Thursday 29 February 2024

February 2024

February is the month I look forward to the least, though it's passed quite quickly this year, even though we've had an extra day because of the leap year. We've only had one day of snow this month but it's been very wet with plenty of rain. The cold weather hasn't been as prolonged as it is some years, and though we did get a dip where it was freezing, we've also had many mild periods where the mercury has hit double figures at various points throughout the month.

We've had some lovely days out this month. We've wrapped up well against the cold on some of our outings but other days we've been lucky and had some glorious sunshine. The photo above shows the market square in Masham which is lined with independent shops. Unfortunately, the wool shop was closed when we visited.

I saw that an old friend who I haven't seen for a number of years was having an art exhibition so we travelled to North Yorkshire to see that. Unfortunately, she wasn't there at the time, it would have been nice to catch up with her, but her artwork is stunning. Many of her paintings are inspired by Yorkshire's coast and countryside.

My reading mojo has returned and I read three books in February, two of those were over 600 pages each in length.

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley.

"Maia D'Aplièse and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home - a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva - having been told that their beloved adoptive father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalising clue to their true heritage - a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil...

Eighty years earlier, in the Belle Époque of Rio, 1927, Izabela Bonifacio's father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into aristocracy. But Izabela longs for adventure, and convinces him to allow her to accompany the family of a renowned architect on a trip to Paris. In the heady, vibrant streets of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly, and knows at once that her life will never be the same again."

I'd read some fantastic reviews of the Seven Sisters series and these are what made me want to read these books, but I got off to a slow start with this one and wasn't sure that it was for me. I could have easily given up on it, but I'm so pleased that I persevered because once I got into it properly, I absolutely loved it.

The story takes us from Switzerland in the present day to Brazil back in the 1920s where Maia, the eldest of the Seven Sisters, discovers her ancestry. I really enjoyed the history in the book and as is so often the case when reading about periods of history, it sent me off to Google to learn more about certain aspects. 

I'm really looking forward to reading the second book in the series now, in fact, it took all my willpower to not reach for it straight away but I shall spread them out a little and prolong the enjoyment.

Queen of Our Times by Robert Hardman.

"The definitive new biography of Her Majesty the Queen by one of Britain's leading royal authorities.

With original insights from family, friends and staff, new interviews with world leaders, new photographs and papers, including diaries and letters from the Royal Archives, bestselling author Robert Hardman explores the full, astonishing life of our longest-reigning monarch in this compellingly authoritative yet intimate biography.

Elizabeth II was not born to be Queen. Yet from her accession as a young mother of two in 1952 to the era of Covid-19, she has proved an astute, pragmatic and quietly determined stateswoman, leading her people through seventy years of unprecedented social change. She has faced constitutional crises, confronted threats against her life, rescued the Commonwealth, charmed (and chastened) fellow heads of state, been criticized as well as feted by the media, and steered her family through the turbulence of life in the public eye.

Queen of Our Times is a must-read study of dynastic survival and renewal, spanning abdication, war, romance, danger, tragedy and triumph. It is an enthralling portrait of a leader who remains as intriguing today as the day she came to the throne aged twenty-five."

Mick bought me this book for Christmas 2022 and I've only just got round to reading it. It was written prior to the Queen dying in September of that year.

An interesting read which starts from the Queen's birth and ends just months before her death. As you would expect, there's a lot of politics included which some may find quite boring, I didn't, and it's definitely written as one may expect a royalist to write about a member of the royal family, quite a one sided view in my opinion with little criticism, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've definitely learnt things about the Queen and the royal family which I didn't know before and it was an entertaining read.

Fresh from the Country by Miss Read.

"'All behind chairs! Quickly now! I want to introduce you to your new teacher.'

'Miss Read' in this humorous and charming story draws us magically into the world of the primary school. Anna Lacey, a young country girl, is given her first job in Greater London, and as she learns to cope with the challenges of her new life, we share with her the delights and pleasures of teaching 'those dear, devilish, delicious, disarming, infuriating and exhausting creatures' which are her young pupils."

