original museum was  designed by Francis Fowke ( who also designed parts of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum).  It opened in 1866.

There was a major redevelopment here between 2006 and 2011.  The curators took the opportunity to impress their 21st century take on the building and its collections.  This is what gives the fine old building its remarkable character.

Looking down into the well space,  you will see the light chamber of a lighthouse.light chamber from lighthouseGlance over at the far wall and there’s the jaw of a whale, pottery, metalwork.extraordinary collection of things in the museum of scotlandIt’s the serendipity, the juxtaposition of such extraordinarily unrelated objects that works so well here.  It reminds me of another favourite museum of mine, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

There are extraordinary bicycles,bicycle for fourSigns from old railway stations,old railway station signsCurious sea-creatures in glass jars,sea-creatures in glass jarsFantastic tea-pots – and lots lots more!teapots in museum of ScotlandOf course, these are only meant as tasters for what’s in the rest of the collections, in the rooms behind.  I saw far too many fascinating things to list them all here, so I will just mention two exhibits that I regularly visit.

These are some of the 17 miniature pine coffins, each containing a small dressed doll, found on Arthur’s Seat in 1836.  Nobody knows who made them or for what reason – lots of speculation.  They have obviously been made with great care.  I find them sad, and slightly disturbing – but so intriguing!Arthur's seat coffinsMy other choice couldn’t be more different – for a start it’s one of the largest items in the museum whereas the miniature dolls must be some of the tiniest exhibits. Newcomen engineThis is a rare surviving example of an atmospheric or Newcomen engine.  It was used to pump water from the coal mines at Caprington colliery until 1901 – and it still works!  It moves slowly and regularly and reassuringly – just as it must have been for those 19th century miners.  It is a magnificent beast, and I am drawn to it by its size and power and efficacy.

So, thank you very much, Museum of Scotland, for a wonderful morning’s entertainment and exploration.  I’ll be back for more before too long!

(Oh – and we had a delicious lunch in the basement Museum Brasserie too.)

Windy, windy, windy-blow! *

We’ve just embarked on a period of real winter storms.

They started yesterday, gathering  full momentum over the evening and night.  By the time we went to bed just before midnight, they were into full rampaging mode.  I lay awake and marvelled at the sound.  Yet, curiously, when I woke in the early hours, the storms had completely abated – no sound at all.

But they are back now.

Our house sits on an east-west axis; to the north lie the old steading courtyard and more buildings; to the south are the open fields, sea and the view down the coast to Lindisfarne.View from our garden to the castles and seaWe are protected from the brunt of the nasty cold Northerlies, North-easterlies and North-westerlies by the rest of the steading buildings.  Westerlies stream along the length of our house and are funnelled by the shape of the buildings out to sea.

It is the dirt-laden, shifty Southerlies that we hate most.  They blast over the flat coastal lands before the house, and slam into our buildings.  You might think they would be balmy, warm and good-natured (and of course some are), but most are edgy and difficult.  Our windows are grimy from the Saharan dust they carry.  And if they are really boisterous and bad-tempered, the gusts will slam down our chimney and can put out a blazing fire with one casual puff.

Right now the winds are all over the place.  The only common factor is that they are powerful.  They find out every little nook and cranny and we are cold, cold, cold.  I sit typing looking just like a comfy old rotund teddy-bear because I have so many layers of clothing on.

Our bedroom is right under the eaves so bedtime when the winds blow does not mean peace and quiet!  In fact it can be blowing a gale and we are hardly aware of it. At other times the slates rattle persistently. It all depends on the wind direction. It seems to be when the wind strikes the roof obliquely rather than sideways on or straight at it.

Last night we went to bed with 40mph winds and it was hard to get to sleep with all the rattling. By morning the wind had not abated but had swung round further to the north and we were hardly aware of it.Sloping bedroom roof right under the eavesWhen we first arrived here, – indeed our first night here! – a storm blew up, and the winds lashed against the roof.  I lay in bed and thought how mad we had been to come to this dreadful, frightening place.  Now I lie in bed and marvel at the sound.  Often the winds just grumble round the roof.  Nights when they complain like last are extraordinary – and to be wondered at.

Not that I always think that.  I have discovered that I can take about 3 days of windy noise, and then I have had enough.  Please please oh go away oh noisy wind.

For the moment the thing is to keep warm and busy.

*technical term of Stephen’s

Busy old fool, unruly Sun

Sun right behind Bamburgh castleIt’s now 18 days since the winter solstice, and although each day that passes lifts my spirits as the minutes of daylight increase, there’s an accompanying sadness.

We are losing our sunrise.

Our house looks south,  out over the North Sea coast,  so on a good day we clearly see the castles of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh.View of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh castlesNo view of sunrise, you would think.  But that’s where you’re wrong.  Until I came to live here some 4 years ago, I hadn’t realised that because of the tilt of the earth, during the winter months sunrise moves over across the eastern horizon towards the south.

Imagine our excitement the first winter we were here in 2010 to see this magnificent sunrise exploding over the snowy fields.  At this point  sunrise has moved to half way between the two castles.Sunrise over snow between Lindisfarne and Bamburgh castlesA more furious sunrise here; now the sunrise has moved right up to Bamburgh Castle and you can just make out the silhouette of the castle with the sun rising behind.more furious sunrise behind Bamburgh castleChristmas Eve last year, just a few days after the solstice, and the sunrise is far past Bamburgh Castle.  But it’s started out on its journey back.sun starting return journey to Bamburgh castleOh, busy old fool – teasing us with all that promise  ….sunrise - teasing us with all that promiseto when you make your cosy little egg yolk first appearance ……sun making first little egg yolk appearanceto playing mean and moody………mean and moody sunrise over snowto coquettish, mysterious ………Sun looking coquettish beyond Bamburghto simply gorgeous ……simply gorgeous sunriseI don’t want you to go –  I shall miss you!