After finishing the Fairacre and Thrush Green series it's been a delight to return to this author and read another of her standalone stories. This story takes us away from the countryside to a new housing development where a teacher fresh out of training college is struggling with huge class numbers. Quite different from the two Miss Read series mentioned but just as enjoyable. As always, the book is littered with references to the seasons and nature which brings the story to life, and there are some very memorable characters.

I've been filling my vases with daffodils this month. At just £1 a bunch, they're a cheap way to bring some sunshine indoors during the drab days of winter. I did a little research whilst shopping, you get ten stems in Marks & Spencer, nine in Sainsbury's and just eight in Tesco, and they all charge the same, £1. 

It was Daniel's birthday on the 19th. One of the things I love about having my children living close by is that I get to see them on these important dates. It wouldn't be for another few days though that all six of us were free on an evening to help him celebrate. We got a takeaway, burgers for some and pizza for others, games were played and a good time was had by all.

I read One Day ten years ago and prior to that I'd caught bits of the film as Eleanor used to watch it almost on a loop, alternating it with Friends, they were on so often in the background that I could recite them word for word, haha. One Day begins on the date of Dexter and Emma's graduation, the 15th of July 1988, and then shows a snapshot of their lives on that same date over the next twenty years. I think part of the charm for Eleanor was that the 15th of July is her birthday. Netflix has made a series of One Day and it's had such good reviews that I thought I'd watch it. I found it quite hard going at first and almost switched off but I kept going and I enjoyed it. It's not something I'd rave about but that's just my opinion, apparently people have been taking time off sick from work just to binge watch it. Netflix are now in discussions with the author, David Nicholls, to dramatise his new book, You Are Here, which is another tearjerker.

We're now at the end of February so we're able to look forward and welcome Spring in the not too distant future. I long for this time all winter and it's finally arrived, though I'm sure we've still got some wintery weather to contend with before we can say that Spring is truly here. Mick's got some time booked off work at the end of the month so I'm looking forward to that. It would be nice if we got a little sunshine then.

Friday 23 February 2024

Habitation Throw

I started the Habitation Throw back in August of last year. I won a pattern prize on the My Yarny Corner podcast and I chose this, it's been a lovely blanket to knit. The pattern is by Helen Stewart and it's written in a way so that you can use whatever amount and weight of yarn you've got, or make the blanket the size of your own choosing. It's knit on larger needles than usual for the yarn weight you choose, so the blanket is light and airy and has a nice drape. It doesn't need much concentration so it's what I've been reaching for on an evening when I've been watching TV.

The colours are very mismatched and haphazard but that was the plan, it was a project to use up some of the yarn I received in my yarny advent calendars which I opened in 2021 and 2022. Those advent calendars were a collaboration between many different yarn dyers and as such, the colours of each mini skein didn't follow any sort of order. I think it's fun how it's worked out though, such a riot of colour. It's been interesting to try yarn from so many different dyers, there's a few in there which I really enjoyed so I may purchase more of their yarn in the future.

I love how the i-cord edging is knit as you go so that you don't have to add it at the end. It finishes it off beautifully too.

I shall get back to my mitred square blanket again now that this is finished, I've still got quite a few squares on that one to go before it's finished but like the Habitation Throw, it's an easy knit which is what my brain needs at the end of the day.

Sunday 18 February 2024

Fountains Abbey

We had a trip to Fountains Abbey yesterday. One of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England, it's now run by the National Trust.

The first glimpse of the Abbey. We don't often visit National Trust properties as historically, dogs haven't been very welcome at the properties we've been interested in, but I think the National Trust have become more dog friendly in recent years. They now give their properties a pawprint rating according to the facilities available for dogs. Fountains Abbey has a three pawprint rating which shows it's amongst the best places you can visit with a dog. Dogs are allowed in all outdoor spaces throughout the grounds at Fountains Abbey, however, they must be kept on a short lead. They're also welcome in the visitor restaurant.

To reach the abbey there's a downhill walk from the main entrance. As you follow the meandering path you get tantalising glimpses of what's to come.

The verges are littered with snowdrops at the moment, and the odd pheasant too.

As you reach the bottom you're rewarded with the impressive sight of the Abbey.

Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132 and operated for 407 years until it closed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries which was ordered by Henry VIII.

Set in the valley of the River Skell, the Abbey had access to water and was sheltered from the worst of the weather. Six springs watered the site which led to it being named Fountains.

Visitors are able to walk amongst the ruins, inside the walls as well as out. It gives a real insight to what the Abbey would have been like hundreds of years ago.

I never forget to look up. The tops of buildings are just as impressive as the bottoms, very often more so.

There aren't many places which are cordoned off but this grass would be a mud bath if everyone was allowed to walk on it. We've had so much rain just lately that the fields we passed in the car on our way had turned to lakes.

The Great Cloister. The monks observed silence here. 

You can see the vaulted ceiling.

A closer look. It's impressive to see it up close.

We were going to visit Fountains Abbey before Christmas when they had an after dark experience with the Abbey illuminated and choral music playing but we didn't get round to it. I can imagine it being a very atmospheric experience, perhaps we'll manage it this year.

Alongside the Abbey is Studley Royal Water Garden. We didn't visit on this occasion for two reasons, Archie can't walk too far these days and I'm suffering with my back again so longer walks are out of the question at the moment. We will return and visit Studley Royal in the future though. The Abbey itself is set in beautiful grounds though.

Although it was a rather dull day, there were plenty of visitors. It was still so tranquil though with the sound of running water as you walk through the grounds.

It's a photographers paradise too, so many photo opportunities.

I think this photo shows how extensive Fountains Abbey is, and this isn't all of it. There's enough here for a full day out and plenty of space for children to let off steam.

We're thinking of taking out a National Trust subscription. It's something we've considered in the past but now that dogs seem to be welcomed at more properties than they once were, I think it would be worth it. We do enjoy our days out.

On the way back to the car we passed Swanlea Grange. The grange once farmed the area to the west side of Studley Royal Water Gardens. Inside an old farm building is a display of wool which the National Trust staff have dyed using natural materials.

This explains it better than I can.

It was a lovely day out, though the walk back from the Abbey is rather steep so I'm now resting my back. We were so lucky with the weather, it stayed fine for our whole visit and only started to rain just as we reached the car. We shall definitely return and perhaps we'll be National Trust members by the time we do.

Friday 9 February 2024

York Ice Trail

York was hosting its annual Ice Trail last weekend and we decided to visit on the Saturday. We haven't been before, and though some of the sculptures were amazing, I doubt we'll visit again, it was just so busy. I thought it would be enjoyable wandering around the city looking out for the thirty three different sculptures but it was anything but, it seemed to just bring out the worst in people when they were jostling for a photograph. I've never encountered so many rude people in one place in one day in my life. I love York, we visit often, but I'll give the Ice Trail a miss in future.

The sculptures were sponsored by local businesses. You can pick up a map which shows you their locations.

Anyway, here are the photos I took before I gave it up as a bad job.

Our City of Dreams provided by Make it York.

Floating Dreams provided by Lucia Bar.

Dreaming of Cut and Craft provided by Cut and Craft.

My favourite of the day was Train of Dreams by National Railway Museum.

City of Trees provided by Dalby Forest.

A Journey in Ice provided by Grand Central.

Bradley's Jewellers Christmas Robin Egg provided by Bradley's Jewellers. I would have loved to have got a better photo of this, there was a second egg and a robin in the middle of it.

There was also a live carving but there wasn't a hope in hell of being able to see what was happening, the crowd was about ten people deep in places.

Not our most successful day out but we'll chalk this one down to experience, haha.

Wednesday 31 January 2024

January 2024

The new year started here with illness. I'd had a bad chest and awful cough since Boxing Day, in fact, the cough still hasn't completely gone. We'd struggled through New Year's Eve with Jasmine and Eleanor also under the weather and then on New Year's Day, Mick woke up with whatever I'd had. He's not one to moan though, unlike some men who take to their beds with a cold and call it flu, he just gets on with it. I think the last day he had off work for sickness was in the last century. Anyway, we're all much better now, thank goodness.

Mick and I spent New Year's Day on our own. It was lovely actually having the day to just relax before Mick returned to work on the 2nd. We spent the time catching up watching a few things we'd recorded over Christmas. Our TV is rarely turned on over the festive period so we had a few things to choose from.

We've had a few trips out this month. You can read about our visits to the Coast & Country in my earlier post. We particularly enjoyed our visit to Bridlington on the east coast, so much so that we returned the following week when it was a little warmer, though a storm was expected so the sea was very choppy. I think Archie especially enjoyed this second visit, he seemed to have a spring in his step and made lots of new doggy friends.

My reading mojo disappeared completely for a few weeks. I read my last book of 2023 before Christmas and I didn't pick up a book again until we were well into the second half of January. Even then, I've been reading sporadically and have finished just one book this month.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

"Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway's magnificent fable is the tale of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. This story of heroic endeavor won Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. It stands as a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man's challenge to the elements."

It's a short book at just under a hundred pages but it's packed with such beautifully descriptive writing that it will be one which is long remembered. Not a subject I'd have expected to enjoy but I found myself recounting the story to Mick and it was clear to him that it's a book I'd enjoyed. There's little wonder that Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for this book.

I was thrilled to discover that I'd won a prize in a make along which I'd taken part in during the latter part of 2023. Ellie at Craft House Magic was running the Craft 20 a Day Make Along where you worked on any crafty project for, you've guessed it, twenty minutes each day. I joined in with my English Paper Piecing and won the prize for the last quarter of the year. Ellie sent me this gorgeous yarn, one skein called All I Want For Christmas Is You and the other a one of a kind. It definitely needs to be used together as the colours compliment each other so well. I just need to find a pattern to use it in.

We've had quite a few little treats this month, taking ourselves out for coffee (Mick) and tea or chocolate (me). We're lucky that we have a choice of cafes, some independents and some chains, near to where we live, quite a few within walking distance even, so we're spoilt for choice. It's nice to take ourselves out of the house, even for just half an hour, sit down together and chat.

A new series of Trigger Point started at the weekend and I've binged watched the whole six episodes already. It stars Vicky McClure as Lana Washington, a bomb disposal officer working for the Metropolitan Police. I enjoyed the first series and thought this second series even better. If you like fast paced crime dramas, this one might be for you.

So that's the first month of a new year already gone. I wonder what lies ahead, though one thing's for sure, time is whizzing by. It never seems long after we're seeing in one new year before we're seeing in another. Does anyone else feel the same?

Monday 22 January 2024

Coast & Country

We had planned to have a drive out to the coast on Boxing Day but as I was beginning to feel under the weather, we put it off. You know when you've been looking forward to something and then it doesn't happen, it tends to be on your mind, and a trip to the coast was on mine, so the minute I felt I was on the mend, off we went. 

We decided on Bridlington on the east coast, about sixty miles from where we live. As is often the case, we didn't check the tide times before we set off but we were lucky, the sea was a long way out and there were huge, wide open spaces for as far as we could see. Perfect for a little dog to have a good run.

Archie enjoys the seaside as much as we do. The good thing about this time of year is that dogs are allowed on all areas of the beach, dog bans come into play between May and October, and there aren't the crowds during the winter months that there are later on in the year. This was a Saturday and look how deserted it was. Yes, it was a bit nippy but we wrapped up warm.

I think I enjoy my trips to the seaside more out of season. The majority of people we saw were dog walkers, we're a hardy breed braving all weathers, and we get well rewarded for it. Miles of unspoilt empty beach with the odd dog running around here and there and beauty all around us.

Archie had a whale of a time, he doesn't do much running around now as he's an old boy but he loves all the new smells as well as having a little paddle. He loves making new friends too.

There are lots of rockpools on one stretch of the beach. If it had been a little bit warmer I might have explored a little to see what I could find.

Beach treasure. I didn't find any sea glass on this particular day, though I wasn't really looking.

Just look at those pink fingers. Yes, it was rather cold.

The pleasure cruisers were still taking passengers for trips around the bay despite how much the temperature had dropped on this particular day.

After our time on the beach we took a walk around the harbour. There wasn't much water left in it with the tide being so far out.

The Turnstones were grubbing about in the mud which was left behind.

As we passed the harbour we could see Flamborough headland in the distance. Flamborough is a little under five miles from Bridlington and it's the place where was saw the seals on Our Staycation.

A little further round and there's the lure of the amusements. I'll admit that I'm quite drawn to the 2p pushers but I resisted on this occasion.

I did give in to a doughnut though, well who can resist the delicious aroma when it's wafting through the air, not me!

The following day we decided on a trip to the Yorkshire Dales and in particular, Reeth, which is in the north of the Yorkshire Dales and again, about sixty miles from where we live. It has a population of about 700, though it looks rather busy with all the cars parked here but I believe there are many walking routes which can be taken from the village so people park up here. We did see evidence of this ourselves with people changing into walking boots and others returning to their cars with their walking poles.

The village has a little more for tourists than some of the small villages in the Dales. Fleece is an arts and crafts cooperative and a non-for-profit organisation. Arts and crafts from a number of different makers are sold here and it's a lovely shop to look around.

There are a number of small shops, a gift shop, an art gallery, a post office and general store as well as a toy shop. It was a shame to find most of them closed on Sundays. I would have particularly enjoyed looking round The Threshing Barn, a fibre arts shop, but their winter opening is just Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and it doesn't open at all on a Sunday, even in summer. It was nice to find Dragonridge Hills open for a browse. Here you can buy some beautiful jewellery as well as a selection of textile items and fossils and stones.

The ice cream parlour was open for business though it was far too cold for ice cream in my opinion. They do sell hot beverages though too.

Reeth has three pubs. We noticed that one of the signs outside The Black Bull is upside down and looking on Google when we returned home, discovered that this was done as a protest when a previous landlord removed the render when he tried to tidy up the exterior and exposed the original walls, only for the National Parks officials to take exception to this and insist that the render be replaced, threatening legal action if this didn't happen. Some local pranksters, apparently, turned the sign upside down in protest and it's still upside down to this day.

What a funny place to put a cat flap, in the window. Right next to the bird feeder too!

Reeth Evangelical Congregational Church.

Swaledale where Reeth is situated is known for its farming landscape of fields, barns, drystone walls and hay meadows. The village is surrounded by beautiful scenery. I wonder who lives in that white cottage halfway up the hill.

There was snow on the tops of the hills.

I can't go to the Yorkshire Dales without taking a photo of some sheep. The one on the right is definitely trying to tell me something.

After visiting Reeth we decided to head over to Hawes to stock up on some Wensleydale and Fountains Gold cheese from the Wensleydale Creamery. Before we realised which road we'd taken we were heading over Buttertubs Pass, a road which crosses high moorland between Hawes and the small hamlet of Thwaite. Jeremy Clarkson has apparently labelled it as "England's only truly spectacular road". It's a meandering road with hairpin bends and sheer drops to the side and only a length of barbed wire between the car and the edge in some places. To make matters worse, it had been snowing up there. The photo above was taken through the windscreen as we were driving.

I really don't have a head for heights and I couldn't look as we were driving the parts with nothing to the side of me, but as we got further along we stopped the car so that I could get out and take a photo. There isn't usually much traffic up there anyway but I think we saw just two cars on this particular day. Absolutely stunning scenery over the pass but I won't be rushing back, especially in the snow!

We're so lucky to have these beautiful places, and many more, not too far from where we live. Our small town is just under eight miles from one of the largest cities in England. We have all the amenities that a large city offers on our doorstep if we need them but we're far enough away not to be bothered by the negative aspects, and where we live is surrounded by beautiful countryside. The coast is less than sixty miles away, so very convenient for day trips. We really do have the best of all worlds.